Veterans Report: VA Choice funding running low, veteran groups kill part of budget proposal, bipartisan work on military pay, PTS research, and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

It’s time to focus on children of wounded warriors, experts say
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
America’s wounded warriors face ongoing, lifelong care that can drastically change the dynamics of a military family. Often, while the primary focus remains on wounded warriors and even caregivers, the needs of children in those families are critical as well. While organizations like Our Military Kids support the children of deployed, National Guard, and Reserve service members, many would argue there needs to be more resources put in place. Care for the children of wounded warriors should not just stop at the medical or military community – their needs demand national awareness to create a lasting impact. –DD
Bottom line: In the case of a service member who is wounded, ill or injured there has been an unfortunate historical tendency to forget those that are in their family support system. While we are beginning to see progress, attention and policy improvements directed at the caregivers of wounded warriors, another group has been left in the shadows—their children. Our Military Kids recently hosted a day-long symposium to focus on the needs of these children and to plot a course forward to better support them. Academics, advocates and families of the wounded attended the event and several key points were raised. Some attendees noted that there isn’t a specific non-profit focused on these children (as an aside, Hero Missions was founded to support this community), still others lamented a lack of academic research on the population. The desire to promote systemic changes that will allow these children to survive and thrive in their new normal is a positive step. I for one hope that these discussions and planning sessions will continue and ultimately bear a coordinated strategy that will support these kiddos in the years to come. –RB

How Russia Targets the U.S. Military
Ben Schreckinger (@SchreckReports), Politico
According to intelligence officials, Russia is more active than ever in its attempts to undermine and influence American government, especially the military. Gen. (ret.) Philip Breedlove, the former supreme allied commander of NATO, is just one of many victims of cyber-attacks carried out by Russian adversaries; he called the scope of Russia’s operations “astronomical.” The FBI and Office of Director of National Intelligence have even received reports of concentrated hacking campaigns targeting leaders of government and industry in Washington and New York, as well their loved ones. –JG
Bottom Line: Schreckinger’s reporting on how foreign actors, particularly the Russians, are trying to target and influence service members and veterans online is troubling, in part because the site that he highlights as a party to the effort—Veterans Today—is one that I have come across dozens of times in recent years without thinking too deeply about its oddly skewed worldview. The fact is that this problem is about much more than what Russia is or is not trying to do; the deeper problem lies in the fact that many Americans have lost their ability to judge what is true or realistic when processing information online, and are vulnerable to disinformation and manipulation campaigns. If service members are targets, that presents a huge potential threat given their access to sensitive weapons, equipment and information, and it is contingent upon the military and the federal government, along with the private sector companies that often provide the social media platforms that are being abused and manipulated, to put up safeguards and help signal to Americans when they may be accessing untrustworthy sources linked to foreign agents. This is a threat that is not going to go away, and is just one more step in the realm of information operations. –BW

Can a single injection conquer PTSD? The Army wants to find out
Michael Phillips (@MPhillipsWSJ), Wall Street Journal
The Army recently launched a randomized control trial to see if shots of a local anesthetic can help ease the symptoms of post-traumatic stress. The shots, which utilize stellate ganglion blocks to inhibit neural pathways and interrupt signals from the brain to the sympathetic nervous system, have traditionally been used to control symptoms of arm pain and shingles. These treatments have only recently been utilized to treat symptoms of PTS, such as hyperarousal and social withdrawal. While these clinical experiences have shown promising results, the Army is taking care to not label the shots as being effective without conclusive evidence from the trial. –KB
Bottom line: This is another “good news, bad news” situation because while it’s good news to see further research being conducted in the realm of mental health care treatments, it’s not great to also read that, “The Army takes a fairly conservative position about treatments or any kind of medical care. They don’t want to risk service members’ lives or experiment on them.” Sure, on its face, that seems noble, yet read the story itself and you’ll note special operations forces leaders are some of the first to advocate for experimental treatments. The troops facing anecdotally the highest need in part due to a consistently high operational tempo don’t want or need conservative approaches to research. Thankfully, these same leaders are pushing the Army internally to experiment which would allow its doctors, ultimately, to embrace new, proven methods to assist soldiers facing challenges treating PTS symptoms. Cutting the bureaucratic red tape and getting soldiers better treatment is something we can all agree is key, but it shouldn’t take elite forces to make it happen. –LJ

Senators push bill to provide better military pay raises, salaries for senior enlisted
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Senators Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) are sponsors of bipartisan legislation that aims to limit the president’s ability to cut pay raises in the military. The bill’s language specifically states that the president cannot use “economic concerns” as a reason to lower pay increases below the average wage growth in the private sector, though it would allow for such cuts in the face of a national crisis. Additionally, the bill would require the secretary of defense to carry out studies regarding disparities in pay increases, or lack thereof, for senior enlisted advisors to commanders of combatant commands. –JG
Bottom line: This is an interesting move from a bipartisan pair of Senators to stop the president from offering below average pay raises to the military and help senior enlisted members get paid for the levels of responsibility they face. This isn’t really just a shot at the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue as President Obama also used the “economic concerns” argument in his budgets to limit pay raises and direct funds to other DoD funding buckets. The senators’ point boils down to frustration with the fact that by using this excuse it essentially says that troops being paid a comparable wage to the civilians they serve is less important than building weapons and thus less important than an inanimate object. It’s common sense that if you want employees of an organization to be effective you must treat them as the most important thing you’ve got. The military isn’t always the best at that approach and Senators Ernst and Warren aim to address one piece of that puzzle. Of course, the chances of that happening before recess in August are pretty low but the effort is an admirable one nonetheless. –FPW

VA’s Choice program running out of money ahead of schedule
Leo Shane III(@LeoShane), Military Times
Increased usage of the Veterans’ Affairs Choice program has led to a shortage in funding, according to testimony given by VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin last Wednesday. If the program continues experiencing the high amount of utilization that it has in the past year, it will likely run out of money this summer, causing issues for thousands of veterans seeking care through the program. A possible solution to the lack of funding could be transferring funds from other VA programs – a resolution that both Secretary Shulkin and the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee seem to favor. –KB
Bottom line: Welcome to the reality of VA Choice. As the program becomes better known and the kinks are worked out, the simple fact that it offers a complementary path to care for many veterans in the VA system means that it will be an attractive option that a significant portion of the VA patient population will pursue for some or all of their care. Costs are rising rapidly, making VA Choice a victim of its own success, and setting up a scenario where the Trump Administration is championing the expansion of the program without having a clear grasp of how high costs could rise on an annual basis before they level out. In the short term, Congress is likely to support the VA shifting funds around to maintain funding to repay private sector health care providers, but as Leo reports, not all VSOs, including the American Legion, are happy with the suddenly urgent need to rob Public Sector Peter to pay Private Sector Paul. VA Choice may have received a boost from the President’s support, but it has a long way to go until it is a stable program and in the meantime, the VA and Congress are going to be scrambling to ensure that its funding stream is adequate. –BW

VA backs off budget proposal to cut benefits for disabled, unemployable vets
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
On Wednesday at the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing, VA Secretary David Shulkin backed away from an Administration proposal to cut the unemployment payout to disabled veterans of retirement age, saying he wanted to avoid any policy changes that cause harm or undue stress to veterans. Opponents of the cuts assert that cutting those benefits would force veterans into poverty and homelessness. While Shulkin will continue to look for ways to provide more efficient healthcare, he says that he will not resort to these measures to do so. –JG
Bottom line: We often are asked at ScoutComms what it is that the major veterans service organizations do with the noted decline in their memberships as older veterans pass away. We provide the apparent defeat of this move to strip benefits from older veterans as an example of the ability of the legacy VSOs to quickly move in defense of their members and force the hand of the government on issues of importance. Led by an outcry from AMVETS, the American Legion and others Secretary Shulkin has decided to find another place to fund the expansion of the new version of VA Choice, which will be called Vets CARE. So, let’s not cheer too much at this victory because this war has just begun. –FPW

Vet Tix: Giving Something to Those Who Gave – Military Dollar
Military Dollar (@Military_Dollar)
Military families have a great opportunity to save financially while engaging in quality time through the nonprofit Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix). Vet Tix offers free tickets for the military community to entertainment events thanks to monetary and ticket donations from partners, sponsors and donations from the general public. Once registered, VetTixers can bid on tickets to events of interest and pay only a small processing fee. The organization recently hit a milestone of three million event tickets distributed since its founding in 2008. –DD

Trump Wants to Find Jobs for Military Spouses, Aide Says
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz),
Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told a crowd of employers and advocates that military spouse employment is a high priority for the Trump administration at the recent Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse Employment Summit, hosted at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. According to a new Hiring Our Heroes survey, the military spouse unemployment rate is four times the national average for their civilian counterparts. Of spouses surveyed, more than 65 percent have had to quit their jobs due to a military-related move. The summit addressed the impact military spouse employment has on the recruitment and retention high-quality military personnel. Conway said that the White House is committed to the issue of military spouse unemployment and it will remain a priority for the administration. Also in attendance to discuss the key findings of the survey were former Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden, and other influential leaders in the military spouse and civilian employment sector. –DD

Elizabeth Dole, Ryan Philippe urge action on military caregivers
Sumner Park and Justin Redman (@sumnerpark16), The Hill
Last Wednesday, former Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and actor Ryan Phillippe testified in front of the Senate Special Committee on Aging on issues pertaining to caregivers, specifically those who care for wounded veterans. Their testimony, as well as the testimonies of caregivers themselves, implored Congress to address issues relevant to this population of “Hidden Heroes” and pass legislation to provide vital services and funding to these dedicated individuals, such as the Military Caregiver Services Improvement Act and the RAISE Family Caregivers Act. –KB

First Lady Cecilia Abbott Announces 2017 Governor’s Volunteer Awards Recipients
Office of the Texas Governor
The recipients of Texas’ 34th annual Governor Volunteer Awards were recently announced, and among the distinguished names on the list is ScoutComms client USAA. Known for impeccable corporate responsibility in the military community and beyond, USAA was recognized for this award specifically for its work supporting the PsychArmor Institute military caregiver program. –AB

Resume trouble? Get help translating your military service into ‘civilian speak’
Eric Dehm (@EricDehm), CBS Radio Connecting Vets
Hiring Our Heroes created the Resume Engine to assist service members in translating their skills and experience from the military into language and vocabulary that recruiters are looking for in their hiring processes. Liz O’Brien from Hiring Our Heroes says that the app, which has been a long time in the making, works on electronic devices of all types and sizes. –JG

Congress finalizes sweeping VA accountability bill
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Lawmakers in the House on Tuesday successfully passed legislation to reform hiring and firing rules at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill, which passed by a 368-55 vote, received support from VA Secretary David Shulkin, who has made clear that current rules hinder the VA’s ability to discipline or dismiss problematic employees. Numerous major veteran advocates have backed the legislation, while unions continue to dismiss the bill as detrimental to workers’ rights. –JDG

Modern Wars Are a Nightmare for the Army’s Official Historians
Adin Dobkin (@Adin Dobkin), The Atlantic
The departure of trained field historians from war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan has made it increasingly difficult for the Center of Military History to produce its “Tan Books” – narrative histories of the two wars. These books, which take decades to produce, are the result of the collection and analysis of documents given to field historians by soldiers on the ground. However, due to a shortage of personnel in the region, one Army historian estimates that more records from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been lost or destroyed than remain in existence. –JDG

Veterans Affairs Official Downplays Agent Orange Risks, Questions Critics
Charles Ornstein (@charlesornstein), ProPublica
A Veterans Affairs lead analyst in compensation service is a skeptic of the media, researchers and the VA’s own administrative committee for having differing opinions than his own on the effects of Agent Orange. The analyst claims that the VA has considered adding new diseases to the list associated with the exposure to this agent. However, even with proven facts, they will deny extending benefits to veterans experiencing hypertension and high blood pressure that could have manifested from exposure.  The VA has stated that this analyst was speaking independently and does not accurately reflect the decision that has yet to be made in regard to adding these new diseases. –CB

Bill would give terror victims care at military hospitals
The Associated Press (@AP)
Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) last Thursday introduced legislation that would allow victims of terrorist attacks to receive treatment at select military medical facilities. The bill is named after Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky, victims of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings who were treated at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. Warren and Collins contend that doctors at military hospitals have more expertise at treating those who have suffered explosion-related injuries.  –JDG

VA to Congress: Go ahead and fix the GI Bill, if you can find the money
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on Thursday discussed 14 bills, including five proposed changes to the GI Bill that would require an additional $360 million in spending by the VA over the next five years. If granted, the funding, the VA would expand Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits to include more service members and their dependents. The committee has yet to schedule a time to vote on the measures. –JDG

Leader of Veterans Village of San Diego to retire
Jeanette Steele (@jensteeley),
The current leader of the Veterans Village of San Diego, a Vietnam veteran, will retire this summer after 10 years as chief executive. Taking over the village as CEO will be a career Navy officer and Naval Academy graduate who was most recently partnered with a veterans service organization in Washington. The Veterans Village of San Diego serves as a haven for recovering veterans who suffer with substance abuse and alcoholism, as well as offering other services to those seeking transitional housing. –CB

From jobs to journalism: Task & Purpose is finding a niche reporting on veterans’ issues
Ricardo Bilton (@rbilton), NiemanLab
Task & Purpose, launched by the online veterans-focused job initiative HirePurpose, is a news and culture website tailored toward addressing the concerns of America’s youngest veterans. The website has generated buzz because of its reporting on veterans protesting at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, as well as publishing op-eds from Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and former president Barack Obama. Task & Purpose now employs 10 full-time staff writers, most of whom are veterans, and has used much of its revenue to invest in feature reporting. –JDG

Sandra Erwin – RealClearDefense
RealClearDefense last week announced that it had hired Sandra Erwin as its new Pentagon Correspondent.  Sandra will write exclusively for RealClearDefense, providing original reporting on defense acquisitions, national security policy and much more. She is the former Editor-in-Chief of National Defense Magazine. Reach her at [email protected] and @Sandra_I_Erwin.

Brennan Mullaney promoted to Deputy Director of Team Red, White and Blue 
Until recently a stalwart in the Mid-Atlantic region as the regional director for Team RWB, Brennan Mullaney this week announced he would be taking on more responsibilities with the organization as deputy director. Brennan was critical to the huge growth chapters in this area have seen over the last several years so we are incredibly excited to see how he helps continue to shepherd the organization to greater and greater heights.

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services: Nomination – Shanahan
Who: Mr. Patrick M. Shanahan, To Be Deputy Secretary Of Defense
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, June 20, 2017
Where: G-50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Nomination – Spencer
Who: Mr. Richard V. Spencer, To Be Secretary Of The Navy
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, June 22, 2017
Where: G-50 Dirksen

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, June 19, 2017 11:11 am

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