Veterans Roundup: In the Game of Veterans PR, You Either Write about VA or You Write about VA; More on Homelessness, Fed Jobs, and Saving Stripes

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Secretary ‘Confident’ Medical Wait Times Are Improving
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
VA Secretary Bob McDonald faced questions about the ongoing issue of long patient wait times for appointments at VA hospitals in a C-SPAN interview last week. The interview came after the Government Accountability Office released a report showing that veterans still face long waits for care, and accusing the VA of downplaying wait times and manipulating data. As the wait time for appointments and reform drags on and officials work to provide solutions, a special interest group has been advocating for the privatization of veterans’ healthcare largely under the radar. –MC
Bottom line: Following the ongoing travails of the VA as it is accused of—and in turn denies—an inability to serve veterans in a timely manner is like watching the world’s most painful tennis match. There is no joy in following the bouncing ball of blame as it shuttles from one side of the net to the other. At times, it seems that the VA and its critics are not even playing the same game, such as when they debate wait times using completely different metrics. But amidst this conversation, we should be focusing more on two important points: 1) if critics are unhappy with the pace of reform, do they have a better idea that doesn’t involve privatizing the VA? and 2) the debate would be better-served if we more often compared the VA with the private sector to see how it stacks up, as Secretary Bob suggests, with prestigious institutions like the Cleveland Clinic. The current debate is highly repetitive, and advancing the conversation may require new approaches to judging the VA and projecting future best-case scenarios. –BW

Military Reform Effort Claims Latest Casualty
Austin Wright (@abwrig) & Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb), Politico
Brad Carson, former acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, helped drive many of the major personnel shifts the military saw this year, including opening all combat jobs to women and expanding maternity leave. When it came to changing how our military recruits millennials as part of the Force of the Future initiative, his plans were blocked amidst significant Congressional opposition. Carson recently resigned after Congress showed no signs of confirming him. –MC
Bottom line: Brad Carson should leave the Pentagon with his head held high. He was defeated by politics, tradition and grudges, but nothing in this situation lays the blame at his feet. If you think he was too aggressive in promoting change, it was at the behest of his boss, Secretary Carter. If you think he didn’t do enough, blame the existing bureaucracy and entrenched interests. There are legitimate reasons to critique Force of the Future depending on your worldview, but it was refreshing to have a leader in the Office of Personnel and Readiness who was executing aggressively against a long-term vision while pursuing substantive reform in an office that had not enjoyed stability for years. As Judy Patterson, the CEO of our client, the Service Women’s Action Network, noted in the article, Carson understood that providing opportunities and enticements to service members was key to attracting and maintaining a diverse talent base. Carson’s departure, and the opposition to change within the Pentagon and the Senate, does not bode well for further reform efforts in 2016 and beyond. –BW

Obama’s Push to Hire Veterans is Causing Confusion and Resentment, Officials Say
Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo), The Washington Post
At a House hearing last Wednesday, federal officials said that the veteran preference program is creating confusion and resentment among job applicants and hiring staff. Due to the Obama Administration’s veteran hiring efforts, one in three federal government employees are now veterans. Some civilians feel veterans have an unfair advantage and some veterans feel slighted when the process chooses a civilian instead of them. At least one advocate worries that despite the veteran preference, agencies are still trying to scoot around the rule and discriminate against veterans. –MC
Bottom line: Last year, 47% of all new federal hires were veterans. That translates to essentially a group that represents some 7% of the population taking nearly half of the jobs available in the federal government. So, should it come as a surprise to anyone that there is some resentment among others seeking jobs or those already in the government? Ironically, many veterans seem to believe that veteran’s preference means that they will get any job they apply for. Both are struggling to understand a complicated system that seems to be addressing an unemployment crisis that has eased and providing special benefits to veterans that causes jealousy and sows ill will among other federal employees. We as veteran’s advocates need to understand the larger picture and balance the urge to consistently push for support for our community with the understanding that sometimes our efforts can cause ill will among those we should be seeking for partnership. Saying that in spite of nearly half of all federal jobs going to veterans that discrimination against veterans still exists, while true in some departments of the government, the accusation sounds like whining to many ears. In the end, veterans must highlight their skills, leadership and the incredible sense of service and duty that makes them right candidates for jobs and not hang on special set asides to find the work they deserve. –FPW

Rep. Gallego: Deported Veterans Served Their Country but They Can’t Come Home
Daniel Gonzalez (@azdangonzales), The Arizona Republic
There are no official statistics on how many veterans have been deported, but Hector Barajas, the founder of the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana, Mexico, estimates that the number is in the thousands. Now Representative Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) is sponsoring a bill allowing service members without any serious criminal history who have served over 180 days to be considered ineligible for deportation. This would also allow these veterans to seek treatment for issues related to their service rather than dropping them off across the border. –JG
Bottom Line: Like a lot of legislation, what Rep. Gallego is proposing is well-intentioned but may not have a huge impact. His bill would only apply to veterans charged with minor crimes. The antiquated drug sentencing laws in our country mean that most of the veterans facing deportation have been charged under more serious statutes and thus would still face deportation. It’s pretty ridiculous when you consider that veteran citizens charged with the same crimes would be eligible for veteran treatment courts in some jurisdictions and thus not face any jail time while these veteran immigrants are deported and rarely allowed back in the country. Some advocates are instead calling for automatic citizenship to return to boot camp for immigrants who join the military. That, of course, would ruffle feathers among those lawmakers who want to see a tougher road to citizenship for immigrants. –LJ

Don’t Rush to Judgment on Stars and Stripes Funding
Tobias Naegele (@TobiasNaegele), Stars and Stripes
Each year, the Department of Defense provides Stars and Stripes, a military-focused newspaper provided to service members all over the world, with about $12 million in funding, approximately 40 percent of the paper’s budget. Without it, the newspaper may be forced to shut down its printing presses. Tobias Naegle, the Stars and Stripes ombudsman, made the case for continuing funding by explaining the history and importance of the paper to our nation’s troops. –MC
Bottom line: Let’s be perfectly clear on this topic. ScoutComms supports the continued funding of Stars and Stripes. The quality of the publication has grown consistently for years and the journalists that work there are going above and beyond to tell the stories of veterans and military families around the globe. Some of the best reporters we know today work there or have worked there in the past. On the issue of the publication’s relevance in a mobile news world with fewer troops downrange: that argument ignores the many troops who still serve without full data plans on their phones or without phones at all. At the same time, Stripes has become a go-to source on the web for full news on our service members worldwide and in-depth stories about our veterans. More now than ever a neutral and non-political news source is needed for our service members, veterans, and those who wish to know more about the people who make up our military. The cost of the publication, $12 million a year, is an accounting error on most of the programs in the Department of Defense. They should find somewhere else to save money, you know like, a single wheel of the F-35. –FPW

Sexual Assault in Military Tied to Veterans’ Homelessness
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
A report released Wednesday found evidence that service members who are victims of military sexual trauma were twice as likely to be homeless in the first five years after transitioning out of the military than service members who were not assaulted. The report underscores the importance of a zero tolerance culture that facilitates and encourages reporting. –JG
Bottom Line: This isn’t just about women. Because they far outnumber women in the military, men report a similar number of sexual assaults in the military each year as women do. The study even found that men who are sexually assaulted in the military are even more likely to become homeless than women who are sexually assaulted. While ending sexual assault in the military is obviously the best way to solve this issue, a more immediate concern for service providers needs to be identifying victims who are at risk and getting them the care they need before they fall into homelessness. To do so, though, requires creating a safe, non-stigmatizing environment in which service members and veterans—male and female—feel they can report sexual assault and their case will be adjudicated dispassionately by the military justice system. So much progress has been made in ending veteran homelessness by physically getting veterans into homes, but long-term success will depend on programs that adequately support at-risk veterans before they hit the streets. –LJ

U.S. Suicide Rate Surges to a 30-Year High
Sabrina Tavernise (@stavernise), New York Times
The National Center for Health Statistics released a new study on Friday that showed surges in suicide across nearly every age group—for all Americans. The overall suicide rate rose 24 percent from 1999 to 2014, and the rate has now gone up to 13 per 10,000 people. The only groups to see a decline: black men and people over 75 years old. –MC
Bottom line: This story is important because we can’t always look at veteran and military community issues in isolation from the broad trends affecting all Americans. When the veteran unemployment numbers were at their worst, civilian job hunters were also struggling. Now, as our community grapples with ways to prevent our brothers and sisters from completing suicide, let’s recognize that this is a broad public health crisis with roots deeper than military service or combat experience. In many ways, military culture teaches service members to be more resilient, but leaving that culture for the civilian world presents challenges. But veterans aren’t the only ones in the civilian world facing challenges that are precipitating the rising number of suicides. Rather than singling out veterans, perhaps this is another area where the civil-military divide needs to be bridged so all Americans in need of support have better options available to them. –LJ

Afghanistan Veteran Helps Resettle Interpreters in US
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes
Army veteran Matt Zeller founded the nonprofit No One Left Behind when his former interpreter, who saved his life years earlier in Afghanistan, faced difficulties getting permission to move to the safety of the United States. The organization now supports many former Iraqi and Afghan interpreters as they seek safety in the US. If you’re interested in learning more about NOLB and how you can help, visit –MC

Veterans Struggle to Find Comfortable Environment Upon Returning to American Universities
Buck Bowman (@TheBlueBanner),
Ryan Crostic served in the Navy for four years before pursuing a degree from University of North Carolina in Asheville. Recently Ryan and other student veterans started a Student Veterans of America chapter to take advantage of the resources and support it provides to its chapters nationwide. Attending four-year schools as a non-traditional student can be challenging, and SVA helps by bringing these individuals on each campus to support one another. To learn more about what SVA is doing for student veterans visit their website! –JG

Wounded Warrior Project Provides Emergency Financial Assistance to Wounded Veterans
Last week, Wounded Warrior Project announced a new partnership with Operation Homefront and four other organizations to provide injured veterans and their families with emergency financial assistance that will help them keep the electricity on, stay in their homes, and provide food for their families. –MC

Retired General’s New Mission is Restoring Trust in Wounded Warrior
David Bauerlein (@DavidBauerlein), Florida Times-Union
In his first weeks on the job, retired Army Lt. Gen. Charlie Fletcher, interim Chief Operating Officer at Wounded Warrior Project, isn’t shying away from the media and their tough questions about his approach to leadership at WWP. Fletcher notes that despite the heightened scrutiny of the organization over the last several months, programs impacting veterans have kept on track and staff have stayed on mission. Fletcher’s priority then is to look at the spending of the organization and reassure donors its programs are effective and filling gaps no other organization does. –LJ

Male Leaders Will Make or Break the Army’s Combat Integration of Women
Ellen Haring (@eharing) for Army Times
The Service Women’s Action Network acting board president Ellen Haring weighed in on what the Army could be doing better to prepare for full integration of women into combat roles. She emphasizes the reality that ultimately the burden of integration will fall on service men in leadership positions to actively work to support and strengthen gender integration in all branches of service. –JG

Home Depot Grant Furnishes UCO Veterans Student Lounge
The Edmond Sun
Student Veterans at the University of Central Oklahoma are enjoying their new Student Veterans Resource Center after they were awarded a Vet Center Initiative grant provided by the Student Veterans of America in partnership with The Home Depot Foundation. The deadline for 2016 applications has been extended to this Friday, April 29th! Visit the website to learn more. –JG

Some Vets Groups Back Curbing Kids’ GI Bill BAH to Fund Other Programs
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan),
As our team discussed in the Scout Report last week, Congress is mulling legislation that would cut in half the housing allowance provided to military children using a parent’s GI Bill benefits. The issue has caused debate among military and veteran advocates. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America continues to strongly oppose the legislation, while other groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Student Veterans of America say that the there are bigger issues at play that ultimately will benefit veterans. –MC

Quick Hits:

Compassionate Judge Sentences a Veteran to 24 Hours in Jail then Joins Him Behind Bars
Yanan Wang (@yananw), The Washington Post
Army Veteran Joseph Serna struggled to stay sober due to post traumatic stress. After turning himself in for lying about a urine test, his judge, Lou Olivera, sentenced him to one day in jail. Olivera drove Serna to the prison and stayed by his side throughout the night just talking about their service. It’s a powerful story and demonstrates the impact of compassion and understanding. We highly recommend you read the story! –MC

Bergdahl, Franks: A Tale of 2 Deserters
Nancy Montgomery, Stars & Stripes
Many have heard about Bowe Bergdahl deserting his post in Afghanistan. But at almost he exact same time, 2nd Lt. Lawrence Franks walked off Fort Drum in upstate New York to join the French Foreign Legion, the same place Bergdahl tried to join before joining the Army. Franks served in the legion for five years before turning himself in. Franks appeared before military court and has been sentenced to serve four years in prison. Bergdahl faces similar charges. –JG

Second Lady Calls for More Research to Help Military Children
Karen Jowers, Military Times
Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden spoke to a group of colleges and universities participating in Operation Educate the Educators, an effort to raise awareness of the needs of military children to teachers. Biden called for more research on military children, and asked educators to commit to include military children into curriculums. –MC

DEA Approves PTSD Marijuana Study
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
The Drug Enforcement Agency has approved requests to begin studies on the effects of marijuana on 76 treatment-resistant veterans suffering from PTS. The Multi-disciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies, the non-profit sponsor of this research, has received $2 million from the state of Colorado for similar studies in the past. The findings of this research may be critical for moving marijuana studies to the federal level to gather information about effective dosing and the drug’s benefits. –JG

Why Are Veterans Still Homeless in San Diego?
Jeanette Steele (@jensteely), San Diego Union-Tribune
The United Veterans Council of San Diego held a summit on Saturday addressing the continued efforts to end veteran homelessness. While the latest estimates still show more than 1,000 homeless veterans in the area, it is an improvement from 2009 when there were over 2,000. Housing our Heroes is an organization that is giving incentives to landlords renting to homeless veterans. With a strong housing voucher program currently in place, the council is expecting a significant drop in local homeless veterans when the next report comes out this May. –JG

Moves in the Sector:

Brian Hawthorne moves to the VA Office of Public Affairs
About two weeks ago, Brian Hawthorne moved from the Department of Labor to a new position at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hawthorne now serves as a special advisor to the VA Office of Public Affairs. Prior to joining the VA, he worked as a special assistant at the U.S. Department of Labor. Congrats on your new position! –MC

Jim Miklaszewski Retiring From NBC News
Chris Ariens (@ChrisAriens), Adweek
Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News has announced his retirement after 30 years covering the biggest military and defense stories in the nation and world. He joined NBC News in 1985 after working at CNN as a White House correspondent. He is known for his coverage of the attacks at the Pentagon on 9/11. You’ll be missed, Mik! –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences

Army Aviation Association of America: Army Aviation Mission Solutions Summit (Thu – Sat, April 28-30); Georgia World Congress Center, Atlanta, GA
U.S. Naval Institute: 2016 Annual Meeting (Thursday, April 28); Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington, DC

Congressional Hearings


Armed Services: F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program
Who: Honorable Frank Kendall III,
Under Secretary Of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, And Logistics, Honorable J. Michael Gilmore, Director Of Operational Test And Evaluation, Department Of Defense, Lieutenant General Christopher C. Bogdan, USAF, Program Executive Officer For The F-35 Lightning II Joint Program, Mr. Michael J. Sullivan, Director Of Acquisition And Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Counter-ISIL Operations and Middle East Strategy
Who: The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, April 28, 2016
Where: 216 Hart

Appropriations Defense Subcommittee: Fiscal Year 2017 Budget request funding justification for the U.S. Department of Defense 
Who: The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Secretary, U.S. Department of Defense, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff
When: 10:30 AM Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Where: 192 Dirksen


Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Markup of Pending Legislation
9:00 AM, Friday, April 29, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

Center for a New American Security: Army Readiness: Fight Tonight and Fit for Tomorrow
Who: Daniel Feehan, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Readiness), Dr. Andrew Hill, Founder and Director, Carlisle Scholars Program, U.S. Army War College, Katherine Kidder, Bacevich Fellow, Military, Veterans, and Society Program, Center for a New American Security, Major General Walter E. Piatt, Director, Army Operations, Readiness, and Mobilization, United States Army
When: 1:30 PM, Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Where: CNAS Office, 1152 15th St. NW, Washington, DC

Service Women’s Action Network: Continuum of Harm in the U.S. Armed Forces
Who: Dr. Margaret Stockdale, Southern Illinois University; Dr. Andrew Morral, RAND Corp; Brenda Farrell, Government Accountability Office; Dr. Maureen Duffy, The Taos Institute; Dr. Jessica Gallus, U.S. Army SHARP, Gaming Tools; Lauren Taylor, Defend Yourself
When: 1:00 PM, Monday April 25, 2016
Where: Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Memorial Drive, Arlington, VA

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

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, April 25, 2016 11:55 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation