Veterans Roundup: DoD Struggles to End Mental Health Stigma, Sexual Assault; New Lump-Sum Retirement Plan Options May Be Bad for Troops; BLM; and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Suicide is More than Just a Veteran Problem
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner) for Task and Purpose
Our Vice President Brian Wagner shared his stance on veteran suicide, and how the number “22” can be misleading or misunderstood within the community and by America at large. Brian reminds us that suicide is not just an issue for veterans, but is a public health issue and the problem is increasing outside of the military and veteran community. We recommend you take the time to read this thoughtful article. –MC

Pentagon Says Fewer Sexual-Assault Victims Faced Retaliation
Lolita C. Baldor (@LBaldor), Associated Press
The Pentagon is lowering its estimate of how many service members have faced retaliation after reporting sexual assault, under the reasoning that in some cases a survivor may perceive attempts to help as vengeful behavior. This decision has received backlash from victims’ advocates, who believe the decision is an attempt to put “positive spin” on the issue rather than stop retaliation. –MC
Bottom line: The DoD came under fire last week for its claim, leaked in advance of the official release of the annual Sexual Assault in the Military report, that fewer sexual assault victims faced retaliation than previously believed. Advocates, like ScoutComms client Service Women’s Action Network, questioned the overall value of a report that focused on a smaller sample size heavy in reservists, and also questioned the judgment calls used to adjudicate whether a victim’s perception of retaliation was factually accurate. In a follow-up article on the issue, written by the San Antonio Express-News’ Sig Christenson, SWAN CEO Judy Patterson noted that the Pentagon’s relative inability to reduce the overall number of sexual assaults from 2014 to 2015 was the crucial issue. The Pentagon can manipulate its surveys, perhaps with justification, but advocates across the country are judging its overall ability to use training and leadership to reduce the number of incidents and ensure that victims feel safe coming forward with their stories. –BW

Pentagon Perpetuates Stigma of Mental Health Counseling, Study Says
Gregg Zoroya (@GreggZoroya), USA Today
A report released in April by the Government Accountability Office shows the Pentagon’s efforts to end stigma around seeking mental health counseling among service members have resulted in little change. The report shows that some DoD decisions and policies related to security clearances and particular assignments continuously discriminate against troops who have sought mental health care. –MC
Bottom line: Somewhere in the GAO offices, one has to think the analysts who work on DoD make bets on which will produce the worst reports, the F-35 or mental health programs. One of the findings in this report notes a 2014 RAND study, requested by DoD, found 203 DoD policies that contribute to stigma that needed to be reviewed. GAO found none of the policies had been changed because DoD hadn’t made it a priority. Further, clearance holders have had their access to classified materials temporarily suspended for seeing a therapist, completely against stated DoD policy and driving increased stigma around seeking support. While, of course, I will say DoD needs to do more and make this a true priority, this, like suicide, is an issue bigger than the military. Mental health stigma is rampant throughout the America. Once again, this is an opportunity for the military to lead by showing mental health treatment makes the mind and body stronger, not weaker. –LJ

Veterans Groups Oppose Choice Program Expansion
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Last week, veterans groups like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars spoke out against the expansion of the VA Choice Program to all veterans using VA health care. Several senators, including Senator John McCain, have pushed to lift restrictions on who may use the Choice program, but veterans groups believe that this action will do more harm than good and limit vets’ ability to use VA programs and facilities. Also on the table for veterans’ care is new legislation that would provide robust caregiver benefits for older generations of veterans. –MC
Bottom line: Patricia’s article is a good summary of the situation. Excluding Concerned Veterans for America, which seeks to blow up the VA, the mainstream opinion among most national veterans groups is that the Choice program is a necessary step to fill in gaps in VA healthcare coverage and access, but that it should not become a replacement for VA care in areas where VA facilities are readily accessible. It’s widely acknowledged that a number of the challenges Choice has faced so far have been a result of its rushed implementation—driven by Congress—and the VA’s short-term desire to use Choice funds to fill other critical funding shortages. Now the VA has made clear that it wants to consolidate all of its community care programs to better manage them, and the veterans groups have all publicly stated that they support a limited Choice program that operates more effectively to ensure that veterans who are otherwise unable to get care at the VA can do so in their communities. This is the right middle ground to seek. Idealizing private sector care is not an effective policy position, and it is unreasonable to expect that civilian healthcare providers are going to be consistently prepared and qualified to handle the needs of veterans. –BW

Study: Veterans Waiting to Seek Care May Be Slowing VA System
Stephen Feller, UPI
A recent study found that veterans’ tendency to put off seeking medical care could contribute to long wait times for those seeking care. In the study, veterans were found to be almost twice as likely to put off seeking medical care they realized they needed. When these conditions are unaddressed they could develop into more serious conditions requiring longer treatment with longer recovery period which increased the demand and cost for care. –JG
Bottom Line: It shouldn’t come as a surprise that veterans are trying to “walk off” their medical issues rather seek immediate care for a bum ankle or bad back. Just pop a few Motrin, remember how much more painful that high-speed school or piece of shrapnel was, and get on with you life. Right? So in addition to urging veterans to seek mental health care if they need it, VA should consider urging veterans to take advantage of early interventions and preventative medicine. Of course, the fact that VA wait times are so long doesn’t help motivate veterans to seek care when the need it. It’s a bit of chicken-and-the-egg. VA says appointment wait times are still long, despite an influx of money, because more veterans are seeking care. That’s good news that will hopefully mean shorter wait times and less serious medical issues for veterans down the line. Unfortunately only time will tell. –LJ

White House: Troops in Iraq Doing ‘Dangerous Work’
Kristina Wong (@kristina_wong), The Hill
Last week, Navy SEAL Charlie Keating IV was killed in an Islamic State attack in Iraq, reflecting the deepening role of US troops “advising” there. White House officials acknowledged that service members in Iraq and Syria are performing “dangerous work” but reaffirm that they are not serving in a combat role. –MC
Bottom line: Okay, so, we’ve been saying this for a while, and it’s still true: our service members are in a combat zone doing combat-y things and so the government agencies and non-profit organizations that support men and women injured in combat must remain vigilant in providing services to those being placed in harm’s way. Currently the argument over using the term “combat” and “boots on the ground” is fairly political. The administration wants to assure its base that it has no plans for a large-scale ground war in Iraq. Let’s put aside the fact it has been content to sustain one in Afghanistan. What this does, though, is potentially lower Americans’ willingness to support through taxes or donor dollars the continued revenue necessary to provide for the injured and the families of the fallen. But what am I thinking, asking for politicians to be truthful and direct in their communications. –LJ

The New Military Retirement System Has Major Flaw, Financial Experts Warn
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times
A key piece of the new military retirement system signed into law last year has raised concerns among experts. Enlisted service members who opt for a lump-sum option with smaller monthly payouts, rather than a larger monthly pension check, may wind up shortchanged. Calculations for a lump-sum come down to a “discount rate,” which the independent commission has estimated to be far higher than typical corporate pension actuaries would. That leaves service members with less money upfront and long-term. A higher discount rate for enlisted troops than officers also leaves them worse off. –MC
Bottom line: It’s a simple bottom line here, the commission that developed the recommendations that Congress implemented used inflated discount rates to make the plan seem like it was awesome. By using optimistic numbers to paint a picture of what troops would get in retirement under the new plan they were able to sell it as nothing but an improvement for everyone including those young men and women who get out before 20 years without any kind of investments. The questions to ask are why wasn’t this caught sooner? Why weren’t these questions answered when they were brought up? The answers are because the entire process was rushed through and painted as “no big deal” so Congress can go home saying they “reformed” something and DoD got to save money. While this is bad enough, the real cause for alarm is that the same leaders who led the charge to “reform” retirement have declared this is the year to do the same to military healthcare. With various plans being floated that range from the ridiculous to the tenuous you can be sure that whatever changes come out will be a way to save money for DoD and might not be such a great deal for service members, retirees, and their families. Veteran and military advocates cannot drop the ball on this next fight. The price our servicemembers will pay is simply too high. Let’s be smart and do this right this time. –FPW

Raised-Fist Photo by Black Women at West Point Spurs Inquiry
Dave Philipps (@DavePhilipps), New York Times
Controversy was raised after a group of young black women graduating from West Point this month were photographed raising a clenched fist. Since the women were in uniform and on an installation, the Army initiated an investigation to find out if they were violating strict policy against participation in political activities. –JG
Bottom Line: What makes this entire episode so infuriating is that it all started with a veteran who is famous for his “fat shaming” videos and right wing politics posting on his Facebook page that this was racist and a violation of Army prohibitions on political activity in uniform. So let’s start from the top on those accusations. It’s not racist. It’s a group of young ladies that have endured an incredibly difficult four years and are celebrating their graduation by honoring those who came before in these common “old school” photo shoots. Even if it was a Black Lives Matter symbolic effort, the BLM movement isn’t a political activity as defined by military regulations. What this is really is yet another dog whistle effort by certain parts of American political life today to call out any kind of possible black “racism” to cover their own blatant feelings on the topic. The Army will investigate. It will find nothing. These women will graduate honorably in two weeks and hopefully they can put this behind them along with the train wreck that is this year’s election cycle. –FPW

Client News:

Overlooked in Wounded Warrior Project Scandal: Families Who Rely on its Handouts
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Over the past few months, the Wounded Warrior Project has been under scrutiny for accusations of lavish spending on overhead rather than veterans. Since then, WWP has let go of its former CEO Steve Nardizzi and COO Al Giordano, and appointed a new interim Chief Operating Officer, Charlie Fletcher. Fletcher recently spoke with Leo Shane at Military Times, and eased concerns of families that WWP programs or services will be impacted. These families know the power and importance of WWP because their quality of life wouldn’t be as high as it is today without WWP. Their stories are ones that seemed to get lost in the debate about the best way to calculate program spending. –MC

Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair Brings Big Veteran Turnout to PNC Park
Jason Cato (@Jac412Cato), The Pittsburgh Tribune
While veteran unemployment has dropped to 4% many realize that there is still work to be done among certain demographics and to ensure veterans are getting the right second and third jobs. Hiring Our Heroes came to Pittsburgh to host a job fair bringing more than 70 companies under one roof with the goal of hiring vets. All pre-registered attendees were also given free tickets to the Pittsburgh Pirates game against the Chicago cubs. ­–JG

Vets Groups Rally Behind Bill to Let VA Provide In Vitro Fertilization
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan),
Last week, a coalition of veterans organizations, led by Wounded Warrior Project, sent a letter to senators calling on them to support legislation that would allow the VA to cover in vitro fertilization for veterans and their families. The letter notes that a number of combat injuries can result in veterans being unable to have children, and that in many cases a wounded veteran’s family is key to their reintegrate into civilian life. The legislation is part of the Senate version of the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill. The Service Women’s Action Network also expressed support for such efforts in a previous letter. –MC

Kate Germano Takes Job as SWAN Chief Operating Officer
The Service Women’s Action Network has named Lt. Col. (ret.) Kate Germano as its Chief Operating Officer. She served in the United States Marine Corps for 20 years, reaching the rank of lieutenant colonel. She was selected for command twice, served in combat, and shaped female Marines as commander of the 4th Recruit Battalion. SWAN is currently organizing a multi-year campaign that will increase awareness and challenge misconceptions about women who have served and continue to serve in the military. –JG

RCC Student to Attend Warrior Scholar Project
Campus News
Leo Antony, a Marine veteran and student at Rockland Community College in Ramapo, New York, will attend a Warrior Scholar Project’s academic boot camp this June at Yale. Antony is the president of the student veterans club and led a volunteer effort to restore a nearby veteran memorial cemetery. At the two-week immersive program, Antony will receive mentorship from fellow enlisted veterans, attend seminar discussions with world-renown professors, and participate in intense workshops. –JG

Quick Hits:

Bill Would End Tax Penalty on Vets with Forgiven Student Loans
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan),
New legislation introduced in the Senate would allow permanently disabled veterans or survivors of veterans who have had their student debt forgiven to avoid paying “income” tax on the forgiven debt. Veterans groups like ScoutComms’ client Student Veterans of America, as well as Paralyzed Veterans of America, the American Legion and others have offered support for the bill. –MC

Veterans with Job Skills America Needs
Michelle Obama and Jill Biden for The Wall Street Journal
First Lady Obama and Second Lady Biden remind America to prioritize employing our nation’s retiring military and veterans, particularly ones with IT and technical backgrounds. Many service members have gone on to accomplish great things at companies like Raytheon, J.P. Morgan Chase, AT&T, Amazon and countless other companies. –JG

Homelessness Rises in Los Angeles, Except for Veterans and Families
Adam Nagourney (@adamnagourney), The New York Times
Due to the success of housing vouchers and increased temporary shelters for veterans, LA County has seen a 30 percent decrease in veteran homelessness. Although the overall homelessness has risen in the past year, officials plan to take what works from successful initiatives like this and see them implemented on a larger scale directed towards all homeless people. –JG

Moves in the Sector:

VA Selects New Director of the Center for Women Veterans
Kayla Williams has been appointed as the new director of the Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Williams is a member of the Army Education Advisory Committee, a recipient of a 2015 Lincoln Award, and author of two books centered around her experience serving in the military and as a caregiver. ­–JG

Tradeshows & Conferences

2016 Invictus Games (Sun – Thu, May 8-12); ESPN Wide World of Sports, Orlando, FL

Naval Helicopter Association: 2016 Naval Helicopter Symposium (Mon-Fri, May 9-13); Sheraton Norfolk, Norfolk, VA

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Markup of Pending Legislation
11:00 AM, Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Markup of Pending Legislation
1:00 PM, Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: Markup – FY 2017 Defense Appropriations Bill
5:30 PM, Wednesday, May 11, 2016
Where: H-140 The Capitol

Veterans’ Affairs: Combating the Crisis: Evaluating Efforts to Prevent Veteran Suicide
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, May 12, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon


Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel: Markup – 2017 National Defense Authorization Act
11:00 AM, Tuesday May 10, 2016
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support: Markup – 2017 National Defense Authorization Act
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities: Markup – 2017 National Defense Authorization Act
When: 3:30 PM, Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Where: G50 Dirksen 

Think Tanks & Other Events

Defense Entrepreneurs Forum: DEF[x]DC
When: 8:30 AM, Thursday, May 12, 2016
Where: Georgetown School of Continuing Studies, 640 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20001

The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars: The Rise of the Military Welfare State
Who: Jennifer Mittelstadt, Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University
When: 4:00 PM, Monday, May 9, 2016
Where: 6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center, One Woodrow Wilson Plaza, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20004

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of 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 09, 2016 7:33 am

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