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American Legion News Clips – December 11, 2017

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 7, 2017
WASHINGTON — Pressurized oxygen chambers, light-emitting helmets and neck injections are all treatments the Department of Veterans Affairs is using to help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.
Following an announcement last week that the VA would offer hyperbaric oxygen therapy to some veterans with PTSD, the agency said Thursday that the move is part of an effort to explore alternatives to the traditional therapies for PTSD and TBI, VA Secretary David Shulkin said in a statement.
“We know that for a small group of veterans, a traditional approach to health care may not be the most effective,” Shulkin said. “With veterans who don’t improve, we have to look for innovative, evidence-based approaches that may help them restore and maintain their health and wellbeing.”
Shulkin has repeatedly cited suicide prevention as his No. 1 clinical priority and promised lawmakers “big, bold steps” toward that end.
The VA said light-emitting diode (LED) therapy is now being offered to veterans with mild or moderate TBI to use in their homes, or at the VA Boston Healthcare System in Jamaica Plain. It involves a light-emitting frame being placed on a patient’s head and a clip in their nose. The VA studied the treatment in 2015 and found it increases blood flow in the brain and affects damaged cells to possibly improve brain function.
At the Long Beach VA Medical Center in California, doctors have started using a method called stellate ganglion block for veterans with PTSD. The treatment consists of a shot of medication into a patient’s neck.
VA researchers published a report on the treatment in February stating they found improvements in PTSD symptoms after the first test, but progress dropped in subsequent trials. The study was inconclusive, and researchers called for more testing.
The VA said Thursday the treatment might ease anxiety.
A third alternative treatment, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, uses pressurized chambers to send higher oxygen levels to patients. For now, the VA is making the therapy available to a small number of veterans in the eastern Oklahoma and northern California VA health care systems.
The treatment has been federally approved for illnesses such as decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning and to treat wounds that won’t heal. It hasn’t been proven to work for traumatic brain injury or PTSD, and the VA acknowledged it was an “off-label” use of the treatment.
The American Legion applauded the VA’s decision to use hyperbaric oxygen therapy, stating that they’ve been asking the VA to offer it – and other alternative methods to treat PTSD -- for more than four years.
Though studies by the VA and Department of Defense have been mostly inconclusive, the American Legion said the therapy was successful for many veterans and servicemembers and will be an “important new tool” for VA patients.
Updated 7:06 PM ET, Thu December 7, 2017
Washington (CNN)The Trump administration has abruptly canceled plans to shift dedicated funding away from a program helping the most vulnerable homeless veterans.
The Department of Veterans Affairs announced late Wednesday that it would not remove about $460 million in funding from the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program. Known as HUD-VASH, it is a partnership between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development that provides housing and counseling for chronically homeless veterans with disabilities including mental disease and addiction.
"There will be absolutely no change in the funding to support our homeless programs," Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said.
The statement capped nearly a week of complaints from veterans advocates who learned about the change on a three-hour conference call last Friday and immediately voiced their concerns.
"Not a single person spoke in support of VA's action in any way, shape or form," said Elisha Harig-Blaine of the National League of Cities, who serves on an advisory board at the agency.
Even a top official at HUD who spoke on the call "vocalized his strong concern" with the shift, Harig-Blaine said. The HUD official said his department had not not consulted prior to the VA decision.
"The VA's central office made this decision and they talked to nobody," said Mark Walker, a deputy director of the American Legion who is an expert on veteran homelessness policy. "Everyone is left saying, 'Can we get some clarification?' "
The announcement sent advocates searching for a way to change the policy. Letters were written, calls were placed and eventually they approached reporters with their concerns.
Shortly after news outlets, including Politico and The Washington Post, reported the change, the administration reversed course and issued a short statement from HUD, which promised "we will not be shifting any homeless program money" and a six-month period of public input "on how best to target our funding."
The decision to shift funding from the HUD-VASH program to a general fund at the discretion of local VA officials was especially surprising because the program is widely respected. It "has been a game changer" as veteran homelessness has dropped in recent years, said Walker.
Shulkin himself applauded the program just days before the conference call when he and HUD Secretary Ben Carson visited a HUD-VASH facility in Washington. He noted the success of the facility, which houses 60 previously homeless veterans, while recognizing that there is more work to be done, citing the 409 veterans on the facility's waiting list.
"I can tell you we are extraordinarily proud of what has been put together here to serve our veterans and serve the broader homeless community," Carson said.
Then, when a government report on homelessness was released Wednesday, Shulkin said it showed the "joint community-based homelessness efforts are working in most communities across the country." The report showed more than 40,000 veterans nationwide are homeless, a slight uptick over 2016 numbers largely due to a spike in the Los Angeles area, where the cost of housing has skyrocketed.
A VA spokesman declined requests from CNN to explain what had led Shulkin and the VA to change positions on the HUD-VASH funding.
The decision means that VA's portion of the program will continue. It provides the counseling services, which advocates say is essential for the veterans to stay in the HUD-funded housing.
"You've seen the program working. You've seen the decrease in homelessness," said Walker of the American Legion. "Let's keep the foot on the pedal, keep these programs moving."
By: Stephen Losey   2 days ago
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Despite an email to airmen that discussed the potential for enlisted members to fly combat aircraft, the Air Force is now insisting that it is focused solely on studying how airmen learn.
Air Education and Training Command said in a Thursday release that although its new Pilot Training Next program will include some enlisted airmen, it is not intended to create enlisted aviators.
In the release, AETC said that the program is meant to study how the Air Force can help people learn more quickly and effectively, using immersive technologies such as virtual and augmented reality. The program, scheduled to begin in February, will include 15 officers and five enlisted airmen without college degrees.
The release from AETC comes just days after an email surfaced online earlier this week suggesting that the command was interested in using the program to gauge the potential for enlisted airmen to learn to fly.
In the email, Second Air Force commander Maj. Gen. Timothy Leahy said that the program “will provide data to the AETC commander on the potential for enlisted members to train to fly modern combat aircraft.”
Leahy also said in the email that successful candidates in the six-month program will fly solo in T-6 trainers.
“Enlisted volunteers will be pioneers in innovating Air Force aviator recruitment, selection and training processes by demonstrating the potential of non-college graduates to succeed in a rigorous pilot training environment,” Leahy said.
Lt. Col. Robert Vicars, the director for the new program, said in the Thursday release from AETC that enlisted participants will move on to their predetermined technical training after the program, not undergraduate pilot training, like the officer participants. An Air Force spokesperson did not make that distinction in an interview earlier this week with Air Force Times.
“Selecting enlisted members to fill the non-college student role is not intended to develop enlisted aviators,” Vicars said. “In this selection model, we can pool the data to determine what qualities, habits of mind and patterns of thought equal success in the flying training environment. We are then able to filter that data to develop simulators, apps and testing tools to pull in the very best talent.”
AETC commander Lt. Gen. Steven Kwast said that the program focused on pilot training because of the urgency involved with that career field. The Air Force is struggling with an alarming shortfall in its pilot ranks that has prompted it to roll out a wide variety of initiatives to correct it.
“However, our focus is on how airmen learn, not necessarily what they learn, exploring technology and how that technology can produce better and faster learning,” Kwast said.
Vicars said that AETC wants to build an “intelligent tutor” that monitors students and learns how better to teach them.
“It will track their biometrics and understand the stress level they are under to optimize the learning environment for the individual and put them under the right amount of stress to create learning,” Vicars said.
AETC decided to specifically include enlisted airmen who hadn’t graduated college to make sure the program has a pool of students from a variety of different learning backgrounds. The enlisted airmen chosen for the program will come from a pool of airmen who recently completed basic training.
AETC said that the program seeks to revolutionize training and make “a more efficient path to pilots earning their wings.”
“If we do this right, and the students learn all the functional competency sets, as well as key and critical learning objectives and skills, then we would expect to be able to pin wings on them,” Vicars said.
By Thomas Joscelyn | December 8, 2017 | | @thomasjoscelyn
Shortly after President Trump announced on Dec. 6 that the US would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, al Qaeda and its regional branches released several statements decrying the move and inciting violence. Others, of course, are doing the same. But al Qaeda launched its own media campaign targeted at jihadists and possible sympathizers.
The general leadership of al Qaeda, which is part of the organization’s senior management, posted a statement online that begins with a quote from Osama bin Laden. “I swear by Allah, America and those who live in America shall never even dream of peace until we experience it as a reality in Palestine,” bin Laden said.
Al Qaeda uses its founder’s words, describing it as an “oath,” to emphasize America’s supposed role as “the head of international disbelief.”
“It is the oath of the martyr [bin Laden] of the Ummah who paved the way for a momentous state in the Ummah’s history; a stage in which it became obvious that the head of international disbelief, that is leading the war against Islam and Muslims, violating their sanctities, plundering their wealth, and supporting the Zionists and the tyrants of the Arabs and the Orient, is none other than America,” al Qaeda’s statement reads.
Al Qaeda’s leadership claims that the recognition of Jerusalem “as the capital of the Zionist entity is a blatant aggression by the Crusader Trump against the sanctities of Muslims – a high-voltage shock for the Muslim Ummah, which may perhaps awaken from its slumber.”
Bin Laden’s outfit has long sought to tie the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to its mission, even though the group has had little to do with it. Small groups of al Qaeda loyalists have operated in Gaza and the West Bank, but their operations have been minor. That could change in the future. In any event, al Qaeda has consistently used Israel as a rhetorical foil, portraying it as part of an imaginary Zionist-Crusader plot against Muslims everywhere. This has been a consistent theme in the organization’s propaganda since the 1990s.
And the jihadists are using America’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in their attempt to spread this same idea.
“If we fail to act — today rather than tomorrow — this aggression will be followed by further resolutions, conferences, agreements threatening our very existence as a Muslim Ummah and subjugating completely our Muslim World to the Zionist-Crusader Alliance and its Rafidhi [Shiite] and apostate allies of the Arabs,” the statement continues.
This, too, has been a consistent part of al Qaeda’s messaging. The group papers over all of the differences and conflicts within the Middle East to claim that there is a grand alliance of not just the Jews and Crusaders, but also including the Shiites of Iran and “apostate” Arab rulers. Of course, there is no such coalition. And while the various wars raging throughout the Middle East often make for strange bedfellows (for example, the US and Iran have both fought the Islamic State in Iraq), there is no grand conspiracy against Sunni Muslims.
For instance, al Qaeda points to the Saudi regime as a central component of this supposed scheme, even though the Saudis oppose Iranian expansion throughout the region.
“The Ummah must recognize the fact that the Zionist-Crusader alliance would never have mustered the courage to ridicule Muslims so arrogantly had it not secured itself first by ensuring the complete submission of the puppet regimes — specifically the government of the Family of Saud — who are responsible for paving the way to this crime,” the statement reads.
It is possible that al Qaeda will plot attacks or other information operations in light of the announcement, using it as a pretext for terror. Al Qaeda and its branches have attempted to use controversial issues for their own purposes in the past.
For instance, al Qaeda planned attacks against Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, after it published cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in 2005. Newly-released files recovered in Osama bin Laden’s compound in May 2011 show that al Qaeda made this a priority, although its plotting didn’t come to fruition. In one 2008 memo, Ayman al Zawahiri relayed an order from bin Laden to the leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) to “focus” on the issue of the cartoons in their “speeches” and “media.”
Al Qaeda operatives and affiliated jihadists used the trailer for the video “Innocence of Muslims” to incite anti-American protests in several countries in 2012. AQAP and Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) have both executed attacks that are framed as revenge for supposed offenses to Muslims. In Jan. 2015, a pair of brothers executed a well-planned assault on the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. AQAP specifically targeted the publication after it published its own cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The brothers who executed the attack said it was carried out on behalf of AQAP.
The purpose of all these operations was to portray al Qaeda as a defender of Islam. So it is conceivable that al Qaeda could do the same in the wake of this week’s announcement. In the meantime, al Qaeda and its regional branches are trying to exploit discontent over the issue.
In addition to al Qaeda’s general leadership, AQAP, Shabaab, and AQIM have all released statements inciting violence in response to the US announcement. Hay’at Tahrir al Sham (HTS), which is the middle of a heated leadership dispute with al Qaeda’s senior leaders, has also staged rallies in Idlib. Other al Qaeda-linked ideologues — such as Sheikh Abdullah al Muhaysini, Sheikh Abu Qatadah and Sheikh Abu Mohammed al Maqdisi — have all weighed in. The Taliban has as well, claiming that the decision has “exposed” America’s “colonialist face and declared enmity towards Islam,” as well as its “support” policies “of occupation and colonization of Muslim lands.”
It remains to be seen if al Qaeda can follow through on its threats.
By: Jessie Bur   2 days ago
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With the Veteran’s Affairs initiative to transition their electronic health records system from the current VistA program to a new system implemented by health IT company Cerner, officials hope to both make the agency interoperable with the Department of Defense’s system and to kickstart their data center consolidation efforts.
“I think that data center consolidation really needs to go hand-in-hand with this migration to the commercial Cener product. That’s where there’s a real opportunity to save a lot of money in the data center area. We’re spending a lot of money, but we can get a huge return from a data center point of view,” said Government Accountability Office director of IT management issues Dave Powner at a recent hearing on the subject.
That cost, $10billion over 10 years to be exact, represents the largest implementation of an electronic health record system ever, according to Scott Blackburn, acting CIO of the VA. If successful, the change would enable servicemembers to keep the same health record while transitioning from active service to retirement and prevent doctors from needing to fill out duplicative information about patients.
“Our new electronic health records system will enable VA to keep pace with the improvements in health IT and cybersecurity, which the current system, VistA, is unable to do,” said Blackburn.
Though the VA’s IT initiatives as a whole received a B+ on the most recent Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act scorecard, which measures agency success at implementing a variety of IT initiatives and best practices, the agency received a failing grade in data center consolidation.
According to a recent GAO report, the VA reported a total inventory of 415 data centers, of which 39 had been closed as of August 2017 and 10 more were scheduled to be closed by the end of the 2018 fiscal year.
“They fall far short of [the Office of Management and Budget’s] goals on closures, savings and also with the optimization metrics,” said Powner.
According to Powner, many of the agency’s data centers are already tied up in the current electronic healthcare system.
“We would like to get it down to 14 core data centers by the end of 2020. In addition to that, we would have 42 special purpose data centers,” said Blackburn.
According to John Windom, program executive for electronic health records modernization at the VA, the Cerner system has a data management hosting system called “Healthy Intent,” which the agency plans to move data into and is similar to the DoD solution.
“That gives us, again, that seamless movement of data into DoD environments,” said Windom.
Initial deployment of the Cerner system is expected to occur in the next 18 months, according to Powner, though the complete transition will take longer.
“If we’re able to integrate DoD and VA, the two largest healthcare providers in the world, then we’re going to be able to integrate to every other system. So the VA is going to be back to setting the curve and being on the cutting-edge,” said Rep. Will Hurd, R-Texas. “This is the opportunity that we have here and if we can’t do it in 10 years with $10billion then it’s never going to get done.”
By: Kevin Lilley   1 day ago
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Call it the “Pando Plunge.”
Army West Point senior quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw’s 1-yard scoring dive with 5:10 to play, and the ensuing extra point, gave the Black Knights a 14-13 victory Saturday in Philadelphia. But the Mids didn’t go quietly: A missed 48-yard-field goal on the game’s final play spoiled a standout performance by quarterback Malcolm Perry and sent Navy to its second-straight rivalry-game loss.
Bradshaw finished with 94 rushing yards, good enough for best on his team but far behind Perry’s 250-yard, 30-carry effort. The teams combined for three pass attempts, completing two, with their already run-heavy offenses further grounded by the steady snowfall.
As for his final, most meaningful yard of the game, Bradshaw said he had a much-needed assist.
“It was just a quarterback sneak,” said the senior, who would raise the Commander in Chief’s Trophy after the contest. “I felt myself kind of stop ... I felt Andy [Davidson, Army running back] pick me up and kinda walk me into the end zone.”
Bradshaw completed the only pass he threw, a 20-yard strike to junior Calen Holt, earlier in the drive. Aside from a trio of pass attempts, both teams mounted ground assaults that chewed up yards at an impressive clip: Army averaged more than 6 yards per carry.
“Obviously, a disappointing loss,” Navy head coach Ken Niumatalolo said after the contest. “This is a great rivalry, it was another classic game. Unfortunately for us, we were on the short end of the stick.”
Decked out in all-white uniforms honoring the “Pando Commandos” of the 10th Mountain Division, Army appeared ready for the wintry clash. Junior Darnell Woolfork capped an 11-play, 68-yard, game-opening drive with 1-yard TD run up the middle to give Army (9-3) a 7-0 lead.
Perry ran the ball nine times on Navy’s first drive, which resulted in a field goal, but his first breakout came on the Mids’ second possession. Down 7-3 and facing a third down in Navy territory, Perry started to his left, but saw his blocking collapse. He paused, cut right and darted 68 yards for Navy’s first touchdown.
“My performance isn’t satisfying unless we win,” Perry said. “We put ourselves in a position to possibly win the game and we didn’t. We made too many mistakes.”
The offenses stalled for the rest of the half; after an Army punt early in the third quarter, Perry was at it again, this time rattling off a 46-yard run on second down to bring the Mids to the Army 11. Senior captain John Voit made the TD-saving tackle, barely, but the Black Knights would allow a field goal to go down 13-7.
“I think I got enough [of him so] he tripped, or slipped in the snow,” Voit said. “Thank God he went down.”
Army’s ensuing drive resulted in a missed field goal on the first play of the fourth quarter, but Navy couldn’t answer, going three plays and out.
That set up a 13-play, 65-yard drive led by Bradshaw, who pushed his way into the end zone on a third-down run. A delayed signal by the officials sent the Army fans among the crowd of more than 68,000 into a frenzy, and a Blake Wilson extra point put the score at 14-13.
Perry again took the bulk of the carries on the Mids’ final drive, including a fourth-down conversion in Army territory with about two minutes to play. That 12-yard run gave Navy a first down at Army’s 25-yard line.
Then came a collapse. A game with few penalties would end with this Navy offensive sequence: false start, 2-yard run, false start and 0-yard gain by Perry, mostly to get the ball near the center of the field for a three-point try with three seconds to play.
“In a close game, it is the team that doesn’t make mistakes” that wins, Niumatalolo said, “and those penalties hurt us.”
Navy kicker Bennett Moehring, who’d hit from 28 and 24 yards already, was wide left and a bit short on his kick. The miss handed the Black Knights their first Commander in Chief’s trophy since 1996 and their first back-to-back rivalry wins since 1995-96.
Army next faces San Diego State in the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 23. Navy will host Virginia in Annapolis for the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Dec. 28.
NOTES: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson performed the coin toss. ... Perry fell shy of Eddie Meyers’ record for rushing yards in an Army-Navy game; the Mid had 278 yards in 1979. ... Bradshaw added to his single-season Army rushing record, which now sits at 1,566 yards. He should snap the service-academy single-season mark, which stands at 1,587 yards (Napoleon McCallum, Navy, 1983) in Army’s bowl game. ... Army hadn’t won back-to-back rivalry games since 1995-96, which is also the last year the Black Knights won the Commander in Chief’s Trophy.