Veterans Roundup: Chaos on the Future of Women in Combat Roles, New Suicide Data, News for Bad Paper Dischargees, and Are All Veterans Heroes?

Posted by Fred Wellman

Mattis: Jury is out on women succeeding in combat jobs
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor), Military Times  
Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told students at the Virginia Military Institute that there is not yet enough data to judge how successful or not the integration of women into the infantry has been. Mattis also added that he’s looking to top military officers for objective feedback to better assess the status of women in infantry roles, noting “our natural inclination to have this open to all. But we cannot do something that militarily doesn’t make sense.” The number of women pursuing infantry jobs has been small for both the Army and Marine Corps, but as training locations and the number of integrated units has increased the hope is more women will seek these opportunities. –KG
Bottom line: While Secretary Mattis later followed up to argue that the Pentagon press corps had narrowly interpreted his remarks, the premise of his full response at VMI speaks to a continued skepticism regarding the status of women in the military, and a desire to recruit for a military that prizes physical strength as the sole indicator of combat effectiveness at a time when technology and complex environments are requiring frontline combatants to use their brains as much as their brawn to be effective combatants. Mattis’ examples in his speech, of his own junior officer experience and the Civil War commentary of Oliver Wendell Holmes, are relevant in that they point out that war is ever-present, yet fail to recognize that war is constantly changing and evolving, and that close quarters combat continues to change and evolve with it. While it is true that a significant portion of women who have attempted to pass combat qualifying courses have failed—as expected by even supporters—the relatively low number of applicants for such programs is as much a result of institutional hurdles as it is a lack of volunteers. One well-connected veteran community leader, Andrea Goldstein, has said that she recently learned that 15 women scheduled to attend Marine Corps Officer Candidate School are being deferred a year due to a lack of bunks; these kinds of excuses raise serious questions about how hard some services are trying to advance the cause of gender integration across the board. –BW

Can DoD fix the painfully long wait for reviews of bad-paper discharges?
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times 
There are nearly 26,000 backlogged requests to upgrade military discharges, with more than half of those in the Army. Legislators are now contemplating combining review boards of three services into a single entity, but senior leaders are concerned that this will not necessarily streamline the process given the complicated and often case-specific issues involving the requests for upgrades. The process has faced increased scrutiny from lawmakers in recent years with advocates presenting evidence that some service members were dismissed under dishonorable or other-than-honorable statuses due to circumstances outside of their control, like behavioral problems originating from mental health disorders or “undiagnosed war wounds.” –KG
Bottom line: While combining review boards sounds like a quick fix to even out upgrade discrepancies between branches, it doesn’t seem to solve the problem of the same limited resources and waits of 450 days or more for action on applications. The new considerations being taken for upgrades related to undiagnosed war wounds, mental health issues or mishandled sexual assault claims are great, but as Military Times points out, it adds an additional process, which prevents the review boards from quickly catching up on the backlog. Rep. Mike Coffman’s point about the services being unable to meet the congressionally mandated processing timelines is fair, but it would seem that Congress might not be giving them everything they need to solve this problem quickly. The most important thing to note here is that the longer these waits continue, the longer veterans are left ineligible for education and health care services. In many of these cases, the more time without the benefit they are, the more their circumstance can be negatively impacted. –CB

More Young Veterans Committing Suicide, VA Data Shows
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), The Wall Street Journal
According to new data released last Wednesday, though veteran suicide numbers overall are decreasing, the rate of young veterans committing suicide has increased – particularly among those who served in the National Guard or Reserves, as well as female veterans. For veterans between the ages of 18 to 34, suicide deaths have increased from 40.4 suicides per 100,000 veterans in 2015 to 45 suicides per 100,000 veterans in 2016. VA secretary Robert Wilkie said that preventing veteran suicides is a top priority at the VA, but some advocates believe the department has devoted “insufficient attention and resources to the matter.” In fact, the VA’s inspector general found that in 2017 the department’s suicide hotline was rerouting a high percentage of callers to backup call centers, even though they said that issue had been resolved. –SM
Bottom line: Advocates had unfortunately predicted that new data would show an uptick in suicide rates among young veterans based on smaller surveys and anecdotal evidence. What clinicians and policymakers can take from this new data is more granular information about which populations within the demographics are most at risk and can be targeted with specialty programs. This kind of in-depth analysis needs to keep happening to ensure those within VA, service providers, and others interfacing with veterans in crisis have the most up to date information about the crisis. For too long, there simply wasn’t enough recent data to base hypotheses and programs upon. Without understanding the crisis, the community can’t respond with anything but triage methods. To produce effective preventative measures, we need clear information about the problem. –LJ

Half of Americans surveyed say all servicemembers are heroes
John Vandiver (@john_vandiver), Stars and Stripes
In a YouGov poll that surveyed citizens of the U.S., Germany and Great Britain, results showed that half of Americans believe all service members are heroes – a number much higher than that of European citizens. Fifteen percent of German citizens surveyed reported they believe everyone in their military is a hero, while 32 percent of Great Britain citizens surveyed reported the same. Staff Sgt. Connor McGregor, a Marine drill instructor at Parris Island, S.C., explains why he believes Americans view service members as heroes: “I think this has to do with the pride and united front that service members display on a daily basis, and their respect for their branch of service. Regardless of the (service member’s) experience, the fact that they raised their hand in support of our great country makes them more of a hero than the average civilian. Every military member took an oath to lay down their life for their country, if necessary, and that is heroic in itself.” –LB
Bottom line: As one of this nation’s bona fide heroes, let me be the first to say that this poll shows one of the ways in which the military-civilian relationship in the U.S. is broken. Repeat after me: Not everyone who puts on a uniform is a hero. Some are terrible people who later get booted from their service or even jailed. Others serve in complete, unforgettable mediocrity. And many more do their job without complaint every day and are a credit to their country but are never asked to do anything remotely heroic in the line of duty. None of these people—including me—are automatically heroes simply for taking on a job that might involve some level of sacrifice and risk. Part of the problem here might be due to survey design—do you really want to respond that “not all service members are heroes”? But if you were instead asked to describe service members without the heroism prompt, perhaps you would pick a more moderated answer. Regardless, it is not healthy for so many Americans to be willing to blindly view the men and women in uniform as heroes, because it further removes the public from feeling comfortable criticizing military conflicts or the use of force, where their voices matter and are needed, and puts them in a position of deference to anyone who wears the uniform, whether or not they deserve deference for their character and accomplishments. Heroes come in all shapes and sizes, but they are all distinguished by more than just their potential to be heroes or to be asked to sacrifice. –BW

UMA Student selected to attend Student Veterans of America Leadership Institute
UMA News
Student Veterans of America (SVA) selected more than 100 SVA Chapter Leaders to attend their 2018 Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. Jennesa Fabbri, a student veteran at the University of Maine at Augusta, was one of the students to join other qualified applicants from across the country. –SM

Wilkie touts a calmer, reformed VA in his first congressional test
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times 
Newly-appointed Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie is insistent that the institution is finally righting its course. During a House committee hearing, Wilkie faced questions regarding workforce morale, the influence of President Trump’s friends outside the department, and whether or not Wilkie will be able to produce real change. Wilkie offered assurances that “the state of VA is better.” The VA has faced increased scrutiny from lawmakers since a senior-level scandal in 2014, and has had varying degrees of success in its attempts to restore the trust of both Congress and the public. –KG

Military Spouses Less Likely Than Troops to Vote: Survey
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz),
The Military Officers Association of America (MOAA) teamed up with Syracuse University and Democracy Fund to survey approximately 3,000 troops, veterans and their families on their likeliness to vote in elections. The survey results found that, in most cases, service members are significantly more likely to vote than military spouses. Retired Air Force Col. Mike Turner, MOAA’s vice president of development, reasoned that the lower voting rates of military spouses is due to the lack of voter education and resources presented to them. He said, “We believe we need a greater outreach effort to military spouses to inform them about the process and encourage them to vote.” –LB

No end in sight for GI Bill payment problems
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times Reboot Camp
The Forever GI Bill went into effect on August 1, but the Department of Veterans Affairs has still not made the necessary changes to the monthly housing stipends for students due to technical issues. The VA says they will correct any discrepancies for the 360,000 GI Bill users once the software updates are complete, but there is still not a projected date for this issue to be resolved. –SM

Community Opportunities

Independence Project: Veterans Study
A research study that helps veterans find a job.
Who: Veterans who meet the following requirements: Interested in getting a job; Discharged in the past 12 months OR have a discharge date in the next 8 months; Served at least 6 months of active duty; Be/have been an enlisted service-member between ranks E1 – E9; Have applied for a disability rating; Under 45 years of age.
When: Study participation open now!

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, October 01, 2018 9:36 pm

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