With the Stroke of the Presidential Pen, VA Choice Program is Replaced

With the Stroke of the Presidential Pen, VA Choice Program is Replaced

With the Stroke of the Presidential Pen, VA Choice Program is Replaced


By Debbie Gregory

On June 6th, President Donald Trump signed the VA Mission Act, replacing the Veterans Choice Program.

The Mission Act consolidates seven programs. It expands private health care options, expands caregivers assistance to the families of disabled veterans, and orders the Department of Veterans Affairs to inventory its 1,100+ facilities with a long-term view to downsize.

“This is a very big day,” said Trump, who made veterans care one of the signature issues of his run for the White House. “All during the campaign, I’d say, ‘Why can’t they just go out and see a doctor instead of standing on line?'”

American Legion spokesman Joe Plenzler said, “The American Legion worked very hard on this legislation with the administration and with Congress.” He added, “We were very pleased that the president signed it, and we look forward to implementing every piece of this legislation as discussed and negotiated.”

“We’re allowing our veterans to get access to the best medical care available, whether it’s at the VA or at a private provider,” said the president.

The bill will address the restrictions in the current caregiver program that provides stipends to family members who care for severely disabled veterans. The current program has been limited to post-9/11 veterans, but the bill was aimed at expanding caregivers assistance to veterans of all eras, possibly adding more than 41,000 caregivers.

The price tag for the VA Mission Act has been estimated to be between $52 billion and $55 billion. Members of Congress still haven’t fully figured out how they’ll pay for the Mission Act.

Direct patient care, suicide prevention, medical research, job training and many more vital veterans programs could face cuts in funding in order to pay for care in the community under this new plan.

No Plan to Recall Retired Air Force Pilots, Even with Executive Order

af pilot

By Debbie Gregory.

Despite the fact that President Trump invoked the National Emergencies Act to address the Air Force pilot shortage, Air Force officials have indicated they have no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order to increase pilot numbers.

The Air Force needs roughly 20,000 pilots to accommodate its various needs and fly its wide array of aircraft. Roughly 10 percent of its positions remain unfilled.

While appreciative of the leeway granted by the act which allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty, the Air Force is responding to the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer.

Incentives such as promotion opportunities and pay bonuses worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term may help ease the crisis.

But it doesn’t always come down to dollars and cents. Brig. Gen. Mike Koscheski, the Air Force’s Aircrew Crisis Task Force director said that incentives that focus on work-life balance and quality of life are paramount to retention.

“We’re looking to provide more time for the air crew member to have with their family and some work time at home,” said Koscheski.

But Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator John McCain, a veteran who was a U.S. Navy pilot during Vietnam, disagrees. A critic of how the Air Force has handled the pilot shortage, Sen. McCain feels the problem is actually linked to a desire to fly and the fact pilots feel they’re grounded far too often due to budget cuts.

“You are addressing this issue of pilot shortage from exactly the wrong direction,” said Sen. McCain. “I talk to too many [pilots] all the time. They say, ‘Senator McCain, all I want to do is fly. I want to be in combat.’ That’s what they’re all about…So this whole idea of trying to outbid the airlines on the keeping people in the Air Force is foolish.”

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.

Widow of Pat Tillman Unhappy Trump Used Her Husband in NFL Debate

pat and marie

As the “Take a Knee” debate continues on, Marie Tillman, the widow of NFL star and Army Ranger Pat Tillman, has asked that her husband not be used for political gain.

Most people know that Pat Tillman gave up his NFL Arizona Cardinals contract to serve the United States in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, but was killed in a friendly fire incident in 2004.

President Trump recently tweeted a photograph of Tillman accompanied by the hashtags #StandForOurAnthem and #BoycottNFL, a move that forced Marie Tillman to make the following statement:

“Pat’s service, along with that of every man and woman’s service, should never be politicized in a way that divides us. We are too great of a country for that.”

The Take a Knee movement was started by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the National Anthem before a pre-season game for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016.

Kaepernick had said: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.

The president has been very vocal regarding his criticisms of NFL players taking a knee, and of the NFL owners’ tolerance of the gesture.

“The very action of self expression and the freedom to speak from one’s heart — no matter those views — is what Pat and so many other Americans have given their lives for,” Marie Tillman said. “Even if they didn’t always agree with those views.”

Team owners, even some who have supported Trump’s campaign, showed solidarity with their players.

“As a football player and soldier, Pat inspired countless Americans to unify,” Marie said. “It is my hope that his memory should always remind people that we must come together.”

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.

President Trump Planning Biggest Fleet Expansion Since Cold War

The USS Zumwalt at Bath Iron Works.

By Debbie Gregory.

With the new president’s blessing, the Navy is proposing the biggest shipbuilding boom since the end of the Cold War to meet threats from a resurgent Russia and saber-rattling China.

The Navy’s 355-ship proposal surpasses the number that President Trump had promoted on the campaign trail, providing a potential boost to shipyards that have struggled because budget caps that have limited money funding for ships.

The Navy currently has 274 deployable battle force ships

The Navy’s revised Force Structure Assessment calls for adding another 47 ships including an aircraft carrier built in Virginia, 16 large surface warships built in Maine and Mississippi, and 18 attack submarines built in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Virginia. It also calls for more amphibious assault ships, expeditionary transfer docks and support ships.

A larger fleet would be better for both the sailors, who’d enjoy shorter deployments, and for the ships, which would have more down time for maintenance.

Many defense analysts agree that military capabilities have been degraded in recent years, especially when it comes to warships, aircraft and tanks.

The key is finding a way to increase Navy shipbuilding to achieve defense and economic gains “in a fiscally responsible way that does not pass the bill along to our children,” said Sen. Angus King of Maine, a member of the Armed Services Committee.

“You never have enough money to buy a perfect defense,” said Lawrence J. Korb, a retired naval officer and former assistant defense secretary under President Ronald Reagan “You have to make trade-offs.”

Stock prices for General Dynamics, which owns Bath Iron Works, Electric Boat and NASSCO, and Huntington Ingalls, which owns major shipyards in Virginia and in Mississippi, have seen stock prices slowly trend upward.

“To the generic military shipbuilder, it’s a bull market right now,” said Ronald Epstein, an analyst at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch division.

In Bath, the 6,000 shipbuilders aren’t going to count their eggs before they hatch.

“A lot of people are hopeful that it’ll happen,” said Rich Nolan, president of the shipyard’s largest union. “But they’re taking a wait-and-see approach. They’ve heard it before and then seen it not come to fruition.”

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.