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Defense Roundup: Scandals Keep Coming for the Army, Food Stamp Use Rises

Posted by Fred Wellman

Misconduct in Army Ranks Forcing More Soldiers Out, Data Shows

Lolita Baldor (@lbaldor), Associated Press. The AP has been on a roll doing deep dives of military records in recent weeks. Last week a three-year look at military sexual assault cases in Japan revealed a wide disparity in prosecutorial approaches among the military services. This week Lolita Baldor found that the number of soldiers being kicked out of the Army has risen dramatically in the last three years. Enlisted soldiers forced out for drugs, alcohol, crime, and other misconduct tripled in those three years peaking last year as some 11,000 were removed from the Army. Officers weren’t immune to punishment either as 119 were forced out in 2010 but by last year 387 were taken out of uniform. All of the services have scrutinized their members closer in recent years as the pressure to reduce the sizes of the various branches meant less tolerance for inappropriate behavior to remove trouble makers that were once tolerated at the height of our war in Iraq. A rash of recent scandals and ethical failings from general officers misbehaving to cheating on nuclear readiness tests in the Air Force have pushed Secretary of Defense Hagel to create a position for a soon to be selected senior ethics advisor in his office and calls for greater scrutiny of the evaluations for officers. The military has enjoyed sitting at the top of America’s most trusted institutions list for many years and many worry that each new scandal undermines the nations trust in her armed forces.

Soldier Hired by Company She Awarded a Lucrative Contract

Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today. Another one of those breaking scandals mentioned above is getting uglier with each passing day. Last week it was revealed that hundreds of Army soldiers including senior officers and NCOs are implicated in a scandal that saw them fraudulently claiming referrals of new soldiers to claim signing bonuses and kicking back payments to recruiters who assisted them. One of the major questions surrounding the situation is the fact that the entire program was administered for the National Guard by a marketing firm in Alabama that had never managed a similar program before. Investigators have discovered that the Guard had failed to get a legal review of the program, conduct any market research, or even negotiate the contractor’s fee when they issued the contract to Docupak. The Recruiting Assistance Program has now sparked 559 criminal investigations involving 1,219 people and convicted or punished 104 all surrounding a program that was at its core illegal because it lacked Congressional authority to issue bonuses. To make things look even worse the Montana National Guard officer that issued the contract to the company was hired just two years later because she impressed the CEO with her knowledge of how to work the Army contracting system. She was issued an ethics review that didn’t see a conflict of interest but like many things these days it doesn’t pass the age old test: “how will this look in the Washington Post tomorrow?” In this case it’s USA Today on it and it looks like a really dumb move by both the officer and the company in retrospect. This scandal is just getting rolling and will be sure to nab folks who should have known a lot better.

Food Stamp Use Among Military Rises Again

Jennifer Liberto, CNN Money. Continuing a worrying trend in the ranks, military commissaries again saw an increase of food stamp usage by military families in the fiscal year 2013. Nearly $104 million worth of food stamps were redeemed at the on base grocery stores last year mostly to purchase staples such as milk, cheese, meat, and bread in a trend that has been rising since the onset of the recession in 2008. One factor driving this is the persistent challenges for military spouses to find employment. In addition, many of the states where military bases are located have lowered the eligibility for assistance since the recession so the aid is more readily available and might account for some of the growth. What makes this story even more unfortunate is just two weeks ago the Pentagon began floating a plan to cut some $1 billion of the $1.4 billion commissary budget over the next three years. While military leadership insists that the plan is not final and will not necessarily mean closings of these grocers that sell food at substantially lower prices than the commercial market it is assumed that raising the prices of items to reduce the government subsidy is on the table. So even as military families struggle to make ends meet, DoD is faced with trying to sell a cut to their subsistence benefits. If you thought the repeal of the military retiree COLA cuts was a bloody fight wait until you see advocates carry 30 percent military spouse unemployment and increasing food stamp usage to the fight to save the commissaries on Capitol Hill.

U.S. Seeks Prisoner Swap with Taliban to Free Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

Anne Gearan and Ernesto Londono (@londonoe), Washington Post. There was a surprise video issued last week by the captors of U.S. prisoner of war Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl who has been held captive by the Haqqani Network since 2009. This ‘proof of life’ video led to speculation that the U.S. had demanded the proof as part of a plan to exchange the nations’ only POW from Afghanistan for five Taliban prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay. Anonymous sources at the State Department are now telling the Post that the U.S. is willing to release all five prisoners at once to Qatar in exchange for Bergdahl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances from his combat outpost leaving all of his combat gear behind when he left. He has not appeared on a video in three years, a period that included reports from intelligence officials that he had attempted to escape and been recaptured. The video was apparently intercepted before it was going to be released by the Taliban. All of this is basically theory right now as the same officials said that no direct contact with the Taliban has occurred on the plan but it meets prior demands made by the group. At this point the U.S. seems to have given up on any kind of a larger bargain with the insurgent group as Afghan president Karzai has become increasingly erratic and refuses to sign the bilateral security treaty that would keep U.S. and NATO troops in the country past 2014. We just want our guy back and leave the Afghans to sort things out for themselves barring any significant changes in the attitude of the Afghan government or Taliban.

Innovative Program is Tailored to Prevent Homelessness Among Vets

Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times. As part of its goal to end veteran homelessness by 2015, the VA is piloting new treatment and prevention methods. This one in San Diego gives young veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars a residential treatment facility aimed at preventing homelessness that is focused solely on their generation. It’s estimated San Diego is home to at least 286 homeless Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, but the number could be higher due to the difficulty of counting the homeless population, let alone a young one that could be sleeping on couches. The facility will provide therapy for PTSD, job training, substance abuse counseling, and mental health care services for 34 male veterans and 6 female veterans. The VA says its biggest challenge will be tracking outcomes in the homeless community.

VA Urged to Form Registry of Roadside Bomb Victims

Kevin Freking (@APkfreking), Associated Press. The Institute of Medicine is calling on VA to get ahead of what could be a serious problem: the long-term effect of bomb blasts on 34,000 veterans injured by them during the course of two wars. Medical researchers say too little is known about how blasts affect the brain and what impact these injuries could have on veterans decades from now. The solution is to create a registry of those veterans exposed to blasts during service so medical complications such as chronic pain, headaches, tinnitus, and other symptoms can be tracked.

Study: Most Military Spouses Say They Are Underemployed

Josh Hicks (@Reporter_Hicks), Washington Post. A survey of military spouses by the Military Officers Association of America and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families highlighted some alarming statistics about the unique community. Ninety percent of female spouses of active duty service members described themselves as underemployed. Military spouses are also 20 percent more likely to be unemployed than their civilian counterparts and will make 38 percent less on average in personal income. While advocacy efforts have stepped up in recent years around military spouse employment, there is still a ways to go as evidenced by the survey.

Construction Industry Pledges 100,000 Jobs for Veterans

Jon Harper (@JHarperStripes), Stars and Stripes. First Lady Michelle Obama joined a coalition of construction companies this past week to announce their commitment to hire 100,000 veterans in construction jobs over the next five years. It’s an interesting move at a time when veteran unemployment is down, though young veterans continue to struggle to find jobs. More than 100 companies and associations are part of the initiative.

Broad Veterans’ Bill Faces Uncertain Fate in Senate

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. With President Obama having signed into law a repeal of COLA reductions, the future of Senator Bernie Sanders’ omnibus veterans legislation is now unclear. The bill had momentum thanks to its COLA fix, but with that no longer drumming up votes for the bill, it could be a dicey roll call. Don’t call the COLA fight over and done yet, either, as veterans groups are still concerned that troops enlisting and commissioning as of January 1 will still be subject to reduced COLA.

Weather Doesn’t Faze Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Guards

Natalie DiBlasio, USA Today. Snow—and quite a bit of it—was the talk of DC for days. While most of the city shut down, an important few were still outside working: the honor guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. And you thought your snow day was bad.

Tradeshows & Conferences

George W. Bush Institute’s Empowering Our Nation’s Warriors (Wed, 19 February); Bush Library, Dallas, TX

AUSA Winter (Tue-Thu, 19-21 February); The Von Braun Center, Huntsville, AL

AFA Air Warfare Symposium and Tech Expo (Tue-Thu, 19-21 February); Orlando, FL

View our full list of upcoming tradeshows. 

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess this week. The House VA Committee is holding a field hearing.

House:

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health: An Examination of Veteran Access to Traditional and Alternative Forms of Mental Health Therapy When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, February 20, 2014 Where: California State University Channel Islands, 1 University Drive Camarillo, California 93012 

Think Tanks & Other Events

American Security Project: Defense Budget Issues for FY15 Who: Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow at The Center for American Progress When: 12:30 PM, Tuesday, February 18, 2014 Where: 1100 New York Ave, NW, Seventh Floor, West Tower, Washington DC

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

This entry was posted on Tuesday, February 18, 2014 4:19 pm

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