Veteran’s Roundup: Advocates and Lawmakers Increase Focus on Women Veterans’ Needs, Veterans Crisis Line Under More Scrutiny, and Military Social Media

Posted by Fred Wellman

Advocates Push for More Focus on Women Vets in the Wake of Military Scandals
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
With headlines focused on female service members in the wake of the Marines United scandal, Congress has introduced a bill that would increase female veterans’ access to VA healthcare, as well as injecting $20 million into the VA to improve privacy for women treated there. The bill, which was backed by members on both sides of the aisle, is increasingly necessary, with military women serving in more capacities than ever before. –KB
Bottom line: Today, nearly 10 percent of veterans are women but the focus on the unique needs of women veterans is not always commensurate with their service to our country. The Deborah Sampson Act, introduced this week and sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., and Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., seeks to ensure that women veterans receive the care and benefits that they earned and they deserve. A December GAO report found that multiple VA facilities were not in compliance with VA standards of care for women veterans and that 27 percent of VA medical facilities did not have a gynecologist on staff. This is unacceptable. While the VA works to re-build trust and ensure quality care for our veterans, this legislation is an essential step in guaranteeing that women veterans feel seen, heard, and treated competently by their VA. It is unconscionable that a woman who has served her country cannot access the care she has earned or feels that the agency designed to provide this care is incapable or unwelcoming. This legislation—and continued advocacy—move us towards ensuring equality in care and benefits leading to empowered, well-supported women vets. –RB

Military Seeks New Ways to Punish Bad Online Behavior
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor), Associated Press
Senior military leaders are revisiting policies for handling inappropriate online behavior just weeks after the Marines United nude photo scandal, which has now been confirmed to involve all branches of the military. House officials are hesitant to hold public hearings on specific ongoing investigations, like the intimate photo scandal, so as not to interfere with the legal process. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif. believes that a social media policy is not enough to change the “cultural rot” that has festered in the military lifestyle. –DD
Bottom line: It’s becoming clear that the unfolding scandal surrounding the sharing of nude photos and abusive online behavior targeting female service members isn’t just about misbehaving on social media—it is a cultural problem of significant proportions. The Marines are leading the charge in attacking the problem, to their credit, and have told Congress they would like to pursue an update to the Uniformed Code of Military Justice that would make it a clear crime to share nude photos and, even more aggressively, they will seek to remove Marines from the service for abuse directed at their fellow Marines. In military parlance it’s called a “chapter” and typically involves cases where a service member doesn’t fit in the military for a host of reasons from drug abuse to repeated low-level misbehavior. Kicking a Marine out of his beloved Corps for treating a fellow Marine like nothing but a piece of flesh is by far the most appropriate message to send while addressing the underlying cultural issues that allow this behavior to even remotely seem acceptable. –FPW

Human Resources Problems Causing Hiring, Retention Headaches for VA
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Officials have reported that approximately 48,000 vacant positions are currently impacting everyday effectiveness and efficiency at the VA. Despite some exceptions to the hiring freeze for some positions at the VA, the freeze continues to constrict the VA’s overall ability to assist and provide care for veterans. With the VA disability claims backlog on the rise, Rep. Brad Wenstrup (R-Ohio) is calling upon Congress to work together to address the problem before it escalates further. –JG
Bottom line: That the VA struggles with personnel management is not new information, so it shouldn’t be surprising that any hiccups in the personnel pipeline would cause more issues for the agency. The hiring freeze is certainly a hiccup. VA leadership did an admirable job making exemptions for certain frontline health care jobs early on, but as many advocates like ourselves pointed out at the time, many administrative jobs can have an equally important impact on veterans’ lives. On top of it all, this latest report notes VA has a hard time hiring and retaining human resources specialists. Ideally, the employees who could help the agency navigate these challenges. So, this isn’t a problem that will be sorted out easily…say by ceasing hiring at the VA. Rather, like so many issues at the VA, it will require partisan politics to take a backseat to policymaking by lawmakers and VA leaders with input from the veteran service community about how these seemingly bureaucratic machinations will harm or help the veterans all claim to support. –LJ

Watchdog Criticizes Veterans Affairs’ Suicide Hotline
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), Wall Street Journal
The VA Office of the Inspector General says the performance of the VA suicide hotline, meant for veterans in crisis, is lacking, due in part to poor supervision and lack of staff. The report revealed that in 2016 almost 30 percent of calls to the line were sent to a backup system. This prompted a statement from the VA stating that the problems have been fixed. –KB
Bottom line: According to the IG, as late as December 2016, the Veterans Crisis Line sent about 30 percent of its calls to backup centers, despite a new VCL call center having opened in late fall 2016. The VA’s leadership says that in December and January, its efficiency has picked up at a rapid pace thanks to the new call center standing up more fully. We’ll get a better idea of where this discrepancy is coming from next week when the House Veterans Affairs Committee holds a hearing on the issue and you can expect lawmakers to have some hard questions about a crisis line that has faced its fair share of stern IG recommendations in the past after investigators found some calls went to voicemail. Yet, the Veterans Crisis Line provides an invaluable lifeline to thousands of veterans and their family members every day. Findings like these latest from the IG should be seen as further impetus to make an essential support system even better. The worst lens through which to view these findings would focus on trimming resources to a program that is still transitioning to handle increasing growth. –LJ

Trump Shifting Authority Over Military Operations Back to Pentagon
Michael Gordon (@gordonnyt), The New York Times
President Trump is giving more authority over military operations to the Pentagon in an effort to streamline decision-making. Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who as national security advisor leads the NSC, will focus less on military operations and more on strategic issues. The shift in focus will allow the military to make quick decisions about mission priorities, but some suggest it could lead to poor oversight and create dangerous situations from a lack of red teaming. –DD
Bottom line: The last two weeks have brought two significant reports of civilian deaths from manned bombing attacks by U.S. forces in Syria and Iraq. No U.S. military leader wants to purposely kill non-combatants in the course of a military operation but it is often an inevitable proposition in the heat of combat. President Obama was often accused of impeding efforts to attack fast moving targets of opportunities but by the same token, there were relatively few times where a manned aircraft attack resulted in significant civilian deaths. The military is a mission-focused entity that will pursue our enemies to the ends of the Earth and we have designed a system to provide checks and balances on that for good reasons. While many argue that our enemies ignore the Geneva Conventions or flaunt the norms of warfare, doing so only weakens our standing in the world. While we must prosecute our wars aggressively and achieve victory, doing so ruthlessly and with malice towards those we seek to liberate only gives us a hollow victory without the moral authority to call ourselves the leader of the free world and the nation other’s should follow. Removing the decision-making layers will speed the effort to destroy ISIS but the cost could be fearful and hard to accept. –FPW

RallyPoint: AMA with Dakota Meyer
Medal of Honor recipient, New York Times best-selling author, and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Dakota Meyer took to the online platform RallyPoint to answer questions about military transitions, careers and employment in an “Ask Me Anything” online Q&A event. To find out what advice he had to give to veterans, head over to the RallyPoint website. –JG

Marine Corps Leaders Can’t Fix Social Media, But They Can Help
Carlos Madden (@CarolosMadden), The Hill
Carlos Madden, the community manager for RallyPoint, recently spoke out in the wake of the Marines United scandal on how the social network ensures that conversations taking place on the site are kept civil and clean. Madden offers five steps that Marine Corps leaders can introduce to discourage the rampant disparaging sharing and remarks that characterized this scandal. –KB  

Hiring Our Heroes Event at Camp Pendleton
John & Tammy in the Morning (@JandTmornings), KSON
Hiring Our Heroes, along with Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer and former First Lady of the Marine Corps Bonnie Amos, visited 29 Palms and Camp Pendleton as a part of the Hiring Our Heroes Southern California tour. Meyer and Amos delivered remarks at the events, offering advice and transition-related guidance to the service members stationed at both installations in efforts to help prepare them for their transition. ­–JG

Animal Rights Group Accuses VA of Using Dogs in Questionable Experiments
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
White Coat Waste Project (WCW), a bipartisan group of activists who monitor government-funded experimentation on animals, have found confusing and incomplete documentation surrounding animal testing conducted at several VA medical facilities, most notably the McGuire VA Medical Center in Richmond, VA. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., sees the reports as an “apparent pattern of dog abuse,” citing poor leadership as the cause. Last November, a report from WCW found that each year 1,100 dogs are the subjects of painful, cruel and useless federally-funded experiments. VA Inspector General Mike Missal is involved and is working with the House Appropriations Committee to get to the bottom of these studies. –JG

Lejeune Vets’ Claims to be Approved Faster for 8 Illnesses
Tom Philpott (@tomphilpott), Stars and Stripes
Water contamination on Camp Lejeune between 1953 and 1987 has been linked to eight illnesses. Those who were affected, including veterans, surviving spouses and children, are eligible to file for VA disability compensation if they exhibit one of the eight diseases linked to the contamination. –DD

Starbucks Says It Will Hire 15,000 More Veterans After Facing Backlash for Refugee Hiring Plan
Kate Taylor (@Kate_H_Taylor), Business Insider
After Starbucks reached its goal of hiring 10,000 veterans before 2018, the company announced its plans to hire 15,000 more veterans by 2025. This is in the wake of harsh criticism facing the company since announcing their plan to hire 10,000 refugees in the next five years, in response to the Syrian refugee crisis. Many customers organized a boycott against Starbucks which gained visibility through social media. In spite of this, Starbucks has continued supporting refugees through recently announcing their partnership with refugee support organizations like the International Rescue Committee, the UN Refugee Agency and veteran-led No One Left Behind (also a ScoutComms pro bono client) in addition to formally joining the UN Refugee Agency’s #WithRefugees campaign. –JG

Tradeshows & Conference:

Military Reporters & Editors Association: MRE 2017 (Fri., March 31, 2017); Arlington, VA

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Military Assessment of Russian Activities and Security Challenges in Europe
Who: General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, Commander, United States European Command
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Naval Strike Fighters—Issues and Concerns
Who: Lieutenant General Jon M. Davis, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, U.S. Marine Corps; Rear Admiral Upper Half Dewolfe “Chip” Miller III, Director of the Air Warfare Division, U.S. Navy; Rear Admiral Upper Half Michael T. Moran, Program Executive Officer Tactical Aircraft, U.S. Navy
When: 3:30 PM, Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Armed Services: Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Greater Middle East
Who: General Joseph Votel, Commander, US Central Command
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Threats to Space Assets and Implications for Homeland Security
Who: Admiral Thad Allen, Member, GPS Advisory Board, Former Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard; The Honorable Joseph Nimmich, Former Deputy Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency; General William Shelton, Former Commander, U.S. Air Force Space Command
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where: 210 Capitol Visitors Center

Armed Services: Military Pilot Shortage
Who: Lieutenant General Mark A. Brilakis
Deputy Commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, United States Marine Corps; Vice Admiral Robert P. Burke, Chief of Naval Personnel, United States Navy; Lieutenant General Gina M. Grosso, Deputy Chief of Staff for Manpower and Personnel Services, United States Air Force; Major General Erik C. Peterson, Director, Army Aviation, United States Army
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: The Current State of U.S. Transportation Command
Who: General Darren W. McDew, USAF, Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM)
When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, March 30, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Consequences and Context for Russia’s Violations of the INF Treaty
Who: The Honorable Frank Rose, Former Assistant Secretary of State for Arms Control, Verification, and Compliance, Department of State; The Honorable Robert Scher, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities, Department of Defense; Mr. Jon Wolfsthal, Former Senior Director for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, National Security Council
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, March 30, 2017
Where: 2172 Rayburn

Armed Services: CLOSED: Department of Defense Worldwide Policy and Strategy and the Fiscal Year 2017 Defense Supplemental Budget Request
Who: Honorable James N. Mattis, Secretary Of Defense; General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Chairman, Joint Chiefs Of Staff
When: 2:30 PM, Tuesday, March 28, 2017
Where: 217 Capitol Visitors Center

Armed Services: Health of the Department of Defense Industrial Base and its Role in Providing Readiness to the Warfighter
Who: Lieutenant General Larry D. Wyche, USA, Deputy Commanding General, United States Army Materiel Command; Vice Admiral Paul A. Grosklags, USN, Commander, United States Naval Air Systems Command; Vice Admiral Thomas J. Moore, USN, Commander, United States Naval Sea Systems Command; Lieutenant General Michael G. Dana, USMC, Deputy Commandant, Installations And Logistics, United States Marine Corps; Lieutenant General Lee K. Levy II, USAF, Commander, Air Force Sustainment Center, United States Air Force Materiel Command
When: 2:15 PM, Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where: 232A Russell

Armed Services: Air Force Modernization
Who: Lieutenant General Mark C. Nowland, USAF, Deputy Chief of Staff For Operations, Headquarters, United States Air Force; Lieutenant General Arnold W. Bunch, Jr., USAF, Military Deputy, Office Of The Assistant Secretary Of The Air Force For Acquisition; Lieutenant General Jerry D. Harris, Jr., USAF, Deputy Chief Of Staff For Strategic Plans, Programs And Requirements, Headquarters, United States Air Force
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Where: 222 Russell

Other Events & Opportunities:

High Ground Veterans Advocacy: Summer 2017 Fellowship Class Applications
Who: Service members and veterans around the country
When: Applications are open until April 20, 2017; Training dates: Sun-Sat, June 4-10, 2017

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, March 27, 2017 9:00 am

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