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Veterans Roundup: Improving Military Health Care, Reinstating Prior Enlisted Officers

Posted by Fred Wellman

Not Every GI Is a Joe – VA Works to Help Growing Number of Female Veterans
Emily Wax (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. Women are the fastest-growing population of veterans and the Department of Veterans Affairs is working to make them feel more welcome. The VA is putting inclusive posters around its facilities and hiring female veteran program managers to ensure women get the services they need. These efforts also include ramping up maternity programs for female veterans who are starting families. –MC
Bottom line: To quote the seminal comedy film Anchorman, “You know, times are changing. Ladies can do stuff now and you’re going to learn how to deal with it.” Women have taken on a significant and essential role across military commitments. Though debate on combat roles continues, female service members have already left an indelible mark on the military community. The VA is dealing with the positive consequences of these changes. The military remains a boys’ club, but times are changing and the trends Emily Wax identifies will hopefully accelerate in the coming years to ensure that the quality of care for female veterans is on the level with the care provided to male servicemembers and veterans in previous decades. –BW

Military Hospital Care is Questioned; Next, Reprisals
Sharon LaFraniere (@svlafraniere), The New York Times. Teresa Gilbert, a medical technologist spoke up about failure to prevent infections at Womack Army Medical Center, one of the U.S. military’s largest hospitals. Her story highlights the difficulties whistleblowers face when coming forward about concerns with military hospitals and treatment, as Gilbert was later blamed for violating infection-control standards in retaliation. –MC
Bottom line: It’s really not as shocking as you might think to find out that military medical professionals face discipline and punishment for speaking out against their chain-of-command or supervisors. The military is a hierarchal organization that is built on adherence to the discipline system and process. Any kind of system that depends on independent thinking, skipping the chain-of-command, and exposing mistakes are naturally frowned upon and seen as being disloyal and undisciplined. Changing that culture is a must for the good of the organization as a whole and even more so in today’s culture. Just like the effort to change service members’ attitudes towards mental health care, welcoming those who question ‘the way things have always been done’ are a must in a learning organization. –FPW

Report: VA Misled Congress and Media
Drew Griffin (@DrewGriffinCNN), Curt Devine (@CurtDevine) and Nelli Black (@nelliblk), CNN
A report released last Monday by the VA’s Office of Inspector General shows that a fact sheet the VA shared with Congress back in April was misleading about the VA’s response to the wait times scandal. The VA claimed to have examined unresolved health care requests from 1999-2014, but in reality they only examined requests as far back as 2007. Incidents were reported at the wrong facilities and the inspector general couldn’t find the final results of 1.7 million appointments. –MC
Bottom line: As the VA scrambled to respond to the scandal over wait times in April and May, its turns out some of the data it used misrepresented how well VA was responding. At the time, Congressional leaders questioned whether they could trust numbers coming from VA given the fact that the scandal was based on fabricated numbers and it turns out they were justified in some of their skepticism. With Republicans taking control of the Senate, expect both House and Senate VA Committees to hold harsher oversight hearings as the VA continues to try and improve its customer service and public image. Revelations like this also mean veterans advocates and reporters will likely also greet VA’s pronouncements about progress with more incredulity. It’s a cynic’s paradise. –LJ

Military’s Use of Other Than Honorable Discharges to Get Heavy Scrutiny
Tom Roeder (@xroederx), The Colorado Springs Gazette. Under an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act, the Government Accountability Office will investigate other than honorable discharges of some veterans who may have been affected by mental illness. The GAO will investigate whether troops have been discharges improperly for minor misconduct, if officers who determine discharges are trained to balance the relationship between misconduct and post-traumatic stress, and to see if troops were counseled about the impact on their benefits before agreeing to a discharge. –MC
Bottom line: The NDAA amendment requiring a GAO report shows the power of investigative journalism. The amendment’s sponsor, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, pushed for the GAO report after reading Dave Philipps’ explosive 2013 story about troops being booted with “bad paper” in The Gazette, a story that went on to win a Pulitzer. Philipps’ (now at The New York Times) found many service members with mental health issues, including combat-related PTSD, had been discharged under other than honorable conditions for minor misconduct rather than treated for their mental health issues. For the military, this saved commanders from additional work or budgets to rehabilitate ill troops. For the new veterans, these discharges often mean they are unable to collect benefits from the VA. Hopefully the GAO report can be a first step towards fixing the process that leaves these veterans so vulnerable. –LJ

Army Reverses Forced Separation for 160 Officers
Michelle Tan, Army Times. The Army informed 160 prior-enlisted officers on Thursday that they can stay in the service or separate with retirement benefits after previously telling the officers they would be forced out without benefits. Forty-four of these officers were improperly selected for early retirement as they had not met the minimum commissioned service threshold. The other 120 officers were properly reviewed by separation boards but would not have had enough years to retire as officers. These officers have now been told that they can stay in the service, or retire at their highest enlisted rank. –MC
Bottom line: It’s great news that the Secretary of the Army is correcting this mistake. It was obvious when the list was released that something had gone wrong that such a disproportionate number of former enlisted officers were getting the boot. It never should have made it that far. The flaws with board results were obvious but fixing them was an absolute must for the Army to keep faith with those who take the step to join the officer ranks. The Army has promised a smart and strategic drawdown this time compared to the 1990s. The success of that promise to date has been fairly good and fixing this mistake goes a long way towards ensuring that continued success. In the big picture, 160 folks of a half million person active duty force seems small but the symbolic nature of cutting such a unique cohort from the service was damaging the morale of the service. Hopefully, the next round of dismissals is better planned and analyzed before it moves forward. –FPW

Budget Experts: Move Tricare Beneficiaries to Obamacare
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. Outside budget analysts say one way to offset the growing cost of healthcare at the Department of Defense is to move some Tricare beneficiaries to Obamacare. During a forum at the Brookings Institution, panelists said that although the DoD needs to offer significant compensation to attract servicemembers, the military might not need to provide healthcare for nonmilitary dependents and retirees. –MC
Bottom line: Cue the veterans screaming bloody murder after reading this article. Kime touches on the third rail of veterans care in her coverage of recent commentary on veterans’ care. Healthcare costs across the country are increasing at exponential rates, but that does not mean that people are going to accept a major transition from Tricare to Obamacare. Veterans groups are already lining up to express their opposition here and in other publications, and rightfully so. There is no go solution yet, but any efforts moving forward must accept that compromises on health care coverage must meet stakeholders’ expectations in order to be effective. –BW

Quick Hits:

Suicide Prevention Bill Likely Sidelined Until 2015
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. In the last days of the 113th Congress, Senator Tom Coburn blocked the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act from coming to a vote. The bill was designed to combat suicide among veterans and was heavily backed by veterans advocates and groups. Veterans groups have promised to bring the bill back in the new Congress, and it is expected to pass easily, but advocates say that they will remain committed to mental health issues beyond this one bill. –MC

Iraq Veterans Find the War Is at Home with Red Tape
Alexandra Zavis (@alexzavis), Los Angeles Times. Last week, Alexandra Zavis explored the process veterans go through to apply for and receive VA disability benefits. Zavis follows two San Francisco veterans, Glenda Flowers and Ari Sonneberg, and the difficulties they had in receiving their benefits. The article also highlights changes the VA is making in the claims process, including the new computer system put in place to help claims become more easily accessible to case workers and speed up the process. –MC

Marine Veteran Amir Hekmati, Imprisoned in Iran, is Launching Hunger Strike
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), The Washington Post. Marine veteran Amir Hekmati has been falsely imprisoned in Iran since 2011. Recently, Hekmati began a hunger strike to protest his prolonged detainment. His action gained national attention last week, and other Marine veterans are joining Hekmati in his strike. ScoutComms has supported Amir and his family throughout his imprisonment; please help us share the word and bring him home once and for all. –MC

The Only Thing We Have to Fear is Ourselves
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner), InsideSources. The Truman National Security Project recently selected ScoutComms Vice President Brian Wagner as a 2015 Political Partner. Last week, he wrote his first op-ed as a Truman partner for InsideSources, sharing his opinion about the way Americans have interpreted and discussed interrogation techniques since 9/11. Check it out, it’s worth the read, and congratulations Brian! –MC

6 Last Minute Gift Ideas for the Military Community
Lauren Katzenberg (@lkatzenberg), Task & Purpose. Last week, Task & Purpose highlighted six last minute gift ideas for the military community. ScoutComms CEO Fred Wellman is the co-owner of Ladyburg, along with the brains of the operation and its founder, his wife Crystal. Ladyburg, a skincare apothecary here in Fredericksburg, offers plenty of handmade, sometimes customizable bath and beauty products including Ladyburg’s famous beer-shaving soap. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences.

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

Congressional Hearings

The 113th Congress has adjourned. The 114th will convene on January 6, 2015.

Think Tanks & Other Events

No events 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 Monday, December 22, 2014 8:15 am

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