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Defense & Veterans Roundup: Shinseki Still Secretary for Now, Vets Organizations Fight Baseless Accusations, 1000 Days in Iran

Posted by Fred Wellman

United Airlines Settles USERRA Case for $6M

Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Army Times. United Airlines settled one of the largest class-action lawsuits in the history of the 1994 Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Act, or USERRA. The law was designed to protect Reservists and National Guardsman from discrimination in their civilian jobs during mobilizations. Some 1,160 reservists, most of them pilots, accused the airline of underfunding their 401(K) retirement plans while they were mobilized. In the settlement, the airline admits to paying into the reservists retirement plans based on a minimum wage for union employees and not on the employees’ actual salaries or wages immediately prior to their deployments. The airline will pay about $6M to the effected employees and professed in a statement that they were committed to making things right. There is a lot of concern in the reserve component about employers discriminating against them due to repeated deployments and the complications of dealing with those departures. The USERRA law is one any employer needs to be intimately familiar with and ensure that the company human resources and finance departments understand at all times. –FPW

Family of Iraq Veteran Forms Non-Profit Center in D.C. to Research Unexplained Illnesses

Michael Ruane (@michaelruane), Washington Post. The family of a former Marine who died of an unexplained series of post-combat maladies has formed a non-profit research center called the Sergeant Sullivan Center to study what they are calling “undiagnosed post-deployment illnesses”. Tim Sullivan came back from Iraq with complaints of intestinal problems, asthma, insomnia, joint pain, and sleep apnea–all reminiscent of the complaints veterans of the first Gulf War commonly called Gulf War Syndrome. That diagnosis remains controversial and unexplained as various studies have concluded it really exists to others saying it’s all-psychosomatic. In the end, it didn’t matter as Sullivan’s health deteriorated to the point he was medically retired from the Marines as a young Sergeant and died at home of apparent pneumonia at the age of 30. Now five years later his family hopes they can help others who suffer and help define what these unexplained illnesses are and how they can be treated. There is every reason to believe that many veterans of the last 20 years will feel the effects of war, explained and unexplained, for years to come. –FPW

Cold Calculations

Greg Jaffe (@gregjaffe), Washington Post. In the sixth piece of the Post’s fascinating ‘After the Wars’ series, Greg Jaffe takes a look at the labyrinthine process that determines the disability rating for a veteran that will eventually lead to their pay and level of health care available to them via the Department of Veterans Affairs. In the end it’s a depressing inventory of the maladies, injuries, illnesses and pains that developed from service to the nation that are then translated into percentages and numbers. The story follows Army Staff Sergeant Jeremy Shockley as he sits with a VA counselor to methodically categorize his injuries—perforated ear drums, missing legs, missing testicle, nerve damage in an arm, metal plate in his wrist…etc. The numbers will probably add up to a 100% disability rating for the young man from a system that isn’t guaranteed to make sense. Shockley’s counselor relates how one Marine figured out that his missing foot and ankle added up to an additional $101.50 a month in disability payments thus promising him “Taco Bell tonight!” it’s an odd system and the intricate rules are a key reason for the much discussed claims backlog and even longer claims appeal backlog as veterans seek compensation for the physical burdens of service. –FPW

Amid VA Scandals, House Eases Rules for Firing Top Department Executives

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. With the scandal surrounding delays in veterans’ care at VA medical facilities continuing to make headlines, Congress finally took some action. The House easily passed (390 yeas, 33 nays) a long-stalled bill that would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire senior executives who are currently protected by federal employment laws and the civil service system. During the scandal, outrage has focused on the mid- and senior-level managers who manipulated secret waiting lists to cover-up the long delays in care veterans faced but who remain on the job or paid administrative leave. Under current employment protections, there is little VA Secretary Shinseki can do to punish underperforming or malfeasant employees. This law would leave Shinseki and future VA secretaries “no excuse” for retaining problem civil servants. The Senior Executives Association and Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-SESville, MD) objected to the bill moving ahead during an atmosphere of “guilty until proven innocent” scapegoating and lamented a future where career VA civil servants are at-will employees who can be fired by jilted political appointees. The White House supports the intent of the bill, but objects to certain provisions in the House version that could lead to litigation and draw VA resources away from its core mission to serve veterans. Following the White House’s lead, Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked the House version of the bill from coming to a vote but Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has promised to revisit the measure in June with new legislation. –LJ

President Obama Defends Eric Shinseki, Demands VA Answers

Edward-Isaac Dovere, Politico. On Wednesday morning, White House pool reports said President Obama was meeting with VA Secretary Shinseki that morning and both would make a statement following the meeting. Immediately speculation turned to Shinseki resigning, but Obama came out swiftly with support for the secretary, though not in the staunchest terms. Obama reiterated that the administration is waiting for a VA Inspector General review to finish before making any personnel decisions. Obama said if the allegations prove to be true, they are “disgraceful” and “dishonorable” and that there will be accountability. Close White House watchers noted that with previous embattled cabinet secretaries, Obama tended towards defense and defiance with “full faith and confidence” in Sebelius and Chu. With Shinseki, Obama appeared to leave himself more rhetorical wiggle room and distance from the secretary. As internal reports and reviews are completed, expect further calls for Obama and Shinseki to take action on accountability.  –LJ

Doctor: Phoenix VA Ignores Mandate to Prioritize Iraq, Afghanistan Vets

Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin and Chelsea J. Carter, CNN. Lawmaker: VA Wait-List, Cover-Up Allegations ‘Tip of the Iceberg’. Halimah Abdullah, Scott Bronstein, Nelli Black, Tom Cohen and Holly Yan, CNN. CNN seems to be taking a page out of the Snowden-Greenwald playbook: keep the damning revelations coming each week. This week it’s that the Phoenix VA is not following policies that require doctors to see young veterans as soon as possible and that the House Veterans Affairs Committee is aware of much more serious allegations than ones made public so far. In Phoenix, the bad news keeps coming as a director of the Phoenix VA’s post-deployment clinic says priority patients are waiting six to ten months to see doctors despite being in potential crisis situations. Tips from doctors and other whistleblowers keep pouring into the House Veterans Affairs Committee according to its chairman. “We’ve received some information and some tips that will make what has already come look like kindergarten stuff,” Rep. Miller told CNN. His committee has subpoenaed the VA for information and has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday, May 28, to get answers. –LJ

Veterans Fire Back at Letter by Senator

Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times. On Friday, as most Americans were preparing for a reflective Memorial Day weekend, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) decided to write an open letter condemning a select group of Americans: veterans. The ranking member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee fired an off-target volley at the DC staff of veterans’ organizations that testified before his committee last week and didn’t call for Shinseki to resign. Essentially, the veterans’ organizations that don’t agree with Burr clearly do not care about or listen to their veteran members’ needs and are instead too preoccupied with their political connections and “access”. In response, the VFW released their own open letter calling Burr’s personal attacks “dishonorable” and “grossly inappropriate”. Disabled American Veterans expressed their outrage in their own open letter, and Paralyzed Veterans of America had perhaps the best retort with: “…You were not actually present during the testimony that the VSO representatives provided and you did not ask a single question to gauge our recommendations about how to fix the problems the VA health care system is facing.” As the VFW notes in their letter, these VSOs have long been warning Congress of the challenges VA faces with wait times and other issues in their annual Independent Budget. And of course, anyone who works with these VSOs on a daily basis could tell you how hard the legislative staffs work for veterans every day. While Burr engages in typical Congressional finger pointing, it’s the VSOs who are leading the charge for change in Washington. –LJ

Obama, Honoring the Fallen, Says V.A. Problems Must Be Faced

Mark Landler, New York Times. Over Memorial Day weekend, President Obama took a surprise visit to Afghanistan where he met with troops and officials (including, whoops, the CIA station chief) and made it back to DC in time to honor the fallen at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday at a ceremony also attended by VA Secretary Shinseki. While other officials acknowledged the secretary’s presence, the president did not. “As we’ve been reminded in recent days, we must do more to keep faith with our veterans and their families to make sure they get the care and benefits and opportunities that they’ve earned and that they deserve,” Obama told the crowd. Veterans’ issues are likely to become a more common theme in Obama’s public appearances as the administration seeks to show the latest scandal is at the top of its agenda. On Wednesday of this week, Obama is expected to deliver a major foreign policy speech at the West Point commencement ceremony. –LJ

Anatomy of a Veterans Affairs Scandal

Hadas Gold (@hadas_gold), Politico. This one is for the wonks and news junkies. Gold breaks down the tick-tock of how CNN’s wall-to-wall Malaysian airliner coverage bought reporters time to continue developing their investigative report on the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The CNN reports have pushed VA and veterans issues from a niche human interest topic to the first questions during the daily press briefing at the White House. Like many “breaking” news stories, the issues with VA health care and the Phoenix VA in particular had been reported on previously. In fact, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing on April 9 that drew little attention and generated a few articles in the veteran-focused press and local Arizona papers. It wasn’t until April 23 when CNN aired their full story with evidence and interviews that the story really caught fire and spread to a wider audience. Drew Griffin, the lead reporter on the CNN team, has been reporting on VA errors and missteps for over a year and says he was waiting for one to finally set off a spark. An interesting read for students of media and advocacy. –LJ

Fred Wellman Named ‘Veterans Business Champion’

Susan Larson (@Fxbg2day), Fredericksburg Today. Not only is Fred the Small Business Administration’s Virginia-area Veterans Business Champion of the year, but he’s also got a hipster-y new headshot. Check out the latest write-up on the boss and see what he’s doing for veterans through social entrepreneurship in Fredericksburg and around the country. –LJ

Tradeshows & Conferences

National Coalition for Homeless Veterans Annual Conference (Wed- Fri, 28-30 May); Grand Hyatt, Washington, DC

View our full list of upcoming tradeshows.

Congressional Hearings

The House is in session this week.

House:

Veterans Affairs: To Receive Witness Testimony Related to Committee Subpoena When: 7:30 PM, Wednesday, May 28, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Assessing Inadequacies in VA Data Usage for and Services Provided to Visually-Impaired Veterans When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, May 28, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Evaluating VA’s Performance in the Servicemember Transition Process When: 1:00 PM, Thursday, May 29, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

Center for Strategic and International Studies: Citizen-Soldiers in a Time of Transition: The Future of the U.S. Army National Guard Who: Congressman Tim Walz (D-MN), Co-Chairman, House National Guard and Reserve Components Caucus, Dr. Nora Bensahel, Senior Fellow and Co-Director, Responsible Defense Program, Center for a New American Security, Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow, Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies, American Enterprise Institute, Stephanie Sanok Kostro, Acting Director, Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Program, CSIS When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, May 29, 2014 Where: 2nd Floor Conference Room, CSIS, 1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Student Veterans of America: Graduation Party Who: DC-area veterans, supporters, and advocates When: 5:30 PM, Thursday, May 29, 2014 Where: National Veterans Center, 2013 H St NW, Washington, DC 20006

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 Tuesday, May 27, 2014 1:03 pm

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