TIME celebrities

Bradley Cooper Says American Sniper Role Was Life-Changing

Actor bulked up to play former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle

Actor Bradley Cooper says in a new interview with People that playing former Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in American Sniper was a life-changing experience.

Cooper, who has been visiting veterans nationwide, admits he has always respected military men and women but never fully realized the toll it can take on their families. He called playing Kyle “life-changing,” and says he’s gratified that people are responding well to the film.

“People were willing to express themselves in a format that they would never do normally,” Cooper adds. “But because they saw Chris’s story, they were willing to say, ‘Thank you for putting a guy I can relate to up there and have it be something right away that I know is accurate.'”

Read more at PEOPLE.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. We spent more than $170 billion on the wars they fought for us. Can we spend $5 billion to give veterans a guaranteed income?

By Gar Alperovitz in Al Jazeera America

2. A ‘teaching hospital’ model could work for journalism education by making students work collectively to produce professional results.

By Adam Ragusea at Neiman Lab

3. Humans are born with an intimate understanding of pitch, rhythm, and tone. We’re all musical geniuses.

By Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis in Aeon

4. WarkaWater Towers — which produce up to 25 gallons of water out of fog and dew every day — could change lives in drought-stricken countries.

By Liz Stinson in Wired

5. Private sector investment savvy and funds can help us tackle poverty’s toughest challenges. It’s time for impact investing.

By Anne Mosle in The Hill

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME sexism

Female Veteran Shamed For Parking in Veterans-Only Spot

Profile of United States Marine saluting
Getty Images

Nasty letter-writer assumed she wasn't a veteran

A female Air Force veteran parked in a veterans-only parking spot, and somebody wasn’t happy about it.

Mary Claire Caine of Wilmington, N.C., returned to her car after a trip to the grocery store and found this nasty note on her windshield: “Maybe [you] can’t read the sign you parked in front of … This space is reserved for those who fought for America … not you. Thanks, Wounded Vet.”

Actually, Caine was stationed in Kuwait and served on the flight line of the F-117 Nighthawk. She told WECT that her two kids always get excited whenever there’s a veteran-reserved parking space open at the supermarket.

Caine said she was shocked to find the note on her window. “For a split second I thought, ‘Am I a worthy enough veteran to park in this spot?’ And, then I got very angry at myself for even considering that,” she said.

“I think they took one look at me when I got out of my car and saw that I was a woman and assumed I wasn’t a veteran and assumed I hadn’t served my country,” Caine told WECT. “They have this image of what today’s American veteran is and honestly if you’ve served in the United States military, you know that veterans come in all shapes and sizes. I question whether the person who left the note was fully aware of that.”

“I want them to know they owe me and every other female service member who’s fighting now and who’s fought in the past, an apology for jumping to conclusions,” she said.

[WECT]

TIME Veterans

Killed in Action, Far From the Battlefield

Iraq Archive 2007
Iraq, 2007: Both a VA psychologist and the veteran who allegedly killed him served in Iraq that year. Benjamin Lowy / Getty Images

VA psychologist gunned down by Iraq war vet

If you check the latest toll at icasualties.org, 4,489 Americans died in the Iraq war. But a killing Tuesday at a Department of Veterans Affairs clinic in El Paso, Texas, should have pushed that figure to 4,490—one of many additional KIAs in the Iraq war that will never be added to its final tally.

KIA means “killed in action,” and might not seem to apply to the death of Timothy Fjordbak, 63, allegedly at the hand of Jerry Serrato, 48, on the fourth floor of the El Paso clinic at Fort Bliss.

But, unfortunately, it does.

Serrato, 48, had served in Iraq for several months in 2007. He was discharged from the Army in 2009 for undisclosed physical reasons. He worked for a short time at the clinic in 2013, where Fjordbak, 63, was the chief psychologist.

A former employee at the clinic has told the Washington Post that Serrato was upset that the clinic had found his claim of post-traumatic stress disorder unwarranted.

“Although we do not know all the details, what we know of the case suggests anger at the VA for denial of benefits,” says Elspeth Ritchie, who served as the Army’s top psychiatrist before retiring in 2010. “Unfortunately, the scenario of angry patients killing their doctors is way too common, both in and out of the military.”

In October, 2013, Serrato allegedly threatened Fjordbak at a grocery store after Fjordbak didn’t recognize him, the FBI said following the murder. “It was a verbal threat —real or not—his (Serrato’s) perception was some wrong had been committed against him,” bureau agent Douglas Lindquist said.

“I know what you did,” Lindquist quoted Serrato telling Fjordbak, “and I will take care of it.” Fjordbak reported what he perceived to be a threat to local police.

Mid-afternoon Tuesday, Serrato went to the top floor of the four-story clinic and killed Fjordbak with a .380-caliber handgun.

Dr. Timothy Fjordbak VA

Fjordbak left a private practice after 9/11 because he wanted to help veterans, officials said. He had served in Iraq for several months in 2007, just as Serrato did. There was no known doctor-patient or workplace relationship between the two men.

Fjordbak was lauded by troops he had treated, as well as colleagues and friends. “His main thing was that he could differentiate between symptoms of PTSD and traumatic brain injury,” Michael Rushton, a U.S. Air Force veteran treated by Fjordbak in November, told the El Paso Times. “It was a five-hour appointment and it was a very comprehensive series of tests. He was amazing and an excellent guy.”

The tragic case highlights the fog that is PTSD. Few PTSD sufferers are violent, and it’s challenging to attribute specific acts to the malady. “Although PTSD is associated with an increased risk of violence, the majority of veterans and non-veterans with PTSD have never engaged in violence,” according to the National Center for PTSD.

Was Serrato mentally ill? Angry over how the VA handled his case? Suffering from PTSD? Or some combination of those factors?

Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff's Office
Jerry Serotta, following a 1997 drunk-driving arrest Victoria County, Tex., Sheriff’s Office

We’ll probably never know. After killing the psychologist, Serrato went into a restroom on the clinic’s third floor and killed himself.

Better up that toll to 4,491.

TIME Veterans

Rising VA Disability Payments Linked to Veteran Unemployment

Last US Military Convoy Departs Iraq
A U.S. soldier waves as the final American convoy pulls out of Iraq in 2011 at the end of the second Iraq war. Mario Tama / Getty Images

Stanford study suggests a seesaw relationship between the two

Unemployment persists among military veterans as a sharply growing number of them are receiving disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a new study by a Stanford economist. The steep increase in such payments, Mark Duggan suggests, could be acting as a brake on their employment prospects.

Veterans receiving disability compensation from the VA rose from 8.9% in 2001 to 18% this year, Duggan’s study says. Even as the number of veterans shrank from 26.1 million in 2001 to 22 million this year, those receiving federal money for wounds linked to military service have climbed from 2.3 million to 3.9 million.

 

Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research

“The substantial rise in Disability Compensation enrollment in recent years suggests that this program may be affecting labor market outcomes for military veterans,” Duggan writes. He cites two possible reasons:

— It can reduce a veteran’s “propensity to work because—with the additional income—he may now prefer additional leisure to work.”

— Additional work may also “prevent a veteran from qualifying for a higher level of Disability Compensation benefits—and thus increase the effective tax rate on work.”

The jobless rate among post-9/11 vets was 7.2% in October, compared to the nation’s 5.8% rate—and a 4.5% rate among all veterans.

The study “is important because it shows how the good intentions of the disability system can sabotage the well-being of veterans,” says Sally Satel, a one-time VA psychiatrist who now works at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank. But the report, she adds, could boomerang: “Talking about reforming the veterans’ disability system is a third-rail topic because, on superficial glance, it appears as if reformers want to deny veterans help.”

But Satel, a reform advocate, denies that. “Reformers urge that assistance be given in the most constructive way possible,” she says. “This means that the VA should go all-out in terms of treatment and rehabilitation, to maximize entry into the workforce and minimize exit from it.”

Some vets believe the report misses the point. Repeated deployments and the lack of a formal, uniformed and organized enemy, ground down the Americans who fought the post-9/11 wars, says Alex Lemons, a Marine sergeant who pulled three tours in Iraq, “A number of my friends were blown into many pieces and they never quite reassembled them,” he says. “You might look at this person and think they look fine despite scars, but then you find out they can’t stand for more than an hour a day, they have shrapnel that works its way out of their dermis and have to pry it out, they are near deaf without hearing aids, or they can’t pick up things as a result of nerve damage in a hand. It means they will never be qualified for many jobs.”

Lemons says it’s good that troops are coming forward seeking help for post-traumatic stress disorder, which has gone from the 10th most-common condition among vets on disability in 2000, to third in 2013. “In my infantry battalion the number of Marines who are on PTSD disability is not more than 35%,” he says, “even though I believe everyone who deployed with us has it.”

The average monthly disability payment grew 46%—from $747 to $1,094—between 2001 and 2013, Duggan reports. While that’s not much per veteran, the nation paid out a total of $54 billion in such benefits in 2013.

Congressional Budget Office

Not only are more veterans receiving disability compensation, Duggan’s report says, but they’re receiving more than earlier veterans did. That’s because the VA has ruled that the impact of their military service on their health is greater than for earlier generations of vets. Disability payments are pegged to a VA-determined rating, which is expressed in 10 percentage-point increments. Between 2001 and 2013, the number of vets deemed 10% disabled—generating an average monthly payment of $131 last year—dropped by 1%. Over the same period, the more than 800,000 vets rated 80% or more disabled—receiving an average monthly payment of $2,700—rose by 221%.

Military service also may have “become more demanding over time,” accounting for less veteran participating in the labor force, Duggan’s report says. “Consistent with this explanation,” he adds, “veterans have become more likely than non-veteran males to report that their health is poor or just fair rather than excellent, very good, or good.”

Elspeth Ritchie, a retired colonel who served as the Army’s top psychiatrist before retiring in 2010, believes the report slights what troops experienced in the nation’s post-9/11 wars. “It does not seem to factor in the high rate of physical injuries, traumatic brain injury and PTSD in the veterans from these conflicts,” she says.

Since turning its back on its veterans following the unpopular war in Vietnam, American society has sung the praises of its veterans, and has been footing the bills for those hurt to prove it. “Spending on veterans’ disability benefits has almost tripled since fiscal year 2000, from $20 billion in 2000 to $54 billion in 2013—an average annual increase of nearly 8%, after adjusting for inflation,” the Congressional Budget Office reported in August. “VA projects that such spending will total $60 billion in 2014 and $64 billion in 2015, a 19% increase from two years earlier.”

Duggan reports that a “key driver” in the growth of such benefits has been the VA’s decision to make veterans who served in southeast Asia during the Vietnam war eligible for benefits if they have Type 2 diabetes, ischemic heart disease, Parkinson’s disease, or B-cell leukemia. The agency took the action when it decided to “presume” the ailments were linked to military service in the theater and possible exposure there to the defoliant Agent Orange.

Today’s veterans, the study says, are more likely than their fathers to seek and gain VA disability benefits. Nearly one in four vets since 1990 are being compensated, compared to one in seven veterans prior to 1990. “This higher rate of enrollment may be primarily driven by the VA’s approval of presumptive conditions for Gulf War veterans who served in the Southwest Asia theater from 1990 to the present (including Iraq and Afghanistan),” Duggan found.

 

Congressional Budget Office

He also reports that while veterans between 1980 and 1999 were more like to be employed than non-veterans, that has flipped since 2000. “This significant reduction in labor force participation among veterans,” he adds, “closely coincides with their increase in Disability Compensation enrollment during this same period.”

Duggan notes that a 2010 change in VA regulations no longer required veterans with a diagnosis of PTSD to document their exposure to wartime trauma such as firefights or IED blasts. The number of veterans being compensated for PTSD rose from 133,789 in 2000 to 648,992 last year. “The percentage of all veterans on the Disability Compensation program with a diagnosis of PTSD has increased by a factor of six during this period,” Duggan writes, “from 0.5% in 2000 to 3.0% in 2013.”

The jump doesn’t surprise William Treseder, who deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine sergeant. “Many post-9/11 vets can tell you stories about the inflation of VA claims,” he says. “We are often told to file for certain conditions—especially post-traumatic stress—whether or not we think it’s actually an issue. It’s the chicken-soup principle in action: can’t hurt; might help.”

Like Duggan, Treseder believes more study is needed examining the impact of disability payments on veterans. “This is much-needed research,” he says. “I’m glad to see someone out there looking into this.”

TIME Veterans

Army Says Captains Can Now Retire With Full Benefits

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel Travels To Mideast
U.S. troops listen to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel speak during a visit to Baghdad International Airport on Dec. 9, 2014, in Baghdad Mark Wilson—Getty Images

The officers were initially forced to retire with the benefits associated with sergeants

A change in U.S. Army policy this week means that captains being forced into retirement will be granted the full benefits associated with their ranks, instead of retiring with the benefits granted to sergeants as they initially would have had to.

Lawmakers who advocated for the added benefits said the policy change would give 120 soldiers an additional $1 million each over their lifetimes, the New York Times reported.

Since the officers served as captains for less than the required eight years for full benefits, they had been told they would be given benefits consummate with their previous enlisted rank.

“We fought and sacrificed and did well,” said Captain Tawanna Jamison, who is based at Fort Bragg, N.C. “This change restores honor and treats us right.”

The Army also notified 44 officers less than two years away from reaching the 20-year tenure required to receive full benefits that they would be allowed to keep their jobs instead of being forced to retire.

[NYT]

TIME Military

Obama Announces Ash Carter as Next Defense Secretary

FILE: Ashton Carter Expected To Be Nominated For U.S. Defense Secretary
President Obama is expected to tap the veteran Pentagon official to replace Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who was eased out by a White House unhappy with his low-key style. Carter was the second-in-command at the Pentagon from 2011 to 2013 before he returned to academia and foundation work. Alex Wong—Getty Images

Former Secretary Chuck Hagel declined to attend the ceremony

President Barack Obama announced his intent to nominate Ashton Carter as his next Secretary of Defense Friday, to replace current Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel, who resigned last month under pressure from the White House.

Obama praised Carter, the former Pentagon No. 2 under Hagel and a respected technocrat, in a small Roosevelt Room ceremony, before an audience of administration officials and selected lawmakers, saying Carter “brings a unique blend of strategic perspective and technical knowhow.”

“With a record of service that has spanned more than 30 years as a public servant, as an adviser, as a scholar, Ash is rightly regarded as one of our nation’s foremost national security leaders,” Obama said.

In a brief statement, Carter thanked Obama for the nomination and promised to provide candid advice and to ensure that military commanders can do the same. “If confirmed, I pledge to you my most candid, strategic advice, and I pledge to you you will receive equally candid military advice,” he said.

In an awkward turn, Hagel, who was scheduled to attend the announcement, backed out of the ceremony Friday morning, leaving Obama to quote Hagel’s praise of Carter from a year ago when he resigned as Deputy Secretary.

“Secretary Hagel will not attend today’s ceremony at the White House,” a defense official said in a statement. “The Secretary believes strongly that this day belongs to Ash Carter and his nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense … The Secretary is proud of Ash and of their friendship and does not want in any way to detract from or distract the proper focus of the day.”

Obama closed with a call on the Senate to swiftly confirm Carter to the post.

TIME Military

Military’s War on Sexual Assault Proves Slow Going

Soldiers march in the annual Veteran's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue on Nov. 11, 2014 in New York City.
Soldiers march in the annual Veteran's Day Parade along Fifth Avenue on Nov. 11, 2014 in New York City. Spencer Platt—Getty Images

But latest Pentagon survey shows some signs of progress

Just like the Pentagon’s recent real-world wars, its latest dispatch from the front in the battle against sexual assault contains both good and bad news.

There are enough numbers crammed into the document that military boosters can hail the progress that has been made, while critics can claim the Defense Department still isn’t doing enough.

“There have been indications of real progress,” Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said as he released the report Thursday afternoon, but “we still have a long way to go.”

According to that latest accounting, the bad news is that reported assaults continue to rise—from 3,604 in 2012, to 5,518 last year, and to 5,983 in 2014 (the report charts fiscal years, which end Sept. 30). That’s an 8% jump in the past year.

The good news, the 1,136-page report says, is that reforms in handling sexual assault have encouraged more victims to come forward and not cower in secret. The study estimates that while only 10% of alleged victims came forward in 2012, 25% did in 2014. The number of active-duty women complaining about unwanted sexual contract dropped from about 6.1% last year to 4.3% in 2014 (for men, the number fell from 1.2% to 0.9%).

DoD

An anonymous Rand Corp. survey of military personnel projected that approximately 19,000 had been subject to unwanted sexual contact in 2014 (55% of them male), 27% less than the 26,000 estimated in 2012. It was that spike—up from 19,300 in 2010—that focused attention on the problem and led to a host of changes into how the military investigates and prosecutes alleged sexual assaults.

Commanders are no longer free to reverse court-martial convictions, and each alleged victim is assigned a lawyer. When a commander and prosecutor disagree over whether a court martial is warranted, civilians are called in to review such cases. Statutes of limitations on such crimes have been scrapped. Anyone convicted of sexual assault in the U.S. military gets at least a dishonorable discharge.

But the tribal nature of military service persists: 62% of the women alleging unwanted sexual contact felt they had been shunned or punished for complaining. “The Department was unable to identify clear progress in the area of perceived victim retaliation,” the study said. “The news is a mixed bag,” says Elspeth Ritchie, a retired Army colonel who dealt with the issue as a military psychiatrist. “The numbers persist despite all the public education campaigns.” Reducing retaliation “is the key to further progress,” she adds. “It is very frustrating that so little progress has been made.”

The Pentagon has spent decades trying to rid its ranks of sexual predators—and encouraging victims to come forward—but progress has been slow. “An estimate of 20,000 cases of sexual assault and unwanted sexual contact a year in our military, or 55 cases a day, is appalling,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said. “There is no other mission in the world for our military where this much failure would be allowed.” Gillibrand plans to renew her push to take prosecution of such cases away from the alleged perpetrator’s commanders and give it to a corps of independent military lawyers.

“It is unfair to the commanders to put them in this position,” said Don Christensen, who recently retired as a top Air Force prosecutor. “It is a system set up for failure.”

The Pentagon ranks different kinds of sexual offenses. DoD

Dealing with sex among young men and women—especially when there is a commander-commanded relationship, and liquor, or other such substances, are involved—is difficult under the best of conditions. And the military lacks the best of conditions, given its stresses, its work-hard, play-hard ethos, and the fact that the service attracts its fair share of dolts (like the sailor, according to a report Wednesday, who allegedly filmed female officers showering aboard their shared submarine).

As women have become an increasing share of the U.S. military—they now account for 15 of every 100 Americans in uniform—the service’s macho culture hasn’t kept pace. “Sexual harassment stems from certain widespread cultural attitudes that have been prevalent through the ages,” a 1993 Army report said. “Women have lived under male protection–benevolent or otherwise–thereby being forced to live by the rules of men who dominate them.”

That’s slowly changing, with the emphasis on slowly.

 

TIME Veterans

Vietnam War Veteran’s Remains Returned to Family After 47 Years

US-VETERANS-DAY
The shadow of a member of the US Army appears on the wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC on Nov. 10, 2014. Saul Loeb—AFP/Getty Images

Staff Sgt. James L. Van Bendegom had been missing since his patrol was overrun in 1967

The remains of a fallen Vietnam War veteran who disappeared near the Cambodian border 47 years ago have finally been returned to his family, according to the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia.

In mid-July 1967, James L. Van Bendegom was captured after his patrol was ambushed and overrun by enemy forces while deep in hostile terrain. The 19-year-old staff sergeant reportedly died of his wounds in captivity.

Almost two decades later, a Vietnamese national in a refugee camp in Thailand provided U.S. authorities with the remains of an American service member; however, officials were unable to establish the identity of the soldier based on the evidence provided.

“Thanks to advances in technology, the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command (JPAC) re-examined the remains and determined that there was a possibility for identification,” read a statement released by the U.S. mission in Phnom Penh on Friday. “The remains were then identified as belonging to Staff Sgt. Van Bendegom.”

Bendegom’s remains were returned to his family earlier this month and the solider was finally laid to rest with full military honors on Nov. 11, 2014 in Kenosha, Wis.

To date, there are still 1,639 American service members from the Vietnam War who remain unaccounted for.

TIME Military

3 People Who Could Replace Chuck Hagel

All have been considered before and passed over

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced his resignation after less than two-years on the job Monday after President Barack Obama asked for him to step-aside amid repeated disagreements and missteps.

According to administration officials, three contenders are at the top of the short-list to replace Hagel: Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed, and former DOD officials Michele Flournoy and Ashton Carter. All have been considered and passed over for the post before.

A senior administration official said Obama would name a replacement to Hagel “in short order,” with Hagel remaining in the post until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate. Current and former officials said Obama will look both for someone who can avoid the communications troubles that plagued Hagel, as well as who is more adept to manage newly emerging threats like the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria.

Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska who broke with his party on foreign policy issues, faced tough opposition from hawkish Republicans and some Democrats during his confirmation battle over concerns that he wasn’t supportive enough of Israel, and that was with a Democrat-controlled Senate.

Hagel’s performance during his confirmation hearing was resoundingly panned. Republicans will control the Senate beginning in January when the new Congress is sworn-in, further complicating Obama’s decision. With the extension of the Iran nuclear talks, one Republican Senate aide said the next Pentagon chief’s confirmation hearings are likely to become a proxy for concerns in both parties about the Iran negotiations.

A look at the short-list:

Rhode Island Sen. Jack Reed: Like Hagel, Reed was one of 23 Senators to vote against the Iraq War Resolution in 2002. A longtime member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he has been considered for the Secretary of Defense position by Obama before, but has repeatedly stated he would rather be a Senator. With the retirement of Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Reed is now in line to be the Ranking Member of the committee when the GOP-controlled Senate is sworn in next year. As a senator, he would likely face a smoother confirmation process than the others on the short-list, that is if he wants the job. A Reed spokesman said Monday morning that he’s not interested.

Michele Flournoy: The former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, the number-three position at the Department of Defense, Flournoy was a top aide to former Secretaries Robert Gates and Leon Panetta before leaving the Pentagon in February 2012. Widely respected on both sides of the aisle, she is a founder of the center-left Center for a New American Security. Flournoy would be the first woman in the post, a historic element that some Obama administration insiders say would be appealing to the president. She also comes as a veteran of both Obama campaigns, and maintains close ties to the White House.

Ashton Carter: The former Deputy Secretary of Defense from October 2011 to December 2013, Carter was responsible for the day-to-day management of the department. During the Clinton administration he served as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy. Carter’s supervision of the department during a period of budget cuts earned accolades from both sides of the aisle when he stepped down last year. Like Flournoy, he was on the short-list of contenders to replace Panetta in 2012.

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