Tag Archives: Coast Guard

Philly VA pushes back on investigation


WASHINGTON — The Philadelphia branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs has already fixed some of the problems noted by federal inspectors who said the office altered quality reviews, violated claim policies and had stacks of unopened mail, a top VA official said Monday.

Last week’s report by the VA inspector general’s office is the latest blow to an organization routinely accused of chronic mismanagement, cooked books and retaliation against whistleblowers. The investigation began in June when the inspector general’s hotline received numerous complaints about the Philadelphia VA regional office. According to the report, many of those callers were VA staff concerned with reprisals against employees who raised problematic issues with management.

VA Under Secretary of Benefits Allison Hickey told reporters in a conference call that while she agrees with the findings in the VA inspector general’s report, recent restructuring has already solved most of the regional office’s problems.

“The report that was released by the IG, from my perspective, reflects conditions as they were over a year ago, and we knew that,” Hickey said.

The VA inspector general’s report was released last Wednesday. It documents numerous problems in the way the office operates. They include confirmed cases in which the Philadelphia VA violated claim processing protocol and, in at least one instance, concealed bins of unprocessed mail. The report also expressed concern for employees at a VA call center, who routinely complained about a lack of bathrooms, leaking roofs and insect and vermin infestations.

Hickey claims that the report does not reflect changes made last summer, including improved claim dating procedures, new call center facilities and mass retraining of VA staff. She also noted that the VA encourages employees to report problems without fearing reprisal.

“We are inviting our employees to tell us when they see something that causes them concern,” said Hickey when asked what will happen to those employees who reported the Philadelphia and National Call Center problems.

“The majority of [problems raised by the report] have already been fixed,” she said.

Hickey is overseeing a parallel internal investigation of the Philadelphia VA that will be completed at the end of June.

Many veterans’ groups were unimpressed with Hickey’s assurances.

Joe Davis, director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars, viewed the Philadelphia VA’s story with skepticism.

“When the VA says they’ve fixed everything, you better make sure somebody goes in there and does fix everything. And that’s a trust problem that the VA has,” Davis said.

Davis also pointed to the culture of the VA, which he believes is out of sync with the military it serves.

“The problem with the VA is they forgot who they work for,” said Davis. “They don’t work for the next line supervisor, director, hospital manager or regional office director. They work for the veterans.”

Obama to wounded warriors: ‘We’ve got your back’

  • President Barack Obama speaks with spectators after the cyclists have set off on the Soldier Ride. (Nick Kariuki/MEDILL)
    President Barack Obama speaks with spectators after the cyclists have set off on the Soldier Ride. (Nick Kariuki/MEDILL)

WASHINGTON — Under clear skies, President Obama blasted an air horn Thursday to start the Wounded Warrior Project’s Soldier Ride from the White House’s South Lawn.

Speaking before the bikes rolled out, Obama said the event was “a chance to say to all the returning heroes that you’re not alone. That we’ve got your back. We’re going to be with you every step of the way.”

The nationwide, annual ride offers wounded service members and veterans the chance to salve the physical, mental and emotional wounds they may have suffered through cycling and the common bond of military service.

Over 50 riders from all branches of the armed forces signed up for the three-day, 60 mile challenge, many riding on adaptive bicycles.

Obama was joined by Vice President Joe Biden and Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald. This year marked the sixth time that the event was welcomed to the White House.

The first Soldier Ride was in 2004 when Chris Carney, a Long Island, New York, bartender, biked across the country to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that supports injured troops.

The WWP claims over 68,000 alumni and more than 10,500 family members involved, as of April 1.

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Arctic may melt before U.S. ready for northern ocean defense

WASHINGTON–Arctic melting is leaving new coastline and waterways up to the north, but some Arctic strategy experts are concerned that polar ice is melting faster than U.S. military planners are gearing up for what an open-water arctic will mean for U.S. security.

The once-impenetrable Northwest Passage, along the Alaskan and Canadian coast, and the Northeast Passage, along the Russian coast, were both navigable in the summer of 2008.

“If you think strategy relates somehow to means and investment in means then we don’t have a strategy,” said Robert Laird, a security consultant based in Washington and Paris. “You have five stakeholders in the Arctic,” he said. The U.S., Russia, Denmark, Norway and Canada each have Arctic territory. “The only country that’s not strategic in this is us.”

At best, maritime forces will be stretched to cover more coast, patrolling, providing surveillance and rescuing those imperiled at sea over greater territory.

At worst, the U.S. may be drawn into a resource war in which the five Arctic countries hash out territorial claims to seafloor mining of minerals and energy stores, while an even greater number of states advances claims on fishing territory and transportation routes.

“The general rule for oceans is whoever can get there can develop it,” said U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Robert Watts, the Coast Guard service chair at the National War College. “Unless it’s in someone’s (exclusive economic zone), it’s free turf.” Exclusive economic zones are a fixture of international law that entitles countries to develop resources found within 200 miles of their coast.

The U.S. Department of State has an Arctic policy that articulates national security and defense among its principal objectives in the region. And as early as 2001, the Navy was theorizing what its role would be if the Arctic were to become navigable. As “if” became “when,” Navy leaders intensified their studies, in November releasing an “Arctic Roadmap, followed by a “Climate Change Roadmap” in May.

But a report last March from the Congressional Research Service said the Coast Guard’s proposed 2011 budget contains no funding to acquire, build or improve polar icebreakers, the primary vessel for maintaining a U.S. presence in the Arctic.

“We’re not building any assets,” Laird said. “We have a lot of words. We have one functioning ice breaker.”

The Coast Guard, which is a part of the Department of Homeland Security, is responsible for maritime security, search and rescue and law-enforcement functions and owns the three Ice-breaking ships in the U.S. fleet. The Navy, a military branch within the Department of Defense, projects U.S. power abroad. Each have responsibilities for patrolling U.S. coastal waters.

A changing Arctic is likely to influence the future makeup of U.S. Naval forces, said Derek Reveron, a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. Submarines will no longer be able to hide under permanent ice and if the U.S. role in the Arctic increases, the dominance of the Navy’s staple aircraft carrier may give way to a different fleet makeup, Reveron said.

“At the end of the day,” Reveron said.  “The Navy is what it buys.”