Veterans Roundup: Fighting Sexual Assault in the Ranks, Congress Too Cheap For Veterans Benefits, Expanding Caregiver Stipends and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

‘Continuum of Harm’: The Military Has Been Fighting Sexual Assault In Its Ranks For Decades But Women Say It’s Still Happening
Stephanie Russell-Kraft (@srussellkraft), Task & Purpose
According to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Defense, 14,900 service members were sexually assaulted in 2016. The Department estimates that more than 60 percent of these assaults were never reported. Sexual harassment and assault have plagued the military for many years, with several incidents making national headlines and bringing attention to the issue. To qualitatively research how sexual assault affects the military, Task & Purpose created a survey and polled 147 service members and veterans. Women who participated in the survey often said that male colleagues “routinely commented on their sexuality in workplace settings.” Data from the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study supports Task & Purpose’s findings. The Study reports that 75 percent of women say sexual harassment is “common or very common.” Politicians such as Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) have advocated for reforms to redesign how the military justice system processes sexual assault cases, illustrating the pervasiveness of the issue. –NJ
Bottom line: Russell-Kraft brings up that the problem the military faces with sexual assault is a direct consequence of a culture that allows progressively bad behavior. This issue doesn’t begin with violent sexual assault, it begins with an environment where service members are objectified, minimized and made to endure “jokes” and inappropriate behavior. This story is timely, as The Department of Defense issued a new instruction on harassment response and prevention on Thursday, which was welcomed with mixed reviews. Some members fear this takes it too far, eliminating humor in the workplace. When I read the new instruction, it struck me that it is quite similar to workplace policies on harassment in the civilian sector. Considering service members will eventually become veterans and enter the civilian workplace, it seems wise to have similar policies in place. My belief is that calling a spade a spade and insisting that we reverse behaviors contributing to rape culture and allowing inappropriate behavior is an essential step in breaking down the “continuum of harm” which allows sexual assault and harassment to happen without appropriate repercussions. One of the things I continue to find most disheartening about the continued conversations around sexual assault in the military is the theme of survivors who fear retaliation when they come forward, and their peers who feel punished aggressors are having their careers ruined over an “indiscretion.” Guess what sexual assault and harassment aren’t? Indiscretions. Guess what sexual assault and harassment are? Crimes. And yes, they should be treated as such. Those who prey upon their peers have no place in our military. Normalizing assaultive and harassing behavior by not addressing it appropriately teaches young service members that these behaviors are just fine. Those young service members are the next generation of leaders and the next generation of veterans. We must break this cycle if we are to fix the culture, support survivors and drive down instances of sexual harassment and assault. We are a better fighting force when our members are safe, and unfortunately that still means from one another. –RB

Congress Is Too Cheap to Give Veterans the Benefits They Demand
Mark Hay (@GoraLadka), VICE
When it comes to legislation to support veterans’ needs, congressional leaders are more focused on the cost of providing new benefits than ever before. Even though Congress passed several bills in 2017 to benefit veterans, Paul Rieckhoff, founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, notes those bills had a minimal fiscal impact or veterans’ advocates were forced to find “pay-fors”, cuts in other benefits to pay for new benefits. Many veterans’ groups’ policy priorities like expanding VA services for caregivers and female veterans come at a price, one which congressional leaders want organizations to pay for with cuts to other programs. –SM
Bottom line: While I don’t necessarily agree that veterans are losing their political clout, as Paul Rieckhoff suggests, I would agree to his point the shrinking population of veterans relative to the total population does put veterans groups on the offensive to grab a slice of the pie that is the national budget. How many times have we heard from a boss or a leader, don’t come to me with a problem if you don’t have a recommended solution? That is essentially what Congress is telling veterans groups in regard to pay-fors and their proposed legislative fixes. While this piece downplays some of the 2017 accomplishments for veterans’ groups, one of the lessons of the sweeping GI Bill expansion is the power of the veterans’ community when we build a coalition and speak with a united voice. This is how big change is made. In a diverse population with competing interests and priorities, it’s easy to turn against one another and for priorities to splinter. We all know that politicians lean on veterans and other affinity groups when it’s campaign season—it’s the nature of the beast. That said, sweeping change can occur when an entire community comes together to apply strategic political pressure. –CB

VA sees big savings in expanding caregiver stipends, but lawmakers still worry about costs
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, Secretary Shulkin urged HVAC to expand the current caregiver stipend program, a shift that could save the government $2.5 billion per year in nursing home and medical costs. Lawmakers are hesitant to support the plan citing the CBO’s initial costs estimate of $3.4 billion over five years to implement an expansion to caregivers of veterans from any era. The current system serves 26,000 caregivers of post-9/11 veterans at a cost of $400 million annually. Shulkin’s plan to expand living stipends to families of veterans who require 24/7 care would add approximately 40,000 new caregivers. Chairman Phil Roe (R- Tenn.) promises more discussions on the matter, but with such a high price tag states that a quick solution over the issue will be a hard one to come by. ­–JG
Bottom line: As noted in the story above, Congress is increasingly insisting that veterans legislation also include cuts or shifts in funding to “pay for” new programs. As expanding the caregiver program has been discussed over the last few years, leery congressional leaders have pointed to the Congressional Budget Office’s very high estimate of what it might cost to expand the services to every caregiver of a veteran. Ask any veterans groups—and particularly those that work most deeply on caregiver issues—and they’ll tell you that there should be no price too high to preserve a veterans’ wellbeing and, as Secretary Shulkin echoes, caregivers save the VA and military so much in health care costs over the long term. Expanding the caregiver program isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the fiscally responsible thing to do. It’s heartening to see Secretary Shulkin continue to fight for expanding the program despite the White House throwing cold water on the idea in a memo to congressional leaders. Though, that may be making Shulkin and his deputy Tom Bowman a target. –LJ

Trump wants a grand military parade. Some veterans say that won’t fix their problems.
Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott), The Washington Post
In a meeting with the defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Trump directed the Pentagon to draw up plans for a military parade. This idea has been met with largely negative reactions citing the potential cost and burden on the already overstretched military. Those in favor of holding a parade claim that the boost in patriotism and pride in country is what Americans want. While officials close to the planning say that this is very much still a concept, veteran advocates seem largely against the idea of an event, especially if the funds for this parade could be better used by the VA or where it could actually help the daily well-being of veterans. –JG
Bottom line: With everything that’s going on in the country, the idea of throwing a multi-million dollar parade seems oddly out of tune and out of place. The whole idea started with the president attending the French Bastille Day celebration last year and talking about how we should do something even bigger. Ever since this news came out, there has probably been at least a dozen editorials and OpEds written on the topic and we don’t need to run through all of the arguments. The fact is that a parade of military equipment won’t do a single thing to bridge the civil-military divide. It won’t drive recruitment. It won’t make Americans feel more pride for their military or give them some sort of alleged missing adulation. The military has never been held in higher regard than it is today. You can’t even use your USAA debit card without someone thanking you for your service. This whole thing is a distraction from real issues surrounding our national security, taking care of our veterans, and addressing the fact that the real culprit behind a downturn in recruitment is over a decade and a half of grinding wars that the current administration is enthusiastically expanding and continuing. Study after study is showing the strain on the all-volunteer military, as previously reliable military family multi-generational service is beginning to break and adults are not recommending their kids join the military. Seeing 10,000 troops and military equipment march down Pennsylvania Avenue won’t change any of the issues the military faces and it certainly won’t win the wars we are fighting. The arguments for and against a parade are many, but as advocates for veterans and military families we can’t find any that will move the needle to improving the lives of those with which our mission is meant to help. –FPW

New VA memo nixes plan to shift $460 million earmarked for veteran homelessness
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling) Stars and Stripes
The Department of Veteran Affairs has officially decided to reverse proposed plans to reallocate funds that had been reserved for HUD-VASH, a joint veterans housing program with the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development and the VA. VA Secretary David Shulkin had called for changes to the structuring of those funds in December and was met with immediate backlash from homelessness advocates and lawmakers. While no changes will be made during this fiscal year, future changes are still a possibility. 2017 saw the first increase in veteran homelessness since 2010, leading Shulkin to believe that the program needs a “reboot.” –KG  
Bottom line: Like Chance wrote above, when advocates unite around a policy position, they can produce real change. When the VA floated the idea of shifting some funding for housing vouchers to general purpose hospital funding, homeless veteran advocates quickly came together to collaborate on halting those plans. HUD-VASH housing vouchers have played a huge part in the gains that have been made in reducing veteran homelessness. The advocates for HUD-VASH funding also want to see veteran homelessness go down and are often closest to the challenges on the ground. If the VA wants to reboot the program to ensure we don’t see further increases, it needs to join the collaboration among these groups to better understand where services could be tweaked. Making policy decrees on program funding without input from the community was a mistake, but one we’re happy to see corrected. –LJ

Organizations help veterans connect through fishing, sporting events
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks) The Fayetteville Observer
A variety of organizations, along with the NFL, worked to honor our veterans and military members this Super Bowl season. One of those organizations was the Veteran Tickets Foundation. The idea for the foundation was conceived at the 2008 Super Bowl when Navy veteran founder and CEO Mike Focareto had friends who participated in the color guard, but then they were not given seats to watch the remainder of the game; meanwhile, several seats around Focareto went unused. The idea quickly transformed into an impactful reality – the foundation has distributed almost four million event tickets to the over 700,000 Vet Tix members, comprised of currently serving military, including the Guard and Reserve, and veterans of all eras. –KG

This Was the Best Thing to Come Out of the 2008 Super Bowl: The Veteran Tickets Foundation
Bill Murphy Jr. (@BillMurphyJr) Inc. Magazine
At the 2008 Super Bowl, Patriots fans (like author Bill Murphy Jr.) suffered a brutal loss. However, the day marks the birth of the Veteran Tickets Foundation, an organization that provides event tickets to currently serving military, including the Guard and Reserve, and veterans of all eras, so for everyone else, that’s a win. Navy veteran Mike Focareto attended the game and watched friends participate in the color guard ceremony, but after the ceremony, there were no seats for them. However, seats near Focareto went unused the entire game. An idea soon became reality, and now there are over 700,000 VetTixers, and they have distributed nearly four million tickets –including two to the 2018 Super Bowl. –KG

#VeteranOfTheDay Navy Veteran Michael A. Focareto III
Timothy Lawson (@TimLawson21), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Blog
Navy veteran and CEO of Veteran Tickets Foundation, Mike Focareto, was recognized by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs as a “Veteran of the Day” on Super Bowl Sunday. Focareto was a Naval Nuclear Engineer and after being medically discharged, he founded a national nonprofit that provides free event tickets to the military community, veterans and their families. It was ten years ago at the 2008 Super Bowl that Focareto came up with the idea for Vet Tix after he noticed several empty seats around him. Today, Vet Tix has a membership base of more than 700,000 currently serving military including the Guard and Reserve and veterans of all eras. –DD

See exclusive photos from Nat Geo’s military series ‘Chain of Command’
(@MilitaryTimes), Military Times
National Geographic released exclusive coverage of the war against violent extremism through captivating photography and videography in their most recent series, “Chain of Command.” The series gives an insider look into the individuals behind the uniform and has gathered footage in locations around the globe, from Africa to Afghanistan. The show airs every Monday at 9/8 central on National Geographic. –DD

Syracuse University Trustee and Wife Donate $20 Million For National Veterans Resource Complex Project
Eric Reinhardt (@ericreinhardt), Business Journal News Network
A one-of-its-kind National Veterans Resource Complex (NVRC) is under construction on the Syracuse University campus and is expected to be complete by spring 2020. Thanks to a $20 million dollar donation from University trustee Daniel and Gayle D’Aniello, the donation will hugely impact the overall budget of $62 million to complete the 115,000 square-foot building. D’Aniello is a Navy veteran and graduate of Syracuse University and the complex will further the University in its mission to be the best place for veterans. –DD

Military veterans defy Jeff Sessions, fight for medical marijuana to kick opioid addiction
Rick Morgan (@RickAnselMorgan), CNBC
Although VA clinics have adopted yoga, meditation, and acupuncture as practices to address chronic pain among veterans, vocal supporters of medical marijuana have offered cannabis as an alternative to opioids. Former Navy Seal Nick Etten, the founder and director of the Veterans Cannabis Project, explains that for many veterans medical marijuana offers a “safer and less addictive” way to cope with pain. As an illustrative example of the scope of the opioid epidemic among the veteran community, a 2011 study conducted by the Department of Veterans Affairs reported that veterans were two times as likely as the rest of the population to die from an opioid overdose. While Secretary Shulkin has in the past conceded that some evidence indicates medical marijuana’s effectiveness in supporting those with chronic pain, the VA cannot prescribe medical marijuana until the federal legislation regarding its use changes. –NJ

See what changes could be coming to TAP
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
A new bill presented by Rep. Stephanie Murphy D-Fla. is looking to make the supplemental programs offered by the DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) mandatory for transitioning service members. The extra classes are two-day workshops that train those transitioning out of the military in technical skills, education or entrepreneurship. Many service members report they were never made aware of the additional training opportunities, however, this legislation would make service members withdraw their enrollment in the courses, instead of signing up. The core curriculum of TAP is mandatory for all service members who are transitioning to civilian life, but this requirement could ultimately set service member’s up with the tools to grow in both their personal and professional life. –DD

‘General Tubman’: Female abolitionist was also a secret military weapon
Catherine Clinton, Military Times
Before the start of the Civil War, Harriett Tubman had already spent years helping slaves escape the South through the Underground Railroad. With the start of the Civil War, Tubman enlisted in the Union Army as nurse initially, before becoming a spy for the North in South Carolina, including several key attacks and scouting missions that had significant ramifications before the Union’s ultimate victory. After her service, she continued her efforts to help the oppressed through her philanthropic efforts eventually founding a home for disabled, homeless and disenfranchised African Americans. She is remembered as one of the most accomplished champions of the abolitionist movement. ­–JG

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services: Department of Defense’s role in Protecting Democratic Elections
Who: Mr. Robert J. Butler, Co-Founder And Managing Director, Cyber Strategies, LLC; Ms. Heather A. Conley, Director, Europe Program Center For Strategic And International Studies; Dr. Richard J. Harknett, Professor Of Political Science And Head Of Political Science Department, University Of Cincinnati; Dr. Michael L. Sulmeyer, Director, Cyber Security Project, Belfer Center For Science And International Affairs, Harvard University
When: 2:30 PM, Tuesday, February 13, 2018
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: Current Readiness of the U.S. Forces
Who: General James C. McConville, USA, Vice Chief Of Staff, United States Army
Admiral William F. Moran, USN, Vice Chief Of Naval Operations, United States Navy; General Glenn M. Walters, USMC, Assistant Commandant, United States Marine Corps; General Stephen W. Wilson, USAF, Vice Chief Of Staff, United States Air Force
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: Military and Civilian Personnel Programs and Military Family Readiness
Who: Honorable Robert L. Wilkie, Jr., Under Secretary Of Defense For Personnel And Readiness; Lieutenant General Thomas C. Seamands, USA, Deputy Chief Of Staff, G-1; Vice Admiral Robert P. Burke, USN, Deputy Chief Of Naval Operations, N-1; Lieutenant General Gina M. Grosso, USAF, Deputy Chief Of Staff For Manpower, Personnel And Services; Lieutenant General Michael A. Rocco, USMC, Deputy Commandant For Manpower And Reserve Affairs; Ms. Kathy Roth-Douquet, Chief Executive Officer, Blue Star Families; Mrs. Kelly B. Hruska, Government Relations Director, National Military Family Association; Dr. J. Michael Haynie, Executive Director, Institute For Veterans And Military Families, Syracuse University
When: 3:00 PM, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Where: 232A Russell

Armed Services: United States Northern Command and United States Southern Command
Who: General Lori J. Robinson, USAF, Commander, United States Northern Command And North American Aerospace Defense Command; Admiral Kurt W. Tidd, USN, Commander, United States Southern Command
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Where: SD-G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Hearing: The Military and Security Challenges and Posture in the Indo-Pacific Region
Who: Admiral Harry Harris Jr., Commander, U.S. Pacific Command
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Hearing: Air Force Readiness Posture
Who: Lieutenant General Mark C. Nowland, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, USAF, Headquarters U.S. Air Force; Lieutenant General Scott L. Rice, Director, Air National Guard, USAF; Major General Derek P. Rydholm, Deputy to the Chief of Air Force Reserve, USAF
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Armed Services: Hearing: Strategic Competition with China
Who: Dr. Aaron Friedberg, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University, Woodrow Wilson School; Dr. Ely Ratner, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies, Council on Foreign Relations
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Budget Request for Fiscal Year 2019
Who: The Honorable David J. Shulkin M.D., Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; The Honorable Jon Rychalski, Assistant Secretary for Management and Chief Financial Officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Mark Yow, Chief Financial Officer, Veterans Health Administration; James Manker, Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration; Matthew Sullivan, Deputy Under Secretary for Finance and Planning, National Cemetery Administration; Richard Chandler, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Resource Management, Office of Information and Technology, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Community Opportunities 

Armed Services Arts Partnership: February Veterans Open Mic @ Dog Tag Bakery
Who: Veterans, service members and military family members.
When: 6:30 PM, Thursday, February 15, 2018
Where: Dog Tag Bakery, 3206 Grace St. NW, Washington, DC

Veterans in Global Leadership: Apply to be a 2018-2019 VGL Fellow
Who: Student veteran candidates with a passion for service, a commitment to assist other veterans, an entrepreneurial spirit and proven leadership skills.
When: Application deadline is April 30, 2018

Elizabeth Dole Foundation: Application for 2018 Hidden Heroes Fund Grants
Who: Non-profits with innovative programs supporting military and veteran caregivers.
When: Application deadline is February 23, 2018

Pat Tillman Foundation: Apply to be a Tillman Scholar
Who: Veteran and active-duty military service members; current spouses of veterans or active-duty service members, including surviving spouses; service members or spouses pursuing a degree as a full-time student.
When: Application deadline is March 1, 2018

High Ground Veterans Advocacy: Apply to be a Fellow
Who: Anyone who served in the U.S. military and is an active member of a reputable military or veteran-focused organization.
When: Application deadline is March 4, 2018

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, February 12, 2018 11:13 am

Leave a Reply

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

Notify me of updates to this conversation