Veterans Roundup: Harvey Relief Efforts, Transgender Ban, ‘bad paper’ Dismissals, Help for PTSD and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Student vets help with Harvey rescue, relief efforts
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
The SVA chapter at the University of Houston has joined clean-up efforts after Hurricane Harvey. Many student veterans are volunteering at shelters currently housing more than 32,000 people, while others have launched boats to assist with rescues throughout the most flooded areas. Universities in Houston and Corpus Christi have remained closed, but assure student veterans that their GI Bill benefits and payments will not be affected and that classes will resume shortly. –JG

The Home Depot Foundation Commits $1 Million to Harvey Relief Efforts
Even as the storm was still pummeling Texas and Louisiana, The Home Depot Foundation pledged $1 million to support Hurricane Harvey disaster relief efforts. The commitment includes contributions to several nonprofit partners that specialize in both short-term relief and rebuilding needs, including the American Red Cross, Salvation Army, Convoy of Hope, Operation Blessing and Team Rubicon. The Home Depot will also mobilize its army of Team Depot volunteers to help in the clean-up effort and deliver recovery supplies to the hardest hit areas. The company also opened its Homer Fund to support company associates affected by the storm, which as of Monday has assisted 1,150 associates and distributed over $940,000 to support them. –FPW

USAA Makes Major Donation to Help after Hurricane
USAA has stepped up to help its home state in its time of need. The USAA Foundation, Inc. has pledged $1 million to support the American Red Cross, the San Antonio Food Bank and Team Rubicon to aid ongoing search and rescue efforts, as well as providing food and much-needed care to storm evacuees from Houston and coastal cities. USAA also introduced a donation program for its 32,000 employees worldwide Tuesday, committing to matching their contributions, dollar for dollar, up to a total of $150,000. That total was met in less than six hours, so the matching grant was boosted Wednesday to $500,000, raising the potential contribution from USAA and its employees to at least $1 million, on top of the $1 million pledge from The Foundation. –FPW

Trump’s most popular cabinet secretary is Obama holdover
Arthur Allen (@ArthurAllen202) Politico
Secretary Shulkin has proven himself to be an effective leader of the VA, all while remaining non-partisan. So far he has helped usher along policies to more quickly remove VA employees, increase transparency about wait times at VA clinics, and more. Shulkin dreams to see the VA run like a well-oiled machine, and while that may not happen in the immediate future, Shulkin has still made undeniable strides towards a better VA. –JG
Bottom line: We’re not aware of what political party it is that Dr. Shulkin belongs to but no one really cares at this point because he is getting stuff done and that’s what veterans want. Shulkin has enjoyed probably the only “honeymoon period” of any member of the Trump Administration. In large part this is because he took the ball from Bob McDonald about half way down the field and has been dodging and weaving like a future Hall of Fame running back. In his wake he has simply made the hard decisions like merging with DoD’s electronic medical records and re-writing rules to make it easier to fire employees that have gotten away with outrageous rules violations like watching porn at work instead of serving patients. He has taken on a tough job with a host of competing interests and some eight months in is still managing to run down the middle dodging tackles. Kudos to the secretary and we hope he can keep the streak alive. –FPW 

Civil rights groups sue Trump over transgender ban
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
The ACLU, in addition to LGBT rights advocacy groups, have filed suit against President Donald Trump concerning his recent decision to reinstate the ban against transgender individuals serving in the military. The order from the president prohibits all future transgender recruits from eligibility while deferring specific policy decisions regarding those currently serving to Defense Secretary Mattis. A RAND study ordered by former Secretary Ash Carter estimated 4,000 transgender service members currently serve in the U.S. military. –JG
Bottom line: There is almost zero chance that the Trump Administration is going to win this legal fight. The president tweeted that this ban was based on consultation with his generals and based on the need to focus on combat effectiveness. First, no one has produced a single shred of evidence he consulted with anyone at DoD on this issue before sending it out. Second, DoD’s own study from RAND showed that openly transgender service members do not have any measurable impact on combat readiness. So the Administration is going to find itself in front of a judge trying to deny its own research and struggling to find these mythical generals that consulted with the president to deny the civil rights of those who are currently serving and those patriotic Americans who would want to serve in the future. This was nothing but political games to appease a dwindling base of supporters. You may not like the idea that someone who is transgender might serve but you can’t deny them the right to serve without proof it hurts readiness beyond it offends some bigots. Because it hurts your feelings having them in the ranks isn’t a Constitutional right to deny others. –FPW

New Pentagon rules aim to broaden reviews of ‘bad paper’ dismissals
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
This past week, the Pentagon released a memo detailing its plans for reviewing veterans’ discharge statuses. This gives hope to those veterans with so-called “bad paper” discharges, which includes veterans who were given other-than-honorable discharges stemming from actions attributable to mental illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Those with other-than-honorable discharges are prohibited from receiving care through the VA, typically preventing them from accessing mental health services they may need. The new guidelines will help give the review committee more clear instruction on whether or not to upgrade a veteran’s discharge status, telling them to be considerate of “conditions resulting from post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, sexual assault or sexual harassment.” –KB
Bottom line: In 2014, then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel directed military leaders to give “liberal consideration” for mental health issues when reviewing appeals by troops who received dishonorable discharges. But without clearer guidance, the direction was applied with varying liberalness across the military and veterans’ advocates worried too many troops would fall through the cracks. Finally, DoD has issued guidelines that should make the process clearer and more equitable for everyone. This goes to show why it is so important within the military structure to have clear, fact-based guidance from the beginning rather than continuing to put service members in limbo. Fortunately, there are dedicated advocates who will keep fighting for troops facing “bad paper” discharges to ensure they get a fair chance to separate from the military with all the benefits and honor they deserve. –LJ

Floatin’ in ecstasy: Veterans suffering from PTSD may soon find help from an unlikely source
Jon Simkins (@JSimkins13), Military Times
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently designated the main ingredient in one psychedelic drug as having the capability to be a “breakthrough therapy” for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In repeated clinical trials, the effects of MDMA, the main ingredient in ecstasy, have been shown to help improve the symptoms of PTSD. Now, with the help of a California nonprofit which focuses on utilizing psychedelic drugs for the treatment of diseases, studies will continue to look into the possibility of utilizing MDMA as a prescription pill. –KB
Bottom line: It is hard to imagine, given the difficulty marijuana researchers are having conducting studies with the VA, that ecstasy will soon be available by prescription but that is what the press releases would have you believe. Rather, this story is another waypoint in the trend of media stories about the next silver bullet for PTSD. Avid Scout Report readers will know we’re always a tad bit skeptical when anyone claims to have found the one secret drug or injection or yoga pose that will cure PTSD. Of course, we’re always happy to see more research being done on potential interventions, because more data will help doctors and patients come to better treatment options—but that’s the point. There will always need to be treatment options because each individual experiences PTSD different and will overcome it with tailored, personalized medicine. Let’s figure out the best options, not get stuck chasing unicorns. –LJ

VA telehealth expansion needs boost from Congress
Chase Gunter (@WChaseGunter), FCW
In the beginning of August, the VA debuted its new VA Video Connect app, which helps bring VA health services to patients wherever they are, eliminating many of the transportation and distance barriers that currently keep some veterans from utilizing VA-provided healthcare. However, in order to achieve telehealth’s full potential, Congress will need to take action, namely, providing an additional $25 million for the department’s annual IT budget for the program. –KB
Bottom line: As with most things spearheaded by the executive branch, the VA’s expanded telehealth it turns out won’t really be as extensive as promised without some help from the legislative branch. In addition to the funding needs, legislation could also get telehealth operations up and running faster than it will take regulations to get approved. On the one hand, this is how the balance of power is supposed to work. On the other hand, Congress doesn’t have the best track record on taking action—though veterans issues are thankfully an exception. Expanded VA telehealth should be something both sides can agree on as it increases access and keeps core medical competencies within VA. So let’s see a boring rider for $25 million to some other bill and get this going. –LJ

Commentary: ‘Leaders First’ is a failed policy
Ellen Haring (@eharing) for the Army Times
When combat positions were opened up to women back in 2013, DoD proposed guidelines to help women seamlessly integrate into these positions. One of those guidelines was the basis for the current “leaders first” policy, which states that senior women must be in a leadership position in a battalion prior to junior enlisted women being able to be assigned to that battalion. While good in theory, Ellen Haring, director of the Service Women’s Institute with client Service Women’s Action Network, lays out the flaws in this program, including that the program implements de facto barriers to women serving in combat positions despite the official opening of these positions to all genders. –KB

Roush Review: 2017 Fall Preview – A Very Familiar New-Old Season
Matt Roush (@TVGMMattRoush), TV Insider
This fall, National Geographic’s new series The Long Road Home will revisit the 2004 attack in Sadr City, Iraq when Fort Hood’s First Cavalry Division was ambushed during their “peacekeeping” tour. The eight-episode docudrama relives the raid from the soldier’s eyes, while their loved ones back home awaited news. The series will premiere Nov. 7 and will accurately tell the spine-chilling mission known today as “Black Sunday.” –DD

MYnd Analytics invited to present updated data at military research symposium
Client MYnd Analytics, a predictive analytics company that utilizes simple brain scans to help guide physicians in their prescribing of psychoactive medications, was invited to present a poster at this year’s 2017 Military Health Services Research Symposium. The poster detailed results from both previous and ongoing trials of its PEER technology, showing evidence of the technology’s efficacy in assisting physicians to prescribe medications for patients with mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and thereby improving patient outcomes. –KB

Student veterans, lawmakers examine expanded GI benefits
Yvonne Gonzalez (@YMGonzal), Las Vegas Sun
Veterans and members of local government gathered at UNLV to discuss the Forever GI Bill and how its recent expansion will affect service members’ education benefits. Formally known as the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, the legislation was given a comprehensive explanation by speakers at the event included Rep. Ruben Kihuen, Rep. Jacky Rosen and CEO of Student Veterans of America Jared Lyon, the organization that led the effort for this expansion since the beginning. ­–JG

Campaign To Keep Dog Testing At VA Gains Momentum
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Advocates and lawmakers attempting to shut down experiments and testing on dogs within the Department of Veterans Affairs are being challenged by many veterans, military and medical organizations. More than 80 organizations argue that stopping this research would limit the future of medical advancements. A spokesman for the VA claimed the research is humane and when problems are found in the animal testing, they are reported and fixed and the responsible parties are held accountable. Restrictions on medical testing passed by the House in July have not yet gone to the Senate, but are expected to be voted on when the Senate returns from recess next week. –CB

Army vet launches tea company as a way to help post-war communities
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Brandon Friedman, a former Army infantry officer with the 101st Airborne Division, describes drinking tea as “a social experience,” explaining “that was how we did all our business” with community leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan. He hopes to bring the same sense of community to life as a civilian by selling tea from countries such as Nepal, Rwanda, Uganda and Vietnam – all countries who have dealt with conflict. Last week, Friedman launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to cover the upfront costs associated with starting his tea business. Through his work, Friedman aims to promote peace and financial stability for residents in an effort to rebuild and develop local economies overseas. –NJ

How will a continuing resolution hurt the military, McCain and Reed ask Mattis
Joe Gould (@reporterjoe), Defense News
Senators John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) of the Armed Services Committee sent a letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis earlier this week to ask for a detailed account of how passing a continuing resolution would impact service members. In a statement, Sen. McCain reiterated that in a past testimony, Congress heard that “continuing resolutions have significant negative impacts on our military.” Both senators have voiced concerns that failing to reach a budget agreement could result in billions of dollars in cuts to the defense budget. Secretary Mattis previously shut down the idea of passing a continuing resolution, calling the idea “about as unwise as can be.” –NJ

‘They can count on us:’ Houston VA hospital withstands Harvey, prepares for aftermath
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
The Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in downtown Houston remained open after Hurricane Harvey devastated South Texas. Roughly 700 staff members made the facility their temporary home and kept operations running for the more than 400 veterans who remained at the hospital, which is now also serving as a shelter for homeless veterans and others. VA Secretary David Shulkin said in an email on Tuesday that the actions of the Houston employees at the hospital were “heroic.” He also mentioned that with more than 500,000 veterans living in the areas affected by the Category 4 hurricane, there is a possibility of a surge in veterans seeking help in the aftermath of the disaster. Health providers, supplies and food are constantly arriving at the hospital from all over the state to support and aid in the long recovery of this storm. –CB

Tradeshows & Conferences

National Guard Association of the United States: 139th General Conference & Exhibition (Thur – Sun, Sept. 7-10, 2017); Louisville, KY

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Other Events

None this week.

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 Tuesday, September 05, 2017 9:43 am

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