Category Archives: veterans

Afghanistan Veteran Awarded Medal of Honor Explains Beating PTSD and Finding Peace and Hope

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Afghanistan Medal of Honor Explains

The author, Florent Groberg, is seen here as an Army lieutenant flying over Afghanistan’s Konar province in 2012. He was awarded a Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest combat valor award, after risking his life to minimize the fallout from a deadly suicide attack. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Alexis Ramos)

“WASHINGTON POST” By Florent Gronberg

“I realized sitting in my own hospital bed, having been injured by a suicide bomber, that no Taliban, no al-Qaeda, and no foreign fighter ever truly scared me.

What frightened me were the demons in my head left behind after that traumatic attack, and their relentless work to destroy my inner spirits and finish me off.”


“The longest war in American history turns 16 years old Saturday — the anniversary of the first deployment of elite special operators to Afghanistan just weeks after the worst terrorist attack in our nation’s history.

Back then our mission was clear, and the call to war was simple: We were going to take out Osama bin Laden, and shut down al-Qaeda’s safe haven for good.

For most American teenagers, a 16th birthday is a huge milestone, a joyful transition into the independence, freedom and opportunities that come with adulthood. But in war, these milestones operate in reverse. The longer they stretch on, the murkier our mission feels, the greater the sacrifice becomes, and the farther into the distance our original goals fade.

Most Americans, glad to be hitting back after being attacked on 9/11, never imagined how expansive this war would become, how many millions would ultimately deploy to fight it, that bin Laden would prove such an elusive target, or that this conflict would morph from a massive manhunt to an even greater struggle for Afghanistan’s nationhood and soul.

And no one would have believed 2,500 American lives — and even more Afghan allies — would be lost.

Americans look at these questions differently and from many perspectives — across our dining room tables and our political divides. Some think we have been there too long, some that victory is just around the corner. Some think we have a responsibility to put Afghanistan back together, others that we are doing more harm than good.

I’ve been a part of these conversations, and I’ve been one of the many confused about our mission. Until I deployed myself.

On the ground in Afghanistan, walking through the silvery moon dust that layers the mountain ridgelines and among ancient societies who carve their homes out of some of the world’s most unforgiving terrain, this war looks very different.

Instead of hostile barbarians, I found myself among hungry and hopeful people. Instead of hunting a terrorist, we hunted for a nation’s future.

Yes, we fought the Taliban, and we used overwhelming American strength to fight those who engaged us with hostility. But we spent much more time working to improve the living conditions for ordinary Afghans, to clear paths for children to safely go to school, to deliver electricity, clean water and basic human security.

I saw the best of humanity at work in Afghanistan through the sacrifices and bravery of the people we worked alongside.

I also saw the depths of evil. Acts of barbaric cruelty, Afghan against Afghan, and brother against brother. The Taliban are a merciless enemy, happy to kill scores of their own people if it was worth one American life.

What hits hardest from my time in Afghanistan is how many of us came home with wounds — physical and emotional.

I nearly became a statistic, one of the 20 veterans who takes his or her life every single day. But like my time in combat, I relied on my brothers and sisters around me. They never quit on me, they pushed me and guided me. They saved my life once in the mountains of Afghanistan and again in the hospital room of Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Today, I work with the Boeing Co. to help veterans and their families land careers where they can use their rare and unique skills. Part of that process involves providing our veterans with the resources they need when they, too, are struggling, physically or emotionally. To me, the continuing legacy of this war resides in every job offered to a veteran, in every family reunited with their service member, and in every opportunity for peace that we create.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Florent Groberg is a retired Army captain, Medal of Honor recipient and author of “8 Seconds of Courage: A Soldier’s Story from Immigrant to the Medal of Honor,” to be released Nov. 7. He works at Boeing Co. as director of veterans outreach and defense, space and security strategy. On Twitter: @FlorentGroberg

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2017/10/07/the-evil-in-afghanistan-drove-me-to-the-brink-of-suicide-heres-how-i-found-peace/

 

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Techniques for Small Business Product/Services Development in Government Contracting

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Image:  Getentrepreneurial.com

“SMALLTOFEDS” By Ken Larson

“INTRODUCTION

This article will suggest approaches in developing a product or service to the point where it can be marketed in the small business federal government contracting venue. Individuals usually succeed at such an endeavor by forming a company, separating it from their personal assets and then developing the company and its product(s)/service(s); even if it is only a one-person operation at the start.

There are techniques for small business to gain government participation in growing an idea into a company. Small Business Innovative Research and Technology Transfer (SBIR/STTR) programs in major federal agencies seek concepts that can be funded and developed into products the government needs. Here are some examples:

DOD SBIR/STTR Small Business Portal

National Institute of Health SBIR/STTR

Service contracting is another form of gaining entrance into the market, creating opportunities for introducing products by selling skilled labor under a government agency service contract or prime contractor teaming arrangement.

A GSA schedule affords a platform for products and services, but sales must have been achieved historically in the commercial or government markets before applying because GSA relies heavily the most recent 2-year pricing data in negotiating a schedule.

The government contracting product and services venue is competitive and requirements by federal agencies are often bundled into larger systems procurements. Therefore, it is necessary first to position a small enterprise and its product offerings before tapping the federal market for development support.

GENERAL OVERVIEW

Product entrepreneurs all face the same challenges. Those who succeed recognize they need to visualize themselves in the product development business, structuring an enterprise, generating a business plan, protecting intellectual property and then seeking industry partners and investors to bring the product to market.

In the process, copyrights, patents and royalty issues may come into play and development and distribution agreements are formed. Pricing is finalized based on cost and expense projections and competitive factors unique to the company as negotiation results are achieved with industry teaming partners, developers, manufacturers and distributors.

Financing is always a factor and can be achieved through loans or investors with a good business plan. The remainder of this article will address the basic elements of a framework within which to succeed with your product development for federal government contracting.

BUSINESS STRUCTURE

For the majority of individuals who are starting single person or no more than 2 or 3 person operations, a Limited Liability Company (LLC) registered with the state and with the federal government is recommended.

It will separate personal assets from company assets and protect them. When product or services sales begin generating revenue an LLC has many tax advantages. It can be registered as Sub Chapter ‘S’ for tax purposes and revenue and the expenses can be passed through to personal tax returns, paying no taxes as a company. The double taxation issue prevalent with many of the other types of incorporation is avoided with a Sub chapter “S” LLC. An LLC assists in limits your personal liability for debt and court judgments that may not fall in your favor.

Representing the business as a company allows pursuing financing as an enterprise. You can think of a creative name for your LLC and you can complete the articles of incorporation necessary to bring your enterprise into existence. The term, “LLC” must conclude the name of your company if you decide to form such an organization.

Instructions for registering in your state and federally with the IRS are available at your state web site and at the IRS site. You will receive tax and employer identification numbers by registering your business.

PROTECTING INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Patents and copyrights for your idea may ultimately protect you to a degree but the government agencies granting them have no enforcement arm so you must discover a violation yourself, retain a lawyer, bring a court proceeding against a violator and then hope to recover your costs and a reasonable settlement if you win.

The U.S. Patent System

Therefore, most of my clients use non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s) in dealing with other companies. Teaming is a practical fact of life in pursuing the larger federal government contracts.

You can download an NDA from the “References” Box Net Cube at the right margin of this site. Fill in the blanks as appropriate for a given exchange with outside individuals and companies. Before you meet to disclose details with a potential teaming company or investor, for instance, ask them to sign the document with you up front, put a serial number on it and reference the serial number and the agreement and date on any written materials you give to them.

After the meeting draft a short letter, documenting the minutes of the meeting, what was discussed and stating that the verbal disclosures and materials in the meeting are subject to the agreement and reference the agreement by number and date. Put an acknowledgment line on the letter and ask them to return a signed copy to you. This confirms their receipt of your proprietary information and their agreement to protect it in accordance with the NDA.

There are certain exceptions with regard to individuals or companies you may be dealing with on investing where you may not choose to use an NDA. Some Angel and Capital Investors are sensitive about being asked to sign them. You will have to trade their objections off against the value they represent to your company and conduct your risk analysis on a case-by-case basis.

For detail information asserting rights in technical data and software to government agencies and protecting intellectual property with other companies please see the following article:

Protecting Intellecutal Property

BUSINESS PLANNING

Visit the SBA website on business planning. There are major topics in the business planning process which, when addressed in a plan, will insure the success of your enterprise and assist you in determining and supporting the amount of funding you need. Such topics as marketing, advertising, competitor analysis and financing are covered there. You will find a presentation and examples that you can follow in improving your plan or in generating a plan if you do not have one. The link to the site is below:

Writing a Business Plan

Articles on strategic planning and developing your marketing plan are also at the “References” Box Net Cube at this site. They address evolving an operations vision for your enterprise showing its potential to present to a banker or to an investor.

Here is a site with free business plan samples:

Business Plan Samples

It may assist you in visualizing your own business growth to look at an example of how someone else addressed a given topic. I have learned from having worked with many new business owners that it is best to have you examine the material and continue your plan, contacting me with issues and questions as they occur.

THINGS TO THINK ABOUT WHILE PLANNING

Locate teaming companies to further the objective that they would market your product as part of their offerings with your company licensing and sharing in the proceeds.

A business plan and the guidance above for its generation is the road map for developing ideas, laying out how to expand the sales of your product and researching your market to do so. It will also assist in developing pricing to considering the direct costs of product development, service implementation and distribution as well as the indirect costs of the enterprise itself (operating expenses).must be considered and financed.

A negotiation position for a given product will be driven by certain strategic factors:

1. Does a developer or teaming partner have a strong but realistic incentive to actively make the product a part of the marketplace?

2. Does market research indicate the idea will have strong sales volume once it is developed and distributed?

3. How much will a prospective teaming partner or investor have to invest in the product to get it to market? Does the product require testing?

4. Which is the better deal? Is it better to receive a 7% royalty on $5,000 worth of sales or a 1% royalty on $500,000 of sales? Even though 1% does not sound too impressive, of course it’s the better choice in this example.

A negotiation position should be based on support by for the argument that a concept will experience a certain level of sales and the royalty should be based on a % of estimated end user volume sales, discounted for the investment that the developer and distributor must make to get it to market.

The royalty should be outside of the distributor cost breakdown and the end user cost breakdown. It is simply a deductive factor the manufacturer will have to introduce into their profit equation after the costs have been tabulated. They should not view royalties as a cost factor; they should view them as a share of the profit on the total estimated sales.

Chances of succeeding with a negotiation with a developer and/or distributor are increased by showing understand the prospective market for the product and drawing some comparisons between the product and other similar successful products.

Naturally there will be some give and take with the other side about estimated costs to get the product to market. Be forthright in acknowledging their investment but also support a position with some research and comparative data on the product potential.

Lastly, settle on a % of the end user sales volume based on an estimate to which is agreed with the other party and insures that the purchase agreement for royalties entitles the agreed upon % on all future sales.

FINANCING

The SBA assists prospective business owners in completing sound business plans, which can then be presented to a banker in applying for financial assistance.

In the event that 2 banking institutions deny a loan application, a candidate can apply to the SBA for a loan guarantee that may assist in achieving a loan, since it would back up the application to a bank.

Loan officers are interested in a business plan to get a view of the business future and place a value on products and services based on the market, the competition, the sales projections, costs, expenses and profit expectations. The link to the SBA loan guarantee program is below:

SBA Loans and Grants

Veterans have access to small business loans via the Patriot express program:

Patriot Express Program

ANGEL AND CAPITAL INVESTORS

Angel and private investors have two prominent characteristics:

(A) They want a high return on investment (ROI)

(B) They typically want a great deal of control of the operation.

According to the Colorado Capital Alliance, surveys of angel investors show that:

1. Angels are seeking companies with high growth potential, proven management and sufficient information about the company, its management team, and its market to be able to assess a company’s value.

2. On average, Angels expect 10 to 15 percent above of the S&P 500 return on equity.

3. Typically, Angels invest in companies seeking between $50,000 and $1,000,000.

4. Angels generally prefer to finance manufacturing or product-oriented ventures, especially in the high-tech fields.

5. On average, Angels are 47 years old, have a postgraduate degree, and management experience in an entrepreneurial venture.

An angel investor may ask for at least ten to twenty times return in just five years. For many angel investors, it’s not just about the money; they want to actively participate in developing your business. They want to act as a mentor and sometimes even to take an active role in managing the company. This often translates into the angel investor having a seat on the company Board of Directors.

Angels are also highly interested in an exit strategy from for a full return on their investment in your business. The closest thing to it is an astute business plan that calls out the specifics of potential ROI, based on sound planning and analysis and addresses the following as possible exit strategies. Remember, investors are very aware that an exit strategy cannot be guaranteed. But they can be offered more than the wishful thinking that an IPO will occur in three years.

It is always good to have a lawyer involved in complex documents or in the development of documents. This will further protect a concept. A lawyer does not necessarily have to be present during the exchanges with prospective companies, but a lawyer review and comment on documents before they are signed.

SUMMARY

This article has conveyed preliminary steps for the small business in product development for the federal marketplace.

It should be noted that much of the process discussed in this article is the same for the commercial product development and a certain amount of commercial success is usually achieved before selling products in the government contracting venue. The exception to that rule is in highly technical product pursuits where the government is funding advanced development.

To consider non-profit grants and direct government contract funding potential please see the following article:

Grants Vs, Direct Government Contracts

Once a company is formed, a product platform established and a position to market a useful product to the federal government is achieved, please see the following articles at this site in developing a marketing plan

Registering Your Business For Government Grants and Contracts

Multiple Front Marketing

Should You Consider Small Business Governement Contracting?

Small Business Teaming

With careful structuring, planning and marketing, a product with potential can find its place in federal government contracting.”

Smalltofeds – Techniques for Product Development

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Ken Portrait

Ken Larson has over 40 years in the Military Industrial Complex. He is a veteran of 2 tours in the US Army Vietnam. Subsequently Ken spent over 30 years in federal government program and contract management and 10 years in small business consulting. As a Micro Mentor Volunteer Counselor, he assists many small businesses with their planning and operations processes. 

“Warrior Games” Help Veterans Adapt

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Warrior Games

“ARMY TIMES”

“Former Tech Sgt. Joshua Miller and Capt. Mitchell Kieffer, both medically retired, suffered significant injuries during their time in service. 

Those injuries led to a string of surgeries for both veterans and, ultimately, a choice: between reaching out to overcome those injuries or to isolate themselves.”



“Two Air Force veterans who were severely injured during their service, and who suffered from the “invisible wounds” of post-traumatic stress, said they had to overcome fear of the stigma sometimes associated with getting help ― and their own pride ― to recover from their wounds. 

The airmen talked about their roads to recovery during the Air Space Cyber Conference at National Harbor, Md., Monday.

Smith joined the Air Force in 2003 as an aircrew flight equipment specialist and served on active duty for 13 years.

During Combat Survival School, he was injured after being thrown into a culvert, which led to surgeries on both hips, his right shoulder and elbow.

When a friend suggested he join the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program, Smith hesitated because he felt his non-combat injuries didn’t warrant joining the program. He didn’t “fit the bill” of those wounded in combat, he said.


“I felt [the program] was really sacred and that I didn’t belong,” Smith told the audience.
“But everybody has a story. It doesn’t matter if it’s combat or non-combat related,” he said. “So many airmen are kind of afraid to go to their first camp because of what they’re struggling or dealing with,” Smith said.


Being around others who can relate to what you’re going through makes it easier to share your stories and your feelings, he said.


Kieffer, who was injured while on a voluntary deployment with the Army Corps of Engineers in 2011, echoed those sentiments.


“Whenever we go to these [Wounded Warrior] camps and events, we know we’re not going to be judged,” said Kieffer.


He was part of a convoy that was attacked by an improvised explosive device, rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire. He sustained seven broken vertebrae and had memory issues. Because of this, Kieffer is rated 100 percent disabled.


For both men, dealing with their physical injuries was difficult, but dealing with the unseen wounds of post-traumatic stress was also quite tough. Perhaps the biggest reason troops don’t want to admit their unseen wounds is pride, they said. Their initial reaction is not to seek help but to tough it out.


“That’s been the biggest issue I’ve seen and dealt with,” Kieffer said. Pride has held a lot of recovery back,” he said. “Stop letting pride affect you.


Becoming involved with Warrior Games was a transformative experience for both airman, they said. Kieffer was the 2015 and 2016 ultimate champion, which is based on five athletic categories. of competition.


“Any time you have the opportunity to tell your story, tell it,” said Chief Master Sgt. Nicole Johnson, chief of the Air Force Wounded Warrior Program. “Your story will help others tell theirs.”


http://www.armytimes.com/news/air-force-times/2017/09/18/letting-go-of-pride-air-force-vets-adapt-to-invisible-wounds/

“Drone Warrior” – A Stunning First Hand Memoir

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GQ.com

After a careful review by the Intelligence Community for Publication, Drone Warrior has performed a stunning service, giving the reader a gut level feel for the U.S. War on Terror from a decorated soldier’s perspective. 

Those of us who served in Vietnam and similar conflicts since can totally relate to this masterpiece of  honesty.  

Brett Velicovich pulls no punches. The mental stress, teamwork, tragedy and after effects in this modern, technological killing process can be felt with every line.  The impact on the man himself and on those with whom he worked has not been spared in its detail and its effects. 

Having left the service, Brett is now involved in harnessing and controlling the technology for peaceful purposes like wildlife preservation and management.  Those of us who have made similar transitions applaud, commend and recommend the book and the man. 

Read it to become informed and consider the billions we are spending on this warfare today as well as the impact on our youth and our future. 

Drone Warrior

“Forever GI Bill” Is Now Law – Things You Should Know

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Image:  American Legion

“MILITARY TIMES”

“A new law that will bring significant changes to education benefits for service members, veterans and their families.

The legislation known as the “Forever GI Bill” garnered strong bipartisan support in Congress, passing unanimously in both the House and Senate.  Here are things you should know about the new GI Bill benefits.

1. There’s no longer an expiration date.

Previously, veterans had to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill within 15 years of their last 90-day period of active-duty service. That requirement is going away.

This portion of the law will apply to anyone who left the military after January 1, 2013. It will also apply to spouses who are receiving education benefits through the Marine Gunnery Sergeant John David Fry Scholarship for family members of service members who have been killed in the line of duty since Sept. 10, 2001.

2. Purple Heart recipients will get more benefits.

The new GI Bill allows anyone who has received a Purple Heart on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to receive 100 percent of the benefits offered under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which includes coverage of tuition costs at a public school’s in-state rate for 36 months and stipends for textbooks and housing.

Previously, Purple Heart recipients were beholden to the same time-in-service qualifications for the GI Bill as other service members. This meant that Purple Heart recipients without a service-connected disability who did not reach 36 months of service were only eligible for a percentage of the benefits and not the full amount.

Aleks Morosky, national legislative director for Military Order of the Purple Heart, said there have been 52,598 Purple Heart recipients who were wounded in action during post-9/11 conflicts, though it’s unclear how many would immediately benefit from this provision. An estimated 660 Purple Heart recipients each year over the next 10 years will be able to take advantage of the increased benefits.

“We think that anybody who has shed blood for this country has met the service requirement by virtue of that fact,” Morosky said. “Everybody sacrifices, everybody puts themselves in harm’s way, but Purple Heart recipients are certainly among the service members who have sacrificed the most.”

This provision will go into effect in August 2018.

3. More people are eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

The Yellow Ribbon Program is a voluntary agreement between schools and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to split school costs not covered by the GI Bill, reducing or eliminating the amount students must pay themselves.

The Forever GI Bill will expand eligibility for this program to surviving spouses or children of service members in August 2018 and active-duty service members in August 2022.

Previously, only veterans eligible for GI Bill benefits at the 100 percent level or their dependents using transferred benefits were eligible for Yellow Ribbon.

4. There’s some extra money — and time — for STEM degrees.

Some college degrees in science, technology, engineering and math fields take longer than four years to complete, which is why the new law authorizes an additional school year of GI Bill funds on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Scholarships of up to $30,000 will be available for eligible GI Bill users starting in August 2018. Only veterans or surviving family members of deceased service members are eligible for this scholarship — not dependents using transferred benefits.

5. Vets hurt by school shutdowns will get benefits back.

A provision in the new GI Bill that will restore benefits to victims of school closures has been a long-time coming for the staff at Student Veterans of America.

“We’ve been getting calls for several years now, beginning with the collapse of Corinthian (Colleges), from student veterans whose lives were put on hold,” said Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs for the nonprofit, which has more than 500,000 student members. “Every day we wasted until it passed was another day that they had to wait.”

This provision will retroactively apply to GI Bill users whose schools have abruptly closed since January 2015, for credits earned at the shuttered institutions that did not transfer to new schools. This will include the thousands of veteran students who were attending the national for-profit chains Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institute when they closed in 2015 and 2016, respectively. It would also provide a semester’s worth of reimbursement for GI Bill users affected by future school closures, as well as up to four months of a housing stipend.

6. The VA will measure eligibility for benefits differently.

Starting August 2018, this bill changes the way the VA uses time in service to calculate eligibility.

Previously, service members with at least 90 days but less than six months of active-duty service would be eligible for up to 40 percent of the full GI Bill benefits. Under new regulations, the same 90-days-to-six-month window is equal to 50 percent of benefits. Service members with at least six months and less than 18 months of service will be eligible for 60 percent of benefits.

This change will tend to benefit reservists more due to the nature of their service, according to a spokeswoman for the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.

7. Reservists can count more of their service toward eligibility.

Starting next August, members of the National Guard and Reserve will be able to count time spent receiving medical care or recovering from injuries received while on active duty toward their GI Bill eligibility. This will apply to all who have been activated since 9/11.

The Forever GI Bill also allows individuals who lost their Reserve Educational Assistance Program when the program ended in 2015 to credit their previous service toward their eligibility for the Post-9/11 GI Bill.

8. Housing stipends will decrease slightly.

The government will pay for the expansions represented in the Forever GI Bill through a 1 percent decrease in housing stipends over the next five years. This will bring veterans’ housing stipends on par with what active-duty service members receive at the E-5 with dependents rate. (Veterans on the GI Bill currently receive a slightly higher housing allowance rate than active-duty E-5s with dependents.) This change will take effect on Jan. 1, 2018 and will only apply to service members who enroll in GI Bill benefits after that date. No one currently receiving a housing stipend from the VA will see a reduction in benefits.

“On a month-to-month basis, they would never see less money,” said SVA’s Hubbard, explaining that the 1 percent reduction will come off of the total the VA would have spent over five years.

Starting in August 2018, housing stipends previously calculated based on the ZIP code of a student’s school will be based on where a student takes the most classes.

Also in August 2018, reservists will continue to receive their monthly housing allowance under the GI Bill on a prorated rate for any month during which they are activated, preventing them from losing a whole month’s worth of funds.

9. Benefits can get transferred after death.

A provision of the new GI Bill offers more flexibility with the transfer and distribution of benefits in case of death.

If a dependent who received transferred benefits dies before using all of the benefits, this provision gives the service member or veteran the ability to transfer remaining benefits to another dependent. This will go into effect August 2018 and apply to all deaths since 2009.

This provision also gives dependents of deceased service members the ability to make changes to their deceased loved one’s transferred benefits.

Ashlynne Haycock, senior coordinator of education support services for the nonprofit Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, explains that currently, only a service member has the authority to make changes to the benefits they’d like to transfer. So, if a service member dies after transferring 35 months of benefits to one child and one month of benefits to another, for example, the family would not be able to make future changes to the GI Bill’s distribution among that service member’s dependents.

10. Surviving family members will get more money, but less time.

Besides access to Yellow Ribbon, spouses and children of service members who died in the line of duty on or after 9/11 will also see their monthly education stipend from the Survivors’ and Dependents’ Educational Assistance Program increase by $200.

There’s a downside, however. Though the same program has previously provided 45 months of education benefits, that will decrease to 36 months in August 2018 to bring it in line with the provisions of the GI Bill.

11. School certifying officials must be trained.

Individuals who certify veteran student enrollment at schools with more than 20 veteran students will be required to undergo training. Previously, training was not mandatory.”

 

https://www.militarytimes.com/education-transition/education/2017/08/16/trump-signed-the-forever-gi-bill-here-are-11-things-you-should-know/

 

 

 

 

 

New Mexico VA Albuquerque Office Denies 90 Percent of Gulf War Claims

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“MILITARY TIMES”

“The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Albuquerque office denied 592 of 640 Gulf War illness claims in 2015, which is the latest yearly data available, The Albuquerque Journal reported earlier this week.

Currently, a 90-minute training course on Gulf War illness is voluntary. Only about 10 percent of the VA’s 4,000 medical examiners had completed it as of February, according to the report.”


“The report released in June from the Government Accountability Office found approval rates for Gulf War illness claims are one-third as high as for other disabling conditions. The Gulf War illness claims also took an average of four months longer to process.

Gulf War illness was first identified in troops returning home from Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield in the early 1990s. But it has been found to afflict troops who have served in other parts of the Middle East since then as well.

The illness includes a wide variety of symptoms and conditions, from fatigue and skin problems to insomnia and indigestion. It is believed the conditions may be the result of exposure to burn pits, oil well fires or depleted uranium weapons during service.

The report concluded that instituting required training for medical examiners, clarifying claim decision letters sent to veterans and developing a single definition for the illness would increase consistency in approval rates and reduce confusion among staff and veterans.

Sonja Brown, acting associate director of the New Mexico VA Health Care System, did not say how many of the Albuquerque medical examiners have completed the course.

“The Gulf War Examination training is currently on the curriculum for our medical examiners with a due date of 8/10/2017 to complete,” Brown wrote in an email. “While I don’t have a percentage of those completed, I can tell you that the training is being taken.”

The VA plans to make training mandatory, with all medical examiners expected to complete the program by October.”

https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2017/08/13/report-new-mexico-va-office-denies-90-percent-of-gulf-war-claims/

Your Questions Answered About the New Veterans Online Shopping Benefit

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“MILITARY TIMES”
“More than 95,000 people visited the military exchanges’ VetVerify.org website in its first month, seeking to register for the new veterans online shopping benefit that starts Nov. 11, officials said.

All honorably discharged veterans will have access to the online exchanges as of that date. VetVerify is the first step in the eligibility process.

Some veterans will be chosen as “beta testers” and will have access to the online stores before Nov. 11; the earlier veterans complete the verification process, the better their chances of becoming beta testers, according to officials with the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which administers the verification for all the military exchange services.
Veterans who register through VetVerify.org will receive notification of their acceptance as eligible online shoppers or, if their records are incomplete, will receive guidance on the steps they can take to update those records.
Officials were not able to provide information about how many of the 95,000 verification attempts have been successful. About 13 percent of the site’s visitors have been chosen as beta testers, AAFES spokesman Chris Ward said, and others who registered for verification already were eligible to shop.
Officials started the verification process early in preparation for at least 13 million people who will be newly eligible to shop online at the exchange. Until now, online military exchange shopping was available only to active-duty, reserve and National Guard members; retirees; 100 percent disabled veterans; the dependent family members of those individuals; and certain others.

Online pricing can be seen only by those who are authorized to shop at the exchange websites: www.shopmyexchange.comwww.shopcgx.com;www.mymcx.com; andwww.mynavyexchange.com.
Military Times and the exchanges continue to get questions about the VetVerify website and the new shopping benefit. Here are a few frequently asked questions, and some answers, supplied by AAFES.

Q. Is this site a phishingscam?
A. No. VetVerify.org is a shared service for all the military exchanges with the sole purpose of supporting the newly approved veterans online shopping benefit. VetVerify.org uses data from Defense Manpower Data Center, which holds the most comprehensive dataset on veterans, to verify eligibility.

Q. Do I qualify if I served for four years, or if I was in the reserves, or if I’m on disability?
A. All honorably discharged veterans and those with a general (under honorable) discharge can shop their military exchanges, through the veterans online shopping benefit, beginning on Veterans Day.
Q. Can my spouse (or other family member) shop? 

A. No. The new benefit is specific to veterans with honorable and general (under honorable conditions) discharges.
Q. Does the veterans online shopping benefit extend to shopping at the commissary? 
A. No.
Q. What if my service can’t be verified? 

A. There may be further information needed, so you will need to submit a digital copy of your discharge paperwork to be reviewed for eligibility. After you submit your verification form through VetVerify.org, you will be prompted to upload the necessary paperwork.
Q. Who should I call if I have problems with the verification process? 

A. The VetVerify.org customer call center, toll-free, at 844-868-8672.
Q. Why does VetVerify ask for my entire Social Security number? 

A. VetVerify is required to obtain the last four digits of your Social Security number, date of birth and last name in order to validate and authenticate shoppers. If a match is not found with the minimum information, then the Social Security number is requested for a more detailed search. Social Security number is the unique identifier by Defense Manpower Data Center data. When customers visit the website of their favorite online exchanges for the first time, however, they will create a new username to be used as the unique identifier with the exchange. VetVerify has taken appropriate measures to safeguard your personal information.”

Veterans Administration Has $1 Billion Unexpected Funding Shortfall

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VA Budget Shortfall httpdelmarvapublicradio.net

Image: delmarvapublicradio.net

“THE ARIZONA REPUBLIC”

“Under repeated questioning, VA Secretary David Shulkin acknowledged the department may need emergency funds.

The Department of Veterans Affairs was scolded by both parties over its budget Wednesday as lawmakers scurried to find a fix to an unexpected shortfall of more than $1 billion that would threaten medical care for thousands of veterans in the coming months.

“We would like to work with you,” Shulkin told a Senate appropriations panel. “We need to do this quickly.”

At the hearing, lawmakers pressed Shulkin about the department’s financial management after it significantly underestimated costs for its Choice program, which offers veterans federally paid medical care outside the VA. Several questioned Shulkin’s claim that the VA can fill the budget gap simply by shifting funds — without an emergency infusion of new money — without hurting veterans’ care.

“The department’s stewardship of funds is the real issue at hand,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., chair of the Appropriations panel overseeing the VA. He faulted VA for a “precarious situation” requiring a congressional bailout.

Shulkin cited unexpectedly high demand for Choice and defended President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request as adequate, but allowed that more money may be needed.

“On financial projections, we have to do better,” he said. “We do not want to see veterans impacted at all by our inability to manage budgets.”

Shulkin made the surprise revelation last week, urgently asking Congress for help. He said VA needed legal authority to shift money from other VA programs.

His disclosure came just weeks after lawmakers were still being assured that Choice was under budget, with $1.1 billion estimated to be left over on Aug. 7. Shulkin now says that money will dry up by mid-August. He cited excessive use of Choice beyond its original intent of using private doctors only when veterans must wait more than 30 days for a VA appointment or drive more than 40 miles to a facility.

Skeptical senators on Wednesday signaled they may need to move forward on a financial bailout.

In a letter Wednesday to the VA, Moran joined three other GOP senators, including John McCain, in demanding more detailed information from VA on what fix is needed.

“Unless Congress appropriates emergency funding to continue the Veterans Choice Program, hundreds of thousands of veterans who now rely on the Choice Card will be sent back to a VA that cannot effectively manage or coordinate their care,” the senators said. “We cannot send our veterans back to the pre-scandal days in which veterans were subjected to unacceptable wait-times.”

VA is already instructing its medical centers to limit the number of veterans sent to private doctors. Some veterans were being sent to Defense Department hospitals, VA facilities located farther away, or other alternative locations “when care is not offered in VA.” It also was asking field offices to hold off on spending for certain medical equipment to help cover costs.

Congressional Democrats on VA oversight committees have also sharply criticized the proposed 2018 budget. Shulkin, for instance, says he intends to tap other parts of the VA budget to cover the shortfall, including $620 million in carryover money that had been designated for use in the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

The budget proposal also seeks to cover rising costs of Choice in part by reducing disability benefits for thousands of veterans once they reach retirement age, drawing an outcry from major veterans’ organizations who said veterans heavily rely on the payments.

Shulkin has since backed off the plan to reduce disability benefits but has not indicated what other areas may be cut.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., told Shulkin that it sure sounded like VA needed money.

“You’re defending this budget, but your job is to defend veterans,” she said. “It seems to me if the administration makes the request, it will be better served.”

The VA’s faulty budget estimates were a primary reason that Congress passed legislation in March to extend the Choice program beyond its Aug. 7 expiration date until the money ran out, which VA said would happen early next year. At the bill-signing ceremony with veterans’ groups, Trump said the legislation would ensure veterans will continue to be able to see “the doctor of their choice.”

The department is now more closely restricting use of Choice to its 30-day, 40-mile requirements.

The unexpectedly high Choice costs are also raising questions about the amount of money needed in future years as VA seeks to expand the program.

Earlier this month, Shulkin described the outlines of an overhaul, dubbed Veterans CARE, which would replace Choice and its 30-day, 40-mile restrictions to give veterans even wider access to private doctors. He is asking Congress to approve that plan by this fall.”

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/nation/2017/06/22/veterans-affairs-facing-1-billion-shortfall-because-unexpected-choice-program-costs/418787001/

 

Generals and Admirals Need Checks and Balances Too

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ASSOCIATION OF UNITED STATES ARMY”  By Lt. Col. Joe Doty, USA Retired and Maj. Gen. Rich Long, USA Retired

“Without question, most past and present top officers are some of the finest, most competent, values-based and selfless officers our nation can produce.

But they, like us all, are human, flawed, and we all need a healthy dose of oversight and accountability.

Some generals have made the news lately for behaviors that violate the professional ethic. Although this trend seems new or current, it isn’t. Thomas E. Ricks, a well-published author on defense matters, wrote “General Failure” in the November 2012 issue of The Atlantic and in the same year published a book, The Generals: American Military Command from World War II to Today, on the same topic. His critique focused on a perceived lack of accountability in our armed forces at the general-officer level.

In June 2008, Lt. Col. Robert Bateman wrote “Cause for Relief: Why Presidents No Longer Fire Generals” in Armed Forces Journal. And in May 2007, then-Lt. Col. Paul Yingling wrote his (in)famous “A Failure in Generalship,” also in Armed Forces Journal. Our national security advisor, Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, in 1997 wrote Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam. The book talks about failures at our highest officer and political levels up to and during the Vietnam War.

Generals are human beings and as such we need to be honest and frank about human behavior and human frailty. Nobody is perfect. So it seems to be an appropriate question: How is the system working in terms of oversight and accountability for general officers?

Recently we’ve had an admiral caught up in the “Fat Leonard” scandal; a former aide to the secretary of defense, Maj. Gen. Ronald Lewis, was relieved of his duties due to transgressions; and Maj. Gen. David Haight was forced to retire due to questionable professional behavior. At some point, we must ask ourselves whether there is a more effective system of checks and balances that can mitigate some of these issues. Lastly, and perhaps most egregiously, there is the case of former Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Sinclair, who pleaded guilty to adultery, maltreatment of a subordinate, engaging in improper relations and several other charges. Who was providing oversight of him or holding him accountable for his actions?

Don Snider, an expert in the study of the Army profession, notes that professions like the military are self-policing. Other unique aspects of professions (such as law and medicine) include that they:

  • Provide a necessary service to the country.
  • Have a shared ethic.
  • Have a unique expert knowledge.
  • Develop their own members.

Our military takes each of these aspects of being a profession seriously. As the most senior representatives of a self-policing profession, our general officers should be the standard-bearers and set the example for the rest of the force—and for the country—in their personal and professional lives.

They should also know how to self-police. Assuming there is real self-policing of generals, either by someone or a group, would it be helpful to make the policing process more transparent? Would making public the specific (and anonymous) examples of how generals are holding themselves accountable be an appropriate service to the nation?

At the risk of oversimplifying this self-policing and oversight challenge, is a general’s immediate supervisor responsible for policing and holding accountable his or her subordinate? Is the four-star responsible for the three-star? Is the two-star responsible for the one-star? Here, it is important to note that the concept of chain of command is ingrained in the DNA of every service member. It is part of the professional ethic. And the construct of chain of command has a built-in concept and understanding of responsibility and accountability, which does not cease once someone is promoted to general rank.

DoD inspectors general certainly play a role in oversight and accountability, but it’s a role initiated after an allegation has been made. IG investigators are not involved in the day-to-day business of general officers. How do we get more proactive and ahead of the allegations?

At the top levels, trust is sacrosanct. Theoretically, our promotion and selection system has selected those who need little or no oversight. However, the promotion and selection system is only as good as people can make it, and there will be bad apples. It can be argued that officers at this level need more or closer oversight due to their strategic responsibilities and the potential for national or international embarrassment. The Gen. David Petraeus affair could serve as an example.

Mathematically and statistically, it is safe to assume there are bad apples among general officers. The military’s selection and promotion system is run by human beings, so it must have flaws and make mistakes. Is it realistic to think every general never does anything wrong? This violates common and reasoned sense. There are just over 300 generals in the active Army and about 650 in the Total Army. The fact that only one or two get in trouble each year is pretty good and perhaps surprising, but because of the sacred nature of their duties, even one-tenth of a percent is too high. Again, the need for oversight and accountability.

In terms of the human dimension and understanding of this topic, there are basic psychological processes at work. One can be called the Bathsheba Syndrome or “the dark side of success,” which suggests absolute power corrupts absolutely or that enormous success can be an antecedent to ethical failure. There are numerous historical examples of this: Tiger Woods and Richard Nixon come to mind. As such, it can easily be argued that because of their success, top officers need more oversight and accountability.

Expectancy theory is taught in most basic psychology courses and suggests people behave in ways they are expected to behave. Officers who attain the rank of general are the best of the best and are expected to be that way—almost flawless—and in some cases, may think they are flawless (as their evaluation reports state) and therefore think they can get away with anything. Unhinged or unbalanced ambition and/or unhealthy narcissism are recipes for disaster.

There is a difference between an officer who knows they should be and deserve to be a general, and one who may be a bit surprised and humbled to obtain the rank. This difference may be cognitively and emotionally subtle at the individual level, but can be profound in how it plays out. Again, an argument for more structured oversight and accountability.

It is the nature of life in the military to cover for each other. Loyalty to and taking care of your buddies and comrades in arms is part of the professional ethic. These bonds are emotional and powerful, as they must be due to the nature of the profession. But to what extreme? When are the times when this loyalty does not and should not apply?

The answer is: when one’s actions are unethical, against the law or will hurt the effectiveness of the organization. Importantly, a subordinate’s loyalty to a general-level officer is often exponentially magnified due to the rank, position power, referent power and expert power of the general. Hence, loyalty at this level may be impervious to and blind to wrongdoing. Asking or expecting a subordinate to call out a possible transgression by a superior officer can, unfortunately, be a career-ender for the subordinate. Is it realistic to think people in and around Sinclair over the course of his career never suspected anything nefarious was going on?

A recommended solution to this challenge is for DoD to require colonels selected as executive officers for generals to attend the IG course and have as part of their duties a formal responsibility of reporting and answering outside the chain of command and to certify, under oath, that they are not aware of malfeasance or issues that must be addressed. Other duties could include:

  • Challenging the general’s assumptions and thinking.
  • Attempting to find blind spots in the general’s personality and thinking.
  • Asking lots of “why” questions.
  • Providing candid and blunt feedback and assessments.

We also recommend that DoD increase its education and developmental opportunities in terms of helping officers increase their emotional intelligence, specifically in terms of self-awareness and self-management. Emotional intelligence is a leadership skill that can be taught, learned and increased over time. Individuals with high levels of emotional intelligence are less vulnerable to self-delusion, burnout, and personal and professional indiscretions.

Our purpose here is not to poke anyone in the eye or throw stones. Our focus is on organizational improvement and learning. “

GENERALS NEED CHECKS AND BALANCES TOO

 

 

U.S. President Blocks Veterans Group of 500,000 Members on Twitter

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Blocked Vets

“THE HILL”

“Veterans group has been critical of his time in office on Twitter.

“The Commander in Chief can block @VoteVets, the voice of 500k military veterans and families, but we will NOT be silenced,” VoteVets.org wrote on Twitter, including a screenshot that shows Trump had blocked the organization’s account.

The group has in the past criticized the president over his budget proposal, Republican attempts to repeal and replace ObamaCare and the president’s executive order temporarily barring individuals from certain predominantly Muslim nations from entering the United States

In one television advertisement aired during MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in early February, VoteVets spoke directly to Trump, telling him to start acting like “a legitimate president.”

“Look, you lost the popular vote … You’re having trouble drawing a crowd …  And your approval rating keeps sinking …” a veteran of the war in Afghanistan says in the ad.

“But kicking thousands of my fellow veterans off their health insurance by killing the Affordable Care Act, and banning Muslims won’t help …  And that’s not the America I sacrificed for … . You want to be a legitimate president, sir? Then act like one.”

VoteVets is a progressive veterans group founded in 2006 that focuses on providing voices to veterans on issues ranging from foreign police to LGBTQ rights.”

http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/337560-trump-blocks-veterans-group-on-twitter