News

WASHINGTON — As part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and White House initiative to curb Veteran suicide, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie and Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Joe Grogan will launch a cabinet-level task force June 17 to develop a national roadmap.  The President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS) task force will include a community integration and collaboration proposal, a national research strategy and an implementation strategy.  Efforts supporting the development of the roadmap are already well under way and are on target for the March 2020 delivery to the White House.  “This is a call to action,” Wilkie said. “In order to decrease the rate of Veteran suicide, we need to engage our local and community partners in addition to leveraging the resources of the departments. We need an all-hands on-deck approach to preserve the lives of our Veterans who have served our country. As such, I am thrilled to announce that Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen, the founder and president of Give an Hour, has agreed to serve as executive director of the critical PREVENTS work. Dr. Van Dahlen is widely recognized for changing the culture surrounding mental health and suicide and is an expert and thought leader in large-system change. We are proud to have her leading this effort.”   On March 5,  President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order (EO) titled “National Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End Suicide.” The EO directed the Secretary of VA and the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council to co-chair and stand up an interagency task force to develop a plan implementing a roadmap for the prevention of Veteran suicide at the national and community level.  As part of the effort to ensure the broadest stakeholder input in the development of the national research strategy, the task force is releasing a Request for Information (RFI) to gather feedback on how to improve research and the use of research to radically reduce Veteran suicide. Input may be provided at www.research.va.gov/PREVENTS.  “In signing this Executive Order, President Trump demonstrated that once again he is putting a high priority on the needs of our Veterans,” Grogan said. “Through the standup of a collaborative task force, the development and implementation of a public health approach and enhanced research, we will increase our efforts to prevent Veteran suicide with the aspirational goal of zero Veteran suicides.”  To learn more about VA’s suicide prevention resources and programs, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention.  Veterans who are in crisis or having thoughts of suicide, and those who know a Veteran in crisis, can call Veterans Crisis Line for confidential support 24 hours a day. Call 800-273-8255 and press 1, send a text message to 838255 or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.  Media covering this issue can download VA’s Safe Messaging Best Practices fact sheet or visit www.ReportingOnSuicide.org for important guidance on how to communicate about suicide. 
(Stars & Stripes) WASHINGTON — The U.S. Border Patrol chief told lawmakers Thursday that support from National Guard and active-duty troops has been invaluable for her short-handed organization, crediting servicemembers for contributing to the apprehension of more than 100,000 migrants since October. Chief Carla Provost, who has led the Border Patrol since August, said National Guard forces deployed mostly in Texas and Arizona have aided in some 94,000 apprehensions in fiscal year 2019 and active-duty troops operating mobile surveillance cameras have contributed to another 15,600 apprehensions in that time. Provost, who was testifying alongside senior defense officials before a House subcommittee on border security, pledged she would continue to request the Pentagon’s help at the border as long as Border Patrol remained short-handed. “I have been forced to divert 40% to 60% of Border Patrol’s manpower away from the border as we process and care for nearly 435,000 families and children that have flooded across our southern border so far this year,” Provost said. “I know every agent I am forced to pull away from border security directly harms our ability to achieve [control of the border]. … I wish I could tell you when our operations will return to normal, but as long as we face this crisis I will continue to ask for [the Defense Department] support.” Provost stressed the military’s role in those apprehensions was primarily through surveillance, as law enforcement duties are solely conducted by Border Patrol agents. Enforcement actions along the southern border increased 99% from last year, according to Customs and Border Protection data released June 5. Since October, agents have apprehended 593,507 people, including 132,887 in May. A combination of active-duty troops – primarily soldiers and Marines – have been operating along the U.S. southern border since President Donald Trump ordered them there last year, calling the influx of migrants attempting to cross the border to request asylum a crisis. National Guard deployments began in April 2018 and Trump sent active-duty forces in October. Robert Salesses, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities, testifies during a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, June 20, 2019. Salesses said about 2,600 active-duty servicemembers are currently deployed for the border mission in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES The number of troops has fluctuated during the mission, reaching at times nearly 10,000 Guard and active forces. Currently, about 2,600 active-duty servicemembers are deployed for the border mission in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, said Robert Salesses, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for homeland defense integration. Just more than 2,000 National Guard troops are deployed primarily in Texas and Arizona with a “small number” in New Mexico and California, he said. To date, those deployments have cost the Pentagon about $400 million, Salesses said. Trump’s use of military troops to help in border operations has faced criticism, and Democrats on the subcommittee questioned officials Thursday about potential impacts to combat readiness for the troops who deploy. The Pentagon officials expressed little concern about readiness, saying most of the troops deployed to the mission are performing duties akin to their normal military job. Those deployed troops include engineers -- who have strung razor wire and, more recently, painted border barriers with so-called “anti-climb” paint – mechanics, truck drivers, pilots and helicopter crewmembers, and military police. The MPs have been deployed to provide protection for Border Patrol agents and other soldiers, and are barred from performing actual law enforcement duties – as are all military personnel – on American soil by longstanding federal law. Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, Arizona's Adjutant General, testifies during a House Homeland Security subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday, June 20, 2019. McGuire said having troops deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border does not "degrade readiness." Also testifying at left are Robert Salesses, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense Integration and Defense Support of Civil Authorities; and U.S. Border Patrol Chief Carla Provost.CARLOS BONGIOANNI/STARS AND STRIPES “It doesn’t degrade readiness,” said Air Force Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, the chief of the Arizona National Guard. In some cases, he added, the deployments have better Guard troops, including Wisconsin Army National Guard soldiers who were able to conduct required training to operate updated Black Hawk helicopters while supporting Customs and Border Patrol at the border. Rep. Scott Peters, D-Calif., stopped short of criticizing the Pentagon’s border mission, but told the officials that he would prefer not to use the military in that role. “It would be my preference – and I suspect most of my colleagues’ – to see CBP doing the CBP jobs and for [Border Patrol] to hire up so that the military could go back to more characteristically military functions, rather than border staffing,” said Peters, whose district includes many military posts such as Naval Base Coronado. Provost acknowledged Border Patrol is working to fill gaps within its own ranks, but she said the process to hire federal agents can be tedious. She told Peters that her training academy was currently full of potential Border Patrol officers for the first time in recent memory. In addition to supporting Customs and Border Patrol at the southern border, the Pentagon has recently approved a request from the Department of Health and Human Services to host about 1,400 unaccompanied migrant children on a military base. Salesses told lawmakers that those children would be housed at the Army’s Fort Sill in Oklahoma, and children would begin arriving there in mid-July. The Pentagon is only providing the facility for the children to be held, Salesses said. HHS officials will be responsible for the detained children’s care.
We remember your courage, honor and sacrifice. You changed the course of history. You showed that democracy triumphs over evil. You demonstrated the greatness of America. This video is an excellent summary to pass on. https://youtu.be/KG2Q48lAvRk
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Tomorrow, June 6, the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. will pause to remember the more than 156,000 brave Allied troops who landed along the 50-mile stretch of Normandy’s beaches in an effort to liberate German-occupied France and bring an end to the Nazi regime.   June 6, 1944, forever changed the course of history. With over 5,000 ships, 11,000 airplanes and more than 150,000 service men, the Allied Forces’ Normandy beach landing invasion of Europe was, and remains, the largest air, land and sea operation ever undertaken. Sand-colored beaches turned to crimson, and bodies littered the beaches and water. Yet, because of their valor, sacrifice and sheer determination, by the end of the day the Allied Forces had successfully breached the German’s fortress. But our success on D-Day came at a very steep price, with nearly 10,000 casualties and 4,000 confirmed dead.Now, 75 years after the massive operation that changed the tide of World War II, the more than 1.6 million members of the VFW and its Auxiliary remain thankful for the bravery and heroism displayed that day, and we reflect on a selflessness that has transcended continents and generations.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and Microsoft Corp., recently formed a partnership that aims to improve how Veterans living in rural areas can access VA’s online services and benefits. The agreement, which was formalized in mid-April, allows VA and Microsoft to work together to advance and improve the quality of life for Veterans by identifying opportunities to extend broadband internet connectivity to underserved rural Veteran communities. “This partnership will serve a particularly vulnerable population of Veterans,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “Millions of people in the U.S., including many of the 4.7 million Veterans living in rural areas, lack the broadband internet connection necessary to access opportunities to learn, work, access information and communicate.” The Veterans Health Administration’s offices of Community Engagement, Connected Care, Telehealth Services, Rural Health, and VA’s office of Information and Technology aim to improve access to online VA services and benefits, such as telemedicine. Telemedicine and access to online services and benefits are forms of digital inclusion that support Veterans, their families and VA staff. Digital inclusion can increase access to continuous health care services — enhance the workflow, reach and efficiency of VA staff — and support Veterans’ participation in their own health care. The partnership with Microsoft is another step toward achieving VA’s strategic goals of providing excellent customer service and business transformation. ###
WASHINGTON — In recognition of “World No Tobacco Day” on May 31, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)  will reaffirm its “Better Starts Today” campaign, calling on Veterans who use tobacco to discover reasons to quit and take advantage of innovative VA resources to help them succeed. Led annually by the World Health Organization, VA’s observance of World No Tobacco Day aims to encourage Veterans using tobacco products to quit and join countless others across the globe in starting a tobacco-free life. “Quitting tobacco products is one of the best things Veterans can do to improve  their emotional and physical health, and overall quality of life,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “VA also understands the challenges that come with quitting. That’s why we are using World No Tobacco Day as a platform to talk about the innovative tools that will guide Veterans toward a tobacco-free, healthy life.” Veterans don’t have to do it alone. VA national resources include:  Quit VET, a toll-free national quitline at 855-QUIT-VET (855-784-8838) for Veterans to speak with a tobacco cessation counselor, make a quit plan and receive ongoing counseling after their quit date. Quitline counselors are available between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday. SmokefreeVET, a text-message program (text VET to 47848) offering Veterans three to five texts a day with advice and encouragement to help them while they stop using tobacco. Veterans can also text the keywords URGE, STRESS, SMOKED, and DIPPED anytime to receive an immediate tip for coping with an urge to use, a slip or stress. For more information and resources about tobacco cessation and how Veterans’ families and friends can help, visit www.mentalhealth.va.gov/quit-tobacco.
Government employees at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and its consulate in Irbil began leaving Iraq following Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “ordered departure” of nonemergency personnel Wednesday. Employees were told to “depart Iraq by commercial transportation as soon as possible” and avoid U.S. facilities in the country, a security message posted on the embassy website and distributed via email said. The departure order was prompted by what U.S. officials have described in recent days as intelligence indicating Iran or its proxy forces were planning attacks on U.S. forces or interests in the region, State Department officials said. “Given the increased threat stream we are seeing in Iraq, which we shared with the Iraqi government during [Pompeo’s] visit on May 7 and in subsequent engagements, the secretary has decided to place Mission Iraq on ordered departure,” an embassy spokesperson in Baghdad said by phone, reading prepared language about the matter. The official declined to discuss the number of employees affected by the order but said they had already begun to depart. The State Department mission in Iraq will have limited ability to provide routine and emergency services for Americans, officials have said, and normal visa services were temporarily halted at both the Baghdad and Irbil posts. The U.S. Consulate in Basra was evacuated last fall, following what Pompeo described in September as “repeated incidents of indirect fire” from Shiite militias with ties to Iran. Operations there remain suspended, the embassy spokesperson said. Earlier this week, the embassy had warned U.S. citizens in the country to “remain vigilant” and avoid places where Americans were known to gather. The State Department’s ordinary process following an ordered departure calls for a review of the situation every 30 days and a final determination after six months, the embassy spokesperson said. For more than a week, U.S. officials have said that there is an elevated threat level facing U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and Syria, primarily emanating from Iranian-controlled Shiite militias. U.S. officials have also reportedly observed Iranian-controlled vessels in the Persian Gulf transporting military hardware including missiles. U.S. Central Command increased its force posture level for the anti-Islamic State coalition in Iraq and Syria and is at a “high level of alert as we continue to closely monitor credible and possibly imminent threats to us forces in Iraq,” Navy Capt. Bill Urban, a spokesman, said in a statement Tuesday. German troops had suspended training of Iraqi forces in the country, Germany’s ARD TV channel reported Wednesday. German Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said Germany was “orienting itself toward our partner countries” though there are “no concrete warnings of attacks against German targets,” The Associated Press reported. Dutch state broadcaster NOS said the Netherlands halted its 50-person military mission training troops in northern Iraq’s Kurdistan region “until further orders,” quoting a Defense Ministry spokesman as saying he couldn’t elaborate on the threats. Last week, the U.S. sent a bomber group to the Middle East and expedited the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group’s transit toward the Persian Gulf in response to the intelligence reports. The U.S. is also sending a Patriot missile battery to the region and directing an amphibious warship carrying Marines, landing boats and helicopters to Central Command waters. Trump administration officials have also reportedly discussed updated plans that would involve sending 120,000 troops to the region in the event U.S. troops were attacked by Iran-backed forces or the country restarted its nuclear program. President Donald Trump dismissed the report as “fake news,” but said he “absolutely” would do that, possibly with more troops. Trump’s administration has steadily increased pressure over the past year since withdrawing from the Obama administration’s deal with Iran to halt its nuclear program, a move that reimposed harsh sanctions on the country, which the U.S. views as a sponsor of terrorism in the region. In the past few weeks, the U.S. has declared Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization and stepped up economic pressure by ending waivers from sanctions for major importers of Iranian oil. Iran has responded by stating it would restart its nuclear program if a new agreement isn’t reached. It’s also called U.S. troops terrorists and threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic energy choke point through which millions of barrels of oil pass each day. The United States plans to continue its pressure campaign until Iran’s leadership “is prepared to return to the ranks of responsible nations that do not threaten their neighbors or spread instability or terror,” Pompeo told reporters in Sochi, Russia on Tuesday, speaking about his discussions with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Officials in Europe have expressed skepticism about the reported increased threats and have warned the escalations could accidentally spark a military conflict. Both the U.S. and Iran have said they do not want war. Iranian officials, meanwhile, have said publicly they believe the U.S. efforts will backfire. “Their plots have usually bounced back at them and ended up being harmful to themselves both politics and securitywise,” Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a meeting of his government’s senior officials on Tuesday night, state media reported. In the same speech, Khamenei also said it wouldn’t be difficult for the country to enrich uranium to weapons-grade levels beyond what is allowed by the current nuclear deal, which only the U.S. has backed out of, AP reported. But, he said, “no one is seeking war.”
For the eighth straight year, American Legion Post 177 in Fairfax, Va., will be the epicenter of American Legion Riders activities during the Memorial Day Weekend’s Rolling Thunder, hosting hundreds of American Legion Family members during its "Run to the Thunder." But the post has never seen numbers like it until this year. In late 2018, Rolling Thunder Inc., the national organizer for the massive motorcycle ride through Washington, D.C., to bring awareness to U.S. prisoners of wars and missing in action, announced it would no longer stage a national event in the nation’s capital. That’s led to a record amount of participants registering to take part in events based out of Post 177. Bob Sussan, chairman of The American Legion Riders National Advisory Committee and a member of Post 177, said 550 participants have registered already to leave from the post to take part in the May 26 "Ride to Freedom" through D.C., while other Post 177 activities have drawn 400 to 500-plus registrants each. Sussan said that typically, 10-20 percent of those who actually participate don’t register ahead of time, so the numbers for each activity likely will be higher. “And it’s still two weeks away,” Sussan said. “At this point we’re so far ahead of previous year registrations that it’s ridiculous.” A December 2018 letter signed by Rolling Thunder Inc. National Executive Director Artie Muller and National President Joe Bean stated that starting in 2020, state Rolling Thunder chapters will coordinate similar demonstrations at the local level over Memorial Day Weekend. Bean further reiterated that in his organization’s newsletter this month, stating, “This will be our last 'Ride for Freedom' demonstration in D.C. … in 2020 we will take the ride across the country.” But Sussan said that doesn’t mean The American Legion Riders are done with Rolling Thunder in the D.C. area. “In the future, whether we ride on Sunday in some sort of what they call a ‘demonstration ride,’ or whether we ride on Monday and get into the Memorial Day Parade … the Legion Riders (will be involved),” he said. “The Legion, we have our resolution about POW/MIAs. Everybody wants to recognize those who have fought, especially those who have fought and never came home. That’s what it’s all about. You want to make sure the awareness is raised so that we keep pressure on the government for whatever conflict. “If somebody was left on the battlefield or taken prisoner, we’ve got to do everything we can as long as we’re alive to get them home. So we’re going to continue from D.C. … and still do it every year. We’re not giving up, regardless of what Rolling Thunder does. It’s not just about riding. It’s riding for a purpose and a cause.” American Legion Riders from all over the nation will be at Post 177 for events that will include a Friday night dinner and POW/MIA ceremony, followed by the escorted ride to the candlelight vigil at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; a wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery Saturday afternoon and the Ride to the Thunder on Sunday morning. The post also will have vendors – including American Legion Emblem Sales – and host special guests throughout the weekend, including Gold Star families. There also will be breakfasts that Saturday and Sunday, as well as a BBQ dinner Saturday afternoon. While Post 177 is the host, it’s getting some help from its Beltway comrades. Sussan said Maryland Legion Riders will be serving the Friday night meal and leading the ride to the candlelight vigil at the Vietnam War Memorial. Despite the large jump in the number of registrants, Sussan said he’s confident in the logistical team in place in Post 177’s American Legion Family. “They’ve been doing it since 2012,” he said. “And the interesting thing is that all the people who started it are still involved. We have the experience of the past, and we continue to hone it each year to make it better. This year the challenges are the drastically increased numbers, but we have contingency plans in place. Regardless of what the number is, we’re going to be able to handle it. “And what I think is a great example for the Legion as a whole is that all of the newer (Post 177) members are very much engaged in this, and the older folks that have been doing it or started it continue to work with (the newer members) and give them the leadership positions and help them know what they’re doing and not repeat mistakes we’ve made in the past.” Post 177 is asking all Riders to register. There is no registration fee, but a $10 option is available to help defray costs. For updates or for more information, click here or follow ALR Run to the Thunder on Facebook. For local lodging information, click here.
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) will host Memorial Day ceremonies from May 25 to May 27 to commemorate the nation’s fallen service members. “At VA, we honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice by providing them with a perpetual memorial in our national cemeteries,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “And we also care for their survivors, whether during war or peacetime. It is a profound and personal commitment for every one of us at VA.” Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs Randy Reeves, who leads NCA, will commemorate a series of events beginning at noon (MST) May 27 at Yellowstone National Cemetery in Montana. Memorial Day, formerly known as Decoration Day, was first enacted to honor troops who died in the Civil War. It was extended after World War I to honor all deceased Veterans. NCA maintains approximately 4.7 million gravesites at 136 national cemeteries and 33 soldiers’ lots and monument sites in 40 states and Puerto Rico. This year, VA is partnering with Carry The Load as they honor fallen Veterans along an 11,500-mile relay, visiting 26 national cemeteries across the country during the month leading up to Memorial Day. Follow the relay on Twitter and Facebook at #CarryTheLoad and #NoVeteranEverDies. A complete list of Memorial Day events at national cemeteries can found at: https://www.cem.va.gov/cem/ceremony/2019_Memorial_Day.asp. 
WASHINGTON — Lauding their transformative efforts, the White House recently selected a senior official from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for its Gears of Government President’s Award and nine VA individuals and teams for Gears of Government Agency Awards.  The White House’s Executive Office of the President (EOP) and its Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which created the award program, will recognize Barbara Morton, deputy chief of the Veterans Experience Office, during a ceremony from 2-4 p.m. May 22 in Washington, D.C.  EOP chose a total of six Gears of Government President’s Award winners from more than 250 individual and team GGA award winners. In all, nine VA individuals and teams were awarded Gears of Government Agency awards, championing mission-critical elements, including communications, customer service, business processes, health care, appeals and more. The awards include two categories: Agency and President. Those selected for Agency Awards are eligible for President’s Awards.  “Barbara’s dedication supports exceptional delivery of key outcomes for the American people, including mission results, customer service and accountable stewardship,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. “The Office of Management and Budget created the Gears of Government Awards program in summer 2018 to recognize individuals and teams across the federal workforce. We are all proud of Barbara and the other winners.”  Morton’s accomplishments include: standing up a real-time customer experience data platform with transactional surveys and predictive analytics; creating tangible tools to support and empower employees to deliver exceptional customer experiences; and developing user-friendly, integrated and industry-designed technology. Morton led efforts that fostered local engagement and strategic partnerships linking local communities, Veterans, families, caregivers, survivors and VA. She also championed the implementation of governmentwide customer experience metrics with OMB, which were instituted as performance requirements for all high-impact federal agencies in June.  VA officials applauded all the department’s GGA award winners, including: the Office of Community Care congressional response team; the Light Electronic Action Framework team; the FLOW3 Prosthetic Limb Care Management Program team; the National Work Queue leadership team; the Salt Lake City incident team; Lara Eilhardt with the Office of General Counsel’s Medical Legal Partnerships program; Joe Salvatore with the Office of Enterprise Integration’s Modernization Office; Cheryl Mason, David Spickler and Kimberly Osborne with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals; and Morton. To learn more about the Gears of Government Awards program, visit www.performance.gov/gearawards or @PerformanceGov on Twitter.