Veterans Roundup: Consequences of Cluster Munitions, Sexism in the Ranks, Burn Pits, Mental Health Hiring, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

An Internal Investigation Spurred by a Nude Photo Scandal Shows Just How Deep Sexism Runs in the Marine Corps
Task & Purpose, Paul Szoldra

I’m sitting here trying to write my analysis for this well-written and very comprehensive piece on sexism in the Corps written by Paul Szoldra of Task & Purpose and what I am experiencing as a woman veteran is complete exhaustion and utter disappointment. This is due to the continued inaction and apathy of military leadership on a heavily researched and significantly known issue that we are failing to make much headway on. But, alas, onward. Szoldra shines a light on findings and stories from a study initiated in July 2017 by the Marine Corps Center for Advanced Operational Culture Learning (CAOCL) on the infamous Marines United nude photo scandal. The study was finalized in March 2018, but as Szoldra reports in the article, it was “quietly published to its (the centers) website in September 2019.” If not anything else, hasn’t the Corps learned that trying to keep things quiet is a failed tactic? A lack of transparency, attempts at silencing and punishing victims and a total lack of accountability, all of which are fueled by a culture that is laden with noted toxic masculinity, are to blame for the festering of this open wound of Marine Corps sexism. The stories are out there, people are well organized and are speaking out, reporters like Thomas Brennan and numerous writers at Task & Purpose, Newsweek and Military Times, among many others, are doing a great job blowing the lid off of these scandals in an effort to change things for the better. I am waiting for the day when major studies with less than favorable results are owned by the military and are used to create actual, meaningful change. Szoldra nails it when he states, “Still, there’s reason to believe continued resistance to change remains at the top.” Backing up his claim, he highlights the recent example of when female Marines criticized the Marine Corps’ annual birthday celebration video’s lack of representation. In speaking about the ad, Kate Germano, Marine and longtime advocate for gender equity in the Corps and the US military writ large told Task & Purpose, “there was no deliberate intent to include women,” which is precisely the problem. Let us say it again for all the folks in the back: There needs to be a deliberate intent to include women to ensure that changes in attitudes occur. Folks like General Berger, someone in the most powerful position in the Marine Corps, calls practical efforts like this to include women,  “artificial elevation.” This is exactly the problem. In closing, even though we are tired, we will continue to do as we were trained, we will keep fighting through our exhaustion. We will keep connecting, growing, organizing, educating and speaking out. We will keep advancing and putting pressure on those in positions of power to do what is right, and that is because we served, too. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

America’s Dark History of Killing Its Own Troops with Cluster Munitions
New York Times, John Ismay (@JohnIsmay)

I have been to combat four times. My first was as a relatively young lieutenant in the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) in Operation Desert Storm. I was an aeroscout platoon leader for the AH-64 Apache battalion. I lost an aircrew during the air campaign and then fought in two significant battles during the ground assault, including the final battle of the entire campaign. Out of all of that, the most terrifying thing I experienced was when our company landed near a devastated Iraqi position covered in U.S. cluster bomblets. I stepped out of my cockpit and found myself surrounded by armed bombs that could go off with just the rotor wash from our landing or take off. The very sight of it will make your blood run cold. John Ismay has spent five years meticulously researching this story to expose that these munitions are well known as deadly to our enemies, but they have been just as deadly to our own forces and even the civilians building them. Cluster munitions date all the way back to Nazi participation in the Spanish Civil War and continue now as a 2008 policy to rid our inventory of them was reversed by former Secretary of Defense James Mattis. The story paints a deadly picture of how these munitions that look innocent laying on the ground turn deadly in a moment and cannot be disarmed or rendered safe once dropped. From Iraq to ranges here in the United States, the munitions continue to claim lives of service members and unsuspecting civilians. There are newer versions available and fielded that are safer and less likely to become duds on the ground, but budget constraints and global threats are pushing military leaders to keep the older, more dangerous systems in the inventory for major war usage. This is a must read to understand the monstrously deadly effects these munitions can have on those who come across them when not properly recognized and handled. It paints the picture we often mention here in the ScoutReport, that war and military service are inherently dangerous well beyond the direct combat often depicted in entertainment. It can be deadly doing something as simple as a clean up on an old range that hasn’t been used in 20 years. – Fred Wellman, CEO & Founder of ScoutComms

Why the US Military Can’t Recruit More Mental Health Professionals
Military Times, Patricia Kime (@patriciakime)

A November Department of Defense report to Congress identified “low pay, fewer advancement opportunities, and an excessive workload” with services unable to keep up with demand as the top challenges the military faces in recruiting and retaining mental health providers. The report examined challenges specific to mental health providers in the Army, Navy and Air Force, and estimated that there is “roughly one provider for every 462 active-duty and…family members.” The Department of Defense predicted that while the Army and Navy are expected to see increases in mental health providers over the next year, the Air Force is expected to lose almost 600 providers even though the demand for mental health services continues to climb.

‘I Want Somebody Who Can Be Fired:’ Senators Seek Accountability, Charges in Family Housing Crisis
Stars and Stripes, Rose L. Thayer (@Rose_Lori)

A recent Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, intended to assess progress on the development of solutions to the military family housing crisis, found “disappointing” results. Members reportedly “expressed concern and outrage…for a lack of recourse taken to hold accountable the leadership within the military and the private companies,” with committee chairman Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) asking, “When is enough enough?” Committee members disagreed over who is ultimately responsible for the crisis–garrison commanders or private companies–but they are united in saying that developing solutions to the housing crisis will be “much easier” when Congress passes the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2020 and the Defense Department’s appropriations spending bill, both of which are currently caught up in partisan fights over a US-Mexico border wall. Until the bills are passed, crisis solutions, including the Tenant Bill of Rights Act, are “stuck in limbo.”

Veterans to See Virtual Hearings at Board of Veterans Appeals in Early 2020
VAntage Point, Board of Veterans Appeals

The Department of Veterans Affairs blog, VAntage Point, announced that starting in early 2020 veterans will have the option to participate in virtual Board of Veterans Appeals hearings, a marked improvement from the current limited hearing options. The virtual hearing technology is reportedly based off the telehealth platform which has produced “amazing” results. VAntage Point wrote, “Veterans will have greater access to Board hearings–and more choice and control in their appeals process.”

Even if All Goes Right with Overhaul, Veterans Still Face a Health Records Mess, Richard Sisk

In a House hearing a couple weeks ago, issues with the plan to put in place a single electronic health record system for the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs were exposed. It is unclear if there will be a solution to the “turf wars on data sharing” between the VA and Pentagon. Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nevada, chairwoman of the House Veterans Affairs subcommittee on technology modernization, said of the issue, “If a patient needs to go to both the VA and DoD to get their complete record, then we’re not meeting the underlying goal of this whole project.” If an agreement is not made, new laws may have to be written by Congress “to get past the old rules blocking data sharing.”

5 Common Movie Mistakes That Veterans Can Spot Right Away
We Are The Mighty, Tim Kirkpatrick

Even though Hollywood has made various military-based films that “touch Americans’ hearts,” it is easy for veterans to spot errors in the details. Common mistakes seen in these movies include wearing uniforms incorrectly and saluting in a combat zone. Check out this article to see the full list of common mistakes!

Pentagon OKs New Breast Cancer Screenings for Tricare Users
Stars and Stripes, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

Beginning Jan. 1, The Defense Department will add digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), a 3D mammogram, to its Tricare coverage. This comes after a push from female veterans in Congress to make it available, as breast cancer is the most common type of cancer for women according to the American Cancer Society. This new addition to coverage is only on a temporary basis “because the United States Preventative Services Task Force doesn’t currently recommend the technology for breast cancer screenings.” The coverage can be extended for up to five years, during which time Thomas McCaffery, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, is hopeful DBT will be recommended.

Periodic Occupational and Environmental Monitoring Summary
Center for a New American Security, Kayla M. Williams (@kwilliams101) and James Fahy

Researchers at the Center for a New American Security analyzed data collected by the Periodic Occupational and Environmental Monitoring Summary (POEMS) on the effects of veterans’ exposure to environmental and chemical toxins. While researchers concluded that the “amount of information currently publicly available in POEMS is inadequate for individuals to determine the degree of risk they may face based on the dates they spent at a given location,” they also found that “the more environmental samples were collected, the more likely a given location is to be assessed as a higher health risk.” The researchers also used data to put together “heat maps” of toxic exposure at US military sites in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, but the “limited number of sites visualized is a stark demonstration of how limited the data is.” For helpful resources and more information, read ScoutInsight’s article on veterans and toxic exposure here.

‘Difficult Questions, Daunting Data:’ Senators Put Focus on Suicides Among Young Veterans, Service Members
Stars and Stripes, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

Despite numerous efforts and new programs, “rates of suicide for our active-duty service members and veteran populations have increased in the latest reports,” explained Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., chairman of the subpanel on personnel for the Senate Armed Services Committee. At the “Servicemember, Family and Veteran Suicides and Prevention Strategies” hearing on Wednesday, members of the subpanel heard from suicide prevention experts and government officials. This comes after the newest reports indicating military suicides were increasing. “The results are not nearly good enough,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

Rep. Hunter Enters Plea in Federal Campaign Finance Case, Telling Judge, ‘Guilty’
The San Diego Union-Tribune, Morgan Cook (@MorganECook), Kristina Davis (@kristinadavis) and Jeff McDonald (@SDUTmcdonald)

Marine Corps veteran Rep. Duncan Hunter admitted to one count of conspiracy to convert campaign funds to personal use in a hearing on Tuesday. The prosecution has agreed to drop 59 other counts against Hunter. On his way out of the courthouse, Hunter stated, “I failed to monitor and account for my campaign spending. I made mistakes, and that’s what today was all about.” However, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emily Allen says, “While this crime may not involve allegations of cash bribes, make no mistake, it is corruption all the same.”

Action Ethnography of Community Reintegration for Veterans and Military Service Members With Traumatic Brain Injury: Protocol for a Mixed Methods Study
JMIR Research Protocols, Christine Melillo, MPH, RN, PhD; Kiersten Downs, PhD; Christina Dillahunt-Aspillaga, PhD; Jason Lind, PhD; Karen Besterman-Dahan, PhD; Bridget Hahm, MA, MPH; Nicole Antinori, MBA; Christine Elnitsky, RN, PhD; Angelle M. Sander, PhD; Heather G. Belanger, PhD; Peter Toyinbo,  MBChB, CPH, PhD; Gail Powell-Cope, FAAN, ARNP, PhD

ScoutComms’ very own Research Director, Kiersten Downs, PhD, was a part of this research team that studied veterans with varying complicated traumatic brain injuries and their experience as they transition to and live in communities, along with their families and community reintegration (CR) specialists. Over a five-year longitudinal mixed methods study, the results help to provide a foundational knowledge for future study and testing designs in the CR community.

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of 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, December 09, 2019 11:34 am

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