U.S. Army aviation faces a diverse threat environment, spanning broad categories of threats from ballistic munitions and guided missiles to directed energy and cyber weapons. It also spans generations of technology, ranging from constantly evolving sophisticated systems to widely proliferated legacy equipment. The modern threat environment presents both a technical challenge and a moving target to Army aviation. Historically, the science and technology (S&T) community has played an important role in developing advanced technologies to outpace the evolution of the threat. In an increasingly challenging threat environment, S&T is now even more critical.
An unclassified 1,300-page “unvarnished history” of the Iraq War is at the center of a heated debate among Army leaders and historians over who gets credit for what, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The infighting has reportedly stalled the publication of the study, which was commissioned in 2013 by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno and remains unpublished. Sources told the Journal that Odierno urged a team of researchers consisting of some of the Army’s “brightest officers” to work expeditiously so that the history could publish while the lessons of the war “were most relevant.”
But it seems not everyone is convinced the general’s motives were pure.
- A chief concern of those who took issue with the first draft of the history — which was completed in 2016 — is how the authors chose to portray Odierno.
- According to the Journal, the study “hails President George W. Bush ‘surge’ of reinforcements and the switch to a counterinsurgency strategy overseen by Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Odierno.”
- Odierno also apparently circumvented the standard process for “publishing the Army’s official conflicts,” after the Army’s Center of Military said the history would take five to 10 years.
- Time seemed to be of the essence. “Some of the officials foresaw trouble if the study wasn’t published before Gen. Odierno retired, which he did in August 2015,” the Journal writes.
- Furthermore, the study team was originally helmed by Army Col. Joel Rayburn, who served as an advisor to Petraeus in Iraq, according to the Journal.
- The tangled web of loyalties reportedly prompted one Army historian to draft a memo proposing major revisions to the study and raise the question of whether it was intended to “validate the surge” and thus, as the Journal puts it, “burnish Gen. Odierno’s and Gen. Petraeus’s legacy.”
- The 2007 surge coincided with a dramatic decline in the sectarian violence that had surged across Iraq the previous year, leading many to conclude that the extra troops and the counterinsurgency strategy Petraeus employed had succeeded in winning a seemingly un-winnable war. That narrative lost some of its luster in the ensuing years as the results proved temporary.
- But the history commissioned by Odierno has plenty of champions while Rayburn “defended the study’s portrayal of the ‘surge’ as a success,” according to the Journal.
- Meanwhile, retired Gen. Dan Allyn, who served as Army vice chief of staff when the history was completed in 2016, told the Journal that the brass sought to distance itself from the study in part because “senior leaders who were in position when these things happened, and they were concerned on how they were portrayed.”
- Among the many mistakes identified in the study, according to the Journal, are a chronic shortage of boots on the ground, heavily lopsided contributions by the various coalition partners, the consolidating of troops on large forward operating bases from 2004 to the troop surge, and the failure to prevent Iran and Syria from bolstering their favored militant groups in Iraq.
- Despite all the drama, however, the Army finally came around. Last week, the current Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark Milley, told the Journal that he had discarded plans to tweak the study and said it will be released in its original form — and with his stamp of approval — hopefully by Christmas.
Army Veteran Joni Mulvania (above, left) got a birdie on the first hole. No, really. Her tee shot hit a bird in mid-flight.
“The bird was not injured but my game never recovered.” That good-natured approach and her considerable athletic ability earned Mulvania one of the top awards at last year’s TEE tournament. She will be back this week. All birds are duly notified.
The TEE tournament is an annual golf rehabilitation program for Veterans who are legally blind, amputees, those who use wheelchairs and Veterans with other disabilities. It’s underway this week in Iowa City, Iowa.
The award Mulvania received was the 2017 Wayne Earle-Hampton Hill Award given to the Veteran who best exemplifies the spirit of the games. And there are numerous other awards in her golf bag. Her teams were the champions in 2008, 2009 and 2015.
The event provides legally blind Veterans and those with other disabilities an opportunity to participate in a therapeutic golfing event as well as other sports activities. The games enable Veterans to develop new skills and strengthen their self-esteem.
Mulvania, a retired Army Veteran who served three tours in South Korea lives in Rock Island, Illinois, “With my min pins Bonnie and Scooby Doo.” She has been diagnosed with PTSD, Military Sexual Trauma, seizure disorder and chronic pain, but never misses the TEE tournament because she enjoys encouraging other Veterans and building her endurance and strength through swimming, biking and golf.
“I love sports. My favorites are swimming, golf, and riding my trike. I also co-sponsor a women’s softball team. I enjoy cooking and barbecuing with friends and family. I also enjoy attending Veterans’ events and spending time with my best friend, my mother.”
TEE is an acronym for Training, Exposure and Experience. Participation is open to Veterans with visual impairments, amputations, traumatic brain injuries, psychological trauma, certain neurological conditions, spinal cord injuries and other life changing disabilities.
The TEE Tournament uses a therapeutic format to promote health, wellness, rehabilitation, fellowship and camaraderie among its participants. This is the 25th year of the tournament.
Mulvania encourages Veterans to contact their local VA. “There are a lot of amazing opportunities out there.”
Anna Mae Hays, an Army nurse who served in a mud-caked jungle hospital in World War II, guided the Army Nurse Corps through the bloodiest years of the Vietnam War and became the first female general in American military history, died Jan. 7 at a retirement home in Washington. She was 97.
As part of our commitment to those that have served, taxpayers will spend $100 billion in 2019 towards benefits programs for Veterans. Costs for these programs have more than quadrupled since the year 2000. Few programs of this size and importance have received less attention from a policy perspective.
The VA’s disability compensation system is complex, cumbersome and frequently difficult to navigate. The approval process can be frustrating and slow — from obtaining copies of military service records to undergoing a comprehensive evaluation known as the Compensation and Pension examination, which is used to assign a disability rating from 0-100 percent.
The exam itself was first conceived in the 1940’s. It has only been modified through iterative changes and may fail to properly acknowledge some of the most common issues facing today’s Veterans, such as post traumatic stress (PTS).
Veterans who are dissatisfied with initial decisions often seek higher ratings. Despite real progress by VA in recent years, the backlog of appeals remains large and hundreds of thousands of Veterans wait on a system impeded by legislative restrictions and its own bureaucracy. This perpetuates an adversarial relationship between the Veteran and VA. Many Veterans who struggle to obtain an initial benefits’ decision become locked into a complicated process to prove their needs.
Few incentives exist for Veterans to improve their health status and decrease their disability rating. Under current policies, Veterans that improve may receive lower monthly payments. This also impacts Veteran's prospects in the workforce.
A recent study published in The National Bureau of Economic Research found that that changes broadening disability compensation eligibility were associated with a decrease in workforce participation among disabled Veterans. This lies in stark contrast to the large body of evidence suggesting that employment has a clear positive effect on Veteran's physical and mental well-being.
Disability compensation should be aligned with efforts to facilitate improvements in Veteran's health and financial security. To that end, we believe the following five policy principles should be considered by VA and the 116th Congress. These ideas would allow the VA to test new compensation models as they modernize an antiquated system:
- Disability ratings should be updated to reflect contemporary workforce needs. The current system places a high priority on physical attributes necessary for manual labor and does not acknowledge present day opportunities for many disabled Veterans to hold jobs in an increasingly digital economy.
- VA should make better use of its vast data to make more personalized disability compensation determinations. Leveraging what has become commonplace in the private sector, predictive analytic models can allow VA to tailor compensation more accurately. It may also be used to predict which Veterans will need more resources later in life due to individual characteristics or known disability profiles. Using these data to provide better initial determinations would allow VA to move away from a flawed and expensive appeals and re-rating process.
- VA should utilize best practices in behavioral economics to incentivize decisions that promote well-being and financial independence. Veterans should be incentivized to access healthcare when needed (e.g. PTS treatment). There should be simpler and more efficient linkages between the disability and the healthcare systems. When appropriate, the disability system should be integrated with programs that provide service dogs, adaptive sports and other programs that help Veterans regain functional and financial independence.
- VA should facilitate savings plans in the form of an individualized retirement account to reduce financial uncertainty for Veterans unable to participate in the workforce. With defaults that favor saving, VA can make it easier for Veterans to plan for the long-term financial implications of returning from service with significant disability.
- The benefits program should offer a lump sum payment option. Lump sum payments can provide Veterans with the resources needed to buy a house, start a business, or make other decisions that require capital resources up front. Lump sum payments are also advantageous to taxpayers because they can reduce future liabilities and create greater financial certainty over long lifetimes.
Reforming Veterans benefits will be controversial, but necessary. If left as is, the current system is at risk of becoming financially unsustainable. Reactionary funding cuts would harm Veterans and further compromise public trust in upholding our responsibility to caring for our Veterans. The commitment Americans have to our Veterans is too important to forgo needed reforms.
That many U.S. Veterans didn’t receive the educational benefits they were owed in recent months is inexcusable.
What would be an even greater outrage, however, is if the federal government allows these mistakes to persist.
The Department of Veterans Affairs must develop a clear plan to ensure GI Bill recipients receive their proper housing stipends and other educational benefits as soon as possible. The technology failures that reportedly caused thousands of Veterans to receive late or incorrect benefit payments in 2018 should be swiftly corrected.
There can be no more excuses.
So far, VA officials have offered little assurance that the situation is under control. After making a series of confusing statements, VA officials now say all GI bill recipients will receive the full housing payments and other benefits they are owed, retroactively if need be.
But while the VA committed to correcting some of its computer problems by Dec. 1, 2019, it still looks as if it will be many months before all Veterans are made whole.
That uncertainty is unacceptable for student Veterans who rely on precise benefit amounts to pay for tuition, food and rent.
The chaos is particularly uncalled for because the VA had a year to implement changes mandated by the Forever GI bill, as noted by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Washington, at a recent committee hearing. The agency has said changes to how housing payments are calculated under that bill precipitated the recent IT failures and delays.
Congress did the right thing by stepping in last month and setting a deadline for the VA to fix its backlog of incorrect payments. But the compliance date of Jan. 1, 2020 remains too far away — especially since the VA was supposed to have already implemented these changes months ago.
As Murray told VA Secretary Robert Wilkie last month, “These are basic tasks that the VA cannot get wrong.” Murray and U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, recently signed onto a letter calling for an inspector general investigation into the VA’s payment problems.
To their credit, both houses of Congress also passed legislation to ensure universities won’t penalize students if the VA misses a tuition payment.
Yet these are steps Congress should have never had to take in the first place. Nor do they fully address whether the VA will be prepared to roll out other new benefits mandated under the Forever GI Bill in the coming months. Those include a benefits extension for students enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs, which is supposed to take effect in August 2019.
Earlier this year, the Pentagon changed the rules for troops who want to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their dependents.
Most notably, the new policy will end transfers for service members who have been in uniform longer than 16 years, starting in July 2019. It also immediately put an end to previous exceptions that have allowed certain service members with more than 10 years in uniform to transfer the benefit without committing to serve four more years, including those who were unable to continue serving because of mandatory retirement or high-year tenure.
Defense Department officials have said the changes are “to more closely align the transferability benefit with its purpose as a recruiting and retention incentive."
“With these updates, the department addresses the intent of Congress and ensures the benefit is available for future service members,” DoD spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell in an email. She said the policy change will impact about 9 percent of active-duty service members, National Guardsmen and reservists.
The changes have been hotly contested by lawmakers and Veteran advocates, and after pushback, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis announced in September that none of the changes would apply to wounded warriors. Active-duty troops who have earned a Purple Heart for wounds in combat are now allowed to transfer their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to their family members whenever they want.
But more recently, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., has introduced legislation that would scrap the DoD’s recent changes all together and open GI Bill transfer to Veterans who did not have dependents while on active duty.
Meanwhile, long-serving troops who want to transfer their GI Bill benefits to a spouse or child should plan on doing so before the July deadline kicks in.
“We understand that it will take some time for service members and their families to decide on transferring benefits, so by giving them a one-year window, we believe it will give them ample time to gather information and make decisions,” Maxwell said.
Improved Pension with Aid and Attendance
First, John explains the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit. If a Veteran served at least 90 days of active duty, with one of those days being during a period of war, that person is a “wartime Veteran.” If that wartime Veteran needs help with their activities of daily living, and the costs associated with that care outweigh the Veteran’s ability to pay for it, then the VA will potentially kick in some extra money.
Technically, this benefit is called the improved pension with aid and attendance, but most people just call it aid and attendance.
It’s not only available to the Veteran, but it is also available to the surviving spouse of the Veteran, if they were married at least one year, married to the Veteran at the time of the Veteran’s death, and not remarried.
This income can be a life-saver, especially if it makes it possible for the Veteran or survivor to live in a facility that can care for their needs.
A few of the rules about eligibility for the Aid and Attendance benefit have changed. This includes clarification of the assets test, and a look-back period for any transfer of assets.
Clearly Defined Assets Test
This is a need-based benefit. In the past, the assets test for this benefit was very vague. One of the new rules is that there is bright line rule for net worth. There is now a clearly defined $123,600 limit on countable assets in order to qualify for this benefit.
John is concerned about how some of the changes are written. For example, a home is not a countable asset, but it is the home plus two acres. This means that folks who live on larger lots, or own extra land, will have a more complicated situation.
There is also a strange way that the VA is now calculating income as part of that net worth. In determining your assets, the VA will now look at something called your “income for VA purposes.” This takes your annual income, minus your unreimbursed medical expenses, and adds that to your net worth. This does not make any sense – there is no other context in which you included someone’s income in their net worth.
Adding A Look-back Period
The biggest change is that historically, the VA did not have a penalty for transferring assets. They now have a 3 year look-back period, similar to Medicaid. Any transferred that occurred in the 3 years prior to your application , any gift that happened during those 3 years, they can penalize you up to 60 months in the future.
The penalty period is calculated by taking the amount of the gift, and divide that by the maximum aid and attendance benefit for a single person with one dependent, which is about $2,170 per month. The VA won’t provide benefits for the number of months you’ve been penalized.
This only applies to gifts that are over the asset limit.
The maximum penalty can be no longer than five years.
This creates a tricky situation where you have to be sure that you wait at least the three years after transferring any assets or else you may find yourself penalized for longer than the look-back period.
What This Means For You
The big takeaway from these changes is that if you may be eligible for this benefit, you might need to do some advance planning. In the past, there was no reason to plan until you were going to apply for the benefit. Because of these changes, you might want to take some actions in advance to ensure you are eligibility for this benefit when the time comes.
Thousands of Veterans who attended a vocational school or college that closed will have their benefits restored under the "Forever GI Bill," experts say.
Lawmakers this month sent an expanded GI educational benefits bill, known as the "Forever GI Bill" to President Donald Trump's desk to sign.
The Forever GI Bill, which passed the U.S. Senate unanimously, is estimated to cost more than $3 billion over 10 years.
"It restores benefits to Veterans who were impacted by school closures since 2015 and has special benefits for our reservists, surviving dependents and Purple Heart recipients," said Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin in a statement.
The new law will also eliminate the 15-year limit on educational benefits for new enlistees. As the bill's nickname implies, Veterans will no longer have a time limit for completing their education.
Since the GI Bill's creation in 1944 during World War II, it has been updated several times to help Veterans pay for college and training. The last expansion, the post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, often called the post-9/11 GI Bill, was eight years ago.
The 2009 expansion increased Veteran student enrollment at colleges, says Liang Zhang, a professor at New York University's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, who studies higher education policies. Zhang found in his recent study that the last expansion increased enrollment rates by 3 percentage points from comparing the 2005-2008 period with 2010-2015.
According to the 2017 annual report by the Department of Veterans Affairs, 79 percent of Veterans who enrolled in a higher education program in 2016 were beneficiaries from the post-9/11 program.
"If the last GI Bill had a significant enrollment, then we could probably expect an increase in general enrollment by the current expansions," Zhang says.
[Explore ways community colleges serve Veterans.]
Veteran advocacy groups say Trump is expected to sign the Forever GI Bill. Here are five big changes once the bill becomes law.
1. Veterans whose colleges shut down in the middle of the semester will have their benefits restored. The closure of several colleges and universities in 2015 and 2016, many of which were for-profit, adversely affected many student Veterans, experts say.
"So those who were attending ITT when it closed will have a full restoration of the benefits and be able to use the benefit at a different school," says James Schmeling, executive vice president of District of Columbia-based Student Veterans of America, a nonprofit advocacy group.
But this benefit is not just for those who attended ITT Technical Institute, it also applies to service members who attended a postsecondary institution that closed after January 2015. According to the Congressional Budget Office, $50 million will go toward restoring benefits to thousands of Veterans next year.
2. New service members can use the benefit throughout their lifetimes. The caveat is it's only for those who were discharged on or after Jan. 1, 2013.
For those who meet this cutoff, the expansion will eliminate the 15-year time limit to use these benefits.
Experts say this will enable more Veterans to complete college or higher education courses for a career, which are necessary for wage gains.
3. The expanded benefits emphasize STEM programs. The expansion encourages Veterans to enroll in science, technology, engineering or math degrees through financial incentives.
[Discover how Veterans can afford pricey private university tuition.]
Schmeling says student Veterans often voice that they had to choose other fields since some STEM bachelor's degrees can take up to five years to complete.
"They were choosing other degrees that they could complete during the availability of their GI benefit. So extending them allows them to take STEM more seriously than they might have before," he says.
Veterans interested in these fields will be eligible to receive either nine months more of educational benefits or up to $30,000 in a lump sum, the maximum amount.
While many of the bill's provisions go into effect next year, this provision won't be available until August 2019.
4. All Purple Heart recipients since Sept. 11, 2001 are now eligible for educational benefits. Previously, many reservists who were injured during active service didn’t meet the full requirements for the GI Bill.
With this expansion, 1,500 Purple Heart recipients will become eligible for GI benefits, Veteran advocates say.
5. GI Bill entitlements can be transferred to another dependent or spouse. Veterans will be able to transfer the remainder of their entitlement to another dependent in cases where the dependent who initially received the transferred benefits dies.
A dependent will also be able to transfer the remaining benefits to another dependent after the death of the Veteran, too.
"It's not really a large expansion, but it's a humanitarian need for those who need to transfer," Schmeling says.
1,300 disabled Vets are getting billed for thousands of dollars ... because VA didn’t check their email
Approximately 1,300 disabled Veterans were overpaid thousands of dollars under a Veterans Affairs Department education benefits program last year and now must figure out a way to pay that money back.
Why? Mostly because staff at VA regional offices didn’t check emails, a recent investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General has found.
The overpayments happened during the 2016-2017 academic year under the VA’s second-largest education program, Dependents’ Educational Assistance, which pays up to $1,224 for schooling per month to spouses and children of totally and permanently disabled Veterans or deceased service members.
Veterans who are 100 percent service disabled are eligible to receive monthly stipends of $266 for each college-aged child they have in school as part of their disability check from the VA. But these benefits cannot overlap with DEA.
Yet, in it at least 70 percent of cases during the 2016-17 school year, they did, in large part because emails from Veterans claim examiners were going unread at many VA regional offices.
Now, Vets who were overpaid owe VA a total of $4.5 million for the department’s mistake — an average of more than $3,400 each.
This represents “a hardship for seriously disabled Veterans,” the report states.
In its review of all 58 VA regional offices, Office of Inspector General auditors found that as of May 2018, 25 had an approximate total of 4,600 unread emails dating back to August 2016. The majority of these emails, 67 percent, were about DEA benefits and potentially required adjustments to Veterans’ claims to keep them from being overpaid.
In interviews recorded in the report, VA staff at seven of these offices said they had not been monitoring mailboxes related to the DEA program before the audit.
For example, a representative from the Oakland, California, office “stated that the mailbox had not been monitored for three years because managers had been reassigned, but not their mailbox monitoring duties.”
Another in Houston said the DEA inbox was “not considered a workload priority” because of other workload targets the office was required to meet, according to the report.
Already, the VA has instituted a new policy requiring regional offices to check DEA-related emails twice a month, Susan Carter, a spokesperson for the agency, said in an email.
Additionally, the VA Office of Field Operations has committed to sending weekly reminders to check the emails to the regional offices and will likely incorporate oversight of this into future site visits, according to the report.
Joe Plenzler, a spokesman for Wounded Warrior Project, said the organization is concerned about the impact these overpayments will have on the affected Veterans and plans to work with VA on the department’s plans to remedy the situation.
“We would hope that the VA would avoid any significant disruptions or financial burdens on the recipients,” he said in an email.
Carter said the agency has already identified the Veterans who were overpaid and expects to complete all payment adjustments by June 30. Veterans will have several payment options available.
“VA is implementing improvements that will focus on the timely establishment of compensation adjustments, ensuring receipt of DEA program benefit notifications by VA regional office staff, and promptly identifying and rectifying payment duplications,” Carter said.
The inspector general’s report also recommends VA move to an electronic system to better identify when there’s a potential for Veterans to get paid out of both programs in order to cut down on overpayments.
If delays continue, the report states, the VA could end up paying another $22.5 million in improper payments over the next five years.