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Defense & Veterans Roundup: VA Wrestles with Disability Appeals Times, DoD Aces a Skeptical Congress

Posted by Fred Wellman

DoD Budget Faces Defiant Congress

John T. Bennett, (@BennettJohnT) Defense News. It was the week of the budget in defense circles this past week and it kicked off Monday with the rollout of the 2015 budget proposal from Secretary of Defense Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey that we previewed in the last Scout Report. It took only a few hours for Congress to begin their pushback. In a remarkable accomplishment the administration’s proposal has actually united the two parties in their disdain of the proposal as defense hawks believe it weakens the military too far, fiscal hawks saying it asks for too much above the agreed upon spending plan and Democrats largely harping on the need to end the threat of sequestration and its impact on the DoD planning. Even more unusual this year is a proposed $26 billion in unfunded requests that the administration has promised to submit. This “wish list” of items represents a large bundle of programs that will need to find money in other places, like raising taxes, to even be feasible. In a nutshell, the leaders of DoD have a dogfight on their hands to get the savings they seek. All four of the Congressional defense committee heads have already signaled plans to revamp the proposal so what is likely to come out of the process late this year probably won’t look all that much like what was suggested this past week. Throw in the renewed international tension thanks to Russia’s newest flexing of its muscles and there is probably little appetite in an election year to be cast as someone who weakened America’s ability to respond to a wide range of ever changing threats to the country in spite of the end of the Afghanistan conflict.

Report: Few Army Women Want Combat Jobs

Lolita Baldor, Associated Press. Preliminary results of a survey sent out by the Army to nearly 170,000 serving women had a surprising result as fewer than 8% of the women that responded said they wanted any of the combat jobs that may open to women in coming years. Of those, overwhelmingly they would prefer to be able to fly combat helicopters in the famed Night Stalkers of the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment if allowed. Only about 30,000 women responded to the survey but just 2,238 said they would be interested in jobs in infantry, armor, artillery or combat engineers. Other findings found that both men and women in the service worry about the Army lowering the physical standards in combat roles to allow women to serve in them. Men see it as a risk to their team and women believe it would send the message that they are not as capable as the men.

Investigation Into Sketchy DoD Helicopter Contracts

Richard Lardner, Associated Press. One of the interesting challenges the U.S. military has faced in the last decade of war has been the need to rebuild the military forces of Iraq and Afghanistan with equipment they already had or are most familiar with. This has led to the odd position of U.S. military organizations purchasing former Soviet and Russian weapons and aircraft for our allies. This has proven to be a very difficult task to do in an above board way and this story from Lardner demonstrates yet another situation where an Army officer has become entangled into an investigation into very questionable dealings with a Russian defense company. In this case a Russian entrepreneur has managed to snare millions of dollars in contracts to refurbish and upgrade MI-17 helicopters for Iraq and Afghanistan even after having been flagged multiple times as questionable and having been recommended for permanent debarment from doing business with the federal government. Now former Army Col. Bert Vergez is under investigation for how millions of dollars were funneled directly and through subcontracts to Russian Yuri Borisov and his continuing entanglement with him in his retirement job at an investment firm. The labyrinth of military acquisition rules and crossed wires is on display here in perfect form as even after multiple problems Borisov’s two companies remain on the legal list of federal contractors.

Big Shuffles at Politico Defense:

Late last week it was announced that Marjorie Censer (@commoncenser) of the Washington Post’s Capital Business is moving over to Politico to take over as the new editor of Defense Pro. Marjorie has been at Capital Business for four years covering the defense industry and is the former Managing Editor of Inside the Army. Phil Ewing will now cover the Pentagon full time for Politico as Senior Defense Reporter and Juana Summers will leave Defense and move to Politico’s new Campaign Pro team.

Military Times Announces Key Personnel Moves

Jeff Schogol, Military Times. There are some major changes afoot at the Military Times family of papers. Just a week after long time Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane joined their team; Andew deGrandpre has been promoted from managing editor of Marine Corps Times to the company’s first digital news director signaling a new focus on their online efforts. He will be replaced at MC Times by Geoff Ingersoll who is making the move from editor of defense and foreign policy at Business Insider.

Senate Rejects Far-Reaching Veterans Affairs Bill

Josh Hicks, (@Reporter_Hicks) Washington Post. A massive bill focused on improving a number of programs and waiving a spending limit for the Department of Veterans Affairs set in the December budget deal was defeated in the Senate last Thursday when it didn’t garner enough Republican votes to pass a needed 60-vote threshold. The bill sponsored by Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders contained over 140 different provisions and would have cost some $21 billion over ten years and ran straight into the standard partisan power plays that have dominated Congress for years. Republican Senators sought amendments to trim the VA portion of the bill and then add sanctions on Iran related to their nuclear program as well as objecting over how the bill would be paid for using future war funds. Sanders intends to give the bill another shot, believing that he can get the three GOP members he needs to move the bill along.

VA’s Time to Resolve Disability Appeals Shoots Up, Lagging Department’s Goals

Chris Adams, (@CAdamsMcClatchy) McClatchy DC Bureau. The Department of Veterans Affairs really just can’t get a break these days. The agency has attacked the disability claims backlog with a host of approaches for months now and is finally knocking the wait times in the right direction for first time claims. Then they issue their annual report on the disability claims appeals process and it’s going in exactly the opposite direction in a big way. The average time for a denied claim to work its way through the multi-tiered and cumbersome system of appeals is now up to 923 days, double the department’s long term wait time target. The fiscal year 2013 average “appeals resolution time” represents a 37% jump from a 675-day wait in 2012 and is still far from the goal of 600 days…miles away from the goal of 400 days. This all means that if a veteran is denied his claim of disability for something like an injury during his service it will take him close to three years to see a resolution to his case. Many advocates predicted this shift might occur as initial claims were focused on due to heavy pressure from them and Congress on the agency and many of the claims specialists from the appeals process were redirected to handling new claims. The appeals process difficulties are different than those of initial claims, which surround old processes and paper-based applications. The appeals process is complicated and multi-layered mirroring a court system as much as a medical evaluation and will need an entirely different solution set to solve. Chances are that solution will be getting a lot of attention soon now too.

VA Cites Drop in Opiates Prescriptions, but Some Lawmakers Skeptical of Progress

Aaron Glantz, (@Aaron_Glantz) Center for Investigative Reporting/ABC News. Last fall the Center for Investigative Reporting issued a surprising report that prescriptions from the VA for four addictive opiates – hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone, and morphine had surged by some 270% between 2001 and 2012, far outpacing the number of new patients in the system. The report led to Congressional hearings and pressure on VA to investigate the reasons behind the growth and find alternative ways to deal with veteran’s pain management. Last week leaders from the agency reported to Congress that they had reduced the total number of veterans receiving those opiates by 20,000 since October. They predicted that improvements would speed up as they announced an initiative to focus on physician training and alternative therapies. Those alternatives include acupuncture, meditation, imaging therapy and, possibly, spinal stimulation, along with increased access to specialists in treating the root causes of pain. Of course, more than a few observers are skeptical as the timing of these improvements were announced about the same time as further media reports of challenges for veterans in getting access to those alternative therapies, but the 3% drop is welcomed nonetheless. Getting veterans off of prescription drug addictions is a must to make any progress in accidental overdoses and suicides.

Ohio 8-Year-Old Turns $20 Into Priceless Gift

Steve Hartman, CBS News. An 8-year-old Gold Star child found a $20 bill in the parking lot of his local Cracker Barrel and when he saw an Air National Guard officer going into the restaurant he wrote a short note and had the money given to the officer. “Dear Soldier – my dad was a soldier. He’s in heaven now. I found this 20 dollars in the parking lot when we got here. We like to pay it forward in my family. It’s your lucky day! Thank you for your service. Myles Eckert, a gold star kid.” Grab a tissue before watching the video.

Veterans at Home, on a Mission of Compassion

Tina Rosenberg, New York Times Fixes Blog. We’ve known The Mission Continues for a long time both through our work here at ScoutComms and as personal volunteers. The great St. Louis based organization has shifted its programs this year for greater impact from just placing individual Fellows across the country to organizing “service platoons” in an expanding number of cities to impact local communities. The program is just starting and is already showing some great results in Phoenix, Washington D.C. and Orlando. This is a great piece that lays out the shift and the organizations vision for its future.

In Commitment to Troops, Actor Gary Sinise Treats Wounded Veterans to Hollywood Trip

Sarah Hoberman and Lauren Effron, ABC News. We have the pleasure of working with actor Gary Sinise as the spokesman for the ‘Get Skills to Work’ coalition (keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming event) and have found him to be the genuine article when it comes to caring our veterans. This story just shows how big that heart is as he flew 50 ill and wounded servicemembers and their families from Walter Reed, Ft. Belvoir and Naval Medical Center San Diego for an all expenses paid Hollywood adventure. The cool stuff they did is pretty amazing.

Tradeshows & Conferences

AvWeek Defense Technology & Requirements (Tue-Wed, 4-5 March); Hilton Arlington, Arlington, VA

View our full list of upcoming tradeshows

Congressional Hearings

Congress: Both chambers are in session this week. Budget hearings are getting underway.

Joint:

Veterans Affairs Committees: Legislative Presentation of the Veterans of Foreign Wars When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans Affairs Committees: Legislative Presentations of Multiple VSOs Who: American Veterans (AMVETS), Blinded Veterans Association, Jewish War Veterans, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, National Association of State Directors of Veterans Affairs, National Guard Association of the United States, The Retired Enlisted Association, Vietnam Veterans of America When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, March 6, 2014 Where: 345 Cannon

House:

Armed Services: The Posture of the U.S. Pacific Command and U.S. Strategic Command
Who: Admiral Cecil D. Haney, USN, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, USN, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, March 4, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: The Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Requests from the U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command Who: General Lloyd J. Austin III, USA, Commander, U.S. Central Command, General David M. Rodriguez, USA, Commander, U.S. Africa Command When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: The Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Budget Request from the Department of Defense Who: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, U.S. Department of Defense, The Honorable Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, March 6, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Senate:

Armed Services: Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2015 and the Future Years Defense Program Who: Honorable Charles T. Hagel, Secretary Of Defense, General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff When: 9:30 AM, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 Where: 216 Hart

Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: National Security Space Launch Programs Who: Cristina Chaplain, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office, Michael Gass, President and Chief Executive Officer, United Launch Alliance, Elon Musk, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Designer, Space Exploration Technologies, Dr. Scott Pace, Director, Space Policy Institute, Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 Where: 192 Dirksen

Armed Services: Nuclear Forces and Policies Who: Ms. M. Elaine Bunn, Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense Nuclear And Missile Defense Policy, Lieutenant General Stephen W. Wilson, USAF, Commander, Air Force Global Strike Command, Major General Garrett Harencak, USAF, Assistant Chief Of Staff Strategic Deterrence And Nuclear Integration, Vice Admiral Terry J. Benedict, USN, Director, Strategic Systems Programs When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, March 5, 2014 Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: U.S. Central Command and U.S. Africa Command Who: General Lloyd J. Austin III, USA, Commander, U.S. Central Command, General David M. Rodriguez, USA, Commander, U.S. Africa Command When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, March 6, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen Think Tanks & Other Events

The Brookings Institution: The Future of Land Power and U.S. Ground Forces Who: Major General Christopher Haas, U.S. Army Special Forces Command, Major General William Hix, U.S. Army, Peter W. Singer, Director, Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence, Senior Fellow, Colonel Jim Zientek, U.S. Marine Corps, Major General H.R. McMaster, Commanding General of the Maneuver Center of Excellence, U.S. Army When: 10:00 AM, Monday, February 24, 2014 Where: 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk Auditorium, Washington, DC, 20009

US Institute of Peace: Getting Beyond 2014 in Afghanistan Who: Ambassador James F. Dobbins, Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, Ambassador Marc Grossman, Former Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, U.S. Department of State, Clare Lockhart, Director and Founder, Institute for State Effectiveness, David Sedney, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Central Asia, U.S. Department of Defense, Alex Thier, Assistant to the Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development When: 10:00 AM, Monday, February 24, 2014 Where: 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Falk

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 Monday, March 03, 2014 7:39 am

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