Overnight Defense: Senate emerges as obstacle to Space Force | VA wrongly denied hundreds of sexual trauma claims | Pentagon worried about drop in Iraqi refugees coming to US

Overnight Defense: Senate emerges as obstacle to Space Force | VA wrongly denied hundreds of sexual trauma claims | Pentagon worried about drop in Iraqi refugees coming to US
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THE TOPLINE: The Senate has emerged as a major impediment to President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE's hopes for a new "Space Force."

While the House GOP has been largely supportive of the idea of creating a new military branch for space, skeptics in the Senate from both parties have raised concerns about its cost -- and the potential for adding to bureaucratic overhead at the Pentagon.

There's a recognition that players like China are increasingly turning to space, leaving a risk that the U.S. could be left behind. But there are also fears that it will turn into an expensive boondoggle.

"There is an absolute threat, and we need to figure out how to counter that," said Sen. Joni ErnstJoni Kay ErnstFormer Iowa Gov. Vilsack won't challenge Ernst for Senate in 2020 Push for paid family leave heats up ahead of 2020 Ivanka Trump to meet with GOP senators to discuss paid family leave legislation MORE (R-Iowa). "How do we make sure we're protecting taxpayer dollars and making sure they're most efficiently used while achieving that objective?"

The roadblocks: Trump can't create the Space Force on his own. To actually create a new branch of the military, Congress will have to sign off as Vice President Pence acknowledged earlier this month in a speech at the Pentagon.


"Our administration is already working with leaders in the Congress to do just that," Pence said. "Next February, in the president's budget, we will call on the Congress to marshal the resources we need to stand up the Space Force. And before the end of next year, our administration will work with the Congress to enact the statutory authority for the Space Force in the National Defense Authorization Act."

What Congress wants to know: How much the new military branch will cost is a big question for the Senate and the administration. Pence said the administration will request an initial $8 billion over five years for space acquisition. Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said earlier this month that the Pentagon had not done a cost estimate yet, but that he assumed the new service would cost "billions."


VA WRONGLY DENIED HUNDREDS OF SEXUAL TRAUMA CLAIMS: The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) wrongly denied hundreds of military sexual trauma claims in recent years, leaving potentially thousands of veterans without benefits, according to a new report from the VA inspector general.

The VA in 2017 denied 5,500 of 12,000 military sexual trauma claims, and Tuesday's report found that 1,300 of those claims were processed incorrectly.

The inspector general found that the VA failed to order medical exams more than half of the time, did not review proper documentation and did not pursue claims even when there was sufficient evidence.

What went wrong: The inspector general noted the issues are likely due to a combination of inadequate training for coordinators and a lack of an additional level of review for claims. The VA discontinued regular reviews into claims processing accuracy in 2015.

The report offered several examples of the VA's shortcomings.

"A female veteran submitted an MST [military sexual trauma]-related claim in March 2017 with details of a sexual assault that occurred during her military service," the report states. "An MST coordinator determined there were no markers in the veteran's file and that the case was ready for a decision without a medical examination."

After listing evidence that the veteran was suffering from behavioral issues, an indication of possible trauma, the staff "should have requested a medical examination," according to the inspector general.

The findings were first reported by USA Today.


PENTAGON WARNS ABOUT DROP IN IRAQI REFUGEE ADMISSIONS: The Department of Defense last week during a closed-door session at the White House warned that a sharp drop in the admission of Iraqi refugees who have aided U.S. forces in the past could present a national security risk.

Reuters reports that Pentagon officials are worried that the FBI's policy of conducting deep background checks on Iraqi refugees is the main contributor to the drop in admissions, which the department warns will dissuade civilians in the region from aiding U.S. personnel in the future.

The numbers: Just 48 Iraqi refugees have been admitted to the U.S. so far in fiscal 2018 through a special State Department program meant to aid people who worked for the U.S. government or contractors. That number is compared to 3,000 who came in the same period last year, and 5,100 the year before, according to the State Department.

Why it's dropped: FBI officials confirmed to Reuters that the background checks, called Security Advisory Opinions, had experienced a rising "hit rate" of supposedly suspicious information in recent years, but said it was unclear what was causing more applications to be flagged over suspicious information.

One possible reason for the higher "hit rate" is new vetting procedures implemented by the Trump administration that requires that applicants submit phone numbers and email addresses for more family members than before.

An official with the Department of Homeland Security told Reuters that the agency is "making it harder for terrorists, criminals, and individuals seeking to exploit the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program."


ARMY IDENTIFIES SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ: The Army has identified the U.S. serviceman killed after a helicopter crash Sunday in Iraq as Chief Warrant Officer 3 Taylor Galvin.

Galvin, 34, from Spokane, Wash., died Monday in Baghdad, "as a result of injuries sustained when his helicopter crashed in Sinjar, Ninevah Province, Iraq," according to a statement from Army Special Operations Command.

The incident is under investigation, the statement adds.

What happened: The helicopter crashed about 10 p.m. following a raid against an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) target. There are no indications that it was brought down by enemy fire, Pentagon spokesman Col. Rob Manning told reporters Monday.

Galvin, part of Operation Inherent Resolve -- the military campaign against ISIS -- was an MH-60M pilot assigned to the Fort Campbell, Ky.-based 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment.



Foreign Policy at Brookings will host an event to discuss the state of the U.S.-South Korea alliance starting at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Wilson Center will hold a discussion with experts on U.S.-Turkey relations at 10 a.m. in Washington, D.C. 

The Atlantic Council will hold a discussion on the challenge of cyber strategy with Deputy Commandant for Information at Marine Corps Forces Cyber Command Lt. Gen. Loretta Reynolds, and Deputy Commander of U.S. Cyber Command Lt. Gen. Vincent Stewart at 4 p.m. in Washington, D.C.  



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