Veterans Roundup: Post-9/11 GI Bill Changes up for Debate, Mental Health Treatment Failing Women and Older Vets

Posted by Fred Wellman

American Legion Convention Puts Spotlight on Newest Generation of Veterans
Ian Duncan (@iduncan), The Baltimore Sun. The American Legion is hosting its annual convention in Baltimore. Organizers have said that the Legion plans to use the conference to show the newest generation of veterans what it has to offer. The organization has been criticized for being full of ‘old veterans telling stories,’ but is working to move away from that image. –MC
Bottom line: For a few years now, the leadership of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) has been talking about ways to better engage the youngest generation of veterans. Perhaps due to its focus on recent veterans, it boasts a larger membership of post-9/11 veterans than the American Legion, even though the Legion is overall a larger organization. Thus, it is good to see the Legion’s leadership finally speaking so openly about its need to shift perceptions and action among young veterans. The Legion hasn’t been completely absent in recent years and has played an important role in securing education benefits for this new generation of veterans. The Legion offices in DC even served as an incubator of sorts to a then small-but-growing organization called Student Veterans of America. On social media, the Legion is one of the few legacy organizations that seems to understand what Twitter is (DAV being one of the others.) Hopefully the Legion can learn quickly from how other legacy organizations like VFW and DAV have tried to adapt and perhaps also learn from the young organizations it has fostered like SVA. We want to see more options for recent veterans to engage with their community and the Legion can be an integral part of a recent veteran’s transition home—if it truly wants to be. –LJ

Plan to Use GI Bill for Business Grants Draws Criticism
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A bill that would create a pilot program allowing military veterans to use their GI Bill for seed funding to start their own businesses rather than on higher education has received some pushback from groups like Student Veterans of America (SVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Our friend Ryan Gallucci at the VFW expresses concern that this could encourage more changes to the GI Bill that would result in a reduction in overall education benefits. –MC
Bottom line: SVA and VFW raise valid concerns about potential GI Bill ‘mission creep,’ and what it could mean for the future of education funding for veterans. At the same time, it is clear that this program derives from a desire to sustain the historically overachieving track record of veteran entrepreneurs in the U.S. The bill is the brainchild of Marine Corps veteran Lynn Lowder,, who was profiled for his activism on the issue in January by Men’s Health, and aligns with the U.S. Small Business Administration’s increased support for and promotion of veteran entrepreneurship in the last five years. In fact, Congress is currently considering legislation to express long-term support for the SBA’s veteran entrepreneurship programs. So while we understand the concerns, and do not support any back door efforts to erode the GI Bill as an education benefit, we also don’t immediately assume the worst by making the GI Bill a slightly more flexible tool—in a pilot program setting—for a small number of people who either already have completed their higher education programs or who have identified entrepreneurship as being their top priority for developing a post-service life. Let the pilot go forward, but be utterly transparent about the path of the program as it advances. –BW

‘Getting Better is Scary’: Women Veterans with PTSD
Anne Saker (@apsaker), The Cincinnati Enquirer. A Department of Veterans Affairs Trauma Recovery Center in Cincinnati is said to be paving the way for better treatment for women veterans with post-traumatic stress. The center has a program specifically for women veterans, and when the program launched back in 2007 it was just one of three in the U.S. Recent studies have shown that young women veterans have a suicide rate nearly 12 times higher than their civilian peers. –MC
Bottom line: This program is important as a model for VA delivering women-specific care. It also seems to be making an impact on its patients PTSD symptoms: 70 percent of women have reduced PTSD symptoms by the time they leave the program—but that’s about average for programs that use the same therapies. What’s really important here is that the Cincinnati clinic has developed a successful program that engages women veterans and is designed to treat their unique and specific mental health needs. As women engage in more front line combat (and certainly once more combat roles open to women), there will be a need for mental health clinics to offer more PTSD treatment options to women—particularly options beyond treatment for military sexual assault. Just as women seeking care at the VA are currently put off by clinicians’ assumptions that they are spouses, so too could female combat veterans be put off by mental health treatment options that don’t recognize their service. –LJ

VA Secretary Calls for More Research into Traumatic Brain Injury
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan), At the Veterans Affairs Traumatic Brain Injury State of the Art Conference, community leaders such as VA Secretary Bob McDonald and former Army Vice Chief Of Staff, retired Gen. (Ret.) Peter Chiarelli, called for more research and collaboration into TBI. The conference highlighted many recent gains in research, but attendees like Chiarelli argue that these gains are widely unknown and must be better applied to actual patients. RAND Corp. estimates that about 725,000 troops may be effected by TBI, post-traumatic stress, or combat-related depression. –MC
Bottom line: As we note in our Client News section, Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson recently created a mini-controversy through his seemingly off-the-cuff suggestion to fold the VA into the DoD. Some groups, such as Concerned Veterans for America, have called for greater privatization of VA-provided health services. But what they often miss in their attacks—which tend to be in reaction only to what they read in the primary papers of record when scandals break—is that the VA is an influential actor in conducting research and convening discussions with leading stakeholders to tackle major veteran health challenges like TBI, which are often of concern to medical professionals dealing with the broader U.S. population as well. Over the last 15 years, we have been hit in the face by the reality of how little we truly know about effectively treating the long-term impacts of war and combat on the brain and on the mind. The VA doesn’t always have solutions, but it is playing a valuable role when it provides an official forum for exploring the issue and airing potential weaknesses in the research and evaluation process. –BW

Suicide at Florida VA Hospital Offers Window into Older Veterans’ Pain
Howard Altman (@haltman), Last Tuesday, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam, Gerhard Reitmann, took his life in a parking lot at the Bay Pines VA campus. Reitmann’s struggles serve as a window into the challenges our nation’s older veterans face. Studies show that they are at the greatest risk for suicide, and about 70 percent of all veteran suicides are people age 50 and older. A new report by the VA’s Inspector General also found that the Department lacks full-time psychiatrists to meet the demand of veterans demanding their services. –MC
Bottom line: The common image of the “22 veterans a day” committing suicide has become one of young veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, and while the new generation does indeed struggle, the vast majority of suicides among veterans is among older veterans. Be it undiagnosed or inadequately managed PTS, physical ailments, or loss of their loved ones as they age, more older veterans are taking their own lives than young. Every loss is a tragedy but there are simply no easy answers. The Army has been battling its own critical numbers for years with little result. There is a shortage of mental health care professionals across the nation and the VA is struggling to fill the growing gaps in its own system as the need to take on the mental health scars of war will continue to grow for years to come. We are often asked “what’s next” for the veteran community, let there be no doubt that dealing with the mental health challenges of many of our 21.1 million veterans is high on the list. ­–FPW

Record Numbers of Veterans are Getting Jobs in the Government – but a lot of Them Quit
Lisa Rein (@reinlwapo), The Washington Post. A report released last month showed that veterans accounted for about half of full-time hires in federal jobs last year, but that they are more likely to leave their job within two years than civilians. This study is the first time that federal agencies have measured veteran retention. –MC
Bottom line: This isn’t shocking news to us at ScoutComms thanks to last year’s survey conducted by clients VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families which found that 45 percent of veterans remained in their first civilian job for under a year and 80 percent for less than two. Most left for another job, lack of career advancement and development, or dissatisfaction with job quality. That goes along with what the Office of Personnel Management found after a record number of veterans have been hired in the federal government over the last five years. While veterans are getting jobs in the administration every department except DoD is struggling to keep them in the ranks once hired. One of the other things we answer when asked the “what’s next” question is employee retention. With the ranks of unemployed veterans dwindling rapidly, finding quality replacements for those lost once hired will be all the more difficult. –FPW

Nonprofits Team Up to Help Marine’s Widow
Karissa Blackburn, JDN News. Cpl. Stephen Lay, a Marine Corps veteran, took his life because of post-traumatic stress and left behind a wife and three young daughters. The Semper Fi Fund teamed up with the North Carolina Heroes Fund and Purple Heart Homes, to help renovate certain parts of her house in need of work and provide support for the family. –MC

Legion Seminar Will Boost Vets from ‘Boots to Business’
The American Legion. At its 97th National Convention in Baltimore, the American Legion will play host to a Boots to Business: Reboot course. Boots to Business: Reboot is a two-day program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University that introduces veterans and military spouses to entrepreneurship training and skills. –MC

Vets Groups Upset with Carson’s Plan to Eliminate VA
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Long-shot Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson recently suggested that the Department of Veterans Affairs should be eliminated and folded into the Department of Defense. Many veteran advocates and organizations have expressed concern with Carson’s statement, including officials at the Wounded Warrior Project. WWP said that the focus should be on improving the system with innovation and public-private partnerships rather than eliminating it. –MC

Quick Hits:

Backlog of Veterans Claims Dips Below 100,000 Cases
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Department of Veterans Affairs officials reported that the number of backlogged disability claims fell to below 100,000. Six years ago, the VA set a goal of eliminating the backlog by the end of 2015, but on Monday they said that the backlog might never be completely eliminated because they want to avoid rushing claims through the system. –MC

Marines Remember Slain Journalist as a Hardworking Pro
Gina Harkins (@GinaAHarkins), Marine Corps Times
Alison Parker and Adam Ward, employees at WDBJ7, were killed Wednesday in an attack by a former coworker. Parker has previously worked with Marines at Camp Lejeune and those who worked with her expressed respect for her professionalism and energy. The ScoutComms team is keeping our thoughts with Park and Ward’s family, friends, and the entire WDBJ family. –MC

The Cost of Lower Standards for Women in Marine Recruitment
Kyleanne Hunter (@RambaKy), The New York Times. Kyleanne Hunter, a Marine Corps veteran and who served for 10 years as an officer, shared her opinion on the effects of lower standards for women in Marine recruitment in a recent opinion piece for the New York Times. –MC

DNC Site Mistakes Foreign Vets for Former U.S. Troops
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The Democratic National Committee’s Veterans and Military Families website used a photo of veterans in uniform until last Thursday. Turns out that the photo actually featured Polish veterans rather than American veterans, as the Polish military’s White Eagle insignia was visible on their headgear. Lesson learned: when in doubt, call ScoutComms. –MC

The First Battle Against Veteran Homelessness Has Been Won
Michael Daly (@MichaelDalynyc), The Daily Beast. On Thursday, Connecticut became the first state to officially eliminate chronic homelessness among military veterans. The Obama administration had set a deadline to end chronic homelessness among veterans nationwide by the end of this year and Connecticut’s efforts are an important step towards that goal. Recently, a new study found that troops who were discharged from the military because of misconduct were more likely to be homeless than others. –MC

We’re Having The Wrong Conversation About Military Brats
Margaret Clevenger (@mmcleven), ScoutComms. A recent study looked into behaviors of California military children and found that they are more likely to carry guns at school, do drugs, and engage in risky behavior than their civilian peers. Our account executive, Margaret Clevenger, grew up in a military family and did not find that the results of this study matched her experience. She shares her opinion and calls for further in-depth research about military children and the effects deployments and multiple moves have on them in a recent article for Task & Purpose. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Paralyzed Veterans of America Summit 2015 & Expo (Tue-Thu, 1-3 September); Hyatt Regency, Jacksonville-Riverfront, Jacksonville, FL

American Legion 97th National Convention (Fri- Thu, 28 August – 3 September); Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, Maryland

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

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs: Subcommittee on Health: Realizing Quality Rural Care through Appropriate Staffing and Improved Choice When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, September 1, 2015 Where: National Guard Armory, Michigan

Think Tanks & Other Events

No public events of note this week.

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, August 31, 2015 2:03 pm

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