Veterans Roundup: A Reflection on Memorial Day, a Big Win for Caregivers and a Big Fight Ahead, the Latest in VA News and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Letters From the Children of Fallen Service Members to the Parents They Lost
Mitty Mirrer (@MittyMirrer), The New York Times
When a military child loses a parent, their lives are forever changed. They lose not only their loved one, but their way of life as well. After years of war, thousands have lost parents in wartime conflicts, and still more by other causes. Bayleigh Dostie was only five years old when her father was killed by a roadside bomb while deployed to Iraq in 2005; 13 years later, as she graduates high school, she honors his memory: “He had so much love to give, unconditional love. I want to carry that with me by being a good person, being humble and down to earth, and doing what is right — not just following what everyone else is doing.” Programs like Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors and the Children of Fallen Patriots Foundation help military children who have lost loved ones learn important coping skills, and importantly, realize that they are not alone. –KG
Bottom line: Memorial Day is often lost in the way its become the unofficial start to summer and with so few Americans connected to the military today it seems fewer and fewer remember what the holiday really stands for in honoring those who have fallen in service to the nation. In the many stories that have come out in the last week as the holiday approached few have been as devastatingly impactful as this one from the At War bureau at The New York Times Magazine led by Lauren Katzenberg. No one feels the loss of a service member more than their child and no one can trace the impact of that loss more than they. These letters are almost impossible to read in one sitting but we recommend it. You won’t forget it. –FPW

VA’s Caregiver Program Still Dropping Veterans With Disabilities
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR
A report last year found that the Department of Veterans Affairs was dropping caregivers across the country from its caregiver benefits program, with cities like Augusta, Ga. and Charleston, S.C. dropping 85 percent and 94 percent of their caregivers respectively. Following the release of the report, the VA halted revocations of benefits while it reviewed its process; however, caregivers like Jenn Wilmot of Charleston who were encouraged to reapply, are still being rejected, and the local program is still down 93 percent from 2014 – only supporting a total of 13 caregivers. Program director Meg Kabat maintains that the VA is working to correct the error of initially lax enrollment standards and says that the goal has always been for veterans to improve and graduate. Senators Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Bob Casey (D-Penn.) have both petitioned the VA that all denials before the program revisal be reviewed a second time. –KG
Bottom line: At the same time advocates are rightly celebrating a long fought win to expand caregiver benefits to veterans of all eras, this story is sure to raise some questions about the efficacy of the current program. The VA has long been in favor of expanding caregiver benefits, so this shouldn’t be seen as part of a larger plot to curtail resources. Aligning policies and ensuring the program is implemented the same way across regions is going to be critical to ensuring the expansion goes to plan and improves outcomes where its intended to. We’re glad to see Quil staying on this story, it keeps advocates and the VA’s attention on how to improve the caregiver program and how the VA communicates with the caregivers it serves. Just like the fight to expand benefits was collaborative, so too should the ongoing work to ensure adequate implementation be a collaboration among caregivers, stakeholders, and the VA. –LJ

VA moving forward with Shulkin’s nationwide restructuring plan
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Congressional leaders identified a lack of communication between local, regional and national level VA leadership as the top contributor to dysfunction across the agency. The VA has 23 Veteran Integrated Service Networks (VISNs) – the organization’s regional VA leadership structure. Under the current system, each hospital and clinic individually communicate with VISNs. VISNs then share local reports with the national team at the central office. However, this system has failed in the past. Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) shared that the most troubling aspect is that VISNs often know about problems, but “too many of them seem to be affected with a case of learned bureaucratic helplessness.” Reports from the VA Inspector General highlighted the agency’s shortcomings. Before his firing, former VA Sec. David Shulkin had begun plans to overhaul the VA’s current practices. These plans have continued despite Shulkin’s departure, and the VA plans to share their proposal and progress to Congress in July. –NJ
Bottom line: While VA officials continue to work toward the July deadline of presenting an agency reorganization plan to Congress, the fact that VA senior leadership still remains vacant or with interim leaders, leave many wondering how this restructuring might be implemented or impacted by new leadership. In recent months there has been a growing concern over what many see as a chipping away of the VA, in what they claim is an effort to move toward privatization. The big question here is will this restructuring in any way leave the VA vulnerable and feed that narrative? Until July, when the plan is presented, there will continue to be speculation. Shulkin’s original move on restructuring was intended to eliminate the top leadership positions of the most troubled VA regions and consolidate the oversight under one individual in Washington. The person he selected was Dr. Bryan Gamble, formerly a VA executive in Orlando. –CB

Veteran-owned business organizes 50-mile rucking challenge for more than 700 participants
Tim Lawson (@TimothyJLawson), VAntage Point
ScoutComms’ client GORUCK held its first-ever Star Course 50 Miler in D.C. on Friday. Inspired by presidential orders from Teddy Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy, more than 700 ruckers attempted to complete a 50-mile ruck in under 20 hours. GORUCK is a fitness and apparel company that creates a sense of camaraderie and community through its rucking events. Go to to learn more about upcoming events near you. –KG

This Iraq veteran could make history—in more ways than one
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times Reboot Camp
Former Air Force Intelligence officer Gina Ortiz Jones could make history in more ways than one after winning the Democratic primary for a southwest Texas congressional district. Other veterans who won in the Texas primaries include Purple Heart recipient Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar and retired Navy SEAL Dan Crenshaw. In Kentucky, Democrat and retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel Amy McGrath is continuing in the general election to represent Kentucky’s sixth district in Congress. –SM

Student Debt Surprise: How Veterans Get Loans Without Knowing It
Emily Wilkins (@emrwilkins), Bloomberg Government
Data collected by Veterans Education Success, an organization dedicated to supporting higher education programs for veterans and servicemembers, and analysis from Yale Law School identified finances and student loans as two prominent challenges faced by student veterans at top for-profit universities. Research conducted by the Brookings Institution found that 28 percent of freshman at four-year public, private, and for-profit schools didn’t understand that their financial aid offer included federal loans. These studies have garnered attention among members of Congress. As a result, House Republicans have proposed revisions to the Higher Education Act to make the financial aid process and the accompanying documents clearer and more understandable. For example, veterans’ advocacy groups feel that clarifying what the master promissory note means to student veterans would go a long way in helping students make informed decisions. Passage of these suggested updates to the Higher Education Act do not have a clear timeline, but leaders within veterans’ organizations hope that change comes soon. –NJ

We Need a DARPA-Like Program for Veterans’ Problems, Experts Say
Jack Corrigan (@_jackcorrigan), Nextgov
To improve the lives of veterans once they return home, some advocates want to see emerging technologies more quickly embraced by the VA. With more funds for research and development, a VA office dedicated to tech innovation would more quickly place products in the hands of doctors and reduce medical costs over time. It was suggested that an agency similar to DARPA could improve resources for areas like suicide prevention and advanced prosthetic. Even though the VA received a 6.1 percent increase in funding for research and development under the 2018 appropriations bills, Rep. Barbara Comstock, chairman for the House Science Subcommittee on Research and Technology, says that they need to rearrange resources and obtain new ones. –SM

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Community Opportunities

Veterans Campaign and University of San Francisco: Master of Arts in Public Leadership
Who: Veterans and military families, but open to anyone interested in public service.
When: Applications open now!
Where: The hybrid curriculum combines online learning with five intensive weekend seminars in the D.C. area.

Tradeshows and Conferences

NCHV: Annual Conference: Progress, Practice, Perseverance (Wed – Fri, May 30-June 1, 2018); 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 Tuesday, May 29, 2018 12:29 pm

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