Archive for August, 2012

Bringin’ Home the Bling: How our Military Olympians Faired in London

Posted by Charlotte Webster

describe the imageThe closing ceremonies are over; the hoopla has died down. London is quiet again. So how did our military Olympians fare?

Pretty gosh darn well! Overall, the Team U.S.A. brought home a total of 104 medals, the most of any country participating; 46 gold, 29 silver, and 29 bronze. Here, in alphabetical order, are our military Olympians and how they fared.

  • Army Spc. Dennis Bowsher, pentathalon-Bowsher came in 30th on the combined event, 18th in swimming, 29th in riding.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Dremiel Byers, wrestling –Byers made it to the quarterfinals, being one of the top eight Greco-roman wrestlers in the 120K, weight class. This was his second Olympics, having participated in the Beijing games.
  • Army Sgt. Glenn Eller, shooting-A four-time Olympian, Eller came in 18th in the double trap 
  • Army Sgt. Vincent Hancock, shooting-Hancock brought home the Gold in men’s skeet.
  • Marine Corps Sgt. Jamel Herring, boxing –Herring, captain of the U.S. Boxing team, went 9-19 against in his first round in the welter weight (64K) class.
  • Air Force Capt. Seth Kelsey, fencing-In sudden-death overtime in the 
  • Bronze medal round, Kelsey was hit in the toe by his opponent and came in 4th overall.
  • Army Spc. Justin Lester, wrestling-Lester, participating in the Greco-roman 66 K weight class, made it to the quarterfinals and placed in the top eight.
  • Army Agt. Spenser Mango, wresting –Another Greco-roman wrestler, this time in the 55 K weight class, Mango made it through the qualifying round to become one of the top sixteen.
  • Army Staff Sgt. Michael McPhail, shooting-McPhail came in 9th place in the 50 m rifle, prone event.
  • Army Sgt. John Nunn, track and field –Nunn placed 43rd in the 50K walk.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Jason Parker, shooting-Parker placed 30th in the 50 meter, 3 positions event.
  • Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Richmond, shooting-Richmond placed 16th in men’s double trap.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Keith Sanderson, shooting-Sanderson came in 14th in the 25 meter rapid fire pistol event.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Daryl Szarenski, shooting-Four-time Olympian Szarenski came in 28th in the 50 meter pistol event.
  • Army Sgt. 1st Class Eric Uptagrafft, shooting-Uptagrafft placed 16th in the 50 meter rifle, prone event.
  • Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Sandra Uptagrafft, shooting-Uptagrafft participated in three separate events. She place 28th in the 10 meter air pistol, 28th in the 25 meter pistol, and 28th in the 25 meter pistol- rapid fire.

Medal or not, all Olympians are winners. These athletes gave up family time and free time to hone their skills to perfection. Our military Olympians did all this, plus represent and protect their country on a daily basis. Bravo! For both your achievements and your service.

Active Duty Suicides Explode in July – Family Reintegration Issues in Spotlight

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Note: While we usually feature something lighthearted and entertaining on Fridays, the issue of suicide among servicemembers, and the news of an alarming increase in recent months, is of such importance that we didn’t want to wait until next week to post this story. We hope that we can return to more fun posts next Friday.


military funeralThe Department of Defense announced that the number of service member suicides reached a new record in July, despite an extensive outreach program to educate military service members about how to get help for depression, how to identify other service members at risk of suicide, and training down to the boot level on how to provide buddy aid to help troops at risk.

While investigations are still underway in some deaths, the Department of Defense’s preliminary numbers indicate the number of servicemembers who took their own lives was 38 in July. That’s over 1 and a quarter every day.

Through the end of July 2012, the military reports 116 potential suicides among active duty troops (66 confirmed, with 50 still under investigation.

Among Reserve component troops (Reserve and National Guard), the Pentagon reports 12 potential suicides (9 Guardsmen and three reservists).

If current trends continue, losses from suicide will significantly outstrip last year’s total in both the active and reserve components.

Although the number of suicides among reservists remained roughly constant between June and July, the number of suicides among active duty troops more than doubled during the same time period. The military leadership is still struggling to find a satisfactory explanation.

The suicide rate also seems to have spiked with the end of formal U.S. military involvement in Iraq – and a marked decrease in OPTEMPO for the Army and Marine Corps, which now bear the brunt of the mission in Afghanistan.

While it is dangerous to infer too much from a limited data set, problems in the economy would not explain the increase in active duty suicides even as reserve component suicides remain constant: Despite an unemployment rate among military spouses of over 25 percent, the active component remains much more insulated against the weak economy than the reserve component.

According to reporting by Time, an analyst on the Army’s Suicide Prevention Task Force, Bruce Shahbaz, notes that there has been a recent demographic shift among servicemembers who choose to take their own lives: For the first time, suicides among NCOs are outpacing suicides among junior enlisted. According to Shabahz, the data suggests that the causes of the spike in suicides were more subtle than previously thought: Rather than related directly to the stress of deployments themselves and to economic pressures, suicidal behavior may be more related to difficulties in reintegrating post-deployment. While troops were going back and forth between home station and the GWOT in revolving-door fashion, families were able to mask some of the stresses – the warrior servicemember never fully reintegrated into the household.

From the Time article:

“If you’re on the constant 12-month treadmill of deploy, reset, get ready to redeploy, deploy, soldiers and families don’t work hard to try to reintegrate, because they know that their soldier is going to be gone again,” Shahbaz says. “Issues like minor depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances – those things that are kind of related to post-traumatic stress – begin to surface after a service member has been home for more than a year, and start to reintegrate with their family…I liken it to a pot that’s on simmer – having that person stay back home and reintegrate with their family sometimes allows that pot to boil over.”

Do you need help?

If you or your loved one are at risk of suicide, call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you are in a military family, press 1.

Mental Health and TRICARE

Good news for those in need: TRICARE covers a wide variety of mental health services for military members and their families. Stay tuned to for a more in-depth look at mental health coverage under TRICARE.

Mental Health for GWOT Veterans and the VA

The Veterans Administration has offered expanded services and access to mental health care for veterans for up to five years after discharge from the military. So if you’re no longer eligible for TRICARE, this program may work for you. Unfortunately, the VA is struggling to keep up with demand for mental health care, leading to waiting lists that are weeks long in some areas. 

Sequestration and the Armed Forces

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

Congress of the United StatesThe Budget Control Act of 2011 increased our nation’s debt limit and created what is known as the Budget Supercommittee. This bipartisan committee was commissioned with the purpose of finding a way to cut the budget by January 1st, 2013. If they did not, the Act implements a series of mandatory across the board cuts across multiple federal departments and programs. These cuts are known as sequestration and may go into effect as soon as January 2nd, 2013.

The Department of Defense is not immune from sequestration. Although President Obama has implemented his authority to exempt military personnel funds from sequestration (as granted by the Budget Control Act), that does not protect the entire department. Military personnel funds are defined as pay, benefit, and change of station travel funds. While this protects service members’ paychecks, it increases the amount of reductions in other Department of Defense programs from 8% (if personnel funds were included) to 12% (with the current exemption).

The House Armed Services Committee has met with both Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffery Zients, both of whom say cuts would be “devastating” to our nation’s armed forces. Carter also warns of the “creation of an unready, hollow force” should these cuts go into effect, bringing back memories of a post-Vietnam Era military.

What does this mean to every member of the armed forces? Cuts across the other 2,500 military departments, including:

  • Military family social services
  • Training
  • Health care
  • Equipment and
  • Layoffs of civilian support staff (including but not limited to contractors)

Lack of training and equipment directly lead to a lack of readiness, placing our service members and our nation at risk. Morale is greatly undermined, and our service members (and nation) suffer even more.

There are approximate four months before sequestration goes into effect. Congress is out of session for most of two months (August and September). Then we have an election in November, with returning incumbents and lame ducks; if they can’t “get their act together” before the election, what makes us think that are they going to solve the problems between the time of the election and the inauguration of new members? Which, by the way, is interrupted by Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks.

This problem must be resolved now. Contact your Representatives and Senators and urge them not to let politics get in the way of national security. Hyperbole and over-exaggeration aside, this truly could be the issue of the decade, not just in terms of the Department of Defense but across almost all programs that receive federal funding across the country. Spending must be brought under control; let’s find an effective way to do so.

VJ Day: Victory over Japan

Posted by S.E. Davidson Parker

The day for which the people of the world have prayed is here at last.

— Eleanor Roosevelt, August 15th, 1945

VJ Day

VJ Day: Victory over Japan by the Allied Forces in World War II. Japan announced its surrender on August 15th, 1945; because of the international date, August 14th in the United States.

Here is a poem inspired by VJ Day:

December 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The day that will live in infamy.

Executive Order 9066.

Bataan. Corregidor. Atrocity.

Midway. Hope springs.


Rosie the Riveter and the girls back home.

The 442nd. The 92nd.

Guadalcanal. Saipan. Iwo Jima.

Operation Downfall: one million estimated casualties.

Hiroshima, Nagasaki instead.

Japan signed the formal surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2nd, 1945.

We shall not forget Pearl Harbor.
The Japanese militarists will not forget the U.S.S. Missouri.

— Harry Truman, September 1st, 1945

Whatever your part, thank you.

So Who Is Paul Ryan (And What He Might Mean for Military Families)?

Posted by Charlotte Webster

Paul Ryan military recordWhen the presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney selected the Wisconsin Congressional representative to be his running mate, he sent a powerful message: Rather than select a ho-hum safe choice like Tim Pawlenty, Romney went with the leading voice for fiscal conservativism in Congress. Ryan, the head of the House Budget Committee and a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, is perhaps the most vocal proponent of entitlement reform and – to some extent – deficit reduction on the Hill.

He’s well known among budget and policy wonks – but the broader public probably got their first taste of him when he confronted President Obama in a “town hall” debate on the merits of the Democrats’ health reform bill last year.

Romney has never held office at the national level; his highest political office was Governor of Massachusetts. So Romney does not have a track record of military issues to look at, except as Commander in Chief of them Massachusetts National Guard.

Ryan is not a veteran. As a matter of fact, this year marks the first year since 1932 in which no one on either major party ticket had served in the U.S. armed services.  On the other hand, Ryan has been in Congress for 14 years, and has voted on a number of important military appropriations and provisions, as well as use-of-force resolutions.

So what’s his record?

Well, he voted to authorize military action against Al Qaeda in 2001, as did almost everyone on both sides of the aisle that year.

He also voted to authorize the use of force against Iraq to support the UN Security Council Resolutions in 2003 – at that time tantamount to a vote to go to war against Iraq.

Ryan also voted in favor of banning the use of U.S. ground forces in Libya without first securing Congressional Approval.

Ryan opposed the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy – preferring instead to prohibit gays and lesbians from serving openly in the Armed Forces.

Ryan also recently came out with a budget proposal for 2013 and a spending plan for the following ten years. According to his own analysts and the Congressional Budget Office, Ryan’s plan relies on reining in spending to balance the budget by 2040, and reduce the overall national debt from 68 percent of gross domestic product in 2011 to 10 percent of GDP by 2050.

His plan, say proponents, would do so while reducing tax rates. The Ryan plan would establish just two federal tax rates: 10 percent and 25 percent, while rolling back certain deductions.

Coming up with a plan, of course, is a lot different from selling it – and Ryan got precious few Congressional representatives to sign on to it – even from his own party.

As for military spending, Ryan’s plan would hold the Pentagon budget to match inflation over the next ten years. Not quite what the Pentagon might ask for – it doesn’t have room for a lot of mission creep – but it’s still a lot more money than what many of the President’s supporters suggest.

While the military budget essentially marks time under Ryan’s proposal, all federal domestic discretionary spending would be slashed by 13 percent.

That said, Ryan has not always been a free-spender when it comes to the military and veterans. He has on at least one occasion voted for a proposal to tighten the standards required to receive medical care from the Veterans Administration. Specifically, his committee floated a proposal to cut spending on providing VA care to veterans who do not have a service-related disability and whose incomes do not make them poor. Specifically, Ryan’s floated plan would cut off Category 8 veterans – and possibly Category 7 veterans as well – from receiving care from the VA.

If this plan were adopted, it would represent a return to the status quo ante – Veterans in Categories 7 and 8 were generally not eligible for care, either, until 1996, when a Republican Congress passed the Veterans Health Care Eligibility Act of 1996, expanding their eligibility and directing the Department of Veterans Affairs to expand their number of clinics and hospitals to accommodate their new patients.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, 90 percent of Category 7 and 8 veterans have health insurance available from other sources, including employer plans and Medicare.

Ryan opposed “sequestration’s” more draconian cuts to the Pentagon, describing the Sequester as a “meat-axe” approach.

He voted against slashing funding for the Osprey.

Ryan also voted against a proposal for a mandatory period of rest and recuperation between deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan in 2007. President Bush also opposed the measure at the time. The bill exempted special operations troops and still allowed the President and Secretary of Defense to waive the requirement in response to unforeseen circumstances.

Ryan voted against a 2012 proposal to increase combat pay from $225 per month to $350.


So what do you think of the Romney/Ryan ticket? How does it compare to Obama/Biden? Do you know who you’ll be voting for this November based on what you know so far? Let us know in the comments!

ICEX and the Legacy of the USS Nautilus

Posted by Kelli McKinney

USS Nautilus 571Last week marked the anniversary of a little-known milestone. On August 3, 1958, the USS Nautilus, a.k.a. the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, dived at Point Barrow, Alaska, and traveled about 1,000 miles. Underneath the Arctic ice cap. Across the top of the globe. The USS Nautilus is, aside from being awesome and greatly historic, essentially the nuclear-powered shortcut pioneer. The precursor to Mapquest, if you will.

The Nautilus was an overachiever from the start, really. US Navy Captain Hyman G. Rickover, who ran The Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program, started work on the atomic submarine in 1947 and finished it ahead of schedule in 1952. Two years later it was commissioned for duty, and first ran under nuclear power on January 17, 1955. The Nautilus was longer than other subs at the time, stretching 319 feet and displaced an impressive 3,180 tons of water. Its atomic engine needed no air, only a very small quantity of nuclear fuel to operate.

As it crossed under the North Pole, the Nautilus traveled about 500 feet deep. The ice cap above varied from 10 – 50 feet thick. This expedition cleared the way for future exploration, research, and educational opportunities for both military and civilian scientists.

More than 50 years later, submariners are still braving the harsh conditions in the Arctic. The video below is of the USS Connecticut as it surfaces through the ice. (And I thought scraping ice off my windshield was a pain!)

The Connecticut was part of Ice Exercise (ICEX) 2011, a Navy exercise to ensure their technology can operate well in the extreme weather conditions found in the Arctic.

Students from the Naval Postgraduate School were permitted to attend as part of their work to determine the impact of keels on ocean-ice interaction and melting Arctic ice. Their work contributes to the Navy’s research on weather conditions in that region. This is the kind of stormchasing that I can get into.

The Nautilus and her determined crew paved the way to make these educational opportunities happen. After a 25-year career and nearly 500,000 miles steamed, she was decommissioned on March 3, 1980.  She was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1982 and went on exhibit at the Submarine Force Museum in her hometown of Groton, Connecticut.

If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling inspired about the opportunities your military experience can open up for you after reading this. If you are, learn about your military education benefits now and start forging your path to a new career.

Nice idea, Bernie.

Posted by Kelli McKinney

If you’ve ever pitched an idea to your supervisor only to receive little to no response – you’re not alone. Nobody at CERN paid attention to Tim Berners-Lee’s pet project either. He wasn’t looking to change the world. He was trying to help his colleagues share work. Here’s an interesting homage to Mr. Lee’s invention and the path he took that changed the world on this day in 1991.

The young British scientist took his invention public quietly with a brief message posted to a newsgroup. It was a message announcing a “WorldWideWeb” (WWW) project, including instructions on how to download the very first Web browser from the inaugural website. 

He created a user-friendly computer language called Hypertext Markup Language, and assigned each destination to a specific name: a Universal Resource Locator. Combined with the server collaboration created by the Internet, Berners-Lee’s hypertext transfer protocol provided the structure needed for information to be shared world wide.

Traffic to started at 10 hits a day. And it grew. After August 6, 1991, the world was never the same. The impact of the Internet, good and bad, has been felt in virtually every aspect of daily life. According to Time magazine, within five years, the number of Internet users ballooned from 600,000 to 40 million. Within ten years, Berners-Lee’s creation had become nearly as commonplace as indoor plumbing.    

One of the more profound changes created by the WorldWideWeb has been the proliferation of distance education. The Web has made it possible for a number of people to finish high school and/or complete their degree program. According to a 2011 study by the National Center for Distance Education, in 2007–08, about 4.3 million undergraduate students, or 20 percent of all undergraduates, took at least one distance education course. About 0.8 million, or 4 percent of all undergraduates, took their entire program through distance education. For military service members and their families, distance education via the Web makes it possible for many to use their military benefits to achieve their educational goals.

So today, Tim Berners-Lee, we thank you for not giving up on your dream. Because of you, millions others don’t have to give up on theirs.

Study: Military Suicides Caused by Emotional Distress

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

military depressionEmotional distress is a leading factor in suicides among military members, concluded a crack team of researchers without apparent irony. Demonstrating an uncanny grasp of the obvious, the researchers from the University of Utah’s National Center for Veterans Studies, who had interviewed some 72 military members at Fort Carson, Colorado why they attempted to commit suicide stated that theirs was the first study to provide actual data that documents that suicides among military members was related to emotional distress, and a desire to end it.

The study has not yet been published, but the authors have already received their grant money from the taxpayer. Taxpayers have already committed at least $50 million to research and study of the problem of military suicides. That’s the size of the pot of money entrusted to Colonel Carl Castro.

The study comes on the heals of relevations that it takes veterans an average of 41 days just to get an appointment to see a VA health care professional. In some areas, including Tacoma, Washington, that waiting period lasts as long as 80 days, on average.

High Correlation with Divorces or Separations

Although the scintillating conclusions reached by the University of Utah’s researchers have somewhat, umm, truncated immediate utility, we do have data that ties suicide risk with recent separation or divorce. Suicide rates among this population of servicemembers reached 19 per 100,000 – a rate that is 24 percent higher than single troops. The suicide rate among young adults age 20 to 24 is 12.7 per 100,000, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. So it does appear that Houston, we do have a problem, with military members at higher risk than the population of young adults at large.


Call this toll-free number, available 24 hours a day, every day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You will reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a service available to anyone. You may call for yourself or for someone you care about. All calls are confidential.

USAA Sued in Class Action Case

Posted by Jason Van Steenwyk

Alleged Wrongful Denial of Medical Coverage in Auto Accident Claims

car accidentIf you are a USAA Auto Insurance customer – or you were hit by one – and USAA denied coverage of medical expenses arising from an auto accident, an Oregon law firm would like to have a word with you.

The law firm of Gatti, Gatti, Maier, Sayer, Thayer, Smith and Associates, out of Salem, Oregon, has announced that it is pursuing a class action lawsuit against the United Servicemembers Auto Association (USAA), alleging the wrongful denial of legitimate claims to cover the cost of medical care following auto accidents involving USAA auto insurance customers.

Specifically, the plaintiff firm accuses USAA of “breach of contract and the breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing to its insureds.”

At issue is USAA’s relationship with a third party firm hired to review case files of claimants. The suit alleges that file reviewers at Auto Injury Solutions (AIS), which was hired to help USAA control or reduce fraudulent claims, were “routinely” denying reasonable and necessary care, as determined by usual and customary practice and the recommendations of medical personnel.

The suit claims that these file reviewers made their decisions based on “bogus” criteria and “authorities which are not appropriate to the individualized injuries.”

The complaint cites a number of cases from actual plantiffs. In one case, Brittney Bathurst, a 17-year-old daughter of a retired military veteran, was severely injured when her car was t-boned by another car travelling at high speed. Emergency responders had to use the “jaws of life” to extract her from her ruined vehicle, and transport her to the hospital.

Ms. Bathurst’s mother, who owned a USAA policy, filed a claim. However, according to the complaint, USAA sent Bathurst’s medical claim file to an AIS file reviewer, who rejected the claim as not medically necessary. The case file contained a note saying a physician’s review had been completed. But the file reviewer was Leslie Kancir, an acupuncturist in Lakewood, Colorado.

The Gatti Law Firm is seeking plaintiffs with similar stories to tell, as well as evidence and testimony supporting the allegations against USAA.

The case follows a similar class action case, Horton vs. USAA, an Arizona case which was concluded last year. It is too late to join this case. Another similar case was concluded in Illinois in the mid-2000s.

For its part, USAA’s position is that the use of third-party case reviewers such as Auto Injury Solutions is a vital safeguard against insurance fraud. They also assert that preventing fraud is certainly in the interests of their policyholders and association as a whole. USAA believes that the use of third-party case reviewers assists them in validating billing data and preventing overcharging – allowing them to keep rates at affordable levels, which benefits all USAA members.

USAA is a mutual association, jointly owned by members. As such, any savings or profits that USAA realizes accrues ultimately to the benefit of plan members, rather than stockholders on Wall Street. As a mutual association, USAA does not have the obvious conflict of interest between owners and customers, because in mutual insurance associations, the customers are ultimately the company owners.

However, even mutually owned insurance organizations are bound by the terms of their contracts. The Gatti Law Firm is alleging that when USAA, acting on the recommendations and findings of their AIS vendor, denied or reduced claims based on flawed or irrelevant data or guidelines, that they were acting in violation of their contracts with their insureds.

The Gatti Law Firm specializes in insurance litigation, including bad faith and class action lawsuits against insurance companies. Daniel Gatti, the lead plaintiff attorney, told a San Antonio daily that USAA was once one of the most honorable insurers in the country – but was now focusing on cost containment, at the expense of our military. USAA countered by pointing out that they had paid out more than $1.3 billion to USAA members in dividends in 2010 – practically all of whom were military, veterans or family members of military members.

If you are a USAA member, and you believe you may have been wrongly denied a medical claim as a result of a covered auto accident – or if you are not a USAA member, but you were involved in an accident with a USAA customer, and your claim was wrongly denied, contact the Gatti Law Firm.