By Rick Rogers
* The man responsible for tracking billions in U.S. taxpayer money spent on projects in Afghanistan claims he’s under pressure to keep silent about fraud, waste and abuse he turns up.
John Sopko, the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said American officials have also told him to stop running audits that expose fraud, waste and abuse.
* A non-profit organization is searching the nation’s funeral homes to find the unclaimed remains of veterans in order to give them a fitting burial.
Since 2006 the Missing In America Project has discovered the ashes of more than 2,000 veterans — including six from the Civil War – left unclaimed.
* Veterans applauded when President Obama signed a bill in January creating a registry to follow the health outcomes of troops exposed to burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Problem is the Veterans Affairs Department has not budgeted money to fund one.
Some troops blame the burn pits for medical problems ranging from shortness of breath to lung diseases and tumors.
* The claims backlog at the Veterans Affairs Department is nine months long. But the appeals backlog is much longer. So long in fact that 500 vets will die this year waiting for their cases to be reexamined, according to Pittsburgh newspaper.
* One expensive shipping bill. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan more than a dozen years ago on the cheap by using lightly armed forces.
But getting its equipment home will be anything but.
The United States faces a $7 billion bill to retrieve its hardware.
* More controversy surrounding sexual assaults in the ranks.
Now military recruiters are under scrutiny after scandals nationwide.
Though no military-wide figures were unavailable, the Army alone has averaged 65 confirmed sexual misconduct cases by its recruiters for each of the last five years.
* The Department of Veterans Affairs is under fire by some on Congress for not buying equipment to treat veterans. Critics fault the VA for sitting on more $765 million in budgeted funds.
A VA spokesman said the agency just wants to ensure the money is properly spent.
* An officer accused of failing to stop Marines from urinating on dead Taliban fighters in July 2011 is headed to a court-martial.
Capt. James V. Clement faces charges of dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming an officer. No court date was set.
* Revised Defense Department furloughs are reportedly coming soon.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the cost-savings measure would kick in this summer and affect more than 90 percent of the Pentagon’s 750,000 civilian workforce.
Employees can expect to lose a day’s pay each week through the end of the fiscal year, Sept. 30.
* Seven years ago Congress bowed to military and public pressure by capping the interest rate that payday lenders could charge troops.
Now some of these lenders have found ways to legally charge more than 400 percent interest, according to a story by ProPublica and Marketplace.
* Fed up with waiting for the Pentagon to get its house in order, three bills aimed at combating military sexual assaults are making their way through Congress.
The measures range from giving alleged victims their own lawyers to stopping commanders from overturning court-martial convictions.
* A rapid-reaction force of Marines recently moved to Italy is poised to help evacuate Americans from strife-torn Libya if called upon, according to a story in Stars & Stripes.
* Two men from Minneapolis are headed to prison for running what federal prosecutors called a terrorist “pipeline” that sent about 20 young men from the United States to Somalia to fight in the civil war there.
Muhamud Said Omar and Kamal Said Hassan were sentenced to 20 and 10 years respectively.
A handful of other Somali-Americans were also punished for aiding terrorism in a foreign land.
* The Veteran Affairs Department has ordered its workers to put in overtime this summer to beat back the rising tide of veterans claims.
The number of backlogged cases now stands at about 570,000. The average veteran has to wait nearly nine months for a decision.
At least 20 hours mandatory overtime each month will be enforced until the end of the fiscal year.
Rick Rogers is an Army veteran and Northwestern University graduate who’s covered military and defense issues for nearly 30 years. Read more of his stuff by clicking here.
Rick Rogers is a defense reporter based in San Diego.