Veterans Report: Shulkin Is Out, Concern Over New Nominee, Secure Mobile Voting App for Military Personnel and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Shulkin out: Trump fires VA secretary after weeks of controversy
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), MilitaryTimes
With VA Secretary David Shulkin making positive changes at the VA early last year, President Donald Trump joked that he would never have to use his famous reality TV punch line “You’re fired” on Shulkin. This proved to be false on Wednesday when Trump announced Shulkin would be replaced via Twitter. His job status has been tenuous since a formal internal investigation verified Washington Post reporting that Shulkin had inappropriately utilized government funds to pay for personal travel, among other ethical irregularities. With Shulkin out, this is the second time in less than four years the VA Secretary has left under less than ideal circumstances. –SM
Bottom line: Well, that ends the speculation. Below you’ll find our takes on the “why” and the “who?” that followed the president’s announcement. Of course, Shulkin’s job had been on the line ever since September when the Washington Post (not fake news after all?) broke the initial story about Shulkin’s travel to Europe that pushed the boundaries of ethical behavior for a millionaire cabinet secretary. Shulkin was generally seen as a congenial partner in the veteran community, but the greater concern in recent months has been about who would replace him. It wasn’t so much about losing Shulkin, it’s about the bigger fight that comes next. Unfortunately for veterans across America, all of this “intrigue” means continued uncertainty about the future of the VA. Yet, a thorough vetting and hearing process is essential to ensuring veterans’ care is a long-term priority of the federal government rather than just seen as another quick win. –LJ

Fired VA Secretary Says White House Muzzled Him
Laurel Wamsley (@laurelwamsley) & Scott Neuman (@ScouttNeumanNPR), NPR
After his dismissal from his position as VA Secretary, Dr. David Shulkin published an op-ed in the New York Times expressing his disapproval of internal politics within the VA and claiming he was not allowed to defend himself amidst the European travel controversy. Shulkin believes the White House silenced him to position him as an ill-equipped leader and ease his ultimate removal. Shulkin has also suggested that several political appointees did not think he was executing projects fast enough, especially the privatization of the VA. The White House continues to push for privatizing the VA, while Shulkin has been against it since he took on the role. While the former VA Secretary has not taken aim at President Trump for his firing, he did make it clear that privatization was a significant goal of the White House and believes political appointees capitalized on a characterization of him as an unreliable leader to pursue their own agenda. –DD
Bottom line: Shulkin is certainly moving quickly to do his own PR about his exit under such unceremonious circumstances. It’s an interesting position to take considering it is so rare for political appointees to turn on the administrations they served so publicly. Shulkin’s op-ed in the Times does help burnish his claims that he has been the one acting in good faith for veterans. It’s no secret that the Trump administration would like to see VA privatization taken farther than those within VA have been willing to do themselves. It’s also hard to imagine this White House pulling off anything as complex as planting the story about Shulkin’s European trip in the Post in order to set up an IG report that would ultimately lead to his ouster. Rather, it’s possible that both Shulkin made some bad choices in his travel and also had some disagreements with the White House over the future of the VA. If the administration has a vision for the future of the VA, it should put in place leaders it believes will carry out that vision. If veterans advocates, Congress, and voters have a different vision for the future of the VA, we certainly have a lot of work ahead of us. Perhaps Shulkin will be a partner in that work, but now as an external advocate rather than an internal one. –LJ

‘We don’t know this guy’: Lawmakers, vets groups, express concern over VA secretary nominee
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson has been named as the potential replacement for recently ousted VA Secretary Shulkin. Jackson, a career Naval officer, served in Iraq as an emergency doctor before becoming the personal physician to former president George W. Bush in 2006 and maintained his position through two administrations. John Rowan, leader of Vietnam Veterans of America, and others in the veteran community, expressed concern about the new appointee: “The only good thing is, he’s a veteran and experienced with dealing in warfare,” Rowan said. “That’s good. Whether he has administrative experience or not, I don’t know. Hardly anybody knows.” In February, Jackson was under consideration to lead the Veterans Health Administration, the largest healthcare system in the country comprised of 1,200 hospitals and clinics, however an anonymous member of the selection panel maintains that Jackson did not have the necessary skills to face the transition from managing a couple dozen staffers to thousands. As the Department of Veterans Affairs is the second largest agency in the federal government, boasting 360,000 personnel and a $186 billion annual budget, Jackson’s lack of large-scale administrative experience remains a concern. –KG
Bottom line: Absolutely everything we have read about Adm. Jackson from those who know and have worked with him say that he is an accomplished physician and professional. None of that is in doubt but neither does any of that qualify him to run the second largest department of the U.S. government. To go from running a tiny clinic to an agency with more than 360,000 employees caring for nine million veterans across hundreds of facilities is simply absurd. The last three VA secretaries consisted of a retired general who served as the Chief of Staff for the entire U.S. Army of more than a million soldiers and hundreds of thousands of employees… and he was fired, then the former CEO of one of the world’s largest international corporations took over and struggled to make change, and finally, Dr. Shulkin who is a doctor but more importantly was the CEO of one of the nation’s largest hospitals and he was fired. Jackson has got 17 years in the military (which would make him a young Lieutenant Colonel were he not a doctor) and has never commanded anything larger than a clinic. While we absolutely wish him the best and will happily work with him if and when he is confirmed there seems to be much more going on here than meets the eye. In the end, the issue is caring for veterans and many are worried that this nominee may not be prepared to lead the vast enterprise that is today’s VA. We hope that is not the case. –FPW

Critics See Echoes of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in Military Transgender Ban
Helene Cooper (@helenecooper), The New York Times
Legal experts see an even more draconian version of the 1994 “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in the latest effort to ban transgender people from serving in the military. The now-repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” forced gay, bisexual and transgender men and women to keep their sexuality a secret while in the military, but they could still be gay. The new Trump administration policy would disqualify all individuals “who require or have undergone gender transition” and who are not “willing and able to meet all standards that apply to their biological sex” which advocates say is tantamount to saying service members can’t be transgender. –SM
Bottom line: Perhaps most importantly, this new policy will not be taking effect any time soon as legal proceedings and the courts have so far determined transgender service members are free to continue their careers as the gender with which they identify. But, there seems to be a real lack of reliance on facts and research driving this administration’s decision to ban transgender people from serving openly in the military, as two former surgeons general (Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders and Dr. David Satcher) point out in a joint statement this week. One of Trump’s main arguments for banning transgender service members was due to medical costs, but according to a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation, the estimated health care costs would only rise $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year. As the accompanying Pentagon report shows, 8,980 service members who identify as transgender are currently serving. The RAND study also cites research from countries that allow transgender people to serve and projects “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness” in the U.S.  –CB

They sought help when their Army dad deployed. Now they’re barred from joining the military.
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
Two military children have been denied enlistment into the military because of their health records from their early teenage years. The De La Rosa family has a long-time history of military service, including Rudy De La Rosa, an Army major and father who faced multiple relocations and deployments with his family. Deployments and relocations can take a toll on any military family, and the De La Rosa’s are no different. During their two daughters’ teenage years, the De La Rosa’s sought emotional support for their daughters through the Army’s behavioral health. Their eldest daughter Juliet enlisted into the Air Force in 2016, but was discharged only a month into basic training. The rationale behind her discharge was that Juliet failed to fully disclose her documentation from her previous Army counselors – clinicians that promised her and her family 100 percent confidential conversations as a young teen. The service found a record of “suicidal gesture” in Juliet’s documentation – a record that no one in the family knew was in her counseling files. Their second daughter, Samantha De La Rosa requested her medical records prior to visiting an Army recruiter after her sister’s experience with being discharged. Although Samantha was up-front about her record of “self-mutilation” from when she was 13, she was still turned away. At the time of this record, Samantha’s father was simply concerned at “minor self-harm markings” and took action. The De La Rosa’s fully reject the diagnosis of self-mutilation. Currently, an Army or Air Force dependent has their previous medical records merged with their new service record when they enlist. However, the Navy and Marine Corps do not merge the medical history. While the De La Rosa family was trying to seek help for their young children, they never imagined the aftermath that would affect their entire future. While the De La Rosa family is not alone, there numerous military children finding it difficult to join the military due to a history of seeking help for their mental and physical health. –DD
Bottom line: This is a story about the unfortunate state of mental health stigma in this country. Just as we are alarmed when we hear that service members aren’t seeking help because they are worried about their careers, we should be concerned when we read stories like this. Remember, it wasn’t too long ago we highlighted a story about how military children are continuing to serve in uniform while fewer and fewer civilian children do. This is becoming a family business. We should be encouraging healthy choices among military children, both physical and mental, so that those who choose to serve bring that strength to the force. Waivers exist for a reason, of course, and need to better acknowledge that seeking mental health counseling is not a sign of weakness, but of a willingness to grow. –LJ

Many write messages on National Veterans Wall in Perryville
Mike Mohundro (@mikemkfvs), KFVS-12
Last weekend, Missouri’s National Veterans Memorial in Perryville welcomed thousands of visitors to the site of the memorial – a full-scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Attendees were invited to leave messages on the concrete walls before they are entombed in the black granite panels. “I appreciate the opportunity to do it,” attendee Dennis Wolk said. “When somebody’s taken from family and friends like this, you don’t have time to say anything.” –KG 

Local veterans and military members honored with special night at Smith Center
Gina Lazara (@GinaLazara), KTNV 13 Action News
Thanks to a recent partnership between Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and the Southern Nevada Ford Stores, 35 local veterans and service members local to the Las Vegas area were granted an opportunity to attend a performance of the Broadway musical Love Never Dies. “Operation Date Night,” courtesy of the Southern Nevada Ford Stores and world renowned The Smith Center, allowed members of Vet Tix to enjoy an evening of dinner and a show with their loved ones. Vet Tix provides free event tickets to currently serving military, veterans and family members of KIA to sporting events, concerts, performing arts and family activities. –DD

West Virginia tests secure mobile voting app for military personnel
Morgan Chalfant (@mchalfant16), The Hill
In an announcement made on Wednesday, West Virginia’s Secretary of State, Mac Warner (R), shared the state’s plans to pilot an app-based voting program among military voters, their families and children in Harrison and Monongalia counties. West Virginia’s use of blockchain technology to power its test system for the May primary may signal a shift toward designing safer methods to vote amid concerns of Russian interference in U.S. elections. The app encrypts data to securely transmit votes. State officials plan to include military voters in all 55 of West Virginia’s counties in the November general election if the pilot performs well. –NJ

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Community Opportunities 

Patriot Boot Camp: VetHacks (Fri – Sun, April 20-22, 2018); PenFed Credit Union HQ, McLean, VA

Veterans in Global Leadership: Apply to be a 2018-2019 VGL Fellow
Who: Student veteran candidates with a passion for service, a commitment to assist other veterans, an entrepreneurial spirit and proven leadership skills.
When: Application deadline is April 30, 2018

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, April 02, 2018 11:25 am

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