Metro-East News

Roger That: SWIC event Saturday for military returning to civilian life

Reach Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com.
Reach Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com. News-Democrat

Southwestern Illinois College is set to hold a one-day, free work shop called “Return With Purpose,” to be at the campus Liberal Arts building 3311 from 7:45 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Saturday. The sessions aim to help active-duty military personnel move back into civilian life. Those invited to attend include veterans, guardsmen, reservists and military spouses. For more information, contact Gregg Ganschaw at 314-520-2046.

Friday marks Military Spouse Appreciation Day. Scott Air Force Base is wanting to say “thank you” to spouses. The day was officially launched on April 17, 1984, on orders from then-President Ronald Reagan, who wished to recognize the profound importance of spousal commitment to the readiness and well-being of military members. Congress officially made Military Spouse Appreciation Day part of National Military Appreciation Month in 1999. The Pentagon decreed that the Friday before Mother’s Day every year will be known as Military Spouse Appreciation Day to show appreciation for the sacrifices of military spouses.

Friday also marks the 70th anniversary of VE Day, or Victory in Europe Day, to mark the formal acceptance by the Allies of Germany’s unconditional surrender, ending the final chapter in the bloodiest conflict in European history. Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had already committed suicide on April 30, 1945, leaving it to representatives of Reichsprasident Karl Donitz, who took over for Hitler, to sign surrender documents in Reims, France on May 7 and in Berlin, Germany the next day. The Allies’ war in the Pacific against Japan, however, still had three more bloody months to go. The Battle of Okinawa, for instance, was already in its second month, with an average of 1,000 U.S. soldiers and marines dying each week on that island, in addition to thousands of Japanese troops and Okinawan civilians.

In military news of a more recent vintage, the Air Force has announced that Lt. Col. Christine Mau has become the first female F-35 Lightning II pilot after she began training near Valparaiso, Fla. at Eglin Air Force Base. The F-35 is the Air Force’s new state-of-the-art fighter jet, which, with a price tag of $335 million apiece, is almost its most expensive fighter. Mau, the 33rd Fighter Wing Operations Group deputy commander, completed 14 virtual training missions before her first training flight in the single-seat, fifth-generation fighter, according to an Eglin press release. Mau, who formerly flew an F-15E Strike Eagle, joins 87 Air Force F-35 pilots who’ve trained at Eglin, according to website Military.com.

Bomb-sniffing elephants and NASCAR: A new report on wasteful government spending highlights $49 million spent by the National Guard on professional sports advertising and $50,000 on researching the bomb-detecting skills of elephants — evidence that Congress isn’t watching its coffers closely enough, according to the report’s authors.

The report released Thursday by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, itemizes $1.1 billion in “questionable Washington spending habits” and another $294 billion in spending that has not received proper authorization from lawmakers. McCain said he wants the new report to serve as a "wake-up call" to lawmakers. The $49 million the National Guard spent on professional marketing was to Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s NASCAR team and Graham Rahal’s Indy Racing League team. Both deals have already ended.

Media reports of mismanagement, fraud and unreasonably long delays at U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals in Phoenix and elsewhere led Congress last year to allocate more than $16 billion to cut patient wait times and improve the quality care. But a report issued Wednesday by a bi-partisian group of senators indicates big problem remain and that veterans are still waiting too long for quality care. The senators’ report calls for a top-to-bottom independent review of the VA’s 56 regional offices to end continued management problems and patient backlogs.

“The VA system again finds itself engulfed in another scandal,” said Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., co-chairman of the Senate VA backlog working group. VA offices nationwide are suffering from poor management, he said, proving “it is time for an overhaul of the entire system.”

At least 161,000 disability and compensations claims are on backlog, defined as pending for more than 125 days, VA figures show. That’s down from a peak of 611,000 in March 2013.

The Senate report announced that the 10 worst-performing regional offices, as determined by wait times are Baltimore; Jackson, Miss.; Reno, Nevada; Philadelphia; Los Angeles; Chicago; Oakland, Calif.; Indianapolis; Boston; and St. Petersburg, Fla.

Roger That is a regular feature by BND military beat reporter Mike Fitzgerald. He can be reached at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 618-239-2533. Follow him on Twitter at @MikeFitz3000.

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