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1. North Korean launch draws international criticism, calls for UN action. Defiant as always, North Korea fired a long-range rocket Wednesday that flew over Japan and splashed down near the Philippines, drawing international scorn and raising worries about a new capability for a country that has persistently pursued nuclear weapons.
2. Lawmakers push new rules on weapons to address suicide risk. A bipartisan group of 36 lawmakers is pushing for new rules allowing military commanders and mental health specialists to ask unstable troops whether they own any personal firearms, in an effort to reduce military suicides.
3. No Medal of Honor upgrade for Peralta after Pentagon review. Defense officials have decided once again not to award the Medal of Honor to Sgt. Rafael Peralta, saying too much uncertainty exists to upgrade his combat commendations.
4. Senators seek answers on botched Air Force computer project. A $1 billion botched Air Force computer logistics modernization project has grabbed the attention of two high-ranking U.S. senators who say it appears to be “one of the most egregious examples of mismanagement in recent history.”
5. Widow of disabled vet fighting for tax-exemption status. Kathy Barnette learned quickly that it never hurts to ask. She was forced to ask the Department of Veterans Affairs repeatedly for help as the bills piled up after her husband, Dan, died in 2008.
6. Funeral scheduled for last of 28 wrongfully convicted in WWII riot. Roy Laine Montgomery carried a quiet hurt and shame with him for 68 years, ever since the World War II veteran’s country wrongly imprisoned him. He was one of 28 African-American soldiers falsely convicted in connection with the lynching of an Italian prisoner of war in 1944.
7. Lawmakers Assail Mexico, Obama Administration Over Jailed U.S. Marine Veteran. McClatchy “Florida’s senior U.S. senator Tuesday exhorted Mexico to release an imprisoned Marine Corps veteran of campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan who is being held in a Matamoros prison, declaring that ‘enough is enough’ Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said in a speech on the Senate floor that former Marine Lance Cpl. Jon Hammar ‘does not deserve the treatment’ that Mexico is giving the Miami native, including putting physical restraints on him.” AP “Jon Hammar and his friend were on their way to Costa Rica in August and planned to drive across the Mexican border near Matamoros in a Winnebago filled with surfboards and camping gear. Hammar, 27, asked U.S. border agents what to do with the unloaded shotgun, which his family said belonged to his great-grandfather. … But when the pair crossed the border and handed the paperwork to Mexican officials, they impounded the RV and jailed the men, saying it was illegal to carry that type of gun.”
8. History Of Wreaths Across America Program. CBS Evening News “From the Capitol to the White House tonight, the Washington area is all decked out in Christmas greenery. That includes the most sacred ground in America, and therein lies a tale told by Michelle Miller.” CBS (Miller) added, “Morrill Worcester has been running this wreath-making business in Columbia Falls, Maine, for 42 years. Back in 1992, Worcester had a surplus of wreaths and a great idea about what to do with them.” Morrill Worcester, business owner: “As a boy I won a trip to Washington and one of the things that I saw was Arlington National Cemetery and I just never forgot that. And then when I had those wreaths left over I said, geez, you know, it would be nice if I could maybe place them on the graves of the veterans.” Miller: “So Worcester headed to Arlington National Cemetery to lay 5,000 wreaths.” Worcester: “The first 14 years nobody really knew about it and it was a family gift to the military. I said we’ll always do that. And we always have.” Miller: “In 2006, a Pentagon photographer published a photo. Donations poured in and the nonprofit ‘Wreaths Across America’ was formed.”
9. Could VA Provide More Therapy?. Military Times “Congressional negotiators are weighing whether a Senate-passed proposal to make current service members and their families eligible for counseling at Vet Centers could end up hurting those who have already left the military. … VA is aggressively seeking to recruit 1,600 additional mental professionals by June, but that would barely cover the existing shortfall and might not be enough to handle a major increase in patients. Negotiators from the House and Senate armed services committees who are working to write a compromise version of the 2013 defense authorization bill are considering VA mental health capacity as they look at two Senate-passed proposals to expand VA coverage.”
10. Veteran Homelessness Drops Overall, But Advocates Worry About Post-9/11 Vets Living On The Streets. Huffington Post “Although a new federal report shows veteran homelessness has dropped, grassroots advocates say the number of young former service members living on the streets is on the rise. … ‘It used to be where a homeless vet was typically about 60 years old,’ Joe Leal, co-founder of Vet Hunters, a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans, told NBC. ‘Now, they’re 22 years old. And a lot of them are female veterans who have witnessed combat. They are coming back messed up. They are coming back homeless.'” The piece notes that “while some advocates, like Leal, are suspicious of the value of HUD’s figures on veteran homelessness, President Obama’s administration is confident about the effectiveness of its homeless services programs. ‘This report continues a trend that clearly indicates we are on the right track in the fight to end homelessness among Veterans,’ said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki, in a release.”
Have You Heard?
In early 2010, we launched the VA Innovation Initiative (VAi2) to bring fresh thinking to Departmental challenges. Since then, we have received over 18,000 ideas from our employees and nearly 800 submissions from the private sector and academia–all focused on improving the way in which we deliver care and benefits to Veterans. The VA Center for Innovation (VACI) is built upon the foundation begun by VAi2. The successful strategy that has led to 135 investments in innovative improvements to VA benefits and health care services now serves as the foundation for an exciting renewed commitment to innovating on behalf of Veterans.