Veterans Roundup: Military Retirement Changes Actually Happening, VA Successfully Disciplining Employees Not Actually Happening

Posted by Fred Wellman

New Military Retirement Law Creates Big Decisions for Many Troops
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times
The military is adopting a new retirement system, similar to a 401(k) plan, for service members who join after January 1, 2018. But current service members are faced with a major financial decision: stick with the 20-year all-or-nothing system or adopt the new one. Retirees may also soon see a change to their benefits, including major hikes in their Tricare payments, if Congress adopts the Pentagon’s proposed budget for next year. –MC
Bottom line: Change is always hard and nowhere is it harder than in the U.S. military where more than 200 years of experience is rarely impeded by progress. But after the biggest change to the military retirement system since the all-volunteer force began, reviews are positive for the 401(k)-style system that will go into effect voluntarily for many service members and for all in the next two years. For those that stay 20 years, their benefits will be about 20% less that today’s retirees and all of this is contingent on sound choices by service members and a solid stock market. Financial readiness training is going to be imperative. Meanwhile today’s retirees face yet another “minor adjustment” to their benefits as the latest target of ‘modernization’ will be the Tricare healthcare system since DOD didn’t actually save any money with the retirement update. The new budget request includes significant increases in fees for retirees to pay for their healthcare and major changes to how they receive their care. –FPW

Poll: Most Women Oppose Registering for the Draft
Rebecca Kheel (@Rebecca_H_K), The Hill
A recent Rasmussen Reports poll shows that many women are opposed to registering for the draft, a topic that has arisen after Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s recent decision and efforts to open all combat positions to women. In contrast to the 52 percent of women who opposed, 61 percent of men said that they support requiring women to register. A group of lawmakers recently took up a new approach, introducing legislation to abolish the Selective Service System all together, although requiring women to register has been backed by many including Sen. John McCain. –MC
Bottom line: After years of relative dormancy, the draft debate has blown out to absurd proportions in the last week. There are now three competing legislative approaches in the Senate and the House that seek to a) require women to register for Selective Service; b) ban women from registering for Selective Service; and c) abolish Selective Service. New fault lines are being exposed, but because of a largely unrelated issue—the demand by service women that they be allowed to compete for combat positions in the military. Right now, our debates should be focused on how best to implement integration in the military—a real and pressing issue for each of the services with an April 1 deadline for implementation looming. Yet that is lost in the furor over a draft. Let’s be clear. Integration and registration are two separate issues, and should be treated as such, as was noted by Sen. Joni Ernst (R-AZ), the first female combat veteran elected to the Senate. Over 200,000 women who never registered for Selective Service serve in the military today. There are over two million women veterans who served without registering. Integrating combat units to let service women serve in any position for which they are qualified is the right thing to do for our immediate national defense. While a timely debate on changes to Selective Service is necessary as the roles of women in the military continue to expand, rushing legislation through Congress out of spite and disdain would be counterproductive to our national interests. Congress should slow its roll, and not rush through any hasty draft-related legislation. –BW

Tighter Limits on Appeal Rights of VA Execs Being Considered
Eric Yoder (@EricYoderWP), the Washington Post
A new plan in the works between Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs may further restrict VA executives from challenging disciplinary actions taken against them. The department recently had disciplinary actions of three senior executives overturned by the Merit Systems Protection Board, including one just last week. Although the VA has been under fire frequently by advocates and even our nation’s presidential candidates, Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said he hopes our next president will keep VA Secretary Bob McDonald in his role. Isakson noted that many of the major VA issues happened prior to McDonald’s appointment as Secretary.  –MC
Bottom line: The process of punishing VA executives has begun to reach ridiculous extremes. Every time the VA does punish an executive, a court seems to reject the punishment for not following the rule of law. Now we are debating a plan to severely restrict the ability of senior executives to appeal punishment in order to force out supposed evildoers within the VA. It seems like a solution that is likely to do as much harm as good, but the VA may not have a choice at this point but to go along with congressional sentiment. Thus far, the agency has proven itself relatively hamstrung in its attempts to punish those who give it a black eye and a bad reputation, which has fueled the desire of Congress to allow it to bypass the usual avenues for disciplining employees. That could change if the VA and Congress find mutual ground, as it will reduce the administration’s desire to intercede on behalf of VA employees, as it has in the past. At the same time, it is good to hear Sen. Isakson speak up for Secretary Bob, who still represents the best chance for reform to succeed within the VA in 2017 and beyond. –BW

Veterans Choice Program Hurting Some Vets’ Credit Scores
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
The Veterans Choice program, a Department of Veterans Affairs effort to allow veterans who live far from VA facilities to seek private care, has come under fire for hurting veterans credit scores. The VA reportedly paid less than 70 percent of claims to service providers within 30 days, either forcing veterans to pay bills out of pocket or having collections agencies come after them ultimately damaging their credit scores. –MC
Bottom line: In August 2014, Veterans Choice was signed into law with a mandate to send cards to every veteran and expand the availability of private health care across the VA system. It launched in November 2014 and, shockingly, it has not gone so smoothly. Veterans and doctors are complaining that the government is taking months to reimburse fees for services. For veterans on a limited budget and cannot afford the services, the fees go unpaid and their credit score takes a hit. For others, it’s an inconvenience that shouldn’t have happened in the first place. VA spending on private care will have almost tripled from 2012 to 2017, but the logistics that support that spending aren’t catching up. Yet, increasing this reliance on private care is what many Republican presidential candidates are suggesting as a way to “fix” the VA. Rather, as many advocates and even lawmakers admit, most veterans love the care they receive from the VA. It’s access that’s the issue. Perhaps rather than turning VA into an accounts payable department—which doesn’t seem to be working either—let’s help VA do what it does better: serve veterans. –LJ

House Passes Flurry of Veterans Bills, Bigger Deal Could be Looming
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
The House passed nine measures affecting veterans last Tuesday on topics ranging from health care, employment, and education. Although the legislation will need to make its way through the Senate to become law, one item that would cut in half the housing stipend of troops’ children using GI Bill benefits has caused controversy. Other items passed included boosting efforts to prevent service women’s suicide and efforts to increase oversight on VA construction projects. –MC
Bottom line: It is always good to see Congress doing, well, something so we must give the House kudos for taking action on some important issues like the tragically high rate of female veterans committing suicide vice civilian women and fixes that will ensure veterans are using their GI Bill at higher quality schools. The shocker in here was the bill that cuts in half military children’s housing stipends. Typically, advocates are up in arms about any pecking away at benefits. But we’ve seen in the last year that those fights have usually gone the administration’s way—think retirement, commissaries, etc. Of course, when the MCRMC made its recommendations, it said get rid of the housing stipend for children altogether, so in some ways this could be seen as a win. We expect advocates will work behind the scenes on this one, though with a Senate fight over SCOTUS nominations in the making, it may be a while before any bills see floor action in that chamber. –LJ

Panel to VA: Stop Studying Causes of Gulf War Illnesses, Focus on Treatment
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
A research panel from the Institute of Medicine said in a report released Thursday that efforts and resources towards investigating the causes of Gulf War Illness would have greater impact if redirected towards treatment and personalized care. The report states this is due to nature of quantifying individuals’ exposure to various toxins during their deployment in ways that make sense. Many advocates for research into Gulf War illnesses say the report is bias in favor of VA’s policies on the matter and want a more independent review. –JG
Bottom line: The latest attempt by the Institute of Medicine to define Gulf War Syndrome for veterans and how to treat them by the VA has once again offered controversial results that seem to satisfy few advocates. This one essentially only confirms that PTSD is a result of the Gulf War and pretty much everything else that roughly a quarter of the over 600,000 veterans complain of isn’t necessarily a result of service in the war. Instead the IOM recommends that VA track individual veterans and treat their illnesses as stand alone sicknesses. The answers simply aren’t easy here. Conflicting studies and anecdotal evidence claims such wide-ranging illnesses as ALS and brain cancer are due to exposure to toxins and chemical weapons in the short war. In the end it’s likely the fight over the ailments and struggles of the veterans who suffer them will continue for years to come. –FPW

Vet Center Initiative: Creating a Space for Student Veterans
John Mamaril
Southeast Community College in Milford, NE was a recipient of a $10,000 grant to build an on-campus center for their student veterans, made possible by a partnership between The Home Depot Foundation and Student Veterans of America. The grant allowed the Southeast Community College to make improvements that brought the campus community together to beter support student veterans. Applications for the 2016 Student Veterans of America Vet Center Initiative grants are now open, learn more and apply here! –JG

Myths, Misconceptions, and Mistakes: The Wounded Warrior Project
Jacob Harold (@jacobcharold), GuideStar
Jacob Harold, the chief executive of GuideStar, published an eye-opening blog last week about recent false accusations made against the Wounded Warrior Project. Harold discusses misconceptions about nonprofit work often made that ultimately hurt the entire nonprofit industry. In short, all spending at nonprofits is spending on the mission. We recommend you check out the piece, and if you want to get our take on the issue, our CEO Fred Wellman, provided a helpful analysis in the 251st Scout Report. –MC

Job Fair at Camp Pendleton
Linda McIntosh (@sdutmcintosh), The San Diego Union-Tribune
Many military spouses in the Camp Pendleton area are gearing up to attend the Hiring Our Heroes Networking Reception and Hiring Fair scheduled for this week. Hiring Our Heroes is fighting daily against veteran and military spouse unemployment and underemployement. If you are interested in the events coming to Camp Pendleton this week or to see when a hiring fair is coming to a city near you visit their website! –JG
Other Coverage:
Military Spouse Job Fair at JBLM
Peter Haley (@Peter_C_Haley), The News Tribune
A Good Day for Job Offers, Benefits Help
The American Legion
Hiring Our Heroes Hosts Veteran Job Fair in St. Paul
Jennie Lissarrague (@JennieJoy), KSTP

Quick Hits:

With Exoskeletons, Paralyzed Troops Walk Again
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Marine Cpl. Joshua Burch, paralyzed from the chest down after an accident while stationed in Guam, was able to take his first steps with the assistance of an exoskeleton suit. The suit is able to support his weight and posture, and operates on the leaning and movement of his body to help him take steps forward. Not all paraplegics are able to walk with apparatus like this due to differing levels in muscle mass and bone density, but it’s great to see this type of technology in development. –JG

After Being Punished for His Suicide Attempt, a US Veteran is Fighting for Others with PTSD
Liz Fields (@lianzifields), Vice
Kris Goldsmith attempted suicide in 2007 just days before heading to Iraq for a second tour and is now facing repercussions for missing his plane to the Middle East while in recovery. As he appeals his general discharge, he is also working to raise awareness of the Veterans Fairness Act, which would protect veterans with post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury from receiving unwarranted less than honorable discharges. –MC

Best for Vets: Business Schools 2016 – Our 4th Annual Ranking of Graduate Degrees
Charlsy Panzino (@charlsypanzino) and George Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times
Last week, Military Times released its 77 Best For Vets: Business Schools of 2016 rankings. University of Nebraska at Omaha College of Business Administration was named the top business school for veterans, and Syracuse University’s Whitman School of Management (a major partner and supporter of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families) didn’t fall far behind. We recommend you check out this article to learn about the top schools for veterans studying business, and the in depth research behind these rankings. –MC

Why the VA’s New Tune about Services for Homeless Vets is Music to My Ears
Steve Peck (@StephenPeck11), Huffington Post
Stephen Peck, President and CEO of U.S. VETS, shared his view on VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s new efforts and mentality on ending veteran homelessness. Both McDonald and Peck know that shelter alone does not end the problem of veteran homelessness. –MC

 Tradeshows & Conferences

American Legion Auxiliary: 2016 Conference (Sun – Wed, 21 – 24 February); Hilton Washington, Washington, DC

Disabled American Veterans: 2016 Mid-Winter Conference (Sun – Wed, 21 – 24 February); Crystal Gateway Marriott, Arlington, VA

Congressional Hearings


Veterans Affairs: Field hearing: Best Practices in Veteran Hiring When: 10:00 AM, Friday, February 19, 2015 Where: Anderson Township Civic Center, 7850 Five Mile Road Cincinnati, OH 45230

Think Tanks & Other Events

RAND Corporation: Congressional Briefing: Meeting the Health Care Needs of Veterans Who: Carrie Farmer, Senior Policy Researcher and Associate Director, Behavioral and Policy Sciences Department, RAND, Susan Hosek, Senior Economist, RAND When: 12:00 PM, Thursday, February 18, 2016 Where: B-338 Rayburn

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 Tuesday, February 16, 2016 10:09 am

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