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IAVA Daily News Brief – October 2, 2015

Today’s Top Stories

WATCH: What the VA really does to whistleblowers
Two whistleblowers from the Department of Veterans Affairs told the Washington Examiner that while the VA claims to want to hear complaints from its employees, it does everything it can to fight back and defend itself. “They circle the wagons,” said Shea Wilkes, a VA employee in Louisiana. “I mean, they circle the wagons hard.” | Washington Examiner >>

Veterans Hospital Approved for Completion
Congress has approved a deal to let the Veterans Affairs Department complete a long-delayed and over-budget medical center outside Denver. The department can now shift the $625 million it needs to finish the hospital from elsewhere in its budget after a series of votes on Wednesday in the House and the Senate. | Associated Press >>

VA To OSC: We Substantiated Allegations Of Whistleblower Driven Out Of Her Job
The Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility in Albuquerque, N.M., has just substantiated the first set of allegations made by whistleblower Vanessa Lech, who was driven out of her job in retaliation for reporting her supervisor’s misconduct in addition to concerns about patient and staff safety. | Daily Caller >>

Afghanistan

According to calculations at the end of last year by the Financial Times and others, the war had already cost almost $1 trillion (less than the $1.7 trillion spent on Iraq, but still staggering). The official responsible for scrutinizing spending, U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) John Sopko, says that, adjusted for inflation, efforts at development in Afghanistan have now cost more than the Marshall Plan to reconstruct post-World War Two Europe. | Reuters >>

Afghan troops recaptured the centre of the strategic northern city of Kunduz on Thursday amid fierce clashes with Taliban militants, three days after losing the provincial capital in a humbling defeat for Kabul and its U.S. allies. | Reuters >>

An Afghanistan trauma hospital and Doctors Without Borders staff were caught in the crossfire Thursday as the Taliban and Afghan security forces — with help from U.S. troops — battled for control of the provincial capital of Kunduz. | CNN >>

Iraq

Iraqi Muslim scholars are warning that Russian airstrikes in Syria could herald similar attacks in Iraq. In a statement issued Wednesday, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq criticized the alleged agreement among Russia, Syria, Iraq and Iran to share intelligence about the Islamic State group, saying any foreign intervention in the Middle East will harm civilians and escalate violence in the region, according to the Middle East Monitor. | International Business Times >>

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi joins chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner to discuss Russia’s launch of military action in Syria, whether Iraq would allow Russian forces inside its borders to fight the Islamic State and the announcement of a pact to share intelligence with Iran, Syria and Russia. | PBS >>

Kurdish forces said they drove Islamic State militants out of villages near the oil city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq on Wednesday, in an offensive backed by airstrikes from the U.S.-led coalition. | Reuters >>

Military Affairs

The U.S. Army is testing remote controlled weapons systems for base perimeter security. The tests at Fort Bliss, Texas, involve unmanned, weaponized towers, which aim to make more effective use of military personnel. | Fox News >>

The Navy is hosting a ceremony Thursday to formally reestablish a training squadron for sailors who fly its minesweeping helicopters, some two decades after the unit was disbanded as part of a broader consolidation. The change is part of the service’s ongoing effort to reinvest in its MH-53E Sea Dragons, an aging helicopter program that has dealt with a series of maintenance and safety problems since 2012. | The Virginian-Pilot >>

The Army has issued a policy requiring that mothers be given time to breast-feed and express milk on the job, making it the final branch of service to adopt a policy. The directive, signed by Secretary of the Army John McHugh and dated Sept. 29, says commanders must provide breast-feeding soldiers with a private space with a lock, electrical outlet and access to a safe water source for pumping during duty hours. | Stars and Stripes >>

#VetsRising

The University of Southern Maine will host the state premiere of a documentary detailing soldiers’ wartime trauma and their struggles to transition home. The documentary, titled “Searching for Home: Coming Back from War,” will premiere Oct. 3 at the university’s Hannaford Hall in the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. It is free and open to the public. Doors open at 7 p.m. | Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal >>

Hunter started losing his sight in his twenties when he was a Marine Corps 2nd Lieutenant. Now 48 years old, he’s almost completely blind. But despite that loss, Hunter started competing in triathlons with the help of human guides. | CBS News >>

A local woman shot and injured during a robbery at a local cell phone store is facing a big challenge. As a result of the shooting, Julie Dombo has lost both legs and both arms. Now a local veteran is helping Julie adjust to the changes. Matt Amos of Mount Hope was on his third deployment in Afghanistan when he stepped on an explosive. He lost both his legs. He’s made it his new mission to pay it forward. | KAKE.com >>

Inside Washington

A former veteran whom I described last month as “the lost soul of the VA” has been found. Good news to share. After The Watchdog asked the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs about the forgotten appeal hearing promised to former Air Force Sgt. Rickey Staves, the Fort Worth vet got his hearing last week. | Dallas Morning News >>

The Department of Veterans Affairs ran its troubled Denver hospital project $625 million into the red, but it also might have made questionable art purchases, according to one congressman. | Stars and Stripes >>

The White House issued a veto threat on Thursday for a Senate appropriations bill for military construction, Veterans Affairs and related agencies, saying the bill would lock in cuts and prevent it from closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility. | Reuters >>

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