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IAVA Daily News Brief – February 20, 2015

Today’s Top Stories

Criticism of senator’s war record rankles veterans
No one disputes that Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, served with the National Guard in a combat zone. So the recent round of questions about whether she counts as a “combat veteran” has made more than a few former service members uncomfortable and upset. | Military Times >>

VA Watchdog Finds California Office Mismanaged Thousands of Disability Claims
The Department of Veterans Affairs’ internal watchdog determined that an Oakland, Calif.-based regional office mismanaged more than 13,000 disability claims found tucked away in a filing cabinet over two years ago, according to a report released Wednesday. | Wall Street Journal >>

Bush Institute summit focuses on veterans’ struggles to re-enter daily life
Former President George W. Bush moderated the Bush Institute’s second Military Service Initiative Summit with a panel that included retired Gen. Peter Chiarelli and former Marines Brian Stann and David Smith. The Bush Institute on Wednesday released a report on how nonprofits can improve their understanding of veterans in order to help them reintegrate into life as civilians. | Dallas Morning News >>

Afghanistan

In a country where women don’t have much of a presence in officialdom — much less a voice — Rula Ghani is the first to play a prominent role as first lady. In an interview at the Afghan Embassy in Washington, D.C., with Morning Edition host Renee Montagne, Ghani discusses the challenges facing Afghanistan, her opinion on the needs of the country’s most vulnerable populations and what she would like Americans to know about Afghanistan. | NPR >>

The Pentagon will extend the Afghanistan Campaign Medal for troops currently serving there, despite the official end of the 13-year war. Defense officials said Thursday that the current phase of the Afghanistan War, known as Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, is now a qualifying operation for award of the Afghanistan Campaign Medal. | Military Times >>

The Obama administration distanced itself from claims by two senior militants that members of the Afghan Taliban were due to hold direct talks with U.S. officials in Qatar on Thursday. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said that “United States currently has no meetings with the Taliban scheduled in Doha.” | NBC News >>

Iraq

The Combined Joint Task Force announced on Thursday morning that United States and coalition military forces had led 15 airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq. The airstrikes began on Wednesday and lasted for 24 hours. | Newsweek >>

Iraqi military forces backed by U.S. airstrikes and possibly American ground troops could launch an assault to wrest control of the city of Mosul from ISIS as early as April, a senior U.S. official told NBC News on Thursday. | NBC News >>

All across Iraq, the rapid advance by ISIS extremists over the past year has drawn longtime rivals into reluctant alliances. The shared struggle could with time help Iraqis forge a long-elusive sense of national unity. But it also risks papering over disputes that could burst into the open if the threat subsides. | Associated Press >>

Military Affairs

The Army’s chief of public affairs is moving on to serve as the senior military assistant to Defense Secretary Ash Carter. Maj. Gen. Ron Lewis took over the Army’s public affairs office in June. His move isn’t official yet, but he will be the new senior military assistant to Carter, who was sworn in Tuesday, a defense official speaking on background confirmed to Army Times. | Army Times >>

Faced with ongoing budget reductions, Air Combat Command is looking into the possibility of supplementing Air Force aggressor pilots with civilian contractors, said ACC spokesman Mike Newell. | Air Force Times >>

An unknown number of U.S. troops and Vietnamese civilians were exposed to Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant the U.S. used in Vietnam. And it turns out that some Air Force reservists may also have been exposed to the chemical after the war — not in Vietnam, but in the U.S. | NPR >>

New Greatest Generation

Marketing a beer through the memories of fallen soldiers. It looked like a strange way to market beer – until I read a little more into the story of how Dog Tag Brewing came about – and about how it salutes the sacrifice of one local hero. | New Jersey 101.5 >>

Shane Kohfield is an accidental artist, transformed into who he is now by two tours of duty in Iraq, the last of which left him with a traumatic brain injury. | KPTV >>

U.S. Army Veteran Matt Zeller talks to Michael Holmes about the thousands of Iraqi and Afghan linguists who helped U.S. troops and have since been forgotten. | CNN >>

Ryan Burke is being honored Wednesday night by the Northampton Marine Corps League at the Tri-Hampton Rescue Squad in Richboro. Burke, who lives in Northampton, is an Army veteran who fought overseas and confronted Sean Yetman, 30, of Philadelphia, who was seen wearing Army fatigues and whom Burke thought was impersonating a veteran on Black Friday at the Oxford Valley Mall in Middletown. | The Morning Call >>

Inside Washington

One is a Medal of Honor recipient. Another is the first Vietnam veteran elected to the Senate. And another is a retired general who fought to protect troops from roadside bombs in Iraq and suicides back home. All but one of the nine members of the blue-ribbon Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has served or is currently serving in the U.S. military. | Military.com >>

A congressional hearing prompted by three deaths and reports of overmedication at a Veterans Affairs medical center in Tomah will be held locally, officials said Thursday. | Associated Press >>

The Veterans Affairs Department fired about 2,572 employees in fiscal 2014 – up from 2,264 in fiscal 2013, according to numbers from the Office of Personnel Management. | Federal Times >>

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