5 Things to Start Your Week: March 26, 2018

In this Aug. 16, 2017, photo, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin speaks during a press briefing in Bridgewater, N.J. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

 

1. SHULKIN ON THE OUTS?

Will he or won’t he be the next to go? Controversy has surrounded Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David Shulkin ever since a VA Inspector General last month found he had wrongly billed the government more than $4,000 on airfare for his wife on a trip to London and Denmark last summer.

The major veterans’ service organizations have so far supported Shulkin, saying he will stand up to the administration over efforts to privatize VA healthcare, which the VSOs oppose.

But now, days after the passage of a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that omitted funding for the VA Choice program, a confidant of President Donald Trump is saying Shulkin is not long for his post.

Shulkin, "is likely to depart the Cabinet very soon," Christopher Ruddy, a personal friend of Trump and CEO of Newsmax media, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week.”

Read more about Ruddy’s predictions regarding Trump appointees, including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

 

2. VETS JOIN GUN REFORM MARCH

The anti-gun violence rally March for Our Lives Saturday in Washington, D.C. started as an idea among students who survived a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida Feb. 14.

But a number of veterans have also picked up the torch, using their military and combat experience as a platform from which to argue for more aggressive restrictions on gun ownership.

While some veterans oppose any additional limits on firearm ownership, others joined the 300,000 marchers in Washington, D.C. and participated in sister rallies across the country.

One, Marine Corps veteran and Georgetown University student Cristine Pedersen, said the tragedy of veteran suicide made the issue personal to her.

"This issue of access to guns is really personal to veterans," Pedersen said. "The veteran suicide rate is really high ... a lot of it is about access to weapons."

Find out what other veterans said.

 

3. POLICY BANS MOST TRANS TROOPS

Ever since President Donald Trump announced his intent to ban transgender people from military service in a series of tweets last July, the military has been awaiting a final, enforceable policy.

The first step toward that new policy came late Friday night with a White House memo announcing that those with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria would not be allowed to serve, with some exceptions. The decision represents a backing off of the initial plan to ban all transgender troops and provides exemptions for some currently serving, but leaves many questions unanswered about the fate of others.

The memo cites recommendations from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, who argued that a gender dysphoria diagnosis coupled with “the unique, highly stressful circumstances of military training and combat operations” represented a bad combination.

Read more about Mattis’ recommendations.

 

4. AIR FORCE TANKER TROUBLE

The Air Force plans to field the new Boeing KC-46 Pegasus refueling tanker and phase out the aging KC-10 Extender. But ongoing glitches with the Pegasus are resulting in blown deadlines. Some worry that the KC-10 will need to be kept on past its planned retirement because of the new tanker’s problems.

The two “critical deficiencies” still facing the KC-46 are software problems with the Remote Vision System, which allows the refueling operator to view the refueling system, and a drogue hose that won’t stay connected to the receiving aircraft.

Eventually, the Air Force wants 300 KC-135 Stratotankers and 179 KC-46s. But the service doesn’t know when the aircraft will all be in place at the appropriate squadrons. Meanwhile, lawmakers are holding service leaders’ feet to the fire over program delays.

How sparks flew at a recent hearing.

 

5. NAVY’S CREW COUNT ERROR

The Navy just acknowledged a critical historical error: a clerical mix-up over the number of personnel aboard the Portland-class cruiser USS Indianapolis when it was torpedoed and sank in 1945.

A new report from Naval History and Heritage Command confirmed the number of survivors of the ship’s sinking was 316, but changed the count of personnel aboard the ship when it sunk. There were 1,195 people on the Indianapolis, not 1,196, the report found.

At the center of the confusion: Radio Technician Second Class Clarence William Donnor, a reservist from Big Rapids, Michigan, who was supposed to be aboard the Indianapolis but received orders to report to Fort Schuyler, New York before he embarked.

This was actually the second historical mix-up concerning the sinking of the Indianapolis. Read about the other one.

-- Stars and Stripes, Richard Sisk, Oriana Pawlyk and Sarah Blansett contributed to this report.

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