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Veterans Roundup: $400,000 for Student Veteran Centers, Struggles for Female Veterans, SAV Act

Posted by Fred Wellman

Veterans Discharged for Sexual Trauma Push for VA Benefits
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. Women who leave the service early because of sexual trauma sometimes find themselves ineligible for VA medical care and other military benefits. Last week, Emily Wax-Thibodeaux explored the challenges women face in these situations and the steps the VA is taking to correct wrongs like in the case of Navy Airman Apprentice Elena M. Giordano, who was granted service-connected disability compensation after nine years. –MC
Bottom line: Emily Wax-Thibodeaux continues to carve out a reporting niche focused on female veterans, building on her December article on the VA’s efforts to adapt to the growing number of females in its system. BLUF, every time the military or the VA ignores a justifiable claim of rape, they alienate and harm men and women who have suffered, transforming them from victims into relative lepers in the community. It is good to read that Giordano is now receiving the support she needs thanks to the “VA’s widespread push to help veterans wrongfully denied benefits due to lack of evidence,” but her story does highlight the need to allow for more flexibility in benefits guidelines based on traumatic circumstances. –BW

New House Military Personnel Chair Against More Pay and Benefits Cuts
Richard Sisk, Military.com. House Subcommittee on Military Personnel Chairman Joe Heck (R-Nev.) has asked the Pentagon to look at alternative budget cuts before reducing troops pay and benefits. Heck has pledged that the federal government will not “break faith” with troops by retracting guarantees made during recruitment. The recent delay in Ash Carter’s Senate confirmation hearing may be on Heck’s side and bring more focus to the discussion about military pay and benefits.  –MC
Bottom line: The much awaited report from the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission is expected on February 1st and there haven’t been many indications of what sort of changes they may recommend. Ahead of that we can expect a lot of maneuvering by those who believe that cutting what are seen as overly generous pay and benefits for service members is the way to save the military budget while others see it as breaking faith with the same. While most Republicans are all about cutting the budget, they are also loath to appear anti-troop. It is too early to predict but we imagine we’ll see a compromise emerge that sees cuts come but a grandfathering of the changes so those that are serving today won’t face cuts. The blood will come over the fight over military retirees’ benefits–there has been less reticence about going after their benefits including raising health care fees, cutting annual pay increases, and other ancillary benefits. That’s where the fight will happen. –FPW

Shooting at VA Clinic Underscores Frustrations Between Some VA Workers and Veterans. Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post. Last week, a gunman killed a VA psychologist at a VA health clinic on Fort Bliss in El Paso, TX and later himself. The shooting comes in the wake of the VA wait times scandal. Dan Lamothe highlights some frustrations that veterans and VA employees are feeling in the aftermath. Following the incident, VA Secretary Bob McDonald visited the hospital and promised to focus on VA security. Our thoughts are with the families of those affected by this tragedy. –MC
Bottom line: According to recent reports, the VA psychologist, Timothy Fjordbak, had previously filed a complaint against the gunman for making a verbal threat. Presumably, this will become an issue for those responsible for oversight of VA facilities—if the gunman had made a threat, what was the VA doing to protect its employees? According to reports, the gunman was am Iraq war veteran said to be upset about the VA denying an unspecified claim for PTSD. The fear here is that VA facilities may become even harder for vulnerable veterans to access in light of the tragic events in El Paso. As with events in Paris, it’s unwise to paint an entire population like frustrated veterans suffering from PTSD with a broad brush. –LJ

Veteran Suicide Bill Gets Fast Lane to House Floor
Martin Matishak (@martinmatishak), The Hill. The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, which was blocked at the end of the 113th Congress by now-retired Senator Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), will get a vote on the House floor next week. Congress-watchers expected the bill to come up for discussion in February, but it has been fast tracked for a vote on Monday. The bill is meant to help prevent suicide among veterans and is named after an Iraq war veteran. Also moving more quickly than expected, House Republicans plan to launch their congressional session with a new veterans job bill, the Hire More Heroes Act. –MC
Bottom line: As we noted in the 195th Scout Report, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) wished veterans everywhere a very merry Christmas by putting a hold on the Clay Hunt bill in December. Now that “Dr. No” has retired, and a new crop of post-9/11 veterans has taken seats in the Senate and the House, the bill’s passage seems assured. While not everyone agreed that the bill was necessary, it was strongly supported last year by influential veterans’ groups and the VA itself. Members see it as a bipartisan opportunity to record a pro-veterans’ vote. Hill insiders on the appropriations side have noted that they believe that the bill is duplicative of current efforts underway in the VA—efforts they are already paying for—but the reality is that national perception of a veterans’ suicide crisis remains, and no one except the most stubborn Senator (now retired) wants to be seen as standing in the way of a possible solution. ­–BW

Biden Tells Returning Troops: Go Get That Education
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. Vice President Joe Biden addressed the Student Veterans of America (SVA) annual conference last Friday in San Antonio, TX and told student veterans to continue their educations. Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, expressed support for veterans during their transitions to student or civilian life including initiatives like President Obama’s proposal to provide two years of community college for free to all U.S. citizens. –MC
Bottom line: Biden’s visit to the SVA conference really shows how the group has grown over the past few years. Service members transitioning out of the military have flocked to higher education and swelled the ranks of student veterans across America. SVA as an organization is maturing to embrace its role not only supporting current students, but also alumni and the role they play as mentors to future student veterans. Biden’s remarks reflect the important value student veterans bring to America, campuses, and the economy. Although, ask anyone who attended the speech, and you’re more likely to hear about Biden’s unique use of long pauses than any policies he discussed. We’re excited to see how SVA continues to grow over the next several years. –LJ

Quick Hits:

U.S. Forces, Returning to Iraq, Encounter the Things Their Comrades Carried
Tim Arango (@tarangoNYT), The New York Times. When American troops left Iraq three years ago, they left most of their bases in the hands of Iraqis. But as our troops return to Iraq, they are finding that many of these bases were left untouched. This New York Times article explores the feelings troops have as they discover the things their comrades left behind. –MC

Distress Signal
Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh), The Virginian-Pilot. Wes Van Dorn dedicated himself to exposing problems within his Navy helicopter squadron surrounding the aging CH-53 Sea Dragon fleet. Van Dorn wasn’t able to finish his mission as he was killed in a helicopter crash at sea and today his widow carries on the fight. His story is very moving and we recommend you take the time to read. –MC

Hope Fund Fraud Uncovered After Army Veteran’s Tale of Suffering a Combat Injury Unravels
Clifford Davis (@CliffDavisJax), The Florida Times-Union. Another faker in the news. This time, Leroy Bartlett-King claimed that he had been wounded in Iraq from stepping on a landmine. However, his DD-214 showed that not only was he kicked out of the Army for using drugs, but also that his unit suffered zero casualties as a result of enemy contact in Iraq. The Hope Fund does background checks on each of their recipients, but this one just fell through the cracks. –MC

Accused of Shaking Down Widow, VA Director Resigns
Ken Kolker (@kenkolker), Wood TV. Scott Losey, the Calhoun County director of veterans’ issues resigned last Monday after a veteran’s widow claimed that he “shook her down” for $200. Losey denies that he solicited the widow for money but she sticks to her story. The local news’ FOIA of county email records indicates that this was not the first time Losey had extorted veterans in exchange for his help. –MC

College Vet Center Grant Program to Expand
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The Home Depot Foundation has partnered with Student Veterans of America (SVA) to support veterans as they head back to school. Through the VetCenter Initiative, The Home Depot Foundation already invested $100,000 in 11 SVA chapters to build or create veteran-specific spaces on their campuses. At the SVA National Conference this weekend, The Home Depot Foundation announced an expansion of the initiative with an additional $400,000 investment. Since 2011, The Home Depot Foundation has donated more than $82 million to veterans’ housing needs. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Surface Navy (Tue-Thu, 13-15 January); Hyatt Regency Hotel, Crystal City, VA

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

Congressional Hearings

House:

Foreign Affairs: Business Meeting: “Briefing: The North Korean Threat: Nuclear Missiles and Cyber” Who: The Honorable Sung Kim, Special Representative for North Korea Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Korea and Japan, U.S. Department of State, The Honorable Daniel Glaser, Assistant Secretary for Terrorist Financing, Office of Terrorism and Financial intelligence, U.S. Department of Treasury, Brigadier General Gregory J. Touhill, USAF, Retired, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Cybersecurity Operations and Programs, U.S. Department of Homeland Security When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, January 13, 2014 Where:  2172 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs: Hearing: Business Meeting to Formally Organize the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the 114th Congress When: 10:30 AM Tuesday, January 13, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Armed Services: Business Meeting: Organizational Meeting for the 114th Congress When: 11:00 AM, Tuesday, January 13, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Senate:

Armed Services: Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy
Who: Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Chairman of Kissinger Associates and Former Secretary of State When: 2:30 PM, Tuesday, January 13, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

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 12, 2015 9:44 am

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