Veterans Roundup: Plenty of VA Critics but Plenty of Good Happening at VA, New Boss at DOD, Nixing the 90/10 Rule

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Reaches Out to Sexual Trauma Survivors via Facebook
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. The VA is using unconventional efforts to address the needs of military sexual assault victims. The VA assigned an expert on sexual abuse claims to engage a Facebook group for women veterans seeking better tailored care from the VA. Military sexual assault continues to be in the news: a Defense Department report on sexual harassment and violence at American military academies found potential success in sexual assault prevention training, a model that may begin to work its way onto civilian college campuses. –MC
Bottom line: Some in Congress question whether Secretary McDonald is changing the way VA does business, but this story shows that VA is embracing new approaches to old problems. Will sending claims experts to Facebook groups work in every situation? No. But it will work in enough situations and it will change the lives of a number of men and women who had little faith in the system working for them before. It also bodes well for innovation, for a VA where good ideas get tried out rather than shot down due to bureaucratic red tape in favor of “the way things have always been done.” What we’re seeing from Secretary McDonald is a determination to get stuff done, not to get bogged down in lengthy reports on assessments of viability of sustainability. Military sexual assault victims, both men and women, face some of the worst stigma and some of the biggest obstacles to going to the VA for care. Helping them should be a priority—just as preventing future victims must be, as well. That takes leadership, something taught at the service academies including West Point, Secretary McDonald’s alma mater. –LJ

Congressional Auditors: VA Health Care is High-Risk
Gregg Zoroya (@greggzoroya), USA Today. A new report by the Government Accountability Office listed the Department of Veterans Affairs health care system as high-risk. GAO cited problems such as poor health care, long appointment wait times and poor accountability for VA leaders as issues that have not been solved despite increased funding. Lawmakers took VA Secretary McDonald to task at a budget request hearing last week for not acting quickly enough but McDonald has defended the agency’s progress. –MC
Bottom line: The VA’s presence on the GAO’s high-risk list—assessed every two years—should not come as a surprise after what can only be described as a nightmarish 2013-2014 for the department. This review really should not reflect in any way, positive or negative, on Secretary Bob’s efforts since taking the reins in late July. As far as the GAO is concerned, he was a non-factor for the vast majority of the period they were reviewing. So let’s take this for what it is: a 2015 assessment of the problems that culminated in Secretary Shinseki’s departure and efforts to kick out a number of VA bureaucrats. The GAO has laid bare the VA’s organizational failings and is now challenging the department, in its perpetually dry and factual manner, to shape up and give the GAO a few reasons for increased confidence. It’s a tall order, but if Secretary Bob is still around at the time of the next assessment, and the VA is no longer on the GAO’s high-risk radar, that can count for at least one reason for veterans to celebrate. –BW

Report: DoD Spends $83M a Year on Viagra, Similar Meds
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. The Department of Defense spent $84.24 million on medication for erectile dysfunction in 2014. Over half of cases among active-duty troops from 2004-2013 were the result of “psychogenic” causes rather than physical ones, but active duty servicemen make up less than 10 percent of the ED prescriptions. The DoD is making plans to decrease its costs for long-term prescriptions by changing how retirees and their families fill their prescriptions. –MC
Bottom line: This story originated with a conservative paper and has gotten a lot of play with a slant that the Department of Defense is blowing money so old men can have sex. The original story actually calculated how many hours of arousal the money spent was creating. It’s a funny joke and is easy to paint as yet another government waste of money. Then you remember that erectile dysfunction is a major symptom of nearly every mental health issues associated with deployment to combat and aging, two issues facing our servicemen and retirees. Tricare is a health program for thousands of veterans and as part of their care they are provided the same medicines and care available in other health plans. It’s ridiculous that after 14 years of war providing care for the symptoms associated with depression and PTSD, even the embarrassing ones, are a joke and called into question. It’s an uncomfortable fact that many who have gone to war have huge issues with intimacy as a result of their service. No one wants to talk about those parts of what they face but that doesn’t mean their treatment options should be called into question and used as the butt of a joke. We are saying we want to reduce the stigma of mental health care in one conversation and then mocking one of the major issues associated with it in another. We can’t have it both ways. –FPW

Opinion: Clay Hunt Bill a Major Step for Suicide Prevention
Robert McDonald for Military Times. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald contributed an exclusive opinion piece to the Military Times about the Clay Hunt SAV Act, which was signed into law by President Obama last Thursday. Long a supporter of the bill, McDonald applauded the new law and promised that the VA will continue to improve suicide prevention programs. –MC
Bottom line: McDonald is savvy to use the increased focus on veterans’ mental health care generated by the Clay Hunt SAV Act to highlight the VA’s existing and improving efforts. As McDonald notes, veterans who use VA services have a lower suicide rate than those outside the system. This should galvanize advocates not only around improving current services, but also expanding outreach to veterans to ensure they utilize VA services available to them. Mental health treatment is critical, but the health care and social services provided by VA may be the lifeline a veteran needs. What must happen now, and McDonald would agree, is a continued, concerted effort to improve mental health outcomes for veterans (and servicemembers and their families, but that is another agency on another day) using proven methods available today. –LJ

When Colleges use Veterans as Pawns
The New York Times. The New York Times editorial board took for-profit colleges to task last week for their exploitation of a loophole in the federal law known as the 90/10 rule that allows them to count taxpayer funded GI Bill benefits as private revenue. President Obama’s budget request for the Department of Education includes a proposal to close this loophole, and many veterans organizations have been speaking out against these practices. –MC
Bottom line: While our goal should be to provide veterans with every opportunity possible to access an affordable, convenient education, we must also demand accountability when the public’s money is being spent. The Administration has identified a major loophole that was never intended to exist, which allows certain for-profit colleges to exist almost entirely on the government’s largesse. There is no “Con” to counter the argument in favor of the Administration’s position: GI Bill benefits are federal revenue, not private revenue, and colleges must be required to count them as such under the 90/10 rule. It’s in the best interests of servicemembers and veterans, and it will help weed out the colleges that have failed to develop a sustainable business model and provide adequate returns to their students. –BW

Senate Confirms New Pentagon Chief
Kristina Wong (@Kristina_Wong), The Hill. The Senate confirmed Ashton Carter as the new Secretary of Defense last Thursday with very little opposition as evidenced by the 93-5 final vote. Carter previously served in several posts at the Defense Department including deputy defense secretary. He will face some immediate challenges in his new position including overseeing overseas operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and U.S. support for Ukraine in addition to budget and military compensation fights here at home. –MC
Bottom line: It’s very early to tell what changes we will see when Ash Carter takes the helm at the Pentagon on Tuesday (Ed. Note: or Wednesday—does the new SecDef take a snow day?) but one thing is for sure, he won’t be spending a single minute in any ‘DoD 101’ classes after many years of service in the department including his most recent stint as the number two official. He is going to ask hard questions about procurement and contracting, as those are his strong suits along with policy and strategy. The biggest questions surround his positions and approaches to military family and personnel issues. Involvement in those issues haven’t been a major part of his portfolios in the past but they are going to be massive factors in his new job as the recent Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission provided some dramatic recommendations for the military’s benefits programs. It remains to be seen if Mr. Carter will be ‘for’ the troops by cutting their pay and benefits so they can be trained more and equipped with more modern weapons or ‘for’ the troops so that they can be compensated in a manner that befits over a decade of war. Both sides of the argument say they are taking care of our servicemembers but it remains to be seen what manner that support will take. –FPW

100,000 Jobs Mission Ups Its Goal for Vet Hiring
Mike W. Thomas, San Antonio Business Journal. The 100,000 Jobs Mission announced that its coalition members have hired more than 217,000 veterans and will now aim to hire 300,000. The 100,000 Jobs Mission was founded by 11 companies in 2011 including JPMorgan Chase & Co. The mission now boasts 184 companies such as recent additions Chipotle and Amtrak. –MC
Bottom line: This should be big news. You’ll often hear the ScoutComms team saying there is no longer a veteran unemployment crisis—and a lot of that is thanks to the work of companies and coalitions stepping up and changing the conversation around hiring veterans. The 100,000 Jobs Mission, 11 companies led by JPMorgan Chase, set an ambitious goal of hiring 100,000 veterans. They blew through that and doubled down—and they met that goal, too. This is good news for veterans and for companies. It means veterans are getting jobs at some of the most dynamic corporations and bringing their skills to bear in the workplace; it means companies are seeing the huge boost to their bottom line by hiring veterans with their unique and sometimes intangible skills. Human nature means big numbers don’t hold as much meaning as one individual story does, but these big numbers are a big deal. –LJ

Children of Fallen Soldiers Experience USNA

John Frenaye (@jfrenaye), Eye On Annapolis. On January 31, nearly 50 children of fallen service members visited the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, with the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) to experience “A Day in the Life of a Midshipman.” Check out great photos of TAPS children and midshipmen bonding and participating in confidence building exercises. –MC

NEH Teams with Warrior-Scholar Project to Expand Academic “Boot Camp” for Veterans Attending College
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is teaming up with the Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP) to offer more academic boot camps for enlisted veterans and a Director’s Training Course. NEH’s $350,000 award to WSP allows it to expand programming to eight additional campuses this year. WSP boot camps help ease veterans’ transitions from the military to college and unlock their full academic potential. –MC

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors Applauds Signing of Clay Hunt SAV Act
Representatives from the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) attended the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act bill signing at the White House last Thursday. “Making sure our service members, veterans, and their family members get the care they need is a top priority for TAPS,” said Kim Ruocco, TAPS Director of Postvention Programs. TAPS provides direct support to the families and loved ones of those lost to suicide. –MC

Forum/Town Hall: Presentation by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families: “Veterans and Entrepreneurship in New York State”
James Schmeling, Co-Founder and Managing Director of Programs at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, briefed the New York State Senate last Tuesday on IVMF’s efforts in veteran entrepreneurship and employment. –MC

Syracuse University Veterans Program to Receive $7 Million Grant from First Data
Dave Tobin (@dttobin), The Post-Standard. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University has received a $7 million grant from First Data Corporation. The grant, funded over seven years, will help IVMF develop a Center for Excellence on veteran entrepreneurship. First Data has previously supported IVMF’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities program. Representatives from First Data presented a check to IVMF during halftime at Syracuse University’s basketball game against Duke on Saturday (a tough loss for ‘Cuse but a win for veteran entrepreneurship). –MC

Quick Hits:

Disillusioned in Iraq, but Prodded to Serve Again
Jeremy W. Peters (@jwpetersNYT), The New York Times. Seth Moulton is a Member of Congress and a member of the latest class of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans elected to the legislative body. Moulton’s service and experiences in the Marine Corps, and ultimately his disillusionment with how the Iraq war was managed, contributed to his decision to run for office and change the way the nation goes to war. –MC

The Fatal Intersection of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle and the Marine Veteran Who Killed Him
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), The Washington Post. Dan Lamothe was on the ground in Texas to cover the trial of Eddie Ray Routh, the man who killed ‘American Sniper’ Chris Kyle. As the trial begins, many are expecting answers, but Kyle’s murder by the troubled Marine veteran he was trying to help may just leave everyone with more questions. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major veteran or military family connected conferences this week.

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

Congressional Hearings

Congress is in recess this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events

The Institute for Veterans and Military Families: Welcome Home North Carolina Campaign Kick-off When: 9:00 AM, Tuesday, February 17, 2015 Where: The Charlotte Convention Center, 501 South College St., Charlotte, NC

The Bush Institute: Exploring How Philanthropy and Non-profits Can Better Serve Post 9/11 Veterans and Military Families When: 8:30 AM, February 18, 2015 Where: George W. Bush Presidential Center, 2934 SMU Boulevard, Dallas, TX

RecruitMilitary: Regional Veteran Job Fairs Who: Sponsors include Disabled American Veterans (DAV); exhibitors include The Home Depot, Prudential Financial, and many more. When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, February 19, 2015 Where: Phoenix, AZ; Richmond, VA; Dayton, OH

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 17, 2015 8:37 am

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