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Veterans Roundup: Bob McDonald to be Nominated as VA Secretary, DOD Medical Facilities Failing Patients

Posted by Fred Wellman

PTSD And The Civil-Military Divide

Fred Wellman, Task & Purpose. For PTSD Awareness Day, our fearless leader Fred wrote for Task & Purpose about the lack of context surrounding PTSD that is fueling the civil-military divide. Most Americans suffering from PTSD aren’t veterans but rather millions of civilians who’ve survived car accidents, rape, and other trauma. Fred said it’s time that veterans recognize civilians suffer from PTSD, too. Rather than allow stereotypes about PTSD to fester, both civilians and veterans can use the shared experience as a way to start a bigger conversation between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. –LJ

Statement on Nomination of Robert McDonald as Secretary of Veterans Affairs

Fred Wellman. A doctor, a general, a young veteran—many advocates had made demands on what the next VA Secretary should be, but now we have a nominee. Fred weighs in with an assessment of McDonald’s experience at Proctor & Gamble and how that might make him more effective than a general ever could have been. Agree? Disagree? Respond on our blog or to @FPWellman on Twitter. –LJ

Obama to Nominate Former Proctor & Gamble CEO as Veterans Affairs Secretary

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Unnamed administration officials released to the press yesterday that President Obama will be nominating 1975 U.S. Military Academy graduate and former P&G CEO Robert McDonald to be the next Secretary of Veterans Affairs. The choice was a surprise to everyone and defies calls by some veterans groups to bring in another general, a post-9/11 veteran, or a health industry leader. The choice makes sense to us, however. The key to remember is that VA is designed much like an international corporation with three strong and relatively independent business units and a headquarters. Many outsiders and military veterans often fail to understand that it is not like a military unit where a general like former Secretary Shinseki can simply give an order and it will flow down the chain-of-command and be followed. Most international corporations are much more loosely organized with business unit heads having power nearly equal to the overall CEO. In this case, Mr. McDonald’s former company P&G has four powerful global business units and shared services at corporate. His experience leading a department with the massive size and reach of VA won’t be alien to him after running a major global brand. In addition, McDonald had an activist board during his tenure and a very vocal shareholder pool driving him towards the transparency Congress is demanding. While we do not know Mr. McDonald, we do have several colleagues who have been impressed by his work with the West Point leadership conference he sponsors and his work professionally. It is sure to be a challenging confirmation process but initial reactions bode well so far. –FPW

VA Review Finds ‘Significant and Chronic’ Failures

Jim Kuhnenn, Associated Press. The first report on the Department of Veterans Affairs ordered by President Obama from his deputy White House chief of staff Rob Nabors and acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs Sloan Gibson was released on Friday and it was just plain ugly. The investigation actually confirms many of the things that Veterans Service Organizations have been telling Congress and the Administration for a while but also added some tough language like “significant and chronic system failures” and a “corrosive culture” at the Veterans Health Administration. The review has found the 14-day standard for scheduling veterans’ medical appointments ordered by former Secretary Shinseki was unrealistic and that instead of fixing the issue many employees simply manipulated wait times to make it look like it was working. Other findings found that VHA’s leadership regularly dismissed failures and whistleblower complaints as “exaggerated, unimportant, or ‘will pass’” instead of acting on them or correcting the deficiencies. In addition, one fourth of the entire federal government’s whistleblower cases under review came from VA. The report recommends hiring more health care providers among its findings although the department has been trying to hire more for some time. The bottom line is that many of the worst fears about the VHA have been confirmed by the investigation and it remains to be seen if a logical solution can come from Congress and the administration in a rush to fix the symptoms. –FPW

Survey: Many Vets with PTSD or TBI say Treatment Doesn’t Help

Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. An American Legion survey of more than 3,100 veterans found over half reporting that the treatment they received for PTSD and/or TBI was not effective. Particularly worrying about this survey is that when veterans don’t perceive a positive impact from their treatment, they are far more likely to drop out of treatment or develop negative feelings about themselves. The survey found the most common reason veterans quit treatment was because they saw no improvement during the course of treatment. Many also felt doctors relied too heavily on prescription drugs—over half of those in treatment were on five or more medications. What veterans and practitioners need are evidence-based treatments with proven outcomes. That is what ScoutComms client CNS Response provides through its PEER reports. An EEG matches a patient’s brain chemistry with the right medication so instead of taking five ineffective drugs, a veteran can take one effective drug. The PEER report has 84 peer-reviewed studies backing up the science and it’s currently being used at Walter Reed in a 2,000-soldier clinical trial. –LJ

One Thing That Is Going Right for Veterans and The VA’s Secret Claims

Jordain Carney (@jordainc), National Journal. The National Journal giveth, and the National Journal taketh away. Carney writes about two under the radar stories affecting the veteran community: one for the good, one for the bad. First the good: veteran unemployment is going down, even for young veterans. Thanks to the tireless work of coalitions like the 100,000 Jobs Mission and the U.S. Chamber Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, corporations and small businesses have stepped up to hire veterans. The kitchen sink approach has worked. By doing a little bit of everything, from translating military MOSs to civilian skills, hosting resume workshops, putting on nationwide job fairs, and highlighting veterans’ intangible skills, veterans from across the spectrum of employment needs have been able to find work. With the coming cuts to the size of the Army, it will be essential that these efforts continue. Where the news may not be so good—even though rates are similarly decreasing—is on the claims backlog. Carney writes that the falling number of disability claims is only one-third of the story—the other two-thirds of claims at the VA are untracked and awaiting responses. These claims include award adjustment claims, appeals, FOIA requests, and Congressional inquiries. While VA has made a lot of progress on disability claims, the VFW says that has largely been at the expense of adjudicating these other claims. So many veterans can expect to wait even longer for their claims to be settled. –LJ

In Military Care, a Pattern of Errors but Not Scrutiny

Andrew W. Lehren and Sharon Lafraniere, The New York Times. In a front-page story on Sunday, The New York Times documents a damning investigation of the military medical system and the way it has failed families and service members. The military medical system is wholly separate from the VA health care system, though hasn’t been without its issues. In May, Hagel ordered a Pentagon review of medical facilities to look for any potential lapses in care that could indicate endemic problems like those at the VA. While that review is not yet complete, the Times found that oversight is sporadic at military medical facilities and easily preventable errors are chronic. Compared to civilian hospitals, military facilities aren’t stacking up in patient care—especially in two critical areas: maternity and surgery. Newborns at military medical facilities are twice as likely to be injured in childbirth than those born in civilian facilities. The reasons military facilities aren’t staking up, according to the Times, is a “compartmentalized system of leadership, a culture of interservice secrecy and an overall failure to make patient safety a top priority.” From 2006 to 2010, the government paid $100 million in malpractice suits against its military facilities. That even though service members aren’t legally allowed to sue the government. If they were, the Congressional Budget Office estimates the government would have to pay three times the current amount in malpractice claims. Rates of patient readmission and death are used by civilian hospitals to monitor the quality of care provided, but the military system doesn’t track these rates and has no effective way to know the harm being done to patients. Unlike the VA scandal where lack of capacity to handle patients is a root cause of the problem, it’s weak procedures and oversight impacting care at military medical facilities. With more than 1.6 million service members and families being served by this system, the investigation by the Times should be a wake-up call to leaders in the Pentagon—and on Capitol Hill. –LJ

Worst-case Scenario Under Army Realignment Shows Bragg Shrinking, Affecting Local Economy

Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), Fayetteville Observer. In one of the more puzzling moves of late, the U.S. Army Environmental Command chose to release a draft report this week examining the absolute worst-case scenarios on some 30 Army bases nationwide of possible force cuts on the future. What makes this so odd is that the report itself states that the odds of any of these ‘end of days’ scenarios occurring were almost miniscule yet the Army released a draft version that sent communities across the country into a frenzy. Down at Ft. Bragg, the socioeconomic and environmental impact of a worst case Army cut by 2020 estimated that a ridiculous 16,000 soldiers and defense civilians would lose their jobs or quit, leaving a smoking hole in the local economy. For comparison that’s equivalent to the entire 82nd Airborne division going away. Needless to say the local communities are gearing up to fight for their survival thanks to the worst-case picture painted in a draft report much as they did during the previous rounds of Base Realignment and Closure efforts. It’s an odd decision cycle that leads to a draft report being released knowing it will cause a near nuclear reaction in communities surrounding military bases but the effect of mobilizing communities has been accomplished and now dollars will be spent to save bases around the nation…that might not even be in a single bit of danger anyway. –FPW

Army Staff Sergeant Will Receive Medal of Honor for Valor at Wanat

Michelle Tan, Army Times. Just a week after bestowing the nation’s highest medal for valor upon former Marine Kyle Carpenter, the White House announced that yet another Medal of Honor would go to a living Army veteran of the now famous battle of Wanat in Afghanistan. Former Staff Sgt. Ryan Pitts, a forward observer with 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment will be the third recipient of the award from the unit following Sal Guinta and Kyle White. Pitts was wounded almost as soon as a massive Taliban assault began on his remote Observation Post and was forced to crawl from fighting position to position in the OP due to his wounds. For 90 minutes he would fight back the enemy with hand grenades and fire all the while radioing updates to his commander and treating the wounds of his comrades. At points Pitts was alone in the OP and others on the unit radio network could hear enemy voices on his microphone as they were so close to his position. His incredible bravery saved the lives of his unit and prevented the OP from being overrun that day which would have given the Taliban a straight shot into the rest of the unit’s outpost. He left the military due to his injuries and now lives in New Hampshire with his family working in business development. –FPW

Before Shooting in Iraq, Warning on Blackwater

James Risen, The New York Times. In October 2007 a convoy of Blackwater security guards for the State Department opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisour Square with automatic weapons and grenades that would leave 17 Iraqis dead and prove to be a turning point in the war. Today, four of those guards are once again on trial in the U.S. accused of a host of crimes. Now a cache of new documents are being revealed that show a shocking level of professionalism (or lack thereof) and illegal activity by Blackwater managers in Iraq that were not only ignored by the State Department supervisors but all but condoned. One of the most ridiculous incidents surround an investigation by State Department security personnel sent from Washington to look at rumored improprieties in the contract and behavior of the huge Blackwater security contingent working for the Baghdad Embassy. During the investigation, the lead for the company directly told the visiting investigator he could kill him and no one would ever know and did so right in front of the head of security for the embassy. Just days later the embassy ordered the investigators to leave the country because they were causing problems for the contractor even though they had found blatant violations of federal law and the contract Blackwater was operating under. Just weeks later the shootings in Nisour Square thrust Blackwater back into headlines after four of their men were killed in Fallujah years before sparking two major battles for that city. In the end, not only were Blackwater’s contract and managers not affected by their outrageous behavior but no report of any problems were made to the State Department by local embassy officials until after the fatal shootings. In many ways this is all history now but with Iraq once again heating up you can be sure that the use of private security contractors will be a key part of any future conflicts so learning the lessons of this disastrous situation can’t be ignored. –FPW

Long-time PAO, Soldier Retires from Service

Anyone who has worked in the Army’s public affairs branch or spent even a brief time hanging around Ft. Belvoir has heard of Don Carr. For over 42 years Don has served in the public affairs branch of the Army with 21 years as a soldier and then another 21 as a civilian–all the while serving as a mentor to anyone who asked for help. Don is well known in recent years as the Chief of Public Affairs at Ft. Belvoir and one of the most eager early adapters of social media as a tool to inform his local communities. During the “Snowmageddon” blizzard of 2010, Don and his team brilliantly leveraged the base Facebook page to inform residents and off-base personnel of the status of the base, power outages, blocked roads and even as a tool for community members to help each other dig out their houses or support the spouses of deployed soldiers. Known appreciatively as the ‘Godfather of Army Public Affairs’ and alternatively as “Mr. Belvoir” he will be leaving a gaping hole in the region and a whole lot of us who learned at his side. Carr claims he will be just playing grandpa from now on but few who know him believe he’ll be able to sit still for long. We wish Don the very best in his well deserved retirement and remind him the lights are always on at ScoutComms for him to visit.

Tradeshows & Conferences

No big shows or conferences.

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess this week. The House Committee on Homeland Security is holding a field hearing.

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, June 23, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: The Future of Iraq Who: Ambassador Lukman Faily, Iraq’s Ambassador to the United States, Marwan Muasher, Vice President for Studies at Carnegie When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, July 1, 2014 Where: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave., Washington, DC

Stimson Center: A Roundtable Discussion on Changing Dynamics in the Gulf Who: Emile Hokayem, Senior Fellow for Middle East Security, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Michael Connell, Senior Research Scientist and Director, Iranian Studies Program, Center for Naval Analyses, Geneive Abdo, Fellow at Stimson’s Middle East Program and non-resident Fellow at Brookings Saban Center When: 1:00 PM, Wednesday, July 2, 2014 Where: The Stimson Center, 1111 19th Street NW, 12th Floor, Washington, DC

HillVets: Monthly Happy Hour Who: DC area veterans, Hill staff, advocates, and supporters When: 6:00 PM, Thursday, July 3, 2014 Where: Béarnaise, 315 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC

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, June 30, 2014 1:48 pm

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