Veterans Roundup: Afghanistan Papers Anger Many, New NDAA Has Key Personnel Provisions, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

At war with the truth
The Washington Post, Craig Whitlock (@craigmwhitlock)

Craig Whitlock is well known as one of those journalists you probably don’t want to get a call from when you are a government official. He has doggedly pursued the scandals surrounding the Navy’s ‘Fat Leonard’ bribery scandal for years now. As it turns out, he was also conducting a three-year investigation into what is now known as the ‘Afghanistan Papers’ and it’s a stunning portrait of 18-years of mismanagement, malfeasance and mistruth surrounding the longest war in U.S. history. The Post sued the government for access to the entire library of reports resulting from a project led by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction to interview hundreds of key personnel and leaders of the war and learn the lessons they have to share. It was supposed to be anonymous so the participants could be forthcoming in their analysis. In the end, the Department of Defense was forced to release the documents with many names redacted, even after attempting to classify some of the reports later. What has come out has enraged many Americans, especially veterans and Gold Star families, as they find out military and political leaders were systematically presenting distorted reports and overly optimistic plans about the conduct of the war, even as they knew it was failing. Each day this week a new feature story has come out with even more devastating angles on the war, from how the public and Congress was deceived as to the real progress being made, corruption among the Afghani government, failure to create a true national Army and the wasting of billions of U.S. dollars on failed reconstruction efforts. Many of us who have served in the Post-9/11 wars were completely not surprised by any of it. As many veterans of the wars have pointed out, only people not paying attention could possibly think the war has been going well, or even remotely well, but that doesn’t lessen the impact of the stark reality painted by these reports where officials have let down the facade of optimism and ‘turning the corner’ pronouncements. The Pentagon Papers of 1972 that exposed the truth about the Vietnam war hastened the end of the fight and angered the American people. It’s hard to say if these will really make a difference. Lawmakers have barely mentioned it, military officials are offering excuses and dismissals and the average American is completely disconnected from it — 45% of U.S. citizens didn’t even know we were still at war in Afghanistan. It is being fought by a professional cast of military members, almost all drawn from rural America, and increasingly the same families with little impact on most citizens. Meanwhile, the military itself has virtually stopped issuing news from the combat zone, cut to nearly zero the number of media embeds with troops and isn’t even conducting regular press briefings at all. In many ways, we have placed the war in the hands of the military with little oversight and a regular procession of leaders who will always “succeed” at their mission, because that’s what generals do. They also have the ability to define just how that “success” is actually measured, thus always pulling it off. Then the next guy comes in, decides it wasn’t really succeeding, changes the measurement and proceeds to succeed himself. Rinse and repeat. Several Senators have demanded hearings after reading these reports, but there is absolutely no appetite to make any real change so our service members will continue to deploy to an endless war that no one knows how to end out of fear of some sort of “loss.” Our brave men and women, sons and daughters, deserve a serious conversation about why they are sacrificing their lives and limbs from our leaders at the very least. – Fred Wellman, Founder and CEO of ScoutComms

A new law could finally force DoD to compensate troops who suffered from military doctors’ mistakes
Task and Purpose, James Clark (@JamesWClark)

In 2008, while I was still enlisted in the New York Air National Guard, I was working as a congressional staffer in the district office for former Congressman and Navy veteran, Maurice Hinchey (NY-22). Representative Hinchey and our staff fought hard for H.R. 1478, an amendment to allow members of the Armed Forces to sue the United States for damages for certain injuries caused by improper medical care, and for other purposes. The legislation would have overturned a controversial 1950 Supreme Court ruling called Feres v. United States, that bars active-duty service members from suing the government for negligence, including medical malpractice. Because of this 1950 ruling, dozens of cases over the past several decades have been tossed out, leaving service members with no legal recourse, even when faced with blatant cases of medical malpractice. Hinchey sponsored the bill and named it the “Carmelo Rodriguez Military Medical Accountability Act of 2009.” Sgt. Rodriguez, an Iraq War veteran, was a constituent of Rep. Hinchey’s district. At Rodriguez’s entrance medical exam when he joined the Marines in 1997, military doctors identified in his medical records a blotch he had as melanoma. But, as stated in his medical report, never told him of the diagnosis, nor treated him or recommended treatment. Over the next eight years during his military enlistment, the cancer spread. Rodriguez had it re-examined in Iraq in 2005 while on deployment and was told it was just a wart and that he could wait until he returned to the U.S. for treatment. Sadly, in 2007 Rodriguez died from the cancer. Unfortunately, regardless of extensive efforts to push the bill in the House and Senate, it went nowhere — following the same fate of several “nearly identical bills” over the decades. This is the piece of legislation that motivated me to want to work in veterans services, as I recognized a pervasive disconnect between people and policies meant to serve them. Ten years and many stories of medical malpractice later, we are still fighting this same battle. The more recent bill discussed in this article does not seek to overturn the 1950 court ruling that resulted in the Feres Doctrine, but instead, according to legislators, seeks to “find a way around it.” According to language in the 2020 NDAA, the military would be required to establish procedures to investigate claims of medical malpractice. If it is found to have occurred, the military would be responsible for determining what damages should be paid out. Under current policy, troops can still submit a claim, but as stated by Clark, they’re almost always bounced back and denied under Feres. Ultimately, service members don’t have the same rights when faced with medical malpractice as civilians when they are treated in DoD facilities. A commitment to military service should not lead to decreased rights, but as many argue and as this case illustrates, it certainly does. As always, I will stand on the side of expecting accountability in the eyes of injustice. As the law stands now, military families do not have accountability nor justice on their side when faced with medical negligence. Hopefully, this time around, we will take a step towards accountability and justice, instead of away from it. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

Raw sewage, mold, vermin: Military families ask court to withhold rent until all houses on these 2 bases are certified as safe
Military Times, Karen Jowers

Eight Army, Air Force and Navy families filed an injunction requesting that a federal court require Hunt Military Communities to “allow a court-appointed, third-party inspector” to determine whether the houses on Randolph Air Force Base and Laughlin Air Force Base are safe. The injunction, characterized as “another step in a lawsuit…alleging fraud in connection with their homes that were uninhabitable,” would also “withhold families’ rent for each house.” The court documents cite families’ fears that Hunt will “retaliate” against tenants who complain about the dangerous conditions. Sarah Lynn Kline, an Army wife whose family is part of the group of plaintiffs, reportedly stated that the injunction will “ensure that no other military families have to suffer what these and other families had to endure.” 

For Many Soldiers, Mental-Health Issues Start Before Enlistment
The Wall Street Journal, Ben Kesling (@BKesling)

University of Washington researchers used troves of Army data to “show that many troops with mental-health problems can trace them back to trauma experienced before they joined the military,” and emphasized the need for increased availability of mental-health care for service members. This study offers more insights into the multifaceted issue of veterans’ mental health, which the Pentagon is scrambling to address as statistics released this fall indicated that suicide rates among troops and veterans are rising. Dr. Charles Hoge, a neuropsychiatry consultant to the Army’s surgeon general, noted that “adverse childhood experiences” can affect troops in varying and complex ways, saying, “Sometimes the adverse experiences that people have had in life can make one predisposed to having worse outcomes when they face trauma while they’re in the military. And sometimes on the other hand, the adverse experiences can make one more resilient.” 

House-passed “forever chemicals” regulations pulled from defense bill
The Hill, Rebecca Kheel (@rebecca_h_k)

Rep. Adam Smith (D-WA) announced to reporters that while negotiations on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) are nearly concluded, the “Democratic-championed provisions” in the bill to regulate “forever chemicals” have been eliminated from the final draft of the bill. The provisions would have “forced the cleanup” of PFAS, a “cancer-linked” chemical that has reportedly contaminated water near at least 425 military areas. Passage of the NDAA has fueled strong partisan fights–Smith commented, “We did not get what we wanted on PFAS because the Republicans refused to give it to us,” while Republicans argued that the issue was outside the scope of the NDAA. However, Smith “stressed” that the final version of the bill retained “some good regulations” that will reduce the Department of Defense’s use of the toxic chemical. For more information on veterans and toxic exposure, check out ScoutInsight’s article on the issue here.

For-profit colleges that get GI Bill money need more oversight, veterans say
The Hechinger Report, Jasper Craven (@Jasper_Craven)

Veterans’ groups are joining bipartisan Congressional efforts to protect veterans who use their GI Bill benefits to attain higher education, with an emphasis on efforts to increase oversight. The VA Office of Inspector General reportedly estimated that, without significant increases in oversight, over $2 billion in GI Bill funds may be “funneled…to potentially ineligible academic programs,” risking the degrees of over 17,000 student veterans over the next five years. Sources including internal government documents and watchdog reports suggest that “little has been done to crack down on colleges accused of predatory behavior” with “gaping holes in the GI Bill” when it comes to “accountability” and “returns on investment.” While many efforts to protect student veterans have stalled, policy advocates urge lawmakers to “strengthen state oversight authority” in order to make up for the lack of effective VA attention to the issue. For more information on student veterans and higher education, check out ScoutInsight’s article on the topic here.

Military leaders lack specific strategies to retain and promote women, minorities
Connecting Vets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)

On Tuesday, Congress heard from three lieutenant generals and one vice admiral about what their respective branch had done to expand diversity in their ranks. While each representative highlighted accomplishments of women and minorities, as well as the increased numbers of black, Hispanic, Asian and women enlisted, Congress was disappointed to see little emphasis on retention. Furthermore, it was stressed that racism must not be tolerated in the military. Bishop Garrison, director of national security outreach at Human Rights First, explained that diversity is a “matter of national security. A more cohesive unit is a stronger fighting force. Diversity helps overcome group-think or tunnel vision, which in war can prove fatal.”

For island vets, benefits are a 4,000-mile plane ride away
Military Times, Tom Voss (@Tom_Voss)

Many island veterans struggle to receive needed mental health care because it is often geographically inaccessible; some veterans are having to fly some 4,000 miles to the nearest VA hospital in Hawaii in order to “see a therapist or other specialist.” While some telehealth services are available, Rep. Tina Sablan of the Northern Mariana Islands, says, “Telehealth mental health services are available to Marianas veterans, but we have heard many complaints about that. Vets say they don’t like the impersonal contact via TV screen or laptop, and there is high turnover of therapists, so they are constantly having to repeat their stories and build rapport anew, which is frustrating and discouraging in any case but especially over a screen.” In this Op-Ed, Iraq War veteran Tom Voss emphasizes the need to make mental health care “convenient, accessible, affordable and effective” for all veterans.

Gender integration at both Marine Corps recruit depots would be required with new defense bill
Marine Corps Times, Philip Athey (@philipathey1)

Due to a provision in the final conference version of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, the Marine Corps may be required to have gender-integrated training at both recruit depots. With a Senate vote expected early next week, Maj. Joshua C. Benson, spokesman with Marine Corps Combat Development Command, said that the Marine Corps will not be commenting until the bill is signed into law. 

Here’s how much more veteran households earn annually than non-veteran households
Military Times, Diana Stancy Correll (@Diana_Correll)

According to a report from the PEW research center published Monday, veteran households have outearned their non-veteran counterparts since 1980. The report states that “Households headed by veterans have higher incomes and are less likely to be in poverty, on average, and this is especially the case for veterans in racial or ethnic minority groups and those with less education.”

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of 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 16, 2019 12:04 pm

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