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IAVA Daily News Brief – January 25, 2016

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter hoists Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Kris Grimm from the water off the coast of San Diego. Grimm is an aviation survival technician assigned to Coast Guard Sector San Diego. | Military Times >>

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter hoists Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Kris Grimm from the water off the coast of San Diego. Grimm is an aviation survival technician assigned to Coast Guard Sector San Diego. | Military Times >>

 

Today’s Top Stories

VA Boss: Political Challenges Tougher Than Expected
Bob McDonald, now in his last year as secretary of Veterans Affairs as President Obama wraps up his administration, expected that there would be challenges when he took the job. He assumed the position 18 months ago amidst a major scandal involving long patient wait times and veterans dying while waiting for appointments. | Military.com >>

House probes claim the VA is spying on whistleblower emails
Video: VA program specialist speaks out on ‘Fox & Friends’ | Fox News >>

GAO to audit VA’s Veterans Choice program
Thanks to the bipartisan efforts of three members of Congress, the Government Accounting Office (GAO) will audit the VA’s Veterans Choice program, which has been plagued by countless complaints from veterans and health care providers alike. In an effort to help veterans, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D, NY), Senator Johnny Isakson (R, Georgia), and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) have convinced the GAO to conduct a comprehensive audit of the Veterans Choice program. | Examiner.com >>

Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s Taliban want to be removed from a U.N. blacklist before considering rejoining peace talks aimed at ending a 15-year civil war, a senior member said, as its political wing met activists at an unofficial forum in Qatar. | Reuters >>

The man who found his calling after returning to Afghanistan was reluctantly admitting that he understood the fear driving tens of thousands of Hazaras — and many other Afghans — to flee the country. | New York Times >>

As the fate of Helmand Province hung in the balance last month during a withering Taliban offensive, the province’s deputy governor, Mohammad Jan Rasoolyar, found his urgent pleas for help from the central government going unheeded. So he did what millions of other people do every day: He ranted on Facebook. | New York Times >>

Iraq

Senior U.S. defense and military officials say that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is asking the coalition for more police training, particularly for Sunnis who will have to secure Ramadi and other towns once Islamic State militants are ousted. | Associated Press >>

Iraq plans to launch the operation to dislodge Islamic State from the northern city of Mosul in the first half of 2016, Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told Reuters on Thursday. Mosul is the largest city under control of the militants who captured it in 2014 to declare a caliphate over vast swathes of Sunni populated regions of Iraq and Syria. | Reuters >>

Renee Montagne talks to Archbishop Bahshar Warda, a leader of Iraq’s Chaldean Christians, about the destruction of one of the oldest Christian monasteries in Iraq. | NPR >>

Military Affairs

Service members are being asked to fill out an online survey about their health that could help the Defense Department spot possible health problems in the military. | Military Times >>

Despite meteorologists suggesting this weekend’s snowstorm could be the biggest in the Washington, D.C., area’s history, the “Old Guard” announced they would remain in place during the blizzard. The cemetery itself will be closed to visitors, though the regiment will take 24-hour shifts at the Tomb, six soldiers at a time. | New York Daily News >>

Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller has found a simple way to get good Marines to stay in the service: just ask them to. “I am always talking to Marines about staying — from colonels and generals to lance corporals,” Neller told Marine Corps Times in a recent interview. “I was talking to a [sergeant] in the gym this morning at five o’clock who says he is getting out. I said, ‘What would it take to get you to stay?’” | Marine Corps Times >>

#VetsRising

This group of vets is fighting to help troops who were forced out of the military with less-than-honorable discharges due to mental health issues. | Task & Purpose >>

Kelley and Peter Guidry reached a milestone Thursday night: with help of other veterans they pedaled the first 222 miles of a 2,222-mile journey they hope to complete by Veterans Day in their #22DamnMany campaign. | Las Vegas Review-Journal >>

Eric Wolfe has come a long way. It was just a few years ago that this Valley dog trainer and U.S. Air Force veteran put a gun in his mouth and was ready to end his life. “I remember hugging my wife and saying, ‘This is not going to define me anymore,’” he said. | WTVR >>

Inside Washington

After months of delay, Eric Fanning finally was given a confirmation hearing Thursday by the Senate on his historic nomination by President Obama to become the first openly gay Army secretary. | Military.com >>

Nearly a half million veterans have rolled up their sleeves for science as the Veterans Affairs Department shoots to build the largest blood repository in the world. The VA’s Boston-based Million Veterans Program is advancing the research on DNA mapping to better understand genetic markers linked to illnesses such as cancers, heart disease, post-traumatic stress and mental health conditions. | Military Times >>

As a founding member of the Senate’s bipartisan Post 9/11 Veterans Caucus, U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) today took part in the caucus’ “Veterans and Agriculture Briefing” along with Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY). | KIOW >>

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