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Veterans Roundup: 14 Most Popular Veterans Stories of 2014 and a Host of Underreported Stories on the Brain, Intimacy, War and more for 2015

Posted by Fred Wellman

Wounded Troops Battle Obstacles to Sex and Intimacy
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. It’s a topic that rarely gets discussed in in public, but many severely wounded warriors and their spousal caregivers struggle with sex and intimacy after combat injuries. A recent conference hosted by the Bob Woodruff Foundation raised awareness about these issues, the lack of resources available for couples struggling with intimacy, and the challenge of infertility after injury. –MC
Bottom line: This is not a comfortable topic of discussion for Americans, whether in or out of the military, so we cannot expect quick or easy solutions. The oft-absurd stigma smothering open discussions of sexuality in the U.S. play a role here, but this topic also falls into the same boat as the military’s ongoing efforts to get servicemembers to talk about mental health. The first major step, as Kime notes, is the need to “jump-start a public dialogue about this silent casualty of war.” In the near term, it seems reasonable to ask DoD and VA medical experts to prioritize—within their current authority—disseminating knowledge on best practices for minimizing damage to sexual organs immediately in the wake of an injury, and consulting more closely with the civilian sector to identify cost-effective practices for ensuring that wounded warriors and veterans outside of the largest facilities are not completely on their own as they deal with these serious issues. –BW

General Chiarelli’s Brain Crusade
Rajiv Chandrasekaran (@rajivwashpost) & Howard Schultz, Politico. General (ret.) Chiarelli is quickly becoming as well known for his post-service advocacy for troops as he is for his distinguished military career. His advocacy began in 2008 during his tenure as the Army’s Vice Chief of Staff where he tried to improve battlefield screening for TBI and PTS. It continues today as he dedicates his retirement to developing better technology to diagnose and treat mental health issues. Perhaps thanks in part to General Chiarelli, the Army announced this week that medics will use a new mobile phone app to quickly diagnose brain injuries among soldiers. –MC
Bottom line: Chiarelli has raised the bar within the military and now in the veteran community in regard to evidence-based identification and treatment of mental health issues. What the military needs is a modern day Chiarelli, someone who will make efficacy and improved outcomes the main mission of military mental health programs. Currently, the Pentagon can’t really say what is working and it’s not spending money on the programs it thinks might be most useful. As an outsider, Chiarelli is pushing for coordinated research, a tough sell to many doctors who see their data as a meal ticket. He’s trying to get VA to expand its list of approved drugs so troops transitioning out of the military don’t have to change their regimen once they become veterans utilizing VA facilities—a potentially life-threatening situation. He’s a man with a sense of urgency in a field—brain science—that doesn’t seem to have quick solutions. In the meantime, it’s about getting the most promising tools, like client CNS Response, into the hands of doctors so they can give PTS and TBI patients evidence-based, effective treatments. –LJ

Veterans Look Back on Afghanistan, Iraq Odyssey with Strong Emotions
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars & Stripes. The war in Afghanistan has officially ended, and veterans and active duty service members are expressing complicated feelings about their experiences there and in Iraq. Despite the war’s “end”, many troops will remain in the country, some in harm’s way. Many veterans featured in this article speak fondly of the war, their experiences and the people they served with, even though it also brought difficulties. Others skeptically question the reason they went to war in the first place. –MC
Bottom line: This story reflects a refrain we hear often from our fellow veterans who have served and deployed multiple times. While war is difficult, and the price of service can be high, there is also clarity of purpose that goes with being in combat. In the end, when bullets are flying and IEDs are exploding, the most important things in life simply boil down to protecting those on your left and right. With the end of Operation Enduring Freedom and the war being declared “over”, service members and their families know nothing has really changed for the most part. Over 10,000 troops will remain in the fight in its current form and the danger remains the same. The question now becomes even greater whether that will be remembered and Americans will appreciate the sacrifice now that the war has been declared over. ­­–FPW

Report: Payday Lenders Find Loopholes in Military Loans
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A report released last Monday by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau says that loopholes in a previously enacted law to protect military families from predatory payday lenders leave families vulnerable to exploitation. A current scheme involves lending service members money ahead of their checks and then imposing a fee when the check comes in and penalties thereafter. Military families are significantly more likely to use payday loans, and for this reason groups are calling for more legislation to prevent predatory lending on service members. –MC
Bottom line: Closing the loopholes in the Military Lending Act needs to be a priority for the next Congress. The forthcoming Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission report will likely make recommendations to further trim military benefits. Military service organizations will convince Congress to make less significant cuts, but military families will end up feeling nickel and dimed. At the same time Congress is pushing military families towards emergency financial options like payday lenders, it should also make efforts to protect troops and their families from exploitation. The military and senior leaders also have an obligation to educate their troops about the perils of payday lenders. And it couldn’t hurt if we, as a country, made financial planning a bigger part (or any part) of the secondary education system. –LJ

Veteran’s Chemical Burns Expanded Military Doctor’s Knowledge, but His Care Faltered
C.J. Chivers (cjchivers), The New York Times. In 2004, Daniel Mould was wounded in a chemical weapons accident and agreed to help the military learn more about treating chemical burns. Shortly after the incident, the military promised Mould long-term monitoring. But Mould was never contacted regarding his burns after the Air Force medically retired him in 2006. Mould is not the only victim who has been lost in the bureaucracy and his story shows the need for a long-term patient tracking policy to be jointly developed between the military and VA. –MC
Bottom line:  There are echoes in this story of Patricia Kime’s article focused on post-injury sex and intimacy; when the number of victims are small, and the solutions not simple, it is far too easy for bureaucracies to lose track of the problem and victims over time. Chivers and other talented military journalists with a strong investigative bent have shone a light over the years on countless individual stories that serve as gateways to understanding broader cases of neglect. For Daniel Mould, the likely result of this article will be renewed attention to his medical needs; the Times’ attention is an antidote to many problems. Yet on a broader scale, this story provides two valuable reminders: first, that many wounds never fully heal, and we owe it to veterans to ensure that they are not pushed out of the system without a plan for long-term care and treatment; and second, that there is a reason the world has taken a strong stand against chemical agents, and that we should never forget why we have abandoned their use as military weapons. –BW

VA Loses First Case Against Clinic Director in Scandal
Jacqueline Klimas (@jacqklimas), The Washington Times. Sharon Helman, the Phoenix clinic director deemed responsible for secret lists and falsifying records, was recently fired by the VA, but not because of the scandal. A personnel appeals judge dismissed claims that tied her to the scandal and instead, fired her for accepting thousands of dollars in “inappropriate gifts.” Recent reports suggest she was looking for another job in the midst of Congressional questions about the Phoenix VA’s quality of care. This was the VA’s first case against a clinic director and some say the VA mishandled the case which could jeopardize further firings. –MC
Bottom line: Helman’s dismissal was upheld for two of the three accusations against her which all involved accepting gifts and abusing government travel funds for personal use. The VA failed to substantiate the claims against her for the wait list issues. The mistakes in the case were so bad the judge actually mocked the VA’s investigation for things like claiming she had created a hostile work environment in Phoenix fully nine months before she had even assumed the job as its head. There is a long way to go in Secretary McDonald’s quest to rid his agency of those who don’t have veterans’ best interests at heart. In the end…she got fired…and stayed fired after the appeal. VA is barely out of the opening week in a long season to right their team but every win counts. Even ugly wins are still wins in a long season. –FPW

US Calls for Release of Americans in Iran, Denies Swap Deal
Michelle Moghtader, Lesley Wroughton (@lesleywroughton), David Brunnstrom (@davidbrunnstrom), Reuters. Last Tuesday, the U.S. called for the release of prisoners in held in Iran but a representative from the U.S. State Department said that, despite reports in the Iranian press, a prisoner exchange has not been proposed for Amir Hekmati. Hekmati has been unjustly imprisoned in Iran since 2011 after being convicted of spying—a baseless charge. Iran continues to detain several other American citizens including a Christian pastor and a Washington Post reporter. Last month, Hekmati began a hunger strike to draw attention to his case that drew support from fellow Marines although he suspended it at the urging of his captors. Help Amir come home by sharing his story and spreading the word using the hashtag #FreeAmir. –MC

Best for Vets: Business Schools 2014 
George Altman, Military Times. It’s interesting to see which universities are a good fit for veterans as they transition out of the service and head back to school. For those veterans interested in business, Military Times’ “Best for Vets: Business Schools 2014” list may come in handy. Our friends at the Syracuse University Martin J. Whitman School of Management were ranked number six for their efforts with an MBA degree just for veterans. James Schmeling from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse gives a little more insight about the MBA program in the article. If you’re thinking about going into business, be sure to check it out! –MC

Military Families in Largest Ever Bereavement Study Share Insights on Grief
David Crary, Associated Press. As part of the largest ever study of bereavement among the family, friends, and loved ones of fallen service members, more than 2,000 participants are recounting the pain of loss. Their hope is that by sharing what they have learned through the hard process of moving forward, future survivors might have more tools to handle grief. The study is open to the families of anyone who died on active duty since 9/11 regardless of how they died. ScoutComms’ client TAPS is a major partner in connecting survivors with the study thanks to their decades long work supporting survivors. –LJ

Quick Hits:

2015 Goal for VA Claims Backlog Appears Out of Reach
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The VA has made significant progress in reducing the backlog of VA claims: cases are down more than 250,000 since the start of 2013. The VA has used new software and burned a lot of overtime to lower the total, but even at the rate of improvement, it doesn’t seem as though the VA will be able to completely end the backlog by next December, it’s own deadline, without a substantial leap in progress. –MC

Veteran Suicide Tracking Faulted
Ashly McGlone (AshlyReports), The San Diego Union-Tribune. A new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office says the Department of Veterans Affairs is incorrectly reporting suicide data and is doing a poor job of tracking or caring for veterans at risk of suicide. The report showed that many veterans prescribed antidepressants were not assessed in an adequate time frame and a third didn’t receive follow-up care. The data the VA uses to assess veteran suicides often had incomplete or incorrect data including dates of death and number of outpatient mental health visits. –MC

Pentagon Meets Resistance on Benefits Cuts
Kristina Wong (@Kristina_Wong), The Hill. Congress recently passed a defense budget that reduces the housing allowance for active duty military and holds pay raises to one percent. These cuts have been met with criticism from military groups who worry that even more cuts are to come when a two-year study wraps up. By February 1, the congressionally appointed Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission will release its recommendations—right around the same time that the Pentagon will submit its budget request to the White House. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Student Veterans of America National Conference (Thu-Sat, 8-10 January); JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country, San Antonio, TX

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our Events page.

Congressional Hearings

The 114th Congress is sworn in this week. Mayhem ensues.

Think Tanks & Other Events

No events 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, January 05, 2015 12:43 pm

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