VA researching possible link to veterans’ rare cancers, exposure to toxins

In today's Federal Newscast, veterans with certain medical conditions could be eligible for fast-tracked health benefits.

  • A new audit found that the military services have a major shortage of the specialized prosecutors they need to handle sexual assault cases. It has been almost a decade since Congress ordered the creation of special victims units, but the DoD Inspector General found specially-trained prosecutors were only assigned to about half of the military’s special victim cases between 2018 and 2020. The shortfall appears to be especially bad in the Air Force. That service only had enough specialized prosecutors for 6% of its cases. The rest were assigned to less-experienced legal staff. (Federal News Network)
  • The Pentagon is on track to open a dedicated office to coordinate DoD’s approach to zero trust cybersecurity by next month. That’s according to David McKeown, DoD’s chief information security officer. He told a conference hosted by C4ISRNET that the office will fall under the purview of the DoD CIO, and will be led by a newly-hired senior executive. McKeown said zero trust experts from across the military services will help with the new organization’s standup.
  • White-hat hackers could soon be advising the top U.S. cyber agency. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Director Jen Easterly said she will appoint hackers, researchers and academics to a new Cybersecurity Advisory Committee. A former National Security Agency hacker herself, Easterly said the community is crucial to helping CISA identify digital vulnerabilities across government and critical infrastructure. “I will give big props to those out there who are researchers and our hackers and our academics, because I want to ignite that community because they are absolutely critical to the safety and security of all of our technology and systems,” Easterly said.
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs is launching a new pilot model to research possible connections between veterans with certain rare cancers and exposure to toxins during military service. Research will occur over the next several months. Veterans with certain medical conditions could be eligible for fast-tracked health benefits if VA finds a connection. VA said the goal is to lower the amount of evidence veterans need to provide to access these benefits. The initiative will include efforts to train VA clinicians and benefits employees on toxic exposures. VA will also create a new call center and network of experts on environmental toxins to handle questions from veterans.
  • The FBI just named a new official to lead its insider threat program. Rachel Rojas was promoted to assistant director of the insider threat office at FBI headquarters this week. She was most recently the special agent in charge of the Jacksonville Field Office in Florida. Rojas was also the first Latina in FBI history to lead a field office.
  • A titan in the federal cyber community has died. Alan Paller, who led the charge over the past 30 years to promote the softer skills of cybersecurity as a way to deal with the ever growing threat, passed away on November 9. He was 76 years old. Paller founded the SANS Institute in 1998 and led it with a passion, a conviction and a sincerity rarely seen in the federal community. Paller believed security could only be improved by raising the quality of security operations by increasing and professionalizing the skill levels of security teams and managers. Paller is survived by his wife Marsha and two daughters, Channing and Brooke.  (Federal News Network)
  • A federal district court denied a second group of federal employees a chance to quickly block the vaccine mandate. The case involves over 30 federal employees and contractors. They asked for emergency temporary relief from the mandate and sued in the US District Court for the District of Columbia. But a federal judge refused to grant them emergency relief. The same court issued a similar opinion earlier this week in another case involving 20 other federal employees and servicemembers. (Federal News Network)
  • The State Department’s chief data officer is making diversity and inclusion top management priorities under the agency’s first enterprise data strategy. CDO Matthew Graviss said his team is partnering with the agency’s chief diversity and inclusion officer, as part of the first management theme of the data strategy. Graviss said he and the Enterprise Data Council will propose themed campaigns to Deputy Secretary for Management and Resources Brian McKeon every six months, and will cover as many as a dozen agency priorities. (Federal News Network)
  • The head of the IRS urged Congress to finalize a spending deal that will give the agency more resources. The IRS is on-track to receive $80 billion over the next 10 years to help beef up its enforcement and improve taxpayer services. But that is only if Congress moves the Build Back Better Act over the finish line. IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig, in a Washington Post op-ed, said audits of taxpayers earning more than $1M per year dropped more than 60% over the last decade. With added resources, Rettig said the IRS will be able to recover an additional $400 billion in taxes already owed.
  • The Biden administration is challenging public and private sector experts to come up with ideas to reduce the barriers in federal procurement. The Office of Federal Procurement Policy and the Energy Department launched a two-week challenge on November 9 seeking ways to overcome frequent reasons why underserved communities struggle to take part in the federal marketplace. Participants can submit ideas or vote and comment on other submissions. Energy and OFPP expect the challenge to result in a list of short-term actions for agencies to consider when developing plans to address these procurement barriers.

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