Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Shinseki: VA Task Force Improves Care of Women Vets

By Karen Parrish
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2011 – The newly formed VA Task Force on Women Veterans will go a long way in addressing key benefits gaps to female veterans, according to Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki.

While support for women veterans has improved, “it has not been enough,” Shinseki said during the 2011 National Training Summit on Women Veterans held here on July 16.

The task force’s “near-term mission,” he said, is to develop - in coordination with VA's Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, and in conjunction with the Defense Department - a comprehensive VA action plan that will focus on key issues facing women veterans and the specific actions needed to resolve them.

Those issues include obstetric and gynecological care, childcare, military sexual trauma, homelessness, aging and end-of-life issues, among others, the secretary said.

A draft of the plan is due to Shinseki on Jan. 1 and “will set our course for the next four years in everything we do, from planning to programming, to budgeting, to education and training,” he said.

The action plan will update and inform VA’s approach to women’s issues within its health care, benefits, and cemetery administrations, as well as the Women's Advisory Report to Congress, due next July, the secretary said.

“Other changes are in the pipeline, such as our pilot program to provide child care services,” he said.

Beginning this summer, Shinseki said, three new drop-in child care pilot programs for women veterans with VA appointments will open in Northport, N.Y., Buffalo, N.Y., and Tacoma, Wash.

Battlefield changes, such as increasingly blurred front lines, has increased VA’s attention on women veterans, Shinseki said.

Last month, a 20-year-old Army military policewoman, Spc. Devin Snyder, became the 28th female service member to die in Afghanistan when her convoy was attacked on a highway in eastern Laghman province, Shinseki said.

“Wars, with no clear front lines, put soldiers - all soldiers- at risk as never before, blurring the boundaries between combat and other than combat roles,” he said.

In recent years, VA has developed women's primary care programs at their health care facilities across the nation, and has hired program managers and coordinators to manage care for women veterans, the secretary said.

The department also has accelerated its women's health research in biomedical, clinical sciences, rehabilitation, and health services, he said.

Most recently, Shinseki said, the VA launched a women veterans call-in center to directly solicit input into ways the department can improve its services.

“I want women veterans and women serving in uniform … to see and know that VA is committed to fulfilling [their] needs,” he said.

First Lady Plans ‘Joining Forces’ Events

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2011 – First Lady Michelle Obama will take part in three events over the next several days to promote “Joining Forces,” a national initiative that mobilizes all sectors of American society to support service members and their families.

The first lady and Dr. Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, have made numerous appearances to widen the program’s reach.

“This campaign is about all of us -- all of us joining together as Americans to give back to the extraordinary military families who serve and sacrifice so much every day so we can live in freedom and security,” Obama said during an event earlier this year.

At another event, Dr. Biden echoed the sentiment. “The first lady and I are spreading the word to all Americans that everyone can play a part in making our military families feel appreciated and supported,” she said.

On July 21, Obama will visit Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach, Va., to tour the youth program’s summer camp. As part of the Joining Forces Movie Series -- in which major movie studios including Warner Brothers, Disney, Universal and Fox are hosting special movie screenings for military families -- the first lady will welcome hundreds of local military families to a special screening of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.” President Barack Obama kicked off the Joining Forces Movie Series last month with a screening of Disney’s Cars 2 at the White House.

The same day, Obama will travel to Fayetteville, N.C., to participate in an “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” episode featuring the Marshalls, a military family. Barbara Marshall is a 15-year Navy veteran who is working to end homelessness among female veterans.

Marshall created The Steps-N-Stages Jubilee House, which provides homeless female veterans with housing and support services. The first lady and the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” team will help to build a new Jubilee House that can serve multiple families and act as a resource center for female veterans.

On July 24 in Manchester, N.H., the first lady and Dr. Biden will host a Joining Forces event for National Guard and Reserve families in the early evening. Earlier in the day, Dr. Biden will visit the Portsmouth area to meet with New Hampshire National Guard family support providers and attend a local military families appreciation event.

Obama has noted that she and Dr. Biden aren’t alone as they champion the Joining Forces program. The federal government, businesses and nonprofit organizations, and the entertainment and sports industries also are helping to ensure military families receive the support they need.

“Jill and I believe that everyone -- everyone -- can do something, even boys and girls,” the first lady said. “Everyone can do something to support a military family. And everyone can ask themselves, ‘What can I do? How can I give back?’”

Wounded Warriors Attend USOC Paralympic Military Sports Camp

By Lisa Rama, Naval Station Newport Public Affairs Officer

NEWPORT, R.I. (NNS) -- The third annual U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) Paralympic Military Sports Camp was conducted July 16-18 at Naval Station Newport.

The sports camp for injured service men and women, including Afghanistan and Iraq veterans, was run by the USOC Paralympic Military Program. The three-day event started with an introduction to the program aimed at assisting injured military men and women to reintegrate into sports.

"These men and women are used to being active. What we want to do is remind them that even though they have been injured, the opportunities to remain active still exist. They can still participate in sports they enjoy and there are programs out there to help them," said Roger Neppl, director of military programs for the USOC's Paralympic Division.

Naval Station Newport, with the help of more than 100 volunteers from commands throughout the installation, supported USOC staff and coaches with the events. They included archery, track and field, seated volleyball, swimming, rowing, biathlon, strength and conditioning and shooting.

This year's camp consisted of 59 participants. Thirty-nine were U.S. Army; 16 were U.S. Marines Corps; 3 were U.S. Air Force and one individual was a U.S. Navy Veteran. Some of the participants are still assigned to Wounded Warrior transition units while others have left the service and continue their rehabilitation and adjustment on their own. Lance Cpl. Matias Ferreira, 22, lost both legs below the knee in Afghanistan in January. He attended the camp on two prosthetic legs and participated in every event.

"We are honored to host this event again this year. These athletes are all part of our military family and it's inspiring to watch these young warriors overcome adversity, particularly for the Navy's future leaders, that are being trained here. Watching these athletes develop and grow, over a few short days, is truly awe-inspiring," said Capt. Joe Voboril, commanding officer, Naval Station Newport.

U.S. Paralympics is a division of the USOC and is dedicated to becoming the world leader in the paralympic sports movement and promoting excellence in the lives of persons with physical disabilities.

George H.W. Bush Departs Bahrain, Returns to Sea

By Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jessica Echerri, USS George H.W. Bush Public Affairs

USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH, At Sea (NNS) -- George H.W. Bush Carrier Strike Group (GHWB CSG) resumed underway operations July 14, after completing a four-day port visit to the Kingdom of Bahrain.

Sailors participated in recreational and cultural tours sponsored by the ship's Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) program and volunteered in four community relation (COMREL) projects.

More than 750 Sailors purchased tickets for discounted tours offered by MWR. Sailors experienced the cultural side of Bahrain, with food tastings and a tour of the Grand Mosque, as well as the recreational side while swimming with dolphins, fishing, golfing and going to a local water park. MWR subsidized more than 30 percent of the costs of the tours.

"The water park tour was a great way to stay cool in the heat," said Damage Controlman 3rd Class Laron Cooke. "Everyone got together after riding the slides to play water volleyball. It was a blast."

Additionally, Naval Support Activity (NSA) Bahrain offered Sailors the use of their sports facilities and MWR set up basketball, softball and flag football tournaments aboard the base.

"Playing pick up games of basketball with fellow Sailors was exciting and enjoyable," said Electrician's Mate 2nd Class Fernando Landeros.

The ship's Command Religious Ministries Department organized several COMRELs during the port visit.

The Sailors played a soccer match with a local Bahraini soccer team, tutored children in English, math and art at the Regional Institute for Active Learning and visited with residents of a local women's shelter.

"It's important to give back to the community, no matter what community you're in," said Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Kendrah Agostini, who participated in a COMREL at the women's shelter. "It's rewarding to take some of our limited liberty time and give to a good cause."

This was the fourth scheduled port visit for George H.W. Bush, which entered the 5th Fleet area of responsibility June 18.

George H.W. Bush Strike Group is made up of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2, aircraft-carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77), Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 22 staff, guided-missile cruisers USS Gettysburg (CG 64) and USS Anzio (CG 68) and guided-missile destroyers USS Mitscher (DDG 57) and USS Truxtun (DDG 103).

Service Members Offer Assistance to San Diego-Area Homeless Veterans

By Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Dominique Pineiro
Navy Public Affairs Support Element West

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- Sailors from the San Diego area and other active duty and retired service members lent a helping hand to San Diego's homeless veteran population July 15-17 during the Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) Stand Down 2011.

The annual three-day event was held in a tent city erected by active duty military volunteers at San Diego High School's athletic field.

The VVSD Stand Down offered more than 1,000 homeless veterans with free services such as health/dental care, substance abuse counseling, legal and employment assistance and food and clothing distribution.

"This program helps people get on track, because there are so many (homeless veterans) who are helpless and hopeless," said Gary Cash, a homeless Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War with the 359th Transportation Company. "I see the vets that are being taken care of here that can't really be taken care of anywhere else. It's overwhelming, I really feel comfortable here."

Cash also expressed his gratitude towards active duty service members volunteering their time on the weekend.

"It's important that they're out here because it makes me feel like I'm part of a community again," he said. "I can also give them insight on what happens after you leave the military and tell them how they should get their (affairs) together or they can end out on the street."

Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Bill Paxton has attended the event for the past 24 years and said the services provided at the VVSD Stand Down give homeless veterans the opportunity to "feel like a human being again."

"They get fed, showered, a place to sleep, and can even get haircuts," he said. "They need to be appreciated for the service they've done. The purpose of Stand Down is to stand up and help them get that motivation they had when they were back in the military."

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 1st Class Andre Hardin, assigned to USS Peleliu (LHA 5), volunteered his time folding clothing to be donated to the veterans.

"They've given their service and now it's time to serve them," said Hardin. "I'm just trying to help the veterans get on their feet, it's nice to let them know there are people out there to let them know they're not forgotten."

VVSD organized the nation's first Stand Down in 1988. Since then, the program has been widely replicated nationwide. Today, more than 200 Stand Downs take place across the country every year.

Carter Updates Industrial Leaders on ‘Better Buying Power’

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 19, 2011 – The official who leads the Pentagon’s plan to ensure better value to taxpayers and warfighters from the Defense Department’s budget provided an update on progress to industrial leaders yesterday.

Ten months after introducing the 23-point “Better Buying Power” initiative, Ashton B. Carter, undersecretary of defense for acquisitions, technology and logistics, spoke to the National Defense Industrial Association about progress made toward maximizing every dollar spent.

The initiative is built on targeting affordability, rewarding productivity, promoting competition, improving tradecraft and reducing bureaucracy to get the most out of each Defense Department budget dollar.

“For every 30 cents we spend to develop and acquire a defense system, we spend 70 cents to sustain them, resulting in a $100 million annual maintenance budget,” he said. “For every 45 cents we spend on goods, weapons systems and things, we spend 55 cents on services, for a total of $200 million.”

The point, he added, is that Pentagon officials need to take a comprehensive look at spending, including things that can become options in meeting President Barack Obama’s mandate to save money while keeping national security in mind.

“President Obama’s planned defense budgets are robust,” he said. “They’re strong and will stay so. We are, after all, involved in two major ongoing conflicts [and] operations in Libya, and the world is still a dangerous place.”

But Obama, Pentagon leadership and Congress also have made it clear that the national security budget -- which includes the defense budget and totals about 20 percent of the total federal budget -- must be a part of the overall purchase equation over the next dozen years, Carter told the group.

“President Obama specifically [wants] over $400 million in reductions over the next 12 years,” he said. “To assess how to accomplish the task the president has laid out, the department has undertaken a comprehensive review of the impact of such reductions, … and that review is ongoing.”

The way government and industrial leaders think must change, Carter said.

“This new era will require a different mindset for our government and industry managers -- you and us -- and their congressional overseers,” Carter told the industry leaders.

“[We are] a generation who has grown accustomed over the post-9/11 decade to circumstances in which we could always reach for more money when we encountered managerial or technical problems or a difficult choice,” he said. “Those days are gone.”

And it’s not simply a matter of cutting from our current plans and activities, he noted.

“Cutting capability and adjusting strategy might be necessary, but they are where we should go only after examining all the options,” he said. “The president, secretary of defense and the taxpayer are going to expect us to make every dollar we do get count. … This is something the country should expect no matter what size the defense budget is.”

The Better Buying Power initiative is a response to that challenge, Carter said.

“People ask me, ‘Well, can you succeed at this?’” he said. “I think we can. … We have a very clear roadmap [and] clear and reasonable objectives coming from taxpayers, warfighters and our leadership. We also have the staunch support of the president, secretary of defense and Congress.”

Carter’s final message to the industrial leaders was that the Defense Department needs the capabilities they can provide, but also needs them to be affordable.

“Whatever you’re doing for us, make it possible for us to continue to afford it,” he said. “Together, let’s bend so we don’t need to break our programs and activities, … and this way, I’m sure we can succeed.”

Today in the Department of Defense, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta has no public or media events on his schedule.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn delivers remarks at 10 a.m. EDT at the Air Force and Army Energy Forum at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, Arlington, Va.