Veterans Roundup: How to Track Veteran Candidates During the Midterms, Don’t Call It a Backlog: VA Disability Claims Increasing

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Disability Claims Soar
Daniel Huang (@Huangplan), The Wall Street Journal. The number of VA disability claims has increased 44% in recent years, a rate many believe is too high for the VA to handle. As the VA works on improving its practices after the scandal over doctors’ appointment wait times, regulators have also seen evidence that some veterans are receiving disability pay by exaggerating claims and “stolen valor” arrests are on the rise. –MC
Bottom line: This is not a simple issue, no matter how it gets talked up in political stump speeches. Claims are rising faster than staffing levels. Pressure on reviewers is so great that they are rushing to complete claims far faster than is recommended or expected. This rush has led to increased fears that fraudulent claims are slipping through in greater numbers. So while many possibly valid claims are stalled by a lack of personnel, the claims that do get reviewed have been approved at a 92% rate. The VA needs to better police the current process, and to also speed up the initial reviews. But let’s be honest, ‘do better’ is not workable advice. The VA is overwhelmed, and while the bureaucracy may be culpable, it’s hard-working individuals like Dr. Francis Gilbert, interviewed in the article, who are quitting because of daunting caseloads. Access and accountability require structural reform, but also necessitate continued increases in budgets and personnel that can only come from coordinated efforts between the Administration and Congress. –BW

Does the VA Have a Women Veterans Problem?
Jordain Carney (@jordainc), National Journal. The number of female veterans is increasing, but the quality of care available to them as they leave the service may not fit their specific needs. The VA lacks some of the most basic service for women: nearly one-third of clinics don’t have a gynecologist on staff. Advocates say that the lack of female care is an extension of gender inequality within the military, but they are hopeful that the VA will continue to make improvements to women’s care. –MC
Bottom line: The VA has begun to make strides in better serving female veterans, but as DAV Executive Director Garry Augustine notes: changing the course of bureaucracy is a slow endeavor. With their report on the specific issues facing the female veteran population, DAV is taking the lead on keeping these issues top of mind in DC. It will only be budget increases and oversight from Congress that keeps VA on mission. With 13 female veterans running for Congress in Tuesday’s midterms, the number of lawmakers with a vested interest in female veterans’ issues could soon be going way up. –LJ

Obama’s Quarantine Remarks Draw Fire from Military Spouses
Kristina Wong (@kristina_wong), The Hill. Last week President Obama offended much of the military community with remarks about the differences between quarantines for soldiers and medical volunteers who are dealing with Ebola in West Africa. Obama said that volunteer healthcare workers are taking time away from their families to serve those in need and should not be quarantined but did not express the same sentiment with regard to servicemembers. The military community is firing back and pointing out that our country has an all-volunteer force and as a result servicemembers spend a lot of time away from their loved-ones, sometimes even facing back-to-back deployments to protect our nation. –MC
Bottom line: It seems like this White House just has a tin ear when it comes to understanding the military from staffers Instagramming the infamous ‘latte salute’ to comments like this that make it sound like civilian volunteers give up more than servicemembers do when helping in West Africa. At this point it’s just silly. There really isn’t a way to keep excusing these kinds of self-inflicted wounds. The military has been sent into combat, deployed for training, and now is going to fight a deadly disease, which is far beyond what could have been reasonably predicted when the all-volunteer force was created. All the efforts of Joining Forces or reforming the VA are meaningless when the people who serve think their civilian leaders have no clue whatsoever what their lives are like and are incapable of communicating respect and appreciation in every day efforts. –FPW

Update: Ex-Warrior Training Center Boss Wore Unearned Ranger Sapper Tabs
Kevin Lilley (@KRLilley), Army Times. Another week, another case of unearned military medals and badges in the news. This time, Lt. Col. H. Green III, who was commanding the National Guard’s Warrior Training Center at Ft. Benning, and was caught sporting unearned Ranger and Sapper tabs. The irony is that the WTC’s mission is to prepare Guard and Reserve soldiers for Ranger school. Green has since been removed from his post. The consequences of these actions may be getting worse in the future, as some courts are deeming the wear of unearned military medals an act not protected under freedom of speech which was the basis for the overturning of the first Stolen Valor Act by the Supreme Court. –MC
Bottom line: For those not in the Army, here’s how it works with many who wear the Ranger tab. When meeting other Rangers they will often say, “Nice to meet you, what class were you in?” I will reply “Started as a winter Ranger in class 93-3 and graduated with 93-4.” What often happens is that the hardcore among us will then go right to Ft. Benning’s website to see how skinny and goofy you looked in the class photo which is conveniently posted online of every class that ever graduated. Ever. So, it’s pretty impressive that an officer thought he could get away wearing a fake Ranger tab when in charge of training soldiers to go to Ranger school and not get caught. He lasted less than a month before he was reported and it took another three to get him fired. The fakers are getting more common and the stupidity of it is just remarkable sometimes. Once again we remind readers to check the credentials of the veterans or servicemembers you are supporting to ensure your organization isn’t the butt of one of these scams. –FPW

For-Profit Colleges Face ‘Gainful Employment’ Rule
Kimberly Hefling (@khefling), The Associated Press. On Thursday, the Obama administration announced that for-profit colleges would be required to meet ‘gainful employment’ standards. Under this rule, schools will have to show that graduates’ annual loan payments do not exceed 20 percent of their post-graduate discretionary income. For-profit colleges have been called out recently for targeting and taking advantage of non-traditional students, including military veterans, by promising a return on investment that isn’t always realized by the students. –MC
Bottom line: The administration is waving a big stick here—potential loss of access to federal student-aid programs—to try to address a gray area in higher education funding and policy. Veterans are among the many non-traditional students who turn to for-profit colleges. In some cases, they are well served, but there are far too many reports of students being led to high-cost loans and being provided sub-standard services and opportunities. Schools that are in the Administration’s crossfire have loudly defended themselves, but at times can be their own worst enemies. Bottom line, any actions against these schools could create collateral damage by disrupting the education of student veterans, so the Administration must be very targeted and precise in taking out the worst offenders. And in cases where student veterans’ educations are disrupted, the Administration should have resources available to help get them back on track in a new institution. –BW

Marine Veteran Home Safe After Release from Mexico
Jessica Estepa and Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA Today. Former Marine Andrew Tahmooressi was released from Mexican jail last Friday after being detained on gun charges. A welcome party including his mother, Representative Ed Royce, Representative Matt Salmon, former governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, and Montel Williams, greeted Tahmooressi upon his release. Tahmooressi is now at home in Florida and will soon begin treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. –MC
Bottom line: We are happy to see Tahmooressi home with his family. We now hope that with this episode completed that the same effort will be placed by such an impressive group of famous people like Montel Williams and Bill Richardson to get former Marine Amir Hekmati out of the Iranian jail in which he has spent over three years under false spying charges. Just like Tahmooressi he served his country honorably and was thrown in jail but Amir has never claimed PTSD. Just his innocence. Let’s hope that the kind of energy used to beat up one of our closest allies for arresting someone for breaking their laws can be applied to one of our most implacable foes for someone who didn’t break any laws at all. –FPW

Military Suicide Survivors Help Each Other Heal at Seminar
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) recently held their National Military Suicide Survivor Seminar in St. Petersburg, FL. At the three-day event, about 650 survivors came together to share their stories, learn about coping strategies, and celebrate the lives of their lost loved ones. The children in these families were also provided their own sessions at a Good Grief Camp, one of TAPS’ core programs for gold star children. “Survivors of suicide victims are more likely to commit suicide themselves,” said a social worker at the event. –MC
Bottom line: Over the last several years, the number of troops lost to suicide has outpaced the number lost in combat. TAPS has served the survivor community since 1993, providing coping and community programs to the family members of servicemembers who died in service to the nation. Before suicide survivors had tailored programs through TAPS, many said they were often treated with a cold shoulder from other survivor groups. The stigma around mental health and suicide that persists within the military community made it difficult for the family members of troops who committed suicide to find a supportive community. Thanks to TAPS, their suicide “postventions” are helping family members get and give support to one another—survivor to survivor. While much ink is spilled on DOD statements about “resiliency”, these are the men and women who know far too well what doesn’t work in the military mental health care system. –LJ

Transgender Military Members Are in a Precarious Position
Sandhya Somashekhar (@sandhyawp), The Washington Post. Even though the military is changing which roles are available to women and now welcomes openly gay servicemembers, transgendered troops find themselves without much support. The military’s transgender ban remains in place preventing these individuals from serving and about 24 servicemembers have been discharged over the last two years as result. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that DOD is open to examining the ban but any change could take a long time. –MC
Bottom line: Open service by transgender servicemembers is likely many years away and even experts and advocates are advising transgender troops to stay in the closet for now. Many transgender servicemembers do not realize their gender identities until they have already begun their military careers and some who have come out say their younger colleagues are more and more accepting. Considering the uproar over ending “don’t ask, don’t tell”, activists shouldn’t expect an easy fight to remove the ban on transgender troops. Lifting the ban could also raise some questions about women holding combat jobs and meeting the same physical fitness standards as men. For example, Kristin Beck served 20 years in the Navy and deployed 13 times as a SEAL before transitioning. –LJ

Quick Hits:

Want to Help Veterans? Stop Pitying Them. 
Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran (@rajivwashpost), The Washington Post
Washington Post reporter Rajiv Chandrasekaran worked with Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz to write a book about the triumphs of veterans and their family members called “For Love of Country: What Our Veterans Can Teach Us About Citizenship, Heroism, and Sacrifice.” Their op-ed highlights the ways veterans continue to serve when they leave the military and also combats the idea that veterans are victims. –MC

Senate to vote on advance funding for VA
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Though nearly 85 percent of the VA budget is funded a full fiscal year in advance, the remaining 15 percent is critical to delivering veterans’ benefits during a government shutdown. Bills that would fully fund the VA a year in advance are awaiting action in both the House and Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says the Senate version will come to a vote when Congress returns after the election for a lame duck session. –LJ

Report: Familiar, ‘Enduring’ Problems Plague VA Health System
Heath Druzin (Druzin_Stripes), Stars & Stripes. New VA Secretary Bob McDonald has an uphill battle to change the culture of the VA, a challenge made all the more clear by a report based on recent reviews of VA facilities. Scheduling staff is overworked leading to high turnover and new staff has had trouble learning the antiquated system. Communications between staff and management—a key area McDonald has set out to improve—does not seem to be getting better. The findings of this report are uncomfortably similar to one written in 2008 that was subsequently ignored. –LJ

Military Times Poll: Troops Fed Up with Politics
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. With midterm elections nearly upon us, a recent Military Times poll of its readers finds many troops are disillusioned with Congress—much like their civilian peers. Unlike civilians, Congress has a direct impact on servicemembers’ pay and readiness. So while civilians may feel politicians don’t care about their issues, when servicemembers feel that way it hurts morale. –LJ 

The Best Places for Veterans 2014
Susan Adams (@susanadamsnyc), Forbes. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University worked with USAA and Hiring Our Heroes to determine the best places in America to live if you’re a veteran. The organizations produced a top 10 list led by Pittsburgh, Austin, Oklahoma City, San Antonio and St. Louis. Variables to determine livability included the number of GI Bill users in the area, unemployment rates, military-to-civilian skills certification and license transfers, and access to healthcare. –MC

Former Professional Hockey Players Join Veterans to go to Business Bootcamp
The Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University has partnered with the NHL Alumni Association BreakAway Program to help former hockey players and veterans with disabilities learn about entrepreneurship side by side in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program. For every two hockey players who attend EBV, the NHL Alumni Association will cover the cost for one veteran’s attendance, helping IVMF continue to offer EBV at no cost to veterans. This is a great opportunity for veterans and civilians to network, gain skills, and bridge the civilian-military divide. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major conferences or tradeshows this week.

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our recently updated Events page.

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess. Congress will return for a lame duck session after Veterans Day.

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, October 27, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

VetFran: Connecting Veteran-Owned Small Businesses to Corporate Supply Chain When: 7:00 PM, Monday, November 3, 2014 Where: JW Marriott, 1331 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Capitol Ballroom F&G, Washington, DC

The Mighty: Launch Happy Hour Who: Ward Carroll, The Mighty Team, and ScoutComms When: 4:00 PM, Tuesday, November 4, 2014 Where: Siné Irish Pub, 1301 S. Joyce St, Arlington, VA

Microsoft: Innovative Solutions to Help Transitioning Service Members Who: Chris Cortez, Major General, U.S. Marine Corps (Ret.) Keynote, Vice President, Military Affairs, Microsoft, Melissa Fitzgerald, Senior Director, Justice for Vets, Bernard Bergan, SDET, Developer Division, Microsoft, COL H. Charles Hodges Jr., Commander, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wayne Robinson, President & Chief Executive Officer, Student Veterans of America, Nat Sillin, Head of U.S. Financial Education, Visa Inc. When: 8:30 AM, Thursday, November 6, 2014 Where: Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center, 901 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20001

HillVets: 2nd Annual Coat Crawl Who: DC area veterans, advocates, and their friends and family When: 5:30 PM, Friday, November 7, 2014 Where: Dubliner, Béarnaise, and Bullfeathers

National Education Initiative: Honoring Veterans Who: Lt. Col. James G. Zumwalt, USMC (Retired), Dr. Kenneth Hartman, Former President, Drexel University Online, Former Army Officer, discuss successful transition for military service members followed by a career fair hosted by RecruitMilitary. All local military and veterans are welcome to attend. When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, November 11, 2014 Where: Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, 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 03, 2014 2:30 pm

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