Veterans Roundup: American Legion Convention Edition, the Ennui of Sequester, the Misinformation of Food Pantries

Posted by Rob Riggins

Charity Says Military Use of Food Pantries Has Been Rising for Years
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes. Last week, a study conducted in 2013 by Feeding America, a network of U.S. food banks, reported that 620,000 military families use its services. The number they provided translates to about a quarter of U.S. military households. The Department of Defense is challenging the authenticity of the study, pointing out some major flaws that may have exaggerated the number. Feeding America claims that military pay is often just above the cutoff for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, leaving military families on a tight budget. The DoD, on the other hand, continues to challenge these claims, pointing out that a 2012 review showed enlisted troops’ pay is much higher than their civilian counterparts. –MC
Bottom line: There is just no way to sugar coat this report in our opinion—it’s wrong. Their methodology is deeply flawed from the very start and the conclusions are based on incorrect or dated information on military pay and benefits and the safety nets available to military personnel. Today’s military has never been paid or compensated better. It is true that many junior soldiers are paid very low but that ignores the wealth of benefits including free healthcare, nearly free utilities and housing along with generous promotion opportunities. Consistently the financial problems that military families fall into are based on personal choices such as buying expensive cars, high interest purchases, and payday loans. While we need to educate them not to make these choices and offer safety nets to assist them when they dig themselves into these holes it does not mean that the pay and benefits are insufficient. The military today is far and away the best paying job opportunity for young men and women often without any college education to earn quality experience and income far above their peers of equal means. This study was scientifically unsound and now will just feed the continuing “victim” memes about our military and veterans that irritate so many of us so very much. –FPW

‘Not Recommended’ List of Schools Draws Criticism
George Altman, Military Times. Student Veterans of America (SVA) recently published a ‘not recommended’ list of schools for veterans. The list, although short and featuring only three schools, has come under criticism from the schools listed and VA. The VA publically announced that they do not approve of the list and staff of WyoTech, one of the schools on the list, expressed that their surveys say students at the school are happy with their educations. Although private universities have been under fire lately, a working paper from the National Center of Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, discovered that a degree from a for-profit college doesn’t put students in a better position to get hired than community college, but it doesn’t really hurt them either. –MC
Bottom line: The for-profit college industry is under increasing scrutiny, especially from non-profit veterans organizations like SVA. Though if you asked any representative from SVA or other organizations, they would tell you the problem isn’t “for-profit” vs. “non-profit” college, but rather any college that takes advantage of a veteran’s educational benefits. Indeed, there are non-profit colleges that might tread near the “bad actor” waters full of colleges like WyoTech. It’s good to see organizations like SVA take a stand against the worst of the worst and big veterans organizations like VFW support student veterans through legislation and advocacy. While some would make this out to be a black and white issue, like everything in veterans policy, it’s another murky grey area. –LJ

After Months on Back Burner, Sequester Fears Return
Marcus Weisgerber (@MarcusReports), Military Times. The military has been standing in strong opposition to the 2013 defense budget caps forced by the sequester and yet the 2014 and 2015 budget plans approved by Congress boosted Defense spending by more than $30 billion. Now, as the Pentagon starts to plan financially for 2016, the possibility of sequestration looms again. Pentagon officials say cutting the military budget would adversely impact operations and get rid of components critical to missions. Sen. Jeff Sessions also argues that in today’s global environment, high security threats may make cuts impossible and require even more money, not less, than before. –MC
Bottom line: So, the bottom line on this one is….really? The lack of grown ups in Congress and the inability for anyone to lead on Capitol Hill just becomes more discouraging each day. We have little doubt that this fiscal mess will continue through the election and into the next session as the game of political point scoring and maneuvering leaves the nation’s national security as an afterthought with no real strategy applied. When you start with a number first and then try to fit a strategy to it the only answer is failure. Sadly with the rise of ISIS, a newly confrontational Russia, and a restless China the global threats are multi-faceted and diverse requiring graduate level thinking but the nation’s capital is an elementary school playground. –FPW

U.S. Mission in Iraq Could Expand, Pentagon Official Says
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. The current mission in Iraq was heavily discussed and debated last week and it seems as though mission expansion is on the horizon. Debate heightened when the Islamic State posted a video one of their members murdering James Foley, an American journalist who was taken captive more than a year ago in Syria. U.S. Special Operations forces attempted to rescue Foley and other Americans held captive by ISIL earlier this summer but the operation was unsuccessful as the captives had been moved to a new location before the attempt. On Thursday, Chairman Dempsey said that the Islamic State can’t be defeated without addressing both Iraq and Syria. As we wait for word about the expanding Iraq mission, our thoughts are with Foley’s friends and family. –MC
Bottom line: The disturbing murder of James Foley put Iraq squarely back in the news. Unfortunately, despite a growing awareness that ISIS poses a threat to regional security, there look to be few military options the U.S. could execute that would make a lasting impact with a small footprint. ISIS has proved to be such a thorn in sides of regional actors that there are now reports than even Iran is arming Kurds to fight the ISIS insurgency. For now, with no strategy to speak of, the U.S. is sticking to air strikes and a small footprint of SOF, but the longer this drags on, it feels more inevitable that the U.S. will have to devote more blood and treasure to the ISIS fight in Iraq. –LJ

Pentagon Tells Troops Not to Mention Service in ALS Ice Bucket Challenge
Steven Beardsley (@sjbeardsley), Stars and Stripes. The ALS Ice bucket challenge has taken social media by storm, a challenge in which participants dump a bucket of ice water over their heads, donate money, or a combination of both, and challenge three friends to do the same in support of Lou Gehrig’s disease research. Many servicemembers have joined in the ice bucket fun, but the Pentagon issued a statement last week prohibiting members of the military from completing the challenge in uniform or from mentioning their service. The statement came out a little too late though; many servicemembers have already completed the challenge while wearing gear referencing their service, including the Navy Blue Angels and the Naval Academy football team. –MC
Bottom line: Once again the application of the Joint Ethics Regulation is confused and inconsistent. The reasoning behind this edict was so that no one would think that military personnel in uniform were implying official government “endorsement” of the ALS Association. That’s the letter of the regulation. Unfortunately it ignores the thousands of examples every day that the rule is ignored because common sense obviously means that just because an individual military member supports something doesn’t mean the entire U.S. government does too. As we pointed out in several forums this week…does this mean we won’t be seeing any general officers flipping the coins at NFL games this Fall so there isn’t any implied endorsement of the organization? The response was consistently crickets chirping because obviously that’s not going to happen and we agree. Recognizing the good works of non-profits and corporations that support our troops and veterans is just the right thing to do if we want break down the civil-military divide and encourage private citizens and organizations to continue supporting our service members and their families. –FPW

Rock Band Five Finger Death Punch to Fix Music Video About Veterans’ Homelessness
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post. As we mentioned last week, Five Finger Death Punch recently released a music video addressing the problem of veteran homelessness. The video was full of “facts” and “statistics”, complete with a scrolling list of organizations dedicated to assisting veterans at the end. However, the band made a few factual mistakes, including the number of homeless veterans and calling the Armed Forces Network an organizations that assists veterans. Five Finger Death Punch says they are aware of the issue and are working to fix the problems in their music video. –MC
Bottom line: It was refreshing to hear that the band had heard the concerns of many of us that appreciate the effort to focus on veterans issues but it only makes our work harder when we make things seem worse than they are or provide resources that aren’t actual help. Hopefully they will also include the actual Veterans Crisis Line number this time too. –FPW

New Rules Issued for Firing VA Executives
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Last Tuesday, federal regulators outlined the new rules for firing Department of Veterans Affairs executives. Congress increased firing power as part of the VA reform bill recently signed into law by President Obama. The new firing procedures are intended to quicken the long drawn-out process, but Merit Systems Protection Board appointees are questioning whether it makes the process too quick and easy to abuse. Another provision outlined in the VA reform bill allows veterans to go outside of the VA for healthcare, while the VA picks up the bill. However, one hospital in Phoenix, on contract with the VA to help, reported this week that it is hard to reach the veterans referred them and hospital representatives have to reach out in ways alternative to phone calls as a result. –MC
Bottom line: For years, Congress has been saying it is essential that the VA Secretary have the power to more easily fire VA employees who don’t serve veterans up to the standards set by the VA Secretary. Unfortunately, the new rules enacted in the new VA reform bill don’t make it quite as easy as Congress may have hoped. The bureaucracy of federal employment means that even with reforms, bad actors can hang onto their precious government jobs. It’s the entire federal employment system that needs overhaul, not just the VA. Until there is major reform, not piecemeal, there will not be meaningful change in the entrenched workforce of civil servants. –LJ

Tradeshows & Conferences

American Legion 96th Annual Convention (Mon-Thu, 22-28 August); Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte, NC

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our recently updated Events page.

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess for the month of August.

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, August 4, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

Vets in Tech: Women Hackathon at Facebook Who: Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator, U.S. Small Business Administration, Meghan Florkowski, Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Maxine Williams, Global Head of Diversity, Facebook, Amanda Talbott, Diversity Recruiting/Strategy PM, Facebook When: 9:00 AM, Monday, August 25, 2014 Where: Facebook Campus Building 15, 1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA

American Legion: Employment and Empowerment Summit Corporate Panel Who: Kristine Urbauer, Program Manager of Military Initiatives and Junior Officer Leadership Program, GE, and representatives from Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, UPS, Time Warner Cable, Sharp Decisions, CSX Transportation When: 9:05 AM, Monday, August 25, 2014 Where: Westin Charlotte Hotel, Grand Ballroom, Charlotte, NC

American Legion: Employment and Empowerment Summit Boots to Business: Reboot Who: U.S. Small Business Administration, Office of Veterans Business Development When: 9:00 AM, Monday, August 25, 2014 Where: Westin Charlotte Hotel, Providence Ballroom, Charlotte, NC

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry and 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, August 25, 2014 2:33 pm

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