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Veterans Roundup: COVID Spreads in the Military, VSOs Adjust, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

COVID-19 prevention efforts at basic trainings are failing
ConnectingVets.com, Elizabeth Howe (@ECBHowe)

The military is wrestling with a significant challenge dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak while maintaining readiness, continuing training and conducting day-to-day operations. In some places, like the Republic of Korea, the leadership has conducted herculean and successful adjustments to preserve their forces’ health with great success and flattening of the infection curve. While in other places there has been struggles; including the major outbreak onboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt docked in Guam. Which subsequently led the Captain to send an urgent letter requesting to disembark the entire crew to prevent further spread. In addition to deployment disruptions, one of the most problematic challenges to overcome is conducting basic training for new recruits. If you turn off that spigot, it leads to not just near-term problems, but years of personnel shortages in the force. COVID-19 constitutes a severe and significant threat to the mission of the military – like the outbreak at Marine Corps Station-Parris Island. The outbreak is in spite of multiple screenings for fevers and possible exposures to COVID-19 of arriving new trainees. None of this is helped by many military leaders seeming to think they can just power through the pandemic with business as normal. Also for consideration is the entirely stupid idea espoused by a former Navy Captain in a Washington think tank, who thinks they should just let everyone get sick for “herd immunity” like some internet crackpot — instead of a strategic thinker. The military has been impacted previously by pandemics, as seen when the 1918 Spanish Flu devastated the U.S. military — it sometimes feels like no one has paid attention to history. While we must maintain readiness and be prepared to fight, the simple fact is that a service member on a ventilator isn’t fighting anyone any time soon. There is no vaccine or treatment for COVID-19, so hoping and wishing your troops won’t get sick isn’t a viable plan. The time for business as usual in the military, or out of it for that matter, is long past and while most of America seems to get that, vast swaths of our uniformed military seem to be in denial. Hopefully, this serious scenario passes, but it’s going to take urgent action and original thinking to preserve the force for our future — I hope the military empowers those that are doing so. The fact is that even as I write this analysis, stories are emerging that the Commander of the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt is being relieved after his letter was leaked to the media. This news isn’t heartening and it doesn’t bring me much faith that the DoD’s leadership is going to do the right thing without political influence, much like the issue of military housing. We rely on the American people to trust the military with their sons and daughters. If the military ignores their health and welfare for no good reason, we don’t just have a problem today, we will have a problem in years to come when parents tell their children that the military simply isn’t worth the price you pay to serve. That’s the real price of today’s poor decisions. Let’s hope that’s not the case. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms

Video games, buddy checks and feats of strength: Veteran organizations go virtual in response to pandemic
Stars and Stripes, J.P. Lawrence (@jplawrence3)

Prior to reading this article, my husband sent me a text saying that he wants to buy an Xbox, to which I immediately yelled across the house, “absolutely not!” However, after reading this article, I may have to reconsider my hardline approach to what I think was meant to be the start of a marital negotiation. According to the article, Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and some volunteers are working to build a veteran online gaming community. Online gaming communities, unbeknownst to me, offer a lot more to people than just a place to play video games with others. In a forum recently created by WWP on Discord, veterans log in from their homes and are brought to a virtual space together with veterans from all over the country. Apparently, discussions in the gaming chat environments encompass a lot more than just gaming talk. According to Martin, a Marine highlighted in the article, the online community is “also about untangling the stresses of life as they play out.” In the time of COVID-19, the online gaming environment is giving veterans “a place to hang out during a crazy time.” The article also lists some other fun things veterans service organizations are doing to bring people together across the virtual landscape, like Team RWB’s online fitness challenges and virtual meetups being hosted by VFW and American Legion posts. At ScoutComms, we thought this would be a great time to add to this conversation by sharing some of what our clients are doing to help the military-connected community come together and thwart off social isolation. Our good friends at Soldiers’ Angels are continuing to provide much of their programming. You can find out about all of their virtual volunteer opportunities here! Additionally, if you ever find yourself needing to talk to a peer, Vets4Warriors is a 24/7 peer support network with a mission to ensure that all veterans, service members, their families and caregivers always have direct and immediate access to a peer who is dedicated to listening, understanding and providing support to those in need. They have worked through contingency plans to ensure that their 24/7 peer support will continue to be available throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. Contact them by calling 1-855-838-8255 or by visiting Vets4Warriors.com. I guess it is time for me to revisit the Xbox conversation with the hubs. Who knows, maybe I will give it a try myself. Happy gaming!– Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

Student veterans worry coronavirus outbreak will hurt graduation goals
Military Times, Leo Shane III (@LeoShane)

A recent survey conducted by Student Veterans of America indicated that a “vast majority” of student veterans are worried that “massive social changes” caused by the Coronavirus pandemic will “significantly impact their education goals.” The changes, including many universities’ switch to online-only classes, intersect with anxiety over the delivery of G.I. Bill benefits and “financial disarray” as businesses nationwide temporarily close and the nation braces for an economic recession. Only a minority of the poll’s participants reported that their school or the VA had updated them on the status of their G.I. Bill benefits, and many student veterans responded that they were concerned about “buying groceries for their family…[and] making their mortgage or rent payments on time” given that about a fifth of student veterans “are no longer earning a paycheck or expect to be unemployed soon.” Jared Lyon, the national president of Student Veterans of America, said, “We will be working with our partners…to identify ways we can all step in together to support tomorrow’s leaders as they face this time of increased uncertainty.” For more information about veterans and higher education, check out ScoutInsight’s analysis of the issue here.

Air Force Academy eases restrictions after 2 suicides
The Associated Press (@AP)

The Air Force Academy reported that two cadets in its senior class died by suicide following the Academy’s implementation of stringent social distancing regulations. In an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 on its campus, the Academy established policies described as “prison-like” in which its senior class was “ordered to stay on campus and stay separated from one another while taking online classes.” The Academy relaxed these regulations in response to the cadets’ deaths, allowing cadets to “venture off campus…and congregate in small groups compliant with state guidelines.” Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria wrote in an email announcing the policy changes, “No one is being punished for social distancing violations. Be smart!”

Latest Guard update: 17,250 troops mobilized for COVID-19 response, 10 states, 2 territories and DC on Title 32 status
Military Times, Howard Altman (@haltman)

This week, the number of National Guard troops mobilized in the push to mitigate the Coronavirus pandemic rose to 17,250, while 10 states, 2 territories and the District of Columbia are “approved for use of federal funds for state missions under Title 32.” Governors of all 50 states, as well as U.S. territories, have mobilized divisions of their respective National Guards to aid in state-level responses to the pandemic. Recently, the Secretary of Defense Mark Esper “modified and accelerated” the Department of Defense’s authorization of National Guard mobilization, which Esper wrote will “[enable]…timely use of the National Guard to save lives and protect public health and safety.” Reportedly, the National Guard’s response missions include “supporting warehouse operations and logistics efforts…manning call centers…performing sample collection and delivery to medical personnel…[and] providing transportation and assessment support to healthcare providers.” Air Force Gen. Joseph Lengel, Chief, National Guard Bureau said, “this response isn’t just about delivering food or supporting COVID test centers. It’s about protecting our children, parents and grandparents. Our nation is looking to the National Guard to help and we can’t let them down.”

Pentagon orders installations to stop reporting coronavirus cases as military-linked infections eclipse 1,000
Stars and Stripes, Corey Dickstein (@CDicksteinDC)

Commanders have been ordered by the Defense Department to stop publicly announcing the number of coronavirus cases among their personnel at all of its installations. This order was put in place to protect operational security at the Defense Department global installations. They are worried that such information could be exploited, especially if the outbreak impacted the U.S. nuclear forces. The Pentagon will continue to release the number of cases among troops, DOD civilian workers, military dependents and defense contractors, as the numbers continue to dramatically increase. Individual military services are still authorized to report coronavirus cases within their ranks to the public. This decision was combated openly by the Mayor of San Antonio, Texas, Ron Nirenberg, who stated that since this virus is a global pandemic, the public has the right to know the number of cases, and that the lack of information is complicating the state and federal responses. “One of the biggest battles that we have is helping people understand the seriousness of this situation,” Nirenberg stated. The officials are aware that the public will not be pleased with the decision to keep this information to themselves, but overall believe that it is what is best.

VA to accept non-veteran patients in New York to help with coronavirus response
Military Times, Leo Shane III (@LeoShane)

Veterans Affairs officials in New York have announced that they will be opening up 50 beds for non-veteran patients in need, as part of their responsibility in the event of a national emergency. This decision was made after the number of coronavirus cases in New York dramatically increased, becoming one of the most dangerous cities in the United States, and hospitals in the city were starting to experience shortages in staffing. At least two physicians at Brooklyn’s site have tested positive for COVID-19, though the VA is not releasing the number of patients that were potentially exposed to the illness. At least 78 cases of the virus have been confirmed at the two main VA medical centers in the city so far. Since making the announcement that they were going to accept non-veterans into their facilities, VA leaders have said that this decision will not negatively affect veteran care. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie stated that they are taking the responsibility to care for civilians, only after veterans are cared for. 

Senators seek extensions for veterans applying for benefits during coronavirus pandemic
ConnectingVets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)

Veterans Affairs senators are asking for waivers for veterans applying for benefits during the Coronavirus pandemic so that veterans won’t have to choose between their health and their benefits. In a letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, the senators said, “Veterans may feel paralyzed with anxiety and fear over this pandemic and they should not be penalized for missing deadlines when their focus should be on maintaining their own health,” and that “we encourage VA to institute a waiver for all veterans who are facing filing deadlines and consider establishing a retroactive date for all new claim submissions. We would like to see the VA use its broad regulatory authority to toll all veteran-facing deadlines for 180 days. ” Here is the full Senators’ letter to VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.

Your coronavirus quarantine guide to military movies and shows on Hulu
Military.com, James Barber 

Currently, almost everyone is stuck at home and are finding themselves with more free time than they know what to do with. Options for entertainment and activities are limited, with public places such as movie theaters being closed for the time being. Thankfully, Hulu has many options for anyone looking for movies and television shows to binge watch. This article discusses Hulu’s vast variety of content, from television series to movies to documentaries. Read this article for recommendations military-related shows and movies that are available to stream, such as Catch-22, Baghdad Central, M*A*S*H, Operational Finale and many more. 

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, April 06, 2020 12:29 pm

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