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Veterans Roundup: Carter Visits “Pathbreaking” IVMF, New Veteran Suicide Data and “Bad Paper” and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Secretary Talks of Progress in Recent Months, Outlines Challenges Going Forward
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald spoke with Stars and Stripes about the VA’s progress over the past few months and the issues that still need improvement. McDonald’s focus is on improving the customer experience and adding new doctors. The VA has hired about 900 new doctors and extended apologies  to families in Tomah for the pain and loss experienced as a result of mismanagement and overprescribed opiates. –MC
Bottom line: While Secretary Bob has been on a national goodwill tour for the last several months, his visibility in the DC and veterans press has been less pronounced. In this interview with Stars and Stripes, McDonald sticks to his talking points and encourages veterans to give VA a try. While change may come slowly to VA, McDonald says the calls he’s getting to his personal cell phone have shifted since September and now 35 percent of the calls he gets are thankful for VA’s services. The major goals of VA haven’t changed: ending the backlog, ending veteran homelessness, and continuing to deliver high-quality care for veterans. What is changing, McDonald says, is the culture. What we haven’t seen change is the VA PR strategy. To effectively communicate these changes, the VA will need to start using a different playbook than sporadic Q&As from the Secretary. –LJ

Study Finds No Link Between Military Suicide Rate and Deployments
Dave Phillipps (@David_Phillips), New York Times. The largest study conducted on military suicide to date found no link between deployments and suicide. The study did find that service members who separated from service before completing a full enlistment, especially those who left under conditions less than honorable, are at increased risk of suicide. Researchers acknowledged that more research is necessary and the next step is to look more closely at levels of combat exposure and their affect on suicide risk. –MC
Bottom line: One extremely mischaracterized number—22 suicides per day—has dominated discussions of veteran suicide in the last year. With the release of this new, large-scale study, we have new data at our fingertips that will hopefully bring more clarity and consistency to the search for solutions. The researchers note, rightfully so, that their findings do not rule out any role for deployment or combat in influencing suicide rates; but the findings should help redirect our attention past the “war is hell” school of thought. The study does raise a troubling issue: if suicide disproportionately affects those who leave the military or under bad conditions—the people most likely to fall off DoD and VA radars—how do we create a support network and a safety net to help them? One solution may be found in the collective impact initiatives that are currently being developed by our client the Institute for Veteran and Military Families (IVMF) and other organizations across the country to empower communities to provide more holistic support and services to veterans. We still have far too many questions about veteran suicide, even with this new study helping to advance the discussion. –BW

Ex-Troops with Highest Suicide Risk Often Don’t Qualify for Mental Care
Alan Zarembo (@AlanZarembo), Los Angeles Times. Former service members who were discharged under other than honorable conditions have an increased risk of suicide but because they are often not eligible for mental health care and benefits through the VA. More than 140,000 troops have left the service under these conditions since 2000 and advocates are pushing for a better approach to serving this population. –MC
Bottom line: The highest risk group of veterans is likely one of the most underserved when it comes to suicide prevention programs. Further complicating the issue is that veterans discharged from the military under “other than honorable” conditions are more likely facing substance abuse, legal, or mental health issues that are suicide risk factors. Their bad conduct discharges mean they aren’t eligible for most VA care and so they have to rely on community health care services. This new study really should shift the way advocates and officials target their messaging and services around suicide. While resources shouldn’t be diverted from current efforts, we must acknowledge that more needs to be done in support of the most vulnerable veterans—despite their bad paper. –LJ

Obama Signals Support for Changes to Military Pay and Benefits
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. In a letter to the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission, President Obama recognized the need for changes to military pay and benefits and backed the “underlying objectives” of the commissions’ recent 15 recommendations. The President also promised a list of proposals based on the recommendations by the end of this month. –MC
Bottom line: It’s ‘game on’ for the various advocates and military support organizations as the President makes clear that he intends to recommend changes to the military retirement and benefits system while remaining elusive about what he’ll propose. Only saying he supports the “underlying objectives” leaves a whole spectrum of wiggle room for what might come out later this month.  You can be sure some kind of tiered retirement system for those who don’t serve 20 years will be in there along with some significant changes to how those who do are paid. This will promise to be a bit of a dog fight with a host of competing interests fighting for their recommendations but at least we now know the Administration is going to do something on this topic that’s been kicked around for several years now. Watch this space for the scorecard! –FPW

Pentagon Chief Considers Easing of Enlistment Standards
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor), The Associated Press. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter is floating a test balloon on relaxing military enlistment standards to target older recruits who are mid-career or post-college with highly technical skills the military needs on the front lines. Carter is not the first to spark this discussion, but many think that the time is right for broader action. William Teseder, a former Marine, discussed the problem of recruiting millennials in an op-ed last week and expressed hope that Carter’s efforts will help sustain the military in the 21st century. –MC
Bottom line: Talk about reforming the military personnel recruitment and retention system is cheap. This is certainly not a new conversation. But taken in conjunction with the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s recommendations and President Obama’s quiet vote of support, we may finally be seeing the pieces fall into place for long-term reform that seeks to adopt the best practices of corporate America for a military that has grown increasingly dependent in recent decades on having access to a highly skilled workforce. The solution in the past has far too often been to pay large amounts of money to retain outside contractors. If Carter invests time and money during his tenure in testing out new enlistment and retention formulas, particularly in fields like cybersecurity where civilian job offers are often more lucrative and certainly more flexible, he could help position the military to meet future officers and enlisted on terms that they understand and appreciate. ­–BW

Quick Hits:

Labor Secretary Lauds Veterans Homelessness Program
Gary Warth (@UTSDschools), The San Diego Union-Tribune. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez visited a Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program grantee last week in San Diego to get a first hand look at a local program which has helped more than 200 veterans over the past two years. The visit took place on the same day that VA Secretary Bob McDonald announced an award of $93 million in Supportive Services for Veteran Families grants to help about 45,000 homeless or at-risk veterans. –MC

White House Eyes Military, Vets for Solar Energy Goals
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. On Friday, the White House announced a new training initiative for troops and unemployed veterans to gain skills in the solar energy industry. An unspecified number of veterans will be part of an overall 75,000 people trained as part of this initiative. –MC

Task Force Violent: The Unforgiven Part 5
Andrew deGrandpre (@adegrandpre), Military Times. The fifth and final part in the Task Force Violent series focuses on the struggle of the betrayed Marines as they try to regain the honor that was taken from them. –MC

Combat Action Badge Eligibility Recommendation Expected by July
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan), Military.com. In July, Army veterans who served in pre-9/11 wars will find out if they will be eligible for the Combat Action Badge. The badge recognizes those who engage the enemy on the battlefield but are not infantry troops. –MC

Number of Women Going to Ranger School Just Doubled
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), Washington Post. On April 20, 12 women will begin the crawl phase of Army Ranger School. On March 19, a final wave of women passed the Ranger Training Assessment Course, which doubled the number of women eligible for Ranger school. –MC

2 Western Pennsylvania Veterans’ Suicides Raise Questions
Adam Smeltz (@asmeltz), Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. On March 19, a final wave of women passed the Ranger Training Assessment Course, doubling the number of women eligible for Army Ranger School. As a result, on April 20, 12 women will begin the crawl phase of Ranger School. –MC

Defense Secretary Praises Syracuse University’s ‘Pathbreaking’ Work with Veterans
Dave Tobin (@dttobin), Syracuse.com. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited Syracuse University and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) last week on his first domestic trip in his new post. Carter sat down with Institute leadership and Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud for a briefing about their research and educational initiatives. Carter later recognized the IVMF and Syracuse for their contributions to the military community during a discussion with students. –MC
Other coverage:
Carter Details ‘Force of the Future’ at Syracuse University
Cheryl Pellerin (@PellerinDoDNews), DoD News
Carter: Time to think about post-military career is while still serving
Jon Harper (@JHarperStripes), Stars and Stripes

How Do You Make A Veteran An Entrepreneur?
Brian Adam Jones (@bjones), Task & Purpose. Task & Purpose editor-in-chief Brian Adam Jones visited the Institute for Veterans Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) in March during the ninth Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans (EBV) course. He reports back on the impact that EBV programs have had nationwide to foster veteran entrepreneurship, and on the impact that March’s course had on two veterans in particular. –BW

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

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

Congressional Hearings

Congress is in recess.

Think Tanks & Other Events

RecruitMilitary: All Veterans Job Fairs Who: Disabled American Veterans, Lockheed Martin Corporation, The Home Depot, and other companies When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, April 9, 2015 Where: Jacksonville, FL, 1 EverBank Field Dr.; Foxborough, MA, Gillette Stadium, 1 Patriot Pl.; Cleveland, OH, 11500 Brookpark Rd.

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, April 06, 2015 5:23 pm

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