UNSUNG HEROES: 12 GREEN BERETS WHO TOOK ON HUNDREDS IN THIS EPIC AFGHAN BATTLE –T&P — On April 6, 2008, 10 Special Forces commandos earned Silver Stars for one epic firefight in northeastern Afghanistan.
The Shok Valley in Afghanistan’s Nuristan province is so impenetrable that during their nearly 10 year occupation of the country, the Soviets never entered it once. And for the first seven years of Operation Enduring Freedom, no Coalition troops did either. So when, on the morning of April 6, 2008, a 12-man team of U.S. Special Forces operators with ODA 3336, 3rd Special Forces group jumped from a helicopter into the Shok Valley, they became the first members of a foreign military to step foot on the treacherous home turf of Hezb-e-Islami Gulbuddin, the notorious militant group that had controlled the valley for decades.
The firefight that erupted in the Shok Valley that day is one of the most harrowing battles ever waged by American operators during the war in Afghanistan. By the time the dust settled, four of the 12 Special Forces soldiers were critically wounded and 10 had earned Silver Stars for actions that left more than 150 insurgents dead in their wake. Eight years on, the Battle of Shok Valley, which was fought at an altitude of 10,000 feet above sea level, still ranks as the most award-producing battles involving U.S. operators of the Global War on Terror. And not a single American was killed.
Special operations units prefer to operate at night. This particular mission, however, began at daybreak. Unable to touch down on mountain’s jagged surface, the helicopter carrying ODA 3336 hovered while, one by one, the Green Berets leapt into an icy stream from a height of about 10 feet. Joined by a small group of Afghan commandos, their mission was to capture or kill several members of HIG, including the group’s commander. But the militants were prepared for a big fight. In fact, it was later concluded that HIG had been stockpiling weapons and ammunition for a moment just like this since the Soviet-Afghan war.
As the Americans took in their surroundings, they realized that the remote mountainside was alive with insurgent activity. And while the original plan was to fight their way down the mountain, instead of up it, they also realized that the helicopter had dropped them off about 1,000 feet below a village fortified with a series of fighting positions, including mud compounds bored with portholes for snipers.
ONCE DENIED WHITE HOUSE CEREMONY, MARINE HERO HONORED WITH SHIP NAMING — MILCOM — It was fitting, said retired Marine Col. Harvey Barnum, that the ceremony to name an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer in his honor be held at Marine Barracks Washington, D.C.
Barnum, 76, said he was one of only two recipients of the Medal of Honor — the highest award for combat valor — to be denied a ceremony at the White House amid widespread public disapproval of the Vietnam War.
“The administration at that time did not want any more publicity about the war,” Barnum explained. “So I’m told that [then-Marine Corps Commandant] Gen. [Wallace] Greene said, ‘He earned it, it’s been approved, and if you won’t decorate him, I will.’ So I received the Medal of Honor in the [Sousa] Band Hall.”
The DDG-124, to be built by General Dynamics Corp. at its Bath Iron Works facility in Maine, will be Barnum’s namesake.
He received the Medal of Honor for heroism while on temporary assignment as a first lieutenant in Vietnam in 1965, an artillery forward observer with 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines. Trapped by an onslaught of accurate enemy fire on an isolated hill, Barnum was forced to take the lead after his company commander was grievously wounded and his radio operator was killed.
He took the radio and assumed command of the company under fire, mounting a successful counterattack and assisting with the evacuation of wounded and dead troops from the position.
“An O-2 on [temporary active duty] had, in a few hours, done more and showed more courage and selflessness than most of us do in a lifetime,” said Navy Secretary Ray Mabus as he announced the naming of the destroyer.
Traditional naming conventions state that Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are supposed to be named for deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. In his tenure as secretary of the Navy, Mabus has received attention for defying this tradition with regularity.
The USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. will be the eighth ship Mabus has named for a living person, of less than two dozen total Navy ships named for living individuals.
Mabus told Military.com on Thursday that he does not see himself as defying tradition by naming ships after living people, but noted that he does see value in the practice.
“I think it’s … important, when we can, to honor people who are still with us and thank them for what they did,” Mabus said. “In a tangible way, they can be part of that spirit for that ship that will be there long after all of us are gone.”
Mabus said Barnum served in the military during a difficult period in American history and continued to serve following his military career, as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs, as principal director for Drug Enforcement Policy at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and as president of the Congressional Medal of Honor society, among other posts.
“It’s important for Americans today to recognize people like Barney Barnum and everything he represents,” Mabus said.
Barnum said he hoped to visit his namesake ship while it was under construction and to ride aboard her after she entered service. He plans to make himself available to future crews of the Barnum to answer their questions and talk about his own experiences.
“So it’s an opportunity to influence a warfighter, a warfighting ship, and it’s got great capacity and capabilities,” he said. “I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to mentor and show support.”
MEMORIAL FOR ‘AMERICAN SNIPER’ CHRIS KYLE UNVEILED IN TEXAS — FOX NEWS — ODESSA, Texas – A memorial for slain Navy Seal and “American Sniper” author Chris Kyle has been unveiled in the West Texas city where he was born in 1974.
Ceremonies were held Thursday in Odessa to unveil the granite-and-limestone Chris Kyle Memorial Plaza, which also includes a bronze statue of Kyle. It is a privately funded memorial.
Several trees from ex-President George W. Bush’s ranch near Crawford were purchased by memorial organizers and moved to the site earlier this year.
Kyle and friend Chad Littlefield were killed in 2013 at a Texas shooting range. A former Marine was convicted in their deaths and sentenced to life in prison.
Kyle’s autobiography was the basis for the 2014 film “American Sniper,” starring Bradley Cooper.
KOREAN WAR VETERANS GATHER TO REMEMBER “THE FORGOTTEN WAR” — CHARLESTON GAZETTE-MAIL — Boyd Hiser remembers the night the Korean War ended. Under a clear sky adorned by a moon on the verge of fullness, Hiser spoke quietly with his Army comrades. Though the gunfire had subsided, the soldiers were fearful the hostility would resume before the armistice officially ending the war went into effect.
The day was July 27, 1953. Exactly 63 years later, Hiser was present at the Korean War wreath laying ceremony in South Charleston to commemorate the end of the war and recognize the more than 54,000 soldiers who lost their lives during the conflict.
Fellow Korean War veterans Jim DeCarlo, Arol Squires, Kyle McGraw and Franklin Goff attended as well. Each donned their veterans’ uniforms, made up of a light-blue jacket, white shirt, black pants and a black tie with a Korean War pin affixed.
The ceremony, hosted by the Mountaineer Chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association, took place at the Korean War memorial near the intersection of Montrose Drive and MacCorkle Avenue.
Goff, a Silver Star and Purple Heart recipient, served as the event’s speaker. He recounted anecdotes about his recovery from the war, shared the experiences of his veteran comrades and explained why it’s important for American citizens to acknowledge “The Forgotten War,” which is what the Korean War is sometimes called.
In addition, he addressed the organization’s efforts to build the memorial in South Charleston, which recognizes the soldiers from Kanawha and bordering counties who were killed in action.
PAIN OFTEN IMPROVES IN OLDER VETERANS, STUDY SHOWS — SCIENCE DAILY — Older military veterans frequently show improvements in pain intensity over time. However, opioids, some mental health conditions and certain pain diagnoses are associated with lower likelihood of improvement, according to research reported in The Journal of Pain.
The aging veteran population is at especially high risk for persistent pain. Unfortunately, little is known about factors linked with positive and negative outcomes over time. Further, older adults have the highest prevalence of long-term use of pain medications, including opioids.
Researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs Center to Improve Veterans Involvement in Care and Oregon Health & Science University sought to identify clinical and demographic factors associated with changes in pain scores over time in a national cohort of veterans 65 and older with chronic pain. They hypothesized that older age and comorbid mental health disorders would be associated with less improvement in pain conditions over time.
The study examined a database of some 13,000 veterans receiving treatment in the VA system who had elevated numeric rating pain scores and had not been prescribed opioids. They measured the percentage decrease over 12 months in average pain intensity scores and the time to sustained improvement.
Results showed that nearly two-thirds of these patients met criteria for sustained improvement during the 12-month follow up period. A key finding was initiation of opioid therapy was associated with lower likelihood for sustained improvement. Other factors associated with poor improvement were service-connected disability and mental health problems, chronic low back pain, neuropathy and fibromyalgia/myofascial pain diagnoses.
HOW A HIGH-RISK COMBAT VETERAN IS OVERCOMING SUICIDE ATTEMPTS VIA SPECIAL COURT — MLIVE — MUSKEGON, MI — When Dana Harvey talks about his experience with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, his warm tone becomes heavy and listless.
His voice drops deeper and sometimes trails off toward the end of a sentence. There is more weight to his words; each is carefully chosen and seems to sit next to him in the room.
Harvey joined the U.S. Navy at 19 because he wanted to do something that would let him hold his head up high. After he got out, the disabled veteran’s experiences in war led to the lowest point of his life.
“I had become real depressed and was drinking a lot and kept having nightmares, like war dreams and night shakes,” he said. “I had a little bit of survivor’s guilt, they tell me. I guess that’s true. I ended up attempting suicide. Actually I attempted it a few times. Six times.”
The Battle Creek Veterans Affairs Medical Center taught Harvey techniques to deal with his depression, but he didn’t stop medicating with alcohol. For the majority of his adult life, he drank to sleep, to stop thinking and cope with trauma.
In the summer of 2014, it caught up with him. Harvey blacked out and became unresponsive while taking care of his daughter Gwendalynn. He was charged with fourth degree child abuse, a misdemeanor charge that could mean up to one year in jail.
Instead, Harvey was given a second chance.
SURVEY: MILITARY VETERANS STRONGLY SUPPORT MEDICAL CANNABIS ACCESS — ENEWS PARK FOREST — New York, NY–(ENEWSPF)–July 28, 2016. More than two in three military veterans say that medical cannabis should be legalized, and 75 percent believe that VA physicians should be able to recommend marijuana therapy to eligible patients, according to the results of the 7th annual membership survey of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of American (IAVA).
Sixty-eight percent of respondents said they “support the legalization of medical marijuana in their state.” Only 20 percent oppose legalizing medical cannabis access.
Seventy-five percent of veterans “believe the VA should allow medical marijuana as a treatment option where warranted.” Fourteen percent of respondents disagreed.
Founded in 2004, the IAVA states that it is “the leading post-9/11 veteran empowerment organization with the most diverse and rapidly growing membership in America.”
In May, majorities in both the US House and Senate voted to include language in the 2017 Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations bill to permit VA doctors to recommend cannabis therapy. However, Republicans sitting on the House Appropriations Committee decided in June to remove the language from the bill during a concurrence vote.
CONGRESS WRESTLES WITH PROVIDING FERTILITY BENEFITS FOR INJURED VETERANS AND SERVICEMEMBERS — STARS & STRIPES — This was the year the government was gong to start helping injured veterans and members of the military maintain their ability to start families by offering unprecedented fertility preservation programs.
In January, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced the Pentagon would soon launch a pilot program to help active-duty servicemembers freeze their eggs and sperm, as a precautionary measure to ensure soldiers who suffer fertility-ending injuries can still have children. Then last month, Congress took the unprecedented step of agreeing to overturn a longtime ban against covering in vitro fertilization treatments for veterans whose ability to have children was compromised by injuries suffered in the line of duty.
But political fights in Congress are now threatening to halt these efforts before they have a chance to begin.
A Senate-passed defense policy bill would zero out funding for the Pentagon program and a spending bill that would expand fertility benefits for veterans is currently caught up in a separate fight over how much funding Congress should approve to counter the mosquito-borne Zika epidemic.
"The current policy is outdated, it’s wrong, and it’s a disservice to the men and women who’ve sacrificed so much on behalf of our country," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., a leading supporter for lifting a longtime ban on covering in vitro treatment for veterans. She also has been leading the push to ensure the Pentagon’s pilot program is funded.
MILITARY AND VETS GROUPS SEEK TO DEFEND VA FIRING LAW IN COURT — GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVE — Twelve military and veterans organizations want the opportunity to defend in court a law designed to make it easier to fire senior executives at the Veterans Affairs Department.
The groups, which include the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, have filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit asking to “intervene” in the case involving former Phoenix VA senior executive Sharon Helman because the government last month decided not to defend key parts of the 2014 Veterans Access, Choice, and Accountability Act. The VA used the expedited firing authority in that law – designed to help the department get rid of senior poor performers or those engaged in misconduct faster — to fire Helman in 2014, but the Justice Department has opted not to defend those aspects of the law because it believes they are unconstitutional.
The move by Justice, and the VA’s subsequent decision to no longer use the expedited firing in the Choice Act, has opened the door to future challenges from affected employees and has delivered another blow to the law. It also could help Helman, who ran VA’s Phoenix health care system when the scandal over falsifying wait lists erupted two years ago, win her job back.
TRUMP PLEDGES REFORMS AT VETERANS ADMINISTRATION IF ELECTED — BUSINESS INSIDER — CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Reuters) – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump sought to turn a scandal involving the Veterans Administration to his political advantage on Tuesday, pledging to war veterans that he would clean up a mess he blamed on Washington politicians.
“Our debt to you is eternal,” Trump told a gathering of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Yet our politicians have totally failed you.”
The 2014 VA scandal revolved around long wait times for patients and other negligent activities. Trump spoke shortly after the crowd heard from Bob McDonald, President Barack Obama’s secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The scandal fits in with Trump’s effort to portray himself as a political outsider dedicated to fixing the problems left by Washington special interests.
“The VA scandals that have occurred are widespread and totally inexcusable,” he said.
Trump is on his first campaign swing with his vice presidential running mate, Indiana Governor Mike Pence, after they were nominated last week at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
DEMOCRATIC PLATFORM PROMISES MORE RESOURCES FOR VETERANS, NO PRIVATIZATION OF VA — MILITARY TIMES — PHILADELPHIA — Veterans would see more resources to end homelessness, more education benefits and job training, and a pledge to fight privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs under the Democratic platform approved in Philadelphia this week.
“We reject attempts by Republicans to sell out the needs of veterans by privatizing the VA,” the document states. “We believe that the VA must be fully resourced so that every veteran gets the care that he or she has earned and deserves, including those suffering from sexual assault, mental illness and other injuries or ailments.”
Like the GOP platform approved in Cleveland last week, the Democratic platform is not a specific plan for party nominee Hillary Clinton to win the presidential election in November. Instead, the document is a general outline of party priorities, goals and promises for the next four years.
It criticizes “systemic problems plaguing the Department of Veterans Affairs” that have largely emerged during President Barack Obama’s second term, and vows to “fight for every veteran to have timely access to high-quality health care and timely processing of claims and appeals.”
ABILENE VETERAN WARNS OF FACEBOOK SCAM ABOUT BENEFITS — KTXS — ABILENE, Texas – There’s a Facebook scam going around, and it’s targeting veterans in Abilene.
After five years of active duty in the Marines, Brian Williamson now works in the security business. He got an unusual Facebook message from a friend Sunday.
“I thought he was just talking to me,” Williamson said. “[He] asked if I’d received my veterans’ benefits — a grant to pay student loans off — yet.”
It turns out his friend’s Facebook account had been hacked. Williamson was suspicious.
“[I] baited them long enough to make them call me,” Williamson said. “When they called me, they had a Nigerian accent, and so did that guy’s manager, and I just stopped after that,” Williamson said.
Williamson said they asked for his bank account number. When he wouldn’t give it to them, they told him to go to Walmart and wire a $650 fee to their account.
NEW JERSEY MOTOR VEHICLE COMMISSION ANNOUNCES NEW VETERANS DESIGNATION AVAILABLE FOR DRIVER’S LICENSE — HERALD — TRENTON – As representatives from the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Korean War Veterans of America and other veterans groups gathered to mark the 63rd anniversary of the armistice ending the Korean War, New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) Chairman and Chief Administrator Raymond P. Martinez was on hand to announce the availability of a new permanent veterans designation for driver’s licenses and non-driver IDs.
“With this convenient single point of identification, veterans will now have easier access to services and discounts at businesses around the State,” said Martinez. “This distinguished designation recognizes and honors the service and sacrifices our veterans have made, the Motor Vehicle Commission is committed to recognizing our veterans and making life easier for them where we can.”
Martinez added that eligible veterans will be able to obtain a new license or non-driver ID free of charge at any MVC agency or by mail.
VETERANS JOB FAIR COMING TO RALEIGH NEXT WEEK — NEWS & OBSERVER — RALEIGH — More than 45 companies, government agencies and universities will take part in a job fair for veterans, military spouses, guardsmen and reservists at Carter-Finley Stadium next week.
The event is sponsored by DAV, Disabled American Veterans, and RecruitMilitary, an Ohio-based company that has produced more than 800 veterans job fairs across the nation, including 16 in Raleigh since 2006. In January, nearly 500 people attended a veterans job fair in Raleigh that resulted in dozens of job offers, according to organizers.
As of Thursday, 549 people have registered to attend next week’s job fair, and 48 recruiters have signed up, including Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, GlaxoSmithKline, Lowe’s Companies, PNC Bank, ABB, First Citizens Bank, Norfolk Southern Corporation, the Raleigh Police Department and Red Hat.
The job fair will take place Thursday, Aug. 4, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Vaughn Towers at Carter-Finley Stadium. For more information, go to www.recruitmilitary.com.
MANY TRICARE BENEFICIARIES TO GET NEW CONTRACTORS IN 2017 — MILCOM — Leaders of military medicine are promising TRICARE beneficiaries a smooth transition of healthcare coverage next year when three support contract regions (North, South and West) are reorganized into two (East and West), and many TRICARE users see different contractors take charge of civilian provider networks that deliver health benefits off base.
The two new mammoth TRICARE support contracts, valued at a combined $58 billion over five years, are designed to more standardize care quality across networks, improve monitoring of provider performance, and smooth continuity of care by requiring networks providers to share patient care data with the military direct care system using electronic health records.
The new contracts also will “make it easier for our highly mobile population to enroll and receive care,” said Dr. Karen Guice, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. That’s because care management services are to be enhanced. This along with a merger of two regions should help families with special needs children avoid some current hassles of change-of-station moves, such as interrupted therapy treatments.
It’s the Congress that will be mandating the most sweeping changes to TRICARE over the next several years. Anticipating that, Guice said, “we’ve embedded flexibility into the contracts to help [us] more quickly adopt effective new delivery care approaches and important innovations in care.”