Veterans Roundup: GI Bill Benefits Not Benefiting Reservists, Mental Health Care No Longer Asked in Security Clearances, Moral Injury, and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Pentagon Holds GI Bill Benefits for Reservists
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), Stars & Stripes
About one million Reservists have deployed since 9/11, but approximately 1,780 Reservists who were mobilized under deployment authorization code 12304b returned home to learn that they will not receive GI Bill credit for their time deployed. The code was established in 2014 as a measure to reduce benefit spending by the Pentagon. Marine Sgt. Will Hubbard, vice president of government affairs at Student Veterans of America (a ScoutComms client), is one of the Reservists affected and shares his personal and professional perspective on the issue. –MC
Bottom line: The issue is here is twofold. First, creating a new kind of mobilization code that comes with reduced benefits to save money really stinks of saving money on the backs of the troops. But, more troubling is the fact that apparently many of those being mobilized under this new classification aren’t even aware that they are not going to receive GI Bill credit until after they’ve deployed. That is the part that really should cause the most consternation among military leaders and veteran service organizations. The Defense Department will argue that it is unfair to provide the benefits normally reserved for combat service to every single reservist mobilized as they seek to use those forces more and more under a reduced availability of active duty forces. That sounds great in theory, but as Horton points out in the article, deployment to Honduras is anything but a quiet “peacetime” vacation. But, the real outrage is that military leaders can’t even explain why that code would be used instead of others and the criteria associated with it. In the end there is the clear appearance that volunteers who are stepping up to serve their nation as Reservists and National Guard members are being lied to about the benefits they will receive for that service. That fact and the paragraph in the story where the Marines have to sit through a briefing on their wonderful GI Bill benefits they didn’t earn should cause military leaders to be diving on this problem even as you’re reading this newsletter. There is no excuse for lying to our service members about their benefits. Period. –FPW

Study Results Hold Promise for Quick, Lasting Treatment for PTSD
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars & Stripes
A recent study found that a six-week one-on-one therapy program for active duty service members suffering from PTS leads to a decline in reported symptoms for 50 percent of participants. The study was conducted by the South Texas Research Organizational Networking Guiding Studies on Trauma and Resilience (STRONG STAR) as a part of a series of trials looking into treatments for service members with PTS. Alan Peterson, director of STRONG STAR, says the study demonstrates the effectiveness of cognitive processing therapy but believes there is always more that can be done to continue to increase the method’s effectiveness. ­–JG
Bottom Line: This study is interesting for a couple of reasons. First, the rate at which patients were no longer diagnosable with PTS after treatment was 50 percent among service members, but among civilians it was 80 percent. A few reasons for this could be the gender divide—in the military trial, most were men with combat experience, in the civilian trial it was mostly women with rape or domestic abuse trauma—the uniqueness of combat-related PTS, or the fact that service members in the study had more comorbid conditions like TBI. These potential variables show the need in the psychiatric community for more science-based, objective measures and treatments for PTS and other mental health issues. (Learn more about one from client MYnd Analytics in client news below.) The study’s authors also note that the six-week timeframe is a very short one for treating PTS and goes against what many people think will be years of traditional “talk” therapy. That’s true, and a good message to send to those considering their treatment options. Other studies have also shown that combining talk therapy and the right medications give patients the best results. So this importantly shows the efficacy of known, fairly traditional mental health treatment, which is important in these days of “silver bullets” to cure PTS. Proven treatments exist, it’s up to VA and DoD to ensure they are available and to encourage their clients to utilize those treatments. –LJ

Author: ‘Everyone Who Goes to War Comes Back with Some Form of Moral Injury’
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), Stars & Stripes
David Wood, Pulitzer-winning journalist, writes in his latest book “What Have We Done,” about moral injury and how it affects service members as they return home from war. Moral injury describes and examines the way some service members feel when they make decisions that may cause them to question their morality. Wood sat down with Stars and Stripes’ Alex Horton for a Q&A session discussing the topic, and how our military is preparing troops to cope with moral injury. –MC
Bottom line: I had the opportunity to get an advance copy of David Wood’s new book and found it incredibly compelling. He earned his Pulitzer discussing the effects of war on the mind and body and it opened the idea of moral injury to a much wider audience who must wrestle with understanding the mental health burdens that come with service in combat. It’s bold to say that “everyone who goes to war comes back with some form of moral injury” as Wood does. But, it makes sense when understanding that in an all-volunteer military, the decision to serve and go to war is a moral choice by everyone who makes it. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are dramatically different in thousands of ways than previous ones ranging from the multiple deployments, discerning noncombatants from enemies, being able to talk to your family almost every day while away, and making snap decisions that lead to deaths that the entire world will judge. But, moral injury lies in the way we are raised in a culture that values life. The decision to take another’s life, or to send someone to their death, has always carried with it a burden nearly impossible to explain to those who haven’t faced those impossible choices. Wood admits to not knowing the answer to addressing these mental wounds but recognizing them as a burden of war and perhaps training for those moments, and recognizing them when they occur, is a key first step to helping those who bear the burdens of moral injury to find peace. –FPW

Marine Admits Lying About Combat Injury in Iraq to get Free House, VA benefits
Kevin Krause (@KevinRKrause), Stars & Stripes
A Marine veteran is facing up to 21 years in prison for fraud after falsely claiming that he was injured by an explosion in combat in 2004. Brandon Blackstone admitted in federal court that his story was untrue and was a ploy to get a mortgage-free house from a charity. His fellow Marines believe that Blackstone used parts of the story lived by Casey Owens, a Marine in the same unit that suffered from critical injuries after surviving a similar incident. Owens was awarded the Purple Heart following recovery, but tragically committed suicide in 2014. –KB
Bottom line: The unfortunate fact of life is that not everyone is a good person and not every veteran is a hero. We live in a wonderful time in the United States where our military and veterans are placed on a pedestal like never before. One of the first things they teach young future officers is that the military is a direct reflection of the society it represents. That means that our service members and veterans bring with them all of the good and bad things of modern American society including those who are willing to lie and cheat for personal gain. Blackstone is just the latest example of those who have served seeking gain from their time by fabricating heroics or injuries they never incurred. We have witnessed outrageous examples over the years at ScoutComms from one’s you’ve read about to ones you haven’t. We tell all of our clients to live by the words of Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.” A true veteran in need should not be offended by being asked to provide the proper documentation to confirm their service to receive benefits as extensive as a free house. The first sign of a fake hero is the inability to prove they are a hero and let’s be perfectly clear – the actual existence of a “classified DD-214” or secret awards is kind of like finding a magical unicorn. If somebody tells you they can’t show you their military records because it’s all “TOP SECRET”…then they need to secretly find their own money to build a house but don’t you dare give them a penny of your nonprofit, personal or corporate funds. –FPW

The Things They Burned
Jennifer Percy (@JenPercy), New Republic
For more than a decade, veterans and their families have pleaded with the VA to recognize service related diseases and chronic illnesses resulting from prolonged exposure to toxic fumes emitted from burn pits. Scientists have collected dust samples from several military installations and have found many know carcinogenic particles that are known to cause respiratory health complications. Frustrations with the VA date back to the first claims of Agent Orange exposure among Vietnam veterans, creating no shortage of VA patients that are convinced that denial of symptoms related to burn pit exposure is political. –JG
Bottom line: I am not an expert on the burn pit issue. But Percy’s writing, combined with other recent reports, points to an intransigence among government decision makers that is resulting in significant failures to support veterans who are clearly ailing. We know that the VA does not have the resources—nor has it made all the improvements—necessary to provide timely and effective care to all veterans for all conditions. It has been overwhelmed not just with post-9/11 veterans, but also an increase in veterans from previous generations seeking care. But the litany of medical problems cited in Percy’s story are not easily dismissed as everyday ailments that could be the result of actions or exposure unrelated to military service. When we send service members to foreign countries to operate under extreme conditions, exposed to elements we cannot measure, we should as a matter of policy assume that if they develop “mysterious” ailments, there is a high likelihood that those ailments are a result of their military service. Because if we are failing to care for and treat veterans of our wars who are in constant pain, then we should be reconsidering our decisions to pursue military activities overseas. We are still debating the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam, which has been the focus of an extensive ongoing investigation in the last year by ProPublica and The Virginian-Pilot. There is a larger discussion to be had here, but the VA—and Congress as its source of funding and direction—should wake up to the fact that a veteran in pain is a veteran in need, no matter what the cause. And the decision to overlook credible third-party research should not be acceptable under such circumstances. –BW

Applicants Won’t Have to Disclose all Mental Health Appointments on New Security Questionnaires
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
James Clapper, the outgoing Director of National Intelligence, recently announced that security clearance applicants will no longer have to answer a mental health question on application questionnaires. The choice to drop the question is part of an effort to ensure service members and employees feel comfortable seeking mental health care. Advocates have pushed for the questions’ removal for years, and experts say that this is a step toward ending stigma of seeking mental health help. –MC
Bottom line: This is a welcome move by the intelligence community. No matter the intent of the question, it was a key contributor to the ever-present stigma against talking about or seeking mental health treatment. When I was at the Service Women’s Action Network’s planning summit earlier in the month, several veterans specifically brought up the fact that any questions about mental health treatment on government questionnaires can imply an inherently negative viewpoint toward those who seek help, and can encourage service members and veterans with an eye toward their future job prospects to either not seek help at all, or to go out of their way to seek help in a way that increases the effort required of them in order to avoid letting other people know about their challenges. When we are assessing someone’s worthiness to receive a security clearance, we should take into account the balancing act between answering all the important personnel questions and respecting someone’s right to seek care and treatment in their lives. If mental health issues negatively affect someone’s job performance or worthiness to receive a clearance, then that is relevant to a security screener’s need to know. But up until that point, we should be careful to cast a negative light on mental health treatment by flagging it in any questionnaires. –BW

Expanding Our Impact by Joining the USO
Katie Bianco for RP/6
When RP/6 was founded just over two years ago, it started with the goal of helping local Washington-state veterans, service members and military families transition from military to civilian life. Starting the beginning of 2017, their mission will move from having a local impact to a global one by being fully integrated into the USO. The USO has officially recognized the RP/6 model of service as the best practice for helping our troops, and this merge will help both organizations reach more people than ever before. –AB

The Force Behind the Force: Case Profiles of Successful Military Spouses Balancing Employment, Service, and Family
Deborah A. Bradbard, Ph.D., Rosalinda Maury (@rvmauryIVMF), M.S., Nicholas J. Armstrong, Ph.D. (@NArmstrongIVMF), The Institute for Veterans and Military Families
Some military spouses face employment and financial challenges due to some negative stereotypes associated with their military lifestyle. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University conducted a military spouse case study featuring 12 military spouses and their success within the family and the workplace. Military spouses are shown to be diverse, resourceful, entrepreneurial, adaptable, and multi-taskers, all of which are traits most employers look for in a candidate. The full study can provide useful information to employers regarding military spouse candidates and how organizations can assess them as potential employees. –DD

Service Women’s Action Network Welcomes New Board of Directors
The Service Women’s Action Network, a nonprofit organization advocating for female service members and women veterans, welcomed eight members to its Board of Directors. Five new members joined three currently serving members to make up a board that is diverse in background and specialty, giving the organization a far-reaching scope of expertise in both the public and private sectors. –KB  

Vet Tix Partners with Military and Veteran Caregiver Network to Support Hidden Heroes
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and Military and Veteran Caregiver Network (MVCN) announced a partnership to further support our nation’s caregivers. Both Vet Tix and MVCN will combine their efforts and resources to encourage socialization and recreation within the community and will provide the necessary peer connection and engagement that caregivers need. Vet Tix provides thousands of free tickets for service members, veterans, families, and caregivers to ultimately help improve quality of life and provide an environment for families and friends to come together. –DD

Big Data Meets Old-School Electrodes: The Brain’s Electrical Signature May Hold the Key to Easing PTSD Joe O’Connor (@oconnorwrites), National Post
While Canada searches for methods to help curb the rising rate of suicide among their Armed Forces and veterans, their Army’s senior psychiatrist may have already found an effective method: predictive medicine. Through utilization of an EEG, predictive medicine can take the guesswork out of prescribing psychiatric medications. This type of technology, developed by our client MYnd Analytics, compares the brain scan of an individual to a database of other individuals and their outcomes on certain medications, which can help physicians decide which patients will respond to which medications, which in one trial led to a 75% decrease in suicidal ideation. This eliminates trial-and-error prescribing, which a retired general described as making him feel like a “chemical experimental station.” This information comes at a critical time for Canada, as a recent report found that deployed troops are significantly more likely to take their own lives than those who never deploy. –KB

SBA to Hold Entrepreneurship Training Program in Stafford for Veterans
Cathy Jett (@fxbgbiz), The Free Lance-Star
Boots to Business Reboot is heading to Stafford, VA on December 5 to offer free entrepreneurship training for service members (including members of the Guard and Reserve), veterans and military spouses. The training program is offered by the US Small Business Administration through a public-private partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University. After completing the in-person training, participants will be able to enroll in the IVMF’s eight-week online course, Foundations of Entrepreneurship. –DD

Acknowledging domestic Terror Threat, Pentagon Says Troops, Recruiters Can Carry Concealed Guns
Jeffrey Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Military Times
The military is now granting requests for concealed carry of firearms as a means of protection at Department of Defense facilities. This directive has been issued in response to the deadly shootings that have occurred at recruiting stations and other facilities across the country. The Department of Defense will decide on a case-by-case basis who can carry concealed personal firearms on DoD property. ­–JG

Tradeshows & Conferences:

None this week.

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Department of Defense Actions Concerning Voluntary Education Programs
Who: Honorable Peter K. Levine
, Acting Under Secretary Of Defense For Personnel And Readiness; Ms. Stephanie Barna, Performing The Duties Of Principal Deputy Under Secretary Of Defense For Personnel And Readiness; Ms. Dawn Bilodeau, Chief, Voluntary Education Programs, Department Of Defense
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Where: Dirksen G50

Think Tanks & Other Events:

Housing Assistance Council: Rural Housing Conference
What: Veteran-focused pre-conference session
When: 8:00 AM, Tuesday, November 29, 2016
Where: Renaissance Hotel, 999 Ninth St. NW, 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, November 28, 2016 11:20 am

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