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Veterans Roundup: Congressional Drama in the Lame Duck Session, Still More to Do on Veteran Mental Health

Posted by Fred Wellman

Tom Coburn Puts Hold on Veterans Suicide Prevention Bill
Jacqueline Klimas (@jacqklimas), Washington Times. Retiring Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) placed a hold on the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act, a bill that is supported by numerous veterans’ groups, temporarily preventing the bill from coming up for a vote. The act requires increased private-public partnerships in mental health, a one-stop shop website, loan repayment incentives for psychiatrists who work for the VA, and a third party report on successful VA suicide veteran programs. But Coburn says that the VA already has the tools to solve these issues. Montel Williams shared his opinion about the bill this week on Defense One. –MC
Bottom line: Last week, a government shutdown loomed while the Senate threatened to end a 53-year steak of passing defense authorization acts, but the bigger drama in the veteran community centered on when and if the Clay Hunt SAV Act might come up for a vote. Groups ranging from IAVA to VFW to MOAA to TAPS and even outside mental health advocacy groups had pushed the House and then Senate to take action on the bill in the lame duck session, but this week Sen. Tom Coburn placed a hold on the bill due to budget concerns. A “hold” is a parliamentary procedure that allows one or more Senators to block bills from coming up for a vote, often anonymously. Advocates at first were not sure which Senator had placed a hold on the bill, but by the end of the week it became obvious it was Coburn—who is not always affectionately called “Dr. No”. Coburn is spending his last few days in the Senate sticking to his guns, but veterans groups are keeping up the political pressure on him and other leaders. IAVA is hopeful the Clay Hunt SAV Act could come to a vote this week in the final few days of Senate activity. ­–LJ

Defense Authorization Bill Heads to White House
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Last Friday, the $584.2 billion annual defense authorization bill passed its final hurdle in the Senate with an 89-11 vote and is headed to the White House. The bill minimizes growth in troops’ benefits, including a lower 1 percent pay raise and limited housing allowance increases, moves heavily criticized by military advocates. Sen. Gillibrand’s proposed restructuring of the military justice system was not included in the final legislation. –MC
Bottom line: Once again, Congress didn’t bother with any of the appropriate processes or procedures when crafting the last minute deals and additions that went into the latest NDAA. In the end, a mash up of things that the military wanted, lobbyists dreamed of, and special gifts came together to produce something almost everyone can hate or love depending on which paragraph they are reading. This year’s 1 percent pay raise for service members means they are seeing the lowest pay increase in the 41-year history of the all volunteer military–and that is actually what DoD asked for from Congress. We’ll see if the new Republican controlled Congress keeps the cuts in place. There is already talk of plans to put the cuts to the Defense Commissary Agency back in to the budget. We’ll see if the political will to make cuts stands up to the onslaught of military advocates in the coming months. –FPW

Military Grapples with Stigma of Men Reporting Sexual Assault
Jennifer Hlad (@jhlad), Stars and Stripes. Last week’s Pentagon survey on sexual assault in the military, conducted by the Rand Corporation, showed a 24 percent increase in men who said they had been assaulted. The increase in men who indicated they had been victims of sexual assault is said to be the result of detailed questioning used in this year’s survey compared to previous years. The results also showed that only 10 percent of men who are assaulted report the attack, compared to 40 percent of women. –MC
Bottom line: Service members in general are still not comfortable discussing sexual assault in the military, as worries about stigmatization and retaliation abound. So it’s not surprising that survey data continue to evolve over time as new methodologies are tested to extract the most honest and accurate responses. It’s a welcome step forward to see attention being brought to the fact that men in the aggregate are assaulted as often as women in the military; unfortunately the percentages still weigh heavily and tragically on the side of female service members. Creating a culture that has zero tolerance for sexual assault in the military—whether against men or women—depends on change at the unit and individual level, and that requires training and indoctrination of enlisted leaders and junior officers that drives home their responsibility to create a culture of tolerance and respect for individual rights, and a complete and utter lack of tolerance for exploitative and hateful words and actions. –BW

Iraq War Vet to Take Over HASC Personnel Panel
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) is a brigadier general in the Army Reserve who served in Iraq and was recently chosen to lead the House Armed Services Committee’s personnel panel. This will be the first time that an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran will lead the panel. His participation will be crucial during debates around changing budgets, benefits, and compensation for troops. The number of Republican Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans serving on the panel will increase to eight next year. –MC
Bottom line: In a Congress that will have fewer veterans than any previous session, it’s notable that a veteran will lead a subcommittee with significant influence over the quality of life of service members and military families. Heck was a strong supporter of keeping a higher rate of pay increases for service members and did not want to see any changes to housing allowances. Despite being a budget hawk, Heck comes into the position as a strong advocate for military families. Veterans like Heck are commonly found on the Armed Services committees, often in leadership positions, while they are less frequently represented on the seemingly less powerful Veterans Affairs committees. Veterans are still overrepresented in Congress compared to the general population, but as fewer Americans serve in the military, there are fewer veterans to be elected to Congress. The fewer veterans, the fewer voices who speak from experience on issues of war and veterans. –LJ

Major U.S. City to Eliminate Homelessness Among Veterans in the Next Three Weeks
Kira Lerner (@kira_lerner), ThinkProgress. Many states and cities are getting closer to completely ending veteran homelessness. Despite the tragic results for some victims of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans will join Phoenix and Salt Lake City in ending chronic homelessness among veterans in their city this year. Connecticut is also working on ending veteran homelessness by 2015 because VA staff and community partners are coming together to discuss ramping up their efforts. Coordinated efforts like the Military and Veterans Service Alliance of Lowcountry (MAVSA) in South Carolina help veterans get the support they need and can serve as a model for many other state and city efforts. –MC
Bottom line: The nationwide battle against veteran homelessness is a rare success story. Cities with large populations across the country are making a concerted effort to get veterans of all generations off the streets and into temporary and permanent housing. During the Concert for Valor hosted on the National Mall in early November, outgoing DC mayor Vincent Gray used his time on-stage, before HBO went live, to talk to the audience about the city’s commitment and actions to end veteran homelessness. It’s an effort that is paying off across the nation, thanks in part to an influx of funding from sources like the VA’s Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) grants and HUD-VASH vouchers. Additionally, established organizations like ScoutComms client IVMF are helping to coordinate efforts between disparate service providers in order to address veteran homelessness more efficiently and cost effectively. At the same time, homelessness is something we should seek to eliminate across the spectrum, not just for veterans, who constitute less than a quarter of the nationwide homeless population. In DC, innovative organizations like Miriam’s Kitchen, where I have volunteered, are investing in long-term, comprehensive solutions to get all of the city’s chronically homeless off the streets. –BW

Warrior-Scholar Project Holds Academic Boot Camps
Stars and Stripes. The Warrior-Scholar Project has begun accepting applications for its 2015 academic boot camps. WSP started at Yale University in 2012 with nine students and is expanding to 11 top universities across the U.S. including Harvard, Vassar, Georgetown, and many more. Applications are open to transitioning enlisted servicemembers or veterans who plan on attending a four-year undergraduate program. The academically challenging WSP boot camps help ease the transition from the military to university life. —MC

Gary Sinise Visits Washington Military Transition Council
J.M. Simpson, NorthwestMilitary.com. Last Tuesday, Gary Sinise visited the Tacoma-area as a spokesman for Get Skills to Work, a coalition of manufacturers connecting veterans to training and employment. As part of his visit, Sinise attended the Washington State Military Transition Council, met with service members and their families, and emphasized opportunities in manufacturing with help from programs like Get Skills to Work. He also visited RallyPoint/6, Washington State’s one-stop shop for veterans resources, and the facility where Get Skills to Work founding partner Boeing builds its 737s for a tour and discussion with veterans in manufacturing. –MC
Additional coverage:
Actor Gary Sinise, Lt. Gen. David Halverson to visit JBLM, The Suburban Times
Gary Sinise JBLM visit, Staff Sgt. Elwyn Lovelace, 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
“Get Skills to Work” – Gary Sinise discusses advanced manufacturing careers for former service members during JBLM visit, JBLM Public Affairs

Wreaths to be Placed Saturday
Dawnthea Price (@onlydawnthea), The Free Lance-Star. The Fredericksburg chapter of Team Red, White and Blue assisted with Wreaths Across America at Oak Hill Cemetery in Fredericksburg for the first time. More than 700 veterans are buried at Oak Hill Cemetery and many veterans groups attended the event to place wreaths and flags at veterans’ graves and to pay homage to those who have served. –MC

Hearing: Homelessness Among Veterans is Declining, but Goal Remains Elusive
Jennifer Hlad (@jhlad), Stars and Stripes. Last Thursday, a Congressional hearing focused on veteran homelessness. Overall, veteran homelessness has declined by 30 percent since 2010, but the goal of getting every veteran off of the street is still far from being reached. A report last week by the VA inspector general showed issues in the VA’s efforts, including the fact that the VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans missed more than 40,000 phone calls from veterans. Lawmakers questioned whether or not too many programs seek to help homeless veterans, but Baylee Crone, executive director of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans said that individual veterans have different needs and that those needs may only be met through multiple programs. –MC

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Congressional Hearings

The Senate is in session, the House is in recess.

Think Tanks & Other Events

Brookings Institution: Military Health Care Reform, Compensation Policy and the Defense Budget Who: Robert F. Hale, former Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller), U.S. Department of Defense, Henry J. Aaron, Senior Fellow, Economic Studies, Brookings, Jack Mayer, Executive Vice President, Booz Allen Hamilton, Alice M. Rivlin, Leonard D. Schaeffer Chair in Health Policy Studies and Director, Engelberg Center for Health Care Reform, Brookings, Carla Tighe Murray, Senior Analyst, Congressional Budget Office When: 10:00 AM, Friday, December 19, 2014 Where: 1775 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20036

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 Tuesday, December 16, 2014 12:32 pm

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