Veterans Roundup: Russian Propaganda on Social Media, 16 Marines Separated for Hazing, Many Vets Go Hungry and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Russian propaganda engaged U.S. vets, troops on Twitter and Facebook, study finds
Greg Gordon (@GregGordon2) and Peter Stone (@PeterHStone1), McClatchy
A study from Oxford University found that three news websites that publish content primarily focused on the American military have considerable ties to Russian political interests. These pro-Russia sites demonstrated that they had “persistent interactions” with both active duty service members and veterans of the American military by posting a mix of advice articles for military members and fake news articles. Mike Carpenter, a former senior Pentagon official specializing on Russia issues, said all three sites contained a high amount of Russian political propaganda, demonstrating again the Kremlin’s dedication to infiltrating the “minds, computers and communications” of American military forces for their own gain. ­–JG
Bottom line: If you think there are only three sites pitching fake news to veterans you are probably underestimating it by a wide margin. Many of us in the community noticed an uptick in sites posting political commentary and memes designed to fire up what we call the “Veteran Anger Machine” and watched online commenters eat each other alive. The study from Oxford focuses on three sites that should have been obvious as Russian propaganda sites but posted just enough veteran-centric content to make it to hard to resist not sharing for many. The damage continues in the manipulation of the veteran and military communities today as almost everything remotely political devolves into fighting, with veterans bashing each other, questioning each other’s service and a host of frustrating behaviors that has made things increasingly volatile online. Hopefully, identifying these sites is the first step in dismantling these efforts for the good of everyone. –FPW

At least 16 Marines separated for hazing in California
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marine Corps Times
After Maj. Gen. Eric Smith, the current commander for 1st Marine Division, sent around an email regarding the severity of hazing and his commitment to the issue, almost 30 U.S. Marines have been sent to the brig. After a handful of hazing incidences in three different units raised legitimate questions, Maj. Gen. Smith made the necessary changes to create a process that will hopefully eliminate hazing. However, Smith’s order to complete all hazing investigations within seven days has received backlash. The seven-day cap is firm whether other agencies involved have finished their investigations or not. A military judge even claimed that Smith’s statement may have injected undue command influence and could prevent a Marine from receiving a fair trial. –DD
Bottom line: While most would agree hazing is behavior that has no place in the ranks, this story raises considerable issues with the way in which 1st Marine Division has sought to eliminate the problem. Hasty investigations—some which make accusations that are completely incorrect—and what was found by a judge to be undue command influence exercised by the commanding general, create an environment where Marines could be accused of crimes they did not commit and quickly separated. For Marines below the rank of Sergeant with less than six years of service, there is no recourse should their command recommend separation. To date, several of the Marines who have been discharged under the anti-hazing campaign have hired attorneys to seek legal recourse. As we have seen with sexual assault, undue command influence can pose a very real danger to the survivors and potential future victims. For those that recall the “Heritage Brief” debacle, the perception of undue command influence creates conditions for potentially vacating judgments and punishments. Understanding that criminal behavior should be eradicated, commands must carefully examine how they approach these issues, following closely the letter of process and law. –RB

Why so many veterans go hungry – and VA’s new plan to fix it
Caitlin Dewey (@caitlindewey), The Washington Post
A new program implemented by the Department of Veterans Affairs will screen veterans on their food consumption habits, or lack thereof, in an effort to identify who may be in need of assistance to prevent hunger. All veterans who visit a VA healthcare facility will be asked if they have ever, in the past three months, felt strained to put food on the table. By asking that simple question, medical personnel will be able to connect the veteran with local resources and services that can support them, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In many ways, this program could help to identify issues early on to include diet-related health issues such as diabetes and depression. With more than half of the children in DOD schools qualifying for free or reduced lunches, this program will be the first step in getting veterans help they may not feel comfortable asking for. –DD
Bottom line: It’s important to highlight areas in which VA is preventing issues before they lead to more serious problems for veterans. Interestingly, this is also one of the few ways in which the VA can impact the lives of veterans’ families—by the power of community connections and resources. Both preventative health and partnering with outside service providers or community resources have not been strong suits of the VA, so if this program can serve as a model for other areas of health—for example mental health issues—it would be a significant win for VA and for veterans. All of that said, though, it’s important to remember that veterans are less likely than civilians to live below the poverty line, but a veteran should never go hungry. So while this is an issue that should be addressed for the few veterans to whom it applies, it also shouldn’t be read that there is a huge hunger problem among veterans. –LJ

Student vets group fights proposed easing of for-profit college rules for VA employees
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
Last week, Student Veterans of America submitted a letter to the VA requesting that it not change its VA policy preventing its employees’ from receiving benefits from any for-profit schools. Current policy states that any VA employee receiving compensation from a for-profit school would be immediately terminated. SVA and other student veteran advocates feared that changing the policy would open up veterans to potential harm and that the current waiver system covered individual VA employees’ needs. Thanks to advocates’ work, the VA decided that it would not be moving forward with their plan to repeal this policy. –JG
Bottom line: SVA’s advocacy this week resulted in the VA’s abrupt decision to drop their efforts to repeal an ethics policy prohibiting employees from receiving compensation from for-profit colleges. At the time the letter was submitted, Administration officials noted that they had not received negative feedback regarding the repeal and they were acting quickly to eliminate the policy. Clearly, a large population of veteran education advocates did not feel repealing this policy was in the best interest of student veterans and that the lack of policy would open opportunities to for-profit educational institutions to unfairly influence VA employees. For a benefit program that is estimated to cost 100 billion dollars across 10 years, we need to insist upon the highest ethical standard of behavior for officials responsible for veterans education. –RB

VA vows changes on bad health care providers, lawmakers take action after USA TODAY investigation
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack) USA TODAY
Secretary David Shulkin announced that the VA will expand transparency and accountability regarding tracking and reporting medical misconduct by healthcare providers. An investigation conducted by USA TODAY found that local and regional VA staff repeatedly did not report malpractice and medical incompetence even when it came at the expense of the health and well-being of VA patients. In some instances, VA hospitals brokered secret settlements with offending doctors, nurses and staff to cover up their failures. Moving forward, Secretary Shulkin has ordered that all settlements amounting to $5,000 or more must get approval from senior leadership in DC. –JG

‘This is frightening’: Noxious gas has sickened VA workers for two years, with few solutions
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), The Washington Post
For more than two years, staffers and patients working at a Washington, D.C. Department of Veterans Affairs medical center, which serves homeless veterans, have complained of potential toxic gas exposure. The harmful working situation was made apparent to leadership within the hospital, however several staffers feel that not enough has been done to rectify the ongoing situation. VA officials claim that in their testing with local fire departments and gas companies, no leaks or dangerous fumes posed a threat. Some workers have noticed a correlation in the scent of gas and their overall health, yet administrators have not been able to give a clear answer or solution. Director of the facility, Lawrence B Connell, has been aware of the matter since June and many feel their concerns are not being validated. Thus far, eight workers have tested positive for unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. –DD
Bottom line: Two pretty shocking stories this week about local VA practices that undermine efforts undertaken by the VA main office over the past several years to institute reforms that increase veterans’ and employees’ trust in the institution. In the case of VA facilities basically paying off bad doctors to leave the VA, it certainly appears that the VA could have done a better job taking part in the healthcare community and reporting these doctors rather than tacitly endorsing their future careers elsewhere. At a local facility in DC, it appears facility leaders could have done a better job protecting their employees and addressing their concerns about the safety of their workplace. These are the kind of local missteps that will continue to hurt the VA’s ability to regain trust among key stakeholders. VA shouldn’t be waiting for Congress or the media to take action on these issues. It must be proactive in announcing the actions its taking to right these errs in judgment. It’s all part of the continuing progress we saw start under Bob McDonald and expect to continue under Dr. David Shulkin. –LJ

Research: Companies Are Less Likely to Hire Current Military Reservists
Theodore F Figinski, Harvard Business Review
Despite federal legislation preventing companies from discriminating against military Reservists in the hiring process, evidence proving otherwise has come to light again and again. A researcher conducted a study that involved sending two nearly identical resumes to more than 8,000 job postings, with the only difference being that one resume lists the job applicant as a current member of the Reserves while the other indicating that they had completed their service. Applicants indicating current service were 11 percent less likely to be called for an interview, suggesting that the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 may not be enough to protect employment prospects for current Reserve members. –JG
Bottom line: This study is really a fascinating approach to what we had suspected anecdotally until now. What Figinski did was a unique approach that got to the heart of an upfront bias. By not even responding to the resume, companies avoid the complications in the first place and avoids the USERRA issues before they even begin. While disturbing, there is no way we can’t be honest and admit that the nature of Reserve duty has changed from a time when it was one weekend a month and two weeks a year to regular rotations into combat zones or other locations as the military has given the Reserve forces regular missions previously held by Regular Army units. For decades Reserve units have managed the peacekeeping forces in the Sinai. Today, the Maryland and Virginia National Guard are swapping turns manning large portions of Guantanamo Bay for a year at a time. Companies are hesitant to take on the risk of having a key employee be lost for months without being able to replace them by law. Unfortunately, this study may lead many potential applicants to leave their service off their resumes and the slippery slope just goes from there. We hope that organizations recognize the value of employing Reservists and National Guard members for the talent they bring to the table and dedication to their community and nation. We certainly do at ScoutComms where our own Brian Wagner serves in Afghanistan right now. Service matters. –FPW

EXCLUSIVE: In New Video For Nat Geo’s War Miniseries, Homefronts Are Battlegrounds, Too
James Clark (@JamesWClark), Task & Purpose
There is understandably a lot of anticipation and excitement building up around National Geographic’s upcoming new mini-series “The Long Road Home.” Part of the hype surrounds the honest, gut-wrenching coverage of “Black Sunday”, the 2004 ambush of 1st Cavalry Division soldiers who were in Sadr City for what was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission. Another big part is in regard to the fact that there will now be a show that accurately depicts what military families and friends go through back home, not only coping with distance but also, and more heartbreakingly, the uncertainty of what the surprise attack will mean for their families. Check out the trailer, and catch the premiere on Nov. 7. –AB

Former VA secretary: 3 tips for transitioning service members
Charlsy Panzino (@charlsypanzino), Army Times
Bob McDonald, former VA secretary and current chairman of the board of directors for RallyPoint, has gained invaluable experience throughout his life as a leader both in and out of the military community. He even has experience going back to transitioning out of the military, as he is also a U.S. Army veteran. For those looking for hope and advice in the often trying time of transitioning back to civilian life, Bob McDonald has three key tips for you in this Army Times piece. –AB

Democrats want to help deported vets get VA care
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Rep. Mark Takano led a delegation of five members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs to Tijuana, Mexico in an effort to listen to U.S. veterans that had been honorably discharged, deported, and are now unable to access federal benefits. Takano and the Members of Congress would like to connect some of these veterans with Department of Veterans Affairs disability compensation, healthcare and other services. The delegation at the Deported Veterans Support House is writing up recommendations about ways to help the deported veterans, such as expanding the telehealth program or receiving VA approval of accredited health-care providers closer to Tijuana. –ML

2017 Newman’s Own Awards: Armed Services Arts Partnership
Karen Jowers (@karenjowers), Military Times
Newman’s Own, a food and beverage company founded in 1982, made a commitment to give 100 percent of its profits to charity. Over the last 35 years, they have donated more than $495 million to thousands of deserving charities and organizations all over the world. This year, four military and veteran-focused charities were awarded $37,500, along with one $50,000 winner. One of the winners this year was the Armed Services Partnership. The program links veterans and military families to a variety of arts programs in their community, and the money will help cover the costs of the variety of programs geared toward providing participants with transferable life skills. –CB 

Tradeshows & Conferences

MilBlogging and ScoutComms: Military Influencer Conference (Sun – Tue, Oct. 22-24, 2017); Sheraton Dallas Hotel, Dallas, TX

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Other Events
None this week.

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, October 16, 2017 11:18 am

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