Celebrating the National Guard’s 381st Anniversary

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By Debbie Gregory.

On December 13, 1636, the Massachusetts General Court in Salem issued an order requiring all able-bodied men between 16 and 60 years old to create a standing Army for protection. With that order, what we now know as the National Guard was born.

Celebrating its 381st anniversary, the National Guard is integrated with the active Army and Air Force to meet the demands of our Nation’s security and our local communities. Our Soldiers and Airmen actively serve at home, and overseas. Since 9/11, Guard members have deployed over 850,000 times, and today we have, on average, over 30,000 Guardsmen mobilized around the world in support of our warfighting commanders.

When the U.S. entered WWI 100 years ago, the bulk of the initial U.S. forces for the first year were comprised of National Guardsmen. The branch’s casualties were high, with more than 100,000 troops killed or wounded.

Traditionally, most National Guard personnel serve “One weekend a month, two weeks a year”, although those in high demand units (pilots, navigators and aircrewmen in active flying assignments) serve far more frequently. But the “One weekend a month, two weeks a year” slogan has lost most of its relevance since the Iraq War, when the country has relied far more on the participation of the National Guard.

What many people are not aware of, Agricultural Development Teams (ADTs) of soldiers and airmen from the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard provide classroom instruction and teachings about farming practices, most recently in Afghanistan.  Agricultural education improves lines of communication and builds trust between the people, the U.S. government, and the Host Nation.

More than just a slogan, “Always Ready …Always There!” is the mantra that has seen the service branch go from defending Massachusetts Bay in 1636 to protecting the U.S., at home and abroad, from harm, threats, and natural disasters.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

2018 Defense Bill Addresses Troop Size, Benefits, Sexual Assault

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By Debbie Gregory.

Congress’ annual defense authorization bill addresses some of the yearly basics, such as pay benefits and insurance coverage, but also spells out the rules regarding the topical subject of sexual assault and harassment.

In the benefits department, there is a proposed 2.4 percent pay raise for active duty troops. The raise will be needed to cover the increased cost of Tricare prescription costs.

Military spouses who get a new professional license or certification after a PCS will be reimbursed up to $500.

To address problems with sexual harassment and assault in the military and at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, military sexual trauma counseling and treatment will be broadened to be more inclusive. Special victims counsel will receive training to better assist victims of sexual assault, with an emphasis on the male victims, thought to be much more common than assaults on females, but much less reported..

In addition to the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program, a new article to the Uniform Code of Military Justice regarding “wrongful broadcast or distribution of intimate visual images” allows anyone charged to be brought before a court-martial.

This comes on the heels of the scandal involving active-duty Marines who shared nude pictures of female colleagues on a series of military-themed web sites. More than 40 Marines received some form of punishment for their involvement.

Also addressed in the bill are: Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance payments, which were due to end this year, but now are permanent for surviving military spouses; troop strength being increased by 20,000, with about ¾ of the number devoted to active duty troops, and the other ¼ devoted to the Reserves; mental health assessments as a part of the separation physical.

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Pentagon Works to Disable Drones

The "Reaper" has been chosen as the name for the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle. (Courtesy photo)

By Debbie Gregory.

To the military, they are  Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems (RPAS). But they are more commonly known as drones.

Drones have an array of applications ranging from being mere hobby gadgets to their increasing use in professional photography and cinematography, intelligence, mapping, reconnaissance as well as target destination besides being used in rescue missions.

Drones are used in military situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult, and often times are used as weapons with the ability to drop explosives.

Although helpful on the battlefield, drones also present a clear and present danger to our troops when they are in the hands of the enemy.

Stopping the drones has become a challenge for the Pentagon and its allies.

To that end, the Pentagon is working to develop lasers and microwaves to eliminate enemy drones in the sky.

Some soldiers are equipped with “anti-drone” rifles that use pulses across radio frequencies to interfere with the vehicles’ controls.

As terrorists move to drones as their weapon of choice, the Pentagon agency called the Joint Improvised-Threat Defeat Organization (JIDO) is working with defense companies to develop counter-drone strategies, including lasers and microwaves to blast drones from the sky.

While France and Holland are training eagles and other birds of prey to attack enemy drones, Raytheon is mounting a high-energy laser weapon on top of a militarized dune buggy to take out drones. Raytheon also has “the Phaser”, a high-powered microwave cannon that can scramble a drone’s avionics.

CACI is developing “SkyTracker” to find and track drones using radio frequencies. And Lockheed Martin has “Athena”, a laser capable of destroying the tail of a fixed-wing drone.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Merger of VA and DoD Health Systems Being Considered

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By Debbie Gregory.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides healthcare to veterans through medical centers and clinics owned and run by the federal government, although veterans can also see private doctors through the Choice if VA wait times are too long. The Department of Defense provides healthcare to current servicemembers, retirees and their families through TRICARE,  insurance that is paid for by the government and uses private doctors and hospitals.  But soon, the two may be one and the same.

The VA generally serves older, sicker veterans, while TRICARE’s patients are generally healthier.

VA Secretary David Shulkin has been exploring the option of integrating VA and Pentagon health care. This follows the VA’s planned adoption of utilizing a similar electronic health record (EHR) platform as the Defense Department’s MHS GENESIS.

“VA’s adoption of the same EHR system as DoD will ultimately result in all patient data residing in one common system and enable seamless care between the Departments without the manual and electronic exchange and reconciliation of data between two separate systems,” said Shulkin.

Since an overhaul of VA’s EHR won’t be completed for another seven to eight years, a TRICARE merger would more than likely take at least as long.

News of the plan is worrying various veterans groups. The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and Disabled American Veterans have expressed that a TRICARE merger is likely to be a “non-starter” if the goal is to transform VA care into an insurance plan.

Louis Celli, director of veterans’ affairs and rehabilitation for The American Legion, said outsourcing services away from the current VA system via its medical centers and clinics would be financially unsustainable.

Bob Wallace, the executive director of VFW’s Washington office  said that his organization  would oppose any effort to reduce the VA’s role of providing care for veterans.

What do you think?

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

VA To Make Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Available for PTSD

Hyperbaric Chamber

By Debbie Gregory.

In a continuing effort to treat Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and reduce the number of veteran suicides, the Department of Veterans Affairs has approved hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) to some veterans with PTSD.

In a hyperbaric oxygen therapy chamber, the air pressure is increased to three times higher than normal air pressure. Under these conditions, your lungs can gather more oxygen than would be possible breathing pure oxygen at normal air pressure.

It’s suggested that the oxygen-rich environment produced in the brain during a HBOT treatment stimulates the growth of new neurons and neural pathways, although further research is necessary.

HBOT treatment is currently only available to veterans served in the eastern Oklahoma and Northern California VA health care systems. Only veterans who haven’t noticed a decrease in PTSD symptoms from two other, evidence-based treatments are eligible.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized room or tube. HBOT uses pressurized hyperbaric chambers to deliver high oxygen levels.

“There is nothing more important to us than caring for our nation’s veterans, and that care must include finding different approaches that work best for them,” said VA Secretary David Shulkin.

HBOT is normally used to treat carbon monoxide poisoning, decompression sickness,  and wounds that won’t heal. It has also been used for stroke victims, autism, cerebral palsy, cancer, fibromyalgia and lyme disease. Now HBOT is being used on patients with Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) as well as PTSD.

The VA intends to use its new research to determine whether hyperbaric oxygen therapy should be made available to more veterans with PTSD, the agency said.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Should Bergdahl Receive $300K In Back Pay?

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By Debbie Gregory.

The U.S. Army may end up paying Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl about $300,000 in back pay for the five years he was  a prisoner of the Taliban.

Bergdahl was initially listed as “Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown” by the Defense Department on June 30, 2009. However, his status was changed three days later to “Missing-Captured” following the release of a Taliban video showing Bergdahl alive. Bergdahl had walked off of his base, and was released in a prisoner swap in May of 2014.

He was charged and pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy resulting in a demotion from sergeant to private, a fine, and a dishonorable discharge.

Now, the Army is trying to figure out what, if anything, they owe Bergdahl.

Typically, servicemembers designated by the Defense Department as “captive, missing or missing in action” are entitled to receive back pay and allowances. Any additional pay and allowances earned such as promotions or special entitlements are not issued until they are officially recovered or classified as deceased. But this situation is unique because Bergdahl pleaded guilty to desertion.

In a Nov. 15 letter to Acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, 100 lawmakers, led by former soldier Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AK) said that, while they are happy Bergdahl was returned, they remain concerned about the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and are urging the U.S. Army not to award Bowe Bergdahl any back pay.

“At the very least, we know Private Bergdahl’s actions, by his desertion admissions in court, jeopardized the lives of his comrades,” they wrote. “Despite being given a dishonorable discharge and demotion from sergeant to private, he remains eligible for significant back pay.”

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Sen. Graham Wants Mil Families Out of South Korea

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In spite of the concerns of Sen. Lindsey Graham regarding the safety of U.S. servicemember families in South Korea, there are no government evacuations plans in the works.

Sen. Graham believes the Pentagon  should start evacuating the families of the roughly 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea as America gets “close to military conflict” with North Korea.

“It’s crazy to send spouses and children to South Korea given the provocation of North Korea,” said Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

But defense expert Thomas Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general, thinks North Korea would see the evacuation as a provocation.

“Certainly when the U.S. seriously contemplates military action family members should be removed. I don’t think we are at that point,” he said in an email. “We should be careful not to act prematurely.”

“North Korea would interpret a move to remove families as a sign of U.S. preparation for offensive military action,” he said.

North Korea and the United States have been enemies for more than half a century, but tensions have never been as high as they are currently. Kim Jong Un’s missile tests and the ramping up of the nuclear program has baited President Donald Trump, who has employed  frequent threats and insults, often in tweets, towards Kim, who he has nicknamed Rocket Man.

“Readiness, safety and welfare of our service members, employees and family members are essential to the strength of the U.S. and South Korean alliance,´said Commander Dave Benham, a spokesman for U.S. Pacific Command.  “We currently have no intent to initiate departures for military dependents, whether on a voluntary or mandatory basis, and no intent to modify the policy authorizing military dependents to accompany military members being stationed in South Korea.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Colorado VA Used Forbidden Lists of Patients Wanting Mental Health Car

Denver VA

By Debbie Gregory.

A Veterans Administration (VA) investigation has revealed that VA facilities in Denver, Golden and Colorado Springs failed to follow proper protocol when keeping tabs on patients who sought referrals for treatment of mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

The “off-book” lists did not always contain complete information or request dates, calling into question whether veterans requesting care received it and how long they had to wait for it.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

Whistleblower Brian Smothers said the problems found in Colorado reach across the VA system. He worked on the VA’s PTSD support team in Denver and said he resigned in November 2016 after he was retaliated against for speaking up.

Smothers alleges that Colorado VA facilities in Denver and suburban Golden used unauthorized wait lists for mental health services from 2012 until last September. He said the longer that veterans have to wait for mental healthcare, the less likely they are to use it when it becomes available.

“It was totally unacceptable to me,” he said.

Smothers estimated the lists contained 3,500 entries but did not know how many individual veterans were on them because some names appeared multiple times. It was not immediately clear how long veterans on the lists had to wait for care.

Unofficial wait lists have been used by VA health care facilities elsewhere. The discovery of the lists created a nationwide scandal in 2014 when 40 veterans died while waiting for appointments at a Phoenix VA hospital.

According to Smothers, “VA management knew that these wait lists were absolutely forbidden.”  “But they directed the use of these wait lists anyway.”

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Veterans Try To Educate Providers on Gulf War Illnesses

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By Debbie Gregory.

Servicemembers who deployed for Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield suffer from an amalgam of chronic, unexplained illnesses including fibromyalgia, fatigue and gastrointestinal disorders, called, for lack of a better name, Gulf War Illness (GWI.)

Gulf War veterans may be eligible for a variety of VA benefits, including a Gulf War Registry health exam, the Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry, health care, and disability compensation for diseases related to military service. Their dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits.

Unfortunately, when a veteran has symptoms suggestive of GWI, the type of care they get may depend on the type of doctor they see.  General internal medicine doctors are more likely to believe the syndrome is caused by mental illness.  Many physicians don’t even seem to know what GWI is.

This led Shawn Scott to his present cause. Scott suffers from many medical conditions linked to his service. He is on a quest to bridge the information gap. To that end, the Army veteran organized a Gulf War Illness Awareness Conference at his local VA hospital in Tampa, FL.

He has also been a part of  a research study conducted by Nancy Klimas and James Baranuiuk, who have made breakthrough discoveries about Gulf War service and GWI.

After Klimas spoke about the GWI clinical trials she’s working on, veterans in attendance at the conference flooded her table with interest.

Although more evidence might not lead to a cure, Klimas is none the less working toward one. At the very least, it could lead to a better understanding and improved treatment for veterans’ symptoms.

Military Connection salutes and proudly serves veterans and service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve,  and their families.

Former Marine Who Proved Russia Hacked DNC Emails is Speaking Out

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By Debbie Gregory.

When former Marine Capt. Robert Johnston chose computer science as his major at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, he had no idea how that decision would impact our nation.

During his service in the Marine Corps, Johnson directed the Marine Corps Red Team, which tries to hack into the Corps computers to test its defenses. As a civilian, Johnson led the private security team that investigated the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s (DNC) servers, coming to the conclusion that Russian intelligence was indeed responsible.

In 2015, Johnston was leading newly formed Cyber Protection Team 81, based in Fort Meade, Maryland, as part of the military’s Cyber Command (Cybercom) when a malware attack against the Pentagon had reached the unclassified computers of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Johnston helped the Joint Chiefs firm up security measures.

He left the Marine Corps in November 2015, and signed up to work for CrowdStrike, a well-known cyberprotection company.

In April, 2016, the DNC IT department became convinced that there was a hacking problem, and they called CrowdStrike.

Johnston found that their computer systems had been fully compromised by two attacks. Malware from the first attack had been festering in the DNC’s system for a whole year. The second infiltration was only a couple of months old. Both sets of malware were associated with Russian intelligence.

CrowdStrike and the DNC gave the story to the Washington Post, and on June 14, 2016, the Post published the story: “Russian government hackers penetrated DNC, stole opposition research on Trump.”

In retrospect, Johnston thinks the Washington Post story accelerated the hackers’ timeline.

“I believe now that they were intending to release the information in late October or a week before the election,” Johnson said. “But then they realized that we discovered who they were. I don’t think the Russian intelligence services were expecting it, expecting a statement and an article that pointed the finger at them.”

In July 2016, WikiLeaks began to release thousands of emails hacked from the DNC server. Johnson’s analysis laid the groundwork for what would eventually lead to the investigation of Russia’s intervention into the U.S. presidential election.

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