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Some Good VA News: Agency Processed Record-Setting 1.3M Claims in Fiscal 2014

By Bob Brewin // October 9, 2014

Allison Hickey, under secretary for benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs.
Allison Hickey, under secretary for benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs. // Cliff Owen/AP

The Department of Veterans Affairs said it processed more than 1.3 million disability compensation and pension claims in fiscal 2014, which ended last week. That’s the highest number in history, surpassing last year’s record-breaking production by more than 150,000 claims. 

The quality of claims decisions increased along with the number of claims processed, VA said.

The accuracy of VA decisions rose from 83 percent in 2011 to 90 percent this year, according to the agency. Looking only at medical issues, the accuracy rate rises to 96 percent.

VA said its move to a Web-based electronic claims-processing system has enabled quicker, more accurate and integrated benefits delivery. 

VA once processed 5,000 tons of paper annually. Today, it processes 93 percent of veterans’ disability claims electronically.

Undersecretary for Benefits Allison A. Hickey gave a hoorah to the employees of the Veterans Benefits Administration for the record-setting year.

“I am so proud of our employees – more than half of whom are veterans themselves – who continue to work tirelessly to deliver the benefits our veterans have earned through their service to our nation,” Hickey said. “But we all also recognize there is still much more work to do to...

BadUSB Denial?

By Bob Brewin // October 7, 2014

You can more/Shutterstock.com

Editor's note: An earlier version of this post briefly displayed an outdated story. The post has been updated.

I asked the Pentagon and the White House what they planned to do about vulnerabilities in Universal Serial Bus drives used in practically every computer and received generic and not very specific replies.

SRLabs of Germany says controller chips in the ubiquitous USB drives have no protection against reprogramming. Once reprogrammed, benign devices can turn malicious in many ways including installation of malware and stealing files.

"No effective defenses from USB attacks are known. Malware scanners cannot access the firmware running on USB devices. USB firewalls that block certain device classes do not (yet) exist,“ SRLabs said.

Wired, which reported Oct. 2 the BadUSB code had been released to the public, said today "Unpatchable USB Malware Now Has a Patch … Sort Of."

The fix, Wired said, requires the messy process of coating USB drives with epoxy to keep them being opened and a patch which disables boot mode that "would virtually eliminate the threat of malware that spreads from USB stick to PC and vice versa…"

But that patch has problems, Wired said. "Karsten Nohl, who first put the fundamental insecurity...

DOE Declassifies Oppenheimer Security Clearance Hearing Transcripts

By Bob Brewin // October 6, 2014

Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer on December 5, 1958.
Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer on December 5, 1958. // AP File Photo

J. Robert Oppenheimer was trustworthy enough to guide development of the atomic bomb at a Los Alamos, New Mexico, top-secret facility from 1942 to 1946. But he lost it in the witch hunts of potential communists in the federal government in the early 1950s.

In December 1953, the Atomic Energy Commission first suspended Oppenheimer’s security clearance and then revoked it outright after a four-week, closed-door hearing in April and May of 1954.

Steven Aftergood, who writes the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog said the Oppenheimer hearing “was a watershed event that signaled a crisis in the nuclear weapons bureaucracy and a fracturing of the early post-war national security consensus.”

He added, “It further represented a breakdown in relations between scientists and the U.S. government and within the scientific community itself.”

The Government Printing Office published a redacted version of the transcript in 1954, which “became a GPO best-seller and went on to inform countless historical studies,” Aftergood said.

The Energy Department has previously declassified some portions of the Oppenheimer transcript but the 20 volumes of the transcript released last Friday represent the first release of the complete unreacted text. They are now available on Energy’s...

Military Health System Does Not Like Patient Safety Bad News

By Bob Brewin // October 3, 2014

Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com

While the Military Health System received overall good grades in a review ordered by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the 765-page report, released yesterday, shows staffers in military hospitals feared retaliation for reporting patient safety problems.

Much like personnel at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals who blew the whistle on poor practices, MHS staffers expressed concerns that reporting patient problems would lead to a “punitive” response by management.

The MHS review team visited seven military hospitals and reported that “during staff rounds and town hall sessions … employees expressed concerns regarding an environment where reporting was not encouraged and in fact, responses were punitive in nature.”

While management at all seven hospitals indicated the importance of reporting problems, “at least one member of the staff at four out of seven facilities stated that they felt they would be retaliated against for speaking up regarding reporting errors and events,” the review said.

(Image via Steve Cukrov/Shutterstock.com)

Navy Celebrates 60th Anniversary of Nuclear Sub Force

By Bob Brewin // October 1, 2014

The USS Nautilus, pictured, was the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine.
The USS Nautilus, pictured, was the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine. // U.S. Navy

The Navy celebrated yesterday the commissioning of the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear submarine, 60 years ago, at a ceremony at the Submarine Force Museum and Library in Groton, Connecticut.

The nuclear reactor in the Nautilus allowed it to stay underwater for four months, unlike the diesel-powered subs that had to surface periodically to recharge batteries when underwater.

The Navy said the possibility of nuclear-powered vessels was just a dream in 1946 until the successful development of a nuclear propulsion plant by scientists and engineers at the Naval Reactors Branch of the Atomic Energy Commission. The program was driven to completion under the leadership of then-Capt. Hyman G. Rickover, widely known as the "Father of the Nuclear Navy."

The success of the Nautilus led to the Navy embracing nuclear power for all its submarines, followed by Russia, France, the United Kingdom, People's Republic of China, and India.

In an age when a new mobile phone app is called “revolutionary,” it’s good to have a reminder of the truly revolutionary breakthroughs in technology embodied in the Nautilus.

For more on the Nautilus, check out this article in the Naval History Blog.