Defense & Veterans Roundup: Shinseki and the Senate, Top VA Official Resigns

Posted by Fred Wellman

Arizona Vets Take Medical Care Concerns to Town Hall

Craig Harris, Dennis Wagner and Paul Giblin, The Arizona Republic. Just a day after the VA put two staffers at the Durham VA medical center on leave for “inappropriate scheduling”, the American Legion hosted a town hall meeting in Arizona, ground zero for the current scandal rocking the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 200 people packed the local Legion post to air their grievances with VA to the Legion’s national leadership and the acting head of the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Veterans complained of long wait times at Arizona VA medical center and clinics with at least one alleging that delays in care left him with a chronic ailment that could have been prevented.  –LJ

Obama Asked to Create Commission to Investigate VA

Gregg Zoroya (@greggzoroya), USA Today. Obama Aide to Oversee VA Review Julie Pace, Associated Press. On Tuesday, Chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller (R-FL) sent a letter to President Obama requesting the formation of a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the VA and its handling of patient care. The commission would be modeled after the one established in 2007 to investigate allegations that wounded troops at Walter Reed were receiving inadequate care. While the VA inspector general is currently investigating cases in Phoenix and elsewhere, Miller is concerned that the increasingly widespread allegations leveled at VA go beyond the capability and capacity of the VA IG. On Wednesday, while not a direct response to Miller’s request, the White House announced that Obama’s Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors would temporarily be assigned to VA to oversee a policy review of its patient care guidelines and scheduling practices. Nabors, the son of an Army veteran, is a close aide to Obama and this move by the White House is very similar to one made following the fiasco. As the AP article ominously notes, HHS Secretary Sebelius later resigned. To date, Shinseki has insisted he will not resign. –LJ

Eric Shinseki ‘Mad as Hell’ Over VA Scandal

Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) and Austin Wright (@abwrig), Politico. On Thursday, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki sat before Congress to make his case for the VA. Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel joined him and both men were sworn in under oath, an unusual move for the committee. Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) asked in his opening remarks that no one rush to judgment ahead of the VA IG’s report on the allegations surrounding wait times and cover-ups. Shinseki remained staid during his testimony and while answering questions, something that irked veterans who spoke to ScoutComms afterward. Some wanted to hear Shinseki be more forceful in his condemnation of reports about secret waiting lists, but instead they heard a “wait and see” attitude about the VA IG report. Republicans on the committee were very frank in their questioning of Shinseki, even going so far as to ask the VA Secretary why he thinks he shouldn’t resign. Democrats were friendlier to the Secretary—and none have called for his resignation—but noted they expect action should the VA IG report find evidence of wrongdoing. Leading veterans’ organizations and their DC representatives testified following Shinseki and Petzel’s panel and, in another unusual move, the secretary sat in the first row and listened to the veterans’ criticisms and support. Roundly, the veterans’ groups expressed outrage over the allegations about wait times surfacing across the nation, but only the American Legion called for Shinseki’s resignation. Instead, most organizations said their member veterans are overall very satisfied with their VA health care, but dissatisfied with their access to VA and the bureaucracy involved. –LJ

VA Inspector General Says No Evidence Yet Linking Deaths to Wait Times

Ben Kesling (@bkesling), Wall Street Journal. While the VA IG report will not be complete until at least August, the acting inspector general Richard Griffin testified before the Senate on Thursday after Shinseki and a panel of veterans groups. So far, Griffin says, their investigation has found no link between extended wait times in Phoenix and veterans’ deaths. According to CNN’s reporting, 40 veterans died while waiting for care in Phoenix. The VA IG has already investigated 17 of those cases and has not found that those veterans’ deaths, while tragic, were due to excessive wait times. “It’s one thing to be on a waiting list, it’s another for that to be the cause of death,” Griffin told the Senate committee. If the review does eventually find merit to the claims, Griffin said there could be criminal charges involved. But, despite prodding from several Senators, Griffin said there is no need for the FBI to intervene in the VA IG investigative process.  Of course, this does not exonerate VA regional leaders of charges about secret waiting lists and gaming the system. Even if the IG finds no veterans’ deaths are directly related to excessive wait times, there are an untold number of secondary and less fatal effects of increased wait times. Of course, no veteran (or American) should have to wait months to see a doctor in any case, but that is a conversation for a different Scout Report. –LJ

VA’s Top Health Official Resigns Amid Scandal over Delays in Vets’ Care

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. On Friday afternoon, during prime newsdump time, the VA sent out a short press statement from Secretary Shinseki noting he had accepted the resignation of Undersecretary for Health Petzel, the man who oversees VA’s health care system. Petzel had been planning to retire this summer and a replacement had already been nominated pending Senate action, but Shinseki asked for Petzel’s earlier resignation. Petzel is one of the three officials whose resignation the American Legion called for, though the group noted that due to his impending retirement, “resignation now won’t make much of a difference”. It’s an odd flip-flop that fails to concede that Shinseki is taking actions to make the VA a more accountable health system for veterans. –LJ

Whistleblower: VA Punished Me for Not Cooking Books

Nick Coltrain, Fort Collins Coloradoan. The whistleblower who instigated the investigation into a secret wait list at a For Collins, Colo., VA clinic says she faced retaliation for entering in veterans’ appointments correctly. VA policy is to see patients within 14 days of their desired appointment date, but many clinics and medical centers where veterans must wait months for appointments have recently been found to be “gaming the system”. By manipulating the electronic data or the veterans themselves, these clinics and hospitals can show they are meeting the 14 day goal even though patients are waiting months to see a doctor. Lisa Lee and another appointment scheduler in Fort Collins refused to “cook the books” and were transferred out of the clinic. After filing an internal grievance, Lee says she was placed on a two-week unpaid leave as punishment. The 14 day goal is important to VA because it ensures veterans are getting high quality care in a timely fashion, but the goal is important to VA regional managers because getting closer to the goal means bigger bonuses. A VA whistleblower in Chicago says that bonuses based on lower wait times incentivize bad actors to cover-up and manipulate data. –LJ

Fatal V-22 Crash Tied by Marines to Pressure to Succeed

Tony Capaccio (@acapaccio), Bloomberg. Bloomberg got a copy of an interesting letter sent last December by Marine Corps Commandant General James Amos to two lawmakers asking about the deadliest V-22 crash ever in April 2000 on behalf of the pilots’ widows. The crash cast a long shadow over the tilt-rotor aircraft when it took the lives of 19 Marines just as a major decision milestone fast approached on the production of the aircraft. The Corps has long held that “human factors” were the cause of the crash, which felt like blaming the pilots to many observers, and their widows have fought to have their names cleared. In the letter, Amos, a pilot himself, elaborates that citing the cause as “human factors” allowed many to characterize it as pilot error when incredible pressure was being placed on the pilots who flew into an aerodynamic situation called Vortex Ring State that was unrecognized as particularly dangerous to tilt-rotor aircraft. Essentially, as the aircraft descends too rapidly it will fly into its own disturbed rotor turbulence and lose lift in the rotors causing a precipitous drop out of the sky. With the new aircraft still being tested, this concern had not been thoroughly evaluated or prepared for leaving the pilots on their own, with a full aircraft of passengers in the dark with the weight of an entire program on their shoulders. The question today over a 13-year-old accident revolves around the intense pressure to succeed on those testing the new F-35 which faces almost as much skepticism. The price in failure for military families is lives more than treasure when multi-billion dollar aircraft still have a “few bugs in them”. –FPW

Military Gets Picky in Recruiting; Only 20% of Applicants Qualify

Rick Montgomery, The Kansas City Star. The days of jumping into the military as a “last resort” are probably gone for a long time as a downsizing period and improving job market means the services are upping the threshold over whom they will accept. Recruiters just don’t need as many new troops and the high school class of 2014 faces the most difficulty of qualifying for military service in the 40-year history of the all-volunteer force. Today recruiters are working early telling kids to keep the weight off, don’t get tattoos, and avoid that easy to acquire joint if they want any hope of moving into uniform. Today high school dropouts, kids with the oh-so-cool “gauges” ear piercings, and tattoos on their necks and forearms and lower legs find themselves completely disqualified from military service. Like so many things in this world there are second and order effects as less qualified recruits means finding ones with the qualifications and motivation to serve the nation gets harder and fewer young Americans will reap the benefits of generous programs like the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Tell your kids if they want to serve, living clean lives and avoiding the cool trends will be the only way to get the chance. –FPW

Bracelet Outshines Medal of Honor at Ceremony for Kyle White

Jon Harper, Stars and Stripes. This past week President Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on former Army Sgt. Kyle White for his heroic actions during a massive enemy ambush in Afghanistan in November 2007. White was wounded almost immediately by an enemy grenade but upon reviving immediately went to work rescuing fellow soldiers including applying two tourniquets to a wounded battle buddy. Six soldiers died in the attack and White wears their names on a silver bracelet as he makes his way to work each day as a successful investment analyst at the Royal Bank of Canada in Charlotte, North Carolina. White was a student veteran who used his GI Bill benefits to attend the University of North Carolina and speaks openly about his struggles with PTSD that have not held him back due to his head on approach to dealing with the challenge. He is a passionate advocate for transitioning service members and veterans to use the amazing benefits they have available to them. Like his fellow six living recipients of the nation’s highest award for valor from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, White is a humble hero. He told reporters, “The Medal of Honor is said to be the nation’s highest award for valor by one individual. But to me, it is much more. It is representation of the responsibility we accept as warriors and members of a team. It is a testament to the trust we have in each other and our leaders. Because of these reasons, a medal cannot be an individual award…That is why I wear this medal for my team.” Of note, unfortunately, this award represents yet another one for Afghanistan service. The Obama administration has not issued a single Medal of Honor for Iraq service, either living or dead. The situation is growingly increasingly frustrating to Iraq veterans who feel their war is turning into a sort of forgotten “dirty war” over politics out of their control. It’s hard not to wonder after so many heroic men and women served in combat. –FPW

To Curb Military Suicides Should Funds Go for Sit-Ups or Psychologists?

Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe), The Washington Post. In the last decade it has been pretty rare when Congress has said ‘no’ to Special Operations Command budget requests for almost anything. Yet they said so pretty resoundingly recently in the fight over how best to address rising suicide rates among special operators. SOCOM has launched a multi-million dollar effort called the Human Performance Program focused on building more physical fitness facilities and hiring high end physical therapists, dieticians, sports psychologists, and strength and conditioning specialists in an effort founded on the idea that a strong body leads to strong mind. Congress didn’t agree and the House Armed Services Committee diverted $23 million of a requested $48 million to more traditional mental health counselors, psychiatrists, and psychologists. The issue has become unusually heated and blew up in April when it was discovered by Congressional staffers that SOCOM had “mistakenly” overbudgeted the program this year by some $10 million. SOCOM claimed that it was just an oversight by budgeteers who had mistakenly assumed they were getting $26 million from some $46 million they had requested in a chaotic budget year. Instead they only got $16.5 but had launched a hiring binge quickly that was cut off and forced them to lay off contractors who had moved across the country only weeks before. Certainly one of the most unusual budget mistakes we’ve ever seen. Congressional concerns have some merit when there is an immediate suicide and depression problem among operators and the SOCOM plan relies heavily on very costly long-term building projects like massive physical fitness centers and work out programs instead of immediate impact mental health interventions. For now the battle moves to the Senate and SOCOM is working hard to get back to when their requests were filled without intervention by “desk-bound lawmakers” who don’t understand the warrior spirit. Times are certainly changing. –FPW

Wounded Warriors Say Brain Therapy Program Lifts TBI ‘Fog’

Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. Programs to help wounded service members overcome the “hidden wounds” of our modern wars continue to be a priority for health care researchers. The Center for Brain Health at the University of Texas Dallas profiled their Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Training program at a recent Brain Health Summit in Washington D.C. The program uses a series of training and mental exercises to assist those with Traumatic Brain Injury to essentially re-wire the brain around their injuries. Service members who have used the approach have come away with less of the commonly referred to “fog” associated with TBI. Teaching patients to avoid multi-tasking and focus on essential tasks and decisions has opened up doors to recovery for a number of TBI sufferers. With about 294,172 brain injuries reported since 2000 by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center, solutions for the challenges of those with every mild TBI or concussions is imperative. The Center is looking for veterans and service members with PTSD and TBI for several studies and more info can be found at their website here. –FPW 

New Leader Announced for Defense News’ Parent Company

Long time President and CEO of Gannett Government Media, Elaine Howard, is stepping down on December 31st after 28 years with the company and its predecessor. Howard will be replaced by Mark A. Flinn from InvestmentNews who brings some relatively deep experience in digital media to the new position as he joins at the end of this month for a six-month transition. The Gannett Government Media publications includes Defense News and the Military Times family of papers which have lagged behind their peers in moving into the digital space. Howard’s hiring and the emphasis on his digital experience in the announcement points to a clear signal that the leading media outlet for military news is ready to move ahead with a heavier digital future. –FPW

Episode 38: Fred Wellman, Founder And CEO ScoutComms, 20 Year Army Vet

Fred recently sat down with Scott Fussell at Command Your Business to talk about how the military prepared him to be an entrepreneur—like Rangering up and eating leftover Thanksgiving turkey for 14 days after he first started ScoutComms. Scott hopes that by sharing the journeys of veteran entrepreneurs, Command Your Business will inspire not only service members but also civilians to make the leap to starting their own small businesses. We thank him for spotlighting Fred and ScoutComms! –LJ

Tradeshows & Conferences

GI Film Festival (Tue- Sun, 19-25 May); Old Town Theater, Alexandria, VA
SOFIC (Tue-Thu, 20-22 May); Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, FL

View our full list of upcoming tradeshows.

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in session this week.


Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Exploring Jobs for Veterans in the Energy Sector When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade: Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan: An Enduring Threat Who: Mr. Thomas Joscelyn, Senior Fellow, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Mr. David Sedney, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, U.S. Department of Defense When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: 2200 Rayburn


Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: Immigrant Enlistment: A Force Multiplier for the U.S. Armed Forces Who: The Honorable Luis Gutierrez, United Stated House of Representatives, The Honorable Jessica Wright, Acting Under Secretary for Personnel and Readiness, U.S. Department of Defense, Colonel (Ret.) Kevin Kelley, Director of Military Instruction, Chicago Public Schools, Chicago, IL, Sergeant Oscar Vazquez, U.S. Army, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, Mario Rodriguez, Cadet Command Sergeant Major, Phoenix Military Academy, Chicago, IL, Jessica Calderon, Cadet Captain, Phoenix Military Academy, Chicago, IL, Gregory Chen, Director for Advocacy, American Immigration Lawyers Association, Washington, DC When: 9:30 AM, Monday, May 19, 2014 Where: Phoenix Military Academy 145 S. Campbell Ave Chicago, IL 60612

Armed Services Subcommittee on Airland: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 11:00 AM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 3:30 PM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 5:00 PM, Tuesday, May 20, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: FY2015 NDAA Markup When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Where: 222 Russell

Foreign Relations: Authorization For Use Of Military Force After Iraq And Afghanistan Who: The Honorable Stephen W. Preston, General Counsel, Department of Defense, Ms. Mary Mcleod, Principal Deputy Legal Adviser, Department of State, The Honorable Harold Hongju Koh, Sterling Professor Of International Law, Yale Law School, Former State Department Legal Adviser, The Honorable Michael B. Mukasey, Partner, Debevoise & Plimpton, Former Attorney General of the United States When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Where: 419 Dirksen

Health Education Labor and Pensions: Examining Access and Supports for Servicemembers and Veterans in Higher Education When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, May 22, 2014 Where: 430 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

The Washington Post: Behind the Headlines: The Effects of War on Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Who: Todd Bowers, Vice President, JPMorgan Chase and former Deputy Executive Director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America; Mollyann Brodie, Senior Vice President, Public Opinion Research, Kaiser Family Foundation; Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Sr. Correspondent and Assoc. Editor; David Finkel, National Enterprise Editor; Greg Jaffe, National Enterprise Reporter; and Dr. Caitlin Thompson, Deputy Director for Suicide Prevention, US Dept. of Veterans Affairs When: 6:30 PM, Wednesday, May 21, 2014 Where: The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC 20071

The Heritage Foundation: Navigating Veteran Employment: From the Battlefield to the Job Market Who: Pete Hegseth, Chief Executive Officer, Concerned Veterans for America, Brian Wilson, Coach/Co-Owner, Potomac CrossFit, Mike Ott, Consultant, Deloitte, Micah Murphy, Defense Legislative Fellow, Office of Senator John McCain (R-AZ) When: 5:30 PM, Thursday, May 22, 2014 Where: Lehrman Auditorium, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC, 20003

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry and 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, May 19, 2014 10:55 am

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