Defense and Veterans Roundup: Coming Health Care Crisis for Injured Vets, Marine Gets too Expeditionary

Posted by Fred Wellman

Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps Barrett: Less Pay Raises Discipline

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The Washington Post has a regular feature naming who had the worst week in Washington each Friday. In the military, that honor easily goes to the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps Sgt. Maj. Michael Barrett. During testimony before a panel of the Senate Armed Services on Wednesday with his fellow senior enlisted leaders of the military services, Barrett stepped into a mess when answering whether rank and file Marines were concerned about potential benefits changes and whether it would hurt morale. Barrett replied that when he talked to Marines they just wanted “to know into whose neck do we put a boot next” and that they don’t run around asking about compensation or retirement modernization. He then offered that today’s benefits are the most generous he’s seen in his 33 years and that less money in the budget would raise discipline because the Marines won’t be as wasteful. The backlash has been pretty epic with some 480 comments on the original article on Marine Corps Times page and over 45,000 shares on Facebook. One of our regular bloggers Kristine Schellhass of USMC Life penned an open letter to the SMMC that laid out her disagreement that got a lot of attention itself. On Friday Barrett penned a letter to the Corps clarifying what his team is calling another attack by Marine Corps Times where he explained that “recent reporting may have left you with a mistaken impression that I don’t care about your quality of life and that I support lower pay for service members. This is not true.” This entire episode was almost inevitable since leaders of the military services have openly advocated for trimming various benefits for military members and retirees. There has been a series of seemingly small changes that are piling up to big numbers and the rank and file is paying attention. There is no denying that lower pay raises, higher commissary prices, higher Tricare copays, lower housing allowances, reduced specialty pays, and other adjustments are adding up to major hits to the real income of the military family. We’ve never seen the uniformed leadership openly calling for cuts to the personnel benefits before and no amount of explaining of “what I really meant” is going to change the fact that millions of service members, family members and retirees are angry that F-35s are being prioritized over their well-being in a host of ways. Marine Corps Times has an exclusive interview with the SMMC today that should be interesting but this isn’t the last we’ll hear of the bubbling anger we are finding across a wide swath of the community. –FPW

The Choice

Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post. This story is the fourth in the Post’s ‘After the Wars’ series and is possibly one of the more gut wrenching stories you will read in the entire series. The piece focuses on a unique twist in the sexual assault process that Congress pushed upon DoD which allows the victim of a sexual assault to file an “unrestricted report” which both the victim and the accused offender are named and a full investigation is launched or a “restricted” report which is anonymous. In this case the young Airman was raped by her boss and chose to keep it restricted and today finds herself dealing with the ramifications of that decision which leaves her with mental health issues that remain under wraps since no criminal investigation was ever done. The process was designed in hopes that more victims would come forward if given the opportunity to keep it anonymous but in many ways has left them with few options later when those reports are destroyed one-year after being filed. A recent VA survey found that one in four female service members reported being sexually assaulted while deployed ranging from groping to rape. Now 25 percent of all reports of sexual assault are restricted ones, which is seen as a success by the Pentagon in hopes of encouraging victims to seek help. The restricted report can be changed to an unrestricted one at any time by the victim but is challenging once evidence is destroyed at the one-year milestone. DoD changed that time to five years last spring. The story is a tough one to read but certainly offers a close look at the system that has been viewed as much of a part of the problem for sexual assault victims as the actual perpetrators. –FPW

White House Unveils Expanded Support for Military, Vets’ Caregivers

Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. Sparked by the continued work of our friends at the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, the First Lady and Dr. Jill Biden announced expanded programs to support military and veterans caregivers on Friday. Joined at the White House by former Senator Dole and former First Lady Rosalyn Carter for a Joining Forces event, Mrs. Obama announced several programs that will help caregivers get training, financial and legal support, and work opportunities. Among the new programs is a DoD effort to create caregiver peer groups at military installations with wounded personnel. In addition our colleagues at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program will offer specific job fairs for caregivers and a coalition of major corporations and non-profits will provide internet-based aid for contingency planning and decision-making as well as online support. This comes on the heels of a bill introduced on Thursday by Senator Patty Murray called the Military and Veteran Caregiver Services Improvement Act that proposes to expand VA caregiver programs by removing existing age restrictions, adjust who is considered a caregiver and increase support for those who are taking care of veterans with mental health issues. In addition, there are provisions to remove taxes from certain DoD benefits and very interestingly remove the time restrictions currently in place for veterans eligible for the Post-9/11 GI Bill to transfer their benefits to family members. It’s been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Mrs. Dole’s organization with the release of their newest research from the RAND Corporation and their 50 Caregiver Fellows in town to visit Congressional leaders and others. –FPW

Placing a Value on Veterans’ Skills

Gary Sinise (@GarySinise), The Huffington Post. While Gary Sinise is well known as an actor and veterans’ advocate, you may not know him as an uncle to a service member. Sinise worries as any uncle would about his nephew’s future in a civilian world that does not always see the skills veterans bring to the workforce and community. Writing on behalf of Get Skills to Work, a coalition founded by GE, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Alcoa, and The Manufacturing Institute, Sinise highlights the valuable skills veterans bring to college campuses and to manufacturing jobs—two places Get Skills to Work seeks to connect veterans with academic programming and careers in advanced manufacturing. Talking about helping veterans isn’t enough, Sinise says. We must talk to veterans, understand them, and share with them the opportunities that are available. For those veterans seeking new skills or looking to apply those they learned as aircraft mechanics and technicians, Get Skills to Work offers those opportunities. Be like Forrest and share that knowledge with your veteran friends. –LJ

Homeless Vets in Rural Areas Lack Options, Advocates Say

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Johnny Iskason (R-GA) joined Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) last Wednesday at the Housing Assistance Council’s symposium on Capitol Hill focused on rural veterans and the challenges they face in accessing services. At the symposium, HAC released “From Service to Shelter”, a new report on the particular demographics and housing needs of rural veterans funded through a grant from The Home Depot Foundation. The report notes that young people from rural areas are 22 times more likely to join the military than their urban and suburban counterparts, yet the rural veteran population is more elderly than the overall veteran population. This demographic shift to an older rural veteran population will have an impact on the health care and the housing needs in these rural areas. Additionally, those younger veterans returning to rural areas also face unique challenges when, for example, using their education benefits: many turn to online schools due to distance from other higher education options, but broadband internet capabilities don’t always exist. Departments of the VA, HUD, Labor, and Agriculture are all working on various pieces of the puzzle, but non-governmental service providers in Vermont, Tennessee, and other rural American locales are closing the gaps on services when it comes to the needs of homeless veterans in these areas. –LJ ­
Other coverage: VFW Joins Capitol Seminar on Rural Veterans Ryan Gallucci (@RyanGallucci81), Veterans of Foreign Wars

The Other Wounds

Rajiv Chandraesekaran (@Rajivwashpost), Washington Post. In the third part of the Washington Post’s series drawing from their recent survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with the Kaiser Family Foundation, Rajiv takes a look at the wounds, injuries, and ailments that plague many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. More than half of the 2.6 million veterans who served in combat are reporting that their physical and mental health is worse than before they deployed. Eight in ten of those say they were not seriously injured in combat but are beset with back, lung, joint, and a host of other issues that have in many ways proven as debilitating as combat wounds and impact the quality of life for millions of vets. The Post-Kaiser survey found a self-reported deterioration of physical health in 43 percent of veterans and worsened mental health in almost a third. Among those who served in combat jobs, the changes are even more significant: 56 percent say their physical health is worse, and nearly four in 10 say their mental health has slipped. Rates of health problems are significantly higher in those who deployed for three or more years. All of this means that the long term health care of this cohort of veterans will be a major issue for decades to come as historically the real wave of those seeking assistance doesn’t occur until many years after the wars have ended. Interestingly this generation of veterans already has the highest of any in history of seeking veteran benefits from the Department of Veteran Affairs with well over 50% already having applied for disability and health care. –FPW

Many Veterans with PTSD Live Near Bases Chris Adams, McClatchy
Let’s Put Things in Perspective: You’re Still Safer on a Military Base Robert Beckhusen, The Daily Beast
Fighting Stereotypes: “Deadly Aftermath Of War Right Here At Home” is Less Deadly than the General Population Tim Hudak (@hoodyhudak), VAntage Point

Last week, the Huffington Post published an article about crime data with an associated map: the data showed violent crimes by service members and veterans tends to be centered around military bases. Yes, shockingly, the areas in which most service members and veterans live are the same areas in which they tend to commit crimes. Of course, the article took this breathless reporting a step further by implicitly linking combat and violence by veterans at home (though credit to veteran and Huffington Post Middle East Bureau Chief Max Rosenthal for pushing editors to include scientific facts like neither combat experience nor PTSD are linked to violence.) McClatchy produced a similarly baffling, but less inflammatory piece on veterans’ proximity to military bases. The story seems to be: some veterans have PTSD and some of them live near military bases. Fortunately, many smart veterans and writers were quick to parse the data about veteran violence in a more meaningful way. Hudak at VA figures that civilians are four times more likely to murder than post-9/11 veterans and found that Chicago had a murder rate 56 times higher than that of a similarly sized population of people: veterans. At The Daily Beast, Beckhusen notes the more qualitative side of the problem: Americans tend to “other-ize” veterans and the military population either as heroes or victims. That means it becomes hard to see violence on a military base as another instance of workplace violence. Instead it becomes indicative of something insidious within the veteran population. The near instant outcry and detailed takedowns of the Huffington Post piece eventually forced editors to remove the article with an apology. It’s good to see the growing social and traditional media influence of veteran writers. But, as usual, it’s the Duffel Blog who has the last word on this issue. –LJ

Medal of Honor Recipient Returns to Active Duty

Michelle Tan, Military Times. Captain Will “America” Swenson, a Medal of Honor recipient for his actions in Afghanistan during a September 2009 battle in Gangjal, has returned to active duty. After a bitter dispute with higher headquarters during the battle and allegedly “lost” MOH packets, Swenson left the Army in 2011. He expressed a desire to return to uniform at his MOH ceremony and now joins fellow MOH recipients SFC Leroy Petry and SSG Ty Carter on active duty, all of them at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Swenson is serving on the planning staff at I Corps headquarters. We’re happy to see leaders like Swenson back in uniform. –LJ & FPW

How One Iraqi Boy Dodged Extremists and Came to Serve in the US Military

Matthew M. Burke, Stars and Stripes. Stripes has the fascinating tale of a young Marine stationed in Japan who was once a translator for U.S. troops in his native Iraq. Simply called PFC Mansure to protect his identity as he still has family in Iraq, he rose from joining the Iraqi Army to forcing his way onto FOB Warhorse to interview for a job as a translator to finally becoming a U.S. citizen and joining the Marines. He took to the Marine Corps so well he allegedly got in trouble in boot camp for not seeming depressed enough at the torment laid upon him by the drill instructors. Great read to see how the system has worked for a few of those who risked their lives by supporting us in Iraq. –FPW

Veterans Treating PTSD by Going Bare

Jennifer Titus, WTSP. Not necessarily great news, but we’re always on the lookout for alternative therapies for PTSD to share with the community. In Florida, some veterans have found an unusual way to alleviate their symptoms after therapy and other methods didn’t work: living in the nude. The veterans at this clothing-optional subdivision say the new way of life has given them a new lease on one. –LJ 

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week. View our full list of upcoming tradeshows

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events

No major think tank or press events this week.

Fred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense and veterans 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, April 14, 2014 10:15 am

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