Metro-East News

Spending bill would cover vets’ fertility treatment; Navy christens robot submarine

U.S. Navy’s Sea Hunter
U.S. Navy’s Sea Hunter

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An amendment added to the Veterans Affairs appropriations bill Thursday would allocate $88 million to VA to cover fertility treatments and counseling for veterans who can't have children as a result of wartime injuries, according to Military Times.

Sen. Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who has introduced similar legislative language four times since 2012, said the amendment was needed to ensure that VA isn’t "denying veterans their dream of starting a family.”

“Here’s the reality, thousands of men and women in uniform — many in their early 20s — have suffered injuries on the battlefield that left them unable to have children naturally,” Murray said during a Senate markup of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill.

"They have testified here in the Senate about the sacrifices they made, and the extreme cost barriers they face to do the one thing they want most — start a family," she said.

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White House officials are pushing Congress to overhaul the appeals process for veterans benefits claims this year, noting the shrinking legislative window and calling the system a disaster, according to Navy Times.

“We’re failing veterans,” said Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson. “This process is failing veterans. Nobody can defend the status quo here.”

More than 440,000 veterans have appeals cases pending in the benefits system, a caseload that has risen steadily in recent years as officials have focused on pulling down the number of backlogged first-time claims.

But VA officials have insisted the two aren’t connected, noting the percentage of cases appealed has remained steady. Instead, the problem has been the rising number of total claims from veterans, as more troops deal with issues from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and even Vietnam.

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NBC News is reporting the Pentagon plans to will send 217 more troops, including additional special operations forces, to Iraq as part of a growing train-and-advise effort to help the struggling government fight ISIS, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said Monday morning in Baghdad.

The financially strapped Iraqis have also accepted America's offer of Apache attack helicopters and an additional HIMARS rocket system as they prepare to try to retake the city of Mosul from the terror group, Carter said. The United States will also contribute $415 million to the Peshmerga, a Kurdish military group.

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The Defense Department christened the Sea Hunter, a 132-foot robot ghost ship designed to seek out and track diesel-powered submarines across the ocean. The start of the test phase for the program more than a week ago signals a new dawn for autonomous systems at sea, which, Pentagon officials say, will perform an ever-wider variety of jobs and could fundamentally change the way militaries operate on the water, according to DefenseOne.

The Sea Hunter is the first of a new type of ocean drone, called an Anti-submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel, or ACTUV.

The goal of the program: field an autonomous ship with the range and endurance to go anywhere in the world while avoiding collisions with other ships and obeying the rules of navigation. “Current unmanned surface vessel systems and concepts are operated as close-adjuncts to conventional manned ships – they are launched and recovered from manned ships, tele-operated from manned ships, and are limited to direct support of manned ship missions. The ACTUVsystem will be a first of its kind unmanned naval vessel that is designed and sized for theater or global independent deployment,” reads the program’s description from 2014.

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The United States, Russia and China are now aggressively pursuing a new generation of smaller, less destructive nuclear weapons. The buildups threaten to revive a Cold War-era arms race and unsettle the balance of destructive force among nations that has kept the nuclear peace for more than a half-century, according to the New York Times.

It is, in large measure, an old dynamic playing out in new form as an economically declining Russia, a rising China and an uncertain United States resume their one-upmanship.

American officials largely blame the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, saying his intransigence has stymied efforts to build on a 2010 arms control treaty and further shrink the arsenals of the two largest nuclear powers. Some blame the Chinese, who are looking for a technological edge to keep the United States at bay. And some blame the United States itself for speeding ahead with a nuclear “modernization” that, in the name of improving safety and reliability, risks throwing fuel on the fire.

Mike Fitzgerald: 618-239-2533, @MikeFitz3000

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