Veterans Roundup: Army Layoffs and Sequestration, Why Commissary Patrons May Be Spending More Very Soon, Latest Findings on Suicide Risk, and More

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Commissary Privatization May Not Be Dead Just Yet
Karen Jowers, Military Times. Two provisions in the House and the Senate versions of the 2016 defense authorization bill draft may bring the discussion of commissary privatization back to the table. Commissary privatization was supposedly ‘thrown out’ of the plan weeks ago, but due to a technicality in how the bill was passed through the Senate, there is a possibility that the original privatization plan could be chosen by lawmakers. Other issues hidden in the legislation impacting commissary prices will also come to a head including the future of second-destination shipping costs. –MC
Bottom line:  Just when you thought the Senate had scuttled efforts by the Department of Defense to privatize the Commissary system or make major changes to the way military families purchase groceries on base…you were wrong. To the confusion of everyone, two different amendments, one to stop privatization and one to continue studied the possibility, made it into the Senate NDAA. Meanwhile, DeCA is subtly altering the way it ships fresh fruits and vegetables overseas, something Congress has continued to subsidize, to instead pass added costs directly to overseas shoppers. This quiet change means that prices on most fresh products will rise dramatically as this change in shipping cost is to be covered by military families. Congressman Duncan Hunter is leading the charge on the House side to scuttle DeCA’s effort but if he fails…well…hold on to your hat as military shoppers watch their healthy food choices get a whole lot more expensive in Asia and elsewhere. –FPW

The Biggest and Most Disruptive Layoffs in America Are Coming from the Military
Lydia DePillis (@lydiadepillis), Washington Post. To meet the demands of the Budget Control Act passed by Congress, the Army is planning to cut 40,000 troops in the next two years. About 30 military installations will experience downsizing and some will lose thousands of troops and their families. Communities around bases facing major losses are expecting to face an “economic punch in the gut.” Many Members of Congress condemned the troop cuts, but as a McClatchy article pointed out last week, several of the same individuals strongly supported sequestration four years ago. –MC
Bottom line: We now know where the reductions in Army end strength will be made to meet the ridiculous cuts put in place by Congress and its idiotic sequestration budget. The humor this week comes from the outraged Members of Congress who were shocked to find their bases would lose thousands of troops and their communities would face major economic impacts. One can only assume that the cuts to the military were going to occur in some magical place that doesn’t affect anyone. Reality can be a very difficult mistress sometimes. The question becomes once again if this latest painful move will actually cause Congress to do the right thing and remove the automatic ‘doomsday’ cuts they enacted several years ago but which Congress has remained unable to turn back. –FPW

Junior Troops, Women More Likely to Try Suicide
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. A new study published by JAMA Psychiatry found that new soldiers and female soldiers were more likely to attempt suicide. By examining Army records of almost 10,000 suicide attempts from 2004 through 2009, researchers found that enlisted personnel made 99 percent of suicide attempts and that female soldiers were twice as likely to attempt suicide. This new data is expected to help the military develop more effective prevention efforts. –MC
Bottom line: This new study unfortunately confirms some of what we already know, for instance that the risk of suicide is highest amongst those who haven’t deployed—in this case those within their first few months of service. It also seems to track with recent findings that show female veterans similarly have an elevated risk of suicide compared to male soldiers and their female civilian counterparts. The continued granular look at the data will hopefully be able to guide the future of military mental health interventions and also, perhaps, break some of the persistent stereotypes that abound about which service members are committing suicide and why. –LJ

Major Supermarket Distances Itself from Veterans Charity After Contact 5 Investigation
Katie LaGrone (@KatieLaGrone) WPTV West Palm Beach. Veterans Support Organization, a licensed non-profit in Florida, has been banned from soliciting donations in front of Publix supermarkets. The ban came as the result of an investigation of the charity’s legitimacy by a local news station. The organization has been banned from soliciting in other states after questions arose about its donation process, efforts, and proceeds. –MC
Bottom line: The dubiously named “Veterans Service Organization” should be another reminder to major corporations and individual donors alike that it’s far better to question charities up front than find yourself associated with bad actors later. Any reasonably well run non-profit should be able to answer the most basic questions about the veterans it serves and how your money is spent. Great non-profits will be able to demonstrate that with data and testimonials. Always ask questions, look under the hood, and don’t let a shiny paint job obscure what’s underneath. That Veterans Service Organization can still get away with what it does at least demonstrates something very positive: there is still enough goodwill for veterans among the general public that some delinquents try to exploit that. –LJ

Ever-Growing Waits for Veterans’ Care
The Editorial Board, The New York Times. Last week, the New York Times Editorial Board published an opinion piece about the long wait times veterans face for appointments at Department of Veterans Affairs clinics and hospitals. The numbers of veterans facing month-long waits or more is up 50 percent since the scandal broke last year. As the VA calls on Congress to assist with major budget shortfalls, advocates are calling for a more permanent solution. –MC
Bottom line: Amidst the hyperbole around the VA’s shortcomings and failures, the NY Times editorial board has succeeded in accurately capturing the situation. The VA made many mistakes. To help remedy those mistakes, it invested a significant amount of money in hiring more medical professionals and increasing capacity. Yet due to higher-than-expected demand for services, even the steps taken have been inadequate to reduce wait times consistently. While we must continue to hold the VA’s feet to the fire to ensure accountability, it’s also important to review the data and understand that demand has simply proven to be higher than anyone credibly expected. If Congress wants to continue to commit to helping all veterans, it must increase funding to the VA, while continuing to demand accountability and setting a high bar against which to judge VA use of those funds. –BW

Military Vets Fight a New Enemy: Child Porn
Anna Mulrine (@AnnaMulrine), Christian Science Monitor. Human Exploitation Rescue Operative (HERO) Corps is a government program that taps military veterans to use the skills they learned during military service to comb data and detect child predators. HERO Corps was launched in 2013 as a pilot program, and within six months the veterans on the team had helped reduce a two-year backlog of unanalyzed computer data that is used to prosecute criminals and locate victims. –MC
Bottom line: HERO Corps is a complicated story to understand. The linkage between military service and tracking down child pornographers is not an obvious one, but it comes down to the ability to serve, and the desire to be a protector. The Corps’ work is challenging. It’s troubling. And it’s likely unsettling even in the best circumstances. But the veterans the Corps is enlisting in its fight understand that protecting Americans can be a dirty business, and they seem to relish the ability—like other uniformed personnel in the military and law enforcement—in tracking down and bringing to justice the bad guys, whether they be Taliban members or child pornographers. We’ll be curious to see how this program, as a government initiative, evolves over time but kudos to the participants who are helping protect the most vulnerable members of our population. –BW

Venture Hive Fort Walton Beach Accelerator Announces Inaugural Class
Venture Hive has announced the seven veteran-owned businesses selected for its first accelerator class. The 12-week program will be hosted in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. and aims to nurture veteran and military family owned businesses and promote economic growth in the area. Check out the Venture Hive blog post to learn more about the selected businesses. –MC

Home Depot Foundation Awards $1.6 Million for Veterans Housing
The Home Depot Foundation announced that it will award $1.6 million in grants that will enable Volunteers of America to refurbish and build more than 300 housing units for veterans in seven states. 79 of the units will specifically be used to assist and house women veterans. –MC

Home Depot Rewarded for Giving Back
Kevin King (@KevkingSports), WTVO
Last week, Rockford (Ill.) Home Depot store manager Chad Forrester accepted the Employers Veterans Award from the Springfield American Legion Department. The store was recognized for hiring veterans in their community and for assisting veterans with home projects. –MC

Quick Hits:

Vets Used in Secret Tests to Make Progress in Courts
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. A recent court ruling says the Army should provide medical care to veterans who were used for chemical and biological tests during the Cold War. 7,000 troops were subjected to tests in the 1950s through mid-70s and were exposed to substances including ketamine and mustard gas. Troops signed up under the belief that they would be testing protective gear for U.S. troops headed to Vietnam. The Army will likely choose to appeal the ruling. –MC

Amy Donaldson: What I’ve learned Running with Veterans
Amy Donaldson (@adonsports), Deseret News. Team Red, White, and Blue is a nonprofit organization that connects military veterans to their community through social and physical activity; its members include both veterans and civilians. Amy Donaldson, a Team RWB member, wrote about her experiences as a civilian participant. We think it’s a great read and as civilian RWBers, Lauren and Margaret agree! –MC

Unemployment for Post-9/11 Vets Stays Near Historic Low
George Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times. For only the third month in recent history, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans held below 5.5 percent. The unemployment rate for all veterans stands even lower at 4.4 percent for June. –MC

Female Ranger Students Pass Darby Phase on 3rd Try
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Military Times. For the first time, three women passed the Darby Phase of Ranger School, officials announced last Friday. This was the women’s third attempt at the phase. –MC

Congress Oks New ID Cards for All Veterans
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Last Tuesday, Congress passed a measure that will offer veteran ID cards to all honorably discharged former service members. Veterans will have to pay a small fee for the ID cards, but it will serve as easy proof of service for discounts and services at private businesses. –MC

The Hidden Casualties of War: Civilian Frontline Workers
Rebecca Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times
This piece looks at the unique mental health challenges frontline civilian workers face after deployments. Many need the same kind of care that is extended to troops upon returning home, but few have access to those resources. –MC

Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, Ghost Schools
Azmat Khan (@Azmat Khan), BuzzFeed. A BuzzFeed News article investigates schools the U.S. military and other agencies supposedly built in Afghanistan. Despite being a key pillar of the war strategy, the author found that schools that cost our government million of dollars were never put to use or no longer remain operational. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

2015 National Conference on Ending Homelessness (Wed-Fri, 15-17 July); Renaissance Hotel, Washington, DC

116th VFW National Convention (Sat-Wed, 18-22 July); David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Pittsburgh, PA

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

Congressional Hearings


Armed Services: Nominations Who: General Paul J. Selva, USAF, to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Darren W. McDrew, USAF, to be Commander, U.S. Transportation Command When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen


Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health: Legislative hearing on: H.R. 272; H.R. 353; H.R. 359; H.R. 421; H.R. 423; H.R. 1356; H.R. 1688; H.R. 1862; H.R. 2464; H.R. 2914; H.R. 2915; H.R. 3016; and draft legislation to authorize VA major medical facility construction projects for FY 2015 and to make certain improvements in the administration of VA medical facility construction projects When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs: Markup of H.R. 1994 When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, July 15, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs: Exploring VA’s Administration of Individual Unemployability Benefits When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, July 15, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

Funders Together to End Homelessness: 2015 Funders Institute When: 8:30 AM, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 Where: Renaissance Downtown Hotel, 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, July 14, 2015 6:55 am

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