Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

At the Pentagon, it’s all about brain injuries today; One veteran has waited 462 days for VA help; Levin strips anti-sexual assault measure from bill; NSA chief testifies today on the Hill; and a bit more.

By Gordon Lubold Daddy’s "Army sickness:" The story of a veteran who has waited 462 days for a VA claim to be processed. USA Today: "Michael ‘Mickey’ Flynn D’heron waits for the VA on his backyard patio. Between his small brick home and the sound wall that barely cuts traffic noise on busy Memorial Parkway, ...

By Gordon Lubold

By Gordon Lubold

Daddy’s "Army sickness:" The story of a veteran who has waited 462 days for a VA claim to be processed. USA Today: "Michael ‘Mickey’ Flynn D’heron waits for the VA on his backyard patio. Between his small brick home and the sound wall that barely cuts traffic noise on busy Memorial Parkway, he bides his time, drinking Miller Light and smoking Pall Malls. He’s waiting for the Department of Veterans Affairs to compensate him for the demons he brought home from Iraq. ‘I’ll tell you the truth. I never believed in mental illness,’ says D’heron, a city firefighter and former Army reservist. ‘Never. I always thought that you suck it up; deal with it. And then this.’ D’heron, 32, served from 2008 to 2009 as a military police officer in two of Iraq’s most violent cities during heavy combat after a surge of 20,000 American troops into the country in 2007. Now he spends nights outside on his patio, wrapped in a heavy blanket, hunkered down in an office swivel chair, isolated from his wife, Jennifer, his newborn son, Liam, and a stepdaughter, Kayla, 7, who puzzles over dad’s ‘Army sickness.’ ‘It’s like he’s not even part of the family most of the time,’ Jennifer says. Full story, here.

The numbers: There are 851,229 vets waiting on claims, and nearly 65 percent of them, or 565,327, are considered backlogged because they have been awaiting a decision for more than 125 days. The average wait time for veterans for a processed claim is now about 330 days, according to the VA, which has pledged more transparency in its bid to reduce the backlog by 2015. "The encouraging news is that since March, when the issue rose to national prominence, the backlog has decreased by 64,258 claims (a 10.2% decrease in total backlogged claims), and the percentage of backlogged claims has decreased by 3.3%," Situation Report is told by Zach Goldberg of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "However, in order to eliminate the backlog by 2015, the VA must reduce the backlog by 4,672 claims per week, a reduction the VA has met 10 times since June of 2012." The IAVA’s Paul Rieckhoff continues to push for President Barack Obama, who pledged to fix the VA system when he first ran for office, to speak directly to the current issue of the backlog and then take more steps toward action. VA data here.

The Pentagon takes up TBI today. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s office is hosting a high-level meeting today to talk about how to make faster progress on diagnosing and treating traumatic brain injury. The "Secretary of Defense Symposium on Traumatic Brain Injury" will be led by senior leaders from DOD and other "supporting organizations" will also participate, Situation Report is told. Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Marty Dempsey will kick off the event; Army Secretary John McHugh, Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Jessica Wright and White House Director for Veterans, Wounded Warriors and Military Families Rosye Cloud are all expected to attend.

Anand Veeravagu, a neurosurgeon and White House fellow who is a special assistant to the defense secretary will chair the meeting. "Besides senior defense officials and experts on TBI inside and outside of government, a strong contingent of Secretary Hagel’s core staff are expected to attend, including Marcel Lettre, Michael Lumpkin, and Shelly Stoneman," a defense official tells Situation Report. "The goal of the symposium is to raise awareness, facilitate military and civilian cooperation, and foster innovative approaches to brain injury prevention, research, and treatment – all issues extremely important to Secretary Hagel."

Welcome to Wednesday’s edition of Situation Report, where we note the number 292. That’s the percentage increase of sales on Amazon of Orwell’s 1984, driven by disclosures of the NSA surveillance programs. Orwell’s book is now among the "Movers and Shakers" list of pubs on the site. Sign up for Situation Report here or just e-mail us. And as always, if you have a report, piece of news, or a tidbit you want teased, send it to us early for maximum tease. Please follow us @glubold. And remember, if you see something, say something — to Situation Report.

In the hotseat: the NSA’s Keith Alexander. The head of the super-secret National Security Agency that is smack-dab in the middle of the political storm over the NSA’s surveillance programs will appear today at 2pm before the Senate Appropriations Committee in a previously scheduled hearing. But it will be the first time the Air Force four-star will appear in public to speak to the revelations about the NSA program since the news first broke last week. Deets on Alexander’s testimony today, here.

Check out this pic from China – could it be the country’s new stealth fighter? FP’s John Reed reports: Another close-up picture (above) has emerged via the Alert5 Internet forum showing what might be China’s second stealth fighter. Pictures of the mystery plane first appeared about a month ago, depicting a tarpaulin-covered jet sitting on the back of a flatbed truck, rumored to be en-route to Shenyang, home of the Shenyang Aircraft Corporation. While nothing official has been said about the plane, some are guessing that it may be a full-scale mock up or prototype of the F-60 — Shenyang’s rival to Chengdu Aircraft Corporation’s famous J-20 stealth fighter. And: "The mystery jet appears to be smaller than the J-20, perhaps better suited for dog-fighting or as a multirole air-to-air and air-to-ground jet akin to the U.S.-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. At first glance, it was thought to simply be a Hongdu L-15 trainer. However, the new image and last month’s photos show a silhouette that, on close inspection, looks like a real-life version of this model, dubbed the F-60, which Shenyang has displayed at trade events… Aircraft companies routinely show off models of concept designs that never make it off the design table, so the emergence of a full-size version of the F-60 (if that’s what the jet under the tarp is) would be a fairly big deal."

Carl Levin is stripping the anti-sexual assault measure sought by other Dems from the defense bill. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, will remove a provision in the defense bill that was to give outside prosecutors authority in sexual assault and other cases, a controversial move over a controversial proposal. The change, pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a fellow Democrat, and others, would have fundamentally altered the military justice system in that it would remove from the chain of command the power to prosecute – or not prosecute – such cases. The Pentagon has argued forcefully but not always convincingly that removing that authority from the chain of command could undermine good order and discipline. The NYT’s Jennifer Steinhauer: "Mr. Levin, Democrat of
Michigan, said he would replace Ms. Gillibrand’s measure – which has 27 co-sponsors, including four Republicans – with one that would require a senior military officer to review decisions by commanders who decline to prosecute sexual assault cases. Although Mr. Levin’s measure would change the current system, it would keep prosecution of sexual assault cases within the chain of command, as the military wants. Mr. Levin’s decision to support military brass in their resistance to Ms. Gillibrand’s proposal sets up a confrontation between a long-serving chairman of the committee with strong ties to the armed forces and a relatively new female member – one of a record seven women serving on the committee – who has made sexual assault in the military a signature issue."

The Pentagon IG looks again at the Medal of Honor case of Will Swenson. The IG is examining a controversial Medal of Honor case, in limbo for almost four years, of Army Capt. Will Swenson. Marine Corps Times’ Dan Lamothe: "Swenson has received nothing despite widespread acknowledgment that he coordinated U.S. forces in the battle and saved numerous lives in the process. Army officials said last year that the captain was initially put up for the Medal of Honor in late 2009, only for his nomination to be lost. It was subsequently resubmitted and approved by the Pentagon, but is now said to be stalled at the White House. It wasn’t clear what aspect of Swenson’s case the IG is reviewing. A so-called "15-6" investigation into the handling of Swenson’s initial package was carried out, but the Army has not released it, despite numerous requests from members of the media and Congress. In his letter to Hagel on Tuesday, Hunter reiterated a previous request for a copy of the investigation report." Full story, here.

CNAS, all day. The Center for a New American Security has its big annual conference at its satellite offices – in the Willard Hotel in DC. CNAS’ Bob Work kicked it off this morning, followed by Sen. Bob Corker of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, who will be interviewed by Bloomberg’s Al Hunt; then there’s a "Defense Strategy Beyond Sequestration" with CNAS’ Shawn Brimley and Wes Bush of Northrop-Grumman, Eric Edelman of CSBA and Michele Flournoy of CNAS.

That’s followed by remarks on constrained budgets by DepSecDef Ash Carter; then Dave Barno speaks about "Silicon, Iron and Shadow: Three Wars That will Define America’s Future." Then FP’s own Noah Shachtman moderates a discussion on "Bugs, Bytes and Bots," with FP’s Rosa Brooks and Noetic Corp.’s Ben Fitzgerald and CNAS’ Irving Lachow. Full conference agenda here.


  • Small Wars: Sequestration as a Godsend. Run DOD like a modern business. 
  • USA Today: Alexander is key administration voice on cyber.  
  • The Iran Primer: Old war haunts new election.
  • Defense News: Lawmakers give defense contractors reason to sweat after PRISM leak.
  • The Atlantic: Choose one: secrecy and democracy are incompatible.
  • Fountain Ink: How the largest Syrian refugee camp became a mini-Syria.
  • U.S. News: New military UAV may lead to commercial drone flights.
  • Al-Monitor: Turkey-Kurdish peace could be victim of showdown in Turkey.
  • The Onion: Area man outraged his private information being collected by someone other than advertisers.







Gordon Lubold is a national security reporter for Foreign Policy. He is also the author of FP's Situation Report, an e-mailed newsletter that is blasted out to more than 70,000 national security and foreign affairs subscribers each morning that includes the top nat-sec news, breaking news, tidbits, nuggets and what he likes to call "candy." Before arriving at FP, he was a senior advisor at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, where he wrote on national security and foreign policy. Prior to his arrival at USIP, he was a defense reporter for Politico, where he launched the popular Morning Defense early morning blog and tip-sheet. Prior to that, he was the Pentagon and national security correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, and before that he was the Pentagon correspondent for the Army Times chain of newspapers. He has covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and other countries in South Asia, and has reported on military matters in sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and Latin America as well as at American military bases across the country. He has spoken frequently on the sometimes-contentious relationship between the military and the media as a guest on numerous panels. He also appears on radio and television, including on CNN, public radio's Diane Rehm and To the Point, and C-SPAN's Washington Journal. He lives in Alexandria with his wife and two children. Twitter: @glubold

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