Veteran’s Roundup: Golden State NG Asked to Return Golden Parachutes, Think of the Children’s Run Times, Why Officers Should Vote, and of Course the VA

Posted by Fred Wellman

Thousands of California Soldiers Forced to Repay Enlistment Bonuses a Decade After Going to War
David S. Cloud (@DavidCloudLAT), Los Angeles Times
At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,the Army rolled out its most ambitious enlistment and reenlistment bonus program since the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force. Under that effort, more than 10,000 California National Guard members reenlisted under the guidance of recruiters that it appears were either mismanaging the program or actively manipulating it for personal gain. The National Guard hired over 40 auditors to comb through enlistment contracts for several years and have been demanding repayment of from thousands of Guard members and veterans who were overpaid or were ineligible for bonuses or education payments. The effort has recouped some $22 million from the service members but now thousands face financial ruin as fines, interest, and bad credit ratings have damaged their family finances. –FPW
Bottom line: There has been widespread knowledge about the fraudulent activities that were occurring under the bonus program and many have gone to jail in one of the biggest scandals to hit the Army in years. But, there has been little news about the fact that those who got bonuses believing they were eligible and then went off to war have been faced with demands for repayment. The Guard leadership insists they are just “following the law” and that’s true but sometimes doing the right thing isn’t always doing the legally supported thing. In this case, we constantly hear at ScoutComms that how we treat our veterans matters to the future of the military. If we treat them poorly, no one will want to sign up to become a veteran someday themselves. We have to wonder how damaging is it to military reenlistment that thousands of soldiers who signed the dotted line in good faith are now financially ruined because the chain-of-command failed to properly execute a program. Who would trust taking a bonus now for fear it will have to be repaid a decade later because somebody lost your paperwork? Laws can be changed. Waivers can be granted. Common sense dictates that forcing our veterans to repay tens of thousands of dollars because of the incompetence of their former military units is wrong and undermines the all-volunteer military. We have no doubt there is more to the story but this news is incredibly dangerous for the future of the military when families can’t trust the Department of Defense to take care of them when asked to go to war. The Army and National Guard bureau cannot ignore this issue and Congress needs to get back to work providing oversight instead of launching the 19th investigation over some partisan issue. –FPW

I Fight for Your Right to Vote. But I Won’t Do it Myself.
M.L. Cavanaugh (@MLCavanaugh), The New York Times
This Wednesday’s The New York Times included an opinion column penned by Army Maj. M.L. Cavanaugh citing his reasons for not voting, and urging other military officers to follow suit to maintain their independence as they defend the country. Retired Army general Carter Ham disagrees with this point of view, and stated that if an officer believes he or she can vote and still fulfill their sworn oath to defend the Constitution, casting their vote should still be held as a civic responsibility. The most current Military Times and Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF) voting poll shows Trump currently leading the military vote (as the Republican candidate usually does), despite a recent letter signed by more than 50 retired generals and flag officers, as well as a few field grade officers you might know, detailing how Trump’s attitude toward women and sexual assault should disqualify him as a candidate. –KB
Bottom line: This OpEd generated a lot of chatter on social media among service members and veterans with an understandably wide diversity of opinion on the topic. On the face of it, as a former Army officer myself, I understand his point about wanting to remain politically neutral and the danger of partisan politics infecting the military. This has been a growing problem for years and has only become more so in the last decade and a half. By the same token the military hasn’t been as diverse politically as it is today in my memory. His examples of general officers that didn’t vote are actually flawed. I know several of the names he floated personally and they only stopped voting when they became flag officers. Prior to that they felt that fulfilling their civic duty and setting an example for their troops was important. It is absolutely possible to withhold your political viewpoints and still cast a vote for our nation’s leaders and those back home for local, state and Congress. So, I applaud Major Cavanaugh for his admirable desire to be apolitical in the face of overwhelming currents to be partisan, but I disagree that asking hundreds of thousands of American’s to forgo their civic duty to the nation because they serve in uniform is misguided and a disservice to the very Constitution we swear to uphold and defend. –FPW

Exclusive: VA Shuffles Managers, Declares ‘New Leadership’
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA TODAY
In the latest coverage of VA’s ongoing challenges with reform, a USA TODAY investigation published this past week found that the VA has only hired eight new medical center directors from outside the agency, despite VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s assertion that the majority of the medical centers were under new leadership since his takeover in 2014. The investigation determined that, since July 2014, 92 new appointees have taken office: only 69 of those are permanent placements and all but eight already worked at the VA. When asked about his usage of an erroneous statistic, Secretary McDonald said that the number is “almost irrelevant,” stating instead that the true importance lies in the fact that VA leaders are fighting to “attract top talent” in order to make a bottom-line change in the lives of veterans utilizing the system. –KB
Bottom line: The VA keeps getting in trouble for making assertions or sharing statistics that are not really accurate or are likely to be viewed as misleading by outside observers. This is yet another case of that bad habit, which equates to shooting yourself in the foot. While shuffling around VA employees technically indicates new leadership, it certainly does not address many concerns about the quality of the VA’s middle managers, and the VA should know that its optimism about these changes is not shared by the media, Congress and many veterans who want to see improvements. At the same time, this latest scandal is more about the VA’s poor choice of words and figures than about the overall quality of VA care. The VA is right to assert that it has to fight to attract top talent, particularly when it seeks to find outside hires qualified to help run medical centers. They can’t just do a wholesale swap and replace directors from inside the VA with directors from other institutions. Yet as they seek to push out the lowest-performing and most controversial management figures in the system, they should temper their stated enthusiasm and optimism until the changes realistically align with the rhetoric. –BW

More Women Veterans Living on the Streets, Including in Milwaukee
Bonnie Petrie (@KBonniePetrie), WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio
According to the latest government data, approximately 40,000 veterans are homeless each night. Women veterans face unique challenges in terms of homelessness and now make up the fastest growing segment of the homeless veteran population as the overall number of women veterans also increases. Advocates encourage women veterans to seek help through Department of Veterans Affairs resources and the organizations out there committed to helping them stay off the streets. –MC
Bottom line: As more women serve in the military, the services available to veterans have to adapt to be accessible to all veterans. The reasons women veterans are more vulnerable aren’t a secret—they don’t feel comfortable seeking help from VA or VSOs, they have experienced military sexual assault, they sought stability in the military so don’t have that stability to return to. While building shelters and developing homeless services for female veterans certainly will help this unfortunately growing population, the community has to start working on the issues that lead to female veteran homelessness. The VA is putting a lot of effort into making its health care services more appealing and useful to women, VSOs are working on showing women are welcome, and the military says it wants to prevent sexual assault. Rather than see this as an issue with female veterans, it’s important to see this as an issue with the unconscious biases within the community at large. –LJ

US Service Member Killed by IED in Iraq
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes
Last Thursday a U.S. service member who worked with Iraqi counterterrorism forces was killed after an IED hit the vehicle he was traveling in. An estimated 200 special operators were operating within Iraqi and Kurdish units, while another 300 service members provide support “outside the wire” assisting to reclaim the city of Mosul from the Islamic State group. This news came just one day after two Americans, one service member and one civilian, were killed in Afghanistan. The Pentagon is now looking into what was is possibly the first insider attack to take place this year in Afghanistan. An announcement was made on Wednesday that more than 450 soldiers will be deployed from the 29th Infantry Division to the Middle East to provide mission command for 18,000 troops of Operation Spartan Shield. –DD
Bottom line: We are indeed still a nation at war. Nothing makes that more clear than the loss of one of our sons or daughters to combat. Chief Petty Officer Finan was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician and was assisting the Iraqi and Kurdish forces as they navigated terrain that has been covered in IEDs. There has been a lot of talk about how little the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been discussed in the political campaigns. It is troubling that the nation and its leaders do seem unaware that the fight has continued. The danger of forever war is that it becomes “normal”. It becomes normal that we have men and women fighting and dying while we carry on with our lives while Congress fights over minor scandals and the average American doesn’t even know anyone who serves. For now we must remember those who have sacrificed, pledge to ensure that everyone that is wounded is cared for in every way possible, and that we ensure our warriors are trained, equipped, and supported to not just survive but win the battles to which we send them. That’s our job as citizens. –FPW

Top Military Doctor Says Trend Toward Overweight Troops is Troubling
Andrew Tilghman (@AndrewTilghman), Military Times
The newest data shows that 1 in 13 service members is considered overweight; a fact that has raised concern among military officials in terms of military readiness. The DoD is reexamining body standards and evaluation methods, and is looking for additional ways to encourage troops to lead healthier lifestyles. The obesity problem has nearly doubled over the last five years, but some service members, like Army Major Nick Barringer, believe the military’s current measurement techniques are not effective in evaluating readiness. –MC
Bottom line: This is a tough issue, because it revolves around several issues. First, is BMI a valid measurement point when it unfairly docks large, powerful men and women? Second, is the cause of the increase in overweight troops related more to food intake or activity level? And third, what is the impact of this trend on actual military performance? A full analysis has to take into account all three issues. I personally believe that physical fitness should be a fundamental element of military service no matter what job you fill. As a reserve public affairs officer, I face very little pressure to be in shape, yet I believe the public—including those who look up to the military or may one day seek to join the military—expects to see a military where everyone achieves some semblance of physical readiness and fitness. We should not accept this drift. But it requires commanders to allow time for active duty service members to exercise—something that is known to be sacrificed at times. It requires reservist and guard members to be held accountable for eating healthy and working out in their personal lives, even if they are not competitive athletes. And it means that the military has to make a better effort to make sure that healthy eating options are available on military facilities and ships at all times of the day (fewer Burger Kings, more Chopt salad stores). I refuse to accept that the military will inevitably lose the Battle of the Bulge, and service members should inspire civilians to fight back against widespread national issues with overweight and obese conditions. –BW

Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair
News Staff, ABC 6 WLNE
Last week, Hiring Our Heroes hosted a job fair in Warwick, RI. The event provided the opportunity for veterans in the area to improve their resumes, practice good interview techniques and network with more than 40 employers. Visit the Hiring Our Heroes website to find out when a job fair is coming to a city near you. ­–JG

Military Money Matters: 3 Resources to Encourage Financial Readiness
Cynthia Giesecke (@68GTOTEXAS), National Military Family Association
Those who attended the 2016 Annual Association of the United States Army Meeting & Exposition had access to hundreds of resources and announcements by industry leaders. Three valuable announcements related to military financial readiness covered the launch of The USAA Educational Foundation’s (USAAEF) Command Your Cash Microlearning Center, an update on the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) financial Coaches, and new information about the upcoming rollout of the blended retirement system. If you are a service member, you can enroll in client USAAEF’s Microlearning Center by clicking here. –AB

From Combat Boots to Business Suits
Earlier this month, Raytheon hosted the Student Veterans of America’s (SVA) Leadership Institute in Dallas, Texas. Nearly 100 student veteran leaders came together to learn best practices and hear lessons on transitioning from the military to a civilian career. The student veterans discussed the unique skills they bring to both the classroom and business, ranging from leadership, adaptability, maturity and diversity. To learn more about SVA’s Leadership series, click here. –MC

Got Your 6 and HBO to Showcase Veteran Empowerment in NYC on October 26
Got Your 6 is a veteran empowerment initiative that is setting out to realign the existing narrative of veterans, which describes them as “broken heroes,” to a more accurate narrative that recognizes veterans as models of leadership and valuable assets to their communities. Got Your 6’s annual Storytellers program features veterans who deliver TED-style talks about their accomplishments, struggles and ideas that have gotten them to where they are now. The first event , hosted by HBO, kicks off in New York City on Oct. 26, before making its way to Los Angeles and Washington D.C. You can learn more about these events by registering to attend and help challenge the stereotypes about veterans. –JG

Sword Forged from Scraps of World Trade Center Inspires Veterans to Pursue New Lives
John Gillie (@jgnewstribune), The News Tribune
The Washington state-based veteran serving nonprofit RP/6 hosted an Oct. 22 event called Refuse to Lose that brought together local service members and community leaders to remind veterans that they’re not alone in their struggles. Along with a free screening of “Project 22,” a panel discussion and resource fair, veterans were encouraged to take the Spartan Pledge with the Spartan Sword – a sword forged from the steel of the fallen Twin Towers. Event organizer, military spouse and RP/6 Senior Scout Danielle Haro also wanted the event to present veterans with local options, mental health resources and ultimately to give them a network of support. –AB

Thousands of Student Veterans Affected by Faculty Strikes in Pennsylvania
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Employees with the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties went on strike last week, putting about 3,500 student veterans’ benefits at risk. The Department of Veterans Affairs considers school closure due to strike to be an emergency situation, and will only pay housing allowance for 28 days. Student Veterans of America stepped in last month to assist student veterans at ITT Technical Institute when the school closed, and is keeping a close eye on the situation in Pennsylvania in case assistance is needed. –MC

NCAA Reverses Course, Will Allow Army Veteran to Play College Hoops
Mark Snyder(@Mark__Snyder), Detroit Free Press
The controversial story of Isaiah Brock, the four-year Army veteran ruled ineligible to play basketball due to NCAA regulations that relied on his high school grades, has a happy ending thanks to the NCAA overturning its previous ruling. An Oakland University coach scouted Brock at a basketball tournament for troops deployed overseas, but Brock ruled ineligible to play for the team after his discharge due to five-year-old high school transcripts. The story garnered national attention, and ended this week with the NCAA deciding to overturn their ruling and allow Brock to play for the team. –KB  

Fort Hood Helicopter Crash Reveals Major Flaws in Search and Rescue Response
Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports), Army Times
After a UH-60 Black Hawk crash that killed four soldiers last year, investigators discovered obvious issues with Fort Hood’s search and rescue system. The helicopter that failed to check in at its 30-minute mark was not declared missing until hours later. Fort Hood has nearly 100 overdue aircraft every year, and it is said the culture at Robert Gray Army Airfield does not encourage on-duty personnel to immediately consider a missing helicopter an emergency situation. This incident caused a thorough review of Fort Hood’s flight operations procedures, with some of the changes enforced immediately. –DD

Foundation to Cover Fertility-Related Expenses for Some Veterans
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
The Bob Woodruff Foundation is offering grants to military service members who, due to a service related injury, require fertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) to start a family. The grants are there to help couples who do not have the time needed to save money for the procedure. This program is designed to help as many as 2,000 veterans who sustained injuries that affect their ability to conceive naturally. –JG

Navy Launches Far-Reaching Ratings Overhaul Despite Sailor Backlash
Mark D. Faram (@scribe4squids), Navy Times
Controversy over stripping sailors of their rating titles continues. Navy officials argue this action will ultimately help sailors in their future careers and will create broader career fields within the Navy. Their new idea is aligned with the concept of the Navy Occupational Specialty: “One sailor, many paths.”  The adjustments to the ratings will take place in six phases over the course of three years, but sailors are taking every opportunity to voice their opinion against this change as many feel it is breaking a long history of tradition. –DD

She Fled Iraq with Her Family. Now She’s a U.S. Marine
Matthew L Schehl (@MattSchehl), Marine Corps Times
Lance Cpl. Amanda Issa grew up in Mosul, often joining the kids in her neighborhood to chase groups of Humvees driving in the streets. In the face of violence and oppression in their city, Issa and her family fled to Turkey. Their family was granted refugee status in 2011. Issa, her parents and both sisters wasted no time when they had to pick up their lives again and make their way to being their lives again in Detroit. Issa moved to the U.S. with virtually no English language comprehension, yet in four years, graduated high school in the top 10 in her class. She then earned her associate’s degree before enlisting in the Marine Corps in March 2015. On Sept. 29, 2016 she was naturalized as a U.S. citizen and the very next day she graduated boot camp at Paris Island. While there is no knowing whether she will be deployed overseas to Iraq, Issa says she is eager to serve the Marine Corps wherever she is needed most. –JG

Gold Star Father Re-Enters Election Fight with New Ad
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Khizir Khan, the Gold Star father who gave an emotional speech at the Democratic National Convention, is being featured in a new ad for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, released this past week. In the ad, Khan, who lost his son in Iraq in 2004, asks if his son would have been discriminated against in Donald Trump’s America due to Trump’s suggested ban on Muslim immigrants. –KB

Tradeshows & Conference:

None this week.

Congressional Hearings:

No hearings this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events:

Center for a New American Security: A Conversation with the Service Secretaries
Who: Eric Fanning, Secretary of the Army; Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force; Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy; Barbara Starr, Pentagon Correspondent, CNN; Michèle Flournoy, Co-Founder and CEO, CNAS
When: 9:00 AM, Monday, October 24, 2016
Where:  Willard Intercontinental Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC

VetImpact: Pitch for Peace Creation
When: 6:00 PM, Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Where: Capitol Post, 625 N. Washington St, Suite 425, Alexandria, Virginia

Got Your 6: Storytellers Showcase: New York City
Who: Ed Woodward, Air Force Veteran and Medical Student; Giselle Sterling, Marine Corps Veteran and Veterans’ Service Commissioner for City of Boston; Sharay Santora, Navy Veteran and Cosmetologist; Joe Quinn, Army Veteran and Director of Leadership Development for Team RWB; Zee Kitonyi, Army Veteran and Police Officer and Trainer; Dan Futrell, Army Veteran and Entrepreneur and Adventurer; Chris Diaz, Navy Veteran and Performance Coach and Ph.D. Candidate; Jessica Coulter, Air Force Veteran and Holistic Counselor
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Where: HBO, 1100 6th Avenue, New York, NY

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

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, October 24, 2016 9:04 am

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