Veterans Roundup: Looming Government Shutdown, VA Health Care Overhaul, Scammers Take Advantage of Holidays and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Trump’s tweet sparks fears of a looming government shutdown
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Ahead of a meeting between Republican and Democratic leaders to discuss the terms of a budget extension to avoid a government shutdown, President Trump tweeted that he did not see a deal as a possible outcome from their meeting due to the Democratic Party’s stance on immigration and tax reform. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) responded to Trump’s tweet by not attending the meeting. In 2013, the U.S. government shut down for 16 days over disagreements on the budget and debt ceiling. Hours before the 2013 shutdown took effect, Congress passed legislation that guaranteed military personnel and essential DoD employees would still receive pay. However, the legislation did not cover disbursements to gold star families and the oversight quickly became a target of uproar. If our members of Congress cannot agree to a continuing resolution on the budget, lawmakers will find themselves in a similarly precarious situation of deciding who continues to receive pay and who does not. –JG
Bottom line: We sure spend a lot of time worrying about things that come from a Twitter post but it is where we are today and this is a serious issue now lost in the aftermath of the new tax bill and revelations of Mike Flynn’s guilty plea. The fact is that while the Senate was beating itself to death to pass a tax bill that will now go back to the House, the deadline to fund the government is crashing on us. In separate reporting, the president has told confidants that a government shutdown would be good for him politically. Sadly, that is probably true but it always seems that everyone hates those darn federal employees until they discover that service members are federal employees and they will lose pay, services for their families and a host of things if the Congress decides to play chicken. On top of that, it’s easy to forget the really ridiculous things that happened last time like the WWII Memorial being cordoned off leaving Honor Flights of aging veterans unable to visit their memorial before they pass away. All of this goes back to the absolute mess that throwing out regular order of congressional business has caused for over a decade. The military is left with no way to plan for their budgets and are scrambling to move money around to fund the simplest thing like ship maintenance as Congress insists on avoiding the political football of an open, timely and transparent budget process. There simply is no way to be optimistic on this situation after last week’s mess of a process. We hope that common sense will prevail and the government will function normally. We know from experience that it probably won’t do so. –FPW

No Family Is Safe From This Epidemic
James Winnefeld (@TheAtlantic), The Atlantic
Just three days after dropping off his son to his freshman year of college, retired Admiral Sandy Winnefeld and his wife received a call that no parent or person should ever have to receive: at just nineteen years old, their son Jonathan Winnefeld was found unresponsive in his dorm room after an overdose. In high school, Jonathan was introduced to the many gateways to opioid addiction: Adderall for a misdiagnoses of ADD, as well as self-medication to cope with anxiety and mental health struggles. After Jonathan spent 15 months in a treatment program, Winnefeld and his wife felt their son was on a strong road to recovery. However, the Winnefelds learned at the treatment center’s parent-education sessions that addiction can bury itself into the brain, creating an endless craving to avoid withdrawal. The family is now speaking out to draw attention to this national emergency. Admiral Winnefeld shared his story with CBS and how this has become not just a nation-wide emergency, but a national security issue. Toward the end of treatment, Jonathan received his emergency medical technician qualification because he wanted to help people avoid what he had gone through. Now, the Winnefeld family is carrying on his purpose to help individuals and families around the nation. –DD
Bottom line: Unfortunately, it seems that no corner of society is untouched by the country’s battle against opioid addiction and death. Jonathan Winnefeld’s passing in September is a tragedy no family should ever experience. A 19-year-old college student, Jonathan had worked hard in his recovery, and had hoped to help others who were on the same path. A batch of fentanyl-laced heroin led to an overdose just three days after beginning his university studies. If you know this family, you know that they are absolute pillars of strength, support and resilience for the military community, continually advocating for military families and veterans. In the wake of Jonathan’s death, the Winnefelds are launching efforts to educate people about addiction and mental health, and are speaking out about the struggles they faced when Jonathan worked to get healthy. As we dive into figuring out how to prevent these tragedies from happening, we absolutely must address some of the most pressing policy and cultural issues in mental health treatment and substance use, especially as it relates to our military community. Admiral Winnefeld shared in his piece that the challenges created by rigid and unsatisfactory Tricare policies meant that their family had to make an enormous monetary investment so that their child would have a chance to recover—and that investment is beyond the reach of so many families. Culturally speaking, so many families and individuals face the terror of mental health diagnoses and addiction alone, ashamed of what can be depicted by society as a weakness or something only certain types of people experience. Military families are resilient and strong, but if we think that our community is outside of the realm of this problem we are sorely mistaken. The Winnefelds are speaking out, hopeful that they can help prevent tragic losses like their own in the future. They’ve launched a website under the title Stop the Addiction Fatality Epidemic (S.A.F.E) where they will continue to grow their advocacy work. –RB

Senate Committee advances its plan for VA health care overhaul
Leon Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee convened on Wednesday, pushing through its version of a VA health care overhaul plan. The bill includes easier access to private sector physicians for veterans and a significant expansion of the VA’s existing caregiver programs. Individuals facing extreme wait times or travel distances would be eligible to seek care outside the VA system. However, the VA physicians would remain the primary care coordinator for veterans, unlike in some other plans floated by the VA and House lawmakers. In addition to the VA health care reforms, the Senate bill would extend the VA’s assistance programs to caregivers of veterans injured prior to May 1975, with a promised further expansion to veterans hurt from 1975-2001 within two years. While the committee passed the measure with a 13-1 vote, the $54 billion, five-year price tag is expected to meet strong opposition in Congress. –KG
Bottom line: The Caring for Our Veterans Act would gradually sunset current outside care programs within the VA and replace them with a single community care program with fewer restrictions on which veterans can seek private-sector care. Almost one-third of medical appointments funded by VA currently take place outside of the department’s medical system. Senator Moran, the only committee member to vote against the bill voiced concerns that the measure didn’t go far enough to open up community care programs to more veterans. The bill also includes a provision to extend the current VA caregivers benefit to caregivers for veterans of all eras, which has been a major ask by veterans organizations in recent years and has been championed by groups like the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and DAV. Neither House nor Senate committee officials have announced a timetable for bringing their measures to the chamber floors, but Congress will have to find an alternative vehicle for the Choice program funds, which are expected to run out by the end of the year. The high cost of the bill is likely to become a hurdle as the measure proceeds, though Senator Isakson, bill sponsor and committee chairman, said he isn’t concerned and added “we always find money for our veterans.” –CB

Scammers take advantage of holidays to prey on veterans’ emotions, desire to help others
Lance Hernandez (@lancehernandez7), The Denver Channel
While many individuals recently made donations to help others on Giving Tuesday, it is also the time of the year when scammers take advantage of those who are willing to give. A recent survey by the AARP reveals that veterans are two times more likely to lose money to scammers compared to the general public. This survey also shows that at the top of the list of scams targeting veterans are under the guise of helping fellow veterans. Mark Fetterhoff, a senior program specialist with AARP, says to double check the charity you are giving to before you hit “donate”. In January, AARP and U.S. Postal Inspection are launching a campaign to assist veterans from becoming a victim to scammers. –SM
Bottom line: The AARP survey found a number of interesting things about veterans, including as mentioned above, that scammers are targeting veterans by preying on the camaraderie of the military community. Importantly, veterans who fell victim to fraud were ones who said they were more likely to give to veteran-related charities versus veterans who did not fall victim to scams. With so many reputable, excellent charities entering their end of year giving phase, there will be plenty of con artists trying to take advantage of the overwhelming desire to give back. Remember, be judicious about where you invest your money. Because the AARP findings also reveal that veteran victims of fraud were also veterans who have experienced loneliness and financial struggles vice other veterans, it’s another reminder that supporting the wellbeing and successful transition of veterans into their communities will enable stronger communities all around. –LJ

Chris Evans to narrate 8-part Nat Geo documentary series, Chain of Command
Josh Glicksman (@JoshGlicksman), Entertainment Weekly
Last Wednesday, National Geographic announced that Chris Evans will narrate its upcoming series Chain of Command. It will be an eight-part documentary series that takes a look into the U.S. military’s mission to fight extremism. This EW piece features an exclusive clip of the new show, and also explains why Evans was the perfect fit for the job. –AB

VA Failed to Report 90% of Potentially Dangerous Medical Providers, GAO Confirms
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA Today
According to the Government Accountability Office, the Department of Veterans Affairs failed to report 90 percent of potentially dangerous doctors and other clinicians to a national database and prevent them from endangering patients in other states. VA policies dictate that hospitals report doctors and dentists who endanger patient safety to the national database even if they leave while under investigation for medical mistakes. Five hospitals were examined by the Government Accountability Office and only nine health care workers had been reported since 2014. –RS

We Were Students Once… and Young: A Tribute to a Military-Heavy Public School
Matt Collins, Foreign Policy
The Trump Administration recently announced that it is considering divestment of all schools run by the Department of Defense in the U.S. This would require 47 schools to close and the children of service members to attend public schools. This announcement has caused an uproar within the military family community, and in this article Matt Collins discusses his opinions on the matter. While he does agree that closing DoD schools has merit due to increasing costs of health care, education and family support programs, he doesn’t think that this initiative should come to fruition. Collins discusses how DoD schools could skip a few layers of bureaucracy to receive benefits that enable the schools to have great facilities, sport programs and academic options for their students. DoD schools bring a sense of camaraderie that are unparalleled with public schools because students and their military families will face the same shared issues or experiences that make them feel united, Collins writes. –ML

Lawmakers propose making franchising cheaper for vets
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
The average franchise start up fees range between $30,000-$50,000. With one out of every seven franchises owned by a veteran, a bi-partisan duo of lawmakers is joining forces to make the opportunity to own a franchise more accessible to every veteran. The Veteran Entrepreneurs Act of 2017 was presented last Tuesday by Reps. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) and Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.).  If passed, this legislation will create a tax credit to cover 25 percent of initial fees for veteran franchisees. –CBruns

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies: Addressing the Opioid Crisis in America:  Prevention, Treatment, and Recovery
Who: The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy, Former Congressman (D-R.I.), President’s Commission on Combatting Drug Addiction and the Opioid Crisis; Elinore McCance-Katz, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institutes of Health; Debra Houry, M.D., M.P.H., Director, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, December 5, 2017
Where: 124 Dirksen

Armed Services: Department of Defense Acquisition Reform Efforts
Who: Honorable Ellen M. Lord, Under Secretary Of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, And Logistics; Honorable Mark T. Esper, Secretary Of The Army; Honorable Richard V. Spencer, Secretary Of The Navy; Honorable Heather A. Wilson, Secretary Of The Air Force
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, December 7, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: New Names, Same Problems: The VA Medical Surgical Prime Vendor Program
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, December 7, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

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 Monday, December 04, 2017 12:30 pm

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