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Overhaul of VA’s medical records still on track to finish in 2028 despite delays, officials say

Despite serious errors with the department’s electronic records overhaul so far, Veterans Affairs officials told lawmakers on Thursday they are confident in the new system and their ability to finish the project on time in fiscal 2028.“We will get this effort back on track,” VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said during testimony before the House…

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Overhaul of VA’s medical records still on track to finish in 2028 despite delays, officials say

Despite serious errors with the department’s electronic records overhaul so far, Veterans Affairs officials told lawmakers on Thursday they are confident in the new system and their ability to finish the project on time in fiscal 2028.“We will get this effort back on track,” VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said during testimony before the House Appropriations Committee. “This will succeed because success is non-negotiable. It’s a must-do.“We will create the first electronic health record system that allows veterans to access their healthcare records in one place, from the first day they put on their uniform to the last day of their lives.”RELATEDRemy’s statement was met with skepticism from members of the committee, who noted years of missteps and failures with the medical records effort.“We’ve had a long string of leaders at the VA tell us that the intention is to finish in 10 years, that the intention is to be transparent, that the intention is to not affect patient safety. And none of that ever happens,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., chairwoman of the committee’s panel on veterans issues.In 2018, President Donald Trump’s administration announced plans for a 10-year, $16-billion overhaul of VA’s medical records with the goal of putting the veterans system on the same platform as the Department of Defense. The idea was to provide a single, flexible and lifelong records system for troops and veterans, a goal of outside advocates for years.But in March, after more than three years of work, department leaders halted the program after uncovering serious problems — including potential patient safety issues — with the roll out.That delayed planned deployment of the new system — Cerner’s Millennium software — at several sites this year, and raised questions about the long-term viability of the project.Remy acknowledged the patient safety issues — issues like missing medical information or potential medication conflicts — presented a serious threat, but he also said none of the problems resulted in harm to any patients at the initial rollout sites.He insisted those have been addressed through a department strategic review, although lawmakers said they will request more detailed listings of the issues and corrections in coming weeks.Remy also said the initial problems, while serious, are also typically seen in private-sector implementation of new electronic medical records systems.The deputy secretary also defended the Cerner system, noting it has been successfully implemented in numerous private-sector health care systems. VA leaders have said despite not being involved in the last administration’s decision to buy the system, they do not have any plans to abandon it.VA officials have already moved more than 24 million veteran health records into the new system. All VA facilities were expected to be using the system by the end of 2028, and Remy said he is still focused on that as a completion date.“As I’ve looked at the program and examined the challenges that we’ve had and looked to how we plan to move forward in the future, I’m confident that we can meet that 10-year timeline,” he said.RELATEDThe department is planning a revamped roll-out schedule, to start with sites in two regional networks next year. They include sites in Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.VA officials also said they are unsure if the new deployment schedule will increase the costs of the massive project. Remy said a full cost estimate is expected next year, a timeline that brought criticism from several lawmakers.Wasserman Schultz said her panel is planning more frequent oversight hearings on the issue in coming months, to ensure that work is continuing as planned.“The only way we’re going to ensure we’re made aware of the comprehensive information necessary for our oversight is to have these hearings more frequently,” she said.Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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In the annual football uniform dispute, 2021 Army trumps Navy

Every year, West Point’s Black Knights and the Naval Academy’s Midshipmen duke it out on the football field to fanfare mostly stemming from the rivalry between Naval and Army officers. It’s a weekend that gives service members a good reason to drink, watch sports and argue over which branch is the greatest.But notably for those…

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In the annual football uniform dispute, 2021 Army trumps Navy

Every year, West Point’s Black Knights and the Naval Academy’s Midshipmen duke it out on the football field to fanfare mostly stemming from the rivalry between Naval and Army officers. It’s a weekend that gives service members a good reason to drink, watch sports and argue over which branch is the greatest.But notably for those of us who may be lowly enlisted or non-academy commissioned, the teams unveil new uniforms for the game each year. While some of these get-ups are absolutely magnificent, like the Army’s sexy 2018 black and red alternates, others quite honestly suck (here’s looking at you, 2020).This year, however, both teams stepped up their sartorial game.The Navy, we think, chose to honor the F/A-18 Super Hornets. It’s that or the seafaring branch is paying homage to Top Gun before its springtime sequel release. Frankly, we’re not sure. Either way, the solid dark blue uniforms have pops of patriotism, though the Midshipmen clearly weren’t interested in branching out color-wise. The current roundel, in the form of a white star sandwiched between one red and two white stripes posted on each shoulder, screams Americana, as do the pants with matching red and white stripes down each side. Hooyah.The coolest part of the Midshipmen’s 2021 look is definitely found on their heads and hands (which they’ll need to use in equal measure if they want to beat the Black Knights this year). The helmets feature gold wings earned by Navy pilots, flight officers and aircrew, with a shiny Super Hornet painted on one side.Their gloves read “Fly Navy” and they carry the unit patch for the Strike Fighter Wing, U.S. Atlantic Fleet out of Oceana, Virginia, on their chests.And while those uniforms are snazzy and heavy on Independence Day-styled patriotism, the Army’s uniforms are just… so much more.The Black Knights pay tribute to what has been a rough year for service members and veterans, marking not only the end of the “forever war” in Afghanistan but the 20-year anniversary of 9/11. West Point clearly took those events into consideration when crafting this downright masterpiece of a uniform.Though the ensemble isn’t as in-your-face as the Navy’s, its symbolism is much heavier.Each jersey carries an “Army” patch and a mirror patch emblazoned with the words “De Oppresso Liber,” which is Latin for “from being an oppressed man to being a free one.” It is the motto for Army Special Forces. The jerseys also carry the collar devices — really sticking with that utilities trend — worn by members of the Special Forces, showcasing crossed arrows and the letters “U” and “S.”“United We Stand” replaces the word “Army” found on the back of regular season uniforms.The Army’s helmets also bear the Special Forces crest and crossed arrows, an American flag, and unit insignia for the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment’s Night Stalkers. The date of the 2001 terrorist attacks are located front and center.Similar to the way small details are important in any military uniform inspection, the special touches found on the Black Knights’ cleats take the cake this year.On top of each boot is a pentagon-shaped logo with the twin towers of the World Trade Center in red, white and blue. While the Navy’s uniforms are sure to please crowds and a couch-stomping Tom Cruise, the Army’s uniforms, like its formidable 2021 team, command respect.Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.
Rachel is a Marine Corps veteran, Penn State alumna and Master’s candidate at New York University for Business and Economic Reporting.

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Positive COVID test prompts National Guard chief to self-isolate

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Army Gen. Dan Hokanson, tested positive for COVID-19 this week, according to a brief Friday afternoon statement.“The Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Dan Hokanson, is working remotely and isolating himself from contact with others, after a positive COVID-19 test this week,” said Guard spokesman Wayne V.…

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Positive COVID test prompts National Guard chief to self-isolate

The chief of the National Guard Bureau, Army Gen. Dan Hokanson, tested positive for COVID-19 this week, according to a brief Friday afternoon statement.“The Chief of the National Guard Bureau, Gen. Dan Hokanson, is working remotely and isolating himself from contact with others, after a positive COVID-19 test this week,” said Guard spokesman Wayne V. Hall in the statement. “All other members of the National Guard Bureau staff are continuing with their duties under the existing COVID protocols, and all continue to be tested, as required.”Hall did not immediately respond to follow-up questions sent by Military Times. RELATEDHokanson was appointed to his current position in August 2020, when he received his fourth star.Pentagon data shows that there have been 77 service member deaths attributed to COVID-19 since the outbreak of the pandemic. There have been more than 254,000 reported COVID-19 cases among uniformed personnel and 2,291 hospitalizations. Military Times previously reported in mid-November that there have been more than 40,000 COVID-19 cases in the National Guard. In September, the Defense Department implemented a vaccination mandate for all service members. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin also issued a memo Nov. 30 stating that Guardsmen who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 won’t be eligible for any federal training or pay, which includes monthly drill weekends.Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.

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‘Toyotas of War’ is the photo archive we never knew we needed

No one can argue that Toyota vehicles are dependable, affordable, and abundant. But ask any veteran of the last 50 years and they’ll tell you these Japanese automobiles are vehicles of war.In fact, there was even a Toyota War fought in the late 80s between Libya and Chad, named thus for the Toyota Hilux and…

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‘Toyotas of War’ is the photo archive we never knew we needed

No one can argue that Toyota vehicles are dependable, affordable, and abundant. But ask any veteran of the last 50 years and they’ll tell you these Japanese automobiles are vehicles of war.In fact, there was even a Toyota War fought in the late 80s between Libya and Chad, named thus for the Toyota Hilux and the Toyota LandCruiser, which the Chadians selected for their durability and mobility in battle.But one man, Chris, 26, has made it his life’s work to chronicle the use of Toyotas in combat through his Instagram page @ToyotasofWar.“While working for a defense company that was building out Toyotas, I become obsessed with learning and gathering as much info on them as possible,” Chris told Military Times. “Part of that process was compiling any photos I came across. Over time, the page morphed into a way for guys and gals to share their own photos and stories of trucks from deployment.”His fascination with the vehicle’s history is what fuels the feed, which he views as a form of photojournalism. Chris compiles the photographs and archives their unique histories.“I believe the page has morphed into a unique combination of car content and photo-based wartime journalism,” he said. “In a social media world, we provide a nice change of pace. The ‘mall crawler’ and ‘overlander’ content is played out. Too many vehicles have turned into a rolling gear catalogue. We like to focus on the vehicles and how they are used.”His favorite part of running the page, Chris said, is when someone converts to being a Toyota-buyer.“I love sharing stories of Toyota reliability and how much abuse they can take,” he said. “I always get a kick out of the DMs saying, ‘Congrats, I will now be buying a Toyota. —Current Nissan owner.’”Toyota’s DNA, he said, is based upon military vehicle designs. The staying power of Toyota from the Korean War through contemporary conflicts, however, comes down to its adaptability.“Reliability and availability,” Chris said. “They work — and when they don’t, parts are widely available. It’s also important to understand the history of Toyota. [The company] received the design for the Model BM truck and the Willys Jeep from the U.S. Army as part of the Korean War effort. Eventually, Toyota’s version of the Jeep morphed into what is known as the modern day ‘LandCruiser.’”And in fact, his favorite Toyota is the 79 series LandCruiser.“As an American, it’s the proverbial ‘forbidden fruit,’” he added.But it’s the white Toyota pickup truck that became somewhat synonymous with the War on Terror. However, according to Chris, it’s more a mix of coincidence and strategy.“Statistically, white cars are popular worldwide,” he noted. “Last numbers I saw, close to 40 percent of the cars sold in the Middle East were color white. White paint stays cooler in the sun (up to 15 degrees cooler), plus they are are easier to maintain visually (don’t show scratches, and have a higher resale value). Tactically — white provides a decent base color that can be masked/camouflaged with mud mix.”And it’s not just pickup trucks, he added. Toyotas of all shapes and sizes are seen in combat around the world.“Vehicles in all forms are used,” he said. “Sedans, vans, scooters, I have even come across a forklift in use.”This was the case on Aug. 29 when the U.S. Defense Department authorized a drone strike after commanders mistakenly thought they found a white Toyota sedan packed with explosives driven by an Islamic State operative. It turns out that the driver was an aid worker transporting water for his family. The hellfire strike killed seven children and three adults.On Nov. 3, the Defense Department announced that it found no misconduct in a review of the drone strike.The review, carried out by Air Force Lt. Gen. Sami Said, found issues of communication and in the process of identifying and confirming the target ofn the strike, Military Times previously reported. Ultimately, however, it was concluded that the mistaken strike happened despite prudent measures to prevent civilian deaths.The U.S. is moving now to make financial reparations to the family, and possibly help them seek asylum outside Afghanistan.Chris’ last name was omitted from this story to protect the privacy of the @ToyotasofWar account manager.Observation Post is the Military Times one-stop shop for all things off-duty. Stories may reflect author observations.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digital Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.

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