Veterans Roundup: Pentagon Looks to Cultural Shift Military, Veteran Patients Put at Risk, Fight Over Aid to Help Homeless Vets and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Meet The Man Behind The Site That Makes The Military Laugh
Eric Dehm (@EricDehm), ConnectingVets
For many, transitioning to civilian life after leaving the Marine Corps can be tough, and Paul Szoldra is no exception. An enlisted Marine Corps veteran, Szoldra at one point even considered entering Army ROTC in college, but then had the opportunity to interview with the Military Times where he discussed his idea for a website: This website included a humor section written by Szoldra, which you now know as Duffel Blog. Duffel Blog continues its success in making people laugh with satirical stories about military life, current events and a strange worship of General Mattis.. To hear more about Szoldra’s journey and success, you can listen to the full interview in the article. –SM
Bottom line: I stumbled onto one of the first Duffel Blog stories about an Army lieutenant getting a medal for not getting lost and had to search the About section to find the very clearly stated fact that everything on the site is fake. In spite of that, it often causes headaches for public affairs officials and others like the flood of phone calls and angry letters sent to Congress after Szoldra published a piece saying Guantanamo Bay prisoners would be given full GI Bill benefits. Paul left his job at Business Insider to grow his endeavor under the banner of Duffel Media and the next year will bring some very cool new things that you should watch this space to learn more about. In the meantime, we regularly run into people who haven’t discovered Duffel Blog and all we can say is…really? –FPW

Pentagon leaders looking to make cultural shift in the military
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
Recently sworn-in Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Robert Wilkie, is looking to make major changes. Wilkie is critical of both the constant moves required by military families due to frequent changes in duty stations, as well as the “up or out” policy that pushes troops out who don’t obtain certain promotions. Wilkie said the outdated “industrial age system” requires troops to move their families every few years, causing a multitude of stressors as well as tremendous expenditures by the Dept. of Defense. Additionally, when the current system was established, only 10 percent of troops had families, and now approximately 70 percent do. Wilkie, a Fort Bragg native, said that Fort Bragg and other installations are being considered as potential long-term duty stations. In addition to reducing the number of moves required by service members and their families, the military is also contemplating overhauls in health care, childcare and other support roles, with Wilkie noting that utilizing a volunteer force means considering family needs: “The families have a much stronger vote today,” he said. “If the families aren’t happy, the soldier walks.” –KG
Bottom line: Robert Wilkie appears to be leaning-in on some of the more pressing issues faced by military families. He comes into his new role as Undersecretary of Defense for Personal and Readiness (P&R) after the role was filled by acting undersecretaries for the past three rotations. It is heartening to see an Undersecretary take the issues of military families so seriously. Between constant PCS moves, childcare issues and healthcare, the P&R portfolio is an immense undertaking, but one that deserves attention. While the military lifestyle will likely never be easy or comparable in stability to civilian peers, identifying areas in which the Pentagon is able to make small, but heavy-hitting adjustments could vastly improve things like service member retention, military spouse employment and academic achievements for military children. “Homesteading” has long been bandied about in the discussion of strengthening military families and is one such way that the military could improve outcomes for service members and families. Allowing troops to stay at duty stations longer than the standard two or three-year assignment opens opportunities for families to build essential social support structures outside of the traditional military community. I know I’m a broken record on these issues, but it is impossible to disconnect matters of national security from matters of military families. Recruitment and retention depends on a family unit that isn’t just surviving, but thriving. There’s a long way to go before thriving is the standard, but my hope is that Undersecretary Wilkie will work to lower just a few of the burdens that military families are facing. –RB

At Veterans Hospital in Oregon, a Push for Better Ratings Puts Patients at Risk, Doctors Say
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), The New York Times
At the rural VA hospital in Roseburg, Oregon, the facility’s administration has taken to improve their poor performance rating by decreasing the number of patients they admit to their facility, even when it directly contradicts the recommended patient care by doctors and nurses. Take the case of Walter Savage, an 81-year-old Air Force veteran who sought care at their facility after a fall that broke his ribs, who was turned away. Luckily, he came back the next day and a doctor admitted him, going against what the administration team advised. Not even a day later administration moved Savage out of their facility and into a nursing home. While the implementation of these practices at Roseburg’s VA facility has increased their overall rating with the VA, veteran advocates as well as VA primary care providers are extremely troubled by management practices that disguise poor healthcare performance. ­–JG
Bottom Line: The case of Walter Savage and the rural VA hospital in Roseburg, Oregon likely reflects a much larger flaw in the VA’s grading system for medical facilities, which was implemented about four years ago, and is based on 110 performance indicators. Under the current system, hospital directors earn bonuses when performance scores improve. What the Roseburg facility appears to have done is manipulate their admitting practices in a variety of ways, in order to minimize their risk and improve their score. These actions not only have real consequences in the lives of these veterans seeking care, but bring into question the ethics of incentivizing health care as a way to improve quality. Two quotes in this piece stand out in particular, and perfectly frame the issue as I see it. The emergency room doctors all signed a letter responding to the New York Times wrote, “When we voice concern that a process is dangerous and not good for patient care, we are met with the response that ‘this is what the director wants.’” The other is from Walter Savage himself: “I’ve laid my life on the line, two years in Vietnam, and this is what I get?” The hospital of course denies manipulating data, and Secretary Shulkin wants to be able to make data-driven decisions for long-term planning, but the biggest questions seem to be, how is the current bonus structure impacting patient care, and are these practices happening at other facilities?  –CB

Fresh Fight Looms Over Aid to Homeless Veterans
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), The Wall Street Journal
Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is pursuing cuts to funding for a joint housing subsidy program between the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD distributes housing vouchers to homeless veterans, while the VA assigns caseworkers to offer support to the veterans receiving vouchers. Although the program has been in existence for decades, it saw rapid growth under the Obama administration, with the VA’s portion of the budget ballooning from $5 million in 2008 to $500 million in 2016. In response, veteran homelessness dropped by 45 percent from 2009-2016, but with a notable 2 percent increase in 2017. While Shulkin’s plan will likely be met with some resistance, he remains adamant that the overall budget for addressing veteran homelessness has increased – it is just a matter of determining how the funds should best be allocated. –KG
Bottom line: We have supported advocates for homeless veterans since the earliest days of ScoutComms, namely the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans at The Home Depot Foundation. We’ve seen the impact of increased funding for both the services and programs for homeless veterans as well as for the technical and strategic work that allows service providers to enrich and refine those programs to adapt to changing needs. For years, leaders in the community have warned that a point would be reached where only the hardest, most intractable cases of homelessness would remain. These cases are complex and may require more resources. Now is not the time to pull back those resources, but rather to reassess what’s working and how to improve what isn’t. Pulling advocates attention away from those tasks in order to fight over limited resources will divert their work and end up costing more over the long term. –LJ

Army general’s promotion pulled after calling congressional staffer ‘sweetheart’
John Vandiver (@john_vandiver), Stars and Stripes
Days after Maj. Gen. Ryan Gonsalves was up for promotion for a third star, an anonymous complaint was filed against him for previously making “sexist, inappropriate and unprofessional” remarks to a congressional staffer last fall 2016. The Army Inspector General’s investigation found that Gonsalves violated policy by referring to the congressional staffer as “sweetheart” and making sarcastic comments towards the staffer. The report against Maj. Gen. Gonsalves also claimed that he made unprofessional remarks about the staffer’s age and her affiliated political party. Some statements from those present at the October 2016 meeting differ, however, on Nov. 27, 2017 Gonsalves’ third star nomination was withdrawn. –DD
Bottom line: The anonymous complaint stated that during an October 2016 meeting Maj. Gen. Gonsalves made patronizing remarks regarding a female staffer’s age and chastised the political affiliation of the member for whom she was employed. The IG report took into account testimonies from 10 other individuals who attended the meeting in 2016, and a male staffer described the exchange as “sexist, inappropriate and unprofessional.” While MG Gonsalves denies referring to the female staffer as “sweetheart,” the investigation concluded that Gonsalves violated Army Command Policy, which requires treating others with “dignity and respect.” –CB

Wasting money? Most new recruits pay $1,200 for lesser education benefit
Natalie Gross (ByNatalieGross), Military Times
With the implementation of the post-9/11 GI Bill and later passage of the Forever GI Bill, fewer and fewer service members are finding that Montgomery GI Bill, an alternative education benefit is the benefit that best suits their needs. Recent data shows 70 percent of all recruits still pay $1,200 to enroll in the Montgomery GI Bill instead of opting out and solely participating in the Post 9/11 GI Bill that requires no paycheck deduction. Service members spent nearly $134 million buying into Montgomery GI Bill last year. Capt. Kate Atanasoff, spokeswoman for the Air Force, says that they are working to revise GI Bill benefits training for their airmen to ensure there is clarity for troops on the differences in the benefit programs. SVA Vice President of Government Affairs, Will Hubbard, suggests that the solution is to do away with the Montgomery GI Bill all together to save new service members money while leaving them with an even better GI Bill option. ­–JG
Bottom Line: It seems silly that service members are paying into a program that they are highly unlikely to ever use, but CFPB’s data indicates that is exactly what is happening. Since the Montgomery GI Bill was introduced in 1984, military education benefits have undergone a massive makeover, resulting in the Post-9/11 GI Bill in 2008 and further expanded benefits through the Forever GI Bill in 2017. While there are some cases in which the Montgomery GI Bill is a better fit for a student veteran, those instances are few and far between—not to mention complicated to understand. It’s a shame that service members are paying $1,200 for a benefit that many will never use. Will Hubbard and Barrett Bogue from SVA recently penned an op-ed on this very topic and recommend officially sun-setting the program, refunding money to veterans who paid into the MGIB or re-investing the remaining funds into the VA. Alternatively, CFPB opined that the $1,200 would be better spent as an investment in the new Blended Retirement System. Whatever happens with MGIB, the services need to grapple with how to better serve recruits in the benefit decision making process. –RB

Combat Veterans Suffering From Same Brain Disease As Concussion Victims
60 Minutes (@60Minutes)
Research has shown that the same brain disease several deceased NFL players have exhibited, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), is also found in the brain of many combat veterans. Combat veterans experience blasts such as roadside bombs, which are shown to have a long-term effect and deadly progression. Boston University has a renowned program that has been studying CTE for years and found that 110 out of 111 brains of deceased NFL players reflected having CTE. Doctors and researchers are making a strong effort to find the signs of CTE in living people, before it becomes too late to treat or prevent. –DD
Bottom line: This research finding was something that a lot of people in the community expected would be true, and now that the science has confirmed combat veterans often develop CTE this raises many potential issues for advocates, caregivers, the VA and Congress to begin addressing. The NFL has been forced to both explore concussion prevention options as well as treatment options, but these are areas the military has been researching for years. In a service member’s career, an individual might suffer numerous minor explosive blasts in training or major blasts or head trauma in combat that could contribute to the type of CTE found in football players. For advocates and caregivers, there will be a continued push to ensure Congress and the VA are working together to provide the best in class brain health services. But just as the NFL has faced tough questions about how CTE may have played a role in player suicides and other early onset mental health issues, expect CTE to surface more in conversations about military mental health. –LJ

We Call Them “Student Veterans” and the Distinction is Important
Jared Lyon (@JaredSLyon) on LinkedIn
SVA CEO and President Jared Lyon notes the importance of the language we use when discussing veterans in higher education. The title “student veteran” makes an important note of life experience and identity that sets an individual apart from traditional college students. This distinction does not stop at identity, as noted in the National Veterans Education Success Tracker (NVEST) student veterans earn higher GPAs and are earning degrees that are in high demand at a faster rate than their classmates. –JG

Largest student vet gathering kicks off this week
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
Over the weekend, the 10th Annual Student Veterans of America National Conference, also known as SVA NatCon, took place in San Antonio, TX. More than 2,000 student veterans and supporters attended the conference that was filled with notable keynote speakers and informative breakout sessions geared towards SVA members that want to proactively support and grow their school’s SVA chapter. SVA has 1,500 chapters across all 50 states, including 4 countries, representing 600,000 veterans in college. Former VA Secretary Bob McDonald as well as retired Chief of Staff of the Army General George Casey delivered remarks aimed at inspiring and motivating attendees. To see full coverage of the three day conference, head over to Military Times to read about #NatCon2018. –JG

Nonprofit offers tickets to college football games to troops, veterans
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
Thanks to the Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix), the military community has had access to a series of NCAA football bowl games this season, including the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, the Fiesta Bowl, the Rose Bowl, as well as the upcoming College Football National Championship on Jan. 8. The foundation has distributed more than 3.5 million tickets to its 650,000+ Vet Tix members, comprised of currently serving military, including the Guard and Reserve, veterans, caregivers and military families and family members of those killed in action, since its founding in 2008. Vet Tix offered tickets to a total of 19 bowl games this season. –KG

They risked their lives to help U.S. troops. Now they’re driving for Lyft to get by.
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), The Washington Post
Approximately 69,000 Iraqi and Afghan nationals who acted as translators and contractors for the U.S. military have fled their native countries since the State Department began issuing special immigrant visas for those who served alongside U.S. troops. Some of those individuals, like Ajmal Faqiri, have struggled to provide for their families. Lyft, a popular ride-hailing company, has partnered with No One Left Behind, an advocacy group that focuses on supporting these combat zone translators and a pro bono ScoutComms client, to provide driving jobs to 5,000 translators in the D.C. metro area. –KG          

‘Get ready to fight:’ Veterans condemn DOJ rollback of Obama-era marijuana policy
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
On Thursday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions made the decision to rescind the policy signed in 2013 under President Barack Obama’s administration “that discouraged U.S. attorneys from prosecuting marijuana-related cases in cannabis-friendly states.” This will affect veterans that have access to medical marijuana who may no longer be able to use it to ease their symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. The Veterans Cannabis Project’s founder and former Navy SEAL, Nick Etten, said he believes that Sessions is prioritizing his personal agenda over those patients and veterans who use marijuana. –SM

Gary Sinise talks about passion for helping veterans, being Rose Parade grand marshal
Brandi Hitt (@ABC7Brandi), ABC 7
Oscar nominee and humanitarian, actor Gary Sinise, expressed his excitement and passion for veterans when he was chosen for grand marshal at the Rose Parade. His role in “Forrest Gump” as Vietnam vet Lt. Dan cemented his fame and allowed Sinise to become even more involved with supporting veterans by volunteering with Disabled American Veterans and traveling with the USO to visit U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere. –SM

VA firings spiked after Trump signed the new accountability law last year
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
After Trump signed the new Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act into a law in June, employee firings have spiked at the VA. According to VA spokesman Curt Cashour, “The (legislation) is one of the most significant federal civil service reforms in decades and is helping instill across the department the type of workforce accountability veterans and taxpayers deserve.” Even though VA officials see the high number of firings as an improvement and evidence of increased accountability, Marilyn Park of the American Federation of Government Employees said, “it depends on who is getting fired and why.” AFGE has requested details on 2017’s management firings and suspensions, but has not received answers yet. –SM

Fort Jackson sends recruits home for the holidays
Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports), Army Times
Thousands of U.S. Army recruits in basic training from Fort Jackson, South Carolina were given time off over the recent Christmas holiday. Nearly 7,000 of those recruits were traveling through the Charlotte airport and were welcomed by the volunteers from the USO of North Carolina. Director of Communications for the USO of North Carolina, Margaret Clevenger, was present to volunteer and document the entertainment opportunities provided – from food, coffee, to video games and the mascot of the Carolina Panthers, recruits were able to enjoy their time traveling before they head home to recharge. –DD  

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services: China’s Pursuit of Emerging and Exponential Technologies
Who: Mr. William Carter, Deputy Director and Fellow, Technology Policy Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Mr. Dean Cheng, Senior Research Fellow, Asia Studies Center, The Heritage Foundation; Mr. Paul Scharre, Director and Senior Fellow, Technology and National Security Program, Center for a New America Security
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, January 9, 2018
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Department of Defense Update on the Financial Improvement and Audit Remediation (FIAR) Plan
Who: The Honorable David Norquist, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) and Chief Financial Officer
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs: Home Loan Churning Practices and How Veteran Homebuyers are Being Affected
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Other Events 

Fredericksburg Regional Chamber of Commerce: Coffee with Kyle – B-Corps in Virginia
Who: Fred Wellman, CEO and founder of ScoutComms, Inc.; Kyle Allwine, Community Advancement Manager, Chamber of Commerce
When: 8:30 AM, Friday, January 12, 2018
Where: Fredericksburg Regional Chamber Offices, 2300 Fall Hill Ave., Suite 240, Fredericksburg, VA
What: Our CEO Fred Wellman will speak to local business leaders about the B Corp movement and our belief that more companies should join us demonstrating that business can and should be a force for good.

Military Spouse Magazine: Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year 2018
Who: Nominations now open to military spouses from all branches of service
When: January 2 – 31, 2018

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, January 08, 2018 12:20 pm

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