Veterans Roundup: Congress Gives the VA A Big Makeover, Yes Montel People Do Care About Homeless Veterans

Posted by Fred Wellman

Video – The New Battleground: Veterans
Defense One Staff (@DefenseOne). Fred spoke on the “Hiring Veterans: Deployed then Unemployed” panel at the Defense One and IAVA New Battleground: Veterans conference last Wednesday. Dr. Mike Haynie, Executive Director of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and Vice Chancellor at Syracuse University; Barbara Humpton, Senior Vice President of Business Development at Siemens Government Technologies; Brian Jones, Editor in Chief of Task & Purpose, joined Fred in a discussion about how veterans should seek out jobs that fit their skills or use their GI Bill to learn new skills and how veterans need to stop embracing the stereotypes surrounding unemployment. Check out some more photos of the event here: –MC
Bottom Line: The conference was standing room only which goes to show the veterans community needs more forums for discussing its issues with the wider DC policy crowd. While plenty of experts—like Fred!—got to speak to important topics like employment, the VA, and suicide, the biggest headline grabber has been Montel Williams and his headless chicken speech. Despite celebrity-centric veterans groups like Got Your 6, semi-famous Navy veteran Montel has managed to steal the spotlight—at least momentarily. It’s hard to knock the guy for his enthusiasm, but advocates need to have a solid foundation in the facts lest they do more harm than good. –LJ

No Easy Answers to the Plague of Veteran Suicide
John Grady, ScoutComms. Our John Grady takes a look at one of the panels from the Defense One-IAVA event last week that focused on veteran suicide and what is driving the reportedly 22 veteran suicides a day. The experts agreed there are no easy solutions and in the end the decision to commit suicide is often a social one like a marriage breaking up or health problems and not necessarily a mental health issue. The solutions lie in a continued focus and creating peer networks that work to support each other. –FPW

A Veteran Who Led by Example
Barbra Van Dahlen (@bvandahlen), Huffington Post. Last week, our community said goodbye to a titan of the veterans’ advocacy world, Prudential’s Steve Robinson. For years Steve was a tireless champion of his fellow vets not just as a voice speaking truth to power but as a grassroots friend and mentor to vets in need. We were privileged to know him for the short time we did and honored to gather with those who knew him best to celebrate his life. As Barbara Van Dahlen founder of Give an Hour says, we would leave the world a better place if we strived in our lives to be more like Steve. At the reception in his honor everyone received magnets that told us to “Keep Calm and Ask What Would Steve Do? We will. –FPW

Michelle Obama: Let’s End Veteran Homelessness
Michelle Obama (@FLOTUS), special to McClatchy. Before speaking to homeless advocates at the National Alliance to End Homelessness conference, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama wrote on the issue of veteran homelessness for McClatchy. She touts the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness and its success in gaining 97 state and local leaders to sign on in the two months since its announcement. Mrs. Obama notes that Phoenix, Salt Lake City, New Orleans, and even New York City have effectively ended chronic veteran homelessness or are on the path to achieving that goal. Elsewhere, like in El Paso, it’s individuals who are stepping up to serve homeless veterans. Hope Jackson, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is joining the ranks of dedicated activists fighting for their fellow vets and leveraging resources from her own bank account and the community to build a safe place for homeless female veterans around Fort Bliss. –MC
Bottom Line: Incredible progress has been made in the battle to end veteran homelessness towards the Obama Administration’s goal to effectively end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. Like every issue in the veterans community there isn’t a single answer to solve the problems. National efforts like those at NAEH and the long battle by ScoutComms’ client the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans hinge on efforts at the grassroots like LTC Jackson’s supported by local governments and donors like The Home Depot Foundation. There is hope on the horizon for putting an end to the scourge of chronic homelessness but the fight will never end and ensuring future veterans don’t fall into the trap of homelessness will take a continued effort for years to come. –FPW

New VA Secretary McDonald Faced with Firing VA Management
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes. Robert McDonald was confirmed as the new Secretary of Veterans Affairs last Tuesday. Although he was easily confirmed with a 97-0 vote, lawmakers say that he has a tough job ahead of him as he is expected to hold VA staff accountable for their actions immediately. The VA reform bill that passed Thursday night grants him the power to fire executives involved in the scandal at will (Ed. Note: more about the VA reform bill below). Despite the pressure on VA and its reorganizations to date, House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller warned that we haven’t hit the bottom with the VA scandal. –MC
Bottom Line: It was a big week for VA reform as the first new VA Secretary of President Obama’s tenure was confirmed and sworn in. Secretary McDonald has a tough job ahead of him, but he also goes into his new position with the bipartisan backing of the Senate. Right now, everyone wants to see McDonald succeed and Congress has even managed to give him a package of resources in the new reform bill that should help. Still, McDonald’s biggest challenge will be affecting the culture of the VA, both at its headquarters in DC and in hundreds of facilities nationwide. A huge injection of cash should help veterans receive care—which is essential—but it may not change the way mid-level bureaucrats game the system. –LJ

$16.3B VA Reform Bill Passes Senate 91-3; Obama Expected to Sign
Leo Shane (@leoshane), Military Times. The Senate approved a $16.3 billion Department of Veterans Affairs reform bill with a 91-3 vote on Thursday night just ahead of Congress’s August recess. The legislation, which is expected to be signed into law by President Obama, allows VA executives to more easily fire employees involved in the scandal but includes a 30-day appeal process to prevent misuse. The bill also allows veterans facing long wait times or a 40-mile or longer commute to VA facilities to seek private care outside the VA and allots funding to hire more clinicians and repair existing VA facilities. –MC
Bottom Line: For the West Wing fans and other political intrigue wonks, Politico has the process story on how the compromise between two very different politicians came to be. At a press conference on Friday, President Obama even gave the VA reform bill a shoutout as one of the few things Congress managed to get done before heading off on recess—though he noted it didn’t go as far as he’d like. An area the administration had hoped the bill would to make more headway was funding for new VA facilities and repairs to older ones, but those initiatives will have to wait for another bill. A big win in the bill that’s flying under the radar: veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill can get in-state tuition at any public school despite residency requirements. –LJ

For Profit Colleges Got $1.7B in GI Bill Benefits in 2012-13, Report Finds
Kimberly Hefling (@khefling), The Associated Press. For-profit colleges have been under fire this week as a report from the office of Sen. Tom Harkin found that for-profit colleges received $1.7 billion in GI Bill benefits, about a quarter of the total benefits paid in the 2012-2013 school year. One of the schools under particular scrutiny is Corinthian Colleges, facing allegations of deceptive marketing practices and shutting down most of its schools. The amount of GI Bill money for-profit colleges is receiving raises concerns among some because they have the highest student loan default rates and the lowest graduation rates. University of Phoenix was also recently barred from admitting veterans to 7 programs at its San Diego campus. –MC
Bottom Line: Many are jumping on the anti-for profit school bandwagon but there are very good reasons why so many active duty military and veterans enroll in the schools and it’s not just because of their marketing campaigns. The clue lies in the other schools that made the reports top 10 schools: not-for-profits University of Maryland and Embry Riddle. Both schools also cater to military members and veterans heavily with non-traditional and online programs that are best suited for busy servicemembers. The fact is that the for-profit schools are offering more technical and skills focused programs than traditional schools. The other problem with the constant denigration of for-profit schools is that it questions the credentials of thousands of veterans who have successfully completed their academic careers through these schools. At a recent event a senior NCO asked me if she should remove her University of Phoenix degree from her resume. She worked hard for that degree and deserved it but by condemning these schools we are condemning the hard work of thousands who have succeeded with them and only focusing on those who have not. Until not-for-profit schools can offer better options to non-traditional students like servicemembers and veterans it’s completely expected we will see for-profits getting an outsized portion of the GI Bill. It’s not marketing. It’s programs that meet the needs of students. –FPW

Post-9/11 Veterans Unemployment Rate Jumps Again in July
George Altman, Military Times. The unemployment rate for Post-9/11 veterans increased again this month, reporting the highest rate recorded this year. It was a jump to 9.2 percent compared to May’s very low 5.3 percent. However, since the sample size of unemployed veterans is small, Altman reminds us that it can be difficult to draw conclusions about what veteran unemployment really looks like and while 9.2 percent is a high for this year, the same number would have been average last year and overall veteran unemployment remains just below the national average for civilians. –MC
Bottom Line: There are hints here that the issues surrounding veteran employment are not past us yet. There has been hope that the crisis was resolving but it’s clear that even with the fluctuations associated with the small sample size that the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses for veterans we are far from out of the woods. As our friend Dr. Mike Haynie of IVMF pointed out during the Defense One-IAVA event last week there are still specific demographics of veterans struggling like females, Latinos, and combat arms veterans among others. Thousands of servicemembers will be leaving the military in the coming years and the need for transition assistance, skills training programs like Get Skills to Work, and continued hiring efforts by corporate America will be needed both to help those veterans and meet the demands of successful business and requirements by the Federal government. –FPW

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major shows or conferences.

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

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess for the month of August.

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, August 4, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

HillVets: Monthly Happy Hour When: 6:00 PM, Thursday, August 7, 2014 Where: Béarnaise, 315 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, D.C.

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, August 04, 2014 3:46 pm

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