Veterans Roundup: Marine boot camp and DOD-VA health records, reforming VA Choice, ending the CPFB, racism in the military, and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Dozens of volunteers spruce up DC’s National World War II Memorial as veterans mark 73rd anniversary of D-Day
Regina F. Graham (@ProperGrahamR), Daily Mail
In honor of the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, the ScoutComms team volunteered at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Hosted by veterans empowerment organization and ScoutComms’ past client, Got Your Six, more than 100 volunteers gave their time to beautify the area surrounding the memorial. The service project strengthened the local D.C. community, while honoring and remembering all D-Day veterans, their service and sacrifice. –DD

VA to use DOD’s electronic medical records system
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
This past week, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced that it will be transferring all electronic medical records to the same commercial system utilized by the Department of Defense – a move that has the potential to stop veterans from “falling between the cracks” when transferring between the systems after separating from the military. VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, in his remarks about the new electronic health records system, did not say how much this overhaul would cost. –KB
Bottom line: For three consecutive administrations, the VA’s leadership has struggled with the question of maintaining its own home-brewed electronic health record system while also achieving integration and transferability with the DoD’s system. While VA leaders and politicians alike have reacted positively to Dr. Shulkin’s announcement that the VA would essentially mimic the DoD’s new system to maximize chances of improving the transition process and ensure that the two systems could talk to each other, there are still a lot of questions to be asked. It is rare—and often risky—for a government agency to essentially give a no-bid, unknown-cost contract to a private company. The fact that the vendor has been selected before a price tag has been announced almost ensures that best case budget scenarios will not be met. While this decision is far from being—as President Trump called it, “one of the biggest wins for our veterans in decades”—it still is a big deal in theory, with the potential to enable significant improvements in the care and consistency of care that the VA is able to provide down the road. But if this project—which should at a minimum surpass $4 billion—fails, it could permanently harm Shulkin’s legacy and sour the joint DoD-VA appetite for striving to achieve true interoperability. –BW

Black troops as much as twice as likely to be punished by commanders, courts
Tom Vanden Brook (@TVandenBrook), USA Today
According to a report released by advocacy organization Protect Our Defenders, black service members are up to twice as likely to face disciplinary action, with the greatest amount of discrimination happening in the Marine Corps. A spokesperson for the Pentagon said that officials are reviewing the report to find any instances of non-compliance regarding policies that ensure equal opportunity while fighting racial discrimination. –JG
Bottom line: It is clear from this substantial study where Protect Our Defenders meticulously reviewed court and discipline records from 2006 to 2015 that the military is not immune to the same difficulties in equal justice as the civilian courts. What is disheartening is that the military is held to a higher standard and this kind of massive disparity is occurring in an institution known and revered for its ability to provide equal opportunity for any American. There are no firm reasons but if you understand the military justice system you know that it is run by officers and the military still has an officer corps that skews white and male far beyond the enlisted ranks. Without clear evidence, it seems that imperceptible biases creep into decisions about whom to discipline and the extent to which they will pay for their misdeeds. The military seemed surprised by the findings in these early reports but we hope they take steps to address this statistically significant and unacceptable disparity. –FPW

Major Financial Bill May Eliminate Some Troop Protections
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz),
After the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) under the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010, a new bill to reduce federal financial regulations will be voted on by the House and Senate. The Financial Choice Act would eliminate a number of initiatives by the CFPB to include a program that protects the military community from predatory lending schemes. The CFPB has helped provide restitution to military members taken advantage of by unlawful financial practices. If the House and Senate are to pass the bill, the CFPB would transition to the Consumer Law Enforcement Agency and would not be allowed to litigate against companies. –DD
Bottom line: In the first step of a massive attempt to roll-back financial regulations set in place by Dodd-Frank, the House on Thursday passed the financial CHOICE bill 233-186. Dodd-Frank was proposed and passed to protect the economy from another massive crash like the one experienced in 2007-2008 by amending financial regulatory legislation and by creating the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). Since its formation, the CFPB’s office of Servicemember Affairs has spearheaded efforts to protect military consumers from predatory practices across the financial services sector. While the desire to deregulate the financial services sector is not surprising in this political climate, it cannot be done to the detriment of our military members’ and military families’ financial health. As a young, highly mobile population, military members can be particularly vulnerable to predatory practices.  It is imperative that this community have protections and procedures designed to shield them from predatory practices. CFPB has been responsible for taking to task many of those that have taken advantage of our service members and their families-to lose that capability in the future would be a true shame. –RB

Marine boot camp now as integrated as it should get, Commander says
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck),
Brig. Gen. Austin Renforth, the Commander at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, has spoken out about boot camp gender integration, stating that women have been assimilated into more than 70 percent of all boot camp training. This level of integration, according to Renforth, is where it should stay: in an interview with, Renforth asserted that 100 percent integration would further reinforce negative stereotypes about women recruits held by their male counterparts. –KB
Bottom line: You have to feel a little sorry for BG Renforth because it appears he meant well trying to explain why women are kept separate from men in the early days of Boot Camp but things went horribly awry with this quote: “I think we’re trying to find, recruiting-wise, those women who were handed lacrosse sticks and hockey sticks growing up and not Barbie dolls,” he said. “We don’t always get that.” Needless to say this observation and a few others in the article was met with some negative feedback and by Thursday evening the Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps posted a minute long video walking back the idea that women who “played with Barbies” aren’t welcome in the Marines. So, while there is reason to give the Marines credit for making progress on the integration of women, we wish them luck in not undermining those efforts every time someone opens their mouth or posts online. –FPW

Senate passes bill to allow swift discipline of VA workers
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Last week, legislation passed by the Senate would allow VA Secretary Shulkin to more effectively punish and terminate VA employees who fail to meet reasonable job expectations. Many senators have called this bill a long time coming after years of stalled efforts to pass legislation like this. Federal worker unions strongly oppose the bill, saying that it will prompt excellent VA workers to leave out of fear of politically motivated “witch hunts.” –JG
Bottom line: Simply put, this is a good step forward. As I’ve said before, while I respect and tend to favor the perspective of employee unions, the VA has clearly suffered in the last few years from a dysfunctional disciplinary system that has so many hurdles and snags that egregiously misbehaving and underperforming employees cannot be pushed out in a timely manner (if they can be forced out at all). Now that the Senate has passed this legislation, and it appears that the House will likely follow suit in a timely manner, responsibility will return to the VA to use its new legislative authorities to clean house and send a clear message that employees who are a drag on the VA and who sully its name and reputation will not be welcome or protected indefinitely by legal and bureaucratic hurdles. –BW

Democrats, vets hesitant about preliminary plans for Choice program extension
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
The Department of Veterans Affairs has given a name to the yet-to-be-released replacement for the Veterans Choice Program: the Veterans Coordinated Access Rewarding Experiences program, or CARE. This new program will do away with the distance restrictions that limit veterans’ ability to seek medical attention outside of the VA. Instead, patients will consult with their VA physicians to determine which healthcare needs can be met through the VA system and which ones should be met through private care. –KB
­Bottom line: Veterans groups are holding their fire on the latest proposals to update VA Choice until a more fully realized plan is released and so initial takes come heavily caveated from all sides. In fact, a piece of commentary going around claimed that veterans’ groups had endorsed the new plan and leaders from the American Legion were quick to jump on social media to dispute that. At an introductory hearing on the issue, veteran service organization leaders emphasized that their members’ concerns with VA care largely isn’t with the quality of care, but with access. VA Choice and the new CARE program are, in the end, a half-measure to address that: while they may improve a patient’s access to care, it’s not to specialized, quality care from the VA. Shulkin’s CARE proposals seem to increase the number of veterans who could get care in the community, but he hasn’t yet articulated a cost associated with this new plan. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle reiterated they will not privatize VA, yet to some of their colleagues and those in the veteran community, this further decentralization of health care for veterans is a slippery slope. Expect the details of this plan to be a hot topic over the next several months. –LJ

Sam Pressler’s cathartic comedy
Avital Andrews (@avitalb), Pacific Standard
In 2015, Sam Pressler put his comedic skills to use by founding the Armed Services Arts Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to providing veterans free arts programming, one of which is a “comedy boot camp” which offers stand-up comedy classes to veterans and their families. Pressler, though not a veteran himself, says that these programs are important because they help veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress, speak candidly about their experiences and find a purpose after leaving the military. –KB

RallyPoint Welcomes C Space Founder & Chairman Diane Hessan to its Advisory Board
PR Web
The newest member of RallyPoint’s growing board of advisors is Diane Hessan, Founder and Chairman of C Space. RallyPoint, the leading online community for military members will benefit from her prowess in entrepreneurship, marketing, community-building expertise and much more. –AB

Virtual – and Short! – Spouse Employment Summit Coming June 14
Amy Bushatz (@AmyBushatz), SpouseBUZZ by
Military spouses can virtually attend a Military Spouse Employment Summit hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes this Wednesday, June 14. The MilSpouse Employment Summit will be live-streamed around the globe and will feature renowned military spouse leaders, to include Ellyn Dunford and Holly Dailey. The event will shed light on the importance of military spouse employment and how companies can go about leveraging this unique workforce. The half-day summit will kick off with a keynote address by former Second Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden. –DD

Some Veteran ‘Beta Testers’ Can Get Early Access to Online Exchange
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz),
Veterans will now have the opportunity to shop at all of the online military exchange stores as part of a group of “beta testers” through a new shopper verification system. This new benefit is accessible to all honorably discharged veterans. –CB

Meet the seven military men and women training to be NASA’s next astronauts
Peter Rathmell, Military Times
NASA’s 12-person class of astronaut candidates features seven military members this year. The candidates, who beat out thousands of other applicants, will begin their two-year training in August at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. –JDG

Congress gunning to change military law to address ‘revenge porn’
Jeanette Steele (@jensteeley), San Diego Union-Tribune
In response to the Marines United scandal that broke in March, the House unanimously passed a bill and a Senate bill was introduced Wednesday that would make “revenge porn” a specific crime under Article 117 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. A new law would send a clear message to service members that these actions are not tolerated and are considered a crime. –CB

Some Vets with PTSD Are Scamming the VA: Testimony
Richard Sisk,
Members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee were surprised on Thursday to hear testimony alleging that some veterans have been misrepresenting the severity of their PTSD to increase the amount they receive in disability compensation. Brendan O’Byrne, an Army sergeant who received a 70-percent disability rating for PTSD following a 15-month tour in Afghanistan, claims that he was counseled by administrators and fellow veterans to request a 100-percent disability rating, despite his insistence that it was unnecessary. –JDG

Tradeshows & Conferences

The National Veteran Small Business Coalitions: Veteran Entrepreneur Training Symposium (Mon – Thu, June 12-15, 2017); Norfolk Waterside Marriott, Norfolk, VA

AFCEA: Armed Forces Communication and Electronics Association: Defensive Cyber Operations Symposium 2017 (Tue – Thu, June 13-15, 2017); Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD

Congressional Hearings

Special Committee on Aging: Military Caregivers: Families Serving for the Long Run
Who: Senator Elizabeth Dole, Founder, Elizabeth Dole Foundation; Ryan Phillippe, Actor, Director, And Writer; Terri Tanielian, M.A, Senior Behavioral Scientist, RAND Corporation; Mary Hahn and Thomas Ward, Veteran Caregiver and Veteran (USMC); Melanie and Sergeant First Class Joe Swoboda, Veteran Caregiver and Veteran (USA Retired, Army); Wanda and Sergeant Samuel Ickes, Veteran Caregiver and Veteran (USA Retired, Army)
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Where: 106 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: Fiscal Year 2018 Budget for Veterans’ Programs and Fiscal Year 2019 Advance Appropriations Requests
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Where: 418 Russell

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, June 12, 2017 11:02 am

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