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Defense & Veterans Roundup: Phoenix VA Under Pressure Over Wait List Allegations, House Balks at Slashing Pay and Benefits

Posted by Fred Wellman

Soldier Who Lost Leg in Afghanistan Vowed ‘I Will Return.’ This is What it Took to Get Back.

Tim Craig, The Washington Post. A mere 2 percent of service member amputees return to their front line jobs after recovery. This is the story of one of them. 1LT Joshua Pitcher has always wanted to be a military man. He had only been in country for two months when he stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and woke up days later at Walter Reed one limb lighter. He vowed then that he would return not just to active duty, but to the field. Pitcher’s story is in many ways unusual, but in others not that different from many veterans: he had to overcome depression, the doubts of others, and drug dependency before he could return to the “normal” life he knew before his amputation. Thanks to his dogged determination, it only took Pitcher a year and a half to return to Afghanistan where he leads a platoon of fellow paratroopers. It’s stories like Pitcher’s that paint an accurate picture of today’s veterans: one where the heroes sometimes have demons to overcome. –LJ

House Balks at Slashing Pay and Benefits

Travis J. Tritten, Stars and Stripes. The Defense Department and service leaders have been very direct with Congress in their desire to vastly change many of the pay and benefits available to military members and especially retirees in the last year. This year’s budget request included proposals to reduce the DoD’s supplement to the military Commissary system, adjustments to the Tricare health insurance program and reductions in the amount of housing allowance members would receive. The House Armed Services Committee basically rejected all of the ideas this past week during their markup of the 2015 Defense Authorization bill. Saying that the changes amounted to breaking the “sacred trust” with those who choose to serve, the members didn’t offer alternatives and still face the threat of sequestration cuts that are coming. Towards that end Congress is asking DoD to let the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission finish its work due next February on suggested changes to the benefits system. In addition, the markup includes a provision that DoD bring in outside experts to review the military commissary system to “identify efficiencies that could least to cost savings without reducing military family benefits.” So, in the end everyone may still turn to these commissions and experts and say “oh…you guys say we should slash these benefits? Okay…well…you’re experts so we’ll go ahead and do what you say.” That classic Washington D.C. move lets everyone point fingers at someone else for unpleasant decisions. So, folks shouldn’t get too comfortable with Congress coming to the rescue quite yet. –FPW

Military Sex Assault Reports Surge by 50 Percent

Lolita Baldor (@lbaldor), Associated Press. So, how hard is it to be a military public affairs officer these days? How about trying to explain how a dramatic rise in the number of sexual assaults last year is really good news? That’s the life of the military these days as efforts to combat the scourge of sexual assault in the ranks have soared while numbers of reported incidents have increased. The logic is that in the past most sexual assaults simply went unreported due to fear of retaliation, embarrassment, and other concerns prevented victims from coming forward. The military believes that efforts to reduce the stigma and increase pursuit of perpetrators are increasing victims’ comfort with reporting the crimes and driving higher reporting numbers. A new report released on Friday shows that in sheer numbers there are more sexual assaults on men than women and DoD leadership believes that male sexual assault remains grossly underreported. In raw number,s reports in 2013 came from 12,000 women and 14,000 men. The angle that DoD is playing does have some merit but isn’t calming those calling for vast overhauls of the entire disciplinary system surrounding the crimes. While they praise the increasing reporting they still claim not enough cases are actually bring prosecuted. Both sides want to see improvements but the solutions are vastly different and thus the news is different depending on who is reading it. The other danger that many fear from this new climate is that accusations that don’t rise to criminal level, are fake, or not factually supported are still capable of ruining the accused’s lives and due process may be trampled in pursuit of the cases. In one case recently, the Army took the unusual step of ordering the defense investigators for the former head sexual assault lawyer to stop their work while the Army pursued their investigation even though he had already been very publicly fired from job. In another case, a Ft. Carson Commander missed his unit’s deployment to Afghanistan in March after three female soldiers accused him of making “insensitive” comments during a briefing with all of the female members of the command to address the issue before deployment. Col. Brian Pearl was cleared after a quick review when the other 29 females in attendance all claimed that his efforts were admirable and felt safer with his leadership. In this case trying to do the right thing left a unit deploying to combat without their brigade commander. To say the confusion in the ranks must be massive is probably an understatement. –FPW

TBI’s MIA: An Estimated 30,000 Undocumented Bruised Brains

Mark Thompson (@MarkThompson_DC), Time. A new report from researchers at Johns Hopkins University has taken a look at the reporting of Traumatic Brain Injuries among service members and concludes that thousands of troops suffer from undocumented TBI. Their research has led them to believe that 32,822 active-duty troops suffered undocumented brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2003 to 2010 before Congress forced stricter reporting requirements. This new count represents a doubling of the 32,176 reported by the Pentagon during the same period. The danger is that it has become increasingly clear that even so called “mild” TBI can lead to a host of maladies including memory loss, cognitive deficits, mood volatility, substance abuse disorders, personality changes, sleep difficulties, and possibly PTSD. Interestingly the new estimate was calculated by comparing the rate of TBI vs. amputations and other serious injuries from blasts in the later years of the wars when numbers were more closely tracked. They came up with mathematical formula and applied it to the early years and adjust for reported cases. TBI and PSTD are called the signature wounds of these wars due to the heavy use of Improvised Explosive Devices by insurgents in both theaters of battle often troops in the vicinity of the blasts reeling from the massive shockwaves and brain rattling blasts. Hopefully more studies are being conducted to find those who suffer from the injuries and allow for their treatment. Like most brain related injuries, the real damage might not appear for years so the Department of Veterans Affairs might not even see the real results of all of this for decades to come. –FPW

Study: With Good Jobs Scarce, More Twenty-Somethings Use the Army as a Last Resort

Lydia DePillis, The Washington Post. If you can get over the condescending tone to this piece, it has some very interesting facts about the latest recruiting statistics. As the economy has been slow to rebound and the jobs created remain low-paying and dead-end, many “older” Americans are enlisting in the Army according a RAND report. That is to say, rather than fresh high school graduates, 56 percent of new Army recruits were older than 20 in 2009 and recruits over 22 years old are the fastest growing cohort of enlistees. Older recruits tend to do better in the Army, according to the report, and they get promoted faster than their younger peers. As the Army transitions from a wartime footing to a smaller peacetime force, it will likely become more competitive to join and some older recruits may lose out on the Army as a “second chance”. –LJ

Heroic Madigan Nurse Ran ‘Into Hell’ During Bombings in Afghanistan

Adam Ashton, The News Tribune. A recently obtained citation for CPT Jennifer Moreno’s posthumous Bronze Star with Valor shed light onto a deadly day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan and the heroics of many on the battlefield, including the young nurse. Moreno had volunteered to support a special operations unit on a mission to disrupt a plot to kill Afghan civilians. During the mission, a series of deadly bomb blasts severely wounded U.S. personnel and Moreno, knowing the severity of a wounded comrade’s injuries, disregarded her own well-being and orders to stay put to move to the location of the injured. In transit, she set off another bomb blast and was killed. “None of us would have done what you did, running into hell to save your wounded brothers,” her commander said in Moreno’s eulogy. –LJ

Airman Dies Saving His 5-year-old Daughter’s Life
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Air Force Times. As a tornado whipped through his family’s house, Master Sgt. Dan Wassom II shielded his young daughter’s body with his own to protect her from the deadly winds and debris around them. While his daughter survived, Dan sacrificed his own life so that she could live. Wassom served for 12 years in the Arkansas Air National Guard and embodied the patriotism and work ethic of a citizen-soldier. ­–LJ 

ScoutComms Exclusive: Interview with Virginia Senator Tim Kaine

John Grady, Special Correspondent. Our own John Grady had a chance to chat with freshman Senator and former Virginia Governor Tim Kaine last week. They discussed the senator’s efforts to support the transition of military members to civilian careers including his efforts to break down barriers to certifications and licenses for skilled trades as well as client GE’s Get Skills to Work program. Kaine believes that private corporations and others are stepping up to help and recognizes the barriers to public-private partnership that make the success of those efforts often difficult limiting even the ability of private companies to even let service members know of the programs designed to help them. –FPW

Military Matters on Talk Center America with ScoutComms CEO Fred Wellman

Mike Lyons (@MajMikeLyons), Talk Center America. Our founder Fred Wellman was a guest on the inaugural edition of Talk Center America’s Military Matters webcast talk TV program. The show was hosted by long time CBS News analyst Maj. (Retire) Mike Lyons and focused on issues surrounding veterans and military issues. Fred joined Mike for the second hour of the broadcast Thursday evening. Check out the video and Fred joins at the 40-minute mark. Thanks for the opportunity Mike!

VA B Blast

Ginny Hodges, Virginia Community Capital
The Virginia Benefit Corporation community is coming together more each month and ScoutComms was formally welcomed into the family in the latest newsletter this past week. Today there are 16 Certified B-Corps by the non-profit B-Labs organization and a total 44 Virginia Benefit Corporations in the commonwealth. We proudly joined the B-Corps movement in January and are seeking our B-Labs certification as well. Check out Fred Wellman’s answers to Ginny’s questions on why we made the move to a B-Corps structure and offers advice for others thinking about joining the movement.

Dan Lamothe to Write Military-Focused Blog

It seems like just yesterday we were writing about Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe) leaving the Marine Corps Times for Foreign Policy. Now he’s taking his pen to The Washington Post where he’ll start a military-focused blog at the venerable paper of record. His first day at the Post will be May 19. Get some, Dan. –LJ

Phoenix VA Officials Deny There’s a Secret Wait List; Doctor Says They’re Lying

Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin, and Nelli Black, CNN Investigations. Last week we told you about the CNN bombshell that at least 40 veterans have died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. This week, more fallout as Congressmen call for heads and both the Phoenix VA and officials in Washington deny all allegations. After first avoiding CNN’s requests for comment, head of the Phoenix VA Sharon Helman and her chief of staff Dr. Darren Deering sat down with CNN and said they had never created or maintained a secret waiting list for veterans. Dr. Samuel Foote, a former doctor at the Phoenix VA, insists Helman is lying and in fact led the efforts to cover-up deplorable wait times at the HCS. CNN says several other off-the-record sources confirm Dr. Foote’s claims. In Washington, VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Bob Petzel, head of the Veterans Health Administration, said a preliminary review found no evidence to support claims about a secret waiting list and veterans’ subsequent deaths at the Phoenix VA. But Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, has expressed concern that Phoenix VA officials may have destroyed documents supporting Dr. Foote’s claims before VA’s inspector general investigation got hold of the materials. In light of its ongoing investigation, the inspector general requested that Helman, Deering, and another Phoenix VA official be placed on leave, a request that VA Secretary Shinseki granted. With President Obama having weighed in, expect Congress and VA officials to keep a laser focus on Phoenix and its leadership—or lack thereof. –LJ

First Lady Announcing Pledges for Vets, Families

Nancy Benac, Associated Press. The Council on Foundations partnered with the White House’s Joining Forces program to announce a new commitment of $160 million for veterans and military families from a host of leading corporate and family philanthropic organizations including our colleagues the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. The First Lady helped launch the Philanthropy-Joining Forces Impact Pledge, under which more than 30 organizations are making commitments to provide a range of services over the next five years, including $62 million in existing commitments and $102 million in new pledges. Organizations making commitments are focusing on numerous areas including homelessness, employment, training, education, and community integration. The council also is creating an online Veterans Philanthropy Exchange to help charitable organizations share ideas and information on how to help military families. –FPW

Army Veterans Racing Toward Recovery

Stephen J. Nesbitt, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. This weekend 38 runners from Team Red, White & Blue ran the Dicks Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon carrying American flags and spreading the word on this fast growing organization. Dan Blevins is one of the runners from the Western Pennsylvania chapter that now boasts some 550 members in the region – two thirds of whom are veterans. Blevins joined after leaving the Army two years ago with a lingering foot injury and little ability to walk much–no matter run 26 miles. He is also the service director for the chapter while a full time student. The organization partnered with local company American Textile who presented them with a $10,000 check at the pre-race pasta dinner. Team RWB is an organization we recommend highly both as a fast growing organization bringing veterans and civilians together and also as members ourselves. –FPW

Tradeshows & Conferences

Army Aviation: Mission Solutions Summit (Sun-Tue, 4-6 May); Opryland Hotel, Nashville, TN
10th Special Operations Forces Exhibition and Conference (Mon-Thu, 5-8 May); King Abdullah I Airbase, Amman, Jordan
Military.Com Spouse Summit (Tue-Wed, 6-7 May); Sheraton Premiere, Vienna, VA
SpecOps Warfighter Expo – West (Tue-Thu, 6-8 May); Joint Base Lewis-McChord, WA

View our full list of upcoming tradeshows.

Congressional Hearings

Interesting hearings in both chambers this week from NDAA to student veterans to #KeepYourPromise.

House:

Armed Services: Markup of H.R. 4435 – National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 7, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Small Business: Military to Entrepreneurship: Private Sector Initiatives to Help Veterans Pursue Business Opportunities Who: Mr. Wade Franklin, Owner, The UPS Store Clarendon, Ms. Dawn Smith, Founder and CEO, Mystic Reme Teas, Mr. Charleston Malkemus, Founder and CEO, Gozump, Inc. When: 1:00 PM, Wednesday, May 7, 2014 Where: 2360 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Defining and Improving Success for Student Veterans When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, May 8, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Senate:

Armed Services: Military Compensation Who: General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., USN, Vice Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, General Raymond T. Odierno, USA, Chief Of Staff Of The Army, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, Chief Of Naval Operations, General Mark A. Welsh III, USAF, Chief Of Staff Of The Air Force, General James F. Amos, USMC, Commandant Of The Marine Corps, General Frank J. Grass, ARNG, Chief Of The National Guard Bureau, General Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (Ret.), President And Chief Executive Officer, Association Of The United States Army, General Craig R. McKinley, USAF (Ret.), President, Air Force Association, General John H. Tilelli, Jr., USA (Ret.), Chairman Of The Board, Military Officers Association Of America, Vice Admiral John B. Totushek, USN (Ret.), Executive Director, Association Of The United States Navy When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, May 6, 2014 Where: 216 Hart

Think Tanks & Other Events

Nothing interesting this week.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 06, 2014 7:21 am

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