Veterans Roundup: President Promises Mental Health Care Fixes, DOD Looking at Overhead

Posted by Fred Wellman

CBO: Why VA Claims Exploded and Ways to Slow the Trend
Tom Philpott, (@Military_Update), Stars and Stripes. A new report by the Congressional Budget Office explains why even though the population of America’s veterans has decreased significantly in recent years, the number of veterans receiving disability compensation has significantly increased. The reason for this disconnect is not because more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are claiming disability, but is the result of looser “service connected” ailment disability compensation requirements particularly among Vietnam War veterans, an expanded VA list of diseases linked to Agent Orange, a weak labor market, increased outreach to veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and a looser definition of PTSD symptoms. The CBO offers some options for altering the policies but major veterans organizations can be expected to oppose any alterations and so they are not likely to make it through Congress. –MC
Bottom line: There is a key take away here that many advocates have been saying for some time: the majority of the backlog and long wait times at VA facilities doesn’t trace to the some 2.8 million post-9/11 veterans but to the changes in eligibility rules and the aging of previous generations of veterans. Often those who have never sought care from VA find themselves applying to cover senior health care issues or nursing home costs. At the same time, blanket approvals of a host of health issues as caused by exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam that could also be associated with older age has created a flood of new applications. That cost will go up in the future, not down, as more veterans age if VA doesn’t at least look at health condition eligibility and how each is rated. Sleep apnea is a 50% disabling condition under current rules in spite of it being able to be controlled with weight loss and medical devices. Any changes won’t come without a fight but it’s foolish to think changes won’t come. –FPW

No Proof of Deaths Caused by Delay in VA Care, IG Says
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A report released last week by the inspector general for the Department of Veterans Affairs found no evidence linking VA patient deaths to serious appointment delays at the Phoenix VA Health Care System. Although VA leaders are relieved that the deaths did not come as a direct result of the delays, they are still taking the misconduct and long wait times seriously. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson said that the VA plans to take action against employees who falsified data in Phoenix and added, “I don’t know how you find anything comforting in this report.” –MC
Bottom line: The final IG report tracks with the early results released in the midst of the scandal over VA delays: veterans deaths, while tragic, could not be conclusively tied to delays in care. The report verifies much of what veteran service organizations have complained about for years on behalf of their members: VA health care is plagued by a slow, byzantine bureaucracy that delays access to the quality care VA is known to provide. President Obama and Secretary McDonald have promised to make changes beyond what Congress included in their reform bill, but many in the veteran community have heard those kinds of promises before from this president and his predecessors. Congress has already taken its victory lap on VA reform and it will be up to committee chairmen to keep up the oversight. It may unfortunately be back to business as usual at the VA before long. –LJ

HUD: Number of Homeless Veterans Continues to Drop
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The number of homeless veterans has consistently dropped for the past four years, last year dropping to below 50,000. The Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs have praised the progress, but understand that there is still work to be done if the Administration is to achieve its goal of completely eliminating veteran homelessness by 2015. Five years of progress in decreasing veteran homelessness would have to over the past five years would have to be doubled by 2015 to achieve that deadline. –MC
Bottom line: Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the whole of government, a robust network of community-based organizations, veterans’ advocates, and philanthropy, we have never been closer to ending veteran homelessness. Of course, veteran advocates who have been working towards this goal for years would want me to remind you that while we may never truly end veteran homelessness, we can get close and we can make sure to put the preventative measures in place to ensure the nation never fails its struggling veterans again. Two years ago in an address to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, then Secretary Shinseki—one of the biggest champions of the five year plan to end homelessness—told the hundreds of assembled service providers that the hardest, most chronic cases of homelessness lie ahead of them. He also told them he knew they could handle the challenge. Most organizations are taking advantage of the healthy funding for homelessness programs now to create sustainable systems for when federal and state funding—and potentially philanthropic giving—gets lean after 2015. –LJ

Obama Announces Veterans Mental Health Efforts, but Most Aren’t New
Patricia Kime, (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. Last Tuesday, at the American Legion’s 96th National Convention, President Obama announced 19 “new” executive actions focused on improving the lives of veterans. Many of the 19 initiatives have already been in the works or have been previously introduced by Congress. One new initiative included the development of computer chips that can modulate the nervous system and help heal problems ranging from arthritis to post-traumatic stress. –MC
Bottom line: In announcing “new” mental health care initiatives, the White House picked and chose from studies and reports underway, the SAV Acts introduced in both chambers of Congress, and other agency plans. Whether this set of executive actions produces more than a report that the administration may forget about a year later or actually enacts positive change for veterans remains to be seen. –LJ

VFW Battles to Reverse a Decline in Membership
Rick Montgomery, Kansas City Star. The Veterans of Foreign Wars has been struggling to increase its membership with the newest generations of veterans. The 1.3 million veteran organization, down from 2.1 million in 1992, has an average member age of almost 70. In a time when millions of veterans are becoming eligible for VFW membership, executives are calling for change but are having difficulty because individual VFW posts rule their own fiefdoms. Assistant adjutant general, Jerry Newberry, said that posts would have to evolve and shift to the taste of the new generation of veterans in order to increase membership and stay relevant, and those that don’t will fade away. –MC
Bottom line: Often, young veterans are surprised to learn the VFW staff advocating on their behalf in Washington every day look a lot like them. The stereotypical VFW or American Legion member is a Vietnam-era veteran smoking and drinking and telling young’uns they had it easy with their MRAPS and body armor. The article does a deep dive into the many ways the VFW still appeals to young veterans but also the yearning for community others find in groups like Team Rubicon. Historically, veterans haven’t joined VFW immediately after their service but rather years later, after the responsibilities of careers and families give way to more leisure time. Plenty of VFW posts around the country are changing their image and drawing young veterans—look no further than the snazzy website of Post 1 in Denver, CO—but old timers run the show at many others. Those same old timers dominate the membership and volunteer leadership of VFW meaning they set the agenda for VFW which isn’t always one that would appeal to young veterans. Nevertheless, the VFW led the charge on the Post-9/11 GI Bill and other important pieces of legislation. Neither the VFW nor The American Legion are going away,  but young veterans may start to look like old timers before they get a chance to lead. –LJ

DoD Plans Overhead Cuts
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. The Pentagon is planning to cut overhead and administrative costs and is targeting the “Fourth Estate”, which means everything except military services and combatant commands is under review. Targeted components include the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the 16 defense agencies, the Tricare Management Agency and the Defense Logistics Agency – these components are responsible for approximately 20 percent of the defense budget. Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work said that in order to maintain readiness, military leaders must have a plan B in case things don’t go so well with Congress. The DoD is also discussing efforts to ramp up readiness in Europe because of recent tensions with Russia at the same time. –MC
Bottom line: We almost reached 50 or so Scout Reports back to just copy and paste the same assessment today as then. It’s a broken record. Cut overhead. Prepare for war. Find savings. Do more with less. Sequester is coming. The department is struggling with a Congress and a nation that can’t decide if it wants to lead the world and fight threats from a newly aggressive Russia, a hybrid terrorist state in Iraq and Syria and growing economic competition from China while saving money. Unfortunately, while there are clearly places DoD can save money and overhead, in the end the massive budget cuts will fall to training, maintenance and readiness accounts leading to inability to meet the global challenges we face. In 1950 Task Force Smith went into battle with untrained and under-equipped Army troops against fast moving North Korean troops and the results were catastrophic. That defeat can never be forgotten or repeated. –FPW

Older Vets Committing Suicide at Alarming Rate
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan), Veteran suicide numbers have been a concern for several years with reports of as many as 22 a day losing their lives across the nation. There has been very little information on the demographics of those numbers however due to shortcomings in suicide reporting numbers. The Department of Veterans Affairs issued a study last week that points to some 7 in 10 of veteran suicides are older veterans over the age of 50 and not–as many assume–those of the Post-9/11 generation. In addition, the study found that 78 percent of those older veterans had entered the VA system–some 9 percent more than the general pool of suicides. Just as with younger veterans there is no single factor that ties all of the victims together. –FPW
Bottom Line:  This study confirms what we have heard anecdotally for some time: that older veterans are committing suicide at a higher rate than younger vets. The factors are many but with even the youngest Vietnam veteran at age 59 this year, many face the challenges of declining health, loss of spouses and support networks as well as financial strain that go with growing older. It’s important that we recognize that like PTSD, post-9/11 veterans don’t own the challenge of suicide within our community and programs aiming to impact this scourge need to understand it’s a multi-generational problem too. Efforts to slow the deaths can’t just target younger veterans if we hope to make a dent in the alarming numbers. –FPW

Marine Bankruptcy was Business Bootcamp; now Runs Profitable Alexandria Moving Firm
Thomas Heath (@addedvalueth), The Washington Post. Nick Baucom, a U.S. Marine Corps Veteran and entrepreneur, owns a successful business in Alexandria known as Two Marines Moving. His company hasn’t always been successful: in 2007 Baucom declared bankruptcy. Baucom only hires veterans and has grown his staff to 60 full-timers and about 40 part-timers. Always up for a challenge, he saw a need and filled it, and came out a successful business owner. Also on the topic of vetrepreneurs, Matt Victoriano, owner of Intrepid Life Coffee & Spirits, is being honored as one of the White House’s Champions of Change. Although his business was taking a financial turn for the worst last week and he faced closing his doors, the community has come together to support him and he may be able to save his shop. –MC
Bottom line: Any entrepreneur worth their salt has that tale of being dead broke and wondering when the phone will ring. ScoutComms started in the unfinished basement of the Wellman Farm with start up capital of $237 and a later investment of $80 in loose change. Veterans are built for those tough times. Even when things go awry we are built to conduct an After Action Review, learn the lessons from the mistakes, and move to the next objective. Nick and Matt are prime examples of that attitude of taking your licks and looking for the next challenge that makes veteran entrepreneurs such interesting business leaders. We’re proud to support a number of veteran owned companies being one ourselves. –FPW

Couch to $30k: A Six Month Plan
Seth Bodnar, VAntage Point. GE’s Seth Bodnar maps out the process for transitioning service members to become manufacturers in a VAntage Point guest blog post. Bodnar highlights resources that Get Skills to Work has available for veterans ranging from partner schools, to job opportunities and networking. Using a career in welding, and certification programs from Tarrant County College in Ft. Knox, TX, Bodnar provides an example of the steps young veterans can use to jump-start their careers in manufacturing in just a short amount of time. –MC

From Military to Manufacturing
AJ Jorgenson (@a_jorgenson), CNN iReport. James Bolding, a U.S. Air Force veteran, leveraged resources from Get Skills to Work to put himself on a path to success in the manufacturing industry. After leaving the service, he attended classes at Francis Tuttle Technology Center, a Get Skills to Work partner school. Bolding excelled in his education and went on to start working at a refining company. Bolding has been promoted since joining the company and is an example of how veterans can help close the skills gap in manufacturing and assist in revitalizing the future of the American manufacturing industry. –MC

Home Depot dedicates $1 million for Legion grants
The Home Depot is adding to the $81 million in grants it has provided in just over three years towards veterans housing needs by dedicating $1 million for American Legion projects announced at the organization’s convention last week in Charlotte, NC. The Home Depot Foundation’s Executive Director and Iraq war veteran Gaven Gregory announced the new alliance in a speech Thursday and said the new donation will build on the Foundation’s grants to American Legion posts of $140,000 in 2011, over $450,000 in 2012 and almost $900,000 in 2013. Working through the Home Depot’s volunteer associates of Team Depot, projects will occur at Legion posts nationwide and be executed through local Home Depot stores. You can learn more about Home Depot’s efforts at ­–FPW

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major veterans or military families tradeshows this week.

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

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess for the month of August.

Think Tanks & Other Events

HillVets: Monthly Happy Hour  When: 6:00 PM, Thursday, September 4, 2014 Where: Béarnaise, 315 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, D.C.

Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments: Analysis of the FY 2015 Defense Budget Where Defense Dollars Go: Understanding the Defense Budget
Who: Todd Harrison, CSBA Senior Fellow, Defense Budget Studies When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, September 5, 2014 Where: Live Webcast

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry and 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, September 02, 2014 3:29 pm

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