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Veterans Roundup: Battling Over the Future of Denver VA Construction, Why Congress Says Some Vets Can’t Have Kids and “Stolen Valor” Claims Gone Awry

Posted by Fred Wellman

“Appalling” Law Prevents IVF Coverage for Veterans

Jan Crawford (@JanCBS), CBS News. The enemy’s signature weapon of the post-9/11 wars has been the Improvised Explosive Device (IED) and it has waged a heavy price on those injured in combat. Many of those wounded by IED strikes are unable to have children because of their injuries. Because of a law passed under a Republican-led Congress 23 years ago, the Department of Veterans Affairs is blocked from funding fertility treatments for these vets. Oddly, the Department of Defense is allowed, so injured service members are often forced to frantically try and get fertility treatments before being medically retired and in the midst of trying to recover from their wounds. –FPW
Bottom line: Washington’s Senator Patty Murray has been fighting for five years to fix the broken law that ignores something so key to the fabric of our wounded warriors’ lives and their families. Arguments against the change aren’t just the moralistic arguments from social conservatives but also fiscal arguments due to the costly treatments that can run upwards of $10,000 per round. It’s troubling that the same politicians that swear they will do anything for our wounded troops can’t see the heartache and pain caused by allowing religious or relatively minor monetary arguments block the availability of modern science to solve an important issue to those who have suffered loss for our nation. There is only one answer here: fix the law and do the right thing. –FPW

Study: Bomb Blasts May Cause Early Aging in Brains of Troops
Gregg Zoroya (@GreggZoroya), USA Today. Scientists with the Department of Veterans Affairs published a study in Brain, A Journal of Neurology that finds signs of early aging in the brains of combat veterans caught near bomb blasts, even among those who felt nothing from the explosion at all. They saw signs of deterioration much like those in elderly patients including declines in executive function, memory, and planning at a dramatically earlier age. The findings are troublesome especially since many of those suffering from the degeneration had no other concussion-like symptoms in combat. –FPW
Bottom line: These findings mirror those of earlier studies that are see damage to troops brains from IEDs that will have long term ramifications for the care of our veterans. Some 60% of veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are signing up for care from the VA and while there are 20,000 or more veterans passing away a month from older generations, the per patient costs of this generation of veterans’ care will likely continue to rise for decades to come. Tens of thousands of troops were exposed to blasts and the neurological and physical effects are still being figured out. It all goes to the point we’ve made before that the ends of our wars are just the beginning of the fight for long-term care for our veterans. –FPW

VA Offers a New Denver Hospital Plan
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The VA offered a new proposal to Congress last Friday regarding a plan forward for the Denver hospital project, a VA construction project that has gone millions of dollars over budget. If a deal is not made by the end of June, construction will be halted on the hospital, further delaying access to care for thousands of Denver-area veterans. –MC
Bottom line: The Denver hospital cost overruns are not a new problem for the VA. The construction firm, which has sued the VA over the hospital construction, said in 2013 that the cost of the hospital would grossly exceed the budget and asked to be removed from the project. At the time, the final cost looked to be in the $1 billion range, but two years later it’s looking like it will end up closer to $1.7 billion. Both Congress and the construction firm point fingers at the VA for designing a hospital that would cost more than allocated funding allowed, so now the VA is tasked with devising cost-savings in the design and finding other accounts from which to shift funding (goodbye “green energy” projects and other construction needs.) The other option, the one that wouldn’t impact other VA programs directly and thus veterans indirectly, would be for Congress simply to raise the approved spending limit for the hospital. The mismanagement that led to the current state of the Denver VA construction stems from VA’s longstanding cultural issues. Short-term fixes shouldn’t be expected. Since VA is showing commitment to long-term reform, it seems unfair to make veterans, in Colorado or elsewhere if Congress has its way, suffer in the end. –LJ

The Problem with Calling Out ‘Stolen Valor:’ What if You’re Wrong?
Sarah Larimer (@slarimer), The Washington Post. Calling out military fakers and stolen valor has become an increasingly common practice since the Supreme Court struck down a broad law against it. As the number of viral stolen valor videos increases, so does the chance of being wrong. Sometimes confronters humiliate real veterans by calling them imposters as happened last week in Kentucky in an ugly episode that included a police officer and another vet not recognizing a 70-year-old man’s 1962 Marine uniform at a Memorial Day event and calling him out publicly. The topic has sparked quite a debate in the military community. –MC
Bottom line: This is just one of those issues that has gotten completely out of hand. We have seen videos of tough guy veterans screaming at homeless panhandlers, cursing out autistic young adults wearing uniforms given to them by recruiters as an honor, and a host of other embarrassing episodes. When did it become appropriate to attack and berate the very people we swore to protect? When did veterans become such delicate flowers that someone wearing a uniform is so offensive it sends us into frothing rages? Clearly there are those that seek to capitalize on the high esteem the American public has for our military and they should be called out but it needs to be done appropriately and professionally. Screaming at and humiliating people in public only perpetuates the very civil-military divide we decry. As one article put it, it’s better that ten fakers get away and get a discount than a single real veteran is falsely accused and humiliated. –FPW

Officials Back Away from the Deadline to Meet Homeless Vets
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Officials from the departments of Veterans Affairs and the Housing and Urban Development are backing away from the 2016 deadline to end veteran homelessness but that doesn’t mean that they’re giving up on efforts. Nearly 50,000 veterans are believed to still live on the streets, although significant progress has been made in the last few years and the number of homeless veterans has decreased by more than 25,000. –MC
Bottom line: At the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference two weeks ago, advocates and federal officials alike came together around the goal of ending veteran homelessness. The conversations, though, often focused on much longer timelines than the administration’s upcoming deadline to end veteran homelessness by the end of the year. The fie-year plan, first set at the end of 2009, was an important rallying point for the homeless community. Today, service providers who have been in the space for decades are motivated by the fact that they are closer than ever to getting all veterans off the streets. But most also realize that won’t happen by December. Now the focus within the community will be on maintaining the robust federal, state, and local support that has been galvanized to meet the lofty goal. It makes sense for officials to downplay the goal so that “failure” doesn’t lead to giving up, to shifting resources elsewhere, and eventually to more veterans on the streets. Knowing the dedication and commitment of everyone working in the sector, we can’t imagine them letting that happen. It’s important not to see the deadline as do or die but rather a goal post to measure our progress and then try even harder. –LJ

Quick Hits:

The Risk of Over-Thanking Our Veterans
Ken Harbaugh (@harbaughTR) for The New York Times. Ken Harbaugh, a former Navy pilot, co-founder of The Mission Continues, and Team Rubicon COO, wrote a piece for the New York Times on the dangers of thanking our nation’s veterans a little too much. Harbaugh points to the rising costs of disability payments to veterans and suggests policies that could reduce increases—if we’re willing to treat our veterans a little more like regular humans. –MC

Beau Biden, VP’s Son, Remembered for Life of Service
Josh Lederman, The Associated Press. On Saturday, politicians, military leaders, and friends came together to remember and say goodbye to Beau Biden, the son of Vice President Joe Biden. He was remembered for his life of service, and was presented with the Legion of Merit by General Ray Odierno, who was the U.S. commander in Iraq during Beau’s service there. –MC

Post-9/11 vet Unemployment Rate Nears Historic Low in May
George Altman, Military Times.
The May unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans came very close to hitting the historic low of 5.3 from May 2014. Although it’s hard to infer the overall situation from just a month’s snapshot, veteran unemployment over the past half year is on a significant downslope and employment is looking better for post-9/11 veterans than at any point in history. –MC

Let Transgender Troops Serve Openly
New York Times Editorial Board. The New York Times editorial page explored the challenges that transgender troops face as they serve in our military and argues that they should be allowed to serve openly because some already do. Research estimates that about 15,500 transgender troops are currently serving in military. –MC

Pentagon Review of How Troops Get Recognized for Combat Heroism in Final Phases
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post. The Defense Department is near completion of a review assessing the military’s current system of honoring troops for acts of valor on the battlefield. The review will take particular note of how drone operators fit into the awards system. The review comes in response to criticism that a very small number of Medals of Honor have been presented to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan compared to hundreds for each of our nation’s previous wars. –MC

Expert: Open More Doors for Spouse Entrepreneurs
Karen Jowers, Military Times. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University works in partnership with the U.S. Small Business Administration to create opportunities for veterans and military spouses in small business ownership. At the Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE) conference last weekend in Washington, DC, nearly 200 veteran women and military spouses learned what it takes to be an entrepreneur. Dr. Mike Haynie, Executive Director of the IVMF, and Barbara Carson, the SBA’s acting associate administrator for the Office of Veterans Business Development, discussed opportunities for spouses through programs like V-WISE, Operation Boots to Business, and other IVMF and SBA programs. If you’re a veteran or spouse thinking about business ownership, we highly recommend you take the time to read this article! –MC

Former Marine Officer Breaks World Record Plank to Benefit Semper Fi Fund
Monica Garske (@GarskeNBC), NBCSan Diego 7. Last week, George Hood, a former Marine Corps officer, set out to break the world record for the longest abdominal plank. His record-breaking efforts doubled as a fundraiser for the Semper Fi Fund, an organization that assists wounded, ill, and injured service members during the recovery process and whenever their need may arise. –MC

Relatives of Marine Vet, Other Americans Held in Iran Testify in House
Deb Riechmann (@debriechmann), Associated Press. Sarah Hekmati, sister of Amir Hekmati, and family members of three other Americans missing or detained in Iran testified before Congress on Monday. Amir has been detained in Iran for three years and his family has been tirelessly working to bring him home. Join the conversation and help us bring Amir home using the hashtag #FreeAmir. –MC

Wounded Warrior Project Launches Mental Health Initiative
The Wounded Warrior Project announced a $100 million initiative to ensure wounded veterans and their family members have access to timely, high quality mental health care without regard to their geographic location or ability to pay. The clinical programs will be delivered through two- to three-week long outpatient programs providing individualized care. –LJ

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

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

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Prescription Mismanagement and the Risk of Veteran Suicide When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, June 10, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Exploring VBA’s Fiduciary Program When: 2:00 PM, Thursday, June 11, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

RecruitMilitary: Veteran Job Fair When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, June 4, 2015 Where: 425 East California Ave., Oklahoma City, OK 73104

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, June 08, 2015 5:12 pm

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