TIME Military

Survivors Gather to Remember Pearl Harbor Attack

Remembrance Ceremony Held To Mark 73rd Anniversary Of Attack On Pearl Harbor
U.S.S. Arizona survivor Louis Conter salutes the remembrance wall of the U.S.S. Arizona during a memorial service for the 73rd anniversary of the attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl harbor on Dec. 07, 2014 in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Kent Nishimura—Getty Images

For many of the roughly 2,000 survivors who remain, there are still painful memories

(PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii) — Many of the veterans who survived the Pearl Harbor attack that launched the United States into World War II attended Sunday’s 73rd anniversary ceremony with the help of canes, wheelchairs and motorized scooters.

Wearing purple orchid lei, about 100 Pearl Harbor and World War II survivors attended the ceremony overlooking a memorial that sits atop sunken battleship USS Arizona. Many of them arrived well before the sun came up.

This year’s anniversary is the 10th consecutive one that USS Utah survivor Gilbert Meyer attended. But it’s getting harder for Meyer, 91, to travel to Hawaii from San Antonio.

Asked if he planned to attend next year’s anniversary, he responded with a chuckle, “That’s like asking me if I’ll still be alive.”

Harold Johnson, 90, is making it a goal to attend the 75th anniversary, even though traveling from Oak Harbor, Washington, isn’t always easy. “I’ve got a little scooter that’s a real life saver,” the USS Oklahoma survivor said.

Johnson had been aboard the Oklahoma for just six months on Dec. 7, 1941, looking forward to a day off and a “date with a little Hawaiian girl.” He was shining his shoes when the first alarm went off, he recalled.

“Three months later I ran into her in town in Honolulu,” he said of his date. “She was mad at me because I stood her up.”

For many of the roughly 2,000 survivors who remain, there are also more painful memories.

Keynote speaker Gen. Lori Robinson, commander of Pacific Air Forces, told the crowd of several thousand about four of the nine remaining survivors of the USS Arizona. Don Stratton, 92, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Lauren Bruner, 94, of La Mirada, California, were two of six men who escaped the inferno that engulfed the forward half of the ship by negotiating a line, hand over hand, about 45 feet in the air, despite burns to more than 60 percent of their bodies. John Anderson, 97, of Roswell, New Mexico, was ordered off the ship, but he didn’t want to leave behind his twin brother, Delbert. Even though he was forced into a small boat that took him to Ford Island, he commandeered an empty boat and returned to the Arizona to rescue three shipmates. But he never found his brother.

“When the Arizona sank, she took with her 1,177 sailors and Marines,” Robinson told the crowd, which included Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and Hawaii Gov. David Ige.

Robinson also highlighted the sacrifices of the Honolulu Fire Department, which was dispatched to respond after receiving the alarm at 8:05 a.m. “Without knowing it, the Honolulu Fire Department was going to war,” she said. “Three firefighters would never return, and six others would be seriously injured.”

The ceremony also featured a Japanese peace prayer, a Hawaiian blessing and a moment of silence at 7:55 a.m., the minute the bombing began. F-22s from the Hawaii Air National Guard 199th Fighter Squadron and Air Force 19th Fighter Squadron conducted a flyover.

Later in the afternoon, the four USS Arizona survivors planned to visit the memorial for a toast to their fallen shipmates with a glass of sparkling wine given to their survivors association by President Gerald Ford, using glasses that are replicas of the ones on the ship. After the toast, divers would place one of the glasses at the base of the Arizona’s gun turret four. It’s where ashes of 38 Arizona survivors are interred.

This year’s anniversary will likely be the last one Ervin Brody, 91, of Houston attends. “Expenses are getting up there and we’re retired,” he said. “A lot of us figure this will be the last.”

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.

TIME Television

Concert for Valor: Watch Performances by Rihanna, Eminem, Bruce Springsteen

Carrie Underwood, Dave Grohl and the Zac Brown Band all performed at the concert for veterans

HBO’s Concert for Valor drew hundreds of thousands of fans to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., with millions more tuning in on television screens and radios across the country to hear performances by Rihanna, Eminem, Bruce Springsteen, Carrie Underwood, Dave Grohl, Metallica and many more.

The Concert for Valor was staged to boost awareness of veterans’ support groups, raise funds for veterans charities and salute the troops who do so much for the country. Fans came out in force to support the cause and to see stars like Dave Grohl, the Zac Brown Band, John Oliver, Meryl Streep, Steven Spielberg, Will Smith and Tom Hanks, who all seemed to mirror the sentiments summed up by Jamie Foxx,”I came because it’s just the right thing to do.”

Jennifer Hudson performed “The Star Spangled Banner” to open the concert. After a video message from U.S. President Barack Obama, she was joined onstage by Jessie J for a powerful performance of David Guetta’s “Titanium.”

Dave Grohl greeted his hometown crowd, “We’ve got a lot of heroes here tonight, we’re going to sing for them.” He then launched into acoustic versions of some Foo Fighter favorites like “Everlong” and “My Hero,” which turned into a tear-jerking, flag-waving singalong anthem.

Zac Brown band deliver a rousing rendition of “America the Beautiful” and were soon joined on stage by Bruce Springsteen and Dave Grohl for a rollicking rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son,” which some viewed as a controversial song choice due to its anti-war sentiment.

After the Black Keys whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their tracks “Fever” and “Howlin for You,” Carrie Underwood, pregnant and in heels, performed her song “See You Again.” (Read about the military family that changed how she sings the song here). Then backed by the Singing Sergeants of the US Air Force, she performed “Something in the Water” followed by a crowd-pleasing version of “Before He Cheats.”

Metallica was introduced by Jack Black and took the stage sounding loud and proud for a medley of “For Whom The Bell Tolls,” “Master of Puppets” and “Enter Sandman.” They ended their raucous set by dedicating the songs to the troops, “Finally, we get to play for our heroes!” and leading the crowd in a chant of “USA! USA!”

Bruce Springsteen returned to the stage for a stripped down, acoustic set including a haunting version of “Born in the USA,” and a bare bones “Dancing in the Dark” and dedicating his performance of “The Promised Land” to service members who just returned home.

Bryan Cranston did his best Heisenberg impression, encouraging everyone to hire veterans at their companies, before introducing Rihanna who looked like a sparkly Batgirl in a floor-length caped pantsuit to perform “Diamonds” and “Stay.” She was joined onstage by co-headliner Eminem for their hit “Monster.”


As Rihanna left the stage, Eminem made the most the concert being aired on HBO by encouraging everyone to “give it up for motherf–king Rihanna.” The crowd cheered, while the millions of people listening to the show on iHeartRadio undoubtedly enjoyed the beep. Eminem dedicated his track “Not Afraid” to the troops who came home and those who did not. He then launched into “Lose Yourself” and the crowd roared its approval.


Before the concert, officials predicted that the free concert would be the largest gathering on the National Mall in years, surpassing the Fourth of July and many presidential inaugurations. Proving the point, the Park Police tweeted out a photo of the impressive crowds gathered at the National Mall:

TIME On Our Radar

‘Hidden Wounds': Battling PTSD With Music

“We’re currently losing more veterans to suicide than to enemy action. If you ever confront another veteran and they tell you they never thought about killing themselves, they’re lying.” – Steven Diaz, veteran of the 2003 Iraq War


With millions of veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Dutch filmmakers and writers Arnold van Bruggen and Tomas Kaan were looking for a way to raise awareness of the issue among younger people. “People in their twenties and thirties are more likely to have friends, neighbors, cousins, nieces, schoolmates who came back from war or from a military mission,” says van Bruggen. “They are the people who should be more aware of PTSD and what many veterans are going through. They could be the first-response team, so to speak.”

So when they came across “Hidden Wounds,” a song by the Belgium rock band dEUS, “the idea of a documentary immediately popped up,” says van Bruggen. The song tells the true story of an English war veteran, Jimmy Johnson, who, after serving in the British Army in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, saw his marriage disintegrate. He started drinking “and during a panic attack, brought on by a sudden, intense noise, he murdered an innocent man,” says van Bruggen. “He spent years in prison and, shortly after his release, killed again.” Johnson, who pleaded guilty on both counts, has spent his time in prison spearheading a campaign to raise awareness around the issue of PTSD.

“When we started working to transform the story of the song into a documentary, we originally wanted to make a longer documentary on Jimmy Johnson and tear the song apart,” says van Bruggen. “But Johnson is still in a high security jail in Northern England, so there was no way we could film him properly.”

Instead, van Bruggen and Kaan decided to make Johnson’s story more universal. “We started looking for veterans in the Netherlands, Belgium, the U.K. and the United States.” Their goal was to bring together these veterans’ individual stories in a bid to show how commonplace and devastating PTSD had become.

Hidden Wounds is a seven-minute music video featuring 24 veterans with dEUS’s lead singer, Tom Barman. In the video, the veterans share snippets of their experiences dealing with PTSD, with Barman singing in the background. “When we reached out to these veterans, we sent them the song and informed them of our plans,” says van Bruggen. “Most of them truly liked the song with its strong lyrics. ‘I’m drinking to dull the pain / Images won’t go away / They count the dead / Now why don’t they just count me?’ These are heavy words.”

And since these words perfectly captured what these veterans were experiencing, van Bruggen and Kaan asked their subjects to sing along to the lyrics. “It felt really intimate and magic,” says the Dutch writer.

Using the musical concept as a template for this Web-based documentary was a conscious choice, the producers told TIME.

“There are many documentaries on PTSD,” says van Bruggen. “We wanted to reach out to younger people, many of whom don’t watch those longer pieces.” in addition, viewers can go deeper into each of the veterans’ stories through 24 short audio interviews that can be accessed directly from the original video through interactive links. “Plus, there’s a third layer with six hours of further interview material,” says van Bruggen. “We wanted to do justice to these stories and make them freely available.”

Hidden Wounds was released in 2013, to little notice beyond European borders. “I think that Web documentaries are still a niche, and it’s getting harder and harder to attract people to a specific website,” says van Bruggen “We had many visitors coming to our website, not the hundreds of thousands we aimed for. But the PTSD issue will only get bigger as time goes by and I hope our documentary will somehow offer some help to the people affected. If that’s the case, then our mission will succeed.”


Hidden Wounds is a web-documentary by Tomas Kaan and Arnold van Bruggen. Watch the interactive version of the documentary on www.hiddenwounds.be.

Olivier Laurent is the editor of TIME LightBox. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @olivierclaurent


TIME Media

America’s Changing Veterans

Aug. 29, 2011, cover of TIME
The Aug. 29, 2011, cover of TIME Cover Credit: PHOTOGRAPH BY DANIELLE LEVITT FOR TIME

From World War I to modern times, the way we talk about those who fight has rarely stayed the same

The United States has a long history of trying to look out for its veterans — in fact, that history is older than the country is. As TIME once noted, in discussing measures taken for World War II vets, the pilgrims at Plymouth wrote in 1636 that “If any man shalbee sent forth as a souldier and shall return maimed, hee shalbee maintained competently by the Collonie during his life.”

In the nearly four centuries that have passed since then, the relationship between America and those who have been sent forth as soldiers has changed — and so have the assumptions that society makes about who those people are. Say “veteran” now and the image the word conjures is very different from what it would have been in the 1930s, 1960s or 1980s. Over the years, TIME’s coverage of veterans’ issues has shed light on that evolution.

In honor of Veterans Day, here’s a look back at those ever-changing implications:

World War I

Many of the veterans of the Great War ended up enlisting in a second “army” shortly after returning home: the Bonus Army. The federal government had decided in the ’20s, when the victorious veterans were newly returned and the economy was rip-roaring, to grant those who had fought a bonus payment, payable about two decades later. Then the 1930s and the Great Depression happened. The men needed their bonuses right away, but the government wasn’t prepared to pay out. So, many of them organized into the “Bonus Expeditionary Force” and, in 1932, marched to Washington to demand payment. That August, the march turned into a riot, with a veteran named William Hushka shot by police and U.S. troops called in to assist in driving them out of town. “The unarmed B.E.F. did not give the troopers a real fight,” TIME reported. “They were too stunned and surprised that men wearing their old uniform should be turned against them.”

Read more: Battle of Washington, Aug. 8, 1932

World War II

The nation learned from the mistakes made after World War I and made sure the homecoming would go smoothly. The Veterans Administration had been fixed up, with Gen. Omar Bradley at the helm, and the G.I. Bill of Rights had been passed. To hear TIME tell it in 1946, veterans of the Second World War faced the opposite problem to the one that faced their predecessors: the veterans were so well taken care of that they felt lazy. “The country had promised to cushion the shock of their return and the country, for the most part, had made good. No soldier could deny that,” TIME wrote. “If anything, the cushion was too soft.”

Read more: Old Soldiers’ Soldier, Apr. 1, 1946

The Korean War

Coming close on the heels of WWII, the Korean War style of welcoming veterans home was mostly an extension of the process established in the 1940s. “By now, 15.3 million veterans of World War II, following by 4,500,000 from Korea, have gone back into civilian life with hardly a ripple,” TIME wrote in 1959. In fact, due to a combination of logistical preparedness for their return and a nation ready to embrace them, veterans tended to be further ahead than their civilian counterparts in terms of earnings and skills — and they were so well-adjusted that relatively few of them made use of the support structures that had been established.

Read more: What Ever Happened to the Veterans?, Jan. 5, 1959

The Vietnam War

It took nearly a decade after the end of the Vietnam War for TIME to wonder in a cover story what had happened to the parade for its veterans. “[After World War II] the mere uniform made a man a hero,” Lance Morrow wrote. “The troops who went to Korean got a muted version of the welcome. But then came America’s longest, strangest war. From that one, in Viet Nam, the boys came home alone, mostly one by one.” After newly returned Korean War vets had made their services seem extraneous, the V.A. had become seen as an institution concerned primarily with health care for aging vets of earlier wars; this traumatized younger cohort was left feeling like the nation just wanted to forget what had happened. The article introduced to TIME readers the phrase “posttraumatic stress”—it appeared in quotation marks—and underscored the importance of the psychological side of reentry to civilian life. It was as if the country had gone back to the post-WWI days, which was fitting, in some ways. “World War I was hard to beat as an example of dunderheaded, pointless slaughter,” Morrow wrote. “The men who fought it hated it just as much—and even in the same vocabularies—as the men who fought in Vietnam.”

Read more: The Forgotten Warriors, July 13, 1981

Iraq and Afghanistan

More recent writing about the veteran experience has held, in some ways, a mix of the past: respect is high but nobody thinks it’s easy. As TIME detailed in a 2011 cover story about veterans going into public service, it looks like that’s a good thing. “[Most] of the news we seem to hear about the veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan is pretty bad,” wrote Joe Klein. “It is all about suicides, domestic violence and posttraumatic stress disorder. It is about veterans who are jobless and homeless. All of which is true, but there is another side of their story that has not been told: the veterans like John Gallina and Dale Beatty, who have come back and decided to continue to serve their country.”

Read more: The New Greatest Generation, Aug. 29, 2011

TIME Military

New VA Chief Proposes Fixes for a Troubled Agency

VA Secretary Bob McDonald previews the coming changes at the VA last Thursday. Michael Bonfigli / The Christian Science Monitor

Bob McDonald details four steps he’s taking to improve health care for vets

Former Procter & Gamble chief executive Bob McDonald showed over the past week that he has learned a lot about rolling out a new product. On Monday—the eve of Veterans Day—the new secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs unveiled what he called the largest restructuring in VA history, aimed at cutting delays for veterans seeking medical care that forced out his predecessor in May.

In a slow rollout that featured a Road to Veterans Day Action Review, and interviews on 60 Minutes and with print reporters, McDonald showed the marketing savvy he acquired as a 33-year veteran of P&G. But actually turning around the huge agency and its 300,000 workers will prove harder than heralding the fact that it’s happening.

Scandal enveloped the VA earlier this year after whistleblowers reported that as many as 40 veterans died while awaiting care at the VA hospital in Phoenix. Although investigators said they couldn’t prove that the delays were what caused the deaths, the resulting probes revealed a widespread effort by some in the VA to manipulate record-keeping to make delays appear shorter than they actually were. McDonald has said he has proposed disciplinary action for about 40 employees stemming from the scheduling scandal, and that as many as 1,000 more could face punishment as probes into their actions wrap up.

The systemic nature of the problem led to Shinseki’s ouster. McDonald took over in July.

“As VA moves forward, we will judge the success of all our efforts against a single metric—the outcomes we provide for Veterans,” he said in a status report he released last week. “The mission is to care for Veterans, so we must become more focused on Veteran needs.” But, in a message to VA workers on Monday, he conceded the retooling is a “long-term process” and that “we don’t have the all the answers right now.”

McDonald said he is making four major changes designed to simplify a veteran’s visit to the VA and make the organization more responsive to vets’ needs:

  • Create a “Chief Customer Service Officer” to “drive VA culture and practices to understand and respond to the expectations of our Veteran customers,” McDonald told VA employees. They’ll be encouraged to submit ideas on how to improve the agency beginning Tuesday, Veterans Day.
  • Build a “single regional framework” within the VA to allow vets “to more easily navigate VA without having to understand our inner structure.”
  • Work more closely with local, state and community partners “to coordinate better service delivery.”
  • Wring inefficiencies from the VA by sharing support services among different parts of the agency.

McDonald has won plaudits from insiders for his business acumen, his willingness to give out his cell phone number to pretty much anyone, and for encouraging VA employees to call him “Bob.”

But even if 99% of the VA’s employees act properly, that could still leave 3,000 potential troublemakers. The challenge he faces is the same that brought down the prior VA secretary, retired Army general Eric Shinseki. Like McDonald, Shinseki was a veteran. But Shinseki also had been wounded in Vietnam, treated in VA facilities, and had run a major governmental organization—the U.S. Army—before taking the reins at the VA when President Obama took office.

If the VA bureaucracy stumped someone like Shinseki, how confident is McDonald that it won’t do the same to him? “When you’ve run an $85 billion company in 200 countries around the world and you speak multiple languages and you’ve operated in those countries and you’ve traveled to 41 different sites,” McDonald said, “it’s pretty hard to hide stuff.”

TIME Health Care

Veterans Affairs Chief Announces Big Restructuring Over Wait Times

Announcement comes on the eve of Veterans Day

The Department of Veterans Affairs will undergo a large organizational restructuring following the explosive revelations that hundreds of veterans were subjected to long wait times before receiving health care, Secretary Robert McDonald announced on Monday.

Disciplinary action had been taken against 5,600 employees within the last year and more firings were to come, McDonald told CNN, adding “we are acting aggressively, expeditiously, and consistent with the law.” The day before McDonald’s announcement, he acknowledged plans to hire around 28,000 medical professionals—including 2,500 devoted to mental health care—to join the VA’s hospitals and reduce the lack of timely appointments. He also said he intends to recruit young doctors with incentives like student loan forgiveness.

Since the scandal came to light, there have been more than 100 investigations of VA facilities take on by organizations from the FBI to the Department of Justice.

[CNN]

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