Veterans Roundup: Lots of Talk of Reform at DOD and VA, Why a Soldier Didn’t Get a MOH, the Science of PTS, and Much More

Posted by Fred Wellman

10 Things We Know for Sure about Modern Veterans
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner) for Task & Purpose
Vice President Brian Wagner reviewed the conclusions of RAND’s recent report “Ten Frequently Asked Questions about Veterans’ Transitions” in a recent op-ed for Task & Purpose. Brian highlights each of the 10 major findings, including that service members and veterans make more money than civilians, and that mental health problems can be treated more cost effectively. We recommend you take the time to read it! –MC

What if PTSD is More Physical than Psychological?
Robert F. Worth (@robertfworth), The New York Times
From a scientific standpoint, this is a very interesting piece about how blasts very uniquely change how the brain looks under a microscope and functions in every day life. With IEDs so prevalent on modern battlefields and explosives commonly used in breaching, service members have a much higher risk for developing brain injuries from blasts, both big and small, that manifest much in the way PTS does. While the article makes the case that even the “shell shock” of WWI was actually related to brain injuries from blasts, it does not adequately account for what we know are the emotional and psychological injuries of war. The article seems to suggest that by explaining PTS as a blast injury, more service members and veterans may be inclined to seek help for something that isn’t seen as “weak” like an “emotional” injury might. Yet, solving that stigma undoubtedly has more to do with how we talk about mental health as a society than ascribing a particular root cause to an injury. Of course it’s critical to study how blasts and other common battlefield occurrences are affecting service members’ health so that we can better equip them with vehicles and armor that protects them, but we can’t discount that PTS and moral injuries exist even without exposure to blasts. Fortunately, both the military and private sector recognize that far more can be done to help those service members as they leave the military and beyond. –LJ

Long Ordeal for Seattle Worker Who Exposed Veterans’ Fraud
Gene Johnson (@GeneAPseattle), Associated Press
Bureaucracies, shockingly enough, tend to prefer maintaining organizational calm to dishing out individual justice. In a twist, I’m not talking about the VA (for once) but the Department of Commerce, which has seemingly mistreated an earnest whistleblower and botched an opportunity to clean its hands of a veteran who tried to game the system for his own benefit. To read about Cristina Jackson and Darryl Lee Wright is to see an earnest employee trying to stop waste, fraud, and abuse run into leadership that really would prefer not to deal with the sticky issue of a veteran who is not what he seems. While Jackson is more fortunate than some whistleblowers—her life has not been thoroughly ruined, and she clearly has admirers among her colleagues and former supervisors—this case still runs counter to all assertions from the White House and other federal leaders that whistleblowers provide a valuable public service. If that is true, why do whistleblowers always seem to be the ones getting discarded, mistreated, or shoved under the carpet? It’s an inconvenient truth that ultimately has little to do with the broader veterans community, but a lot with accountability and good governance. –BW

Commission to Propose Tricare-like System for VA
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
It seems a perfect storm is brewing in the many efforts to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs. The congressionally mandated Commission on Care is preparing to submit its final report to Congress and the draft proposes a system something like the Department of Defense’s Tricare which has its own medical facilities and an insurance system for civilian care for those who unable to use a military facility. The Commission has been making news due to it being seeded with members who have expressed past interest in privatizing VA like the Koch Network funded Concerned Veterans for America political group. It remains to be seen if the drafts floating around will be the final proposal. Meanwhile the VA’s own MyVA effort is gaining speed while CVA found itself in the middle of a fight with Paralyzed Veterans of America after accusing the major veteran service organization of being silent on VA scandals after refusing to support a bill being pitched that essentially destroys the existing VA structure under the guise of more “choice” for veterans but really simply dumps them into the private sector. PVA was having none of it and unleashed a blistering response against CVA and its unprofessional spokesman on Friday. CVA is not a “veteran service organization”. They are a conservative political organization. Period. All of these approaches are coming to a head just as the election heats up promising an uncertain future for any of them. Meanwhile, veterans are tossed around as pawns by both sides. –FPW

Investigation Shows the Real Reason the Army Denied a Soldier the Medal of Honor
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
The least surprising thing about this story is that Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) involved himself in whether Sgt. 1st Class Earl Plumlee was wrongly denied a Medal of Honor. Rather, military officials decided to present Plumlee with a Silver Star for his actions to defend a forward operation base in Afghanistan in 2013. Several big names signed off on a Medal of Honor packet for Plumlee, but when it came down to the board that makes the final decision, the group felt because of his rank and status as a Special Forces soldier, the kind of heroism Plumlee displayed was to be expected and thus not meritorious of the nation’s highest honor. It’s an interesting look at how subjective the process for awards like the Medal of Honor really is, but it also demonstrates how the military has come to rely on special operations and has raised expectations of what those forces are capable rather than being realistic about what they can accomplish on their own. –LJ

Military Still Mute on Overturning Transgender Policy
Paul D. Shinkman (@PDShinkman), U.S. News and World Report
It was going to be difficult to integrate black service members. Then it was going to be difficult to integrate women in the military. Next up were gay service members. Notice a pattern? The military is a surprisingly resilient social enterprise, due in no small part to the cohesion and adherence to order it demands from its members. When rules change, the rules must be followed, solidified by the guidance of strong and committed leaders at all levels. There is little to suggest that the eventual integration of transgender service members will be any different, yet we seem to be refighting the same culture and tradition battles within the Pentagon and the military. There is no reason why the May 2016 deadline should have passed with no change or at least a clear update; the reasons expressed in Shinkman’s reporting are minor logistical challenges in the grand scheme of military life, and do not justify the continued exclusion or concealment of transgendered Americans who want to serve. At the same time as Secretary Carter is staying mum on the timeline for change, the VA has announced that it intends to eventually change its rules—mirroring a previous Medicare decision—so that it can cover gender-confirming surgery in the future. While these issues may not strike at the core of our national defense in 2016, they are continued progress in affirming that the military exists to allow any and all qualified Americans to serve, and does not discriminate except on issues that directly impact American national security. –BW

Carter Proposes Changes to “Up or Out” Promotion System
Lolita Baldor (@lbaldor), Associated Press
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter continued his battle to modernize and change the antiquated Pentagon bureaucracy this past week with his third major reform proposal focused on updating the long hallowed military promotion system. Among his many ideas, which will take changes to law from Congress: the ability for officers with special skills to stay in without promotions; enter at higher ranks; take time off from the military for internships and education without penalty; and many more. Most of these changes have been kicked around for years and there are some truly revolutionary ideas that could bring a broader set of professionals into uniform. There should be no question at this point that the military promotion system based on seniority and key career gateways has long become disconnected with modern personnel practices and may not be truly producing the best and brightest senior leaders as talented officers and enlisted personnel seek greater opportunities in the civilian world. These reforms could make a huge difference but we’ll see if the highly regimented and dusty systems and leaders in place can even recognize they need to make change, no matter actually implement them. –FPW

With Women in Combat, Taking the ‘Man’ Out of Job Titles
Jennifer Mcdermott (@JenMcDermottAP), Associated Press
In December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter opened all military positions to women and, as part of the integration process, the Navy and Marine Corps are working to drop the word “man” from many job titles. There’s been a lot of debate around the issue, and many service members have argued against changing titles due to their historical significance. Advocates for full integration like Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and senior fellow at the Service Women’s Action Network, believe that the titles should be brought up to date and become more inclusive. –MC

More than 5,300 Student Vets at Ashford U. Could Lose GI Bill Benefits
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), Stars and Stripes
Ashford University, a for-profit and mainly online school, recently lost its accreditation after the recent closure of its small residential campus in Clinton, Iowa. Ashford is now requesting accreditation in California because its parent company is headquartered in San Diego. If denied, Ashford will lose its ability accept GI Bill benefits and thousands of student veterans are at risk of losing housing stipends in addition to their coursework. Student Veterans of America has stepped in to help keep those students informed of potential changes and provide guidance on alternatives for affected students. Concerned student veterans can call 202-223-4710 or email [email protected] for assistance. –MC

Veteran Boot Camp Begins at UNC-Chapel Hill
Jay Hardy (@Jay_TWCNews), Time Warner Cable News
Last week, a group of 20 military veterans attended a Warrior-Scholar Project academic boot camp at UNC-Chapel Hill in North Carolina. The Warrior-Scholar Project assists enlisted military veterans as they transition to academic life by preparing them for cultural adaptations and study techniques required to succeed in a four-year degree program. The Warrior-Scholar Project is hosting boot camps all across the country this summer. To learn more about WSP and upcoming boot camps, visit –MC

‘Hiring Our Heroes’ Job Fair for Veterans and Military Spouses
News 10 ABC
Hiring Our Heroes hosted a free hiring fair for veterans, transitioning service members, and their spouses in Latham, NY, last week. More than 65 organizations gathered with the focus of continuing to employ veteran and spouse talent. Hiring Our Heroes hosts hiring fairs every week all across the country. To find out if one is coming to a city near you, visit its website. –JG

Parenthood after Trauma: the Fight for Veterans’ Reproductive Coverage
Jeremy Chwat (@Jchwat) for the Huffington Post
In a recent Huffington Post op-ed, Jeremy Chwat, Chief Strategy Officer for Wounded Warrior Project, explained the importance of ensuring our nation’s wounded veterans have VA-covered reproductive care. Led by WWP, a group of lawmakers and veteran service organizations have been pushing for this right for injured veterans to start a family. Chwat notes that the Senate recently passed an amendment as part of the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act for fiscal year 2017, that would provide reproductive coverage for injured service members, and now a conference committee will meet to determine the future of these couples’ lives. –MC

ASU Steps Up Efforts to Support Student Veterans
Shelbey Roberts (@ShelbeyRoberts), Fox 28
Student Veterans of America announced the 2016 winners of the Vet Center Initiative Grant, sponsored by The Home Depot Foundation. More than 50 SVA chapters earned over $422,000 to help them improve or renovate their spaces for student veterans on campus. –JG
Other Coverage:
LCCC Veterans Club Receives Funds for Refurbishing Vet Lounge at Main Campus and Creating One at the College’s Airport Site
Denise Reifinger, North Whitehall Patch
UNCW Receives Grant for its Military Resource Lounge

Quick Hits:

Pentagon: No Way to Operate Commissaries without Taxpayer Funds
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
In a new report, Pentagon officials said that without taxpayer funding commissaries will have to be shut down or prices will have to be increased significantly. Some lawmakers are pushing for the privatization of the commissary system, a move that advocates have spoken out against. –MC

U.S. Widens War in Afghanistan, Authorizes New Action Against Taliban
Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan) and Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@TMGNeff), Washington Post
President Obama authorized new measures to expand our military’s mission in Afghanistan. This decision will allow our military more offensive capabilities in strategic situations that would contribute to an increase in overall security. There is no indication of how the new measures might impact Obama’s current timeline to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. –JG

DoD Signals Support for Online Shopping Benefit for Veterans
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
A DoD report recently sent to Congress advocating for an expansion of existing online exchange shopping benefits has gained support by articulating potential cost benefits to veterans and taxpayers. The expansion would apply to all honorably discharged veterans. Revenues from online sales would benefit MWR programs serving the greater military community. –JG

Afghan Interpreters Seeking Asylum Caught in Political Crossfire
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Heated debated broke out in the Senate last week as senators considered extending the application window for Afghan asylum seekers who have worked alongside the U.S. military. As the legislation currently stands, interpreters and their families seeking safety will not be able to do so after the end of this year. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) is blocking an extension of the visa program until his amendment on a separate issue is considered. Despite 10,000 pending visa applications, several efforts this year to extend the deadline have been unsuccessful. Many urge that failing to keep these Afghans safe will jeopardize the safety of our troops in the future. –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences

Navy League: 2016 National Convention (Tue-Sat, June 14-19, 2016); Embassy Suites by Hilton, North Charleston, SC

Department of Defense: Warrior Games (Wed-Tue, June 15-21, 2016); United States Military Academy, West Point, NY

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Investigating VA’s Management of Veterans’ Paper Records
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Examining 21st Century Programs and Strategies for Veteran Job Seekers
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, June 15, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon


Armed Services: Hearings to examine the nomination of General David L. Goldfein
When: 9:30 A.M, Thursday, June 16, 2016
Where: G50 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

Heritage Foundation: Tribe: On Homecoming And Belonging
Who: Sebastian Junger, author of Tribe; Jay Nordlinger, Senior Editor of National Review
When: 12:00 PM, Tuesday, June 14, 2016
Where: Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC, 20002

The Brookings Institution: Desert Storm after 25 years: Confronting the exposures of modern warfare
Who: Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO); Michael O’Hanlon, senior fellow at Brookings; Joel Kupersmith, former head of the Office of Research and Development of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Carolyn Clancy, Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Organizational Excellence at the Department of Veterans Affairs; Adrian Atizado, Deputy National Legislative Director at Disabled American Veterans; James Baraniuk, professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center
When: 3:00 PM, Thursday, June 16, 2016
Where: Service Employees International Union, 1800 Massachusetts Ave, NW, Washington, DC, 20036

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, June 13, 2016 4:46 pm

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