Retiree & Veteran Affairs News 14 June 2016
GEN Sullivan of AUSA Honored
Retired Army Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan was honored June 9 during a speech in the House of Representatives as he prepares to step down after more than 18 years as president and CEO of the Association of the U.S. Army.
“I rise today on behalf of a grateful nation to thank Gen. Gordon Sullivan and his family for their over five decades of service to our Army,” said Rep. Chris Gibson, R-N.Y. “His tireless efforts, ensuring our soldiers and their families had the best training and resources and that our veterans returning from combat received the best care, have been unmatched and are a true testament to this great man of character and conviction.”
Sullivan, 78, spent more than 36 years in uniform, rising to become the 32nd Army chief of staff before retiring in 1995. He has served as the 18th president of AUSA, an educational nonprofit dedicated to being a voice for the Army and its soldiers, since 1998.
Gibson, who served 24 years in the Army and retired as a colonel in 2010, noted that under Sullivan’s leadership, AUSA has broadly expanded support and outreach to Army families through the promotion, establishment and support of countless programs and events at the national and local levels. In addition, Gibson said, AUSA has contributed millions of dollars to veteran and soldier support programs such as the Fisher House, the Center for the Intrepid, and Army Emergency Relief.
Sullivan’s leadership “has directly enhanced the readiness of the United States Army,” Gibson said. “I ask my colleagues to join me in saluting him and wishing him well in retirement.”
Sullivan will step down from AUSA on June 30. Retired Army Gen. Carter F. Ham will succeed him as president and CEO.
CONGRESS HEADED FOR THE DOOR
Although much progress has been made on defense-related legislation, it will come to a halt as Congress heads into the Memorial Day recess. Here is an update:
NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT (NDAA) FOR FISCAL YEAR 2017
House The House passed the $602.2 billion NDAA on May 19 by a vote of 277-147. The legislation uses $18 billion in money from the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account to fund items not included in the president’s budget request such as additional military personnel, new weapons and facility improvements. If the House plan prevails, this budgetary maneuver would mean that the new president would be forced to come back to Congress seeking additional funds for the remainder of fiscal 2017. The White House has issued a veto threat in response.
The legislation includes major reforms to the military health care system, a 2.1 percent pay raise for military personnel, changes to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, changes in leave policies granted to service members for the birth of a child and a requirement to study women registering for the draft.
What’s next: The House will now sit and wait for the Senate to pass its measure. Once that happens, representatives from both chambers will be appointed to a conference committee to resolve disagreements on the bill.
Senate The Senate’s bill is currently on the floor for debate and passage. While GOP leaders hoped to finish it before the Memorial Day recess, Democratic leaders had other ideas. They forced Republicans to file a cloture petition thus delaying the start of debate. The delay will not give Senators enough time to finish the bill before recess.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that his caucus needed time to study the bill.
The $602.2 billion bill includes major reforms to military health care and a pay raise for military personnel; however, the Senate elected to follow the DoD budget request and provide a 1.6 percent pay raise. The bill also rejects the increased end strength levels adopted by the House and would require women sign up for the draft unlike the House bill.
However, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain, R-Ariz., filed an amendment Wednesday that would add $17 billion to the OCO account to pay for additional troops for the Army as well as the higher pay raise of 2.1 percent.
The additional money would also add 36 UH-60 Blackhawk and 17 LUH-72 Lakota helicopters for the Army.
In a statement, McCain said the extra spending would "reverse short-sighted cuts" and "halt dangerous reductions to the end strength of the military services. Our military commanders have been warning for years that arbitrary defense spending caps and misguided defense cuts are putting the lives of our warfighters at greater risk," he said. "We cannot change course soon enough. This amendment is the Senate's opportunity to do just that."
What’s next: Because of the procedural delay by Democrats, debate on the bill will not begin until after the Memorial Day recess. Once it has passed, a conference committee will iron out the differences.
Bill prognosis: Good. The annual defense policy bill has passed for 54 consecutive years; however, look for an election-year standoff with the White House and the Senate - Republican and Democrats - over how best to fund the military in the final months of the Obama administration.
DEFENSE APPROPRIATIONS BILL FOR FISCAL YEAR 2017
House The defense spending bill was voted out of committee on May 17. Following the lead of the House Armed Services Committee, lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee agreed to take money from the OCO account to pay for items in the base budget.
The legislation provides $517.1 billion in discretionary funding – an increase of $3 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $587 million below the president’s budget request. It also provides $58.6 billion in OCO funding.
Committee members also agreed that the military is too small. The legislation includes $132.6 billion to provide funding for an additional 5,000 troops for the Active Army, 8,000 troops for the Army National Guard, and 7,000 troops for the Army Reserve.
The bill fully funds the authorized 2.1 percent pay raise for military personnel.
The Defense health program would receive $34 billion for base requirements – $1.7 billion above the fiscal 2016 enacted level and $559 million above the request.
Included in the legislation is $209.2 for operations and maintenance to support key readiness programs to prepare troops for combat and peacetime missions, including flight time and battle training, equipment and facility maintenance, and base operations.
Within this amount, the bill includes an additional $6.4 billion above the administration’s request to fill readiness shortfalls, $1.6 billion to invest in facility sustainment, restoration, and modernization programs, and $753 million for additional depot maintenance.
What’s next: The bill will head to the House floor for debate and a vote after the Memorial Day recess.
Senate The Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee approved its version of the $574.5 billion Pentagon spending bill this week. Lawmakers agreed to stick to the bipartisan budget agreement reached last year.
The bill would provide $515.9 billion in base spending and $58.6 billion for the OCO account.
The bill provides:
· $212.5 billion for operation and maintenance accounts. Within this amount, $150 million is provided above the request to invest in facility sustainment, restoration, and modernization programs.
· An additional $2.45 billion available for transfer to the Services to improve military readiness, including increased training, depot maintenance, and base operations support.
· Funding for a 1.6 percent pay raise.
· $367 million for fifteen additional Blackhawk helicopters.
· Funding for end strength levels requested by the Pentagon.
· $187 million for twenty-eight Lakota helicopters.
· $900 million for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account.
· $60 million for Army Guard and Reserve Humvee Ambulances.
· $34 billion for the Defense Health Program.
What’s next: The full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill today.
Bill prognosis: Not so good for passing the defense bill as a stand-alone bill. Although House and Senate leaders have said repeatedly that they intend to pass all 12 appropriations bills on time, reality will set in.
Congress hasn’t passed all 12 appropriations spending bills through both the House and Senate since 1994. Since then, they have only been able to agree on a few of the bills, before time runs out and they lump the rest of the spending bills into a last-minute omnibus package.
It’s an election year. The House and Senate will be in session 111 and 148 days this year respectively. The legislative calendar is cut short this year as both major political parties convene their presidential nominating conventions starting the second week of July 3. Additionally, neither side of the aisle will be enthusiastic about passing legislation that might give their opponent something to use against them on the campaign trail.
MILITARY CONSTRUCTION AND VETERANS’ AFFAIRS (VA) FUNDING BILL FOR FISCAL 2017
House The bill passed the House on May 19 by a vote of 295-129. The legislation contains $81.6 billion in funding – $1.8 billion above the fiscal year 2016 level – to house, train, and equip military personnel, to provide housing and services to military families, to maintain base infrastructure, and to support veterans’ benefits and programs. Of this funding, $63.3 billion was provided via an advance in the fiscal year 2016 appropriations bill last year.
Within this total, $73.5 billion is provided for the VA – a 3 percent increase above fiscal year 2016 levels – including additional funding to address management problems and health care shortages, and to increase the speed, efficiency and effectiveness of its services to veterans.
Military construction totals $7.9 billion, $250 million above the President’s request, to fund family housing, construction of hospitals and health facilities, and support for critical overseas investments.
Senate The Senate’s bill passed on May 19 by a vote of 89-8. The bill provided $83 billion in discretionary funding, $3.2 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. In addition to discretionary funding, the bill provides $102.5 billion in mandatory compensation and pension funding for the VA. The bill also provides $66.4 billion in fiscal year 2018 advance funding for veterans health care and $103.9 billion for fiscal year 2018 advance funding for the VA’s compensation and pensions mandatory accounts.
What’s next: The House and Senate bills will head to conference committee to iron out any differences.
Bill prognosis: Good. The popular bill is one of the individual spending bills more likely to be signed into law. See more
Education for the Blended Retirement System (BRS) Begins
The Fiscal Year 2016 National Defense Authorization Act provides our military force with a modernized retirement plan. The new system is a blend of the current 20-year cliff-vested defined benefit annuity with a defined contribution plan that allows service members to contribute to a portable Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) account. Quality and timely financial education (similar to a 401k savings plan) is the key to success in implementing the Blended Retirement System (BRS) on January 1, 2018. DoD is on track to provide targeted information to prepare our 2.1 million Service members and their families in the form of four separate, jointly-developed education courses. Starting this summer, these BRS courses will be available in a distributed learning environment via the Joint Knowledge On-line (JKO) portal as well as on MilitaryOneSource for easy access by family members. Deployed service members’ commands will receive CD rom courses to deliver the courses.
The BRS Leader Course was just released. It is available here.
The course is designed to provide military and civilian leaders across the force with a basic familiarity of the components of BRS, an understanding that many of their members will have an option to “opt-in” to the new retirement system in 2018, the major milestones for implementing the new system, and the resources available for additional information. This computer-based course will aid leaders as they inform their personnel on the upcoming implementation of the new system.
Commissaries Appear Safe – for Now
Last week the Senate voted in favor of an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that blocked an attempt by Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain to make DoD privatize a number of commissaries in spite of a directive to DoD in last year’s NDAA to undertake a study to assess the costs and benefits of privatization.
The amendment, authored by Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), was supported the Coalition to Save our Military Shopping Benefits. This was the second year in a row that Senators Inhofe and Mikulski had to offer an amendment to block commissary privatization.
In addition, last week we participated in a conference phone call with senior DoD officials concerning DoD’s work regarding the commissaries. The phone call came on the heels of DoD’s notification to Congress that it is impossible to save the benefit and completely eliminate the government subsidy to the commissary system.
During the call it was stressed by the officials that DoD’s first priority is to save the benefit. They do not believe there is any way to make commissaries revenue neutral so they are not even going to try to do that.
One of the first things DoD is trying to do is to determine exactly what the savings to shoppers is. There have been claims and studies that indicate shoppers save from 17% to 30% and DoD wants to determine what the amount really is.
They are also considering various changes, including variable pricing, trying to get better prices from grocery suppliers, and having suppliers stock shelves instead of commissary employees. In short, they want to see if they can save money by using processes currently used by private stores but not used by the commissaries.
VA's Commission on Care Wraps Up
The Congressionally-mandated “Commission on Care,” which was tasked with mapping out the modernization of the Veterans' Health Administration as it attempts to come to grips with the aftermath of the 2014 wait list scandal, has wrapped up its hearings. The final report is due to Congress by June 30th.
While the final content of the report is unknown at this time, it is clear that the commission was wide-ranging in it's objectives. Among the recommendations that the commission is expected to make are:
An odd-numbered board of governors to oversee the entire VHA system, not unlike a board of directors for a corporation.
- The 11 member board of governors may be tasked with the ability to oversee a BRAC-like system whereby the decision to close VA medical facilities may be taken away from Congress. Over the years Congress has proven to be reliably reluctant when it comes to closing VA facilities in their own districts, based upon the belief that those are high-paying jobs in the medical field that are unlikely to be replaced by the private sector.
- Granting VA, under Title 38, the power to set compensation levels that are commensurate with those in the private sector, so that VA is able to attract top-shelf talent; it would also stop time-in grade pay raises.
- A more flexible hiring process, including direct hiring authority when necessary.
- One set of standards for disciplining and firing VHA employees.
- A more uniform set of sick leave, vacation pay, time off, salary and awards and bonuses.
- Eliminating most distinctions (except for benefits) between part time and full time employees.
POW/MIA Flag Bill
Back in 2001 legislation was proposed that would have directed the POW/MIA flag to be flown beneath the U.S. Flag whenever the U.S. Flag is flown at the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veteran Memorial.
That particular legislation never passed Congress, but a new bill (H.R. 4910) has been introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Leonard Lance of New Jersey that would direct the POW/MIA flag to be flown beneath the U.S. Flag every day the U.S. Flag is flown over the U.S. Capitol and the White House.
The bill was introduced into the House Judiciary Committee and was then referred to the Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil/Justice. That was back on April 28.
Commission on Care Meets to Discuss Final Report
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the Commission on Care, which was chartered by Congress to recommend changes to the VA health care system, met to discuss recommendations it intends to send Congress and the president at the end of the month. The VFW has been monitoring the Commission’s work and warned them that it would denounce any recommendation that would lead to privatization of the VA health care system. Read the agenda and a summary of possible recommendations.
House Oversight Hearing on VA Academic Affiliations
On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing to discuss the relationship between the VA and its academic affiliates. VA Chief Academic Affiliations Officer Dr. Robert Jesse discussed how the VA’s more than 70-year relationship with its academic affiliates has assisted the VA in expanding access to care for veterans, training America’s health care workforce and conducting groundbreaking research. Members of the Subcommittee discussed recent Government Accountability Office reports on issues between the VA and its academic affiliates, including overpayments for health care services.
Senate Passes Female Veteran Suicide Prevention Act
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill to direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to identify mental health care and suicide prevention programs and metrics specific to women veterans. The bill was introduced by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) after a study released by the VA showed a striking increase in suicide among female veterans. The Senate bill will now go to the House for a final round of voting.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced the identification of remains and burial updates of eight U.S. servicemen who had been previously listed as missing in action from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
- Army Sgt. Harold Sparks, 21, of Seattle, will be buried June 16 in Kent, Wash. In early November 1950, Sparks was assigned to Company L, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, which was deployed near Unsan, North Korea, when enemy forces compelled the unit to withdraw. Sparks would be declared missing in action as a result of the battle that occurred Nov. 2, 1950.
- Marine Pfc. John F. Prince, 19, of New York City, will be buried June 17 in Calverton on Long Island. In November 1943, Prince was assigned to Company F, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, which landed against stiff Japanese resistance on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. Prince reportedly died on the first day of the battle, Nov. 20, 1943.
- Army Cpl. George G. Simmons, 27, of Hamilton, Mont., will be buried June 18 in Corvallis, Mont. On Dec. 8, 1941, Simmons was assigned to Battery H, 60th Coast Artillery Regiment on the Philippine Island of Corregidor when the Japanese invaded. After the fall of Corregidor, it would be later learned Simmons had died in captivity on Nov. 19, 1942.
- Navy Ensign Joseph P. Hittorff Jr., 25, of Collingswood, N.J., and Navy Ensign Lewis B. Pride Jr., 23, of Madisonville, Ky., were stationed aboard the battleship USS Oklahoma, which was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the ship capsized after sustaining multiple torpedo hits on Dec. 7, 1941. Both men will be buried on June 18––Hittorff in South Kent, Conn., and Pride in Providence, Ky.
- Army Sgt. Bailey Keeton, 20, of Scott County, Tenn., is scheduled to be buried June 25 in Oneida, Tenn. In late November 1950, Keeton was assigned to Company D, 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Infantry Division, which was deployed east of the Chosin River in North Korea, when they were attacked by an overwhelming number of Chinese forces. He would be reported as missing in action on Dec. 2, 1950.
- Army Air Forces Pvt. Evans E. Overbey, is scheduled to be buried July 15 in Johnston City, Tenn. In December 1941, he was assigned to the 93rd Bombardment Squadron, 19th Bombardment Group at Clark Field in the Philippines, when the Japanese attacked. It would be later learned he died in captivity on Nov. 19, 1942.
- Air Force Col. Patrick H. Wood, 36, of Kansas City, Mo. On Feb. 6, 1967, then-Major Wood was piloting an HH-3E Jolly Green Giant on a search and rescue mission near the Mu Gia Pass in North Vietnam when it was shot down, killing three of the four-man crew. He was assigned to Det. 5, 38th Aerospace Rescue and Recovery Squadron. The date and location of his burial has yet to be announced.
Proposed VA Rule Would Let Nurses Handle Duties Currently Restricted to Doctors
A new rule proposed recently by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in the Federal Register would expand the authority of nurses to treat veterans without a doctor’s supervision. The rule is being vociferously fought by doctors' groups, but it also has the potential to expand access to care – a major goal of veterans' groups ever since the secret wait list scandal exploded back in 2014.
The proposed rule would allow nurses with advanced training to broaden their responsibilities for patients by giving them the authority to order and read diagnostic tests, administer anesthesia, prescribe medications and manage acute and chronic diseases.
The Department of Defense and 21 states, as well as the District of Columbia have already made the same changes for nurse midwives, nurse practitioners and nurse anesthetists.
Under the new rule these nurses could practice independently of doctor supervision - even in the 29 states that still have the old restrictions in place, as long as they work for the VA.
“The purpose of this proposed regulation is to ensure VA has authority to address staffing shortages in the future,” David J. Shulkin, VA’s undersecretary for health, said in a statement on the agency’s website.
The proposed rule will be open for comment for 60 days – go here to make your voice heard on the issue
June is PTSD Awareness Month
June is PTSD Awareness Month. On the VA’s website you can learn more about PTSD, or about the help that is available for those suffering from PTSD, Learn More
Senate Report Finds “Systemic” Failures at VA IG in Tomah “Pill Mill” Case
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), issued a report last week that slammed the the Department of Veterans' Affairs' Inspector General's office for discounting key evidence, narrowing its field of inquiry and failing to make its report public after it investigated the over-prescription of opioid painkillers at a Wisconsin VA hospital.
The VA IG's investigation into the Tomah (Wisconsin) VA Medical Center (VAMC) failed to examine whether the opiates were being prescribed in dangerous combinations with other drugs or whether employees felt threatened with retaliation if they raised concerns.
According to the report, the Inspector General's office began investigating claims that opiates were being overpresecribed to Tomah patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2011.
The investigation, led by physician Allan Mallinger, failed to find that the Tomah VAMC's chief of staff, Dr. David Houlihan, or nurse practitioner Deborah Frasher had committed any wrongdoing, although concerns were noted about the high level of opioids being prescribed.
The IG's office then briefed local VA officials and closed the case without making the report public. Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections John Daigh, who made the decision to keep the report secret, told Senate investigators he could not "publish reports that repeat salacious allegations that I can't support."
In 2015 Marine Corps veteran Jason Simcakoski died at age 35 of "mixed drug toxicity” from prescriptions he obtained at the Tomah VAMC. The VA then began it's own investigation, which found that Houlihan and Frasher had failed to meet the standard of care in the vast majority of cases, and removed them from their positions at the Tomah facility.
VA allows reviews of over 24,000 possible TBI cases
Below is a VA press release announcing the decision of VA Secretary McDonald to allow over 24,000 veterans who previously unsuccessfully filed for service connected TBI disability claims to have new medical examinations and their previously denies claims be reconsidered. This is an unusual and very good legal step taken by the Secretary.
VA Secretary Provides Relief for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries
WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has granted equitable relief to more than 24,000 Veterans following a national review of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) medical examinations conducted in connection with disability compensation claims processed between 2007 and 2015.
This action by the Secretary allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer new TBI examinations to Veterans whose initial examination for TBI was not conducted by one of four designated medical specialists and provides them with the opportunity to have their claims reprocessed. Equitable relief is a unique legal remedy that allows the Secretary to correct an injustice to a claimant where VA is not otherwise authorized to do so within the scope of the law.
“Traumatic Brain Injury is a signature injury in Veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and VA is proud to be an organization that sets the bar high for supporting these, and all, Veterans,” said Secretary McDonald. “Providing support for Veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities.”
To ensure that TBI is properly evaluated for disability compensation purposes, VA developed a policy in 2007 requiring that one of four specialists – a psychiatrist, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist – complete TBI exams when VA does not have a prior diagnosis.
Since 2007, medicine around TBI has been a rapidly evolving science. VA designated particular specialists to conduct initial TBI exams because they have the most experience with the symptoms and effects of TBI. As more research became available, VA issued a number of guidance documents that may have created confusion regarding the policy. VA has confirmed that its TBI policy guidance is now clear and being followed.
“We let these Veterans down,” Secretary McDonald said. “That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.”
VA understands the importance of an accurate exam to support Veterans’ disability claims. The Secretary’s decision to grant relief will enable VA to take action on any new examinations without requiring Veterans to submit new claims. If additional benefits are due, VA will award an effective date as early as the date of the initial TBI claim.
VA will contact Veterans identified as part of this national TBI review to offer them an opportunity to receive a new examination and have their claims reprocessed. More than 13,000 of these affected Veterans are already receiving service-connected compensation benefits for TBI at a 10-percent disability evaluation or higher, which means that the diagnosis has already been established.
Pentagon Pushes Back on Allegations it Lied to Congress in 2013
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter blamed misunderstandings and a lack of access to some information for the perception that DOD misled Congress on its handling of sexual assault cases back in 2013.
“The review that was conducted pursuant to your concerns, which I have enclosed, shows that the central issues raised in the report and article on based on certain misunderstandings of how the military justice system works, lack of access to information contained in the full case files or a disagreement on what ‘counts’ as a sexual assault,” Carter wrote in a letter to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
Senator Gillibrand is hoping the reports will strengthen her proposal to change the military justice system through an amendment the Fiscal Year 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (FY 17 NDAA). She has also called for President Obama to open an independent investigation into the issue.
This past April the Associated Press and the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders reported that Pentagon testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2013 about sexual assault cases was misleading.
Then-Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. James Winnefeld cited 93 cases of sexual assault that civilian prosecutors refused to take up that were later pursued by military commanders.
That testimony is considered important because it derailed legislation, pushed by Senator Gillibrand, that would have taken the authority for deciding whether or not to court-martial a servicemember accused of sexual assault away from military commanders. At the time, TREA did not support that proposal.
The report from Protect Our Defenders asserts that in two-thirds of the 93 cases the military identified, the defendant was not accused of sexual assault, civilian prosecutors did not decline the case, or the military failed to prosecute the offender for sexual assault.
The Secretary Carter's letter took issue with that analysis, claiming that it is impossible to tell whether civilian authorities declined to prosecute the cases or they simply deferred to the authority of the military justice system when it came to prosecuting active-duty servicemembers.
The AP report quotes civilian prosecutors saying they would have taken up the cases, while the Pentagon’s case files indicate the same offices declined to take up cases, adding to the confusion.
Further, Secretary Carter said that the Air Force cases cited in the 2013 testimony could not be evaluated because the attorney who chose those cases for citation has since died.
The Band Will Not Play On
The 40-member 392nd Army Band at Fort Lee is scheduled to be deactivated, with only about a dozen musicians left by the end of the year. Bands at Fort Gordon, Fort Rucker and Fort Knox are also being cut as part of an Army-wide effort to reduce the number of musicians and put more soldiers in combat-related slots.
Hangars Showing Age
Like many other parts of Army infrastructure, airfield hangars are showing their age. In some cases, they are structurally deficient and fail to meet operational requirements of modern combat aviation brigades.
When Less is More
Army medical officials have an ambitious goal of increasing the number of soldiers who are available to deploy even as 40,000 troops are cut from the ranks. This is possible, they believe, by reducing the number of soldiers medically unavailable to deploy. In today’s 490,000-soldier Regular Army, 16 percent of the force is nondeployable.
The VA Announces Partnership to Empower Women Veterans
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ Center for Women Veterans has announced a partnership with a nonprofit organization for female veterans. The organization, LeanIn.Org, was founded by Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as a tool to empower women working to achieve their ambitions. Now partnering with the VA, the website has a chapter dedicated to women veterans comprised of two pilot programs. The Veteran-to-Veteran program is a virtual program that allows female veterans to participate in the site regardless of their physical location. The second program is a face-to-face pilot circle that is a mix of women veterans and non-military members. “For many years, women veterans have expressed to us that they need to have a mechanism to engage with their fellow women veterans to make a difference in their community, and we believe this is the perfect match,” explained Kayla M. Williams, director of the VA’s Center for Women Veterans. “The VA is pleased to be a part of these two pilot programs.” Read the VA’s press release. Visit the newly partnered website.
TRICARE Pharmacy Emergency Procedures in Texas
TRICARE has instituted emergency prescription refill procedures in several counties in Texas due to severe flooding. Under this policy, TRICARE beneficiaries may refill their prescriptions at any TRICARE retail network pharmacy. Emergency prescription refill procedures are in place from June 2 - July 2, 2016. For a list of affected counties or for more information, click here.
Check Your Voter Registration
Election season is upon us, and veterans and their families are a key voting bloc. Ensuring that you are properly registered to vote is a priority. If you have moved, changed your name, changed party affiliation, or have not voted in more than a year, you may need to update your voter registration. It is very simple to do, but deadlines and requirements vary depending on the state or territory in which you live. Time is of the essence as General Election Day is November 8. Click here for the best way to find all the information you need to ensure you are properly registered to vote in your state or territory.
USPS Unveils New Service Cross Stamp
The U.S. Postal Service released its new “forever” stamp this week to honor recipients of our nation’s second highest medal for valor, the Service Cross Medals—the Army Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross and the Coast Guard Cross. The DSC was first established in 1918, followed the next year by the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross in 1960, and the Coast Guard Cross in 2010. To learn more or to place orders, click here.
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Office announced the identification of the remains of three sailors and one Marine who had been missing in action since World War II. Returning home for burial with full military honors are:
- Navy Seaman 2nd Class Vernon N. Grow and Machinist's Mate 1st Class Alfred F. Wells, had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma they were aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Wells, 32, will be buried June 11 in his hometown of Syracuse, N.Y.
- Marine Corps Pfc. John Saini and Navy Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class Howard P. Brisbane, died fighting on the Pacific atoll of Tarawa on Nov. 20, 1943. Saini, 20, was assigned to Company H, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, and will be buried June 11 in his hometown of Healdsburg, Calif. Brisbane was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division.
VETS Monthly Employment Overview – May 2016
Each month, the Veterans' Employment & Training Service (VETS) reviews data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to provide an overview of veteran & nonveteran employment statistics. The update includes unemployment information by veteran status, gender, and post-9/11 Era service, as well as state-by-state data and growth of industry sectors nationwide. Also included are graphs showing unemployment trends over the last 24 months. View the full report
Good News for Veterans!
In May, the veteran unemployment rate decreased from last month’s result of 3.9% to 3.4%, once again maintaining a lower level than the overall unemployment rate. This continues a 24-month trend with a single exception, when veteran unemployment was 0.1% higher than overall unemployment in December 2015. Additionally, the unemployment rate for veterans 18-24 years of age remained at 6.3%, a significant decrease from March’s results of 15.8%.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE June 1, 2016
VA Secretary Provides Relief for Veterans with Traumatic Brain Injuries
WASHINGTON – Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald has granted equitable relief to more than 24,000 Veterans following a national review of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) medical examinations conducted in connection with disability compensation claims processed between 2007 and 2015. This action by the Secretary allows the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to offer new TBI examinations to Veterans whose initial examination for TBI was not conducted by one of four designated medical specialists and provides them with the opportunity to have their claims reprocessed. Equitable relief is a unique legal remedy that allows the Secretary to correct an injustice to a claimant where VA is not otherwise authorized to do so within the scope of the law. “Traumatic Brain Injury is a signature injury in Veterans returning from the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and VA is proud to be an organization that sets the bar high for supporting these, and all, Veterans,” said Secretary McDonald. “Providing support for Veterans suffering from a TBI is a priority and a privilege, and we must make certain they receive a just and fair rating for their disabilities.” To ensure that TBI is properly evaluated for disability compensation purposes, VA developed a policy in 2007 requiring that one of four specialists – a psychiatrist, physiatrist, neurosurgeon or neurologist – complete TBI exams when VA does not have a prior diagnosis. Since 2007, medicine around TBI has been a rapidly evolving science. VA designated particular specialists to conduct initial TBI exams because they have the most experience with the symptoms and effects of TBI. As more research became available, VA issued a number of guidance documents that may have created confusion regarding the policy. VA has confirmed that its TBI policy guidance is now clear and being followed. “We let these Veterans down,” Secretary McDonald said. “That is why we are taking every step necessary to grant equitable relief to those affected to ensure they receive the full benefits to which they are entitled.” VA understands the importance of an accurate exam to support Veterans’ disability claims. The Secretary’s decision to grant relief will enable VA to take action on any new examinations without requiring Veterans to submit new claims. If additional benefits are due, VA will award an effective date as early as the date of the initial TBI claim. VA will contact Veterans identified as part of this national TBI review to offer them an opportunity to receive a new examination and have their claims reprocessed. More than 13,000 of these affected Veterans are already receiving service-connected compensation benefits for TBI at a 10-percent disability evaluation or higher, which means that the diagnosis has already been established.
SASC Moves to Cut BAH for Second Year in a Row
The Senate Armed Services Committee's version of the FY 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (FY17 NDAA) contains a proposal for "substantial reform" of the $21 billion Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) program that could have a major impact on active duty servicemembers.
The committee, chaired by Senator John McCain (R-AZ), is targeting BAH payments made to service members who choose to reside together. This lowers their actual costs of off-base housing while assigned stateside, which the committee considers a “windfall.” SASC is also aiming at servicemembers who pay less in rent than they are receiving in BAH. The proposal would pay only the actual amount each servicemember individually paid for rent.
The other "reform" caps monthly payments for individual servicemembers to the lesser of two amounts: either what individuals actually pay to rent housing or to a local BAH maximum based on their rank and dependency status.
Apparently, however, DOD has failed to deliver a report to Congress on how to modify BAH rates to cover actual housing costs in a less draconian manner. It seems strange, however, that the Senate version tells DOD give Congress a new report by next March on how the new BAH calculations should be implemented, and to include an estimate of the impact on force retention and overall compensation. They want to make the change in law before they even know what the impacts of that change are.
Needless to say, We will not go along with these cuts. We will keep up the fight to ensure that military compensation does not drop to the levels last seen in the 1990s, when DOD could not keep E-5s and O-3s in uniform. Apparently SASC'S institutional memory is severely lacking when it comes to the people who operate their planes, ships, and tanks.
Now, finally, a World War I Memorial in DC?
As we are moving towards the 100th Anniversary of the United States entering the First World War (1917) and the end of the war (1918) there is yet another push to create a memorial in Washington commemorate the “War to end all Wars.” In Europe large memorial events have been underway since 2014. We have written about the U.S. Commission already but below please find an article by the architect who has designed the proposed National World War I Memorial for Washington DC.
"This Memorial Day, let's Build a WW1 Memorial."
By Joe Weishaar, Lead Designer
The National World War One Memorial in Pershing Park, Washington DC
As many Americans around the country take a moment to relax with friends and family this Memorial Day, I hope they take a moment to pause over their grills and swimming pools to ponder what the holiday really represents.
It's been my absolute pleasure the last 10 months to be involved in what I often consider an overwhelming project; designing the National World War One Memorial in Washington, D.C. I must admit that before I began I hadn't given much thought to WWI.
For anyone who didn't know that there isn't already a National WWI Memorial in D.C., I can't say I blame you. It was a war that happened nearly two generations before I was born and events like WWII and the Great Depression greatly overshadowed learning about it while I was in school. Yet here we are, and next year is the 100th anniversary of American troops heading over to Europe. Our capital is lacking a memorial to what is commonly referred to as “The Great War” and “the war to end all wars.” It was a war that changed the face of our industry, our technology and our place in the world.
As a 26 year old, I don't yet fully know what I can do to make change and progress in this country, but I do know that 100 years ago young Americans just like me were about to head off to fight in WW1, and they fought for the ideals that would go on to define the American century.
When I submitted a design to this competition nearly a year ago I only had a glimmer of hope that it would progress to this stage. However, I did so with the idea that it was important to do all I could to honor the men and women who once defended freedom and self-determination for their towns, states, and country. Not only has it been a life changing experience to stand up in Washington and tell people about my ideas for a memorial park, but now it is a humbling honor to find myself at the head of this great undertaking. The memorial design in progress is a tribute to our humanity and a marker of courageous acts in the most harrowing of circumstances.
Just like enlistment was in the Great War, this is a volunteer effort. Time and donations are coming solely from the citizens of this country with no tax dollars or government spending. 100 years ago more than 116,000 Americans lost their lives defending their small towns like the one in Arkansas that I came from. It is time they had a proper memorial in our nation's capital. The building of this memorial sends a signal, a signal to your families, children and grandchildren that courage, honor and sacrifice still mean something. It is a message to our current and future veterans that they will not be forgotten when their time comes.
As Memorial Day approaches this year I hope you keep the soldiers of WW1 in your thoughts. It is time for us to give back for the sacrifices they made almost 100 years ago. With this project, we need this same sense of service from every American to make it happen and I hope you will support me in this effort. Examples of my design and opportunities to give can be found at ww1cc.org/design.
VA Has Mistakenly Declared 4k Vets to be Dead
According to a letter sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs last month, the VA improperly declared 4,201 veterans to be dead from 2011 through 2015.
According to the Washington Post, Danny G.I. Pummill, acting VA benefits undersecretary, tried to put the mistaken deaths in context by noting in the letter that the department’s accuracy rate for benefit terminations due to death is 99.8 percent.
The VA has implemented new procedures that hopefully will cut down on the number of veterans who are improperly declared deceased, have their payments stopped, and then face financial hardship because something that was not their fault.
The VA will now send a letter to the beneficiary’s address to “request confirmation of the beneficiary’s death from a survivor or request that the beneficiary contact VA to resume payments,” Pummill said in an earlier letter [to Congress]. VA will terminate the payments in 30 days if it doesn’t get information that the beneficiary is alive.
Apparently the VA often relies on data from the Social Security Administration (SSA). If SSA has determined somebody dead, the VA then terminates benefits. The SSA makes about 9,000 erroneous reports of death each year. that number is less than 1 percent of the 2.8 million death reports Social Security records annually, according to an SSA spokesman.
When Social Security shares death information with other agencies it includes a disclaimer telling officials to make sure the death data are not defective. Apparently the VA has not been following those instructions very well, but it may be less of an issue in the future.
VA Launches Veterans Legacy Program
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced the launch of the Veterans Legacy Program to memorialize Veterans’ service and sacrifice through public educational programming. The program uses the rich resources found throughout VA national cemeteries, Soldiers’ lots and monument sites. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald announced the program yesterday during a Memorial Day ceremony at Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, California.
“The Veterans Legacy Program is meant to bring to life the stories of Veterans buried in VA national cemeteries through lesson plans, interactive maps and video vignettes,” said Secretary McDonald. “Behind every marker is a story—a story of what it meant to be a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine and Coast Guardsman at a particular moment in time. Our goal is to ensure that our nation does not forget their stories and their sacrifice.”
Using online educational products such as lesson plans, interactive maps and short video vignettes, VA, through the Veterans Legacy Program, will engage the general public, students and educators. VA launched this initiative earlier this year at two pilot sites: Beaufort National Cemetery in South Carolina and Riverside National Cemetery in California. Over the next several years, online educational products and programs will be developed for all VA national cemeteries.
VA has also formed a partnership with the American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) to co-sponsor a “Teachers Institute,” a workshop for educators who will conduct research at VA and ABMC cemeteries. Information about the program may be found at www.cem.va.gov/cem/legacy.
More than 4 million Americans, including Veterans of every war and conflict, are buried in VA’s 133 national cemeteries. VA also provides funding to establish, expand, improve, and maintain 100 Veterans cemeteries in 47 states and territories including tribal trust lands, Guam and Saipan. For Veterans not buried in a VA national cemetery, VA provides headstones, markers or medallions to commemorate their service. In 2015, VA honored more than 353,000 Veterans and their loved ones with memorial benefits in national, state, tribal and private cemeteries.
Information on VA burial benefits is available from local VA national cemetery offices at http://www.cem.va.gov/cem/cems/listcem.asp or by calling VA regional offices toll-free at 800-827-1000. For more information about the history of VA national cemeteries, visit www.cem.va.gov/cem/history.
Blogs about the Veterans Legacy Program may be found at: www.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/26511/va-launches-veterans-legacy-program/ andwww.blogs.va.gov/VAntage/28031/veterans-stories-not-just-stories-americas-history/.
VA Proposes to Grant Full Practice Authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses
Proposed Rule Will Improve Veteran Access to Care and Use of Resources
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is proposing a rule to grant full practice authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) when they are acting within the scope of their VA employment. Full practice authority will help optimize access to VA health care by permitting APRNs to assess, diagnose, prescribe medications and interpret diagnostic tests. This action proposes to expand the pool of qualified health care professionals authorized to provide primary health care and other related health care services to the full extent of their education, training, and certification to Veterans without the clinical supervision of a physician.
APRNs are clinicians with advanced degrees and training who provide primary, acute and specialty health care services. APRNs complete masters, post-master or doctoral degrees. There are four APRN roles: Certified Nurse Practitioner, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and Certified Nurse Midwife. All VA APRNs are required to obtain and maintain current national certification.
“The purpose of this proposed regulation is to ensure VA has authority to address staffing shortages in the future,” said VA Under Secretary for Health Dr. David J. Shulkin. “Implementation of the final rule would be made through VHA policy, which would clarify whether and which of the four APRN roles would be granted full practice authority. At this time, VA is not seeking any change to VHA policy on the role of CRNAs, but would consider a policy change in the future to utilize full practice authority when and if such conditions require such a change,” Shulkin said. “This is good news for our APRNs, who will be able to perform functions that their colleagues in the private sector are already doing.”
The American Nurses Association (ANA) applauds VHA’s leadership for proposing to grant full practice authority to the four types of Advanced Practice Registered Nurses. “VA will be able to more effectively meet the health care needs of our nation’s Veterans,” said ANA President Pamela Cipriano. “This proposal removes barriers that prevent APRNs from providing a full range of services and will assist VA in its ongoing efforts to address staff shortages and improve Veterans’ access to care. APRNs are critical members of the health care workforce and an integral component of the health care delivery system with a proven track record of safe quality care and high patient satisfaction.”
The proposed rule can be found for comment at www.regulations.gov.
Memorial Day 2016
National Commander John Biedrzycki will be representing the VFW at the White House Monday morning, as well as participating in Memorial Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Locally, many of our 6,600 VFW Posts will be hosting similar ceremonies to honor our fallen. As we gather to remember the more than one million Americans who died in our nation’s conflicts going back to the Revolutionary War, please remember to keep our 83,000 missing and unaccounted for servicemen — and their families — in your thoughts. Memorial Day weekend activities in Washington include:
- National Memorial Day Concert, Sunday, May 29, from 8-9:30 p.m. on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol, and aired live on PBS stations nationwide.
- National World War II Memorial Observance, Monday, May 30, at 9 a.m.
- Arlington National Cemetery Memorial Day Observance, from 11 a.m. to noon, Monday, inside the Memorial Amphitheater next to the Tomb of the Unknowns.
- Vietnam War Memorial Observance, from 1-2 p.m., Monday.
- National Memorial Day Parade, start time 2 p.m., Monday, from the National Archives building down Constitution Avenue past the White House.
- Korean War Veterans Memorial Observance, at 5 p.m., Monday.
Senate Hearing on Pending Health Care Bills
On Tuesday, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee held a hearing to discuss several bills on veterans health care and benefits, including legislation to expand the Veterans Choice Program, expedite the disability compensation appeals process, and improve mental health care programs for women veterans. VFW Senior Legislative Associate Carlos Fuentes offered the VFW’s support for many of the bills being considered and offered recommendations to improve others. Fuentes urged the VA to develop a comprehensive plan to reduce the more than 450,000 appeals backlog before reforming the process for future appeals. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson and members of the committee also discussed Secretary McDonald’s recent comments on how the VA measures wait times.
House Advances Veterans Legislation
On Monday, the House of Representatives advanced several veterans bills. These include the VA Health Center Management Stability and Improvement Act, which would require the VA to develop and carry out a plan to hire permanent directors at each VA medical center; bills to rename VA outpatient clinics and U.S. post offices after heroic veterans; and a bill to grant veterans the opportunity to appeal Caregivers Program eligibility determinations to an independent contractor. The House has passed several veterans bills in the past couple of months, and awaits Senate action on a large veterans health care and benefits bill before negotiation on a final veterans bill that would be considered by Congress and sent to the president. However, the House has failed to pass legislation to expand the Caregivers Program to pre-9/11 veterans who suffer from injuries and illnesses which limit their ability to live independently. The VFW urges its members and supporters to call on the Senate to pass the Veterans First Act, which includes language to expand the Caregivers Program, and tell the House to act on legislation to expand the Caregivers Program to veterans of all eras. Stay tuned to the Action Corps Weekly for updates.
Democratic Leadership Roundtable
Four times a year the House Democratic leadership hosts a veterans service organization (VSO) roundtable in an effort to stay connected with the issues that most concern the veterans community. The most recent roundtable took place on Wednesday, May 25. Topics the VFW discussed were the legislative action Congress must take to continue to improve veterans’ access to care. This includes making it easier for the VA to hire more physicians, allowing VA outpatient clinics to have extended hours and weekend appointment options, simplify the contract process so private community doctors can more easily see veterans, and consolidate and streamline the non-VA care payment system so veterans aren’t charged for care in the community that the VA should pay for. We also discussed the need for increased resources to pay for expansion of caregiver benefits, Blue Water Navy, and other benefits and services veterans and their families need. Leaders from the Appropriations Committee committed to working more closely with VSOs so they can better understand these needs and work to find ways to fund them.
VA Proposes APRN Full Practice Authority
The Department of Veterans Affairs is proposing a policy to allow full practice authority to Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRN) within the VA. By doing this, APRNs will be able to assess, diagnose, interpret diagnostic tests and prescribe medications for patients. Permitting full practice to APRNs is being proposed as a means of increasing access to care for veterans. APRNs are clinicians with advanced degrees and training to provide primary, acute and specialty health care services. Depending on their specialization, they are certified as nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, certified registered nurse anesthetists and certified nurse midwives. All VA APRNs are required to obtain and maintain current national certi fication. For more information on the APRN proposal, click here.
Brain Health Summit Focuses on TBI/PTSD
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, One Mind –– an organization led by retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli that is dedicated to promoting and supporting brain health –– held a summit in Arlington, Va. Among those in attendance were employees of The Department of Veterans Affairs, National Institute of Mental Health, and The Food and Drug Administration. Panel discussions were hosted by world-renowned Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) researchers, clinicians and policy analysts. The key sessions focused on the translation of science into clinical practices, standardized screening for TBI, the diagnosis of PTSD, and progress toward better diagnostic and prognostic assessments for TBI and co-morbid conditions. The conference wrapped up with talks centered on recommendations for advancing TBI/PTSD treatment and policy implementation in the future of medicine. For more information on One Mind, visit their website.
MIA and Burial Updates
The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced burial updates and new identifications of remains of 13 missing and unaccounted for servicemen from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Being returned for burial with full military honors are:
- Navy Seaman 2nd Class Challis R. James, of Portsmouth, Ohio, Fireman 1st Class Frank E. Nicoles, 25, of Eau Claire, Wis., Warrant Officer Daryl H. Goggin, 34, of Eugene, Ore., and Chaplain (Lt. j.g.) Aloysius H. Schmitt, 32, of St. Lucas, Iowa, had been missing since Dec. 7, 1941, when the battleship USS Oklahoma they were aboard suffered multiple torpedo hits and capsized as it was moored off Ford Island in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
- Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Davis, of Indiana County, Pa., who was lost fighting in North Korea on Nov. 2, 1950. It would be later learned he was captured but died in captivity. He was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.
- Navy Lt. Cmdr. Frederick P. Crosby, 31, of Orlando, Fla., was piloting an RF-8A Photo Crusader on a combat mission in North Vietnam when his aircraft was hit by enemy fire and crashed in Thanh Hoa Province on June 1, 1965. He was assigned to Light Photograph Squadron 63.
- Army Pvt. Earl J. Keating, 28, will be buried May 28 in his hometown of New Orleans. Group remains representing Keating and Pvt. John H. Klopp, 25, also of New Orleans, were buried in Arlington National Cemetery on March 23. On Dec. 5, 1942, Keating and Klopp died repulsing a Japanese attack in present-day Papua New Guinea. Both were subsequently buried, but their graves couldn’t be located after the war. Both were assigned to Anti-Tank Company, 126th Infantry Regiment, 32nd Infantry Division. Read more.
- Marine Pfc. Elmer L. Mathies Jr., 21, will be buried May 28 in his hometown of Hereford, Texas. Mathies died Nov. 20, 1943, while fighting the Japanese on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. He was assigned to Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Read more.
- Navy Motor Machinist's Mate 1st Class John E. Anderson, 24, will be buried May 28 in his hometown of Willmar, Minn. On June 6, 1944, Anderson was stationed aboard a Landing Craft Tank that after offloading its men and equipment during the D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach was destroyed by enemy fire. Read more.
- Army Pvt. John P. Sersha, 20, of Leoneth, Minn., will be buried May 28 in Eveleth, Minn. On Sept. 27, 1944, during Operation Market Garden, Sersha was one of three “Bazooka Men” sent out with a platoon to assault German positions near Groesbeek, Netherlands. None of the three men returned. Sersha was assigned to Company F, 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. Read more.
- Air Force 1st Lt. Donald W. Bruch Jr., 24, of Montclair, N.J., will be buried May 29 in East Petersburg, Pa. On April 29, 1966, Bruch was piloting an F-105D Thunderchief toward a target in North Vietnam when his aircraft was struck by enemy anti-aircraft artillery. He was assigned to the 333rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing. Read more.
- Marine Pfc. James B. Johnson, 19, of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., will be buried May 31 in Arlington National Cemetery. Johnson died Nov. 20, 1943, while fighting the Japanese on the small island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll of the Gilbert Islands. He was assigned to Company K, 3rd Battalion, 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division. Read more.