It’s time to rethink a veteran disability system that “incentivizes disability,”Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said during a Friday forum in Washington, the same day President Trump signed new VA accountability legislation.

“Our current disability system that is designed from 50, 60 or 70 years ago….. I would suggest it’s not sustainable and it may not be achieving the results of well-being for our veterans,” Shulkin said at an event organized by the Bush Institute’s Military Service Initiative.
“Our system incentivizes disability, when our system should be incentivizing health and well-being.” …
 …Shulkin made the comments in response to a question about whether the system should be re-evaluated. Potential new offerings could include wellness programs, rather than simply monthly compensation payments. Disability compensation is a monthly tax-free benefit paid to veterans who are determined to be at least 10 percent disabled because of injuries or diseases that happened during or were aggravated by military service.
“I do believe we need to begin to start having a discussion and a dialogue. Not so much about withdrawing our commitment,” Shulkin said, but about how to make the system better to improve outcomes for veterans.

According to the VA budget documents, there are about 5.5 million veterans and survivors who will receive disability compensation or pension benefits in 2018 — about 180,000 more than there were in 2017. The budget proposal includes a request for nearly $87 billion for disability compensation and pension benefits; $86 billion was budgeted for fiscal 2017.

 He acknowledged that the discussion will be a difficult one, “because this is one that I worry, if not done well, could become politicized.”
This is probably the biggest third rail of American politics. I mean, you thought privatizing social security brought out the howling mobs, that ain’t shit to touching veteran’s disability payments. But rather than just screaming at the very idea of updating the VA disability payment system, there should absolutely be a dialogue at the minimum. The disability system is a necessary program, but one that is certainly open to massive fraud, waste, and abuse, and it should be studied honestly and frankly.
(Full disclosure: I am one of those veterans who receives a small check every month when I was medically retired. If I had my way, I’d still be serving my country, but it came to a point where it was not up to me anymore, and once they made the decision, the payments came with it.)
The first thing the average civilian thinks when “Veterans’ Disability Compensation” is discussed is probably conjuring up visuals of guys with missing legs and shit. Now, one way to perhaps reverse the massive growth in this particular area would be to halt sending Americans overseas to go fight in stupid wars that last decades with no end in sight, but no one seems to be bringing that up as a possibility. However, I would hazard a guess that the majority of disability compensation is often awarded for non-combat reasons.
And this makes sense. Even if you were never blown up in combat, years of special operations and infantry training in particular takes a toll. Knees, shoulders, and backs undergo extreme stresses that turns virile 18-year-olds into half-crippled 40-year-olds. And you don’t have to even be in a combat MOS to have these longer-term injuries. Aircraft maintainers fall off ladders, admin assistants get carpal tunnel syndrome, and Navy aircraft carrier crewmen suffer hearing loss. All of these nagging injuries add up.
But that is not to say that there are not veterans that are milking the system, particularly when it comes to that elephant in the room, PTSD. I have personally heard veterans discussing the proper terminology to use to try and get a 100% PTSD disability rating from the VA. I have personally met veterans, now gainfully employed, with 100% PTSD ratings that never even left bases in the Middle East. For instance, on one contract I worked recently, one of the chefs bragged about the 100% PTSD rating that they had received. This person had not only never been in a combat MOS, they had never even gone outside the base overseas while in the military. I have seen this same story numerous times. There is an entire culture of lawyers that go into practice solely to aid people in getting the most money possible for dubious PTSD claims. But how do you fight that, if you’re the VA? It’s not like they can get into people’s heads and know they are lying.
This has been an uphill battle for a while. The New York Times had a fascinating profile on one former officer who has been urging changes to disability payments for a while now. Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Gade, himself an amputee from combat in Iraq, is now a public policy professor at West Point. Gade believes that (similar to conservative claims about welfare payments,) disability payments rob people of the drive to seek gainful employment:

As he paced back and forth in front of the soldiers, some of them leaning on crutches, Colonel Gade said that too many veterans become financially dependent on those monthly checks, choose not to find jobs and lose the sense of identity and self-worth that can come from work.

“People who stay home because they are getting paid enough to get by on disability are worse off,” he said. “They are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. They are more likely to live alone. You’ve seen these guys. And the system is driving you to become one of them, if you are not careful.”

He is far from the only one veteran raising these concerns. In that same NY Times article, another veteran makes the case that the VA itself sometimes actually encourages veterans to see themselves as victims:

“When vets come home from war they are going through a tremendous change in identity,” said Eric Greitens, a former member of the Navy SEALs and founder of The Mission Continues, a nonprofit that encourages veterans to volunteer in their communities. “Then the V.A., and others, encourage them to view themselves as disabled. We meet a number of veterans who see themselves as charity cases and are not sure anymore what they have to contribute.”

Further, from a financial standpoint, sometimes veterans find themselves in a situation where it makes more sense to press for disability than to seek outside employment. As Lt. Colonel Gade notes in one example:

He points in particular to a federal program known as Individual Unemployability, for which veterans become eligible when the government gives them a rating of 60 percent disabled or more. The program pays them as if they are 100 percent disabled, as long as they can show their disabilities keep them from maintaining “substantially gainful employment.”

The bump in benefits is substantial: Veterans getting $1,200 per month can receive up to $3,100 per month, as long as they do not work.

“From an economic standpoint, you would be crazy to get a job. It’s a trap,” Colonel Gade said.

Indeed. To be clear, I believe that our veterans who are honestly disabled in the line of duty should receive the very best medical care possible, particularly our brothers who were wounded in combat. However, I reject the philosophy that treats veterans as perpetual wards of the state who need to be cared for as if their lives are already over. I continue to believe that we, the veteran community of the Armed Forces of the United States are the very best citizens that America has to offer, and the VA should be there to lend a hand up, not a hand out. I have watched too many of our brothers fall into over-reliance on the VA, and losing that drive to continue on in life; losing that self- determining drive that made the United States the best country in the world.

We will keep an eye on Secretary Shulkin’s proposals.

(For comparison’s sake, I’m like 6’3 205 lbs and I look like a tiny person here):

Booze and booty continue to be Generals’ downfall:

The Army has demoted the former commander of the 1st Infantry Division for having “an inappropriate relationship” with a junior officer, the latest in a string of episodes in which Army generals have landed in trouble for personal misconduct.

Wayne W. Grigsby Jr., who also served as the commander of Fort Riley, Kan., was reprimanded and demoted from major general to brigadier general after investigators found that he had called and texted a female captain more than 850 times over 10 months and was spending time at her home, according to Army documents obtained by The Washington Post.”

(Staff Sgt. Carlin Leslie/U.S. Air Force)

Grigsby is the sixth general in the past year whom the Army has punished for sexual misconduct or improper interactions with women. Although Army leaders have been reluctant to talk publicly about the issue, the service in December appointed a three-star general to lead a review of its general-officer corps.

The Army abruptly relieved Grigsby of command last September, citing a “loss of confidence” in his ability to lead. But officials provided no other details and kept the outcome of the investigation a secret for six months…

… Documents show that the Army and Pentagon inspectors general received a flurry of complaints last year from soldiers at Fort Riley who suspected that Grigsby was having an affair and that it was affecting his ability to lead.

One anonymous complainant noted that Grigsby’s wife was aware of his relationship with the female captain, had moved out of their quarters at Fort Riley and had “posted messages regarding cheating on Twitter,” according to a report by the Army inspector general that was completed in December.”

And you wonder why I want to go to Mars: 

Long overdue changes coming to the VA: 

WASHINGTON —  President Trump signed into law Friday sweeping new employment and whistleblower rules for the Department of Veterans Affairs, a measure supporters touted as a dramatic cultural change for the bureaucracy but one whose impact will likely take months or years to be seen.

“This is one of the largest reforms to the VA in its history,” Trump touted in a White House ceremony. “It is a reform that I campaigned on, and now I am thrilled to be able to sign that promise into law.

“VA accountability is essential to making sure our veterans are treated with the respect they have so richly earned through their blood, sweat and tears.”

Earlier in the week, VA Secretary David Shulkin praised the accountability legislation as a major reform for his department, one that will help repair the image of its 350,000-plus workforce by getting rid of criminal or negligent actors.

“I need the ability to remove employees who are not longer working to help veterans,” he said during a press event. “And I think this will dramatically improve morale and recruitment.”

“When people are allowed to remain in jobs when they aren’t respecting the values of the organization, that’s harmful, not helpful.”

VA officials have said it takes about 51 days to dismiss most employees under current rules. With the changes in the new law, that could be cut by more than half. The timeline for appeals to the Merit Systems Protection Board would also be significantly reduced.

For senior executives, the VA secretary would have the authority to reprimand or fire them through a 21-day internal department grievance process, replacing a previous congressional attempt at faster discipline for those employees that was ruled unconstitutional earlier this year.  

The measure also allows VA officials to recoup certain bonuses from former employees found guilty of wrongdoing, and lessens the evidence needed to start disciplinary action against VA workers.

Supporters note that not all of the provisions of the legislation are punitive. The measure includes new protections for whistleblowers who help highlight flaws in the VA workforce and gives the VA secretary authority to directly appoint hospital directors, an ability they have argued will make them more competitive in recruiting top talent.

But the focus of the bill for years — including that of Trump on the campaign trail last year — has been finding ways to root out problem workers. Conservatives painted President Barack Obama’s VA as a corrupt organization where leadership mistakes and widespread apathy were frequently ignored rather than corrected.

“The big difference with this legislation now is that you have a White House and VA that supports the idea,” said Dan Caldwell, policy director for Concerned Veterans for America, one of the leading groups behind the measure. “The last administration was not serious about (accountability) or getting the power it got.”

Shulkin’s predecessor, former VA Secretary Bob McDonald, frequently pushed back against that narrative, repeatedly saying that the embattled department “cannot fire its way to success.”

And Shulkin has downplayed how much immediate effect the legislation will have. He described the number of VA employees who need to be fired as “very small” and promised it would not lead to “a mass firing” in his department.

Liberals don’t think you clean your own toilet, raise your own children or drive your own car: 

The future of awards is confusing:

Airmen can now be considered for two new devices that emphasize actions performed remotely or in combat.
The Air Force announced the criteria for the “R” and “C” devices, which can be awarded with 12 military awards, on Thursday.
The “R,” or remote, device is reserved for those “not directly exposed to hostile action or significant risk.” The “C,” or combat, device signifies meritorious performance “under combat conditions.”
The “R” device was established to distinguish military awards earned for direct hands-on employment of a weapons system that had a direct or immediate impact on combat or military operations, Air Force spokesman Col. Patrick Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon on Thursday.
The device may be awarded to airmen who served in the cyber, remotely piloted aircraft or intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance fields…”
(Army Human Resources Command)
… 12 military awards now eligible for new ‘C’ and ‘R’ devices, and 2 no longer rate a ‘V’
This is retroactive to Jan. 7, 2016, so airmen can be approved for the devices on awards they received going back to that date. Awards approved before that are not eligible.
There are no Air Force nominations yet for the “C” or “R” devices given the novelty of the criteria, according to the Air Force. There are also no pending “V” devices.
This guidance also establishes new eligibility rules for awarding medals with the “V” device, intended to recognize valorous combat actions taken at great risk and under duress.
Service specific Achievement Medals are no longer eligible for a “V,” only a “C” or “R.” That’s true now, too, for the Legion of Merit, which before now was awarded with a “V” only by the Navy and Marine Corps. However, each of the services is clear to award the Distinguished Flying Cross with “V,” as the Air Force has done for heroism dating to the Korean War.”

Authorities at Tinker Air Force Base and the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics have seized 715 pounds of raw marijuana and several thousand small containers of THC vape oil, according to a Facebook post from the Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics.”

The truck was entering the installation for a legitimate delivery, said officials.  However, upon routine inspection, a military working dog alerted on the trailer, leading security forces airmen to find duffel bags containing marijuana.

The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics reported finding about 35 boxes of raw marijuana and several thousand THC vape oil containers along with the two duffel bags. Airmen from the Air Force Office of Special Investigation and members of the 72nd Security Forces Squadron were involved in the search.

Officials said they the believe the marijuana was being trafficked from Pasadena, California to New Jersey.

The driver, 59-year-old Ashot Grigoryan, has been booked into the Oklahoma County Jail for trafficking and maintaining a vehicle for drug activity. Grigoryan is also on probation from a previous trafficking case in Missouri, officials said.”

Deep inside the Russian meddling story:

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

The White House debated various options to punish Russia, but facing obstacles and potential risks, it ultimately failed to exact a heavy toll on the Kremlin for its election interference.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.”

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election was increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.”

450 million for this??!!:

Vice Media has raised $450M in new funding from private-equity firm TPG, with a deal valuing the media company around $5.7 billion post-money.

Shane Smith, co-founder and CEO of Vice was just on CNBC answering questions about the funding and Vice’s plans to eventually become a public company.”

While remaining cryptic, Smith did note that this raise is “what we would do if we were going to go public… start building our book, and bringing in revenue on a sort of hockey stick basis”.

Smith also emphasized how recent IPOs (especially from companies like Snap) have shown that you need a good revenue story to have a successful offering. He then acknowledged that Vice’s revenues “need to be better over years and years,” which this new funding will help them do.”

This would have sucked harder than any ruck march:

MILITARIES ACROSS THE GLOBE HAVE dabbled in the use of bicycles as part of their arsenal. Nations including Germany, Sweden, and Japan have all employed regiments of bicycle cavalry at one point or another, but most were only used for a short time. In the United States, after a single, hellish, 1,900-mile ride in 1897, the idea of a permanent bicycle infantry was more or less permanently shelved.

The U.S.’s first foray into military cycling was the brainchild of Major General Nelson A. Miles, a proponent of modernization in the armed forces during the late 1800s. In an 1894 newspaper article in The Outlook, Miles expressed his enthusiasm for military bicycles, saying, “There is no doubt in my mind that during the next great war the bicycle, with such modifications and adaptations as experience may suggest, will become a most important machine for military purposes.” In his view, the bicycle could be used for everything from simple courier work to troop and gear transport, and possibly even in combat. Emboldened by these preliminary expeditions, Moss decided it was time for an even harder test, one that would solidify the usefulness of a bicycle corps. His grand plan was to take a group of riders almost 2,000 miles, from Fort Missoula to St. Louis, Missouri.”

A replica of the type of bicycle ridden by the 25th, on display at the Historical Museum at Fort Missoula. U.S. AIR FORCE/PUBLIC DOMAIN

The hardships began on the very first day as rain turned their route to mud, forcing the men to walk their bikes for much of the way through the “gumbo.” They were soaked, muddy, and tired. According to Moss’s report on the day, they averaged a total of 5.4 miles per hour. Despite the fact that much of the trip ended up being uphill, in general, things went downhill from there.

Over the next 40 days, Moss and the members of the 25th encountered flooded roads, snow, hail, sand, rocks that caused riders to crash, extreme heat and cold, and just about every other type of calamity Mother Nature could devise to throw at them. Walking and carrying their bikes was often as common as riding them. They also often had to resort to traveling over rail tracks that shook the men numb.

… If slow progress wasn’t dispiriting enough, food and water was often scarce. The group was expected to cover 50-60 miles a day and only carried enough rations to cover the expected distance… During the back leg of the journey, temperatures sometimes reached over 100 degrees Fahrenheit going through South Dakota and Nebraska. The only available water was often found in railroad tanks, which would grow stagnant. Thus a number of expedition members became sick from the rotten water, delaying their trip even further.”

There’s such a thing as TOO much pride:

… And he was never heard from again:

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. — Just 45 minutes after polls closed Tuesday in Georgia’s 6th District, Keenan Pontoni knew Jon Ossoff was in trouble.

The Democratic candidate’s advantage in early voting didn’t look like it was going to be enough to make up for Republican turnout on Election Day.

But holed up in the campaign’s boiler room in the Westin Hotel, Pontoni, Ossoff’s 30-year-old campaign manager, still saw a path to victory, through outstanding mail-in votes.
In a downstairs ballroom, Ossoff’s supporters were drinking and dancing, occasionally booing when CNN’s Anderson Cooper announced vote percentages unfavorable to their candidate on two giant screens.

Pontoni’s father, who’d come down to Georgia for the election, was worried. Every time he texted his son to check in, he received a discouraging response: “Ugh.”

By 9 p.m., Pontoni knew it was over.

Shortly thereafter, his father got another text. “They want me in the boiler room,” he told Pontoni’s stepmother. The young campaign manager was giving the important people in his life a heads-up that Ossoff had lost, well before CNN called the race.

Last fall, Pontoni managed Democrat Gretchen Driskell’s campaign against Michigan GOP Rep. Tim Walberg. She lost by 15 points. Up until that point, Pontoni wasn’t used to losing. He’d previously managed a successful county commission and state House race in his native Michigan.

Despite back-to-back losses, Pontoni’s now a man in high demand, with a bright future in a party that desperately needs fresh perspectives.”

You really had to deuce in the man’s toolbox?!:

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — A New Port Richey man was arrested for showing up to a Clearwater home naked and eventually throwing feces on a toolbox.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office says Tommy Williams, 34, was intoxicated and high on drugs when he went to a home on San Jose Street around 1:30 Saturday morning and rang the doorbell several times, then went to the backyard and opened two sheds. Deputies say he intended to commit a burglary.”

(Pinellas County Sheriff Office)

According to investigators, Williams threw feces on the victim’s tool box and tools. When a deputy showed up, Williams tried to hide behind a tree.

Williams told the deputy he was, “drunk out of his mind,” and admitted he ingested MDMA, according to the arrest report. Williams also told the deputy he doesn’t know the victim, and denied opening the shed or throwing feces.

He is currently being held in the Pinellas County Jail with a $10,000 bond.”

Thank you, Florida man, for never disappointing me. @BKactual

Featured image courtesy of DoD/Ft. Riley Photo Gallery