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Veterans Roundup: Reforming VA Health Care, Reforming DOD Personnel Management, Reforming the GI Bill

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Looks to Revamp Private Care for Veterans in Ambitious Plan
Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo), The Washington Post
The VA has been criticized for its inability to handle a growing demand for its services from veterans. Last week, the VA revealed a new plan to eliminate gaps by integrating and expanding private health-care arrangements into one system. Reforms to the military health care system were also discussed last week, and lawmakers said that changes would be put off for 2016, but revisited for 2017. In addition, the VA and Department of Defense showcased new software that allows personnel at both agencies to work together and view veterans’ health records. –MC
Bottom line: I’ve commented in past Scout Reports that the best thing Congress can do right now is to get out of the VA’s way so that it can pursue more ambitious reforms. We also have noted that the VA needs to act upon Secretary Bob’s promises of significant reforms. It’s widely acknowledged that the first rollout of the Choice Cards earlier this year made barely a dent in the problem of access to care; wisely, the VA is not going for a Band-Aid approach, but is seeking to de-conflict and remove complications from the entire process for accessing and coordinating private care as a complement to direct VA care. The VA’s plans for the New Veterans Choice Program will need approval from Congress, which demanded a plan for consolidating outside medical care programs. But as Rein reports, the consolidation will cost at least $3.5-$7 billion to redesign the system over three years, and ensuring expanded access will cost an extra $2 billion annually. Congress will need to decide if the VA’s plan is a reasonable one given the desired results, and then must decide if its expectations for veterans care is worth the price tag. Keep an eye on this in the coming months, as we will be hearing more as congressional leaders decide whether to back, critique, or oppose this new proposal from Secretary Bob and his team. –BW

Should Vets be Allowed to Use Their GI Bill to Start Their Own Businesses?
Ryan Gallucci (@RyanGallucci81) and Joshua S. Holley (@afonok), Task & Purpose
Task & Purpose hosted a debate about whether or not veterans should be able to use their GI Bill funds to instead start their own businesses. Ryan Gallucci, Deputy Director of National Veterans Services for the VFW makes the case for why veterans should not be allowed to use funding to start a business, and Joshua S. Holley, founder of the Tripoli Group, takes the opposite side. Don’t forget to share your opinion by voting on the website. So far, most respondents seem to agree with Gallucci. –MC
Bottom line: Here at ScoutComms we are passionate supporters of veteran entrepreneurship not just as a veteran owned firm but through our long partnerships with the leaders in the education and assistance of veteran businesses. At the same time, it’s important to note that the Post-9/11 GI Bill passed after years of hard work and advocacy efforts and is carefully desgined to provide education benefits to today’s veterans. While the idea of providing a funding benefit to those who don’t wish to go to college to instead start businesses makes absolute sense, it’s a legitimate worry that opening the Pandora’s Box on the GI Bill will lead to further tinkering and watering down of this important military benefit. We hope that a middle ground can be found that places greater emphasis on funding and support to veteran owned businesses in the appropriate places like the efforts of the Small Business Administration. Treating the GI Bill like a pot of money that is guaranteed to every service member and can be cashed out like a piggy bank is a dangerous path. –FPW

SecDef Pulls Back on Personnel Reforms, Leaves Out Big Changes for Now
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times
Defense Secretary Ash Carter laid out in more detail his plans for changing the way the military manages personnel last week, including the creation of a system to match service members with job assignments, and a new position of “chief recruiting officer” to attract our nation’s top talent for the military, among other changes. However, Carter’s plan did not address issues he earlier said his reforms would address like ending the “up-or-out” practice that forces service members to leave the military if they aren’t promoted within certain time frames. –MC
Bottom line: There are two ways to interpret this latest reporting: one, that DoD is pulling back from its stated pursuit of fundamental personnel reforms or two, that after making an initial splash by floating a number of big ideas, it is now executing in an incremental manner, starting with the low-hanging fruit. From an outside perspective, it is not clear which interpretation is correct. While the proposals Carter laid out are not earth shattering, they certainly address areas of potential improvement, such as learning what service members are thinking when they leave the military through exit surveys and encouraging increased telework. And while obviously not everyone in the military can telework, it sure would be fun to see the Pentagon’s hallways filled with three-star telepresence robots (would you have to salute the robot?). At the same time, members of groups like the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum, which brings together future and emerging military leaders, are unlikely to be satisfied with soft changes that leave the DoD with a personnel system last modified during the Cold War. With the Army heading for 30,000 active and reserve cuts in the meantime, it remains a fascinating to debate what DoD’s ‘Force of the Future’ will truly look like. –BW

HUD Concedes Homeless Vets Goal Out of Reach for Now
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Officials at the Department of Housing and Urban Development released their official count of homeless veterans in America and said that they do not expect to meet their goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of this year. The report highlights the significant strides that have been made despite the goal being unmet. Officials like Matthew Doherty, executive director of the Interagency Council on Homelessness, say that ending veteran homelessness is not necessarily about the number, but rather ensuring that there are systems in place to sustain effort and assist veterans who need help. Several cities like New Orleans and Houston have achieved this goal and recently Virginia was announced as the first state. –MC
Bottom line: Just two weeks ago, Leo was the first to do the math and figure out the latest numbers don’t look so rosy for ending veteran homelessness this year. Now, we have HUD’s official release and response. Neither advocates nor service providers had been expecting a huge dip that would put the nation within reach of zero homeless veterans this year, but there had been hope for a dip of more than 2,000. HUD says some of this can be chalked up to the fact that more than 6,000 homeless veterans have government vouchers for housing but can’t find apartments to accept them—hence First Lady Michelle Obama’s recent public plea to landlords to rent to homeless vets. As we’ve written before, the systems are in place to assist homeless veterans, it is a matter of delivering the services in communities in a very targeted way. Another hurdle will be keeping up momentum for funding—and sometimes the way we talk about ending veteran homelessness may get in the way. For example, Virginia last week declared it had ended veteran homelessness. “But wait!” a few do-gooders said, “I’ve seen homeless veterans at the shelter!” What ending veteran homelessness means on the large state scale is that those systems are in place to assure functional zero—so that when a veteran falls into homelessness, that experience is brief and doesn’t happen again. That is why keeping the systems in place, despite “missed” goals, is so important. –LJ

Veteran Says He Was Attacked, Shamed at Charlotte Airport
Ken Lemon (@kenlemonWSOC9), WSOC TV
Jack Hughes, a Vietnam veteran, was assaulted by a group of men, one of whom claimed to be an active duty Marine at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport last week. Hughes was wearing a jacket with his medals and ribbons, including two purple hearts, while returning from a Veterans Day ceremony in St. Louis when he was verbally and physically assaulted. He even showed the accusers his VA healthcare cards, but they refused to acknowledge his service. The men were not arrested even after a police officer intervened. –MC
Bottom line:  A few weeks ago, we reported how a former Marine was assaulted at a bar when accosted by an Air Force Airman who didn’t recognize a VA card vice a military ID and accused him of stolen valor for claiming service in Iraq. This week the entire stolen valor public shaming movement came to an even worse low point with a Vietnam Veteran being publicly attacked in the airport but two idiots including a self-identified active duty Marine. This stupidity brings shame to anyone who serves or who has served. The idea that modern veterans or service members would bring a decorated Vietnam veteran to tears because they are too stupid to know that veterans are encouraged to wear their medals on their civilian clothes for ceremonies like Veterans Day is beyond pale. It’s long past time for this whole “stolen valor” ridiculousness to end. –FPW

Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Recognized for Awarding Grants to Veteran-Owned Businesses
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes
Fort Walton Beach, Florida was recently ranked as one of the top 10 places for veteran entrepreneurs. One reason may be that it is home to Venture Hive’s new veteran entrepreneurship program. Seven veteran-owned companies relocated to the town for Venture Hive Fort Walton Beach’s 12-week program, which concluded with a demo day event before Veterans Day. Some of the companies, like MrQuickPick, moved to Fort Walton Beach from as far as Kentucky and have decided to stay in the area to continue developing their businesses. The city has set aside $500,000 for the program, helping support the evolution of Venture Hive’s accelerator for veteran businesses. –MC

Conscious Command: Transition Assistance from the Top-Down
Dakota Meyer (@Dakota_Meyer) for Huffington Post
Dakota Meyer, a Marine veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, discusses the continued need to support veterans as they transition out of the service, even as unemployment rates drop. Meyer cites an Institute for Veterans and Military Families and VetAdvisor joint study that showed retention is an issue to be addressed. Meyer also talks about his work with Hiring Our Heroes, and the positive effects its efforts has had on our nation’s service members and veterans. –MC

Military, Veterans Charities Split $1.5 Million Donation
Karen Jowers, Military Times
The Service Women’s Action Network and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University were among 29 veterans organizations selected to receive a combined $1.5 million from the Newman’s Own Foundation. Paul Newman was a World War II Navy veteran and the foundation was created to carry on his legacy of philanthropy in 2005. To read more about the IVMF, visit vets.syr.edu and to learn more about Service Women’s Action Network, visit servicewomen.org. –MC

Upstate Has Two Angels, One Scrooge
Angelia Davis (@NewsAngelia), Greenville Online
The Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund was recognized as a model charitable giving organization by South Carolina Secretary of State Mark Hammond on the 20th annual Scrooges and Angels list. Nonprofits selected by the secretary must put at least 80 percent of their funding towards their programs. –MC

Website Offers Easy-to-Access Veterans Data
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last Thursday, the Housing Assistance Council released two new tools that will help empower local leaders to learn about veterans living in their towns, cities, and states. HAC’s new Veterans Data Central is a user-friendly and organized website featuring thousands of pages of census and demographic data. Funded by JPMorgan Chase, the Veterans Data Central and Supporting Veterans In Your State fact sheets provide information ranging from demographic data to educational achievement to housing problems. –MC

Quick Hits:

Moral Injury: Troops Talk of How War Assaults Conscience
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Last week, Nancy Sherman, a Georgetown University philosophy professor, brought together veterans to discuss the topic of moral injury. Moral injury is a way to describe emotional pain, guilt, or frustration individuals may feel when they have done something they believe to be wrong, been wronged by others, or witnessed a wrongdoing. Sherman recently wrote a book: “AfterWar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers,” and discussed moral injury more in depth in a Military Times Q&A. –MC

Opaque Military Justice System Shields Child Sex Abuse Cases

Richard Lardener (@rplardner) and Eileen Sullivan (@esullivanap), Associated Press
Last week, the AP examined how child sex abuse cases have been handled in the military justice system. The authors found that sex crimes against children make up the single most common offense committed by inmates in military prisons—pointing to a system that punishes them harshly—but the extent of these crimes and how long inmates have to serve is difficult to determine within the military’s criminal justice system. –MC

VA Demotes and Reassigns Phila. Director Rubens
Tricia L. Nadolny (@TriciaNadolny), The Inquirer
The Department of Veterans Affairs demoted Philadelphia benefits office director Diana Rubens. She has been reassigned as the assistant director of the Houston benefits office. The demotion and reassignment comes in the wake of calls for a criminal investigation of how Rubens got the job and how much she was paid to conduct her relocation. This action comes as the VA’s new Inspector General nominee promises increased accountability if confirmed. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

Congressional Hearings

Congress is in recess.

Think Tanks & Other Events

No events this week. For a full list of upcoming events, visit our website.

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, November 23, 2015 11:53 am

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