Veterans Roundup: Do Veterans Have Unrealistic Job Expectations? VA Hit for $6B Spent Yearly Through Purchase Cards, Predatory Lenders

Posted by Fred Wellman

A Navy Pilot’s Death Reflects the Everyday Hazard of the Job
Eric Schmitt (@EricSchmittNYT), The New York Times. Lt. Nathan Poloski, a 26-year-old Navy fighter pilot was killed in September when his fighter jet collided midair with another Navy jet on a training mission in the Western Pacific. While small in comparison to combat deaths, fatalities suffered in training illustrate the day-to-day hazards facing military pilots and other troops around the world. –EA
Bottom line: After 14 years of war it’s easy to forget that the military is a dangerous life even separate from combat. Men and women give their lives every year in training accidents practicing the maneuvers and tactics that make the U.S. military so effective when it does go to fight. Lt. Poloski’s death, and those of the six Marines who died in Nepal, is a tragic reminder that organizations like T.A.P.S., the Semper Fi Fund, and others are going to be a necessary part of the fabric of our nations military support community long after the last service member leaves the war zone. –FPW

Payday, Auto Loans Now Regulated, but Travel Loans Still Snare Servicemembers
Ellen Creager (@ellencreager), Detroit Free Press. Though recent regulations have reined in some predatory lenders, predatory travel loans are still targeting young service members. A 19-year-old Airman was caught in a financial trap while purchasing a ticket home for Christmas and wound up paying $1,480 rather than $800 for the ticket. The federal Military Lending Act of 2007 currently regulates predatory payday, auto loans and tax refund loans but does not cover travel loans. –EA
Bottom line: While the young Airman’s predicament is unfortunate, it is a relatively tame example of a business taking advantage of a naïve service member. We can likely thank the crackdown on the most egregious offenses and offenders for allowing us to focus more narrowly on predatory travel loans. This is an area where NCOs—who have experience helping junior enlisted return their fancy, unaffordable cars to dealerships—can certainly provide education at the unit level. One assertion that Cregger incorrectly makes is that she has to quote the Airman anonymously because “servicemembers are not allowed to speak directly to media.” While he may have told her that based on his own command’s views, neither DoD nor the services place blanket restrictions on the ability of service members to talk to the media. –BW

Report: Vets’ Job Expectations May Be Unrealistic
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A new study, conducted by Volunteers of America and the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work, highlighted the unrealistic expectations of veterans when searching for civilian employment and the stigmas surrounding employment of former service members. According to the report, veterans have trouble finding and keeping jobs and civilian employers struggle to understand them. The research suggests that lack of support and training from the military in the transition period of active-duty to civilian life may hinder our troops in their post service career searches. –EA
Bottom line: Any research done on the challenges veterans face with transition is important but it’s also important to put things in perspective. The unemployment rate for veterans of all eras has dropped dramatically, transition programs have improved substantially, and private sector opportunities to assist with career transition have grown. There comes a point where we are asking the military to essentially dedicate as much time to troops leaving the service as training them to do the job they are being paid to do. There isn’t another employer in the world that is tasked, graded, and readily criticized for not preparing its employees to leave their jobs and find new ones. The military is exactly in that situation, so calls for even more transition time upwards of a year before a three of four-year enlistment ends seems impossible to fulfill and still maintain the combat readiness of our military. A balance between the two has to be found that recognizes that service members are adults and should take ownership of their transition and next careers at some point. There are some terrific programs from ScoutComms clients including the many options from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, job services from RecruitMilitary, and many others but it’s up to individual servicemembers to seize these opportunities and succeed in their second careers. –FPW

Veterans Affairs Improperly Spent $6 Billion Annually, Senior Official Says
Lisa Rein (@reinlwapo) and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. There have been new revelations about alleged mismanagement at the Veterans Health Administration that led to $6 billion a year wasted or spent through illegal means. A recently disclosed memo describes how purchase cards, typically used for minor purchases, have been used in violation of rules and could have affected health care delivery. –EA
Bottom line: This is definitely not the kind of news the VA needs. It is already under fire from Congress for cost overruns in construction and for poor management and accountability elsewhere within the system. News that the purchase cards, used for tabs under $3,000, have been manipulated to skirt acquisition and contracting rules at the expense of the taxpayer will not sit well with the congressional leaders already trying to lower VA’s budget increases. But as VA notes in response to the story, in many cases the purchase cards have been used to expedite care for veterans. The federal procurement process moves slowly while oftentimes illness and injury do not. –LJ

Automated System Often Unjustly Boosts Veterans Disability Benefits
Daniel Huang (@huangplan), Wall Street Journal. In 2012 a software system was introduced by the Department of Veterans Affairs that aimed to speed up the processing of disability-benefits applications. The new system relies in part on veterans’ self-reported ailments. This seemingly streamlined system has allegedly allowed veterans to exaggerate symptoms in order to receive more money, increasing costs to the VA benefits branch by 65 percent. –EA
Bottom line: At the heart of this problem is an imperfect reaction to workload overload, and it is certainly not a VA-only problem. Many organizations turn to automation to help keep up with high levels of demand while sacrificing accuracy and the input of true human judgment. Sebastian Junger recently addressed this same issue in his significant Vanity Fair profile on the history and evolution of our understanding of and reaction to post-traumatic stress. He wrote that, “PTSD claims have reportedly risen 60 percent to 150,000 a year. Clearly, this has produced a system that is vulnerable to abuse and bureaucratic error.” While we certainly can debate giving veterans the benefit of the doubt for conditions that are not diagnosed with a simple “yes or no,” the VA is not helping itself nor the broader veteran community by allowing self-reported symptoms to take the place of sound professional judgment. –BW

Homeless Veteran Count Rises 6% in L.A., Posing Hurdle for Garcetti
Gale Holland (@geholland), LA Times. The population of homeless veterans in Los Angeles has risen 6 percent since 2013. Mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to end veteran homelessness in LA this year and this recent data has some advocates questioning whether this is possible and what it will take to make up for this increase. –MC
Bottom line: There are few people who know homeless veterans issues better than Vince Kane, quoted in this story. He tells it like it is: “We got a slow start in LA.” LA has the largest concentration of homeless veterans in the country so a slow start there has ripple effects through the years. Nationally and in LA, the goal is to end veteran homelessness by the end of the year. The federal government has doubled the amount of funding for homeless programs in LA County which has helped—countywide veteran homelessness dropped 6 percent. For the city to meet its goal, local leaders and service providers are going to have to work harder and faster to ensure there is enough housing available to homeless veterans. That means constructing new housing or rehabilitating current structures. –LJ

Quick Hits:

There Was Beauty & There Was Horror – Both Coexisted
Ben Reninga (@BenReininga), Refinery 29. Last week, Refinery 29’s Ben Reninga published a piece about female veterans and the unique challenges they face. Reninga interviewed several women veterans about their experiences, and we think they’re worth reading. –MC

2 Overlooked WWI Soldiers to Receive Medal of Honor
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. President Obama will award Sgt. Henry Johnson and Sgt. William Shemin, soldiers who bravely served our nation in World War I, with the Medal of Honor. The awards come as part of an effort to recognize minority soldiers who may have been overlooked due to race and religion. –MC

New Studies Focus on Service Dogs and PTSD
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. Purdue University is conducting a study with 100 post-9/11 veterans to see if service dogs have the ability to alleviate posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms. The outcomes of this research have the potential to shift VA policies towards therapy dogs for veterans. –MC

Pentagon’s Quiet Push for Military Personnel Reform
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. Changes to the military personnel system and human resource practices of the Department of Defense that would have once be considered impossible are being considered by top Pentagon leaders and Congress. Last week, the Senate moved to push military retirement overhaul ahead and support plans to trim troops’ pay and benefits. –MC

VA Officials Say They’re Trying to Fire People but It’s Still Really Hard
Eric Katz (@EricM_Katz), Government Executive. Last week the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing to assess the “progress of the choice program” created by the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act. However, scrutiny of the program shifted to questions of accountability. –EA

For Relocated Afghan Translators, U.S. Life Offers New Struggles
PBS NewsHour. Afghan translators who served with U.S. forces overseas qualify for special visas in the United States, but face challenges once they settle into their new lives, such as finding jobs and paying for housing. Al Jazeera America recently covered the work No One Left Behind does to support these individuals and their families through this process and we highly recommend you take the time to learn about the organization’s mission.  –MC

Southeast D.C. Facility for Homeless Veterans Gets a Boost
Hamil R. Harris (@hamilharris), The Washington Post. The Home Depot Foundation is supporting an initiative to repair the Chesapeake Veterans House in Southeast Washington, DC. With a $100,000 grant, the transitional housing facility for homeless veterans will get a new roof and flooring, improved security, and updated restrooms. –MC

Wisconsin’s Vet Hiring Challenge
Peter Gudmundsson (@pagudmundsson) and Marc Burgess (@JMarcBurgess) for Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. RecruitMilitary and DAV (Disabled American Veterans) are hosting a career fair in Wisconsin this Thursday. In an op-ed for the Journal Sentinel, Peter Gudmundsson, CEO of RecruitMilitary, and Marc Burgess, National Adjutant and CEO of DAV, discuss why opportunities like these are so important for our nation’s veterans. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

SOFIC (Tue-Thu, 19-21 May); Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, FL

CECP Summit: Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (Tue-Wed, 19-20 May); New York City, NY

The Center for Effective Philanthropy: CEP National Conference (Wed-Thu, 20-21 May); International San Francisco Hotel, San Francisco, CA

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

Congressional Hearings


Veteran Affairs: Joint Hearing on the Legislative Presentation of the Paralyzed Veterans of America, AMVETS, Military Officers Association of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, Vietnam Veterans of America, Blinded Veterans Association, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Non Commissioned Officers Association  When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Where: Hart Senate Office Building 216


Veteran Affairs: Markup of Pending Legislation When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, May 21, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon House Office Building Think Tanks & Other Events

Housing Assistant Council (HAC): Capitol Hill Symposium to Highlight Public and Private Sector Services Available to Support Rural Veterans Who: Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Moises Loza, Executive Director, Housing Assistance Council, Heather Prill Pritchard, Senior Manager, The Home Depot Foundation, others When: 8:30AM, Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Where: SVC 200-201, Capitol Visitor Center, Washington DC

The Elizabeth Dole Foundation: Hidden Heroes Coalition Summit: Progress and Promise Who: Senator Elizabeth Dole, First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks When: 2:00PM, Wednesday, May 20, 2015 Where: Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center Auditorium, Washington, DC

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 Monday, May 18, 2015 9:18 am

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