Military Connection: More Vets Getting Private Care: By Debbie Gregory

VA healthcareThe U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has been significantly increasing Veterans referrals to private doctors, following the scandal over unacceptable patient wait times at numerous VA facilities and the allegations of falsified appointment records.

The VA’s reputation has been damaged by claims that multiple Veterans had died while waiting for treatment from the VA healthcare system. Some VA employees have been accused of covering up scheduling blunders. The scandal ultimately led to the resignation of formerVA Secretary Eric Shinseki and the eventual appointment of Robert McDonald.

Since the scandal broke, the VA has made nearly 840,000 referrals for Veterans to receive care from private doctors. This is an increase of over 166,000 referrals from the same period last year.

A $16.3 billion VA overhaul was recently signed into law by President Barack Obama.  Approximately $10 billion is being allotted to pay private healthcare providers to treat Veterans who can’t get timely appointments at their local VA facility. The law also includes $5 billion to hire more doctors and other medical and mental health professionals.

At the National American Veterans (AMVETS) convention, McDonald told a group of Veterans that 1,000 new doctors, nurses and clerks were needed at the Phoenix VA hospital alone. And another 500 new doctors, nurses and clerks were needed at the VA facility in North Las Vegas.

“Until we get systems up to capacity, we’re expanding our use of private care and other non-VA health care to improve access for Veterans experiencing excessive wait times,” McDonald told the Veterans at the convention. “And we’re monitoring non-VA care to ensure Veterans receive the best that they deserve.”

The VA spent about $4.8 billion last year on medical care at non-VA healthcare providers. This factored to be about 10% of the health care costs for the Veterans Health Administration, the agency’s healthcare arm.

McDonald’s appearance at the AMVETS convention was part of a tour that has included stops at the Phoenix VA hospital, a disabled veterans’ convention in Las Vegas, and the VA’s Memphis medical complex.

With adequate funding from the government, vigilant attention from the new VA secretary, and the support of the American public, Veterans can look forward to significant improvement to the VA healthcare system and their privatized care through the VA.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: More Vets Getting Private Care: By Debbie Gregory

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Military Connection: F-15 Pilot’s Remains Found: By Debbie Gregory

F 15 crashThe remains of a Massachusetts Air National Guard pilot were found after a 30 hour search.

Lieutenant Colonel Morris “Moose” Fontenot Jr., who served with the 104th Fighter Wing, was flying an F-15C Eagle from Barnes Air National Guard Base, near Westfield, MA to Naval Air Station New Orleans in Louisiana. The jet was being flown there in order to receive an upgrade to its radar system.

Lt. Col. Fontenot reported an emergency while traveling at an altitude of over 30,000 feet above the Virginia-West Virginia border. About  half an hour later, a civilian pilot reported seeing smoke in a heavily forested area nearby.

While there was no further word from Lt. Col. Fontenot, officials still held on to the hope that he was alive. A rescue attempt was launched, but was hindered by the location and terrain. On Thursday evening, searchers reached the crash site and found evidence that Lt. Col. Fontenot had not ejected from the aircraft. The cause of the crash is still under military investigation.

“Today was a tough day for the Massachusetts Air National Guard, as we learned we lost a great American, a warrior, a leader and most importantly a family member,” said Brigadier General Robert Brooks of the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

Lt. Col. Fontenot was a1996 Air Force Academy graduate, and a decorated pilot and former squadron commander, with over 17 years of experience flying F-15. Lt. Col. Fontenot completed multiple deployments to the Middle East, and earned several decorations, including the Meritorious Service Medal.

Our condolences go out to the Fontenot family, and the Massachusetts Air National Guard.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: F-15 Pilot’s Remains Found: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Air Strikes Update: By Debbie Gregory

Airstrike updateWith the American air support, Iraq security forces and Kurdish forces have been able to stop the sweeping advances of Islamic State expansion, and retake the Mosul Dam. The U.S. military has been hammering ISIL forces with air strikes.

Manned U.S. aircraft and drones have wreaked havoc on the insurgents. Included in the air strikes are Navy Carrier Air Wing 8’s F/A 18s, EA-6B Prowlers, and E-2C Hawkeyes from the American aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77).

The carrier, her crew and the air wing embarked onboard were tasked to the Northern Arabian Gulf in support of air strikes on ISIL forces for as long as necessary.

There have been no reported U.S. casualties from the air strikes. American pilots and unmanned aircraft have not met with any surface-to-air resistance, only small arms fire. Meanwhile, Islamic State insurgents have suffered great losses.

The initial success of the airstrikes and the enormity of ISIL’s expansion has left Washington contemplating carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State units in Syria. While Iraq and Syria claim to maintain their sovereign borders, the actuality is that the Islamic state has claimed territory from both countries. While ISIL still occupies the territories in both countries that it currently controls, those borders are non-existent.

Many believe that the Islamic State cannot be defeated unless the force is destroyed both in Iraq and in Syria. There is also the belief  that Iraq and Kurdish forces may not be able to achieve this task without significantly more aide and involvement from the U.S. and its allies.

So far, Washington has not ordered, authorized or asked for anything beyond the airstrikes and aid that they are currently providing.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Air Strikes Update: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Reducing Tuition Costs for Veterans: By Joe Silva

tuition costsThe passing of the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act of 2014 allots a colossal $16.3 billion for the reformation of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). While most of that money is intended to overhaul the VA’s healthcare system, the legislation also includes measures to lower the cost of college tuitions for Veterans.

A very important measure for Veteran education and the American higher education system was included in the popularly approved legislation. Essentially, section 702 of the legislation prohibits the VA from paying education assistance to colleges and universities that charge Veterans more than in-state tuition rates. Most colleges charge a higher tuition rate to students from out of state. The measure is intended to help military Veterans who are often relocated around the country during their military careers, and don’t always meet eligibility requirements. By making it the VA’s policy to stop paying GI Bill tuition money to schools that charge out-of-state tuition prices to Veterans, the government is forcing schools to comply or forfeit all of their Veteran students.

This is great news for many Veterans, whose service called upon them to serve all states and territories of the country, and not just the states that they are residents of.

This can be a game-changer for the schools. While the law does not make it mandatory for all schools to provide Veterans with the lower tuition rate, it does create an extremely strong incentive for them to comply.

Either way, the schools are losing money. If a school continues charging Veterans the out-of-state rate, they lose the ability to enroll future students into their school who will have their tuitions paid, on time, by the federal government. But if they comply with the law, they will lose the extra money from the additional out of state fees.

The VA says it has doled out more than $20 billion in benefits for 773,000 Veterans and their family members under the Post-9/11 GI Bill, since it became effective in 2009. That’s 773,000 paid tuitions to the colleges, most spanning multiple semesters.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Reducing Tuition Costs for Veterans: By Joe Silva

Military Connection: DOD Bans Ice Bucket Challenge: By Debbie Gregory

Ice Bucket ChallengeFor the past several weeks, we’ve seen them on television, in the news, and on our social media accounts– our friends (and some people we wish were our friends) responses to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease, is a neuro-degenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. The disease is most common in people between the ages of 40 and 70. The progressive degeneration of the motor neurons in ALS sufferers eventually leads to their death. In order to raise awareness and raise funds to help find a cure for ALS, many people have taken to the challenge.

It is not clear where the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge originated, but the premise is simple. Once challenged, an individual is faced with the option of donating $100 to the ALS Association or dumping a bucket of ice water over their head. Challengers are supposed to video record the ice water shower and in the video, challenge three of their friends to donate and/or get soaked. Thousands of Americans have accepted the challenge, many choosing to donate AND face the bucket. The ALS Association claims to have raised nearly $80 million for their cause over the last few weeks as a result of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Included among the thousands of participants, many active duty service members have accepted and posted their Ice Bucket Challenge. There have been several instances of service members posting videos of their ice shower while in their uniforms, PT attire, and pride gear. The Pentagon has issued a reminder that participating in unauthorized activities while in uniform or otherwise implying that the U.S. military is affiliated with an event or charity is prohibited.

“The ALS Association is a national non-profit organization. As such, participating in this event is subject to concerns about implied endorsement.”

The DOD has banned service members from participating in the Ice Bucket Challenge in uniform, including civilian uniforms.

Many media outlets have taken to bashing the DOD for its stance on members participation in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Some have even mistakenly interpreted “civilian uniform” to mean that the DOD banned all participation by service members. Of course, that is not the case. Service members can still video themselves taking an ice-cold shower for charity, so long as they are not in uniform and show no affiliation (though clothing, speech or location) with the military and the organization.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: DOD Bans Ice Bucket Challenge: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Operation Comedy for Veterans: By Joe Silva

Operation ComedyThere are many perks that come with being active-duty military, among them free admission, complimentary services, and military discounts. These well-deserved forms of appreciation have been earned by the men and women currently in uniform. But a lot of Veterans will tell you, once that uniform comes off, these benefits are usually reserved for Veterans Day.

Army Veteran Jon Stites came to the same conclusion. After serving his country, Stites was working as a salesman. One night, he ventured onstage who had a good set on an open mic night in a comedy club. He caught the comedy bug, and left his sales job a few months later. As a comedian, Stites has headlined at clubs such as the Sacramento Punch Line and the Hollywood Improve. He has also done shows for the USO, National Lampoon, and the Bob and Tom Show.  Stites found that even the USO only provided free shows for active duty Military.Wanting to give back to the men and women who, like him, had served their country, Stites wanted to offer a perk to Veterans. It was for this reason that the former Infantryman founded Operation Comedy.

For the past 6 years, Operation Comedy has offered free entertainment to active service members and Veterans, with admission restricted to Veterans and service members and their guest. The Operation Comedy shows guarantee an evening of laughs, with a clear mission: “No rules. No regulations. No B.S. Just laughs.”

For the past two years, Stites has pulled from the extensive talent pool of comics in Southern California. He handpicks each comic for the Operation Comedy shows to ensure that the performers have been trained to kill and destroy- in comedic terms. In other words, Stites wants people on stage who will put on a good show for an audience of several hundred people with different backgrounds and cultures.

“When performing for Veterans you get all races, as well as the rich and the poor,” Stites told Military Connection. “You need comics with the same energy and diversity as the Veterans to put on a great show.”

The Army Veteran has done a commendable job putting together an all-star lineup for Operation Comedy’s next show on September 7, 2014 at the Laugh Factory in Long Beach. Joining Stites onstage will be Last Comic Standing winner Alonzo Bodden, Erik Griffin from the show “Workaholics,” and popular comedian Eric Rivera, who has been making the late-night circuit.

This will be Operation Comedy’s third show from the Laugh Factory in Long Beach. Seats are limited, and the last two events “sold out” quickly. Tickets for Service members, Veterans and one guest each are complimentary. There is a two item minimum purchase while at the club. The shows are only available for current and former members of the military. Book your tickets now at http://operationcomedy1.bpt.me/

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Operation Comedy for Veterans: By Joe Silva

Military Connection: New Military Security Measure: By Debbie Gregory

IMESAThe U.S. military has recently begun conducting FBI background checks on individuals who want to access military installations.

Beginning August 8, 2014, a number of Air Force, Army, Marine, and Defense Logistics Agency installations began utilizing a system called the Identity Matching Engine for Security and Analysis (IMESA).

IMESA can run the names of individuals visiting a military installation. They can then be checked against FBI programs such as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the National Crime Information Center Wanted Persons File, and the Terrorist Screening Database. Before being granted access to military installations, the IMESA system will have the ability to check a person’s criminal record, outstanding warrants and other useful information for spotting risks to the safety and security of the base and its personnel.

While already in early stages of development last year, Pentagon officials began to fast-track the IMESA project after the Washington Navy Yard shooting last September. Aaron Alexis shot and killed twelve people and wounded three others after he was granted access to the base. Alexis was a government contractor at the time, with an active SECRET clearance. But a full background check, like the one that IMESA can perform, would have detected that Alexis had been arrested multiple times for violent behavior, including incidents involving discharging firearms. Although Alexis had never been prosecuted, knowledge of his arrests might have prevented the shootings.

The information in IMESA is already contained in the DoD’s personnel database, or within local DoD databases of individuals affiliated with DoD by employment on that installation. That means that Military ID’s will still be sufficient for service members and their dependents to get on base.

People not affiliated with the Defense Department will be asked to provide identification containing enough information to be run through IMESA.

When security personnel come across an individual who pops on the IMESA system, the installation is required to contact the originating law enforcement agency to determine how to proceed.

Not all installations have the capability to run the IMESA system yet. But all branches of the military have a long-range plan to connect their individual installations to IMESA.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Military Security Measure: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Expanding Actions Against ISIL: By Debbie Gregory

Expanding against ISThe White House is contemplating pursuing authorization from Congress to carry out military action against the Islamic State under a variation of a counter­terrorism strategy announced last year.

Permission from Congress could provide domestic legal justification for the unlimited use of force against Islamic State insurgents across Iraq and Syria. The last time that Congress formally mandated such action was against Saddam Hussein and Iraq in 2002.

This would be one of several options currently being discussed as the Obama administration decides how to defeat the Islamic State, which controls a wide swath of territory in both Iraq and Syria.

U.S. military alternatives include temporary authority under the War Powers Resolution, which grants the president constitutional authority for emergency action to protect U.S. citizens. The administration is also in discussion with Congress concerning a more unrestricted authorization to openly combat the Islamic State.

The airstrikes in Iraq ordered by President Obama under the War Powers Resolution are only good for 60 days, and will expire in early October, unless further action is approved by Congress.

It is unclear whether or not Congress will approve further military actions after October, and if they do, to what capacity. It is also not clear if Congress would approve air strikes or other military actions into Syria.

The recent beheading of American journalist James Foley by members of the Islamic State has many Americans, especially Veterans, up in arms. Americans, outraged at Foley’s execution, echo the words of Deputy National Security Adviser Benjamin Rhodes:

“If you come after Americans, we are going to come after you. We’re not going to be restricted by borders,” Rhodes stated on August 22nd.

Foley was kidnapped and held by a guerrilla group that later joined up with the Islamic State in territory that ISIL had seized from Syria.

The killing of Foley might sway some lawmakers to vote in favor of immediate use of airstrikes and other military actions in Syria, if necessary to protect U.S. citizens.

Contingency plans for airstrikes in Syria have been prepared for presidential review, in case the president should ask for them. The intelligence community has also generated a list of high-value targets among individual Islamic State leaders, as it did with al-Qaeda. So far, the president has not formally requested expanded military action.

The president has publicly ruled out sending U.S. ground forces­ into Iraq or Syria, and has resisted any direct U.S. military action in Syria.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Expanding Actions Against ISIL:  By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Snowball Express 5K Event: By Debbie Gregory

Snowball Express

We have all seen the photos and videos– children rushing to their daddies and mommies in uniform, ending the separation caused by a deployment that lasted anywhere from several months to over a year. We have seen the videos of the surprise homecoming, where the parent in uniform emerges at the child’s school or a sporting event, to the delight of all who witness it. We get emotional watching, maybe even shedding a tear for the moment of celebration at the reunion. But it is imperative that we also remember the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to our country, and are denied this reunion. We need to honor their families, who will never be the same family again.

Since 2006, Snowball Express, presented by American Airlines, has been carrying out a campaign to “provide hope and new happy memories to the children of military fallen heroes who have died while on active duty since 9/11.” The non-profit organization gathers gold-star children together, from all over the world, for a four-day experience filled with fun activities like sporting events, dances, amusement parks, and more. The surviving parents often say that their child is now  reserved, withdrawn or unwilling to talk about their loss. Participating in Snowball Express helps gold-star families, partially by letting the children know that they are not alone, but also by creating new, happy memories by making each child feel special.

Snowball Express’ efforts are powered by sponsorship, participation and donations. To find out how you can support this wonderful non-profit, please visit www.snowballexpress.org/support/

Snowball Express would also like to announce its first annual 5K Run. This fundraising event will be held on September 27, 2014, at Trinity Park Pavilion, 2300 West 7th Street, in Fort Worth, Texas.

The event will include a 5K walk/run and a 1K fun walk/run for the kids. Registration starts at $20 per participant for those who register before September 1st. The entrance fee goes up to $30 per participant for those who register between September 2nd and the 24th. Registration will be $40 per participant the day of the event. Click here to register.

Everyone in the region is encouraged to contribute by participating in the race or volunteering to help. And all Americans are encouraged to donate to Snowball Express. By doing so, you are remembering the military families who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Snowball Express 5K Event:By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: New Naval History: By Debbie Gregory

UCAVOver the last few years, several new milestones in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or “drones”) have been reached by the U.S. Navy. The Navy has been developing a carrier-based unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) manufactured by Northrop Grumman. The UCAV is known as the X-47B, and it has been progressing by leaps and bounds during its testing.

On May 14, 2013, the X-47B was successfully launched from the flight deck of the carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN-77). That take-off marks the first time in history that a UAV was catapulted from an aircraft carrier.Three days later, another milestone was reached when the X-47B performed touch-and-go landings and take-offs to and from the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush while underway in the Atlantic Ocean.

Less than two months later, the X-47B took off from shore and landed on the deck of the USS George H.W. Bush, conducting the first ever arrested landing of a UAV on an aircraft carrier that was steaming at sea.

Since the end of 2013, the Navy has continued to progress the UCAV program. So far, all of the tests, including night flights and increasing the difficulty of the UAVs’ capability envelopes, have been conducted with the X-47B’s taking off and landing from empty flight decks.

On August 17, 2014, history was made once again when an X-47B took off from the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) alongside an F/A-18 Super Hornet. This achievement marks the first time that a UAV operated in conjunction with manned aircraft onboard an aircraft carrier at sea.

We look forward to watching even more history being made in Naval aviation, the U.S. Navy, and the U.S. military as a whole.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Naval History: By Debbie Gregory