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Veterans Roundup: Private Jets and N95’s, Ex-TR Captain’s Next Act, Global Pandemic, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

How Profit and Incompetence Delayed N95 Masks While People Died at the VA
ProPublica, J. David McSwane (@davidmcswane)

The coronavirus pandemic created a perfect storm for “untested” contractors to take advantage of exceptional demand for, and scarcity of, everything from hand sanitizer to ventilators. The government has been in a mad scramble to find personal protective equipment and using an antiquated and thoroughly insufficient procurement system to do it quickly. ProPublica has a fascinating inside look at one such contractor, Air Force disabed veteran and entrepreneur Robert Stewart Jr., whose business reportedly had little credit and no experience with medical equipment. In spite of all of that, he was awarded a $34.5 million no-bid contract from the VA and was expected to provide 6 million N95 masks at a markup of 350% from the manufacturer’s price. The VA has been embroiled in controversy as reports of employees being only given a single mask a week have leaked into the press and reports that other government agencies took their PPE stocks early in the pandemic. Over 2,200 VA employees have tested positive for the virus, and 20 VA staffers have died. Stewart was unable to acquire the masks, and pointed fingers at business connections, the “VA bureaucracy, [and] the market itself.” After finding multiple inconsistencies with Stewart’s company, business practices and supply chain, the VA terminated the contract and referred it to the agency’s inspector general for investigation. It remains unclear why the VA awarded this contract to Stewart’s unprepared business, especially when Stewart intended to sell the masks to the agency for almost $5.75 per mask, a staggering example of “price gouging” of personal protective equipment during the pandemic and vendors willing to take advantage of federal desperation while providing nothing but “smoke and mirrors and ghosts.” The entire story is a fascinating look at how many government contractors have operated over the years – grabbing any RFP that comes out whether they have experience or not lured by big paydays. The punchline of the whole story is that Stewart rented a private jet for $22,000 to fly to meet the non-existent PPE delivery in Chicago, banking on the huge payoff to come. The entire episode offers a fascinating, and utterly depressing, window into the wild world of emergency contracting that will leave you scratching your head, like many of us trying to do business with the government often do, as well. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms

The USS Theodore Roosevelt’s ousted captain has been temporarily reassigned to San Diego
Task and Purpose, Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol)

Navy Capt. Brett Crozier was fired from his post as commanding officer for the USS Theodore Roosevelt on April 2, 2020, a day that feels like it happened a lifetime ago as we all continue to ride the COVID-19 rollercoaster. To recap, Crozier was fired early last month by then-acting Secretary of the Navy, Thomas Modly. The reason for the firing is over a memo Crozier wrote to his superiors warning them of the grave situation his sailors were facing due to a COVID-19 outbreak on his ship. The memo was then leaked to the press and Crozier was blasted by Modly and others in the Trump administration for using an insecure communication method, which is being used as the reason for his firing. Upon his departure from the ship, videos of his emotional sendoff from his sailors were posted instantly to the internet. Crozier, along with hundreds of other sailors on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, tested positive for the virus. Stepping up to helm, making the recommendation that Capt. Crozier be reinstated to the Roosevelt, is Admiral Michael M. Gilday. Gilday, who could be putting his own Navy career on the line by going against the White House, believes reinstatement to be critical in order to help restore the Navy’s reputation amidst an onslaught of scandals over the past year. However, Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper declined to endorse Gilday’s recommendation and instead ordered another investigation to take place that is set to close May 27, according to a New York Times article posted last week. The most recent news to unfold about Capt. Crozier is that he has finally been reinstated and assigned to San Diego to serve in a temporary capacity as the Navy investigates his actions and the COVID outbreak on the ship more closely. Hopefully, at the close of the investigation, Crozier will be back in command of his ship with his sailors. These sailors  deserve to have a commander willing to risk it all for their safety. Crozier exemplifies service leadership, something the U.S. needs so much more of right now. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

More than 204,000 veterans, troops sign up for VA burn pit, airborne hazard registry
ConnectingVets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)

On Tuesday, the VA announced more than 204,000 veterans and service members have signed on to the Department of Veterans Affairs Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry. The registry allows current and former service members to self-report toxic exposures and health concerns by taking an online questionnaire, then receiving an in-person exam. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has most VA facilities derring the in-person exams, self-reporting is key to identifying what service members may have a higher risk of infection due to pre-existing conditions.

More aid sought for military families stranded by new defense travel rules
Military Times, Leo Shane III (@LeoShane)

The Department of Defense officials announced the stop movement orders issued by military leaders in march will be extended through June 30. Democratic House and Senate lawmakers warned of the “unintended impacts” that could result in extreme financial burden for families of those who may end up having two housing payments. Veterans advocates acknowledge the need to limit potential exposure to infection and lawmakers are seeking financial protection for veterans and their families.

VA coronavirus deaths skyrocket as department revises its records
Military Times, Leo Shane III (@LeoShane)

After VA officials updated their public reporting of coronavirus cases, the number of coronavirus-related deaths connected to the VA health system jumped over 80 percent from 103 deaths to 770. Ninety-eight facilities across the VA health system have seen at least one coronavirus-related death. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement that the department’s “enhancements” in virus case reportings was spurred by “the accelerating pace of VA’s response to the national emergency,” which he argued required the creation of “a timely, automated biosurveillance process.” The VA is now reportedly tracking 9,961 coronavirus cases, but the agency’s official count of employee virus cases decreased significantly from 2,153 reported cases among VA employees to 1,133 cases.

Navy SEAL recruits resume training while social distancing
Associated Press (@ap)

The 65-week basic SEAL training program in Coronado, California continues on in the midst of COVID-19. In phase one, all will be tested for the virus – including those without symptoms. Captain Bart Randall, Naval Special Warfare Center’s commodore said, “Ideally we’ll get any asymptomatic shedders out of the population to help keep the rest of the guys safe.” Following testing, recruits will be monitored daily for any symptoms; and instructors will be wearing masks and using megaphones rather than shouting in recruits’ faces. There have yet to be any positive COVID-19 cases at the training school.

Military moving season likely to be extended to end of year
Military Times, Karen Jowers (@karenjowers)

Department of Defense officials have warned that the moving season for most military families will likely be “extended well into the fall and early winter” due to the coronavirus pandemic. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has already extended the current hold on service members’ moves through the end of June, significantly affecting the normal military moving season, which usually begins in mid-May and extends through August. As some moves have been allowed to proceed despite the ban, safety measures have been implemented in order to protect military families, including verification that “moving company personnel are complying with [CDC] safety measures.”

Coronavirus Survivors May be Barred from Joining the US Military
Military.com, Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime)

A memo issued by the U.S. Military Entrance Processing command stated that “during the pre-screen process, a reported history of confirmed COVID-19 will be annotated ‘Considered disqualifying.” Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell confirmed the authenticity of the memo, adding that it has since been updated to clarify the guidance. Although hospitalization for COVID-19 will be considered medically disqualifying, any potential recruit with such history is able to apply for a waiver. Currently, all entrants to MEPS go through a screening process, after which they may be designated as medically disqualified, depending on the severity of their cases.

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, May 11, 2020 4:05 pm

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