Veterans Roundup: Army Discharging Soldiers Instead of Treating Them, GI Bill Tax Dollars Not Exactly Wasted

Posted by Fred Wellman

Thousands Of Soldiers With Mental Health Disorders Kicked Out For ‘Misconduct’
Daniel Zwerdling, NPR, and Michael De Yoanna, Colorado Public Radio
Since 2009, more than 22,000 soldiers have been discharged from the Army for misconduct after being diagnosed with mental health disorders and serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. These discharges came despite a 2009 law that was created to protect service members with mental illnesses potentially linked to wartime experiences. Army officials say that those discharged did not have illnesses that affected their judgment when they misbehaved. –MC
Bottom line: This important story builds off of Dave Philipps’ Pulitzer Prize winning investigation for the Colorado Springs Gazette in 2013. Sadly, it seems little has changed since then. In 2013, Philipps highlighted the Army’s propensity to kick “problem” soldiers out under other-than-honorable discharges, leaving them with no benefits post-military. Today, NPR finds that soldiers with diagnosed mental health issues are still being discharged for misconduct when they should be receiving treatment for their war-related issues. Unfortunately, even treatment may not be the best-case scenario for all: one soldier featured in the article recorded his sessions with an Army psychiatrist who suggested the soldier was exaggerating his claims of PTS and ignored the soldier’s stated suicidal thoughts. An Army investigation into the soldier’s mistreatment found him to be the only case of such malfeasance—but documents should investigators were told about at least nine other soldiers who had similarly unhelpful encounters with psychiatrists at the same medical facility suggesting another systemic issue. In NPR’s review of the investigation, they found that the same psychiatrists mistreating patients were sometimes the same ones signing off on discharge papers that said soldiers’ mental health issues were not due to combat. Even military mental health advocates like Pete Chiarelli say it’s not easy to link mental health and misconduct. The Army says its commanders are taking second looks at many of these cases, sometimes allowing soldiers to stay in or receive discharges that allow for benefits. But the stories in this article are illustrative of the fact that the issue of mental health is far more complicated and has many second and third order affects than are often discussed. –LJ

It’s Costing Taxpayers Hundreds of Millions of Dollars to Pay the School Fees for Veterans Who Have Dropped Out
Lisa Rein (@ReinIwapo), Washington Post
A newly released report shows that the government is overpaying schools and veterans when Post-9/11 GI Bill users drop a class or leave school. In many cases veterans are unaware of debts they may be incurring, and one in four GI Bill students owed an average of $570. $110 million in overpayments remain uncollected from 2014. –MC
Bottom line: The headline of the story paints a more scandalous picture than the full article, or for that matter, the GAO study. Approximately two-thirds of the FY2014 overpayments discussed in the story have now been paid back, according to the GAO. And over 90 percent of all overpayments are caused by student enrollment changes, which the VA has no control over. Post-9/11 GI Bill overpayments, then, are equal to about four percent of the total outlays for the program, and they pale in comparison to the overpayments found in the biggest culprits, primarily healthcare payments. There is no hidden scandal here. But what we do find is a large, critical program that has room for improge tvement to help reduce overpayments and to reduce the impact those overpayments can have on students and schools when the time comes for repayment. The GAO report notes that the Department of Education has a system where it works with the schools to resolve overpayments, whereas the VA works both with the schools and with the hundreds of thousands of affected student veterans. The process and rules that the VA uses for addressing overpayment could also be improved. So while this isn’t a problem on par with the VA’s other stumbles and scandals in the last few years, it is an area where improvement will both create more certainty for student veterans and also could help the federal government better manage and maintain control of billions of taxpayer dollars. –BW

Pentagon and VA ‘Still Years Away From Fully Interoperable Electronic Health Records
Jack Moore (@jmooreDC), Nextgov
A new assessment from the Government Accountability Office shows that the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Pentagon are still years away from meeting a 2016 deadline for developing an electronic health records system for that works seamlessly between both agencies. Both the VA and DOD are focusing on smaller improvements, but neither has proved that these changes will be less expensive than developing a larger system. –MC
Bottom line: Years before joining ScoutComms I led policy and communications for one of two national health information technology associations. These days, my wife works on health IT policy, including liaising with federal health IT leaders. The debates I heard then, and that she hears now about interoperability of the DoD and VA electronic health record systems have changed little, and are echoed in the private sector as well. Fundamentally, the challenge is that while there is broad recognition of the value of EHRs, there are constant disputes about what information should be shared, how it should be shared, who can access it, so on and so forth. So attempts to create interoperability often falter because of a lack of common agreement. We try and try again to break down barriers and instead create more costs and more frustration. The whole point of integrating the two systems and creating interoperability is about ensuring the patient’s information is accessible both to the patient and to any provider within the system. While the VA and DoD continue to struggle with this issue—which will likely cost us billions more before its solved—decision makers need to keep in mind that the first priority is that information must be available and must be transferrable. If that requires jury-rigged solutions like the Joint Legacy Viewer, then so be it. But the failure thus far to create a fully interoperable EHR should not mean that information that is critical to maintaining a service member or veteran’s health is unavailable through some means. –BW

Tricare Young Adult Premiums to Rise Sharply in 2016
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Adult children of service members and retirees using Tricare Young Adult will see a 26 to 47 percent increase in their healthcare premiums starting in January. Tricare Young Adult is available to children of eligible sponsors under the age of 26 who don’t have access to health care through an employer. Tricare officials say that the increase will make the program “cost-neutral to the government.” –MC
Bottom line: Remember last week where we talked about the little cuts that add up here and there to savings for DoD but end up progressively destroying the entire framework of the military benefits system? Here is yet another one. DoD announced that after carefully studying the costs of providing the Obamacare directed Tricare Young Adult health plan to children of service members and retirees, they found it was more expensive than they thought. So, they are raising the rates because “gosh darn the law says it has to be cost neutral’. The end result is a dramatic increase in rates upwards of almost 50% increase for many beneficiaries. Save DoD millions, cost military family members dramatically more money for basic health benefits. Little cuts. More pain for families every week and not one of them will rise to the level of a Congressional hearing or protest by veterans and military advocates because it’s “just a little increase”. –FPW

Sacramento Marine Vet Says He Was Beaten Over Mistaken Case of Stolen Valor
Nick Janes (@nick_janes), CBS Sacramento
Last week a Marine Corps Veteran who served in combat in Fallujah, Iraq, was beaten after being accused of stolen valor by an apparent active duty Air Force Airman. Michael Delfin was leaving an Arden-area bar when an individual claiming to be in the Air Force attacked leaving Delfin with a broken tibia and injured jaw. –MC
Bottom line: The idiocy that has become the militant “stolen valor” movement that is often videotaped and celebrated was always coming to this kind of incident. The Airman who accused Delfin of being a faker apparently didn’t recognize a Department of Veterans Affairs ID Card and insisted that the former Marine produce a proper DoD CAC Card. He didn’t even know what a real veteran looked like so he jumped a guy outside a bar. This has got to end. What this Airman did dishonors everything he swore he was defending in the attack. Hopefully the attacker is found, prosecuted and thrown in jail with the other felons where he belongs. ­–FPW

Reader’s Watchdog: Neighbors Say Nay to Veteran’s Horses
Leed Rood (@leerood), Des Moines Register
Dave Gordy, a combat veteran, has 30 acres of land where he keeps horses that help him cope with a traumatic brain injury, concussions, and post traumatic stress. But Gordy may have to give up these horses due to zoning laws and neighbors’ complaints. His neighbors claim that Gordy doesn’t adequately care for his animals and has been confrontational. Gordy is not the only veteran who says his horse has helped him, last week an organization called Freedom Farm was highlighted by the Chicago Tribune for its therapeutic work with veterans, including horses. –MC
Bottom line: This is probably one of my favorite articles written about a veteran in the community in a while. We all get the Google News alerts about the great veterans making their community greater. We get the stories about the shady ones, too. But this story takes a very neutral look at how it impacts a neighborhood when a veteran uses that status in an effort to help other veterans at the expense of local laws. What we have seen across the nation is the benefits horse therapy can have for veterans and service members dealing with mental and physical wounds. What we see in the case of Dave Gordy is perhaps a symptom of the civil-military divide, both in the sense of the community and the sense of Gordy himself. Communities should do what they can to accommodate veterans’ needs within the law—and the community in this instance says Gordy would have helped himself by being forthright about his needs. Veterans also have a responsibility to the communities to which they return. –LJ

Vietnam Veteran Completes Cross-country Ride in Beaufort County
Deeanna Wilkerson (@DeeWilkersonBT), Bluffton Today
Darryl Cloud, a Vietnam veteran from Ohio, has finished cycling across the country to raise money for the Semper Fi Fund, a nonprofit that provides resources to wounded, critically ill and injured service members, veterans and their families. Cloud hopes to raise $90,000, which would be enough to provide six veterans with specialized wheelchairs. –MC

Iowa Veterans Need Support to Make Successful Transition
Eric Eversole (@EricEversoleHoH) for the Des Moines Register
Iowa’s veteran unemployment rate has fallen below 5 percent, but Hiring Our Heroes is not scaling back its efforts. Hiring Our Heroes President, Eric Eversole, discusses the need for continued support to employ veterans in an op-ed for the Des Moines Register. Hiring Our Heroes is hosting a job fair this Tuesday for veterans, military spouses, and transitioning service members in Des Moines, Iowa, and is hosting several fairs across the country throughout the rest of the year. –MC

Veteran Nonprofits Come Together For 24-Hour, Online Giving Day
Tom Matthews (@dayforthebrave), Task and Purpose
On Veterans Day, Razoo is hosting its first pro bono giving event in support of our nation’s top veteran serving nonprofits. Razoo’s CEO, Tom Matthews, discusses the day of giving, called Day For The Brave, in a recent op-ed for Task & Purpose. Matthews believes that #DayForTheBrave will shine a spotlight on veterans’ needs and raise awareness. –MC

Army Officer’s Military Surplus Bag Company in Line for Super Bowl Ad
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes
Emily Núñez Cavness and Betsy Núñez grew up in a military family. In 2012, the two women started a business turning military surplus materials into fashionable bags. Their company, Sword & Plough supports veterans in many ways including donating 10 percent of its profits to veteran organizations. Sword & Plough is a finalist in the Intuit Quickbooks’ Small Business Big Game Competition, where they could win an ad during the most watched football game of the year. Help Sword & Plough win by voting every day and spreading the word on your social media channels! –MC

Vets Can Continue to Serve by Starting a Business
Maria Contreras-Sweet (@MCS4Biz), Stars and Stripes
Maria Contreras-Sweet, Administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, discusses how military veterans can continue to serve by becoming entrepreneurs in a recent Stars and Stripes op-ed. The SBA offers many programs and resources for aspiring vetrepreneurs, including the Boots to Business program. Boots to Business is offered to all service members and their spouses, and teaches them the basics of entrepreneurship. As National Veterans Small Business Week approaches, the SBA will host and support a variety of veteran entrepreneurship events and courses across the nation. –MC

Quick Hits:

Commissary-Exchange Merger Unnecessary, Official Says
Karen Jowers, Military Times
Defense Department officials have decided that merging the military’s commissary and exchange systems is not a necessary step to save taxpayer dollars. A newly created Defense Retail Business Optimization Board will begin to review the systems and develop a plan for savings over the next six months. –MC

Survey: Military-Family Uncertainty on the Rise
Karen Jowers, Military Times
Last week, Blue Star Families released the results of its survey of military families. The survey showed that military families are worried about changes to retirement and military pay as well as housing costs. For the first time, this year’s also survey included questions about the transition from military to civilian life. –MC

Mission Family: Spouses Need In-Person and Online Mentors
Karen Jowers, Military Times
A new survey shows that military spouses need more in-person and online mentors. The study shows that spouses sometimes feel isolated and highlights the role social media can play in military spouse mentorship. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Give an Hour: Celebration of Service (Sun-Wed, 1-4 November); Washington, DC

Americans Veterans Center: 18th Annual Conference and Honors (Thu-Sat, 5-7 November); Washington, DC

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs: Testimony of Subpoenaed Witnesses on the Department of Veteran Affairs Alleged Misuse of Relocation Program Incentives When: 7:30 PM, Monday, November 2, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon House

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Examining VA’s Information Technology Systems that Provide Economic Opportunities for Veterans When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, November 3, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon House

Joint Veterans’ Affairs and Small Business on Contracting and Workforce: An Examination of Continued Challenges in VA’s Vets First Verification Process Who: Mr. William Shear, Director, Financial Markets and Community Investment, United States Government Accountability Office, Mr. Quentin Aucoin, Assistant Inspector General for Investigations, United States Department of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Tom Leney, Executive Director, Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization, United States Department of Veterans Affairs When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, November 4, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon House


Armed Services: Revisiting the Roles and Missions of the Armed Forces Who: Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.), Dean, The Mitchell Institute For Aerospace Studies, Mr. Robert C. Martinage, Senior Fellow, The Center For Strategic And Budgetary Assessments, Mr. Bryan McGrath, Deputy Director, The Center For American Seapower The Hudson Institute, Dr. Michael E. O’Hanlon, Co-Director, The Center For 21st Century Security And Intelligence The Brookings Institution When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, November 5, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen

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, November 02, 2015 5:44 pm

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