Veteran’s Roundup: Donald Trump Releases Veterans Agenda, Multiple Stories of Bureaucracy Gone Wild, a Draft the Military Academies Like, and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Is Donald Trump Proposing Privatizing The VA?
Quil Lawrence (@qlawrence), NPR
When you look beyond the politics of veterans’ healthcare, Donald Trump doesn’t personally have a great deal of experience with the community. Yet as a candidate, he is expected to have a plan, and taking a cue from his vocal supporter, House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman, Rep. Jeff Miller, his proposal focused not on openly privatizing the VA, but on opening it up to competition by significantly expanding veterans’ ability to seek care in the community, with the VA picking up the tab. The rest of his 10-point plan—aside from a vague visa reform proposal that confounded journalists for days—largely regurgitates existing ideas already being discussed or addressed. Trump does not want to privatize the VA, but he wants to give veterans everything they want, which means vastly expanding access, refusing to make decisions about trade-offs, and accepting an enormous price tag. And in the wake of his disastrous veterans’ hotline, he’s apparently decided that the Trump White House will have its own hotline where he will personally solve the problems of America’s veterans. Trump is tossing out ideas that carry with them a price tag more often associated with the reform plans of Bernie Sanders. –BW

Report: DOD and VA Still Years Away From Full Health Records Sharing
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Despite years (almost two decades, Leo notes) and millions upon millions of dollars thrown at DoD and VA with a goal of creating a system that allows VA doctors to seamlessly access, view, and edit medical charts from military doctors, that milestone is still at least two years away say officials from both agencies. You’ll have to pardon congressional leaders for their wariness having heard the same thing on the same subject many times over. In 2013, the agencies abandoned a project to create a shared system for medical records and instead veered into creating interoperability. Currently, they have some in the area of viewing doctors’ notes in charts, but nothing that allows visibility of things like x-rays or brain scans. It’s hard to place the blame squarely on either agency, but this should be a bigger priority for VA whose doctors are the ones most in need of access to these medical records to provide the best care. For its part, Congress has drafted language to restrict some of VA’s funding for IT modernization until it can show further progress on the issue. Unfortunately, this kind of bureaucratic mismatch is far too common across DoD and VA. Yet, it’s veterans and service members’ health that suffers, not bureaucrats. –LJ

Defense Department Clears the Way for Cadets to Jump Straight to Pro Sports
Amie Just (@Amie_Just), Washington Post
Many star athletes have passed through the military service academies including famed NFL quarterback Roger Staubach David Robinson of the NBA, both of whom attended the Naval Academy. In the past an athlete could not join professional sports until serving at least two years of active duty military service and then getting a waiver to serve the remainder of the service obligation in the Reserves. The military saw it as a public affairs opportunity to have a pro sports superstar. This has all changed after Navy’s record setting quarterback Keenan Reynolds was recruited by the Baltimore Ravens and the DoD appears to have issued new guidance that says any graduate can submit to be placed in the Ready Reserve. This has long been pushed by coaches, athletic directors, and donors to academy sports programs as top flight athletes would often pass on the federally funded schools because of the lack of opportunity to immediately go pro. The problem of course is that since the founding of the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1802, the service academies have existed to provide leaders of character for the armed forces not athletes. These are taxpayer funded educations valued at over $400,000 and now an athlete can blow off having to serve in uniform at all since the Ready Reserve really doesn’t involve actually doing anything. This makes a mockery of the entire point of having these expensive institutions in pursuit of sports glory. The second and third order effects are significant. Think about the divide between the athletic teams and the rest of the corps of cadets and midshipman. There is already a chasm often based on the requirements of modern sports but now you will have two separate corps. The ‘losers’ just there to go to school and forced to go into the military because they didn’t bring in the TV dollars and celebrity status on ESPN, and those superstar athletes who will float through their four years and then go on to multi-million dollar careers in sports. This may be fine at other schools but the military academies are not the same. This decision needs to be rescinded. These schools don’t need to be competitive sports champions. The only championships they should be seeking are winning our nation’s wars and this detracts from that mission in dramatic fashion. –FPW

Pentagon’s Paymasters Hound a Master Sergeant
Kelly Carr and Scot Paltrow, Reuters
Former Air Force Master Sergeant George Koffler retired after 25-years of outstanding service but four months after he left, the Defense Finance and Accounting Service demanded that he pay back $4,034.67 in pay they say he hadn’t deserved. For two years he has sought an answer to the simple question: Why? He has never gotten a clear answer and while he has fought to find out his pay has been garnished and credit ruined by a government agency seemingly unable to explain how it could ruin one of its own service members without a clear reason. The story is disturbing on multiple levels because one must wonder if someone so high ranking can’t get a clear answer what is happening to more junior service members without the ability to fight the system or the money beyond their pay to make ends meet? In addition, the Reuters effort to find answers for the former NCO ended up in a cycle of public affairs officials and Secretary of the Air Force staff all acting like the scarecrow from Wizard of Oz pointing in opposite directions and offering not a single answer or accountability. This past week the Air Force leadership lamented the loss of fighter pilots and supposed it was due to the allegedly lucrative opportunities in the civilian work force. Stories like this one show that many of the reasons service members walk are simply from being treated like a number without regard to personal circumstances or assisted in times of need. We must do better by our service members, retirees and their families than a story like this paints a picture of today. –FPW

Tougher Guidance on VA Narcotics Prescriptions Headed to Obama’s Desk
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times
Usually we’re reporting about how Congress torpedoed legislation that would benefit veterans’ health. In this case, Congress managed to include provisions about VA pain management programs into a larger bill on the nationwide opioid problem. The provisions include giving patient advocates more independence, providing counter-overdose measures, and promoting alternative therapies. Some veterans, though, worry more restrictions on opioid pain medications may make it more and more difficult for them to access treatments that work for them. One also wonders why, as VA seeks to guide its doctors more narrowly on pain medication, VA doesn’t also gives its psychiatrists more guidance on prescribing the right mental health medications based on comparing their patients’ brains to a database of outcomes like that of PEER Interactive (from client MYnd Analytics.) It’s important that we are recognizing the importance of prescribing the right medications and the right amount when it comes to potentially dangerous opioids, but many of the commonly prescribed mental health medications also come with “black box” warnings about their use. Doctors should be required the have the latest training and guidance on prescribing whether it’s opioids or mental health medications. –LJ

Trying to Serve More Veterans Faster, VA Opens Door to Disability Fraud
Daniel Huang (@Huangplan), Wall Street Journal
Kudos to Daniel Huang for writing a balanced and detailed examination of the risks the VA is running after loosening its disability claims standards to speed up the adjudication process and serve veterans faster. When you look beyond the initial shocking anecdote, Huang has captured the complex tug-of-war—accuracy and efficacy on one hand, or speed and wide eligibility on the other—that the VA is currently trying to balance. Costs are clearly rising. More veterans are receiving disability payments. Even if you accept that most veterans are filing claims in good faith, there are still two camps that should give us pause: those who are trying to cheat the system, and those who are getting more benefits than they actually deserve due to the laxer standards. This is not a moot issue, as the LA Times reported back in 2014. Yet despite the need to better understand what is working and what is not in this system geared toward speed, nothing will happen. Why? Because given the constant onslaught of criticism directed at the VA, the chances of reform on this issue are minimal; no one at the VA is going to want to be the person pilloried by congressional committees or advocates for trying to save a few dollars at the expense of veterans. The sad reality is that the VA may be nodding its head in private after reading Huang’s article, but the current political environment is such that the department won’t be inclined to take any public actions. –BW

Warrior-Scholar Project Receives Grant From Bob Woodruff Foundation
The Warrior Scholar Project announced last week that it has received a significant grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation, which will allow WSP to expand its 2017 programs and serve even more veterans. WSP hosts several academic boot camps at top universities across the nation each year that help veterans who are pursuing a four-year degree adapt to both the academic environment and the cultural changes necessary to succeed. To learn more about the WSP, visit –MC

Tigers, GM Host Job Fair for Veterans Friday
Ian Thibodeau (@Ian_Thibodeau), Detroit News
In Detroit, Hiring Our Heroes hosted a hiring fair to assist active duty service members, veterans, and military spouses find meaningful employment. There were over 100 veteran-friendly organizations looking to hire. Find out if a hiring fair is coming to a city near you by visiting Hiring Our Heroes’ website. –JG

Indian River VFW Hall Gets Facelift
Kortny Hahn, Cheboygan News
Last Thursday, volunteers from The Home Depot came together at a local VFW Post in Indian River, Michigan, to mulch, paint and complete other projects to improve the facility. The Home Depot Foundation and Team Depot have helped support the post several times over the past two years through grants and volunteer time. –MC

National Guard Joins Band KISS in Eugene
NBC 16
Hiring Our Heroes and Vet Tix have partnered with KISS on their “Freedom to Rock” tour to honor our military. Hiring Our Heroes organized the “Roadie for a Day” which hires a Guardsman or Reservist to work behind the scenes the day of the concert before attending the concert that evening. Vet Tix is providing free tickets to local area veterans on each stop of the KISS tour. –JG

Other Coverage:
Bozeman KISS Concert Offers Free Tickets for Vets
KISS Brings Their Freedom to Rock Tour to Kennewick
Mike Baltierra (@baltierraphoto), Seattle Music Insider
Review: KISS, Aptly Excessive, Brings Freedom to Rock Tour to MKA
Emerson Malone, Daily Emerald

Quick Hits:

VA Doubling Back to Resolve TBI Claims Denials
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times
An investigation by a Minneapolis TV station found hundreds of veterans at the VA facility there were potentially denied benefits for traumatic brain injury. Upon further investigation, the problem expanded to about 24,000 veterans. Department of Veterans Affairs officials said last week that they are working to correct those claims and offering exams to the affected veterans. –MC

2 Former Marines Playing ‘Pokemon Go’ Help Nab Attempted Murder Suspect
Matt Hamilton, LA Times
Marine veterans Javier Soch and Seth Ortega were walking through a park in Los Angeles playing the mobile phone game “Pokemon Go” when they apprehended a man visibly harassing park visitors. After the police arrived to investigate, they found out the man was wanted for attempted murder among other charges. Soch urges others, especially those playing games on their phones, to remain aware of their surroundings in public. –JG

Veterans’ Groups Disturbed by ‘Orange is the New Black’
Jennifer McDermott (@JenMcDermottAP), Associated Press
The Netflix series “Orange is the New Black” is known for tackling difficult stereotypes, but in its latest season the show chose to portray a group of veterans as what one Air Force veteran called a “group of monsters.” Advocates are concerned because the popular show reinforced many stereotypes that the military and veteran community have worked very hard over the last few years to break. –MC

Dems, Pentagon Officials, Advocates Celebrate End of Transgender Ban
Rebecca Kheel (@Rebecca_H_K), The Hill
Peter Levine, acting undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness at the Pentagon, says DoD has worked through the many issues related to ending the ban on transgender service members and is ready for the integration period. –JG

Researchers to Companies: Hire Military Spouses for Their Resilience
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz), SpouseBuzz
A new report from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and funded by Prudential found that military spouses are “educated, motivated to work, and have attributes that employers value.” Representatives from both organizations said that they hope that this research will start a conversation and movement in support of military spouse employment, much like the momentum supporting veterans’ employment. –MC

Tradeshows & Conference:

Vietnam Veterans of America Leadership Conference (Tue-Sat, 19-23 July) Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort, Tucson, AZ

117th VFW National Convention (Sat-Wed, 23-27 July) Charlotte Convention Center, Charlotte, NC

Congressional Hearing:

Congress is in recess.

Think Tanks & Other Event:

The Institute of World Politics: Naval Warfare: The Strategic Influence of Sea Power
Who: Dr. Mackubin Thomas Owens, Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor, IWP
When: 4:00 PM, July 18, 2016
Where: The Institute of World Politics, 1521 16th Street NW, Washington, DC

For a full list of upcoming events, visit our website.

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, July 18, 2016 8:16 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation