Veteran’s Roundup: A Look at the VA and its Next Secretary, Why Military Benefits Have Changed the Way They Have, Veteran Homelessness, Bad Paper, More

Posted by Fred Wellman

ScoutComms Launches Market Research Team to Study Veteran and Military Family Community
Lindley Estes (@FlsLindley), The Free Lance-Star
Last week was a big one here at ScoutComms! Not only did we host our third annual #ScoutSocial, but we also launched our brand new market research team, as well announced two promotions. Our market research department, Scout Insight, will provide insight into the veteran and military family communities through research and surveys. Lauren Jenkins, who has been promoted to Vice President and Managing Director of Scout Insight, will lead the initiative. Brian Wagner has also been promoted to Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, in support of our company’s exponential growth over the past year. –MC

Behind the Hill’s Swift Reforms of Military Compensation
Tom Philpott (@Military_Update), Military Advantage
Michael Higgins, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and commissioner on the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, recently presented on how Congress has handled the commission’s recommendations. Higgins criticized Congress’s actions to change the commissary system and called out missed opportunities to improve and reform the military’s healthcare and TRICARE benefits. –MC
Bottom line: We have not gotten a lot of insight into how the MCRMC operated behind the scenes since its recommendations and Congress’s haphazard implementation of a few of those ideas. While he was happy with the changes to the retirement system, the TRICARE reforms and Commissary effort have fallen short in his opinion. While his take on things are certainly debatable in a lot of ways it’s a good time to remember that the folks driving these changes are the Republican-led Armed Services Committees; the same leaders in charge now with a majority in both chambers of Congress and the White House. We should expect a host of reforms to come including the long-discussed cuts to the Commissary and TRICARE. We hope that they are measured and in the best interests of the service members and their families and not just designed to save a few dollars. –FPW

Homelessness Among Veterans Declined Through Obama Administration Efforts
Howard Altman (@HAltman), Tampa Bay Times
One of the hallmarks of the Obama Administration was its powerful push and progress made in ending veteran homelessness. Since 2010, the number of homeless veterans is down 47 percent. National VA programs went from helping 158,000 homeless vets to 304,000 in 2016. U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, vice chairman of the House of Veterans Affairs Committee, wants to see more resources directed to programs focused on the transition back to civilian life as a means to prevent veteran homelessness. Incoming chairman for HVAC, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), wants to see sustainable programs and promises to work diligently with the new administration to solve veteran homelessness and the many other issues facing veterans. –JG
Bottom line: For some time, we have been highlighting the progress made towards ending veteran homelessness thanks to the initiatives like HUD-VASH first started under President George W. Bush and then amplified by President Obama. Advocates have wondered what the future of these programs might be with a Republican-controlled Congress and White House. While detailed policies have yet to be laid out when it comes to veteran homelessness, you can be assured quotes from Rep. Roe highlighting how the cost of veteran homelessness programs has increased at a far greater rate than homelessness has decreased (an imperfect comparison if there ever were one) do not bode particularly well for future funding commitments. Lives have truly been transformed through the “housing first” model of subsidized vouchers. These formerly homeless veterans are becoming economic drivers in their communities who can also be a model for other veterans who may have been in similar situations. Talk to any advocate and they will say preventing veteran homeless is an important step to ending veteran homelessness, but they will also say the programs in place now are critical. The future of veterans’ care isn’t just VA health care delivery, it’s also the smaller programs like these. –LJ

Bob McDonald’s Legacy: Trying to Fix the VA Amid Constant Conflict
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
This week marked the end of the Obama Administration and, with it, the end of Bob McDonald’s time as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. McDonald leaves behind a legacy of compassion for his fellow veterans. McDonald inherited a system that was deeply flawed, with controversies so troubling that they ended in former Secretary Eric Shinseki’s resignation. McDonald made progress in fixing the VA, progress that was validated in President Trump’s nomination of McDonald’s Under Secretary of Health, David Shulkin as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. –KB
Bottom line: It’s sadly controversial in many circles to say that under Bob McDonald’s leadership things have dramatically changed at the VA, but only the most obtuse observer can deny that his efforts have not borne substantial fruit in just two and a half years of work. He came in under impossible circumstances after the resignation of General Shinseki and got to work implementing a host of reforms under the auspices of his MyVA task force. With a focus on customer satisfaction and measurable goals beyond wait times, his team has chopped away at everything from antiquated appointment scheduling systems to the number of phone lines and websites in the second largest agency of the U.S. government. Brian talks about the progress more below but for us here at ScoutComms we will remember Secretary Bob’s openness to our community, his willingness to help any VSO or individual veterans who called him, and his genuine kindness to us here at our firm. It has been a privilege to get to know him, Sloan Gibson and the many incredible leaders at VA and we have high hopes that Dr. Shulkin will have the best luck moving forward in his new role. –FPW

VA by the Numbers: Has the Department Made Progress?
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
With Dr. David Shulkin nominated to be the next Veterans Affairs Secretary, his umbrella of responsibility will stretch farther than in his previous role as Under Secretary for Health. Since McDonald took over VA in 2014, many would argue that the department has made incredible progress. Dr. Shulkin still remains a practicing physician himself and sees patients in-person and through tele-health appointments for the VA, which gives him first-hand exposure to the many challenges he will face in his new role. –DD
Bottom line: Numbers don’t lie—assuming the numbers are accurate—but numbers can’t tell a complete story or identify nuance. Based on the plethora of data that Leo provides, it is easy to see that both supply and demand for numerous VA services has significantly increased over the last 15 years. It’s easy to see that the VA has not succeeded in simultaneously addressing the increased demand while comprehensively reducing backlogs and wait times, but beyond that, the numbers don’t tell us much. You could argue that the VA has failed to deliver, but if that is the case, why is a senior VA official in line to be the next VA secretary? You could argue that the VA has not delivered to the best of its ability, but if that is true, does that mean the VA has structural issues that need to be addressed or needs to shunt more of its responsibilities off to the private sector or other arms of government? We did not comprehensively and conclusively answer those questions in McDonald’s two-plus years at the helm, and these numbers and debates should remain very familiar in 2017. We’ve got room to improve, and these numbers will surely factor into debates about VA reform in the Trump Administration. –BW

Local Veteran Speaks Out about Pizza Hut Military Discount Controversy
Caitlan Dallas(@cdallaswhnt), WHNT 19
In Huntsville, a veteran posted on his Facebook page that a local Pizza Hut did not provide him a military discount and that the restaurant staff told him to leave. The Facebook post was widely shared, much to the dismay of the Pizza Hut employees. Ty Oswald, local veteran and founder of the Bearded Warriors, wants everyone to remember that there are two sides to every story, and that ultimately the financial discounts were never the real reason that a service member takes an oath for their country. –JG
Bottom Line: For years, we have seen the veteran anger machine firing all on cylinders on social media over slights (some real, some perceived) at various businesses. It’s something we’ve often counseled clients to be conscious of when crafting social media posts and considering military or veteran discounts. It’s refreshing to read about a veteran unwilling to feed the fire and turn up the heat on a business when all the facts aren’t necessarily known. This is also smart PR from the folks at Pizza Hut if they had a hand in helping a veterans group that meets at a Pizza Hut to speak about his group’s experience. And who doesn’t love a veteran speaking the truth about discounts? They’re nice, but not necessary. –LJ

VVA to Obama: Why Pardon Felons and not Suffering Vets?
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last Tuesday, in an unprecedented act, former President Barack Obama reduced the sentences of 209 prisoners and nullified the sentences of 64 more in one of his final acts as President. Among them were Chelsea Manning and former Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright. This action has led veteran groups such as Vietnam Veterans of America to question why no actions were taken to help the estimated 300,000 veterans who were other-than-honorably or dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces, leaving them without access to VA healthcare. –KB
Bottom line: Though in Leo’s reporting the VVA was hopeful for a last-minute reprieve for veterans, obviously none was forthcoming. And it’s difficult to see how such a process could have occurred as a Hail Mary. Even if 300,000 veterans fall under a specific category, administration pardons are not blanket “get out of jail free” cards—individuals are vetted to ensure that they deserve the change in status and that such an action is unlikely to backfire on the president and the president’s party. Pardoning several hundred low-level drug offenders is a very different process that pardoning hundreds of thousands of veterans from multiple generations. At the same time, when considering the actions taken toward Manning and Cartwright, VVA and other advocates are not off-base in arguing that the faceless veterans lacking access to VA healthcare deserve—in many cases—renewed consideration. But it didn’t happen in the Obama Administration, and it has yet to appear on President Trump’s radar insofar as one can determine from reading his Tweets. Yet when one considers the retroactive efforts to help modify the discharges of veterans kicked out through “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, it is certainly conceivable that new actions could be taken in the coming years to benefit some groups of veterans. –BW

Why You Should Feel Confident About Veterans Using the Post-9/11 GI Bill
Barrett Bogue (@BarrettBogue) for VAntage Point
Barrett Bogue, Vice President of Communications at Student Veterans of America, shared a positive outlook on student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill in aVAntage Point blog post. Bogue highlighted several successful veterans, including SVA’s Student Veteran of the Year, Kate Tillotson. A Marine Corps veteran and president of the Tulsa University Student Veterans of America chapter, Tillotson helped turn her organization into one of the most successful SVA chapters in the country. We highly recommend taking the time to read this blog post and learn more about what student veterans have to offer. –MC

Vet Tix Passes 500,000 Registered Vet Tixers From Veteran and Military Community
Veteran Tickets Foundation (@VetTix), Vet Tix Press Room
Last week, Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) hit a major milestone of 500,000 registered VetTixers through its Tickets for Troops and Hero’s Wish programs. Since its founding in 2008, Vet Tix has distributed more than 2.6 million event tickets to service members, veterans and Gold Star family members allowing them to attend sporting events, concerts, performing arts and family activities, all for a small delivery fee. To learn more about Vet Tix or to sign up, visit –DD

Cleveland Event Connects Hundreds of Vets with Jobs
Sara Shookman (@SaraShookman), WKYC-NBC
Last week, Hiring Our Heroes went to the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, in partnership with the Cleveland Cavaliers, to connect service members, veterans, and military spouses to meaningful employment opportunities. Exhibitors at the hiring fair include local Cleveland businesses as well as some of America’s biggest companies. Hiring Our Heroes hosts hiring events across the country every week. To find out when a hiring event is coming to a city near you, visit the Hiring Our Heroes website. –JG

VA to Start Offering IVF Services to Veterans this Spring
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last year, Wounded Warrior Project lead efforts to change the law restricting veterans’ access to in vitro fertilization On Thursday, the organization celebrated the release of new VA rules that are the next step toward ensuring veterans’ access to IVF. The new rules will allow veterans with service-connected disabilities to have IVF or adoption expenses covered by the VA. Additional details outlining the process and changes are expected after a 60-day review period has passed. –MC

Raleigh Scientists Team up to Help Treat Military PTSD
Stephanie Lopez (@LopezABC11), WTVD
MYnd Analytics recently teamed up with North Carolina-based psychiatric practice Carolina Partners to bring their PEER technology to the Raleigh-Durham area. This technology uses an EEG to map a person’s individual brain chemistry and then compares that chemistry to a database containing 10,000 others, producing a report for physicians that helps them take an individualized approach to prescribing medication meant to help with depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. –KB

Veterans share their Stories on Stage
Mary Kielar (@marykielarCNY), CNY Central
A group of veterans took their military experience and channeled it into a performance called ‘Separation.’ Student veterans at Syracuse University took to the stage to tell their individual stories as a way to connect with the community as civilians, not just veterans. –DD

Patriot Games: Sports and the Military Share a Powerful Connection in the U.S.
Andrew Lawrence (@By_Drew), Sports Illustrated
A recent Sports Illustrated article took a look at the longstanding connections between military service and sports, and a change made last spring that allows student athletes at military academies to defer their two-year service requirement to pursue professional sports careers. For the student athletes involved, the decision to take the “golden ticket” and defer service doesn’t always come easy. –MC

Veterans Talk About Why They Joined The Women’s March In DC
Adam Linehan (@adam_linehan), Task & Purpose
Many veterans attended the Women’s March in Washington, D.C. this past weekend to stand up for universal rights and equality. Many veterans shared why they stand in solidarity with the movement and what motivated them to march. –DD

Exclusive: The 75th Ranger Regiment is no longer an all-male unit
Marty Skovlund, Jr. (@martyskovlundjr), Task & Purpose
The 75th Ranger Regiment, noted as the nation’s “premier special operations” unit, had its first female Ranger join their forces this past week. This woman—whose details cannot be disclosed for security reasons—is the first to join a special operations unit in the history of the Armed Services. –KB

A Mentally Ill Veteran Kept Banging on his Cell. So Jailers Beat Him into a Coma, a Complaint Says
Cleve R. Wootson (@CleveWootson), The Washington Post
Joseph Guglielmo, age 57, is bound to his wheelchair, living in a nursing home ever since the injuries he sustained from an attack by three guards at the Montgomery County Jail in Dayton, Ohio, left Guglielmo in a coma. Guglielmo, an Air Force veteran, is filing a federal civil rights complaint over the incident. This complaint comes after several other excessive-force allegations, including the beating of a military officer, pepper spraying a restrained woman and an inmate dying from suffocation after jail officers pressed their weight against his back in efforts to subdue him. –JG  

Moves in the Sector:

Student Veterans of America Announces New Vice President of Operations and Chief of Staff
On Wednesday, our client Student Veterans of America announced a new Vice President of Operations and Chief of Staff. Derek Fronabarger, an Army veteran, previously served as SVA’s Director of Policy and is stepping into the new role overseeing the organization’s growth, leading staff management operations, and the allocation of resources to reach organizational goals. Congratulations, Derek! We look forward to continuing to work with you in your new position at SVA! –MC 

Tradeshows & Conferences:

None this week.

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Defense Budget for Fiscal Year 2018 and Onwards
Who: Mr. Dakota L. Wood, Senior Research Fellow for Defense Programs, The Heritage Foundation; Dr. Thomas G. Mahnken, President and Chief Executive Officer, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Dr. Lawrence J. Korb, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, January 24, 2017
Where: 216 Har

Think Tanks & 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, January 23, 2017 8:27 am

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