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Editor's Note: This article was updated from its original form on Wednesday at 6:18 pm to reflect the Senate vote passing new VA reforms.
The recent firestorm ignited by revelations of systemic corruption throughout at least 69 Veterans Affairs hospitals has led to a flurry of congressional panels condemning the VA’s broken management culture and its seemingly endless stream of scandals. The outrage has been distinctly bipartisan, and contrasts with the sharply drawn political lines over the Benghazi and IRS scandals and virtually every other issue in Washington these days. But for all the protestations that veterans are a priority, some lawmakers cannot help but lard VA reform bills with amendments on other political issues that virtually guarantee their failure.
In February, Congress failed to pass a sweeping VA reform bill over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s insistence that an amendment be added on Iran sanctions, something neither side agrees on. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid promptly blocked the amendment.
Furthermore, Senate Republicans could not agree to waive VA spending limits to accommodate the bill’s price tag, estimated to cost $21 billion over 10 years.
That failure was a perfect example of why Congress can’t work together. Despite having the same stated goals, and a bipartisan willingness to sign any budget the VA asks for, when it comes down to the wire, petty disagreements and totally unrelated amendments become poison pills for veterans.
“Republicans blame Democrats. Democrats blame Republicans. And veterans are caught in the crossfire,” said Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “Veterans don’t have time for this nonsense.”
"We would oppose non-germane amendments like Iran, but this partisanship and gamesmanship has got to stop so that American people can get the laws back that we need to help veterans," said Louis Celli, a legislative director with The American Legion.
This time, the unlikely duo of Sen. Bernie Sanders and McCain came up with the new bill, which expands even further on the old. Along with elements from the February bill, such as authorizing the construction of 26 new VA hospitals, it greatly expedites disciplinary and firing proceedings, provides hundreds of millions for hiring new medical staff, and authorizes private care when local VA facilities are overwhelmed. The bill also includes new provisions concerning care for military sexual assault victims who enter the VA system.
Late Wednesday, the Senate voted 93-3 to pass the Sanders-McCain VA reform bill. “This bill is a beginning – not an end – to the efforts that must be taken to address this crisis. Still, the bill includes some of the most significant changes to the VA in decades," Sen. John McCain said after the vote. “This bill is a compromise, so none of us got everything we wanted. However, the Veterans’ Access to Care through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act is a significant step forward to dealing the with crisis at the VA and immediately helping our veterans in Arizona and across America.”
McCain conceded there might be one other procedural hurdle for the VA measure, since it would open the floodgates of federal funding to address the claims backlog highlighted by the existence of secret waiting lists. The bill would not only authorize but also appropriate funds through fiscal 2016.
Congress may be in a period of epic dysfunction, but a key point of cooperation has been trying to do the right thing for veterans. That is, until a chance to play politics presents itself. Then it returns to the gridlock that leaves most Americans, and especially veterans, with such a low opinion of Congress. That these reforms have almost universal support, but previously have been blocked by partisan politics, is adding insult to real injury.
Fueled by the tragedies wrought by an agency eternally playing whack-a-mole with indifference, incompetence, and notoriously bad management, Congress has a historic chance to institute reforms in a health care system considered impervious to reform. That is, unless politicians continue their record of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Stephen Carlson served two tours as an infantryman with the 10th Mountain Division. He lives in Washington D.C.
Army study recommends more sleep for recruits at basic, which drill sergeants will absolutely not disregard or anything
(Reuters Health) - Soldiers who experience sleep problems during basic combat training may be more likely to struggle with psychological distress, attention difficulties, and anger issues during their entry into the military, a recent study suggests.
"These results show that it would probably be useful to check in with new soldiers over time because sleep problems can be a signal that a soldier is encountering difficulties," said Amanda Adrian, lead author of the study and a research psychologist at the Center for Military Psychiatry and Neuroscience at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in Silver Spring, Maryland.
"Addressing sleep problems early on should help set soldiers up for success as they transition into their next unit of assignment," she said by email.
Thousands of U.S. service members who've been sent to operate along the Mexico border will receive a military award reserved for troops who "encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent hostile action."
The Pentagon has authorized troops who have deployed to the border to assist U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) since last April to receive the Armed Forces Service Medal. Details about the decision were included in a Marine Corps administrative message in response to authorization from the Defense Department.
There is no end date for the award since the operation remains ongoing.
A former sailor who was busted buying firearms with his military discount and then reselling some of them to criminals is proving to be a wealth of information for federal investigators.
Julio Pino used his iPhone to record most, if not all, of his sales, court documents said. He even went so far as to review the buyers' driver's license on camera.
It is unclear how many of Pino's customer's now face criminal charges of their own. Federal indictments generally don't provide that level of detail and Assistant U.S. Attorney William B. Jackson declined to comment.
It all began with a medical check.
Carson Thomas, a healthy and fit 20-year-old infantryman who had joined the Army after a brief stint in college, figured he should tell the medics about the pain in his groin he had been feeling. It was Feb. 12, 2012, and the senior medic looked him over and decided to send him to sick call at the base hospital.
It seemed almost routine, something the Army doctors would be able to diagnose and fix so he could get back to being a grunt.
Now looking back on what happened some seven years later, it was anything but routine.
The US military now has to ask the Iraqis for permission before giving close air support to troops in combat
U.S. forces must now ask the Iraqi military for permission to fly in Iraqi airspace before coming to the aid of U.S. troops under fire, a top military spokesman said.
However, the mandatory approval process is not expected to slow down the time it takes the U.S. military to launch close air support and casualty evacuation missions for troops in the middle of a fight, said Army Col. James Rawlinson, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve.