Veterans Roundup: A Deep Dive Into the VA Secretary Nomination Process, What’s Behind Service Members’ Deaths Outside of War, Reservists’ Back Pay and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Meet the 2018 Best for the World Honorees
ScoutComms was honored to be recognized by the nonprofit B Lab as a “Best for the World” company across three categories: Overall, Best for Workers, and Best for Community. This is the third year in a row that ScoutComms has been recognized as a Best for the World company since becoming a certified B Corporation in 2015, and the first year it has been honored in the most selective Overall category. –KG

15,851 US service members have died since 2006. Here’s why.
Aaron Mehta (@AaronMehta), Military Times
Of the 15,851 service members who have died since 2006, only 28 percent of those were related to the wartime efforts. In data analyzed by the Congressional Research Service, accidents, self-inflicted wounds or illness were the leading causes of death in 11,341 of those deaths. Iraq and Afghanistan, unsurprisingly, suffered the highest wartime casualties; however, of note, is the revelation that 8 percent of the total losses in Afghanistan were due to loss of air or ground vehicles, most of which did not involve enemy conflict. –KG
Bottom line: The average American readily accepts that war is dangerous. It’s common sense that sending men and women off to battle means death will be the companion that tags along but many don’t realize the inherently deadly nature of military life and this report is a stark reminder that military service carries with it deadly baggage no matter the location. Accidents and illnesses take thousands of service members but it’s disheartening to read that some 16 percent of deaths away from combat involved substance abuse in some form. Even our military has not been immune to the issues that ravage the rest of the nation from opioid abuse to alcohol related vehicle accidents. This is some great data journalism that reminds us that we continue to ask much of those who volunteer to serve and often the price they pay is far from the battlefield. –FPW

At Veterans Affairs, Trump to Try His Luck With a Washington Insider
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), The Wall Street Journal
President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Veterans Affairs, Robert Wilkie – currently serving as an undersecretary in the Defense Department – has many years of experience in the government. Unlike the two previous secretaries Robert McDonald and David Shulkin, Wilkie is considered a Washington insider, having held positions around the Capitol as staff counsel, as adviser for Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and at defense contracting firms. Concerned Veterans for America has been vocal supporters of change at the VA, and has expressed no concern about Wilkie’s nomination, saying that it “takes someone who knows the system to change it.” –SM
Bottom line: As one source who worked with the White House points out: President Trump can always change his mind, and that’s an important point to keep in mind given how questionable some of the vetting has been around presidential nominees during this administration. That said, all signs do point to Wilkie likely being President Trump’s nominee to lead the VA. It’s also worth noting that he has already been through the Senate confirmation process, which would lead one to assume that he could easily be confirmed again. Given Wilkie’s background on the Hill and with defense contracting firms, it puts him a bit in contrast with Trump’s campaign promise of draining the swamp, though him being an Air Force Reserve officer may control that narrative a bit. It makes sense for someone with a lot of experience working with the government to lead the second largest government agency, with around 350,000 employees. It’ll be interesting to see if putting a person with significant government experience in this position will help to address some of the concerns that many have about there being a quiet push with this administration for VA privatization. –CB

White House considered Manchin to lead Veteran Affairs after Jackson withdrew his nomination

Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo), Seung Min Kim (@SeungMinKim), and Josh Dawsey (@jdawsey1), Washington Post

Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) was under serious consideration to be nominated to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs after White House physician Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson withdrew his nomination this spring. Senior White House officials discussed the nomination with the senator, but no formal offer was made. After Manchin saw poll numbers indicating he could win against his Republican opponent Patrick Morsey, he halted discussions. This is not the first attempt to woo Manchin away from his Senate seat, as Republicans look to maintain or expand their 51-to-49 majority in the Senate; he was previously approached by the Trump administration with talks regarding the positions of energy secretary and Secretary of Homeland Security. –KG
Bottom line: Going into this article, I hoped to read about how the administration was approaching filling the leadership vacuum at the VA without regard to party. Instead, what you realize from the article is that filling the VA role was very nearly a political calculation rather than one centered on veterans’ care. The administration was only interested in Manchin insofar as they knew taking him out of the Senate potentially opened up another seat for Republicans. Of course political calculations often go into cabinet choices, but the VA secretary is at least hoped to be a less political position, one where consideration is given to people with expertise in healthcare or bureaucracy or national security, even. As further consideration is given to the Wilkie nomination, it’s incumbent on the Senate to ensure due priority has been given to the central concern of VA: veterans and their care. –LJ

Court ruling could mean huge windfall for thousands of reservists
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
A recent court ruling regarding military reservists’ stateside mobilizations could result in thousands becoming eligible for additional vacation time or about a month’s worth of pay from the federal departments for which they worked at the time of mobilization. As of yet, few of those eligible have applied for retroactive benefits or pay, likely because few know about the court decision. Anthony Kuhn, managing partner at law firm Tully Rinckey, says federal agencies are unlikely to educate their reservist employees to apply for these benefits because the price tag could be in the hundreds of millions. –SM
Bottom line: As a reservist who has never held a federal job, I can’t say that this situation strikes a particularly strong chord. It makes sense to me that reservists deployed overseas might receive more benefits than those who mobilize domestically; they face far more disruption in their lives, and it often has a greater impact on their civilian careers. Mobilizing to support overseas operations without ever traveling overseas seems like it would fall under a lesser category, but given that a court has ruled that it is essentially the same, my personal opinion matters only in the pages of the Scout Report. With that said, if the law now says that federal agencies owe some of their formerly-mobilized reservists more paid leave, it would be unethical for them to avoid paying bills by refusing to educate those who might be affected. If you are a reservist who thinks that you are owed more paid leave because of a past domestic mobilization, you can consult legal counsel. The February 2018 decision that is discussed in the article is available here: –BW

K-12 funding battles trigger ballot initiatives
Kimberly Hefling (@khefling), POLITICO
Student Veterans of America had 40 meetings scheduled with members of the House Veterans’ Affairs and Armed Service committees last Wednesday to discuss the PROSPER Act. SVA’s Vice President for Public Relations and Chapter Engagement Barrett Bogue says the bill will increase the cost of education, while hurting accessibility and reducing accountability. –SM

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Reaching the Mental Health Tipping Point
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen (@bvandahlen), Reuters
In a recent op-ed, Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen – founder and president of Give an Hour and its Campaign to Change Direction – writes about the mental health issues brought to light by recent suicides of public figures – namely, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Aside from emphasizing the dangers surrounding how celebrity suicides are portrayed in the media, as well as the critical significance of mental health awareness, she shares advice on what can be done to change the stigmas and culture of mental health. –AB

Post-9/11 GI Bill usage dropped sharply. Cause for concern?
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
With the number of Post-9/11 GI Bill users decreasing, SVA executive vice president James Schmeling offered some insight in a recent article about the contributing factors. Since the unemployment rate is at its lowest in several years, more and more individuals are choosing to join the workforce than continuing or beginning school. Schmeling also believes that the modifications made to the Post-9/11 GI Bill under the Forever GI Bill could result in student veterans not feeling pressured to pursue degrees in a certain time frame. –SM

Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade’s deaths spotlight alarming public health trend
Steve Patterson (@PattersonNBC), TODAY Show
When celebrity suicides garner global attention, a lot of questions arise – most often “Why?” but also now more than ever, “Why is this so common?” Give an Hour’s founder and president Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen and the 320 Changes Direction’s co-founder Talinda Bennington – widow of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, who also died by suicide – were featured on The TODAY Show to address these questions and stress the importance of their collective mission to change mental health. Talinda Bennington spoke with Anderson Cooper in regard to these issues as well, and said one of the first and biggest steps we can take is to be able to talk about suicidal thoughts, before they turn into actions. –AB

University of San Francisco Announces the Formation of The Craig Newmark Scholarship for Veterans’ Civic Leadership
University of San Francisco
The University of San Francisco, in partnership with client Veterans Campaign, has announced an exciting development for the Master of Arts in Public Leadership fall cohort: USF has received a $200,000 gift from Craig Newmark in support of scholarships for the next generation of veteran and military community leaders. This generous donation will help students gain invaluable experience in campaigning, advocacy, community organizing, strategic communications, public policy, public service and more. –AB

Congresswoman calls for VA investigation after survey reveals high rates of sexual harassment
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., asked that the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hold an oversight hearing, after learning that the VA was reported to have the most instances of sexual harassment of any federal agency. Kuster says she wants to hold officials accountable, since the Merit Systems Protection Board revealed that 26 percent of women and 14 percent of men who are employed at the VA have endured sexual harassment between 2014 and 2016. –SM

Gay, high heel wearing veteran elected mayor in Texas
Jonathan Kaupanger (@JonthanVets1), Connecting Vets
Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano, now Mayor of Del Rio, Texas, was one of more than 50 LGBTQ candidates who sought public office in the state this year. After leaving the U.S. Air Force due to the strain of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Lozano went on to become a flight attendant and famously wore heels in the city’s most recent Veterans Day Parade. Lozano is proud to be a voice for the community: “Do you know how empowering it is to have somebody who was taught to not treat anyone differently? To treat everyone humanly … I’m honored to be their elected official. I’m the mayor – a servant of the public.” –KG

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services: Hearing: Military Health System Reform: Pain Management, Opioids Prescription Management and Reporting Transparency
Who: Vice Admiral Raquel C. Bono, Director, Defense Health Agency; Captain Mike Colston M.D., Director, Mental Health Policy and Oversight, Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, June 20, 2018
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs: More Than Just Filling Vacancies: A Closer Look at VA Hiring Authorities, Recruiting and Retention
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, June 21, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Armed Services: Aviation Mishap Prevention—a Progress Report
Who: Lieutenant General Mark C. Nowland, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, U.S. Air Force; Rear Admiral Upper Half Roy J. Kelley, Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic, U.S. Navy; Lieutenant General Steven R. Rudder, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, U.S. Marine Corps; Major General William K. Gayler, Commanding General, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence, U.S. Army
When: 3:30 PM, Thursday, June 21, 2018
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Armed Services: Space Situational Awareness: Whole of Government Perspectives on Roles and Responsibilities
Who: The Honorable Jim Bridenstine, Administrator, National Aeronautics and Space Administration; General John Hyten, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command; The Honorable Wilbur Ross, Secretary of Commerce, Department of Commerce
When: 9:00 AM, Friday, June 22, 2018
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Nomination – Miller
Who: Lieutenant General Austin S. Miller, USA, To Be General And Commander, Resolute Support Mission, North Atlantic Treaty Organization / Commander, United States Forces-Afghanistan
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Where: G50 Dirksen

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 18, 2018 12:33 pm

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