John McCain, War Hero and Republican, Dies at 81

Senator John McCain passed away on August 25th at the age of 81, from an aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma.

McCain led a life of public service. Born on a naval base in the Panama Canal Zone, he grew up moving around the Americas due to his father’s naval career. He attended the U.S. Naval Academy. Though he graduated near the bottom of his class, classmates knew him as a fierce lightweight boxer and an ally of those targeted by bullying. After graduation, McCain trained to become a naval aviator.

Beginning in 1967, McCain served in combat duty during the Vietnam war. He flew 23 combat missions, the last of which ended when the North Vietnamese shot down McCain’s skyhawk plane with a missile. He ejected out of the plane and landed in a lake, though he suffered fractures in both arms and one leg. The North Vietnamese captured and tortured him. McCain spent 5 years as a prisoner of war, including two of those years in solitary confinement.

McCain was released by his captors on March 14, 1973. He endured a long and difficult recovery and went on to attend the Naval War College for graduate studies. In the late 1970s, he continued his service to the country as the commanding officer for a naval training squadron. The military honored McCain with some of its highest awards. He received a Silver Star Medal, two Purple hearts, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and three Bronze Star medals, among others.

Political Career

McCain first ran for Congress in 1982. During that campaign, a voter called him a “carpetbagger” trying to take advantage of an open seat. McCain delivered a devastating response: “Listen, pal. I spent 22 years in the Navy. My father was in the Navy. My grandfather was in the Navy. We in the military service tend to move a lot. We have to live in all parts of the country, all parts of the world. I wish I could have had the luxury, like you, of growing up and living and spending my entire life in a nice place like the First District of Arizona, but I was doing other things. As a matter of fact, when I think about it now, the place I lived longest in my life was Hanoi.”

As a Congressman, McCain ardently supported Ronald Reagan’s agenda. The war hero Congressman successfully ran for Senate in 1986. He filled Barry Goldwater’s seat upon the Republican icon’s retirement. McCain unsuccessfully sought the GOP nomination for the presidency in 2000. Though he was the Republican candidate for president in 2008, he lost to another more junior senator, Barack Obama.

At the time of his death, McCain was serving his 6th term in the Senate. He was Chair of the Armed Services Committee. He leaves behind a legacy of bold, decisive action: “Courage is not the absence of fear, but the capacity to act despite our fears.” House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the Senator will lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, an honor reserved for the likes of Ronald Reagan and Rosa Parks.

Family Life

McCain is survived by his wife of 37 years, Cindy, and his 7 children: Douglas, Andrew, Sidney, Meghan, Jack, Jimmy, and Bridget.

4th of July Terror Plot Foiled in Cleveland

A man pledging loyalty to Al Qaeda planned to attack Cleveland’s 4th of July parade. He hoped to kill members of the military. Thankfully, his plan was thwarted by local and federal officials over the weekend after a months-long investigation.

Consequently, Demetrius Pitts was arrested at 10 a.m. Sunday morning by a federal joint terrorism task force. Pitts had been under investigation by federal agencies since 2017 after he allegedly posted online messages supporting Al Qaeda. He also called for violence against members of the military.

Pitts posted on Facebook:

“Muslims need to start training like this every day. We need to know how to shoot guns, throw hand grenades, hand to hand combat. What would hit them at their core? Blow up in the, have a bomb blow up in the 4th of July parade.”

Stopped in the nick of time

Pitts was seen going to downtown Cleveland last week to conduct reconnaissance at several locations in preparation for his attack. After his visit, he continued to make threatening statements. He said he wanted to “chop off heads and hands,” a standard practice in Islamic terrorist killings.

According to U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman, Pitts had planned to use a van filled with explosives. He intended to target both the public watching holiday fireworks and destroy buildings downtown.

In addition to his bombs, Pitts discussed giving remote control cars packed with explosives to the children of military members, in the hopes that he could harm them and their families.

The would-be terrorist was radicalized in the United States and now could face up to 20 years in prison for his foiled plot.

As a result, authorities encourage people to speak up if they see something amiss during any parades or festivities over the holiday week.

U.S. Veteran Denied Access to Amusement Park Ride Due to Prosthetics

Earlier this month, a retired U.S. Marine bomb technician Johnny “Joey” Jones, who walks on two prosthetic legs, was kicked off a ride at Six Flags due to not having “real legs.” Jones served as a bomb technician in Iraq and Afghanistan, where he lost both of his legs from an improvised explosive device.

In response, Jones tweeted to all veterans who now use prosthetics.

“SeaWorld, Universal Studios, and Disney will literally move mountains for you. Six Flags will tell you ‘nah bro, you gotta have two real legs.'”

Six Flags responded to Jones, claiming that this rule is a part of their safety policy. “Guests with certain disabilities are restricted from riding certain rides and attractions,” they responded.

Other parks allow amputees to enjoy similar rides without it posing any safety risk.

Jones Calls for Action

The ride in question had a safety bar secured across patrons’ laps. Jones’s legs were not dangling from the ride. Despite this, his prosthetics were still deemed a safety risk.

Jones realized that he wasn’t even able to ride the tilt-a-whirl after researching the park’s policy. In an interview with “Fox and Friends,” Jones said he is restricted to “pretty much things that don’t move.”

Since then, Jones has simply been asking for Six Flags to review its policy.

“So my message to Six Flags is, I don’t hate you, I don’t want to tell people not to go there. I want you to apply the same type of care and thoughtfulness that Universal Studios, Disney, SeaWorld, and everywhere else I’ve gone and ridden roller coasters, and done so safely, I want you to apply the same knowledge and expertise that they apply.”

Memorial Day: Our Nation’s Most Moving Memorials

This Memorial Day, we honor all the brave men and women who gave their lives in service to the United States. Memorial Day began after the Civil War, but Congress only made it an official holiday in 1971. As we honor the sacrifice of these brave Americans, we remember them at important memorial sites around the world.

World War II Memorial

In 2004, this beautiful plaza opened to the public. It has a granite pillar for each state and territory that was part of the United States during the war. At the center, a pool with fountains appears before a wall with 4,048 gold stars. Each star represents 100 Americans who died during the war. Before visitors reach the memorial, they see an inscribed curb with the words, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial

When the Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, they suffered massive casualties at the hands of the Axis powers. The U.S. military established a temporary cemetery near Colleville-Sur-Mer, France. Now, a beautiful memorial stands near the cemetery. In gratitude for their nation’s liberation from the Nazis, France granted the United States the right to own the cemetery permanently and without cost.

USS Arizona Memorial

This memorial marks the final resting place of 1,102 servicemembers who were killed in the Pearl Harbor attack. It floats above the sunken remains of the USS Arizona. Visitors make a special trip to see this memorial, which is only accessible by boat.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

When college student Maya Lin won the contest to design this memorial, she could not have known that it would become an icon of American sacrifice. The famous wall bears the names of 58,282 people who lost their lives in the war.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

In 1921, this somber and meaningful site opened in Arlington National Cemetery. It honors those who died and for whom identifiable remains were never found. Army soldiers guard the tomb every single day, in all weather. They use a pattern of 21 steps and 21-second pauses, which mirrors the highest military honor: the 21-gun salute.

Pentagon Purchasing Agent Loses Over $800 Million in Taxpayer Money

An internal audit obtained by POLITICO shows the Defense Logistics Agency, one of the largest agencies in the Pentagon, can’t account for over $800 million of spending.

Accounting firm Ernst & Young found the Pentagon’s purchasing agent has such poor management that hundreds of millions in purchases are not properly recorded. This leads to questions about where exactly the money actually went.

Missing Taxpayer Money

The Pentagon has long been under fire for its shoddy accounting practices, which are infamous for being wasteful. It’s never been subjected to a full audit, but with DLA controlling over $40 billion per year, that’s not coming anytime soon.

DLA has 25,000 employees that process over 100,000 orders a day for the military and other federal agencies. The auditors found, however, that the agency cannot point to a documentation trail for most of its purchase. This means hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are currently unaccounted for.

Ernst & Young found over $465 million of errors just dealing with finished construction projects. Another $365 million was missing documentation for projects still in progress. Over $100 million in computer assets had no paper trail at all.

The Trump administration is looking to clean up the DLA’s audit problems. It’s expected to cost $367 million to complete the necessary audits and get DLA’s spending and documentation problems under control. On top of that, it could cost another $551 million to fix the systems that officials say are necessary to manage the finances better in the future.

The Pentagon’s top budget official says that going forward, the agency will be audited yearly. Reports will be publicly available by November 15th of each year.

However, this doesn’t fix the current problem. Ernst & Young says the holes in accounting they’ve found so far mean there are much more to be found. It’s also very likely the problems may not be fixable.

Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) says the chances of a successful audit of the Department of Defense is literally impossible, but he’s going to keep trying.

Trump Honors 12-year-old Preston Sharp During SOTU

President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address on Tuesday, January 30, 2018.

Like presidents before him, Trump invited a number of special guests to attend the annual address. The diverse list included emergency responders, service members and service member supporters, individuals with economic success stories from Ohio, and parents who lost teenage children to gang violence.

The president also honored a very special 12-year-old boy, Preston Sharp.

Flag and Flower Challenge

Sharp received a standing ovation while seated next to the First Lady after being recognized by the President. He organized the Flag and Flower Challenge, which places flags and a red carnation on fallen veterans’ graves across the country.

His efforts began on Veteran’s Day 2015 after visiting his grandfather’s grave. Sharp was upset when he saw that graves of other soldiers in the cemetery weren’t being honored with flags and flowers like his grandfather’s.

His campaign has placed over 40,000 flags and carnations on soldiers’ graves across the country.

During the state of the Union, President Trump stated:

“Young patriots like Preston teach all of us about our civic duty as Americans. Preston’s reverence for those who have served our nation reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the pledge of allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”

Sharp’s message is simple. We need to honor veterans every day, not just on a holiday.

Any day is a good day to honor a fallen veteran’s grave with a flag or take a veteran to lunch. You can also thank a vet for their service when you see them in public.

Trump Signs Executive Order for Veterans Mental Health

President Trump turned his attention to the health of America’s veterans Tuesday by signing an executive order directing Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs to formulate plans to improve access to mental health services after leaving the military. Under this executive order, DHS and the VA will have 60 days to draw up their plans, and then must update the White House on their progress in putting the plans in place within 180 days.

Listening to Veterans’ Cries for Help

Trump signed this order to combat the statistics that nearly 20 veterans commit suicide every day. The suicide rate among veterans is nearly double that of the civilian population. “We want them to get the highest care and the care they so richly deserve,” President Trump stated.

According to VA Secretary David Shulkin, only 40% of veterans currently have access to mental health coverage, but this should improve drastically when this new Executive Order goes into full effect. “Our job is to save lives and that’s why we’re taking action to support both those that are other than honorably discharged as well as all transitioning service members,” Secretary Shulkin said.

Providing quality care for America’s veterans has long plagued the VA, with backlogs reducing the efficiency of the whole system. Tuesday’s Executive Order is the President’s most recent effort at giving back to those who have already given so much for their country.

Department of Veterans Affairs Continues To Fail Our Veterans

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs continues to fail America’s best and brightest as it consistently fails to ensure that veterans receive quality healthcare. According to US News & World Report, a recent investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that the VA did not report poor quality providers in at least 90% of cases. The VA operates more than 150 hospitals nationwide, and its ineffectiveness has been harmful to America’s veterans for years. VA officials stated in response to the report that they wished to reform their practices to provide quality care.

The GAO’s report found that the VA has serious problems at every level that prevent it from properly serving those who risked their lives to keep the nation safe. Investigators detailed a failure of accountability that is so poor that the VA could not determine specifically how many of its staff members had been reported. Under existing policy, VA hospitals must report concerns about specific providers to a national database, but GAO auditors found that many VA employees lacked any detailed knowledge of how these policies worked. In some cases, VA employees were even caught deleting negative information about certain doctors from official records. The VA’s poor track record causes problems for veterans because unreported malpractice cases cannot be investigated, which means that the doctors in question cannot be disciplined.

GAO officials recommended that the VA fix its system by making sure that hospitals sufficiently report bad conduct by medical professionals. Representatives of the VA pledged to implement the needed changes by this time next year. Congress has also moved to motivate the VA to do its job. The VA Provider Accountability Act, a bill proposed by Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Joe Manchin (D-WV), would force the VA to notify state medical boards of alleged malpractice within 30 days. In the past, this process has taken anywhere from months to years. President Trump’s Veterans Affairs Secretary, David Shulkin, has also ordered the reform of an outdated policy that mandated only doctors and dentists be documented in the national database. Shulkin wishes to expand the scope of the database to encompass other medical professionals such as nurses and physician assistants. Going forward, members of Congress and employees of the VA appear to be taking active steps towards keeping President Trump’s promises to better serve America’s veterans.

Teens Hold Funeral for Homeless Veteran

A group of high school seniors gathered to honor a U.S. Army veteran who passed away with no surviving family. The man, known only as “John,” died alone, homeless, and with no one to attend his funeral service.

Students at Catholic Memorial High School heard the news of John’s passing, and they decided to give John a thoughtful and meaningful final farewell. The young men arranged a funeral service for John in their school’s chapel. Before a hearse took John to his final resting place, students escorted his casket as pallbearers. The teens took care to honor John’s life and his service to our country. John, whose last name has not been released, was buried with full military honors.

Helping Our Veterans

The Department of Veterans Affairs is working to combat veteran homelessness. In January 2016, a nationwide survey counted 39,471 homeless veterans in America. Most of them are male, and a plurality fought in the Vietnam War. Now, veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan often face post-traumatic stress disorder, which increases their risk for homelessness.

Veterans facing homelessness usually live in urban areas. Most of them have some sort of mental or physical disability. When a veteran experiences homelessness, he or she typically does not receive care for their disability. John’s unique situation remains unknown. Any care available to him reached him far too late. Still the teens who gave him a proper funeral gave him the honor and respect, after his passing, that he didn’t receive in life.

Watch These Soldiers Pull Off a Special Gender Reveal

Earlier this year, Britt Harris told her husband the exciting news: She was pregnant! The father-to-be, U.S. Army Spc. Chris Harris, felt overjoyed. He had just deployed to Afghanistan a few weeks prior. Tragically, on August 2nd, Chris Harris gave the ultimate sacrifice. A suicide bomber detonated, killing the young soldier, and turning life upside-down for Britt.

Now a young widow, she faced the future of bringing a child into the world without her late husband by her side.

Fellow Soldiers Step Up

Chris’ fellow soldiers surrounded Britt with love and support. She would have the baby as a widow, but she wouldn’t go through her pregnancy alone. The 82nd Airborne Division, still deployed overseas, helped Britt pull off an amazing gender reveal.

With the soldiers’ help, Britt was able to mail confetti poppers to their military base overseas. The video below shows the soldiers making the big announcement, and celebrating the news!

The soldiers’ excitement over the new baby went viral, and warmed the hearts of military families and civilians alike. Britt told USA Today about how the soldiers rallied around her at this difficult time: “They have been phenomenal and done everything they can to watch over me even from a distance.” She says that, despite the trauma of losing her husband, she and the baby are both healthy. Britt looks forward to welcoming the baby in March of 2018.