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Veterans Roundup: A Demoralized Military, Mental Health Bill Makes Lame Duck Push

Posted by Fred Wellman

How Viral Videos Became the Way Veterans Combat ‘Stolen Valor’
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post. Last week, another video of a veteran calling out a person potentially committing an act of “stolen valor” went viral. Dan Lamothe examined the video and its impact, and pointed out that this is not the first time a veteran has turned to social media to expose an individual faking service. As more videos like these are posted, the debate over whether or not lying about service is a crime continues. –MC
Bottom line: There has been a fierce debate in the military and veterans community over the last few years about how to deal with “stolen valor” acts, with some calling for public shaming and others calling for criminal charges. Recent legal rulings have clarified that military impersonation needs to be tied to the pursuit of material gains in order to be criminalized, but that has not settled the issue or clarified its nuances—particularly for those within our communities. One view: America is too litigious already; we’d be better off if we avoided courts whenever possible and allowed the weight of society’s disgust to judge and punish all but the worst impersonators. One area where there is little dispute is in the benefits of viral videos like these, which publicly shame impersonators and draw widespread attention to the exploitative and delusional acts of a few misguided or opportunistic individuals. –BW

Veterans: What Next?
The Economist. An article published last week explored the history of veterans in the workforce and the employment situation of Post-9/11 veterans. The article explained that many are obtaining jobs in the federal government, where about half of new hires are now veterans. Veterans hiring preference, particularly among severely wounded veterans, puts them high up on the list for federal jobs and although some critics take issue with this carve-out, the article highlights the many benefits veterans bring to the workforce. –MC
Bottom line: It comes as no surprise to anyone who has followed the growth in veteran preference opportunities in the federal government that 50% of new federal employees are veterans. To many, that data point is great news, because it means highly skilled veterans are being placed in well-paying jobs with long-term employment prospects. But it’s important that veterans do not come to see these jobs as entitlements they deserve. Government jobs should go to veterans if they are highly qualified to fill them—that’s a reasonable bottom line. Setting expectations any lower will eventually lead to government jobs being seen as welfare that is being given to veterans because they can’t hack it in the civilian world; we must avoid at all costs employment decisions that reinforce a false and dangerous “veteran as a victim” mentality. –BW

Critics: VA Caregiver Programs Need Improvement
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Researchers and advocates supporting military caregivers are pushing for expansions and updates to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ caregiver programs. Since the program was created four years ago, more than 18,000 caregivers have applied, a number that exceeds the VA’s original estimate by more than four-fold. Lawmakers are considering making changes to stipend criteria to help ease these issues. –MC
Bottom line: It’s easy to beat up on the VA for under estimating how many veterans’ caregivers would sign up for their programs but even just a year ago there was little if any information on just how vast the number of caregivers was. Only after our former client The Elizabeth Dole Foundation commissioned a study by RAND to examine the situation did we discover the massive number of caregivers taking care of our veterans and the corresponding needs of this community. We are constantly asked “what’s the next issue for the veterans community?” and we always include the needs of our caregivers as one of the biggest gaping holes in the current systems. The efforts by these hidden heroes are saving lives and money while also relieving the government of a huge burden and more must be done to support them in their important mission. –FPW

Senators Revive Push to Take Chain of Command Out of Sex Assault Cases
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes. On Tuesday, an unlikely group of Senators proposed that a separate military criminal justice track for sexual assault cases be included in the defense budget as a rider. The bill would take the prosecution of sexual assault outside of the military system. Also this week, the Pentagon released the results of a RAND survey that showed an increase in sexual assault reports, but a decrease in the number of actual attacks. Despite the results, advocates say there is still much work and research required to solve the issue. –MC
Bottom line: The latest sexual assault numbers got lost in the news cycle as even at the press conference about the new numbers, the only questions Hagel received were about his impending departure. As always, the latest developments in sexual assault reporting deserve a thorough analysis because not only does it point to trends (victims are becoming more likely to report incidents), it also reveals where the Pentagon and the service branches still need to improve (following through on investigating and prosecuting cases). Perhaps a less reactionary media glare is the best thing that could happen to the issue of sexual assault in the military—sexual assault on college campuses is certainly garnering more consternation currently—as it may give reformers, legislators, and military officials a less heated environment in which to work out a compromise that better serves victims. –LJ

Army Sets 160 Seats for Female Ranger School Volunteers
Michelle Tan, Army Times. 160 female candidates are up for consideration for the Army’s elite Ranger School. Women who want to attend Ranger School will have to complete the pre-Ranger course. It’s not certain yet if females will be allowed to participate in the full Ranger course, but the Army is expected to make a final decision in January, and the 160 female volunteers are preparing to make the most of their opportunity to counter traditional stereotypes about women in the military. –MC
Bottom line: This is a major step in the Army’s efforts to fully integrate female soldiers into key combat positions. The Army has been flooded by women interested in taking on the challenge of Ranger School, a program that only graduates 45% of male students in each class. This first step will allow females to take the Ranger Prep course at Ft. Benning which generally simulates the first—and most washout prone—phase of Ranger School involving the physical fitness tests, obstacle course tests, and road marches that typically results in 60% of each classes washouts. While still a long way from women earning the coveted Ranger tab, it appears the Army is taking a methodical and thoughtful approach to breaking down this key barrier. –FPW

Defense Budget Would Cut Benefits
Kristina Wong (@Kristina_Wong) The Hill. Last Tuesday, lawmakers agreed on cutting military families’ benefits in the fiscal year 2015 defense budget. For the next year, military families will see increased Tricare copayments and slower growth in housing allowances; while servicemembers will receive smaller pay raises. Lawmakers also prohibited the Defense Department from retiring the A-10 Warthog and stopped plans to retire Army National Guard Apache helicopters. The bill provided backing for two years of Pentagon support to train Syrian rebels and send 1,500 U.S. troops to train Iraqi forces. –MC
Bottom line: DoD leaders have been unequivocal in the last few years about the need to control personnel costs—particularly through Tricare fee increases—in order to have any chance at controlling the long-term fate of the defense budget in an era of sequestration uncertainty and declining budgets. There are no popular decisions—servicemembers and their families are asked to make many sacrifices, and it’s understandable that they do not want to see their benefits reduced. Generally, Congress sides with the “support our troops” voices, but in the FY15 budget it looks like we may see very small, relatively symbolic cuts. Of course, it wouldn’t be a defense budget without more controversies, so we also get to a ringside seat for the ongoing fight to kill/save the A-10, which gets more ink these days than the F-35, as well as Congress giving permission to the DoD to train rapidly vanishing moderate Syrian rebels. –BW

America’s Military: A Force Adrift: How the Nation Is Failing Today’s Troops and Veterans
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck), Michelle Tan, and Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. A new Military Times series built around a survey of 2,300 active-duty troops examines the state of the U.S. military, focusing on the challenges troops and veterans face as they return home and transition to civilian life. This first entry in a three-part series discusses a morale crisis among troops, the potential for loss of civilian support, and the difficulties veterans and troops face when it comes to getting medical appointments. –MC
Bottom line: There is a lot of information and assumptions to unpack from the first chapter in Military Times’ report on its annual survey. What stands out is the loss of a sense of purpose among respondents who sound adrift as they ponder what’s next. That is likely both a result of two wars winding down (barring the fight against ISIL drawing the U.S. back in full force) and of decisions emanating from Washington that signal a drawdown in resources and in attention to the conflicts of the last decade. The former is a fact of life—it is neither necessary nor healthy for a military to always be engaged in expansive, extensive conflicts. Yet the latter issue—the signals coming from Washington—present a long-term challenge. The Administration and Congress must walk a fine line as they try to move on from America’s longest war(s) without moving on from or discarding the men and women who have sacrificed and continue to sacrifice to ensure that the military is ready for future conflict. –BW

Quick Hits:

Hotline to Help Homeless Veterans Falls Short, Inspector General Says
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), Wall Street Journal. A VA Inspector General report found that one in four homeless veterans who called VA call centers in 2013 were unable to reach a counselor, an issue that may have prevented homeless veterans from receiving the services they needed. “’Everyone is pretty disappointed in the execution of the call center,’ said Baylee Crone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans” and sometimes ScoutComms client. –MC

VA Whistleblowers Honored as Public Servants of the Year
Joe Davidson (@JoeDavidsonWP), The Washington Post. Three Department of Veterans Affairs physicians who came forward to call attention to major issues at VA facilities and helped uncover a major VA scandal around falsified records and failures to serve veterans were recognized on Wednesday for their service. The three individuals received the Office of Special Counsel’s Public Servant of the Year Award for uncovering the issues and in the long run helping more veterans receive timely treatment.  –MC

Ashton Carter Vows Candid Advice as Defense Secretary
Travis Tritten (@travis_tritten), Stars and Stripes. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter was officially announced as a nominee for Secretary of Defense last week. Upon accepting the nomination, Carter pledged to keep good faith with the military and provide candid strategic advice to President Obama. Carter is not a military veteran nor a former politician, but as a long-time Pentagon presence, he is said to bring a different set of skills as a reformer who understands the Defense Department “inside and out.” –MC

Lawmakers Set Last-Ditch Push to Prevent Veteran Suicides
Martin Matishak (@martinmatishak), The Hill. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention Act, a proposed bill to help prevent veteran suicide by creating a one-stop shop website for veterans’ mental health services and a pilot program to repay student debt for students who study psychiatric medicine and work at the VA, is picking up momentum as advocates try to get it passed before the 113th Congress wraps up. The bill has gained support among Members of Congress and some say they think it will pass early this week. Key to long-term success will be advocates and Congress keeping a focus on mental health beyond this one bill.  –MC

Dog Tag Inc. Gives Wounded Veterans Job Training and an Education
Holley Simmons (@holleyunedited), The Washington Post. Dog Tag Inc., is a DC nonprofit that provides veterans with job training and education at Dog Tag Bakery. During a six-month program, veterans act as Dog Tag fellows, managing every aspect of the bakery while juggling a tough course load in finance, marketing, management and business at Georgetown University. This article features personal stories and experiences from some of Dog Tag’s first graduates. –MC

A Veteran Photo Project that Shows What Can’t Always Be Spoken
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), The Washington Post. A photo project by Devin Mitchell, a student at Arizona State University, shows veterans in their homes in civilian clothes looking into mirrors that reflect an image of them in uniform. Mitchell’s photos are said to give veterans the opportunity to share their stories even when they may not have the words to speak about them. –MC 

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences.

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our Events page.

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans Affairs: Timeless Honor: Reviewing Current Operations of our National Cemeteries When: Tuesday, December 9, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Foreign Affairs: Countering ISIS: Are We Making Progress? Who: The Honorable Brett McGurk, Deputy Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, U.S. Department of State When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, December 10, 2014 Where: 2172 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs: A Review of the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, December 10, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Foreign Affairs: After the Withdrawal: The Way Forward in Afghanistan and Pakistan Part III Who: The Honorable Jarret Blanc, Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, The Honorable Donald L. Sampler, Assistant to the Administrator, Office of Afghanistan and Pakistan Affairs, U.S. Agency for International Development, Mr. James Soiles, Deputy Chief of Operations, Office of Global Enforcement, Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Department of Justice When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, December 10, 2014 Where: 2167 Rayburn

Foreign Affairs: Russian Arms Control Cheating and the Administrations Responses
Who:
The Honorable Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary for Arms Control and International Security, U.S. Department of State, The Honorable Brian McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Policy, U.S. Department of Defense When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, December 10, 2014 Where: 2172 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs: Business Meeting to Approve the Second Annual Activities Report for the 113th Congress When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, December 11, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs: Evaluating Federal and Community Efforts to Eliminate Veteran Homelessness When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, December 11, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Senate:

Armed Services: Nominations Who: Mr. Robert M. Scher, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities, Ms. Elissa Slotkin, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, Mr. David J. Berteau, to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Logistics and Materiel Readiness, Ms. Alissa M. Starzak, to be General Counsel of the Department of the Army, Admiral Harry B. Harris, Jr., USN, for reappointment to the Grade of Admiral and to be Commander, United States Pacific Command When: 2:30 PM, Monday, December 8, 2014 Where: 216 Hart

Foreign Relations: ISIL’s Reign of Terror: Confronting the Growing Humanitarian Crisis in Iraq and Syria Who: The Honorable Tom Malinowski, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, The Honorable Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Ms. Vian Dakhil, Member of Parliament, Baghdad, Iraq, Ms. Sarah Margon, Washington Director, Human Rights Watch, His Excellency Bishop Francis Kalabat, St. Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Catholic Diocese When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, December 9, 2014 Where: 419 Dirksen

Foreign Relations: Authorization For the Use of Military Force Against ISIL Who: The Honorable John Kerry, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, December 9, 2014 Where: 216 Hart

Think Tanks & Other Events

Philanthropy Roundtable-Serving Those Who Served
Who: Rajiv Chandrasekaran, co-author, For Love of Country, Catherine Grimes, Director, Bristol Myers-Squibb Foundation, D. Wayne Robinson, President and CEO, Student Veterans of America, Eric Weingartner, Managing Director, Robin Hood Foundation When: 8:30, Tuesday, December 9, 2014 Where: JPMorgan Chase & Co. Conference Center, New York, NY 10017

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of veteran news via The Scout Report. Fred served over twenty years as an Army officer in both aviation and public affairs. Follow Fred on Twitter @ScoutComms.

 

This entry was posted on Monday, December 08, 2014 9:33 am

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