Veterans Roundup: Retirement Overhaul Seems Inevitable, Female Veterans Then and Now, the State of DOD Suicide Prevention Programs

Posted by Fred Wellman

Military Retirement Overhaul: Congress is on Board- so What Comes Next?
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Congress has agreed on a major overhaul of the military retirement system, contained in the latest defense authorization bill. The plan would make service members joining January 2018 or later eligible for some portion of retirement benefits when they leave the military after just two years of service. One controversial aspect of the plan includes the option for troops who served for 20 years to take a lump sum payout as their retirement. Advocates say veterans who take this option will forgo thousands of dollars in inflation. For other reasons, President Obama has threatened to veto the defense bill. –MC
Bottom line: As Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America’s Bill Rausch says in Leo’s story: the “biggest surprise of this deal is that it’s actually getting done.” Discussions about modifying the current 20-year cliff retirement system for the military have been raging for years, so it’s something of a surprise that Congress dropped these dramatic changes in the new defense authorization bill. There is an awful lot to digest here but there are good points and bad like any kind of approach to something that has been in place for so long. The good news is that none of the changes will affect those serving currently without their consent and current retirees won’t see any changes at all. It will be over two decades until we see the second and third order effects that might arise from these changes. Today, a large portion of veteran entrepreneurs are military retirees who take the leap secure in the knowledge of a steady, if reduced, income and healthcare while they build their businesses. Will that be the same case when most won’t see any payouts for some 10 or 15 years or more after retirement? –FPW

PTSD Common Among Female Vietnam-Era Veterans
Andrew M. Seaman (@andrewseaman), Reuters
A new study in JAMA Psychiatry suggests that up to one in five female Vietnam-era veterans has experienced Post-Traumatic Stress related to their service. The study analyzed a survey of 4,219 women who served between 1965 and 1973, among those surveyed were 1,956 women who served in Vietnam. According to the study, the women who served in Vietnam reported higher rates of exposure to traumatic wartime experiences including sexual harassment and performance pressures. –MC
Bottom line: As Kelly Kennedy noted in her Morning Muster last week (which you should subscribe to, by the way) this is unfortunately not very surprising. We write here with frequency about the need for better female-specific mental and physical health care at VA for today’s veterans so it’s not hard to believe there was hardly anything in place for female veterans of Vietnam. As VA does improve its health care options for female veterans, that must also mean for older female veterans, as well. Just as Members of Congress ask Secretary Bob about providing more obstetricians, they should also ensure VA doctors know how to treat a woman with menopause. As we try to build the foundations for a DOD and VA that meets the needs of female warfighters, let’s not forget the lessons that can be learned from women of previous generations. –LJ

Health Care Reforms Already Underway, VA Insists
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
In a hearing last Wednesday, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald responded to a recent report that called for an overhaul of VA healthcare by suggesting that many of the reforms suggested are being implemented. Although lawmakers continue to focus on past problems, McDonald says there has been significant transformation over the past year and once again called for more funding and flexibility. –MC
Bottom line: Secretary Bob’s appearances on the Hill are beginning to become a tad predictable and repetitious. Republicans criticize the VA, he defends the VA’s progress. They say that the latest report proves that the VA is broken, he points out that the report or study in question fails to capture any actions taken in the last year. Like the coach of a storied football program, Secretary Bob faces high expectations, because so much is expected of the VA from its fan base. But like said coach—say, Chip Kelly as he remakes the Philadelphia Eagles with inconsistent results thus far (Ed. Note: stop sucking up to Leo!)—if you entrust him with leadership, you need to give him room to operate before you call him and his team a failed experiment. If we are going through another round of outrage every single month, then we really aren’t setting up Secretary Bob to succeed. Congress needs to give him a clear timeline and set clear expectations, and then hold its outrage in check for the immediate future. –BW

Carter Sounds Nearly Ready to Open Combat Jobs to Women
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor) The Associated Press
Last week, Defense Secretary Ash Carter told troops in Sicily that he doesn’t want to limit his search for qualified members of the combat arms to just men. Although Carter hasn’t decided on how he will handle the recommendations from service branches regarding women in combat, he promised to review each recommendation carefully, particularly the expected request for exceptions from the Marine Corps. The new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Joseph Dunford, recommended restrictions when he was Commandant. In a recent speech, the new Commandant, General Robert Neller, called women his teammates, but has yet to specifically state his opinion on the matter. –MC
Bottom line: Baldor provides the latest update on the machinations within the DOD on gender integration. It appears that, despite a variety of viewpoints, every branch except the Marine Corps is choosing to accept the challenge of allowing qualified service women to compete for every combat job. We’ve been clear on our support for complete gender integration many times, but at this point, it’s easy to understand the political angle that Carter is taking in not rushing his decision. All the recommendations are in and it is clear that gender integration has achieved a point of relative inevitability, but Carter does not want to unnecessarily harm his relationship with Gen. Dunford, Gen. Neller, or the Corps as a whole, so he will pay them the courtesy of “considering their recommendations.” At the same time, the continued absence of the full Marine Corps study from the public discourse feeds speculation and controversy that hardens opinions in lieu of facts. Secretary Carter may take his time to announce his decision, but keeping the inputs from the services imperfectly veiled from the public eye is unnecessary.  –BW

Resilience, Risk Management Play Big Role in Suicide Prevention
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
At a hearing last week military officials discussed suicide prevention programs, and said that recognizing behaviors early on and building a resilient force is the key to prevention. However, some experts warn that programs teaching “resilience” and “coping skills” may actually increase the stigma for service members who face these challenges. To reduce the stigma, some officials like Army Gen. Joe Votel, commander of the U.S. Special Forces Command, are stepping forward to say that there’s no shame in seeking help from military support programs. –MC
Bottom line: The key bottom line here is that this year suicides do appear to be down for the military services. There are dozens of factors driving that and frankly, nobody could tell you what they are. So, there is some skepticism to the military’s constant focus on “resiliency training” and other programs that may not truly be making any real impact where other factors are responsible. Not discussed in the story is the cost of these programs against measureable impacts. In the end what does matter is that the military is discussing the issue and making an effort to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health care among service members. Almost everyone agrees that the stigma associated with admitting perceived weakness like needing counseling is a key factor in suicide, especially in the combat arms, and any efforts to stem the tide of suicides involves ensuring that seeking help is not only encouraged but also actively respected in the line units. The jury is out whether that is the case today and will be in the near future. –FPW

Pentagon Hits University of Phoenix with Probation
George Altman, Military Times
The Defense Department is restricting the University of Phoenix, one of the most popular for-profit colleges among service members, from recruiting on base or accepting new students using DOD tuition assistance. While DOD wouldn’t comment on why it instituted the restrictions, the Times obtained a letter outlining reasons including misuse of military seals and trademarks and not notifying base officials before conducting operations on site. –LJ
Bottom line: Despite the Friday news dump, stock brokers still had plenty of time to dump UofPHX parent company stock by the end of trading and boy did they. This news certainly isn’t welcome for the Apollo Education Group, particularly in conjunction with the several other federal and state government agencies investigating the university’s practices. For some advocates, this move to restrict the University of Phoenix is a long time coming, but others argue that it has cleaned up its act in recent years and even DOD statistics show that service members using tuition assistance at the university have a higher course completion rate than at many other schools. Are there worse for-profit college actors out there? Without a doubt. But by going after the big fish, DOD is sending a message to all of those schools that no school is immune to repercussions should they break the rules. –LJ

Warrior-Scholar Project Invites College-Bound Veterans to Apply for 2016 Academic Boot Camps
The Warrior-Scholar Project recently opened applications for its 2016 academic boot camps. WSP’s boot camps provide enlisted veterans with the skills and confidence necessary to complete a four-year undergraduate degree. Veterans participating in the program attend a one-to-two- weeklong program at top universities across the nation. We recommend the program to any veteran who is thinking about working towards a four-year degree. –MC

Wounded Warrior Project Ride Gives Veterans Boost
Matt Patterson (@mattpattokc), The Oklahoman
Wounded Warrior Project hosted a Soldier Ride in Oklahoma City beginning last Thursday. The event, which drew about 50 injured veterans, provided attendees with the chance to connect with others who face similar challenges. Veterans like Jason Davis, an Air Force veteran who attended the ride, are very thankful for the experience and opportunity. Since the very first Soldier Ride in 2004, more than 30 rides take place each year across the country. –MC

Every veteran Deserves Legal Access to Medical Marijuana
Nick Etten for Task & Purpose
Nick Etten, founder of Veterans Cannabis Project made the case for veterans’ legal access to medical marijuana in a Task & Purpose article last week. Etten delves into the data of veterans with post-traumatic stress, depression, or traumatic brain injury and the efficiency of medical marijuana as treatment. Veterans Cannabis Project aims to bring attention to this topic at the national level, if you’d like to learn more or support this cause please visit –MC

Home Depot Event Improves This Able Veteran’s Training Facility
Marilyn Halstead, The Southern
As part of the fifth annual Celebration of Service, Team Depot volunteers helped to improve a training facility for This Able Veteran. The Home Depot’s commitment to supporting veterans doesn’t stop there, just last week a local manager worked with a veterans’ caregiver to provide air purifiers at a heavy discount, and also supported the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans’ 2015 Veterans Access to Housing Summit. Throughout this year’s Celebration of Service, The Home Depot will deploy thousands of volunteers across the country to improve more than 100 homes for veterans. –MC

Eric Eversole: Workshop, Job Fair Aim to Help Veterans
Eric Eversole (@EricEversoleHoH) for the Knoxville News Sentinel
Eric Eversole, President of Hiring Our Heroes, discussed the importance of supporting our nation’s veterans and military spouses as they search for employment, despite a decreasing veteran unemployment rate. Eversole notes that unemployment data does not take into account the 250,000 service members transitioning out of the military annually, unemployed and underemployed veterans with experience in medicine, logistics, and other desired fields, and those who are looking to change careers or jobs. Hiring Our Heroes, a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, is hosting a job fairs across the country for veterans and military spouses at any point in their career. Learn more at –MC

Quick Hit:

Attorney: Army Officer Recommends no Jail Time for Bergdahl
Will Weissert (@apwillweissert) The Associated Press
Lt. Col. Mark Visger recommended in a report on Monday that Sgt. Bergdahl be referred to a special court martial and face no prison time. Bergdahl was held captive by the Taliban after leaving his post in 2009 and faces charges of desertion. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition (Mon-Wed, 12-14 October); Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

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

Congressional Hearings

No hearings this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events

Capitol Post: Speaker Series: Fred Wellman, ScoutComms CEO, “Be Aggressive, Beg Forgiveness” Who: Fred Wellman, CEO of ScoutComms When: 8:30 AM, Wednesday, October 14, 2015 Where: 652 N Washington St, Suite 425, Alexandria VA, 22314

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, October 12, 2015 1:40 pm

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