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Army clarifies standards for awarding of Purple Heart for mild TBI

The Army on Friday issued a directive clarifying standards for awarding the Purple Heart medal to soldiers with mild traumatic brain injury.

The instruction follows a recent change by the Marine Corps that removed the requirement that Marines be knocked unconscious to qualify for a Purple Heart for TBI, a potentially debilitating condition often caused by blasts.

Combat stress as 'moral injury' offends Marines

SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- The new buzzwords in the mental health community for types of combat stress are "moral injury" -- and some Marines don't really care for the label.

On the third day of the Navy and Marine Corps' annual conference on combat and operational stress control, moral injury was the guiding topic. One Marine commander roped into a panel discussion at the last minute bluntly took issue with the phrase: "As a Marine, I'm insulted."

Defense Department clarifies Purple Heart criteria for brain injury

WASHINGTON – On the heels of a Marine Corps announcement that revised the criteria for awarding a Purple Heart medal for mild traumatic brain injuries, the Pentagon on Wednesday issued guidance to clear up any confusion about department-wide standards for the medal.

The Defense Department’s criteria state that the injury must have been caused by enemy action or have occurred during an engagement with the enemy. Secondly, the injury must have been severe enough to have required a medical officer’s treatment. That applies even if no officer was present to provide care, officials said.

Critics jab Pentagon press secretary’s ruined Easter

WASHINGTON – Careful the things you tweet; new media critics will listen.

A bit of Easter Sunday snark tweeted by Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell, a Twitter neophyte, has drawn some guffaws from the international blogosphere. Morrell’s reaction to late-breaking Sunday news reports on a Wikileaks dump of classified information, this time about the treatment of nearly every Guantanamo prisoner since 2002, did not go unnoticed.

Many Marines qualify retroactively for Purple Hearts for brain injuries

It’s no longer necessary for Marines to get knocked cold in order to qualify for a Purple Heart for a mild traumatic brain injury. A recent change in policy acknowledges the fact that serious injury may occur even without a loss of consciousness.

The new rules only require a Marine to have been treated by a medical officer and declared not fit for duty for at least 48 hours due to a wound suffered at the hands of the enemy, or in an engagement against the enemy.

Congressman wants remains of 13 sailors buried in Tripoli returned

WASHINGTON – For more than 200 years, the remains of 13 U.S. sailors have been interred in Tripoli, and now a congressman is calling on the Defense Department to bring them home.

The USS Intrepid exploded and sank in 1804 while on a mission during the First Barbary War to destroy the Tripolitan Fleet. The captain and 12 volunteer officers were killed.

Afghan prison break ranks among world's largest

The inmates at Sarposa prison in Kandahar do hard time. At least some of them sleep on rough concrete floors. As for the food, well, we haven’t had the pleasure, but news reports from three years ago say 47 prisoners stitched their mouths shut to ensure they wouldn’t or couldn’t break a hunger strike.

Still, Sarposa prison has at least one thing going for it from an inmate’s perspective. If mass prison escapes were an Olympic event, Sarposa inmates would be among the world’s elite athletes.

Civilian doctors see more combat brain injuries

With half of returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who seek medical care opting not to use the health benefits they’re entitled to at the Department of Veterans Affairs, civilian doctors are treating more and more patients with combat-related traumatic brain injury.

What’s more, patients who suffered TBI in combat have proven harder to treat, and have less chance of being completely cured, than civilians with TBI.

Guard soldiers to get more demobilization time

The poor treatment of Oregon National Guard soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord's hospital last year has led the Army to make changes in the Reserve demobilization process.

Last year the service was embarrassed when staff at Madigan Army Medical Center characterized the Guard soldiers, who were returning from Iraq, as weekend warriors trying to game the system. The 180 reservists who needed care were told to go home for treatment, so the base could focus on active-duty soldiers - "their own boys" who were returning from deployment soon.

Marines' Britney Spears video the latest viral hit

WASHINGTON -- Somewhere, deep in the heart of Afghanistan, Marines just gotta dance.

One unit's well-choreographed version of the new Britney Spears song "Hold It Against Me" (video embedded below) is becoming the latest YouTube hit in a line of off-duty spoofs from troops downrange. The clips are intended to be nothing more than a chance for the troops to blow off some steam, but their enthusiasm and absurdity apparently appeal to a worldwide audience.

Banking giant settles military foreclosure claims

Banking giant JPMorgan Chase & Co., which admitted earlier this year that it had improperly overcharged thousands of military families on their mortgages and foreclosed on the homes of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, will pay $26 million to settle the class action lawsuit that brought the activity to light.

Marine Capt. Jonathan Rowles and his wife, Julia, filed the suit, which accused Chase of ignoring the protections they were due under a federal law known as the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

Bases will try to zero out their environmental footprints

WASHINGTON – There’s no doubt military operations use a lot of natural resources. Just last month, for instance, a U.S. airbase in Kyrgyzstan set a squadron record by pumping nearly 600,000 gallons of jet fuel in a single day.

But with Earth Day coming around this Friday, and with concerns about future energy supplies looming on the horizon, the Army announced on Wednesday a list of bases that would participate in its “net zero” pilot program to reduce the environmental footprint of military installations.

'Restrepo' director killed in Libya

UPDATED: April 20, 6:34 p.m.

WASHINGTON — One of the directors of the acclaimed Afghan war film “Restrepo” was killed in Libya on Wednesday.

Is the White House Joining Forces campaign doing anything?

WASHINGTON – I was speaking to a handful of veterans yesterday who questioned what the new White House Joining Forces campaign can actually accomplish, considering the effort doesn’t do anything to lessen the real cause of stress among military families: Long deployments overseas and a decade of continuous fighting.

When I pointed out that the initiative had already influenced some action from corporate partners, they responded with blank stares. While most of the celebrity aspects of the campaign were touted in the last few days (Sesame Street! Mythbusters! Nick Jonas!), there’s less information out there about the training and employment programs that first lady Michelle Obama promised would be the centerpiece of the effort.

Can acupuncture help treat Gulf War Syndrome?

WASHINGTON -- Lisa Conboy thinks she may have a cure for veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome: Stick needles in them.

Conboy, an instructor at Harvard Medical School Osher Research Center and co-director of research at the New England School of Acupuncture, is one of the coordinators of a new Army-funded study into the value of acupuncture in managing the headaches, muscle soreness and other pain associated with the controversial disorder. The group is currently seeking about 120 volunteers living in the Northeast for the study.

Nearly 60 soldiers have killed themselves this year

WASHINGTON _ Last month 18 soldiers committed suicide, the Army reported today. That brings the total for 2011 to 59 soldiers. 

Among the March suicides, seven soldiers were active duty and 11 were reserve. All were male.

Army plans aviator uniforms for women

WASHINGTON – Too much fabric in some spots and not enough in others pushed the Army last year to begin work on a combat uniform tailored specifically for women, who make up 14 percent of the force. But an even higher percentage of Army aviators are women, so now a better-fitting version of that uniform is in the works.

“When we started to pull this thread, we realized 17 percent of our aviators are women and we don’t have a women’s aviator uniform,” Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller of Program Executive Office Soldier said Thursday.

Sexual assault hotline launched for troops

WASHINGTON – Still struggling with sexual assaults in the military – more than 3,000 reported cases last year – the Pentagon is launching a global 24-hour hotline for victims seeking help, advice or information.

Troops will be able to access crisis support services, called Safe Helpline, through a phone call, text or online.

Rep wants combat status for Fort Hood victims

WASHINGTON – For the third year in a row, Texas Rep. John Carter is pushing to get combat status recognition for victims of the Fort Hood shooting in November 2009. The shooting left 14 dead and 32 wounded, and has been dubbed a clear act of “radical Islamic terrorism” by Carter and other conservatives in the House.

If approved, the move would make the shooting victims eligible to receive the Purple Heart, as well as allow those troops and surviving family members to collect combat zone insurance payouts. Congress passed similar legislation following the Sept. 11 attacks to declare the Pentagon a combat zone, allowing those victims extra benefits.

New guns get thumbs up from troops

WASHINGTON -- U.S. forces are sending back enthusiastic reports about two new weapons they've been trying out in combat against Taliban forces, the Army officer who oversees soldiers’ equipment said Thursday.

Prototypes of the XM25 "Punisher," an advanced grenade launcher that allows troops to detonate explosive rounds in mid-air behind enemy cover, have been tested by several undisclosed units, Brig. Gen. Peter N. Fuller of Program Executive Office Soldier said Thursday.

Home Depot begins dispensing $30 million to veterans charities

Home Depot’s charitable foundation will dedicate $30 million to helping veterans to improve where they live. But don’t show up at your local store asking for a few grand to remodel your house.

“That’s a very important point,” company spokesman Stephen Holmes said in an email. “All of The Foundation funding must be funneled through grants to non-profits, not directly to individuals.”

White House defends McChrystal role in military family campaign

WASHINGTON – White House officials and the first lady deflected questions yesterday about the unusual appointment of former Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal to help guide the new Joining Forces campaign, designed to highlight the needs of military families. McChystal attended but did not speak at the unveiling event on Tuesday, the first time he’s visited the White House since his he offered his resignation last summer in the wake of a controversial profile of the former Afghan war commander in Rolling Stone magazine.

During Tuesday’s daily press briefing, White House spokesman Jay Carney called McChrystal an “excellent choice to help oversee that effort.” When asked about McChrystal’s firing, or his murky role in the Army’s cover-up of Pat Tillman’s death, Carney said that the president was “very aware … of the general’s resume” but offered no further explanation.

Pentagon: No safety changes after Japan nuke crisis upgraded

WASHINGTON -- Japan's decision to increase the classification of its nuclear disaster to be on par with Chernobyl is little more than a paper label change, the Pentagon said Tuesday. It will not alter Defense Department directives to protect U.S. military forces or their families.

Pentagon spokesman Col. David Lapan said DOD views the status change as a case of words catching up to reality, not a worsening of the actual crisis.

American-born Islamic militant wages Jihad on rap

WASHINGTON -- An American-born Islamic militant has launched an unprovoked attack on rap and hip hop.

Omar Hammami, an American citizen who grew up in Alabama, is now a senior commander with al-Shabaab, a group in Somalia linked to al-Qaida. If that weren’t bad enough, he is trying to lay down some rhymes, as first reported by “The Long War Journal,” a respected blog on Islamic terrorism.

President Obama thanks federal workers

WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama has sent a note to all federal employees thanking them for their “patience and professionalism” during recent nerve-wracking budget negotiations.

Lawmakers reached an 11th-hour compromise on Friday for the fiscal 2011 budget, averting a federal government shutdown.  The budget battle has caused a lot of stress for troops, military families and Defense Department civilians, who faced suspended paychecks or furloughs if the government had shut down. Through it all, federal employees and their families “affirmed my confidence in you,” Obama wrote in his letter.

Troops confused by mid-month pay statement

WASHINGTON -- Troops and Defense Department civilians who looked online at their Leave and Earning Statement on Friday thought they had received half their usual paycheck, but they will actually get their full pay and benefits on April 15, as scheduled, according to the Defense Finance and Accounting Service.

On Friday, DFAS issued mid-month statements that showed how much people would get paid if lawmakers failed to agree on a budget, leading to a government shutdown, said DFAS spokesman Thomas LaRock. The shutdown was averted, but when some saw those statements, they thought they were only getting paid for one week, so DFAS blocked access to the statement on myPay, the DFAS website that allows users to check their finances online.

VA fiduciary program comes under fire

The Department of Veterans Affairs assigns independent overseers to handle the money of veterans it has declared incompetent.  The question a lot of people are asking is: Who's overseeing the overseers?

The New York Times today reports that the VA has fiduciaries managing money for 111,407 veterans and other beneficiaries, with a total value of more than $3.2 billion.  Since the fiduciaries earn 4 percent commissions on whatever they handle, that translates into a $128 million industry.

With government shutdown looming, it's volunteer week

On Thursday afternoon, 1.4 million active duty military members were digesting the possibility of going on duty the following week without assurance of being paid anytime soon. At the same time, some 1 million civilian federal employees faced a potential unpaid furlough.

Politicians in Congress, assured of their own paychecks regardless of whether the government shut down, continued battling for budgetary and political turf as the deadline of midnight Friday crept closer.

Government shutdown: How it will affect veterans

UPDATE: The Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to pay benefits to veterans who are already entitled to them, but won’t process any new claims for the GI Bill during  a government shutdown.

In a two-page field guide posted to its website, the VA says all medical facilities and clinics will remain open. It appears all benefits payments, including existing GI Bill payouts, should continue uninterrupted. With the exception of the new GI Bill claims, the VA says processing of claims for benefits with continue, but probably on a reduced schedule.

Will commissaries stay open during a government shutdown?

UPDATED April 7, 2011 3:46 p.m.

NAPLES, Italy — It was unclear Thursday whether base commissaries worldwide would remain open during a government shutdown.

Details of husband's death in paper rattle widow

WASHINGTON -- Katie Wade had heard the story of how her husband had been blown up in Afghanistan. She talked with his best friend, a fellow Marine who had been right ahead of Cpl. Chad Wade on patrol when he stepped on the roadside bomb.

But she hadn't shared any of those details. Despite her blog about her grief, which I recently wrote about, she had kept the story of his last moments close to the vest.

Home makeover show looking for military families

WASHINGTON – If you are a military family whose home is in dire need of repair and renovation, the ABC reality show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” wants to hear from you.

The show, which rehabs the homes of families dealing with hard times at no cost to the families, typically features between one and three military families per season, said senior producer Diane Korman.

Bill would ensure troops get paid if government shuts down

WASHINGTON – Troops would continue to get their paychecks and other benefits on time if the government shuts down, under a bill proposed Friday by a Texas lawmaker.

Congress has been unable to pass a budget for this fiscal year, so it has passed several short-term spending measures to continue funding the government at last year’s levels. The latest measure ends April 8. Lawmakers have three options: Agree on a budget by then, pass another temporary spending measure, or shut down the government.

Panel votes unanimously to retain openly gay sailor

WASHINGTON – A three-member panel voted unanimously late Thursday that the Navy not discharge an openly gay sailor under the not-yet-repealed “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

During the hearing at Lemore Naval Air Station in California, defense attorneys called four witnesses to testify to Petty Officer 2nd Class Derek Morado’s good conduct and character, according to the advocacy group GetEQUAL. The prosecution called none.

 
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