Veterans Roundup: Military Influencer Conference, Whistleblower Retaliation, VA Goes High Tech and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

ScoutComms to sponsor Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award
Scout Blog
We recently announced a multi-year sponsorship of the Joe Galloway Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Army Public Affairs Association. The annual award recognizes an individual’s lifetime of sustained support to the U.S. Army and to the Army public affairs community through extraordinary contributions to the practice and profession of public relations. To read more about the partnership, check out our press release. –AB

One Marriage, Two Entrepreneurs, Two Businesses and a Lot of Lessons Learned
Fred Wellman (@FPWellman), National Military Spouse Network
On the cover of this month’s National Military Spouse Network magazine are a couple of familiar faces – ScoutComms founder and CEO Fred Wellman and his wife, Ladyburg co-owner Crystal Wellman! It’s no secret that these two run the small but mighty town that is Fredericksburg, but Fred put pen to paper (on page 26) and shared with our community the secret sauce to making a power couple relationship, as well as its businesses, not only work but also be successful. –AB

Reflecting on the first Military Influencer Conference
Fred Wellman (@FPWellman), Scout Blog
In case you missed it, we partnered with MilBlogging to host the first ever Military Influencer Conference last month. If you weren’t able to make it you missed an incredible and educational time, but don’t worry: Fred shares his reflections on the conference, as well as some highlights, in our latest #ScoutBlog, and it’s worth noting that there’s always next year! We’ll see you then. –AB

Victims say VA whistleblower retaliation is growing under Trump, despite rhetoric
Joe Davidson (@JoeDavidsonWP), The Washington Post
While President Trump committed to supporting whistleblowers at the VA, it appears very little is being done to follow through on his promises. President Trump signed an executive order establishing the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection with the intent to create an environment that protects those who come forward with information about wrongdoing and corruption in the government. However, Katherine Mitchell and Christian Head, prominent VA whistleblowers, have faced ostracism and retaliation by colleagues and superiors. Like whistleblower retaliation, another area where VA scandals seem to be repeating themselves is with secret waiting lists, one of which was discovered recently in Nebraska. –JG
Bottom line: The Department of Veterans Affairs is a 377,000 employee organization organized in three relatively independent agencies with healthcare facilities spread over 1,065 outpatient sites and 170 VA Medical Centers. It is not small. So, while my first reaction to this story, like most, is one of frustration bordering on outrage I also know that declaring something will happen doesn’t make it magically happen in a massive organization of any kind and certainly not across the second largest government department. The thing we have watched for the seven years we’ve been around is a gradual shift in attitude and focus at the VA that sees improved morale, better medical care, less homelessness and other key metrics. It is far from “there yet” and like any massive organization, be it private or public, it may never reach a state of perfection in service or employee management. The VA must continue to fight these battles to improve care for veterans and improve the lives of the employees fighting for better care. Those who are retaliating and blatantly abusing their positions as demonstrated in this column must be punished, swiftly and thoroughly to get the message across the department that the days of games are over. In the meantime we hope that dedicated public servants continue to step up both to serve veterans and to take the risk of standing up to publicize when they are being mistreated. –FPW

Exclusive: VA goes high-tech with Uber-like tracking center for veteran health care
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA Today
VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin has emphasized many times his commitment to improving the overall efficiency and quality of care at the VA. One recent example of this commitment in action was the addition of a central tracking “war room” at VA headquarters that can display color-coded visualizations overlaid on a map of the U.S. to demonstrate the overall operating status of each VA medical facility across the country. Tools like these better enable the VA to identify emerging problems and respond before they lead to a crisis. Shulkin says that while he is pleased to see signs of improvement over the last several months, he remains focused on the vast amount of work before the VA can operate at the level it should. –JG
Bottom line: Secretary Shulkin cuts to heart of the changes being made at the VA when he says, “I don’t know of any industry that improves unless the consumer of the product is demanding improvement or unless there’s competition that is forcing that company to up its performance.” USA Today describes the VA’s health care operation center as an Uber-like control room and the reality is that by utilizing this new technology and being able to compare real-time data points with the feedback they are receiving from patients, they are able to act in a more agile way. They have already been able to identify emerging problems and work quickly to solve them, before the issue at hand escalates. One example is a nurse vacancy rate that spiked in Little Rock, Arkansas, so the center dispatched help that resulted in a job fair and same-day employment offers to dozens of nurses. They also took similar action in Shreveport, Louisiana, where doctor, nurse, and psychologist vacancies were impacting veteran wait times for appointments. Shulkin connected with the dean of Louisiana State University School of Medicine Shreveport, who agreed to help fill the need. These are just a couple of examples of how effective these changes have been. These efforts are a part of the 13 areas of improvement that Shulkin identified in his “State of VA,” assessment, released earlier this year. This looked at where the department needs to improve and the legislative and administrative fixes it needs in order to see progress. –CB

The sacrifice at home: Military spouses bear economic burden in service to their country
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars and Stripes
Military spouses and caregivers are finding it more difficult to find and retain employment, with many being told they are overqualified for positions. Caregivers in particular have demanding schedules due to supporting their veteran, coordinating medical appointments, going to school, raising children and more. According to a study by Blue Star Families, 43 percent of military spouses are unemployed, compared to their civilian counterparts at 25.5 percent. While our military families should not have to carry the economic burden of unemployment, this is also an issue of military readiness and retention. Frequent moves and changing jobs can raise tensions in any family, however when a service member decides to leave the military due to such issues, it becomes a matter of national security. In order to retain service members and entire military families, including spouses and caregivers, it has become imperative for companies to be able to translate the skills and lifestyle of those spouses and caregivers into long-lasting careers. –DD
Bottom line: Bottom line up front, I have a serious bias here. I’m a former military spouse all too familiar with the employment challenges that milspouses face. For seven of the 10 years my spouse served on active duty in the Marine Corps, we were married. In those seven years, we PCS’d five times. To say that my resume looked like Swiss cheese was an understatement—I added eight different jobs to my resume in that short time. Un- and underemployment of military spouses continue to be serious issues for military families, many of whom need or want to be a two-income family. Folks are starting to see this problem as what it is—a readiness and retention issue. Far too many talented service members are walking away from their military careers to give their spouses the opportunity to pursue careers, and far too many military spouses are unable to maximally contribute to the economy in the way that they are able. With veteran unemployment at an absolute all-time low, the employers that dutifully hacked away at troublesome veteran unemployment rates for the last decade have an opportunity to lead in the military spouse unemployment space. Indeed, some companies already are working on it, but there simply aren’t enough, especially those that are committed to creating opportunities for caregivers of wounded, ill or injured service members and veterans. In the increasingly digital workforce, more flexible and remote opportunities should be made available to milspouses, who prove themselves as value-adds to employers time and time again. Show me a military spouse, and I’ll show you someone who thrives under pressure, is used to multitasking at a high-level and assimilates quickly to new professional environments. Will it take flexibility on the part of employers to double down on this issue? Simply stated, yes. Will it always be easy? Nope. Will their businesses and our national defense ultimately benefit from affording career opportunities to military spouses? Hell yes. –RB

A Top U.S. General just said 4,000 American troops are in Syria. The Pentagon says there are only 500.
Andrew deGrandpre (@adegrandpre), The Washington Post
On Tuesday, Army Maj. Gen. James B. Jarrard, who leads the U.S.-led Special Operations task force which targets the Islamic State in both Syria and Iraq, gave a surprising briefing stating there are 4,000 American troops on the ground in Syria, while the Trump administration has steadfastly maintained the number is approximately 500. After being asked to confirm the 4,000 number, Jarrard appeared flustered and quickly recanted; he apologized and stated the accurate number is around 500. However, it is an established and poorly kept secret that the Pentagon has far more troops on the ground than what has been disclosed. While the Obama administration had hoped to minimize American troop deployments by partnering with local forces, such attempts proved ineffective. Recently, the Pentagon has faced increased scrutiny over its multi-continent counterterrorism operations, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called to Capitol Hill on Monday to examine the laws governing these involvements. –KG
Bottom line: The takeaway here—like it has been as we’ve highlighted stories about Niger and other combat operations—is that the military is still engaged around the world. National security debates rage over the need for a new Authorization for Use of Military Force, or grand strategies, or counter-terror tactics, but these conversations need to also include readiness issues like those associated with military families. As Congress looks towards funding overseas operations, it’s incumbent on us as advocates and us as Americans to demand they also keep funding essential military family programs that allow warfighters to concentrate on the mission at hand. Similarly, the ongoing nature of these wars means the fight to protect and improve veterans’ benefits won’t slow down anytime soon. The benefits once thought to be necessary for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans such as specialized care for TBI or a burn pit registry will likely extend far beyond the wars in those countries. The Global War on Terror, as it is, has many facets and as many detractors as supporters. But while reasonable people may disagree about the need for a new AUMF, something everyone should be able to agree on is the need to continue to support and acknowledge the men and women serving and deploying and their families. –LJ

Bowe Bergdahl, the former hostage who pleaded guilty to desertion, avoids prison
Alex Horton (@AlexHorton_TX), The Washington Post
In 2009, Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was kidnapped, held captive, and tortured by members of the Haqqani network, a group tied to the Taliban, after he abandoned his post in south-east Afghanistan. Five years later, he was released in a controversial prisoner exchange for five detainees from Guantanamo Bay. He was brought before a general court martial for charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, facing a possible life sentence. After pleading guilty to those charges in October, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, who presided as judge, sentenced Bergdahl to a dishonorable discharge, a $10,000 fine and a rank reduction, omitting any mention of prison time. The judge ended the sentencing without providing any reason why prison time was excluded from his sentence. ­–JG
Bottom line: To say the veteran and military communities are up in arms about the sentence that Col. Nance gave Bergdahl would be more than just a minor understatement. The response on social media was swift. The judge did not offer an explanation as to his reasoning but now that a couple of days have passed some reasonable analysis has come out and in the end there is probably some pretty strong judicial thought behind simply giving the former POW a dishonorable discharge, reduction in rank and fine. First, he was held in captivity in staggeringly brutal conditions by the Haqqani Network for five years, leaving permanent physical and mental damage that he will now not even be eligible for healthcare to treat since he is essentially not going to be a veteran on paper. Second, while there were serious injuries to U.S. service members during the search for Bergdahl, there is no evidence anyone was killed and it’s hard to say that there wouldn’t have been injuries in combat operations unrelated to his disappearance as this was the height of the war effort in Afghanistan. Third, you can’t ignore the damage that President Trump’s statements on the campaign trail calling Bergdahl a traitor and for his execution that he then repeated as Commander-in-Chief had an impact on Nance. The foundation of military justice is limited command influence on the process. When the top guy in the entire military chain-of-command demands a specific punishment for a service member that pressure on the jury or judge must be considered. There is a better than even chance at this point that Bergdahl will appeal this sentence based on Trump’s statements and may well get the whole thing thrown out. These are all facts. While uncomfortable it appears that Judge Nance attempted to thread a minefield of opinions to come to what he saw as a reasonable outcome. There is no question that Bergdahl’s decision to walk off his post was outrageously stupid and malicious. The questions that linger over all of this remain unanswered including how someone who was kicked out of the Coast Guard for mental health issues was recruited into the Army at all. The Army has not addressed that still and it needs to face it to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. –FPW

Everything But the Smell: How NatGeo Built an Iraqi City at Fort Hood
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck),
National Geographic’s new miniseries “The Long Road Home,” premiering tomorrow (Nov. 7), is many things – one being a heart-wrenching show about a supposed peacekeeping mission turned brutal ambush called “Black Sunday,” and another being a reminder to both the military and civilian community about the true cost of war. Filmed entirely at Fort Hood, the home base of the First Cavalry Division soldiers that fought in this battle on April 4, 2004, this set was “the largest working set in North America.” Aside from its impressive size, National Geographic was also able to create a set that bared an uncanny resemblance to Sadr City, which provided veterans and their family members a powerful and surprisingly therapeutic walk down memory lane. –AB

Tributes to ‘Black Sunday’ Vets at Premiere of ‘The Long Road Home’
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck),
First Cavalry Division soldiers from Fort Hood Texas experienced an ambush in April of 2004 in Sadr City, Iraq, which is now historically known as “Black Sunday.” What was supposed to be a peacekeeping mission turned into a heroic battle with deaths totaling to eight soldiers and more than 60 wounded. Based on Martha Raddatz’s New York Times Best-Seller, “The Long Road Home” will air on Nov. 7 on National Geographic as an eight-episode mini-series and replicates the genuine experiences of the soldiers in Sadr City along with the experiences of the families back on the home-front. On Oct. 27, National Geographic hosted a screening at Fort Hood where several of the soldiers, their family members and Gold Star Families from the April 4 attack were present. Several of the soldiers from the battle served as production consultants, and many of the actors playing the role of soldiers eventually grew a bond and friendship beyond the filming set. The actors, production team and National Geographic team had such a respect for soldiers and families, that telling the stories in an authentic yet accurate way was not just a goal, but a necessity. –DD

Poll: More than 90 percent of vets support medical marijuana research
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
A poll commissioned by the American Legion found 92 percent of veterans support research into medical marijuana and more than 80 percent support allowing doctors to prescribe it as treatment for veterans. According to this and other polls conducted more broadly, support for medical marijuana is growing among veterans and in the general public. At a press conference, Rep. Julia Brownley (D-Calif.) stated her support for legislation that would allow the VA to research medicinal marijuana and the potential it could have as a non-addictive substitute to opioid medication. Veterans Cannabis Project Executive Director Nick Etten noted that supporting marijuana research is supporting a better quality of life for veterans everywhere, while emphasizing the need for Congress’s swift action. –JG

Nat Geo’s Iraq War Series: Gritty, Authentic, And Army-Approved
James Clark (@JamesWClark), Task & Purpose
As National Geographic’s “The Long Road Home” has been gearing up for its premier on Tuesday, Nov. 7, exclusive screenings of the show have been popping up in key areas of the country. The most powerful and relevant location, bar-none, was at Fort Hood – the home base of the soldiers and families of the First Cavalry Division that fought in the now famous “Black Sunday” ambush. The show is not only being praised for its accuracy, but it’s also being admired and thanked for its dedication to “shattering stereotypes” and highlighting the effects of war on military families. –AB

How a wounded combat veteran and his wife struggled to make a family
William Brangham (@WmBrangham), PBS News Hour
Jason returned home after stepping on an explosive charge in Afghanistan that destroyed both his legs, most of his right arm and part of his left hand. When he and his wife Rachel wanted to start a family, they had to use in-vitro fertilization (IVF), a process which costs thousands of dollars and at the time wasn’t covered by the VA. James and Rachel became advocates to change the law, and this article documents through photos and video their journey through the IVF process and ultimately the birth of their children. Although Congress has temporarily authorized the VA to pay for IVF services for wounded veterans, the authorization has to be renewed every two years, and lawmakers are pushing a bill to allow the VA to cover IVF permanently. –RS

Court bars Trump on transgender troops policy
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
On Monday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia decided that President Donald Trump cannot force transgender service members out of the military. Although it is still in question whether transgender recruits can join the Armed Forces, this could mean that current active duty transgender troops may be able to resume their medical services while using their military health benefits. Many advocates for this change acknowledge the court’s decision as a significant win in their efforts to combat what they see as discriminatory policies from Trump’s administration. –CB

White House names November as veterans and military families month
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
On Wednesday, White House officials declared November as National Veterans and Military Families Month to honor service members for more than just Veterans Day. This announcement will launch month-long, veteran themed events sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Some VA events that are scheduled include several collaborations with NFL teams to visit veterans and a series of suicide prevention programs during the week of Nov. 13. –ML

The Few, The Proud, Women Marines Define Themselves
Elizabeth Chang (@ElizabethGChang), The Washington Post
Being a woman in the Marine Corps has never been easy and comes with many challenges. The stories and experiences of eight female Marines, some veterans and some active duty, shed light on how the Corps changed each of them individually. –CB

Honorably discharged veterans receive new benefits starting on Veterans Day
Claire Ballentine, The News & Observer
Beginning on Veterans Day, all honorably discharged service members will have the ability to buy discounted products at military exchanges through an expanded online shopping network. At certain stores, this was previously only available for active duty members, their dependents and veterans who retired with at least 20 years of service. The online network and stores sell anything you could find at a shopping mall and are similar to online sites for department stores like Macy’s. Prices will average about 20 percent lower than traditional retailers, are tax free and the profits from sales will go toward military quality-of-life programs such as Army Child Development Centers, Youth Programs and Fitness Centers and Air Force Outdoor Recreation. To participate in the exchange, veterans can go to and verify their eligibility. –RS

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.  

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness: Aviation Readiness: What’s the Flight Plan?
Who: Major General William Gayler, Commanding General, U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker, United States Army; Lieutenant General Chris Nowland, Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, United States Air Force, Headquarters, U.S. Air Force; Lieutenant General Steven Rudder, Deputy Commandant for Aviation, United States Marine Corps; Vice Admiral Mike Shoemaker, Commander, Naval Air Forces, United States Navy
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, November 9, 2017
Where: 2212 RHOB

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, November 06, 2017 7:09 pm

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