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IAVA Daily News Brief – December 23, 2014

Today’s Top Stories

Rising VA Disability Payments Linked to Veteran Unemployment
Unemployment persists among military veterans as a sharply growing number of them are receiving disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs, according to a new study by a Stanford economist. The steep increase in such payments, Mark Duggan suggests, could be acting as a brake on their employment prospects. | TIME >>

Two military suicide bills, different results: The Jacob Sexton and Clay Hunt acts
The Jacob Sexton Military Suicide Prevention Act, introduced by Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), will require annual health assessment for all service members, ensure that those seeking help have privacy and require a Pentagon report that evaluates existing military mental health practices and possible improvements. | Washington Post >>

CBO: No clear evidence that VA healthcare saves money over private providers
A CBO report published December 12 is a case in point. In assessing the question of whether health care for military veterans could be provided at less expense through the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), or through private providers, the CBO was forthright: We just don’t know. | The Hill >>

Afghanistan

By the end of this month most US combat troops will have left Afghanistan and returned home – adding to the hundreds of thousands of veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq already back in the United States. But for many of them, the real battles often begin on the home front. Twenty-two American military veterans are committing suicide every day, according to official government figures. | BBC News >>

The police chief in Afghanistan’s southern province of Kandahar has ordered his forces to attack Pakistani-based Tehrik-i-Taliban insurgents inside Pakistan, adding fuel to rising tensions along the countries’ shared border. | Stars and Stripes >>

In a large swath of the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan, government centers are facing a long-dormant concern this winter: Four years after the American troop surge helped make such places relatively secure, they are back under threat from the insurgents. | NY Times >>

Iraq

Jordan will begin training the first group of army troops from neighboring Iraq in the next few weeks as part of the international effort to fight Islamic State, the Iraqi defense minister said on Monday. | Reuters >>

Iraqi Kurdish forces forged ahead with their assault Monday on a militant-held town in northern Iraq, but encountered heavy resistance from Islamic State fighters whose snipers fired at the attackers and who used burning tires to create a smoke screen against coalition airstrikes. | Associated Press >>

Since June, the U.S. military has been slowly stockpiling massive amounts of its gear coming out of Afghanistan at a depot in Kuwait adjacent to a bustling commercial port, in preparation for ultimately shipping it across the border into Iraq for an allied offensive against the Islamic State group. | U.S. News & World Report >>

Military Affairs

The U.S. Army is referring Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl to a four-star general for potential court martial after completing a closely watched investigation of why the American soldier disappeared from his base in Afghanistan in 2009 and how he ended up in Taliban hands, the Pentagon said Monday. | Wall Street Journal >>

With the Corps expecting get smaller in 2015, many Marines are thinking about how to successfully transition back into civilian life. The drawdown calls for the service to hit 174,000 by the end of 2017, meaning up to about 5,000 Marines must be trimmed each year. With a solid drawdown plan in place, officials are working to ensure the right Marines in the jobs and ranks are in the right billets. | Marine Corps Times >>

In 2015, the Air Force will join other military branches to offer a pilot program that will allow airmen to put their careers on hold for up to three years while they start families, go back to school or pursue other life goals. | USA Today >>

New Greatest Generation

Since its February launch, the Veterans Helping Veterans project has paired 21 volunteer veterans with homebound elderly or disabled veterans to provide companionship for those who might otherwise spend their days in isolation. | Portland Press Herald >>

Before he deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines several years ago, Christopher Billmyer bought a German shepherd rescue dog in Los Angeles that had been hit by a car. “I’ll take care of him,” he said. “I’ve always liked their looks and demeanor. They’re a one-man dog, devoted and loyal.” | Associated Press >>

For former service members looking to get into hospitality, Disney’s hiring program for veterans is one of a number of initiatives nationwide, including numerous degree and training programs. | Military Times >>

Inside Washington

President Barack Obama has struggled with sagging approval ratings over the last year, but the commander-in-chief’s numbers may have dropped further among active-duty troops. | CNN >>

Construction resumed Monday on the replacement Veteran Affairs Medical Center in Aurora, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and contractor Kiewit-Turner announced. | Denver Post >>

Veterans faced a disheartening series of nationwide scandals related to their benefits and care in 2014, but that also brought an encouraging boost in attention and action from Capitol Hill. | Military Times >>

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