Veteran’s Roundup: A Feisty Pick for SecDef, the Future of VA, Veterans Take Part in Standing Rock Protest and the Outcome Changes, For-Profits, & more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Trump Picks Retired Marine Gen. James Mattis for Secretary of Defense
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
On Thursday, President-elect Donald Trump announced that Marine Gen. James Mattis (Ret.) is his official choice for Secretary of Defense. Mattis has openly criticized both current and past defense strategies in the Middle East and sees “political Islam” as a major threat to the U.S. Congress must grant Mattis an exception from federal law that states defense secretaries must be separated from service for at least seven years before assuming such a position. –MC
Bottom line: That screaming you heard Friday, yeah, that’s every Marine veteran ever crying out in joy. The fact is that General Mattis has built a legendary status as a leader and even more so since he retired. His quotes are everywhere and he is probably the most written about subject on the Duffel Blog of any human being. The question of course is whether battlefield and military leadership will translate to civilian leadership over the largest single government agency and a role as the primary political face of the administration on the military. Those are very different things than leading Marines into combat and a general has not led the Department of Defense since George C. Marshall, who had served as the Army Chief of Staff in Washington throughout World War II. Mattis only served a Pentagon assignment once in his 33-year military career. He will also have to be granted a waiver from Congress to take the job due to a law prohibiting serving in a civilian position for seven years after leaving the military. So, while there are many reasons to cheer this nomination, we have to also wonder how his unique background will translate to this very different position. The Secretary of Defense fights battles very different than closing with and destroying the enemy, and Washington, D.C. can have a lot of battles that take a subtler approach than storming the objective. If nothing else, having a guy with the nicknames ‘Mad Dog’ and ‘Chaos’ at the helm of DoD should prove fascinating at the least. –FPW

Obama’s CEO Secretary Warns Trump: Don’t Privatize the VA
Tory Newmyer (@ToryNewmyer), Fortune
Out of the 21 million veterans in the U.S., nine million are enrolled in the VA health care system. Current Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald urges President-elect Donald Trump to continue the progress the VA has made thus far and to not entirely privatize the VA. As the former CEO of Procter & Gamble, McDonald understands the importance of managing the VA like a business and believes serving its customers should come first. With several candidates in the running to become the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the uncertainty of Trump’s vision for the VA leaves many veterans and Americans feeling uneasy with transitions underway. –DD
Bottom line: This is one of those stories we think you should read. Secretary McDonald eloquently and precisely lays out the many challenges facing the Department of Veterans Affairs and how he has addressed many of them with some success and in some cases not as successfully as he prefers. Bob breaks down the progress made on wait times, satisfaction and other reforms in a detailed manner, but he also addresses what the next VA Secretary should look like. In a nutshell, he believes it needs to be someone who is probably a veteran and can run a massive health-oriented, consumer-facing organization of 360,000 employees with a budget as large as the ninth largest corporation in the world. That’s why President Obama picked McDonald after his years as CEO of Procter & Gamble. While some interesting names have been floated as possible secretaries, the key for us is that this is not the chief veterans advocate of the U.S. but the leader of a massive organization focused on veterans. It’s easy to sit back and speak about veterans’ issues and what needs to be done but running the second largest agency of the federal government and one of the largest healthcare providers in America requires a very different set of skills than just knowing about the plight of veterans. McDonald hints he would be willing to stay on if asked and since he is a Republican, we hope that President-elect Trump would truly consider keeping McDonald on and create continuity in this vital agency. –FPW

Congress Drops Plans to Make Women Register for the Draft
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last Tuesday, Republicans removed a provision in the defense authorization bill that would have required women to register for the draft, despite its passage through both chambers last spring. The bill is expected to be voted on in the coming week, and instead will include a provision calling for the review of the current draft system to examine its necessity in the Armed Forces. In the wake of the rejection of this provision, President Obama declared his support for the change to a gender-neutral Selective Service registration requirement. –KB
Bottom line: Particularly in the wake of Republicans’ maintaining control of Congress and taking the White House, the resolution of this issue is unsurprising. Despite some bipartisan agreement on the value of eliminating the gender restrictions of a potential draft, many conservative Republicans were not comfortable with the concept of making women commit to potential military service in the nation’s time of need, despite the growing number of women who have volunteered not just for military service, but also for frontline combat duty. Our client, the Service Women’s Action Network, is right on the money with its take on this issue. SWAN doesn’t believe the draft is absolutely necessary to maintain, given the success of the all-volunteer force, but so long as we continue to make Americans register for Selective Service in case of a potential draft, they cannot identify any logical reason why all American adults are required to participate. Women are a growing portion of our military, and to not be willing to ask them to defend our nation—when they already volunteer readily—is a decision redolent of times when only men could hold power in the U.S. But for now, as Congress shies away from change, we will look forward to reading the study that comes out of the NDAA compromise. –BW

Veterans Travel to Standing Rock to Join Protesters, Lend Aid
Nikki Wentling (@Nikki Wentling), Stars and Stripes
“Veterans Stand for Standing Rock,” a veteran organization that has raised more than $495,000, has joined the protestors of the Dakota Access Pipeline on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation. Hundreds of veterans are bringing medical supplies, physical protective gear and food, in addition to medical and legal support services. Before their scheduled departure on Dec. 7, the movement hopes to better organize communications and infrastructure within the camp to ensure that members of the camp stay safe and healthy throughout winter. –JG
Bottom Line: Oh, how quickly the world can change in a news cycle. Since writing this article on Nov. 28, Nikki Wentling has traveled to Standing Rock, joining an intrepid news team from Task & Purpose, to cover the estimated thousands of veterans who have shown up to support the protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline. And while we cannot be sure of cause and effect, the last few days have been momentous for protestors, as the growing veteran presence and increased national attention made the protests about more than tribal rights. On Sunday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers made a decision that elicited cheers from protestors, saying that it would not allow the pipeline to be developed on its planned route. We should be seeing repercussions and ramifications of this decision play out in the coming days, but it certainly is a major victory for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a seeming validation of the efforts of veterans to join in the protests. Few Americans pay much attention to the history of Native American land right disputes, which have generally been an ongoing series of rearguard actions to protect what little they have in the face of “progress,” but the presence of both Native and non-Native veterans at Standing Rock could potentially broaden the scope of the debate. –BW

McCain Assails Pentagon for Being too Harsh on for-Profit College
Aaron Glantz (@Aaron_Glantz), Reveal
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) condemned the Pentagon for abusing its power in putting the University of Phoenix on probation last year for its recruiting practices amongst service members. An executive order by President Obama allowed for such probation and was designed to prevent for-profit universities from preying on service members using their post-9/11 GI bill benefits. In 2015, the Pentagon determined the University of Phoenix was violating this order with its on-base recruiting and placed it on probation until January 2016. The Defense Department blamed this probation on a lack of communication between the University and the department, which didn’t allow them to properly plead their case. –KB
Bottom line: A Pentagon official admitted they could have done a better job working with the University of Phoenix before and after putting them on probation, but that does not mean there were not some actual concerns, including UofPHX using the DoD logo on challenge coins it handed out to potential students. The Obama administration emphasized increased scrutiny of for-profit colleges, particularly through the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Whether that continues in the next administration is another one of many questions that has yet to be answered. Of note, the current head of the CFPB’s military and veteran initiatives is Holly Petraeus. The infractions by the University of Phoenix were mild in the long run, but demonstrated that not even the largest names in the industry were untouchable. It was a shot across the bow of the companies targeting service members and veterans for enrollment at these colleges. It’s always great to see the Pentagon doing what it can to protect service members and veterans, but as in so many cases, a little prevention could go a lot farther. By including more robust information to service members as they exit the military about the educational opportunities available to them, the Pentagon could help ensure more service members go on to the colleges and institutions best suited to meet their needs for civilian careers. –LJ

Advocates Want Obama, Trump to Pardon ‘Bad Paper’ Dismissals
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Vietnam Veterans of America National President John Rowan is delivering a letter this week to both President Obama and President-elect Trump, asking for the restoration of veterans’ benefits for tens of thousands of veterans who were less-than-honorably discharged for mental health-related issues. According to advocates for the cause, many troops were kicked out of the service for infractions related to alcohol and substance abuse, as well as suicide attempts, leading to their dismissal without access to proper medical care. This other-than-honorable discharge makes them more likely to become homeless or commit suicide. The letter calls for the upgrade of the discharge status, which would grant these veterans access to the mental health care they need. –KB
Bottom line: The advocacy being led by VVA and Kris Goldsmith around “bad paper” discharges deserves to be a case study in the veteran community. Kris has built a coalition of supporting organizations around the issue but has also preserved VVA in a leading role, particularly when the issue demands quick actions to support the advocacy. The letter and approach in asking for pardons is a unique one. Presidents often make a number of headline-worthy pardons at the end of their tenure in office and Obama will be no different. Pardoning 300,000 veterans would certainly be headline worthy. It would also right long-standing wrongs that have, in many cases, prevented veterans from getting help for the very issues that caused their discharges in the first place. The pardon would require work in both this administration and the next. VA would need to quickly absorb tens of thousands of new benefits applications. Appointments would need to be made. But not all 300,000 are going to want VA care. Not all 300,000 are going to apply at the same time. And even if they did, it would be because they earned it and our country owes it to them, no matter the cost. Fixing bad paper, when it happens, will be something that was a long time coming. Advocates should expect the fight won’t end with the upgrades. –LJ

Job Fair for Military Spouses set for Friday
Lynette Vega (@VegaLynette), News 4 San Antonio
Last week the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted a two-day Hiring Our Heroes Military Spouse event in San Antonio featuring a networking reception, followed by a hiring fair. This opportunity gave military spouses the chance to network and talk face-to-face with recruiters from major U.S. corporations. Bonnie Amos, a Hiring Our Heroes advisor and wife of the former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, attended as a guest speaker. Visit the Hiring Our Heroes event website to find out when a Hiring Our Heroes event is coming to a city near you. –JG

Vets And Service Members Can Attend These Major Events For Free In December
Steven Weintraub (@weintraub_sd), Task & Purpose
‘Tis the season for family time festivities, and what better way to bond than attending an event for free with your loved ones? Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) provides free tickets to a variety of community-based events for veterans, service members, military families, and caregivers all with the purpose of strengthening family bonds and providing an environment for the military community to gather with their fellow peers. For the month of December, Vet Tix is providing tickets to several major events throughout the nation, including college football games, NHL hockey and several other festive events for the holidays. Sign up with Vet Tix to gain access to the hundreds of tickets available to events around the nation. –DD

Managing Personal, Family Financial Readiness is a Challenge
Association of the United States Army (@AUSAOrg)
At the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition in October, a group of financial experts and military leaders came together to discuss troops’ financial readiness on a Military Family Forums panel. Scott Halliwell, the USAA Educational Foundation’s financial readiness program manager, reiterated the importance of financial readiness to our nation’s service members and families, and said that financial training should not be turned into “check-the-box” exercises. The USAA Educational Foundation sponsored the family forum at AUSA, and launched a Command Your Cash Microlearning Center to help troops and families learn to be financially ready. Learn more at –MC 

Report: VA Home Loan Use Tripled After the Mortgage Crisis
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
According to a recent report released by the Housing Assistance Council (HAC), the VA Home Loan program is said to have helped bail out veterans during the mortgage crisis. Today, nearly every county in America has utilized the VA Home Loan program and the loans have risen from about 140,000 per year to 510,000. HAC’s research is fundamental for future policy making in regard to veteran homelessness and veteran policies nationwide. –DD

About Face: The Pentagon Could Roll Back Soldiers’ Rights Under Trump
Max J. Rosenthal (@MaxJRosenthal), Mother Jones
President-elect Donald Trump’s comments about making the military less “politically correct” have many advocates worried that he might impede or roll back progress on rights for a number of groups in the military, including women and transgender personnel. Service Women’s Action Network COO Kate Germano spoke to Max Rosenthal about how service women are concerned the strides made for women’s rights in the military may be reversed, particularly the mandate requiring gender integration in all combat units in the military. A Military Times poll this past month revealed that 55 percent of service women respondents were worried about their jobs being adversely affected in the Trump administration. –KB

California Guardsmen and Other Troops Won’t be Required to Repay Bonuses
Richard Lardner (@rplardner), Associated Press
After thousands of California National Guard service members were faced with potentially repaying enlistment bonuses, Congress has agreed upon a provision that would require the Pentagon to stop seeking repayment, as long as incentives were accepted “in good faith.” The bill will head to the Senate next week as part of the annual defense bill. –MC

Obama Signs Bill to Improve VA Crisis Hotline
Associated Press
President Obama has signed legislation that sets out to improve the efficiency of the VA crisis and suicide prevention phone lines. The bill requires the VA to improve its quality assurance methods and to create a plan in accordance with the American Association of Suicidology that establishes methods of prompt and proper handling of all suicide prevention and crisis intervention communication. –JG

Roe Tapped to Lead House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Next Year
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
From an Army doctor to the leader of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Rep. Phil Roe will be taking charge in the future VA reform efforts. As the replacement for Florida’s Rep. Jeff Miller, Roe has already expressed his excitement to contribute to solutions of the VA’s most pressing issues and hopes to give veterans quick access to the health care they deserve. Roe has 31 years experience working in the medical industry and has been involved with VA medical training throughout the years. –DD

Hundreds of Veterans at Risk for Infection from Unsterilized VA Dental Equipment
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling) Stars and Stripes
The VA medical center in Tomah, WI notified 592 veterans of their possible exposure to Hepatitis B and C or HIV due to improper sterilization of dental equipment. While the risk of infection in these patients is low, the VA is providing free screenings to these veterans for the diseases as well as free treatment for any found to have the disease. –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences:

None this week.

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Emerging U.S. Defense Challenges and Worldwide Threats
Who: John McCain, U.S. Senator, Chairman; Jack Reed, U.S. Senator, Ranking Member
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, December 6, 2016
Where: 216 Hart

Armed Services: California National Guard Bonus Repayment Issue
Who: Major General David S. Baldwin
, USA, Adjutant General, California National Guard; Lieutenant General Timothy J. Kadavy, USA, Director, Army National Guard, on behalf of National Guard Bureau; Mr. Peter Levine, performing the Duties of the Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, on behalf of Department of Defense; Ms. Teresa (Terri) A. McKay, Director, Defense Finance and Accounting Service; Ms. Alissa M. Starzak, General Counsel, Department of the Army.
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Oversight Review of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship LCS Program
Who: Dr. J. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Department of Defense; Ms. Michele Mackin, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office; Mr. Ron O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service; Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden, USN, Commander, Naval Surface Forces; The Honorable Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, Department of the Navy.
When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, December 8, 2016
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Think Tanks & Other Events:

U.S. Naval Institute: Defense Forum Washington 2016
Who: Gen Robert B. Neller, USMC, U.S. Marine Corps, Commandant; VADM James G. Foggo III, USN, U.S. Navy, Director of Navy Staff and Former Sixth Fleet Commander (2014-2016); Rep. Ryan Zinke, U.S. R-MT; Nick Rasmussen, National Counterterrorism Center, Director; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.
When: 8:00 AM, December 7, 2016
Where: Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC

The Brookings Institution: The all-volunteer force at a crossroads: The military family and veteran connection
Who: Cristin Orr Shiffer, Senior Advisor for Policy at Blue Star Families; Rosalinda Maury, director for applied research and analytics at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University; Todd Weiler, assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs; Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow of Brookings; Elaine Kamarck, senior fellow and director of the Center for Effective Public Management at Brookings.
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, December 8, 2016
Where: The Brookings Institution, Saul/Zilkha Room, 1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC

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, December 05, 2016 8:36 am

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