Veterans Roundup: Choice Program Overhaul, Virtual Therapists for PTSD, Anger Over Trump’s Claims and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

ScoutComms hires Chance Browning as Associate Vice President
Scout Blog
October 2017 is, without a doubt, the busiest month ScoutComms and our clients have had in a long, long time. This is one reason of many why we have two new hires for you to meet! Join us in welcoming Chance Browning and Roy Stanley to the team. Roy is a recent graduate of Old Dominion University, and Chance comes to us from his position as Communications Director for Student Veterans of America (SVA). To read more about Chance and all the exciting things he’ll be bringing to both our company and the clients he’ll serve as Associate Vice President, check out our latest press release. –AB

VA proposes Choice program overhaul that eliminates 30-day/40-mile rule
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Last week, the VA sent the Veterans Coordinated Access and Rewarding Experiences Act (CARE) to Congress in an effort to allow veterans and VA physicians to evaluate, on an individual basis, whether healthcare within the VA or the private sector is the best option for care. This proposal has been in the works since Secretary Shulkin announced in February his plans to eliminate the current “30-day appointment wait period” or “40 mile driving distance” requirement before private options became eligible. Under the proposed bill, veterans that cannot schedule an appointment at a VA facility within a “clinically acceptable time period” would instead be allowed to schedule appointments with providers in the private sector. Opponents of the bill believe that efforts like this reduce the importance of the VA as a whole to the veteran community, while simultaneously opening the door to a rise in predatory private healthcare providers that would look to profit from this new model. The House plans to hold a hearing on the proposal on Oct. 24. ­–JG
Bottom line: While minimizing bureaucracy in veterans’ healthcare has been a priority of many lawmakers over the past several years, new efforts by the secretary to eliminate the 30-day/40-mile rule in the Choice Act have been met with mixed reviews. Many who feel this proposal is a slippery slope to privatization insist that any investment into Choice should be met by equal investments into VA care. VA has faced scrutiny from lawmakers who insist that more oversight is needed to ensure that VA healthcare spending is appropriate, given prior budget shortfalls. Secretary Shulkin has made it clear that veterans’ health is a key priority for him and has been a collaborative leader, seeking out supporters on both sides of the aisle and across various VSOs to create positive change for our nation’s veterans. That being said, Shulkin will need to build consensus amongst lawmakers and veterans to quiet concerns of VA privatization. –RB

Virtual Therapists Help Veterans Open Up About PTSD
Robbie Gonzalez (@rtg0nzalez), WIRED
When military personnel return home from deployments, they are required to take the Post-Deployment Health Assessment (PDHA) to gauge their mental wellbeing. However, such measurements are forever tracked in a service member’s records, which some feel deter them from opening up and truthfully answering the assessment’s questions. The University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies has created a new way to connect with veterans who may be experiencing or are predisposed to symptoms of conditions like PTSD. An artificial intelligence avatar, which appears on a television screen, is being utilized in a study on post-deployment health. The avatar has the ability to read body language and establish rapport, but does not make veterans feel what many fear when reporting mental health issues – judged. Based on a recent study using this software, findings showed that soldiers were more likely to reveal symptoms to a virtual interviewer rather than in their PDHA survey. Gale Lucas, the study’s author, does not suggest replacing therapists completely, but rather using this technology as a tool to get veterans the resources they need. –DD
Bottom line: Weekly readers of the Scout Report will know we are big fans of innovation in mental health treatment. This new technology follows a trend we are seeing in mental health generally—a move towards digital forward treatment options, often app-based but in this case an AI avatar. Early results in a military setting seem to be promising as it removes an element of stigma and reporting back to a chain of command—yet, we can imagine service members are savvy enough to realize that information collected about their mental health by a digital face can end up reported back to an actual person. These are the kind of options that we must keep developing, though, because each individual is going to respond better to a different kind of intervention. If this AI avatar helps any number of service members get better treatment and health outcomes, it’s a worthy study. –LJ

A Marine Attacked an Iraqi Restaurant. But Was It a Hate Crime or PTSD?
Dave Philipps (@DavePhilipps), The New York Times
Damien Rodriguez, a decorated U.S. Marine sergeant major who has seen combat across several tours overseas, was charged with felony assault after attacking a waiter working at an Iraqi restaurant in Portland. Rodriguez has little memory of the incident, but security cameras andeye witness accounts indicate that he sat alone at a table in the corner without ordering anything before throwing a chair in a fit of rage. Typically, incidents like these carry misdemeanor charges, however prosecutors on the case are looking to make an example out of the case in response to the city’s recent uptick in hate crimes. But is it? Dr. William Nash, head of psychological health for the Marine Corps, said that while we have come a long way in effectively diagnosing and treating PTSD, there are still many suffering that do not seek help until it’s too late. –JG
Bottom line: Where does damage end and criminality start? Does it even matter when someone gets hurt? Do we as a society still have a duty to punish criminal acts regardless of the cause? These aren’t issues that lie just in the veteran’s community but for all of society at large. This is a tough case where a Marine has seen years of combat that has clearly left damage to his psyche but someone was injured and a family is in fear so we as a society must seek justice for the victims. That’s the grey area we fall into with these cases of violence and criminal activity. There is a reason that Veteran Courts don’t handle cases that involve violence. It isn’t an arbitrary rule but one driven by the need to create order in society and protect the victims of crime. While it is intuitively obvious that Rodriguez has some clear issues related to his many deployments we must remember that there are consequences for our actions and hope that he is able to find help while justice is served for the victims in this incident. As much as we want to see fair treatment and opportunities for veterans to get help we also recognize that as productive members of society our actions have consequences. –FPW

‘Disrespectful lie’: Anger grows over Trump’s claims about past president and fallen troops
Travis M. Andrews (@travismandrews), The Washington Post
A comment made by President Trump at a news conference last week sparked anger from the families of service members killed in action along with several military officials. President Trump claimed that President Obama, and other past presidents, never made phone calls to the families of fallen American troops. Trump’s comment was made shortly after a reporter questioned his silence regarding the four soldiers recently killed in Niger in an ambush. Leaders like Eric Holder and Gen. Marty Dempsey took to Twitter to share their personal experiences witnessing past presidents offer comfort to the families of the fallen. –DD
Bottom line: Given our current geopolitical climate, it is an unfortunate reality that President Trump and his predecessors have needed to respond in the wake of the death of a service member. This week’s press conference in the White House Rose Garden incited heated conversations about the responses of past presidents to the families of the fallen. Many people having these conversations focused on the “who made calls, who visited families,…” angle of this story, myself included. But in doing that, we did not honor those who mattered most—the fallen and their families. Both Bonnie Carroll of TAPS and Ryan Manion of the Travis Manion Foundation, both survivors and both incredible advocates for families of the fallen, made public statements this week that reminded us all that the real story here should always, always be about remembering the men and women we have lost and the families they leave behind. Politicizing these experiences cannot become the norm in this country—this is not a time to ask “who did it better.” –RB

Crackdown on ‘Pay to Play’ for ‘Military-Friendly’ Colleges
Andrew Kreighbaum (@kreighbaum), Inside Higher Ed
School rankings can often boost potential students’ interest in a school, and can arguably encourage attending one university over another institution. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission reported a proposed settlement after Victory Media shared a list of “military-friendly” schools that were not accurately ranked. As it turns out, several institutions on the list paid to be included. Through deceiving advertising, many universities appeared as top schools for veterans and Victory Media could now face a fine of up to $40,654 per incident for future violations. President of Veterans Education Success, Carrie Wofford, believes that Congress should get involved to restore GI Bill benefits to any veterans who may feel they were defrauded. The settlement will be open to public comment for a month, but then will potentially be finalized after Nov. 20. –DD
Bottom line: There has been quiet grumbling for years about the ‘military friendly’ rankings in Victory Media publications by many involved in veteran’s education. It was an open secret that schools were buying their way into higher rankings or more forceful endorsements. This finding shows that those rumblings were true and it’s disappointing in a host of ways. Not the least of which is that these publications have also included reputable schools and content from leaders in the community that are now caught up in questions surrounding the veracity of their ratings and contributions. These magazines are prominently displayed on military installations transition centers and they are in most ways simple paid advertisement vehicles with official approval. Victory Media needs to stop this practice and DoD should seriously consider their relationship with the publications. –FPW

‘It looks like we’re afraid of foreigners’: Army turns away some green-card holders
Alex Horton (@AlexHorton_TX), The Washington Post
Last week, the Army put a stop to all enlistments in the Reserve or National Guard by green card holders in an effort to prevent infiltration of terrorists and foreign governments in our military. Neither recruiters nor the green card holders themselves were given any instruction whether or not the enlistment paperwork for pending recruits will ever see the light of day. Since 9/11, more than 100,000 service members earned their U.S. citizenship through service in the military. –JG
Bottom line: It is hard to imagine a U.S. military without immigrants as they have been a fixture in service to our nation since its very beginning. The military is not only one of the best ways to assimilate immigrants, it also benefits from diversity of skills and background. Further, as the nation continues to elevate a warrior class, we risk creating a military and veteran community that doesn’t adequately reflect the diversity of the nation it serves. As the article notes, hundreds of thousands of immigrants have become citizens through military service, embodying the American dream that the military serves to defend. These aren’t just American ideals, it’s what America was built upon. –LJ

A Nurse’s Aide Plays Video Games While a Veteran Dies at Bedford VA Hospital
Andrea Estes, Boston Globe
The Bedford VA Medical Center has launched a criminal investigation into the death of Vietnam veteran Bill Nutter, who passed away under their care in July 2016. Bill, who suffered from a rare heart condition that caused him to be in danger of cardiac arrest at any moment, was under the care of VA providers who were required to check on him at least once every hour. The on-duty nurse’s aide at the time, PatriciaWaible, failed to perform these regular check-ups because she was playing video games during her shift, according to firsthand accounts. As a result, Nutter was left alone for hours and was not discovered dead until the next morning. This case, along with several other claims of mistreatment from other employees, has led to a rise in patient-safety concerns with the hospital and its potentially misleading five-star rating from the VA. –RS

Not all veterans will be eligible for new ID cards
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Next month, the Department of Veterans Affairs will start offering new veteran ID cards only to individuals with honorable discharges, which goes against recent department policies that increased the outreach for veterans with “bad paper” discharges. With the announcement that the ID cards won’t be available to all veterans, advocates such as Vietnam Veterans of America are currently planning to try to lift the ID restrictions by petitioning VA Secretary David Shulkin. –ML 

Tradeshows & Conferences

MilBlogging and ScoutComms: Military Influencer Conference (Sun – Tue, Oct. 22-24, 2017); Sheraton Dallas Hotel, Dallas, TX

Congressional Hearings

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Hearing
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, October 24, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: Examining How VBA Can Effectively Prevent and Manage Overpayments
When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Other Events

None this week.

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 23, 2017 11:23 am

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