Georgia posts private information of 300,000 absentee voters

The office of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp recently posted a public spreadsheet containing the home addresses and contact information of nearly 300,000 absentee voters, including disabled, elderly and active-duty military personnel. Shortly after releasing the information, he declared victory in his contentious race for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams. The public disclosure of this … Continue reading “Georgia posts private information of 300,000 absentee voters”

The office of Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp recently posted a public spreadsheet containing the home addresses and contact information of nearly 300,000 absentee voters, including disabled, elderly and active-duty military personnel. Shortly after releasing the information, he declared victory in his contentious race for governor against Democrat Stacey Abrams.

The public disclosure of this private information is standard practice, according to Kemp’s office, but still raises the specter of voter intimidation just as his campaign for governor declares victory over Abrams.

Currently, Republican Brad Raffensperger and Democrat John Barrow are in a tight race that's headed to a Dec. 4 runoff election, over the vacated Secretary of State position.

In the weeks leading up to the midterm elections, Kemp came under fire for his controversial dual role as candidate and Georgia secretary of state. His office purged over 650,000 people from the rolls in 2017, and almost 90,000 in 2018, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The years-long practice of purging Georgia’s voter rolls is the backdrop to more recent scandals arising during Kemp’s tenure. In early November, days before the midterm elections, his office opened an investigation into allegations that Abrams’ campaign attempted to hack voter registration files. Kemp and his office cited no evidence, and drew criticism for the timing of his announcement.

Candace Broce, the spokeswoman for the secretary of state, said the office has been publishing the information for more than a decade – in compliance with state law. She said the office has never faced legal challenges or lawsuits for the practice.

Broce also said the state’s VoteSafe program, enacted in 2009, is a way for voters to maintain their privacy in the face of the intrusive law.

In 2017, Kemp's office again drew attention for security lapses at the state's election management center, according to The Associated Press. The researcher who originally blew the whistle on the vulnerabilities said the server may have been exposed to potential hacking for nearly seven months. A lawsuit against Kemp's office was ultimately dismissed.

Kemp, who was elected secretary of state in 2010, has been criticized for closing a number of polling places across Georgia during his tenure. An analysis by The Journal-Constitution found that nearly 8 percent of polling locations have shut their doors since 2012 — that's 214 fewer precincts for Georgia voters to cast their ballots in.

Decorated Vermont Veteran dealing with terminal cancer after burn pit exposure

The family of a top-ranking official from the Vermont National Guard says that an aggressive form of pancreatic cancer has left him with only a short time to live and that his dire situation is due to his exposure to burn pits while he served overseas.

Brigadier General Michael T. Heston, who also was one of the highest ranking members of his state's National Guard when he served as Assistant Adjutant General, completed a total of three tours in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2012. Each time, he was exposed to the toxic clouds that emanated from burn pits– a system of waste disposal, used on military bases, where everything from plastics to batteries to appliances to medical and human waste was thrown into open-air dumps, doused with jet fuel, and set ablaze. At nearly every single base where Heston was stationed, active burn pits were near their barracks and other common areas.

Less than a decade since he returned from service, Heston is now fighting terminal Stage IV pancreatic cancer.

“He had been in treatment until this past September,” Heston’s wife, June, said in an interview with Fox News. “He stopped chemo [therapy] and then started radiation treatment until two weeks ago, when they told him that there was nothing more that they can do.”

“I feel like once they told him, he’s been very ill. There’s no treatment left for him.”

Heston (right) was one of the most decorated and highest ranking officers in Vermont’s Army National Guard. (Courtesy of the Heston family.)

Heston, who also was a Vermont State Trooper and is currently in home hospice care, commanded at all levels throughout his 34-year career, starting with platoons and working his way up to brigades. He returned in 2012 and started feeling symptoms in March 2016. What started as back pain turned out to be cancer, but June says it took nearly 10 months for him to get a proper diagnosis.

“They spent months trying to figure it out,” she says. “They didn’t give him the test that would have shown his cancer.”

June adds that they went to Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where he finally got the diagnosis that he and his family feared.

“They said it was a rare form of cancer. Where have we heard that before?” June asked, referring to the number of veterans who fell ill after being exposed to burn pits.

Tens of thousands of veterans reportedly believe their health has been compromised by the polluting smoke expelled from burn pits on their bases.

Video

The burn pit method was originally a temporary measure during the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan as a way to quickly dispose of waste and garbage on military installations. The vets claim their prolonged exposure to toxic air left tens of thousands of them, as well as private contractors, with a myriad of illnesses including various forms of cancer and severe respiratory issues. Many succumbed to their illness, but nearly all who feared they got sick from exposure to burn pits never received proper help from the country they went to war to defend.

A registry was created by the Veterans Administration in 2011, but signing it does not guarantee any form of assistance. Service members and their families concerned with the effects of burn pit exposure say they struggle to keep up with the high cost of medical treatments. There are more than 140,000 names signed to the VA registry.

Heston was one of those veterans who signed the registry and urged others to do so, as well.

Heston’s Wife June and their children, Dr. Kelsey Heston, 26 and Keegan, 22, (L-R) are tending to their father after he recently stopped treatment and returned home for hospice care. (Courtesy of the Heston Family)

“He put out a note to all his soldiers to sign up for that registry,” his wife said. “He was big on that. He always said that if the VA created a registry, we know we have a problem.”

Heston and his family initially had trouble navigating claim filings with the Pentagon and the Veterans Administration.

“He was denied a claim from the Defense Department, but luckily, the VA accepted and he has gotten a disability claim,” June said, adding that she is sharing her husband’s story in hopes that it will help those veterans who were not as fortunate.

“We were one of the lucky ones, but what about all those vets who weren’t so lucky?”

June and her family are now waiting for the worst and say that many other veterans and their families will continue to deal with this new reality.

“The rate of cancer is higher among veterans when compared to other people,” she said.

“It will be like Agent Orange again.”

Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, where he has worked on the issue, said, “Mike Heston has been a dedicated public servant and the very definition of a true leader as long as I have known him. True to form, he has transformed his own difficult personal struggle with cancer into a fight for the men and women of the Vermont National Guard and throughout the nation who may be suffering from exposure to airborne hazards from burn pits.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a producer with Fox News Channel’s Investigative Unit. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych

Lead may be making Newark’s water poisonous

Lead kills.

Lead is an ancient toxin continuing to wreak havoc despite modern knowledge of its danger. In 1977 lead paint was banned in America. Then in 1986 the use of lead pipes was banned.

And yet, Flint happened.

The dangers of lead consumption have been known for decades. Researchers have found that even low levels of lead in the body can cause serious health problems.

Lead serves no purpose in the body, which is why the body does not know how to process it. Unfortunately, lead resembles calcium so the body treats it as such. Calcium is vital to brain function. In the body lead goes where calcium should, leaving the deadly toxin in places like the bones, teeth and brain.

"Lead is a slow-release toxin that can’t be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water."

Children are especially at risk. Their brains are still developing and lead can cause intellectual disability.  Early exposure to lead can have lifelong consequences, but symptoms aren’t always apparent. Lead is a slow-release toxin that can’t be seen, tasted or smelled in drinking water.

This Feb. 5, 2016 file photo shows the Flint Water Plant tower in Flint, Mich. Michigan. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

Flint wasn’t the only place bludgeoned by lead. As the crisis roiled, concerns were raised nationwide about the safety of America’s drinking water. That concern embroiled one of the largest cities in New Jersey.

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Drinking Water Watch database, 20 out of 24 samples taken from the City of Newark have already exceeded the federal action level of 15 parts per billion for the current monitoring period. The current monitoring period runs from July 1 to December 31 of this year. Though the period has not ended, one sample provided found 250 parts per billion. That’s 177 percent
higher than the allowable federal lead level.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both agree that in fact there is no known safe level of lead.  Newark leads New Jersey in the number of lead-poisoned children from all potential sources.

The old industrial city of Newark—a town that no other Newark wanted to be mistaken for has been swept up in an aggressive renaissance. Newly minted eateries line downtown Halsey Street and nearby Military Park has been clean-cut—complete with a working carousel. But in spite of the city spinning and fielding Amazonian offers, the lead furor still washed into the Brick City. In 2016, elevated lead levels were found in Newark schools.

Forget the new Brooklyn—is Newark the new Flint?

“The water in our schools was shut off for over nine months.”

— Donna Jackson, Newark Resident

Flint’s exposure of government ineptitude continues to linger. In May, misgivings followed a group into a Newark Baptist church one grey Thursday night. A town hall meeting was scheduled about lead levels in Newark water. Flyers outside the sanctuary showed a girl grasping a glass with an ominous DANGER sign printed beside her. It expressed Newark residents’ unease toward the liquid life force deemed a “death sentence” by some.

A panel discussion unfolded guided by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a group that sued the City of Flint and is now suing the City of Newark and New Jersey state officials for “failure to comply with regulations for the control of lead in drinking water.”

Newark City Hall’s Facebook page actively screams, “NEWARK’S WATER IS ABSOLUTELY SAFE TO DRINK.”

But Flint’s legacy made people doubt.

City officials there told residents the water was safe to drink. In 2018, Flint’s water crisis is still ongoing despite the state of Michigan declaring Flint’s water safe to drink.

“Nobody is drinking water with lead in it.”

— Valerie Wilson, Newark Public Schools

NRDC’s lawsuit, filed in June, charges the City of Newark and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) with violating the Safe Drinking Water Act’s Lead and Copper Rule. The rule protects public health by limiting the amount of lead and copper at the tap that is often caused by the corrosion of plumbing fixtures that contain lead and copper. Then the materials enter the water.

Exceeding the limit for lead and copper can make it necessary for corrosion control treatment, which is when a substance is added to water to slow the corrosion of pipes. In the case of Flint, corrosion inhibitors were not added to the water.

As in Flint, NRDC asserts that NJDEP found that the “Newark Water Department is deemed to no longer have optimized corrosion control treatment.”

The Safe Water Drinking Act calls for public water systems to test their water frequently and report the results to their respective states. NRDC says Newark did not conduct the required amount of testing and the testing Newark did conduct produced misleading results. The Lead and Copper Rule says a large water system like Newark’s should be testing a minimum of 100 tap water samples every six months. The majority of those samples should come from high-risk sites classified as Tier 1. NRDC alleges Newark sampled low-risk sites “masking the extent of lead in the City’s drinking water.”

The NRDC lawsuit essentially claims Newark residents have been duped.

Newark activist Donna Jackson says this is a simmering suspicion.

“The water in our schools was shut off for over nine months,” Jackson said at the May town hall meeting. Jackson was referring to 2016 when half of Newark schools had their water fountains turned off due to high lead levels.

Branden Rippey is a teacher at Newark’s Science Park High School as well as a member of Newark Education Workers (NEW) Caucus, a group comprised of members from the Newark Teachers Union, who joined NRDC in the lawsuit against the City of Newark.

At the close of this past school year, Rippey noted there were still a few water fountains turned off.

“In Science, we have water fountains that are connected—one will be on and the other one will be off. That worries me.” Rippey believes the danger lies in the service pipes feeding water into the schools. He does not feel that issue has been properly addressed.

Valerie Wilson, school business administrator for Newark Public Schools says there are no plans to dig up all the pipes at schools and do full replacements.

“That’s a very extensive and very expensive project to do. I don’t think we’ll ever have funding to do that,” Wilson said.

In lieu of an overhaul, the district is performing partial pipe replacements in the 34 schools that need pipes replaced due to elevated lead levels. That is, sections of the water service line are being replaced at the point of school entry. For Wilson, it is a cost-effective measure that she expects to be complete by the start of the new school year in early September.

“Nobody is drinking water with lead in it,” Wilson said. “We have done everything that we can. We’re really at a point where we’re at a long-term temporary fix.”

Though 34 schools were in need of remediation, Wilson says all of Newark’s 67 public schools have had their drinking fountains replaced with updated versions that include EcoWater brand’s Safe Fountain System Model 3000, a water filter.

“Newark is resilient, but we cannot fight something that we are not aware of.”

— Al Moussab, Newark Resident

Teacher Branden Rippey is appreciative of the school district’s recognition of a problem, but he feels the acknowledgement comes a little late and he remains uneasy.

“Our [NEW Caucus] concern isn’t just the schools—it’s the whole city. It hasn’t had good information [on lead] for a few years now,” Rippey said.

NJ.com reported the estimated cost to replace lead service lines in Newark to be $60 million. While the city claims ownership and responsibility over the main water line that runs down a street, property owners are responsible for service lines that connect to it—house to curb. This places significant costs squarely at the feet of Newark residents. However, the city has a Lead Service Line Replacement Program which vows to help reduce the expense.

Newark Department of Water and Sewer Utilities director Andrea Adebowale maintains that Newark water is safe to drink. In a statement provided in June she calls NRDC’s allegation that Newark residents are exposed to dangerous levels of lead “absolutely and outrageously false.” She further states that she is “baffled as to why NRDC makes the innuendo that the Newark water system was responsible for the problem in the schools.” Adebowale says elevated lead levels in schools and homes were caused by pipes and fixtures—not the water system.

(Courtesy: City of Newark)

Those words provide little comfort to Al Moussab, a Newark resident and high school teacher whose daughter was enrolled in Pre-K at one of the tainted schools in 2016. He is also a NEW Caucus member.

“Newark is resilient, but we cannot fight something that we are not aware of,” said Moussab at a June press conference that announced the lawsuit’s filing.

“We need to fight. Water is a basic right. If we’re fighting for just quality water, then there’s a lot of other things that we need to fight for and I think that we have an opportunity within Newark to set an example,” Moussab continued.

While the jury is still out on whether Newark is the “next Flint,” aging infrastructure most certainly guarantees if it’s not Newark, it will be “Anytown, USA.”

Petraeus: US has ‘sacred obligation’ to help burn-pit veterans

EXCLUSIVE – Army Gen. David Petraeus, who was instrumental in guiding U.S. troops during the Iraq War, says that America’s service members should be receiving assistance for the mounting medical issues that they fear have come as a result of being exposed to burn pits while stationed at military bases.

Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Central Command and Multi-National Force-Iraq, said it’s time for the service members exposed to the dangers of burn pits — and who say they have been abandoned by the Veterans Affairs Department and Washington – to be provided with proper care.

“It's a sacred obligation,” Petraeus, a retired four-star general, told Fox News during an exclusive interview at his Manhattan office. “And by and large, our country does an extraordinary amount for our veterans and for those who are serving in uniform, and for their families.”

“But comparing what our VA does to any other country's care of veterans…this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard that can always improve, without question. This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation.”

The haphazard method of getting rid of trash, chemicals and even medical waste — in open-air burn pits — during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan generated numerous pollutants, including carbon monoxide and dioxin — the same chemical compound found in Agent Orange, the dangerous defoliant used during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971.

The burn pits were used to dispose of all manner of waste – including highly toxic chemicals and compounds. (Courtesy of Dan Brewer)

As early as Operation Desert Storm in 1991, burn pits were used on U.S. military bases in Iraq. At the height of the Iraq War in 2005, more than 300,000 troops were stationed there and potentially exposed to the smoke and fumes from burn pits. Estimates place the number of burn pits around that time at 63.

Thousands of veterans and former contractors returned from the Middle East and have developed cancer, respiratory problems and blood disorders from what they claim is their exposure to toxins from the flaming pits. More than 140,000 active-service members and retirees have put their names on a Burn Pit Registry created by the Veterans Administration.

Petraeus offered an explanation when asked about why burn pits were used on military bases, conceding that the realities of war kept concerns about how to dispose of waste a low priority at that time.

"At that time we weren't worried about burn pits. We were worried about just getting enough water for our troops in the really hot summer," he says. "We were looking forward to the time where we might get some real food, real rations, as opposed to MREs and so forth."

"This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation.”

— General David Petraeus

The general explained how the rebuilding of Iraq’s infrastructure and the troop surge in 2007 were the high priorities at that time, but that the potential danger of burn pits was undeniable.

“They obviously fought us back. But over time, in that tour, in particular, you start noticing other issues,” Petraeus said. “So, yes, there is serious combat going on. But you’re noticing that there’s this massive burn pit that is up-wind of us. So it blows over this huge base, Camp Victory, where we had 25,000 or more soldiers based and stationed.”

“We had a number of other locations, again, where we had these burn pits. And you start to notice it more and more. And I got more and more concerned during that time — I mean, it'd been something I'd noticed previously,” he said. “But now I realize that we've got all these soldiers who are, on really bad days, inhaling whatever it is that's being burned in these pits.”

Petraeus recalled during the sit-down that requests to install incinerators were made during the time of the surge and followed up when he moved to Central Command, but that it presented issues of its own.

“Well, it was something that had to be done for a long period of time,” he said of burn-pit disposal. “But at a certain point, it set in that perhaps there’s a better way of doing it.”

During the hour-long interview, General David Petraeus said that more needs to be done to help veterans who claim they have gotten sick from burn pit exposure. (Fox News)

“Incinerators were actually brought in in some cases. And then there were even problems just getting incinerators to work. Unfortunately, sometimes it was easier still just to put it in a hole and burn it.”

Petraeus points out that our troops during that time were at what he calls a “survival stage” and many options did not exist to dispose of the massive amounts of waste generated on our military operations.

“You have to do something with that. And now it's way beyond just human waste,” he says. “It's also all of the byproducts of just daily life. And a lot of that gets dumped into a hole in the ground, and gasoline, or whatever it is — poured on it, and someone — torches it. And it's the way of disposing of what otherwise can no longer be buried.”

The general conceded that this crude method had persisted for a long time and that as bases grew in certain areas, burn pits also grew significantly.

“The results of those, this enormous plume of black smoke and so forth was very, very noticeable,” Petraeus recalled. “[W]hen the wind was blowing and the burn pit was in operation at a number of these different bases.”

“Needless to say, you'd try to put it so the wind wouldn't blow it over there. But the winds vary. And they changed. And there was never any perfect method to that.”

Since 2013, Petraeus has been with global investment firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts [KKR], where he serves as chair of their KKR Global Institute. He has also thrown his support behind efforts made in Washington to bring reform to the complicated process many veterans go through when they file a claim through the Veterans Administration.

In July, Petraeus sent a letter to Congress asking lawmakers to consider backing the Burn Pits Accountability Act – a recent bill brought before Capitol Hill by Reps. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, and Brian Mast, R-Fla.

General Petraeus also mentioned concern after seeing pictures taken earlier this summer at Camp Taji, Iraq, where burn pits were in use as recently as June. (Provided to Fox News)

“I know that you share the sense of obligation that virtually all Americans have to those who have stepped forward at a time of war,” he wrote in the open letter.

While steps toward reform are underway, there still is cause for concern for our troops who are currently in Iraq.

A recent report from Fox News shows that burn pits are still being used in at least one military base in Iraq.

In a series of images obtained exclusively by Fox News, a burn pit near Camp Taji, Iraq, is seen spewing thick clouds of black smoke into the air on a near-daily basis. According to one soldier stationed at the base, the pits are set ablaze as many as five times a week. The images were taken on and around June 3.

The pits, seen in the pictures originally provided, are situated in a part of Camp Taji known as an “amber zone” — an area adjacent to U.S. Military operations where Iraqi National Forces operate. The soldier told Fox News that while the unit’s part of the camp is not using burn pits for trash disposal, it’s not exactly clear where their trash ends up.

When asked about his thoughts on the burning still going on so close to where U.S. troops are stationed, General Petraeus expressed trepidation when seeing photos of the pits being operated in Taji’s amber zone.

“It's actually the Iraqis who are using those now. But that still is a concern for us. And it should be,” he says. “I think as time has gone by we have come to realize that this is a bigger issue than clearly it was in the earlier years of these two wars.”

“And with that awareness, obviously we can certainly do a better job.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a producer with Fox News Channel’s Investigative Unit. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych

Drone expert, Homeland Security agree airborne threats are ‘outpacing’ US defenses

A former elite drone pilot for U.S. special operations tells Fox News that the government is "just not ready" to defend against the threat of over-the-counter drones being weaponized to carry-out attacks like the one recently in Venezuela.

And while President Trump may have just signed a bill that could help bolster our defenses, the leaders of both the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI recently told lawmakers that the U.S. is already behind on the issue, and that a domestic attack using the kind of drones available to everyday consumers may be inevitable.

"Emerging threats are outpacing our defenses," Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen told the Senate committee on homeland security and government affairs on October 10, pointing to unmanned aerial systems (otherwise known as 'drones') as a "prime example."

"Unfortunately, outdated laws have prevented us from setting up the sophisticated countermeasures we need to protect significant national events, federal facilities, and other potential targets from an airborne menace," Nielsen added. What's more, she told lawmakers, DHS didn't even have the clear legal authority to neutralize potentially dangerous drones determined to be a threat until recently, or to even test what she called "the crucial countermeasures we need in real-world environments where the risks exist."

DHS was finally given that authority on October 5 when President Trump signed into law the new FAA Reauthorization bill. The legislation not only tackles issues like the amount of leg room on commercial flights, it also grants DHS the authority to monitor, track, seize, exercise control of, confiscate, or even destroy any drone it deems a threat to what they define as a "covered facility or asset."

That definition refers to any location identified as "high-risk and a potential target for unlawful unmanned aircraft activity," language that is considered overly broad by a variety of drone and civil rights activists.

Even with that new authority, FBI Director Christopher Wray told senators that "the FBI assesses that, given their retail availability, lack of verified identification requirement to procure, general ease of use, and prior use overseas, [drones] will be used to facilitate an attack in the United States against a vulnerable target, such as a mass gathering." A DHS threat warning updated in August 2018 reiterated the government's concerns that drones "may be capable of transporting contraband, chemical, or other explosive/weaponized payloads."

Brett Velicovich, a former special operations drone pilot who now advises private and government officials all the way up to the White House on how to defend against this type of threat, adds that even with the new authority granted by the president there isn't a whole lot the government can do. "The technology that exists now isn't capable of successfully taking down drones at the rate it needs to be, so [the bill] won't matter, but it's a good beginning." DHS did not respond to a request for comment on this assessment.

Brett Velicovich, a former special operations drone pilot, says the U.S. is unprepared to deal with the growing threat of commercially available drones being weaponized by bad actors.

Velicovich says the alleged assassination attempt on Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro over the summer, in which two drones loaded with explosives detonated amid a military parade, was apparently carried out with the kind of technology available to everyday consumers. It was just last year that CENTCOM officials told Fox News U.S. and Iraqi soldiers were dealing with upwards of 30 encounters a week with non-military drones that had been weaponized by ISIS.

That, Velicovich argues, is the essence of the problem.

"The same stuff that's available to consumers is the kind of tech I wished I would've had in the military," Velicovich says. "In the course of simple development, [drone manufacturers] are creating things that defeat these millions of dollars of equipment that the government uses to help combat the problem, so it's a constant back-and-forth between government agencies that see the threat, and these manufacturers just trying to make money," he added.

Fox News was able to confirm that some of the best-selling consumer/commercial drones – which are widely available in stores and on the internet – are indeed capable of carrying enough weight to deliver payloads that could do serious damage.

The National Football League (NFL) is an organization that has first-hand experience with this issue, and the organization's president of security notes it could have been much worse.

Cathy Lanier, the senior vice president of security for the NFL & the former District of Columbia police chief, told lawmakers on September 13 about a particularly disturbing incident during which a drone not only penetrated stadium airspace, it also dropped leaflets all over a San Francisco 49ers crowd.

"We're all very fortunate that the drone… dropped just leaflets," Lanier warned.

Defending against the threat of weaponized drones is a problem that has produced a myriad of solutions, some more realistic than others. In this photo, a French army falconer works with a golden eagle as part of a military training for combat against drones in Mont-de-Marsan French Air Force base, Southwestern France, February 10, 2017. (REUTERS/Regis Duvignau, File)

Velicovich participated in a gathering organized by Interpol over the summer on this very issue, advising law enforcement from around the world on what he calls an immediate threat. He says it's heartening to see people finally waking up to a threat he's been warning about for some time, even if he believes some of their methods are questionable.

"I've seen everything, in France they're training bald eagles to go take down drones and in Thailand, police have drones with 10-20 foot nets," Velicovich says, "but these drones nowadays are so fast that things like nets are a joke."

In the end, Velicovich still thinks that drones are a force for good, and that they aren't going away anytime soon.

"You have to do it both ways. You have to talk about the dangers of it, but at the same time the benefits of drones well outweigh the risks," he says. "We'll see the day where there's a drone for every household."

Dark money poured in over Kavanaugh’s confirmation, but will it matter in the midterms?

Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has been weaponized, just in time for the midterm elections.

Up until his confirmation vote, an influx of political ads targeting vulnerable senators took voters’ screens by storm. From Facebook to traditional TV ads, dark-money groups ramped up the rhetoric around Justice Kavanaugh in an attempt to shame lawmakers and influence their votes one way or the other.

Now, with less than a month before most states’ midterm elections, some of the same groups are trying to use Justice Kavanaugh’s appointment as a wedge issue to divide voters. Like any October surprise, the question is whether the controversy surrounding Kavanaugh will carry through the midterm election and upend any expected results.

“An issue or controversy piques the interests of voters, and then often fades before election day,” Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said. “So much happens every day. Partly it depends on what the candidates stress, and the party leaders and elected officials choose to emphasize in TV ads and at rallies.”

Kavanaugh served as a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit for 12 years and has been criticized as being overly partisan during past confirmations. Over his career, Kavanaugh built a solidly conservative judicial philosophy that echoed the late Justice Antonin Scalia.

His confirmation process turned contentious when allegations of a drunken teenaged sexual assault came to light. The investigation into his past dredged up questions about his drinking habits. Ultimately, the Senate voted 50-48 to confirm Kavanaugh.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, abstained from voting, and was heavily targeted by pre-vote ads in her state. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-WV, was the lone Democrat to confirm Kavanaugh, and similarly drew the focus of deep-pocketed ad campaigns.

“If there has been a partisan political fight that needed a very bright legal foot soldier in the past decade, Brett Kavanaugh was probably there,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, said in 2006.

In the weeks before the Senate voted to confirm the embattled judge, partisan advocacy groups dumped money into advertising campaigns meant to sway legislators.

If more Republicans are coming into the election conversation, then they will vote, and that can’t be good news for the Democrats – even the incumbents.

— Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.

Among those in opposition were the American Civil Liberties Union, which invested in a “seven-figure, multi-state TV ad buy” to oppose the nomination in early October. Demand Justice, a progressive judicial advocacy group, spent $700,000, according to the Washington Post.

NARAL Pro-Choice also pitched in $1 million in direct opposition to Kavanaugh’s nomination, and has plans for a $750,000 voter education campaign in the final days before the midterms.

Progressive organizations certainly dipped into their pockets to fight President Donald Trump’s second nominee to the Supreme Court, but their effort were far overshadowed by their conservative counterparts.

The National Rifle Association ponied up $1.2 million to launch ads supporting the judge in West Virginia, Indiana, North Dakota, Alaska and Montana, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

The Judicial Crisis Network, a right-wing nonprofit advocacy group, spent $12 million on ads supporting the controversial justice’s confirmation. They specifically targeted senators in West Virginia, North Dakota, Alabama and Indiana – all of whom are up for re-election.

To put this in context, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that a winning Senate campaign cost $12.2 million dollars on average.

JCN, like all the groups listed above, is a 501(c)(4) organization, which means they have no obligation to disclose their donors. However, the Center for Responsive Politics reported that tax returns show the JCN is largely supported by the Wellspring Committee, another nonprofit conservative advocacy group.

From 2011 to 2015, the Center for Responsive Politics reported the Judicial Crisis Network received about $17.3 million in revenue, about $15 million of which came from the Wellspring Committee.

This isn’t the first time JCN has acted aggressively to sway voting on a nominee to the Supreme Court. They reportedly spent $7 million in opposition to former President Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland, and another $10 million in support of Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Carry Severino, policy director for JCN, said the organization opposed Garland because his nomination came during an election cycle when America was deeply divided. The organization jumped headlong into Kavanaugh's nomination to defend a man she saw as unfairly attacked.

"We have a policy of always being ready," Severino said. "… I couldn't have a nominee I'm more proud of supporting than Brett Kavanaugh."

Partisan groups, like Demand Justice and JCN, mostly targeted vulnerable senators facing upstart challenges in their races for reelection.

“The Senate matters enormously, and as it happens, most of the key race are in deeply red states,” Sabato said. “If more Republicans are coming into the election conversation, then they will vote, and that can’t be good news for the Democrats – even the incumbents.”

The reelection rate for incumbent senators is about 93 percent, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

There wasn’t an issue in 2012 that energized Republicans like this. Voters overwhelmingly supported Justice Kavanaugh throughout this entire confirmation process.

— Jake Wilkins, spokesman for the North Dakota Republican Party

Among those hit hardest for their vote against Kavanaugh is Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, who is facing an uphill battle for reelection against Kevin Cramer. A recent Fox News poll has Cramer leading the incumbent by 12 points.

A spokesman for the North Dakota Republican Party said Republican voters are “fired up” over her opposition to Kavanaugh.

“She’s never faced a deficit like this,” Jake Wilkins, communications director for the North Dakota Republican Party, said. “There wasn’t an issue in 2012 that energized Republicans like this. Voters overwhelmingly supported Justice Kavanaugh throughout this entire confirmation process.”

Heitkamp broke with the majority of Democrats and voted to confirm Justice Neil Gorsuch, a move that drew criticism from some who wanted her to vote along party lines.

“I voted for Justice Gorsuch because I felt his legal ability and temperament qualified him to serve on the Supreme Court. Judge Kavanaugh is different,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “… In addition to the concerns about his past conduct, last Thursday’s hearing called into question Judge Kavanaugh’s current temperament, honesty, and impartiality.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-ME,  has been both criticized and lauded for her vote of approval. The Judicial Crisis Network focused intently on influencing the senator with ads in Maine, and spent six figures thanking the Republican Collins for her vote.

Voters in Maine will also see an ad paid for by Protect Our Care, a group supportive of the Affordable Care Act, that hits Sen. Collins for her decision to support the controversial nominee. The group argues that Kavanaugh will be the deciding vote against the healthcare law if the Supreme Court hears a case challenging it.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the State Government Leadership Fund spent over $500,000 to push Collins to approve Kavanaugh. The Vote Vets Action Fund and the Planned Parent Action Fund poured $160,00 and $250,000 into ads pushing for her disapproval, respectively.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks with Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh at her office, before a private meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Aug. 21, 2018. (Associated Press)

Another senator targeted heavily before Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing was Joe Donnelly,D-IN, who is facing a surging Republican challenger in his reelection race. The most recent Fox News poll had Donnelly leading Mike Braun by two percentage points.

Donnelly voted to confirm Gorsuch and against Kavanaugh, decisions that Democratic party officials in Indiana don’t think will come back to haunt him.

“[Voters] are fired up to re-elect Joe Donnelly because they know he’s the only candidate working to protect access to affordable healthcare and defend coverage for Hoosiers with pre-existing conditions,” Michael Feldman, spokesman for the Indiana Democratic party, said.

Indeed, if campaign contributions spell voter enthusiasm, then Donnelly is in good shape. His campaign reported 30,000 individual donations during the third quarter alone, netting the incumbent more than $3 million. That’s a high-water mark for his campaign.

Only time will tell if Kavanaugh’s confirmation will bleed into the midterm elections.

“It may have already had its major effect – energizing potential voters,” Sabato said. “Republicans talk about a ‘Kavanaugh bump’ that has energized some of their base that wasn’t planning to vote. That could well be true. Of course, Democrats say the same thing, except the enthusiasm gap favored Democrats and now Republicans have caught up.”

Abortion restrictions prompt international activists to provide care in America

Across the nation, women’s access to reproductive care has been protested, shuttered, legislated and sometimes strictly limited. So much so that an international organization has stepped in to provide abortion consultations and medications to women who face high barriers to care.

AidAccess was recently founded by Dutch doctor Rebecca Gomperts to provide American women with access to abortion medication. The contentious program operates online, and offers women consultations and mail-delivered abortion medication.

The legality of AidAccess is still undefined. The FDA has said it is investigating the program for any potential legal violations. Currently, the administration mandates that mifepristone, one of the two drugs necessary for a successful medical abortion, must be sold through a tightly-controlled distribution channel.

The Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategy (REMS) employed by the FDA on mifepristone bars the sale of the drug online or through retail pharmacies. Advocates for abortion access argue that REMS is typically used for drugs much more dangerous than abortion pills.

Studies on the abortion pill cocktail found that it was overwhelmingly effective and exceedingly safe. A 2017 study published in the Obstetrics and Gynecology medical journal found that of over 8,700 patients who obtained abortion pills through telemedicine services, only .18 percent of them had any complications – none of which resulted in death or even surgery.

Women in the United States have had trouble accessing telemedicine abortion services that competently meet their care needs. Abigail Aiken, an assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, studied online abortion options.

“If you have money and resources, you can access these medications. If you’re a poor woman, you can’t."

— Abigail Aiken, assistant professor at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin

Aiken’s work found that many online options either can’t sell the medication online, or if they do, are woefully short on instructions and information. She said women turn to online options for a variety of reasons. Some prefer their privacy, others don’t have access to clinics, and some face financial and logistic limitations to meeting their state’s requirements for a legal abortion.

“From a public health perspective, there is a harm-reduction justification for helping people to avoid resorting to ineffective or unsafe abortion methods,” she wrote in the study.

Particularly at risk for unsafe self-managed abortions are economically and geographically marginalized women. In this sense, she said she has noticed parallels between her research on abortion access in Ireland and in the United States.

“The actual options available to people in the two countries are strikingly similar,” Aikens said. “That problem of access continues.”

She said the country is effectively living in a post-Roe v. Wade world, where access to abortion care is severely limited for women in much of the country and varies greatly from state to state.

Aiken sees parallels for women in rural Texas or Ireland. She said obtaining a safe abortion in both places often means traveling hours to a clinic and paying hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket. Texas state law doesn’t allow the use of Medicaid or other public funds to pay for an abortion. A 35-year ban on the procedure was recently overturned by a national referendum in Ireland, and before that, women had to leave the country to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

This gap in access and affordability is what Gomperts and her multiple abortion care services aim to fill. In the United States, women can obtain consultation and, after a screening process, abortion medication for just $95.

Gomperts could not be reached for comment, but she detailed her new efforts in a recent story in The Atlantic, which reported AidAccess had already served some 600 American women.

Gomperts’ first foray into medical care activism came nearly two decades ago. In 1999, she founded Women on Waves, which sailed international waters on a Greenpeace ship providing women with access to reproductive care, abortion education and services – all while skirting local laws.

Abortion rights advocates Grace Fried, center, Claire Roden and David Tuke demonstrate in view of Philadelphia City Hall Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 on the eve of the anniversary of the 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. (AP)

That venture pushed Gomperts to found Women on Web, an online service for women seeking abortion medication nearly anywhere on the planet – except the United States. The Dutch doctor worried that serving American patients through Women on Web would jeopardize the entire operation. Instead of taking the risk, she started AidAccess.

Aiken said Gomperts’ organizations provide women with the correct doses, proper instructions, warnings and appropriate after-care procedures to safely self-manage their abortions at home.

Of course, not everyone is satisfied with the efforts. Eric Scheidler, the executive director of the Pro-Life Action League, said the program poses problems for women.

“Telemedicine abortions are kind of more sinister in some ways,” Scheidler said. “They make every location in the world effectively an abortion scene.”

His organization, which primarily focuses its efforts on “public square” advocacy, is staunchly opposed to any kind of abortion. He took issue with arguments that AidAccess helps with issues of the accessibility and affordability of reproductive care.

“I don’t see this falling under the same banner of making healthcare more affordable, because having an abortion isn’t healthcare,” he said.

Aiken’s research shows that the reasons for women seeking a self-managed medical abortion are as myriad as the women themselves. Beyond their choices, she said programs like AidAccess provide an unmistakable benefit for marginalized women who have trouble overcoming the barriers to access.

“If you have money and resources, you can access these medications,” Aiken said. “If you’re a poor woman, you can’t. … AidAccess is trying to provide a way for women to do this at home.”

Cage-free eggs on the midterm ballot for Californians

Ken Klippen lives in Philadelphia, but he's trying to save egg farmers in the Midwest from a ballot measure in California.

As the president of the National Association of Egg Farmers, Klippen says that Proposition 12 on the ballot in California this November, will cause "some major changes in the way eggs are produced."

The measure, which Klippen calls "precedent setting," is titled the Farm Animal Confinement Initiative. It would ban the sale of eggs in California that come from hens raised in small cages. It would do the same for pigs and calves.

That means most farmers who sell their produce in the state of California will either have to change their farming practices or lose one of the biggest markets in the country. The Association of California Egg Farmers and National Pork Producers Council both oppose the measure.

Fox News spoke with a third-generation egg farmer, Chris Nichols of Chino Valley Ranchers, who also opposes Prop 12.

"I would say the people who do suffer in the end are the consumer," Nichols explained, "because your price is going up."

Cage-free eggs can cost as much as twice as regular eggs. Some worry that this measure will take away consumer choice, if it passes.

CLICK FOR COMPLETE FOX NEWS MIDTERMS COVERAGE

Josh Balk of the Humane Society of the United States, the group that supports the proposition, disagrees. Balk said that "everyone from Walmart to McDonald's to Safeway to Denny's to IHOP are all switching to cage-free eggs."

Klippen said that although the Humane Society pretends to be a shelter organization, it is simply pushing a secret national agenda: getting people to stop eating meat altogether.

"Not only meat," Klippen added, "but stop [drinking] milk and stop eating eggs. So, meat, milk and eggs, that's their agenda."

VIDEO: A LOOK AT MIDTERM BATTLEGROUNDS WITH THE HOUSE AT STAKE

When asked about this assertion, Balk replied that "everyone from vegans to meat eaters can completely agree, that animals should not be confined in cages."

Cages that are often too small to move an inch.

Voters faced with hundreds of state referendums across the country

For many Americans, Election Day will involve more than just voting for representatives in Congress. Some 38 states this November will offer some form of direct democracy — generally speaking, the initiative and referendum system, under which citizens can vote for a specific rule, if enough registered voters have signed petitions to put the question on the ballot.

The idea has actually been around from the beginning — Georgia's constitution in 1777 allowed for initiatives. The modern initiative and referendum system began in Oregon in 1902, and has since been adopted, in one fashion or another, by numerous states.

Video

As common as it is, many are concerned about the system, feeling that citizens' votes are, in essence, being bought by the wealthy. One such citizen is David Trahan, a political activist and former state legislator in Maine. Formerly, he supported dozens of measures on the Maine ballot, but he has now changed his mind about referendums. He says he's seen how the money flows, and doesn't like it.

"They pour their money into a little state like Maine and these billionaires can buy a law," Trahen said. He believes outside groups with money deform a system that's supposed to be the direct voice of the people.

Good or bad, there's no denying a lot of hot button issues are being determined by initiative. For instance, this November:

Alabama, Oregon and West Virginia will vote on abortion rights.Idaho, Nebraska and Utah will vote on health care policies.Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah will vote on gerrymandering rules.

Other issues in which the voters will have their say include tax policy and energy policy. All in all, there will be over 160 ballot measures considered by various states.

Video

But, if people like Trahan are concerned the system has been hijacked by money, others see it as part of the rough and tumble of politics, not to mention a chance for the public to be heard.

There's Paul Jacob, for instance, who's a long-time supporter of the ballot measure process. He's worked on over 100 initiative and referendum campaigns across the country. As he puts it, "what better way …than to let the people vote directly on the issues at hand?"

CLICK FOR COMPLETE FOX NEWS MIDTERMS COVERAGE

Jacob admits money — sometimes outside money — comes into play, but adds that money is already part of politics, so better to give the power to the people and not just the politicians.

For Trahan, this won't do.

"Direct democracy," he maintains, "is Maine people passing laws that govern Maine people."

CRUZ COULD SEE MIDTERM BOOST FROM STRAIGHT-TICKET VOTING

Jacob believes that "people who don't like direct democracy don't want the people to be in charge."

Steve Kurtz is a producer for the Fox News Channel, and author of “Steve’s America (the perfect gift for people named Steve)”.

Burn pit vet’s widower says memos show that grave illness didn’t need to happen

It was in 2009 when Brian Muller first met his wife, Amie.

“We actually met at a music venue. And at the time I was playing music in a band and she had some friends there that were at the event,” Muller, 45, from Woodbury, Minn., recalls in a recent interview with Fox News. “Her friends forced her to go out. I forced myself to go out and just to see some music.”

He remembers how they discussed her service with the Minnesota Air National Guard.

“We ended up talking about what she does with the military,” he says, “and at that time, she was doing a project to make video memorials for gold star families. Families that lost loved ones in Iraq or Afghanistan or any type of war.”

“She asked me to write a song for those videos. And that's how we kind of started our relationship, as– friends, and then it developed from there.”

Brian has never served in the military but was impressed by Amie’s service — including her two tours in Iraq.

“She wanted to fly, and she joined the Air Force. And she got deployed and had her life kind of uprooted there for a while.”

Amie was stationed at Air Force Base Balad during both of her tours in 2005 and 2007 and while her active service was already behind her, the effects from her time on that base still lingered.

“She didn't really want to talk about her time over there,” Brian says. “Anytime a door would slam or a loud noise, she'd get startled very easily. She had a lot of PTSD [episodes] from just little things.”

Amie Muller served two tours of duty at AFB Balad in 2005 and 2007 where her husband Brian says she was exposed to the toxic smoke of nearby burn pits. (Courtesy of Brian Muller)

A decade after returning from Iraq, Amie’s physical health also suffered. She was diagnosed with Stage III Pancreatic Cancer.

“I still remember Amie getting the call, and she looked at me,” Muller says about the day they found out about her diagnosis back in April 2016.

“We walked around the corner just to make sure the kids didn't see. I could tell by the look in her face how scared she was. And I just kind of listening in to the call. And we just started shaking.

Both she and Brian believed it was related to her exposure to open-air burn pits used to destroy trash generated on the base. Nearly every U.S. military base in Iraq during the war used the crude method of burn pit disposal, but Balad was known for having one of the largest operations, burning nearly 150 tons of waste a day.

The smoke generated from these pits hung above Amie’s barracks daily.

“She talked about the burn pits even before she got cancer,” Muller recalls, “and how the fact that they would change the filters on these ventilation systems quite frequently. And every time they'd change it would just be this black soot, so thick that you would think you'd have to change it every hour.”

“After she told me what they were burning, you know, all I thought about is all the campfires that we had in our backyard. You don't burn Styrofoam. You don't burn plastic. We all know that, but they were burning all those things. Highly toxic.”

Nearly a decade after her return, Muller was diagnosed with stage III pancreatic cancer and died just nine months later.

As early as Operation Desert Storm in 1991, burn pits were used on U.S. military bases in Iraq. At the height of the Iraq War in 2005, more than 300,000 troops were stationed there and potentially exposed to the smoke and fumes from burn pits.

Thousands of veterans and former contractors returned from the Middle East and have developed rare cancers, respiratory problems, and blood disorders from what they claim are their exposure to toxins from the flaming pits. More than 140,000 active-service members and retirees have put their names on a Burn Pit Registry created by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

After Amie was diagnosed and her treatment began, she and her family went public with her story in the hopes that it would bring awareness to the dangers she and countless veterans faced after what they believe was a result of burn pit exposure.

Amie succumbed to her illness just nine months after she first diagnosed.

In her absence, Brian continued Amie’s work in raising awareness by sharing her story. He also worked closely with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., toward getting “The Helping Veterans Exposed To Burn Pits Act” — a bipartisan bill recently presented in Washington and signed by President Trump – passed.

The bill will help fund a new center by the Department of Veterans Affairs that will study the effects of burn pit exposure and eventually assist with treatment plans. He also started the Amie Muller Foundation, which helps other veterans who were diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer.

“I just hope that our vets are going to get the help they need,” Brian says, “and it's not going bring back Amie, my wife, but it's going to get veterans the help they need.”

But recent findings show that the Pentagon was aware of the dangers of burn pits during the height of the war in Iraq.

Fox News recently obtained a series of memos drafted by top officials at AFB Balad during the same years that Amie served on the base. The authors of the documents — which include commanding officers as well as environmental officials — stated that the operation of burn pits was a danger to those stationed there and that precautions needed to be taken urgently to improve conditions.

“I don’t understand why they didn’t do something. These are people that volunteered to serve our country, and it just disgusts me to see memos like that, from high ranking officers that expressed this concern.”

— Brian Muller

“In my professional opinion, there is an acute health hazard for individuals,” reads a line from one memo written by a Bioenvironmental Engineering Flight Commander and the Chief of Aeromedical Services at Balad in 2006. “There is also the possibility for chronic health hazards associated with the smoke.”

The memo also includes an assessment of the pits in Balad where one environmental inspector said that Balad’s burn pit was “the worst environmental site I have personally visited.”

After inquiries by Fox News regarding the memos, Officials for the Department of Defense said that they would look into the matter and explained their procedural policy and that open-air burn pits are to be operated in a manner that prevents or minimizes risk.

“DOD does not dispose of covered waste in open-air burn pits during contingency operations except when the combatant commander determines there are no feasible alternative methods available,” reads the statement provided by a Defense Department spokeswoman. “DOD minimizes other solid waste disposal in open-air burn pits during contingency operations. Generally, open-air burn pits are a short-term solution.  For the longer term, we use incinerators, engineered landfills, or other accepted solid waste management practices whenever feasible.”

Muller finds the memos troublesome.

“I don't understand why they didn't do something,” he says after being shown a copy of the memos. “These are people that volunteered to serve our country, and it just disgusts me to see memos like that, from high ranking officers that expressed this concern.”

Muller adds that the underlying issue is a lack of accountability.

“The issue is they were doing something they shouldn't have done, that they constantly warned was an environmental hazard,” he says. “And our vets are getting sick. Our vets are dying.”

“You know, there was a fellow that did a video—‘Delay, Deny and Hope You Die.’ And that's kind of what's been going on. They're delaying this as long as possible so that they won't have to deal with as many claims, because most of them will die before they do anything about it.”

Burn pits, like this one at FOB Marez, were originally considered a temporary measure to get rid of huge amounts of waste generated at bases. The array of material sent to the pits is said to have included plastics, batteries, metals, appliances, medicine, dead animals and even human waste. (Courtesy of John Nelson)

Muller also believes that Amie would have never fallen ill if it wasn’t for the fact that she was stationed at Balad.

“I don't think she would have gotten cancer. I really don't. Maybe she would have later in life. Maybe it would have been some other type of cancer. I don't know,” he says. “But something caused inflammation — for something to grow in her body for a long period of time before it was ever seen and diagnosed. There was something going on with all of the vets when they got back.”

In a recent interview with Fox News, Gen. David Petraeus, the former commander of U.S. Central Command and Multi-National Force-Iraq in 2007, offered an explanation when asked about why burn pits were used on military bases, conceding that the realities of war kept concerns about how to dispose of waste a low priority at that time.

"At that time we weren't worried about burn pits,” The general said back in September. “We were worried about just getting enough water for our troops in the really hot summer. We were looking forward to the time where we might get some real food, real rations, as opposed to MREs and so forth."

The general also expressed that the U.S. has a commitment toward helping those veterans.

“It's a sacred obligation,” Petraeus said. “But comparing what our VA does to any other country's care of veterans…this is the gold standard. Certainly, a gold standard that can always improve, without question. This is an issue, though, where we have a sacred obligation, and we need to meet that obligation.”

Muller believes the general’s recent comments to be a sign of a move in the right direction.

“When you start seeing men in uniform, or women in uniform, people higher up in the military starting to voice their concerns, you know we're making progress.”

Perry Chiaramonte is a producer with Fox News Channel’s Investigative Unit. Follow him on Twitter at @perrych