Veterans Roundup: Deporting Military Recruits, the New VA EHR, Free Birth Control for Military Women, Fighting Obesity in the Military, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

The Pentagon promised citizenship to immigrants who served. Now it might help deport them.
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), The Washington Post
According to a DoD memo, 1,000 foreign born recruits whose legal status in the U.S. ended while they are waiting to attend boot camp may have their enlistment contracts canceled due to matters of “national security.” Retired Army officer and lawyer Margaret Stock, a key player in implementing the Military Accessions Vital to National Interest (MAVNI) program through which these recruits joined the military, condemned the memo saying it would violate the Pentagon’s equal opportunity policies. –JG
Bottom line: The MAVNI program has been a success by any measure bringing in much-needed specialists in medical fields and languages simply not available through the normal recruiting process but is now falling victim to paranoia and politics. There is no reason why we would turn away thousands of perfectly qualified recruits when the military has allowed non-citizens to serve in uniform since the very founding of the nation. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, it’s not a bad time to remember that our troops were led into battle by French officer Lafayette and Polish hero Kościuszko who designed the fortifications at West Point. They had skills we needed and here we are 240 years later still in need of immigrant talent. A nation of immigrants is turning them away when they want to serve and in the absolute most horrifying case may actually turn them over for deportation to Homeland Security led by a former Marine general. We must keep our promises to those who are willing to sacrifice their lives for our nation. Period. –FPW

In abandoning VistA, VA faces culture change that’s ‘orders of magnitude bigger’ than expected
Nicole Ogrysko (@nogryskoWFED), Federal News Radio
A recent announcement by VA Secretary David Shulkin that the VA will invest in a commercial electronic health record system provided by the same vendor used by the DoD has many federal IT experts offering cautionary tales. These experts say culture change will be the most difficult part of the switch due to VA hospitals using the Veterans Information Systems and Technology Architecture (VistA) for 40 years. With VistA, hospitals have had freedom to manipulate the software to best suit each individual care center, a process that will not exist after the implementation of a new commercial system. –KB
Bottom line: Secretary Shulkin, echoing his boss in the White House, has promised to be a man of action, and thus far has kept up his end of the bargain by advancing efforts started under Secretary McDonald and also taking steps on his own to change direction in the VA, such as this move to move away from the aging VistA system to an off-the-shelf Cerner solution. This move, while not as headline-grabbing as the effort to fight veteran suicide or reduce wait times, could define Shulkin’s leadership. It will be a four billion dollar-plus project that will upend how the VA does business and shares information across its healthcare facilities. And it will, as the article notes, require a massive culture change. I’m hopeful that this will work, and the VA can stop continually attempting to find a solution, but I’m also a skeptic. As the former senior director of a national health information technology association, I’ve heard dozens of horror stories about large healthcare systems running into massive problems trying to install high-end electronic health record systems. The basic technology is often not the problem; instead, culture change and a lack of perceived user-friendliness in the interface serve as massive stumbling blocks for implementation. The VA has the potential to run into complications that dwarf those experienced by smaller systems, as well as those that the DoD has worked to overcome. Right now, of course, this is all theoretical. The White House has actually sought a significant cut to the VA’s IT budget for the coming fiscal year, and there is no timeline for the replacement process to begin. But now that the decision has been made, it’s going to be a critical challenge hanging over Shulkin’s head for the rest of his tenure. Getting this right is crucial for veterans, especially as their healthcare gets more complicated to track with the expansion of the VA Choice program. –BW

The military declares war on sprawl
Amanda Kolson Hurley (@amandakhurley), CityLab
Service members are not immune from a health issue plaguing civilians: obesity. The constraints that often lead to lower fitness in civilians are similar in the military population: a lack of time, a lack of facilities and a lack of healthy food options. The Department of Defense is trying to address these issues through changing menus in the cafeteria to include more nutrient-dense foods, as well as launching the Healthy Base Initiative, which will attempt to encourage more physical activity on base through smarter planning initiatives. –KB
Bottom line: We have all seen the headlines about the impending national security crisis due to the shrinking proportion of the population that is eligible by education or physical fitness to join the military. Yet, today’s military population isn’t immune from the same public health crises that affect the rest of America such as obesity. What is encouraging to see is that the military is investigating ways to make the communities in which service members and their families live more walkable and fitness-friendly. Anyone who has stepped on one of today’s modern mega-bases knows the necessity of getting around by car and has seen the long lines at the Burger King drive-thru. Military leaders have accepted some immediate innovations like bringing food trucks with healthy options to troops in the field and starting bike-share programs on base, but large-scale infrastructure changes that put work areas closer to fitness centers with accessible child care will require long-term investments. That’s where Congress has to get involved. While framed in this article as an issue of service members’ physical health, there is something to be said for more livable communities on base improving the wellbeing of military families and thus strengthening the force, as well. –LJ

Major veterans’ groups voice concern over Senate health bill
Hope Yen (@hopeyen1), Associated Press
The Senate GOP health care bill, released last week, has received some backlash from non-partisan veteran advocacy groups such as Paralyzed Veterans of America. PVA has said that the bill’s major cuts to Medicaid and repeal of the insurance exchange system will adversely affect the 13 million veterans who rely on Medicaid and/or private insurance to supplement available VA healthcare benefits. These cuts may also cause a significant increase in the usage of the VA healthcare system, which they say is already overburdened. The healthcare bill is expected to face a vote in the Senate following the July 4th holiday recess. –KB
Bottom line: This really isn’t a complicated thing. While there are some 21 million living veterans in the United States only just over 8 million use the Department of Veterans Affairs for their personal healthcare. So, the other 13 million are using some other system for their healthcare and many of those are on Medicaid and private insurance, which will face cuts under the proposals put forth by Senate leaders meaning that veterans would be part of the millions of Americans thrown out of the healthcare market by unaffordable health insurance premiums. If they then turn to their unused VA benefits we will see a flood of new patients testing an already stressed VA system that is reporting funding shortfalls now. So, basic math tells us the money will come from somewhere and someone will pay a price for these changes. Experience tells us that it will be veterans right there in the front of the crowd taking the shots in the face. They usually are. –FPW

VA to open emergency rooms to ‘bad paper’ vets on July 5
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, Secretary Shulkin formalized the process by which veterans with other-than-honorable discharges can access urgent mental health care by visiting a VA emergency room. Shulkin believes measures like these will help him tackle his top clinical priority: reducing veteran suicide. Navy veteran and health researcher Ali Tayyeb says that while this is a good first step there is still a lot of work to be done to mediate the impact to wellbeing from bad paper discharges. –JG
Bottom line: Kudos are due to tireless champions for this change, such as Kris Goldsmith of High Ground Veterans Advocacy, who spoke with Jake Tapper on CNN last week about how important this change is for veterans who have previously lacked any access to VA emergency mental health services due to the conditions of their departure from the military. While the potential costs that the VA will accrue by allowing a larger pool of veterans access to its emergency rooms must be planned around, the fact is that this move ties into a much broader reality about health care in America: when someone does not have access to healthcare through official channels, they either don’t seek help and suffer the consequences, or they show up in civilian hospital emergency rooms and find a way to get treated that ends up with no one being happy about how the costs are distributed. The VA has been concerned for years about the fact that a significant majority of veterans who die by suicide are not actively seeking VA healthcare services, and this small but important policy change could help save more than a few veterans who were discharged for reasons related to mental health issues receive the care and attention they need before they reach the point where they die by suicide. –BW

A Senate panel voted to offer free birth control to members of the military and their dependents
Ema O’Connor (@o_ema), BuzzFeed
On Wednesday, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted to pass the National Defense Authorization Act, which includes an amendment that restructures birth control availability for Tricare beneficiaries. Currently, free birth control is only available to active duty service women, however this new amendment ensures that women in the National Guard and Reserves, as well as female dependents of service members, have access to this resource. The bill was sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), who has been an outspoken advocate on the health needs of service women. –KB
Bottom line: It’s critical to remember that birth control is used to treat medical conditions beyond preventing pregnancy. For some women, birth control is critical to managing symptoms that would otherwise be debilitating for days. But on the topic of children, let’s be honest that making birth control more accessible could also save DOD money by preventing lost days of work due either to illness or pregnancy. Of course, there’s also the simple logic of extending the same benefits available to active duty women to their peers in the Guard and Reserves. It’s gratifying to see that this very sensible fix was passed without fanfare in the Senate as it shows there is still hope for Congress getting things done when it comes to service members’ and veterans’ health and wellbeing. –LJ

14 July Events With Free Tickets For Vets, Service Members, And Their Families
Steven Weintraub (weintraub_sd), Task and Purpose
Hundreds of new events around the nation are announced each month through Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix). Currently serving military personnel, veterans and their families are able to request free tickets to community-based events ranging from sporting games, musical concerts, and events in the arts. During the month of July, Vet Tix will offer tickets to events like the 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, multiple locations for the Vans Warped Tour, tickets to the New York Hall of Science, KISS, Blake Shelton and more. Once VetTixers sign up and their service is verified, they are able to bid on tickets through a lottery system. –DD

RallyPoint Welcomes Cartera CEO to its Advisory Board
PR Web
Now joining RallyPoint’s board of advisors is Tom Beecher, current CEO of Cartera Commerce and former CEO/CFO of Imagitas. He will bolster the already impressive board with his expertise in advertising and marketing – connecting the online military network of nearly 1.2 million members with impeccable data-driven campaigns. –AB

Military caregivers’ sacrifices go unseen. It’s time for that to change.
Elizabeth Dole (@DoleFoundation) and Ryan Phillippe (@RyanPhillippe), Task and Purpose
The VA Caregiver Program, created by Congress in order to provide assistance to those who care for injured or ill veterans, currently only provides benefits to men and women who care for post-9/11 veterans. This leaves 4.4 million caregivers for veterans of prior eras without support, despite facing similar challenges. The Elizabeth Dole Foundation was created in order to advocate for increased support of these caregivers, and most recently took these issues to Capitol Hill to testify on behalf of these Hidden Heroes. The organization also released a research blueprint in partnership with RAND Corporation that details the steps to be taken in order to meet the needs of military caregivers. –KB

As VFW posts rapidly disappear, many seek ways to stay relevant in a changing world
Beccy Tanner (@beccytanner), The Wichita Eagle
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) mission is to foster camaraderie among United States veterans of overseas conflicts, but VFW posts are closing due to older veterans passing on and younger veterans choosing to not get involved. With declining membership, VFW posts are struggling to remain open and some believe they are not needed with today’s use of social media and technology to connect. The apparent trend for younger veterans is to return from deployment and focus on higher education,careers and their families. There is, however, an emphasis on family activities and community service at VFW posts to encourage the younger veteran generation to participate, but that is not changing the rapid decline in membership. –DD

Congress Shelves Plans to Have Women Register for Draft
Richard Sisk,
The Senate Armed Services Committee released its markup of the defense budget on Thursday, which does not include a proposal requiring women to register for the draft. The Senate budget bill aligns with a markup of the same bill in the House Armed Services Committee, which also voted against an amendment to make Selective Service registration compulsory for women. Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), said that changes to draft rules were premature because a commission appointed to study the issue has not yet completed its research. –JDG

Alex Horton joins the General Assignment Desk
The Washington Post
Former Zamboni driver (and former national reporter for Stars and Stripes) U.S. Army veteran Alex Horton is joining The Washington Post at the General Assignment News Desk to cover enterprise, breaking news and more. He also brings valuable experience from his time in the office of digital engagement at the Department of Veterans Affairs, not to mention his lesser-known skills as a Costco cart-wrangler. –AB

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Other Events

None this week. 

Fred 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.Fred Wellman

This entry was posted on Monday, July 03, 2017 11:15 am

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