OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Report faults VA’s work on benefits backlog

THE TOPLINE: The House Veterans Affairs’ Committee on Monday night will hear testimony that the VA made thousands of errors in its rush to reduce a backlog in disability claims.

An investigation by the Inspector General for the Department of Veterans Affairs found new mistakes from the troubled department’s Veterans Benefits Administration, which provides compensation to veterans.

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The errors include thousands of cases being deducted from the sizeable backlog while they were still being processed and the VA failing to follow-up with patients who received 100 percent disability benefits. Other resources from within the VA were also compromised in order to try to eliminate the backlog, Linda Halliday, an assistant IG, will say in testimony to the committee.

The findings are likely to increase scrutiny on the VA amid a scandal involving employees nationwide falsifying patient data to make it appear veterans faced shorter wait times to see a doctor.

The panel will also hear from Allison Hickey, the VA’s undersecretary for benefits, who on Monday announced that the department had processed one million claims thus far this year and is on pace to complete 1.3 million by the end of the fiscal year.

The hearing starts at 7:30 p.m. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1rmo511

 

IRAQ ASSESSEMENT: A classified Pentagon assessment warns that U.S. troops in Iraq could face significant safety risks while advising local security forces, who are infiltrated by Iranian-backed Shiites or informants for Sunni extremist groups.

Pentagon Press Secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said he would not discuss the contents of the review, first reported by the New York Times, but said the U.S. would be mindful of such "insider threats" if the president decides to embed American troops in an advisory role with Iraqi units.

The 120-page review also found that only half of Iraq's units are capable enough to receive U.S. help. The report is being reviewed by senior leaders, including Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey and Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command.

"There will be a matter of some time here as we work our way through what the assessments say, what the teams have found before moving forward to any specific decisions about follow-on military assistance to the security forces," said Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby.

The assessment was conducted by the approximately 180 U.S. troops already on the ground in Iraq, part of a force of 750 advisers dispatched by President Obama. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1zCTKQx

Kirby said the military advisers have not yet provided any actual advice to Iraqi forces on how to fight the Sunni extremist group, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS or ISIL]. 

"We are in a process that may or may not lead to follow-on military advisory missions. That's what we asked the assessment teams to do at the outset. Assess the ISF [Iraqi Security Forces], assess the ISIL and the situation on the ground and help us think through what a potential for an advisory mission could look like," Kirby said. 

Kirby said the president would make the decision on whether to begin advisory missions, which would include putting U.S. troops alongside Iraqi forces, but there was no deadline on when that decision would be made. 

“Everybody knows and shares a sense of urgency about what's going on in Iraq, but it's more important to get this issue right than to get it quick,” he added. 

“So I think you can expect senior leaders in the Pentagon to take the time that digest this material, there's a lot before recommendations can be made to the commander in chief and the interagency on how to move forward,” he said. Read more: http://bit.ly/U5q5ys

 

BERGDAHL BACK AT WORK: Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is set to return to active duty just six weeks after being held captive by the Taliban.

Berghdal has finished undergoing therapy and counseling at an Army medical center in San Antonio and will take a position at Fort Sam Houston there.

He will continue to meet with Army officials looking into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and capture in 2009.

The Obama administration has come under withering, bipartisan criticism for arranging the deal that freed Bergdahl in exchange for five Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay. Read more here: http://bit.ly/1jJGDIP

 

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:  

-WH won’t rule out extending Iran talks: http://bit.ly/1tK8hta

-Brown hits Shaheen on VA scandal in new ad: http://bit.ly/1jJGQvI

-Inhofe praises Afghan election deal: http://bit.ly/1wnoXTf

-German lawmakers turn to typewriters to avoid NSA: http://bit.ly/1mbNLId

-White House defends Israeli airstrikes in Gaza: http://bit.ly/1sgq9KB

 

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