Veterans Roundup: Pandemics, Suspended Schools, Burn Pits, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA is a last line of defense in the US against national medical emergencies like pandemics
Connecting Vets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has 141 medical centers and more than 1,000 clinics nationwide. But, as reported by Abbie Bennett in this article, not many people know that VA is also expected to serve as a last line of defense in national emergencies. What exactly does this mean? In times of natural disaster, the VA was chosen as “a backup to the Department of Defense medical care system and the Public Health Service and the National Disaster Medical System in times of natural and technological disasters,” according to a National Health Policy Forum report in 1998. According to VA’s national emergency management plan, the healthcare system is tasked with supporting “our nation’s communities affected by nationally-declared disasters.” In a nutshell, this means that the VA will widen its service reach as capacity runs out in other healthcare systems. In situations that will require an “all hands on deck” approach, like a pandemic, I for one am glad we have the VA for added community-wide support. For all you “socialized-medicine” naysayers, maybe this will widen your perspective a bit on the important service that this kind of system provides our country. For those who are living under rocks, which is probably better for your mental health than living in this chaotic space of virtual overload and having to dig through a bazillion messages a day wondering what is misinformation or fake news, on Wednesday the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic. That to me was a prominent signal that, if you weren’t already taking this seriously, now is the time to get your ducks in a row. That doesn’t mean it is time panic, but that does mean it is definitely time to do your due diligence and get prepared. This is not just for a likely chance of catching the virus, but for other systemic symptoms that this global crisis will continue to throw at us, like business closings, shortages in services and goods and probably a level of discomfort many of us first worlder’s aren’t really used to. You might be sick of hearing this, but it really is important to take some additional steps during this time by following the guidelines posted by the Center for Disease Control here.  I want to end with a positive note, so look on the bright side. If you are able to work from home now, you might have a little more time to watch Netflix and chill. Oh. My millennial coworker just informed me what that actually means. Have fun! – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

VA suspends GI Bill certifications for five universities over deceptive enrollment practices
Military Times, Dylan Gresik and Leo Shane III (@dylangresik and @leoshane)

In a stunning turn of events this week, the Department of Veterans Affairs suspended educational benefits for new students at five universities that have long struggled under accusations of targeting military and veteran students and successful student outcomes. In an email to congressional offices, the VA stated that the suspension against University of Phoenix, Colorado Technical University, American InterContinental University, Bellevue University and Temple University was initiated due to their “erroneous, deceptive, or misleading” enrollment practices, and that they are in violation of U.S. law. This applies to both in residence and online enrollments, effective May 9, 2020. It was an unexpected turn of events after years of complaints by veterans advocates that the schools were using deceptive marketing practices to entice GI Bill and Tuition Assistance funded students. VA does say the schools can get their authorizations back if they provide evidence this is not the case, but this puts many students’ lives in turmoil who were using the schools, although the action is only for new enrollments. Veteran advocacy organizations like Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) and Student Veterans of America sprung into action to help students affected, but supported the action. All of the schools have had varying challenges with false advertising over the years and Temple was accused in Pennsylvania of falsifying data to make a list of best business schools. In the meantime, VA is suggesting that any students considering attending these universities should contact the department’s Educational Call Center at 888-442-4551. The universities have responded with various means to defend their positions with all stating they believe they will be reinstated in due time. We are simple folks here. Go to a good school, use those benefits carefully and make sure they lead to a successful career after all of that hard work. – Fred Wellman, Founder and CEO of ScoutComms

Veterans Are Working, but Not in Jobs That Match Their Advanced Training
The New York Times, Jennifer Steinhauer (@jestei)

Underemployment is one of the most significant challenges faced by transitioning veterans, who face issues with “converting skills gained in wars to private-sector jobs” in addition to “a lack of strong professional networks and a culture of treating veterans as charity cases.” Without college degrees or industry certifications, veterans are often shepherded towards low-skill careers, which Congress has recently attempted to address by passing an authorization for the military to explore a credentialing partnership between Special Operations forces and the private sector. Joan Lynch, the chief content and programming officer at Working Nation, a nonprofit focusing on American labor, commented that “good companies are getting smart about the training” of the veteran workforce. 

What’s killing Staff Sergeant Wesley Black? The VA doesn’t want to talk about it
CNN, Brianna Keilar (@brikeilarcnn) and Catherine Valentine

In a recent survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, 86% of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan after 9/11 reported that they were exposed to burn pits during their periods of service. Fueled by known carcinogens diesel and jet fuel, the pits operated “around the clock, churning out acrid, black smoke” as they burned everything from “Soviet-built Afghan airplanes” to unexploded ordnance. Retired General David Petraeus commented that, “It was pretty clear that the fumes from these burn pits were potentially serious in their effects over time.” To date, over 50,000 veterans, including retired Staff Sergeant Wesley Black, have registered with the Burn Pit Registry, but toxic exposure has been a deadly issue for veterans since the Vietnam War and even earlier. Still, the VA “refused to answer…questions about how burn pit data is collected and analyzed and how the exposure affects service-related illnesses,” and, “denies that burn pit exposure is harmful.” Petraeus said, “We’ve been slow coming to the understanding of what a problem this is…and it’s taken us too long to recognize even the potential implications of this.” For more information on veterans and toxic exposure, check out ScoutInsight’s analysis of the issue here

Military spouses and the absentee ballot: adapt and overcome, Rebecca Alwine (@rebecca_alwine)

For military spouses who are not registered to vote in the state that they are currently residing in, or for those overseas, absentee voting is the only viable option when it comes to participating this election year. The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) does provide assistance, though the process is still difficult for many. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson is currently fighting to modernize legislation in order to offer a more secure system for military members overseas, as well as extending this legislation to military spouses overseas. She has stated that recent legislation has vastly excluded military spouses, which then treats their votes and voices as if they are less valuable than the military members. Homefront Rising, a non-profit initiative, is focusing on encouraging military spouses to continue to get more involved in the political process, educating them on the voting initiatives and legislation. 

VA proposes new rules for delayed caregiver support program
Stars and Stripes, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

New rules for the VA’s caregiver support program have been proposed, bringing the program one step closer to expanding lawful benefits to caregivers after months of delays. The VA Mission Act, approved in 2018, stated that benefits needed to be expanded to caregivers of veterans from the Gulf War and Vietnam War eras. The new rules recently outlined are “an important step to correct long standing injustice.” The public will have 60 days to provide feedback on the 200 page outline. The VA is feeling confident that the program will be updated by the summer, though concerns of the deadline being pushed back again is likely. Many of the changes proposed in the outline will take a long time to look over and assess how they will be implemented into the program. One of these changes is that veterans with any service-connected disability should be included as eligible for caregiver support. Currently, the program specifies that only injured veterans are qualified for this support. Disabled American Veterans has been advocating for the expansion of the program for a while, and are adamant that this change will eliminate uncertainty and confusion about who is eligible for this critical support.

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of 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 16, 2020 1:24 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation