Veterans Roundup: New Ideas for Veterans Health Care, Shockingly Low Usage of Veterans Choice Cards, Manufactured Furor over McDonald SF Claims

Posted by Fred Wellman

Advocacy Groups Split Over Proposed Tricare Reforms
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. Leaders of the nation’s major military advocacy groups are understandably split over the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s recommendation to move drilling reservists, military families, and retirees under 65 to a commercial healthcare insurance program. The proposal throws the weight of the military’s healthcare monies behind those actively contributing on a day-to-day basis to the nation’s defense, and shifts the military’s Tricare commitment away from the other elements of the military “family.” During Hill testimony, the groups that testified welcomed the proposal as a conversation-starter, and then proceeded to offer a predictable variety of nuanced and noncommittal responses to the proposal. Any eventual course forward that some or all of the advocacy groups endorse is going to be hashed out away from the glare of the committee spotlights, so the public hearings were a chance to put an early stake in the ground. This conversation–like others jumpstarted by the MCRMC–is far from over. –BW

Conservative Veterans Group Proposes Privatized Health Care
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. On Thursday, at the same time Congress was hearing from the VA about low utilization of the Veterans Choice program, Concerned Veterans of America was laying out a plan to revolutionize VA health care by breaking apart the current bureaucracy and introducing more private health care options. Unsurprisingly, the VA “swiftly rejected” the plan and many major veteran service organizations also came out against the plan. It’s a tough sell even when there is bi-partisan agreement that access to VA health care is a major challenge because veterans overwhelmingly like the specialized care they receive from the VA. The Veterans Choice program was intended to give veterans access to non-VA care if they meet certain requirements such as living more than 40 miles from a VA facility or long wait times, but to date only 44 veterans (yes, 44 veterans nationwide) have used outside care because of the 40 mile distance. The CVA proposal is different from the Choice program in many fundamental ways, but the fundamental shift is one away from specialized VA care—an idea that so far very, very few veterans have embraced. –LJ

VA Chief Apologizes for Special Forces Claim
Martin Matishak (@martinmatishak), The Hill. It was a week of silly when the Huffington Post’s David Wood posted a story highlighting that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald had claimed to have served with the Special Forces during the point in time count of homeless veterans in LA last month. The brief conversation was caught on camera by a TV crew accompanying him but went unnoticed until Wood’s piece was published. This of course kicked in the ‘veteran anger machine’ as many piled on to condemn him for a “stolen valor” episode. Unfortunately, with three weeks of work Wood could not find a single other instance anywhere of such a claim by McDonald and the video clearly appears as if he was simply trying to bond with a homeless veteran who claimed to be former Special Forces himself. McDonald acted immediately to apologize publicly and repeatedly throughout the day and beyond leaving the issue somewhat less controversial than it appeared it might play out to be. ScoutComms client the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans issued a statement supporting the secretary as did many other veterans organizations. ScoutComms also believes that McDonald wasn’t seeking to glorify himself but simply misspoke while trying to connect with a homeless veteran. As Jon Stewart put it so eloquently – the real moral outrage about the incident should be surrounding the fact there is a homeless Special Forces veteran and not the awkward attempt at trying to bond with him. –FPW

Top Enlisted Personnel: Protect Family Programs
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. The senior enlisted advisors for the services held their annual hearings with the Congress this week and each highlighted the need to protect key programs that support military families. In the wake of the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission recommendations there is a major focus on adjustments being made to the many benefits for military members and retirees. Just like the entire issue of “taking care of the troops” this is another example of where you sit defines what that means to you. In this case the senior enlisted members appear to see it as preserving the strong programs like affordable daycare, healthcare, commissaries, and other efforts that ensure deployed servicemembers don’t have to worry about their families at home. It’s really a remarkably schizophrenic message coming from the services. While the enlisted advisors fight for preserving funding for programs their bosses are arguing for adjustments of retirement, commissaries, and Tricare to save money for training and more weapons systems. So, who is taking care of the troops? All of them clearly are but they are all leaving retirees off the lists of things we must take care of. All of the service leaders and DoD agree on thing…it’s the retirees that are weighing down the whole thing so as everyone talks about grandfathering and adjustments to future troops only, we have to keep one eye on the fact that none of those changes save any money today. Taking care of the troops generally doesn’t mean those who retired too. –FPW 

Whistleblowers: Veterans Cheated Out of Benefits
Wyatt Andrews (@WyattCBS), CBS News. Here is a story that unintentionally supports VA’s plan to end the informal claims process. Whistleblowers at the Oakland VA say more than 13,000 veterans’ informal claims made between 1996 and 2009 were mismanaged, ignored, or lost until 2012. Currently (and until March 24), veterans can write an intention to file a claim on a napkin (okay, maybe real paper) and send it to the VA to put an earlier start date on their benefits once a full application has been filed adjudicated. The VA is then supposed to follow up with a paper application for the veteran to fill out. For at least one veteran, Wayne Stafford, the discovery of his informal claim made in 2004 came too late—his decision letter arrived after he passed away. Veteran service organizations like the American Legion are staunch advocates for the informal claims process and the way it allows veterans without immediate access to a VA facility or online applications to establish the effective date for their benefits. The VFW and DAV argue that doing away with the informal claims process will unfairly impact older veterans and those suffering from TBI. If these advocates want the VA to keep the process, one it has proven ineffective at handling in the past, they need to make funding for labor and accountability a legislative priority. –LJ

‘American Sniper’ Trial Likely to Increase Stigma of PTSD
Rick Jervis (@MrRJervis), USA Today. When former Marine Eddie Ray Routh was convicted last week of murdering “American Sniper” Chris Kyle, the jury chose to overlook his attorneys’ assertion that PTSD was both the reason and excuse for his actions. Some worry that the use of PTSD as a defense in such a high-profile trial will increase the stigma of PTSD, but there is nothing to be done except to move on from the trial, and continue to educate the public what PTSD (or PTS, as some veterans and mental health advocates prefer to call it) is and what it is not. If one looked hard enough, this same storyline about misuse of a mental health defense would likely show up dozens of times in regards to the oft-used “insanity” plea. While Routh’s time in the public eye is coming to an end, Kyle’s posthumous fame continues, with the movie “American Sniper” on track to become the highest-grossing movie of the last year. In the meantime, some Members of Congress are trying to win partisan political points off of Kyle’s legacy by legislating a Medal of Honor for him. We hope that the legislation–which is less about Kyle’s heroism than about Bradley Cooper’s box office numbers–is quietly and gracefully retired before it can become a political litmus test for Congressional “patriotism.” –BW

Quick Hits:

Boots on the Ground: ROTC at Harvard
Andrew M. Duehren and Emma K. Talkoff, The Crimson. Last week, an article in The Crimson highlighted the challenges of reintegrating ROTC programs at Harvard University, one of the nation’s top universities. The article delves deep into the past of U.S. military presence at Harvard and some of the challenges cadets face on campus. –MC

Army Veteran’s Guilt Over Surviving Iraq is a Wound that Won’t Heal
Alan Zarembo (@AlanZarembo), The Los Angeles Times. Last week, Alan Zarembo delved into the topic of survivor guilt through the story of Arvin Reyes who served in Iraq and felt a guilt so strong that he thought he killed his comrade in arms himself. Survivor guilt is said to be common among some individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder. This article is worth your time to read. –MC

This is the Longest Without a U.S. Military Combat-Zone Death Since 9/11
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post. Last Wednesday marked 75 days since a U.S. service member was killed in combat, the longest length of time since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. As Congress and military leaders discuss a new authorization of military force, this number and the memories of those we have lost may play a role in the decision process. –MC

The First Task After War Should be Fostering Veteran Innovators and Entrepreneurs
Vivian Greentree for Task & Purpose. Vivian Greentree, Senior Vice President and Head of Military and Veteran Affairs at First Data, writes that our nation’s veterans have great potential as innovators and entrepreneurs. Greentree reflects on her transition from the military to a civilian career and speaks to entrepreneurship initiatives from first-hand experience. First Data last month announced a $7 million commitment to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to help provide entrepreneurship training and opportunities for transitioning service members, veterans, and military families who plan on entering the business community. –MC

Battaglia Explains Importance of Financial Security
Amaani Lyle, DoD News, Defense Media Activity. Senior Enlisted Advisor to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Sgt. Maj. Bryan Battaglia recognized the importance of financial literacy among military families last month, in observance of Military Saves Week. Battaglia had his own financial challenges as a young Marine and suggests troops use the programs and advisors the Defense Department provides to learn how to avoid predatory lenders and prevent falling into debt. –MC

Op-Ed: As Service Members Return Home, Say ‘Yes’ to Hiring a Veteran
Maureen Casey for Yahoo! Finance. Maureen Casey, JP Morgan Chase & Co.’s head of Military and Veterans Affairs, argued last week that although unemployment for veterans has improved over the past few years, there is still a need for private companies to recruit, hire, and retain veterans. Programs like the 100,000 Jobs Mission, which has achieved overwhelming success, serve as an example to veteran-hiring efforts and companies who see veteran talent as a smart business decision. –MC

Love a Man in Uniform? Online Dating Scammers Hope so.
John Kelly (@JohnKelly), The Washington Post. A new breed of scammers have been using service members’ photographs and information to create fake profiles and prey on women who use online dating websites. This practice has become so popular that the military has made specific efforts to monitor for abuse. So folks, remember PERSEC when you’re posting your photos or using online dating! –MC

Opinion: Help Vets Extend Service Through Business
Frank Bisignano and Mike Haynie (@DrMikeHaynie) for Military Times. Veterans and servicemembers are natural entrepreneurs who equipped with the required skills thanks to their military training. As veterans leave the service, many are turning to entrepreneurship and veteran entrepreneurs now account for 13.5 percent of American small businesses. Becoming entrepreneurs allows veterans a way to give back by creating economic stability for themselves and the nation. For these reasons, First Data and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families are working together to expand training for vetrepreneurs and encouraging collaboration among the public and private sectors to achieve a common goal. –MC

Home Depot Volunteers Fix Up K9 Soldiers HQ
Rick Epstein, Hunterdon County Democrat. Last week, more than 50 Home Depot volunteers pitched in to fix up the headquarters of K9s Soldiers Inc. which also happens to be the home of J.T. Gabriel, the nonprofit’s founder. The team reframed closets, painted walls, and helped install a new ceiling. K9s Soldiers Inc. is a nonprofit that trains service dogs and is now equipped with a space to better help them to achieve their mission. –MC

Home Depot Manager Honored
KTVH Helena/KGBF Great Falls. Sandy Gast, the store manager of The Home Depot in Helena, Montana, was honored for her support of our nation’s veterans. Gast worked to hire veterans through a partnership with Volunteers of America-North Rockies, an organization providing services to homeless veterans in the Helena area. This local partnership is one small part of The Home Depot’s vast support of veterans and military families. –MC

ScoutComms in the news:

D.C. Can Get Help on Homelessness
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner) for the Washington Post. Our own Brian Wagner wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post on Washington DC’s efforts to get homeless veterans off the street. Brian notes that DC is more than a third of the way toward ending veteran homelessness, but recognizes the unique challenges the city faces in its efforts. We hope you will take the time to read his piece and recommendations for our nation’s capital. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

AMVETS NEC/SILVER HELMET (Wed-Sun, 4-8 March); Hilton Alexan­dria Mark Cen­ter, Alexandria, VA

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our Events page.

Congressional Hearings


Veterans Affairs: Legislative Presentation of Veterans of Foreign Wars Who: John W. Stroud, Commander in Chief, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Bill Bradshaw, Director, National Veterans Service, Bob Wallace, Executive Director, Washington, DC, Office, Ray Kelley, Director, National Legislative Service, Gil Hernandez, Chairman, National Legislative Committee When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 4, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans Affairs: to receive the Legislative Presentation of Multiple Veterans Service Organizations (AMVETS, PVA, MOAA, MOPH, IAVA, VVA, BVA and NCOA) When: 10:00 AM, March 5, 2015 Where: 345 Cannon


Appropriations: Installations, Environment, Energy, and BRAC Who: John Conger, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense, The Honorable Katherine Hammack, Assistant Secretary of the Army, The Honorable Dennis V. McGinn, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, The Honorable Miranda Ballentine, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, March 3, 2015 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Appropriations: Department of Veterans Affairs Who: The Honorable Robert A. McDonald, Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs, Carolyn M. Clancy, Interim Under Secretary for Health, Department of Veterans Affairs, Allison A. Hickey, Under Secretary for Benefits, Department of Veterans Affairs, Stephen W. Warren, Executive in Charge for Information and Technology, Department of Veterans Affairs, Helen Tierney, Assistant Secretary for Management and Chief Financial Officer, Department of Veterans Affairs, Ronald E. Walters, Interim Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs When: 9:30 AM, Wednesday, March 4, 2014 Where: 140 Capitol

Armed Services: U.S. Policy, Strategy, and Posture in Afghanistan: Post-2014 Transition, Risks, and Lessons Learned Who: General John Campbell, USA, Commander of Operation Resolute Support and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 4, 2015 Where: 2118 Rayburn


Armed Services: Review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program Who: The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Defense, General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff When: 2:30 PM, Tuesday, March 3, 2015 Where: 216 Hart

Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel: Active, Guard, Reserve and Civilian Personnel Programs Who: The Honorable Jessica L. Wright, Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, The Honorable Jonathan A. Woodson, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, Ms. Stephanie A. Barna, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness and Force Management, Mr. Richard O. Wightman, Jr., Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs When: 2:30 PM, March 4, 2015 Where: 232 Russell

Armed Services: Postures of the Department of the Army and the Department of the Air Force Who: The Honorable John M. McHugh, Secretary of the Army, The Honorable Deborah Lee James, Secretary of the Air Force, General Raymond T. Odierno, USA, Chief of Staff of the Army, General Mark A. Welsh III, USAF, Chief of Staff of the Air Force When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, March 5, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen

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, March 02, 2015 3:44 pm

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