Veterans Roundup – SEALs Have a Problem in Their Ranks, Controversy about the Latest Army Secretary Nominee, VA Still Needs a Few Good Nominees, & More

Posted by Fred Wellman

ScoutComms Debuts on O’Dwyer’s National PR Firm Rankings

In the wake of a record-setting 2016, ScoutComms has made its debut on the O’Dwyer’s National PR Firm Rankings – the gold standard in the industry. After a year in which we enjoyed nearly 75 percent growth in revenues, we have been recognized as the seventh-fastest growing PR firm. –AB

Navy SEAL Drug Use “Staggering,” Investigation Finds
David Martin (@CBSDavidMartin), CBS News
In an exclusive interview, three Navy SEALs talked to CBS News about the drug problem that they say is damaging the culture of discipline within the Navy’s Special Operations unit. While the general thought is that drug utilization is a direct effect of the stress of the job, Capt. Jamie Sands says that this issue is due in part to the fact that when SEALs see other team members utilize drugs, they think that it’s okay for them to do it too. In the wake of this interview, officials within the Naval Special Warfare Command pushed back, providing data that they said showed the rate of positive drug tests within the SEALs was only 0.1 percent. –KB 
Bottom line: This is a sticky issue and the story that CBS did certainly seems to have its limitations when you look at statistics later released by Navy Special Warfare Command. Their response to the story claims it was based on a single briefing given by an Executive Officer last fall. However, we need to unpack some very strange happenings going on in the SEAL community. The simple fact is that this is an organization that has been at war for more than 15 years with no end in sight. They have gotten all of the glory but more and more evidence is piling up that there are deep challenges in the community with suicide in the ranks, increasing divorce rates, discord among those who are gaining fame and fortune from their experiences, and a host of other issues. Just this week Carl Prine at the San Diego Union-Tribune broke the story that a well-known SEAL has been starring in porn videos with his actress wife and elsewhere, no charges are being filed against an instructor at the center of an incident involving the drowning of a trainee. There will come a point where the Navy needs serious self-evaluation before the damage to the community is beyond repair or worse: costs lives of the members. –FPW

Impact of Federal Hiring Freeze Seen at Veterans Affairs, Prisons, Social Security
Beth Reinhard (@bethreinhard) and Rebecca Ballhaus (@RebeccaBallhaus), Wall Street Journal
Over the last three months, the federal government was unable to maintain its workforce which meant some agencies could not meet daily operational needs. At the VA, reports estimate there are 45,000 job vacancies, with only 37,000 of those declared exempt by Secretary Shulkin. While the hiring freeze formally ended last week, White House Office of Management and Budget director Mick Mulvaney announced that new strategic hiring methods have been put into place. More specifically, he stated that all federal employment vacancies moving forward will undergo evaluation to determine if filling the position is critical to the success of the current administration. –JG
Bottom line: In my first week writing for your trusty Scout Report, I opined on the federal hiring freeze put in place by President Trump. In that issue, I noted that hiring freezes could be detrimental to service members, veterans, and their families. Now, we are seeing the hiring freeze end, though not entirely and not without heavy oversight from the executive branch. New director of OMB Mick Mulvaney noted that while hiring may resume, it will support the priorities of President Trump’s budget, outlined in the 2018 blueprint. The blueprint showed stark cuts across many agencies (to include defunding USICH-an essential player in ending veteran homelessness), but there were also marked increases for the Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs. As our readership knows, when it comes to hiring and the budget, the devil is in the details. Statements from the Administration and OMB continue to be light on nuance and heavy on rhetoric. Announcements about “draining the swamp” and the Administration’s ability to “Make America Great Again” are not a true strategic plan to streamline bureaucracy and improve the lives of constituents. For our military and veteran communities, more money and an ability to begin hiring again sound like a win; but, will caregiving programs, veteran homelessness, childcare support and family readiness fall in line with the new Administration’s priorities? We certainly hope so, but only time will tell. –RB

Down for the Count: Women Veterans Likely Underestimated in Federal Homelessness Figures
Lily Casura (@lilygc), The Huffington Post
Federal funding for veteran homelessness relies on an accurate estimate of the number and type of homeless veterans. However, women veterans are often overlooked. Historically, the census asked men about their veteran status starting in 1840 and women veterans were not included until more than 100 years later. Several factors play into why women veterans are not counted by traditional methods, including trauma from military sexual assault or being a single parent with dependent children that keeps them out of shelters or on the streets. Homelessness among female veterans is too often left out of pop culture, literature and is generally under-researched. –DD
Bottom line: This is an important story to understanding why ending veteran homelessness has been and will be a difficult task in need of innovative approaches. We have been honored to support the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans conference for the last several years, at which we hear the latest ways nonprofits, cities, states, and the federal government are collaborating to help put more veterans into permanent housing. But we also hear about the challenges for specific populations. There simply aren’t many shelters or supportive housing units for families, which means many female veterans with children are excluded. Many female veterans also may not be identifying themselves as veterans, which means they won’t have access to the resources available to them. This isn’t only a problem for VA’s Center for Women Veterans to deal with—this is an issue that should be addressed by all parties to the fight to end veteran homelessness. If women veterans are falling through the cracks in the homeless count, they may be falling through the cracks elsewhere, too. With women taking on increasingly visible combat jobs, and the proportion of women in the veterans population rising, these are not “women’s issues” that need to be discussed. These are veterans’ issues that must be addressed. –LJ

New VA Chief on Public Scrutiny: Bring it
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack) USA TODAY
To increase overall efficiency at the VA, VA Secretary David Shulkin has launched a website that shares data related to the operations of each VA medical facility. Shulkin believes that this overall increase in transparency is the best way to bring about a better performing, more accountable VA. –JG
Bottom line: Secretary Shulkin has been saying and doing all the right things since his appointment to reassure the public that he cares about the veterans who turn to the VA for treatment, and that he also cares about the public’s right to know how the VA is doing. In substance, he has likely taken few actions that former Secretary Bob McDonald would not have taken, but with his new push for transparency, he is doing everything he can to create breathing room for additional reform to occur within the VA. This is already a far better scenario than many imagined when President Trump was elected, as it appeared that he was at least partially aligned with organizations that wanted to reduce the power and influence of the VA and shift care to the private sector in a way that could undermine the existing system. Shulkin’s selection sent an early signal that business was going to continue in a relatively consistent manner. His actions now to generate transparency represent his gambit to increase trust in the VA, even as it grapples with enduring problems, such as last week’s VA DC Medical Center scandal. At the same time, transparency is a tool and a process, not a solution. Slack notes in her reporting that data available in the new VA website shows that accessibility and quality vary significantly between facilities; if that does not improve in a measurable way, having publicly available data will only prove to be another way for the VA to be criticized by a public that reacts far more strongly to negative news than to the VA’s assurances of all-around success and value. –BW

‘Highest Levels of Chaos’ Impair D.C. Veterans Hospital, Inspector General Finds
Aaron C. Davis (@byaaroncdavis), The Washington Post
The Washington D.C. VA Medical Center is currently under heavy scrutiny by the Department of Veterans Affairs due to its general lack of inventory, which often left doctors and nurses “scrambling” to provide adequate care. The VA Inspector General is investigating this issue, claiming that the VA knew about this deficiency for a while without providing any support. In response, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin reassigned the head of the medical center elsewhere and replaced him with a member of his senior staff. –KB
Bottom line: Just a few hours passed between the VA IG report condemning the head of the DC VA Medical Center and the press release from the VA stating that the center’s Director had been placed on leave and replaced by his deputy. It was a masterful bit of crisis management for the VA PR team that showed Shulkin’s determination to hold bureaucrats accountable for their performance. A day later, the VA announced a second new acting head of the DC VAMC, a Trump loyalist who had served on the VA landing team during the transition. Shulkin has said the VA needs this kind of outside scrutiny to drive the internal changes he seeks. So, this high profile bad news story really may have played perfectly into VA’s hands. While Shulkin welcomes this external pressure, it’s not without its threats. Congress will be quick to latch onto any media exposure they can use to drive its agenda and veterans may see continued bad publicity as reason to stay away. As practioners, we’re eager to keep an eye on how the new administration manages PR around the VA. As advocates, we’re anxious to see action that results in better outcomes. –LJ

LGBT Advocates Launch Effort to Block Trump’s ‘Appalling’ Army Secretary Nominee
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
The Trump Administration announced Mark E. Green as its Army Secretary nominee, but several LGBT advocacy groups are pushing back on Capitol Hill. Green, a retired Army officer, who has served in the Tennessee state senate and has been quoted suggesting that being transgender is a disease – even sponsoring legislation in the state of Tennessee that would allow businesses to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation. Despite Green’s record of criticizing and targeting the LGBT population, his nomination has received support from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. –DD
Bottom line: This is a very tough issue to address in a short analysis. I personally find Green’s view on transgender issues to be misguided, and his legislative record to be shameful. But there is a great deal more to being a good Army Secretary than just this one issue, no matter how much attention it has received as progress has occurred in the last few years. Green is already in a tough spot following in the wake of the popular Eric Fanning, who was both openly gay and openly awesome at social media. He set an enlightened standard. On the issues, the best we can hope for is that Defense Secretary Mattis stands firm on his promise to not walk back the military’s commitment to equal treatment, and that Green follows Air Force Secretary nominee Heather Wilson’s lead during her confirmation hearing, where she stated that she will not walk back the existing LGBT policies in place in the Air Force. Ultimately, the Army does need a leader at its helm, and I am not yet convinced that Green—who served honorably in the Army—can be immediately disqualified by his past views and actions on this one facet of the totality of issues facing today’s Army. I respect the opposition of those groups who have spoken up thus far, and understand their concerns and fears, but based on what I know right now I would not be surprised if Green becomes the second Service Secretary nominee to at least earn a confirmation hearing in 2017. –BW

Administration Officials Move Slowly to Fill Open VA Leadership Posts
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
A search committee has been created to find the best candidates for Undersecretary for Health for the Veterans Health Administration. The committee is scheduled to make its decision by May 22. This comes just a few weeks after a similar search panel was announced for the Undersecretary for benefits for the Veterans Benefits Administration. The selection and nomination process has typically been a long one. Once these positions are filled, advocates hope that these offices can get to work on the reform policies championed by Shulkin and Trump. –JG
Bottom line: As Leo notes, nearly 90 days into the Trump presidency only one of 14 senior positions at the Department of Veterans Affairs has been filled—the Secretary. Staffing up an entire agency, especially an agency about which shortcomings were raised again and again on the campaign trail is a long and arduous process. Dr. David Shulkin, a widely-lauded pick for Secretary continues to build his team and will work towards improving the quality and efficiency of services for veterans, their caregivers and survivors. Dr. Shulkin, who served as the Undersecretary of Health during the Obama Administration knows the importance of selecting and retaining a team of strong and transformational leaders. Given the controversy faced by the VA over the past Administration, and the assertive goals of President Trump, it is advisable that the agency takes the time and care needed to build a solid bench of senior leaders. We hope to see additional committees stand up in the weeks to come to select the newest generation of VA senior leaders dedicated to the well-being of veterans, caregivers, and survivors. –RB

Advocates for Veterans Report Being Denied Student Loan Forgiveness for Their Public Service
Noah Lanard (@nlanard), Washingtonian
The latest contention surrounding student loan forgiveness rests on whether the program will continue to exist, depending on the influence of conservative think tanks on the Trump Administration. While many veterans already face reversals of their student loan forgiveness programs, some policy experts want to take it off the table completely. –AB 
Bottom line: The common term is the old bait and switch, and this is yet another example we are finding as one regulation, program and effort is scrutinized for elimination under the new Administration and the many conservative think tanks angling for a voice in town. The Student Loan Forgiveness Program was passed with bi-partisan support in 2007 and now some 550,000 enrollees are finally approaching the window to get those loans paid off and suddenly it’s not popular anymore. There are a lot of descriptions for that and one of them is it’s complete BS. It’s especially disheartening that those who have served at veterans focused nonprofits are being singled out because of nuances in the IRS categories and they are scrambling to sort it all out as many try to eliminate the program completely. Service matters. Giving back matters. It’s a small price to pay to encourage college graduates to go into public service to pay back their loans, at least up to some point it’s the least we can do. –FPW

Military Network RallyPoint Launches #FlowerOnEveryGrave Campaign to Honor Fallen on Memorial Day
RallyPoint, the premier online military network with more than 1 million members, has launched the #FlowerOnEveryGrave movement to bring back the true meaning of Memorial Day. They are on a mission to place a #FlowerOnEveryGrave at cemeteries across the country, starting at Arlington National Cemetery in partnership with the Memorial Day Flowers Foundation. –AB

Enjoy Free Sports, Concerts and Other Events
Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (@NMCRS1)
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) recently partnered with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (NMCRS) to enhance its ability to provides service members with free tickets to community-based events. Events range from major sporting events, concerts and events in the arts, and bring military peers together. Being around other service members and veterans at an event promotes comeradery and helps to strengthen family bonds, all of which are essential to a positive reintegration. –DD

Basis Entertainment Partners with Veteran Tickets Foundation To Give Back to our Nations Veterans
Veterans Tickets Foundation (@VetTix), Vet Tix Press Room
Basis Entertainment recently donated 100 tickets per show to Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) for its upcoming 2017 stadium shows and music festivals, happening in college towns across the nation. The concerts will feature artists like Blake Shelton, Thomas Rhett, Jason Aldean, Big & Rich and more. Vet Tix distributes event tickets to military members, honorably discharged veterans and family members of those killed in action. –DD

Frustrated with Misogyny, Hundreds of Female Marines Have Joined a Group Pressuring Male Colleagues to Change
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
In response to the Marines United Facebook group, hundreds of female Marines and Marine veterans have joined a Facebook group known as Actionable Change to combat gender-based discrimination in the Corps. The group currently has 400 members and continues to grow. –KB  

Falling through the Cracks: Military Families Say Their Special-Needs Children Are Especially Vulnerable
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars and Stripes
For military families with a child who has disabilities, they can never be sure that the educational system is able to provide an effective learning environment for their child. For Navy Capt. Cassidy Norman and his wife Michelle, they were initially relieved when they heard they were returning to Virginia Beach. But that quickly changed when they realized that leadership had changed while the Normans were away – school officials at the school their daughter Marisa was attending, downplayed the reality of their daughter’s disability. Luckily for Marisa, after a lengthy legal battle with the school district, she was placed into a private school where her educational needs can be met. It is feared that there are thousands more situations like this, but the numerous moves some military families deal with can make fighting for a child’s rights arduous. The Normans are helping use their experience to raise awareness around these issues and call for standardization of the process. –JG

VA secretary: New Choice Program to Be Unveiled by Fall
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times 
President Trump is expected to sign legislation this upcoming week which extends the controversial Choice through the end of the year, and VA Secretary David Shulkin said that he hopes to have a replacement for the program before the current one runs out. While this puts the program’s reform on a tight deadline, Shulkin asserted that the program is essential to providing veterans with access to better healthcare. –KB

The Marines have Their First Female Armor Officer
Corey Dickstein (@CDicksteinDC), Stars and Stripes
2nd Lt. Lillian R. Polatcheck recently graduated from the Basic Armor Officer Leaders Course, and now will head to Camp Lejeune to become the first woman Tank Officer. In a video, Polatcheck said that she views this as just “another Marine graduating from this course,” downplaying the historical significance of having a woman serve in this capacity for the first time. –KB

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week. 

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Other Events & Opportunities

High Ground Veterans Advocacy: Summer 2017 Fellowship Class Applications
Who: Service members and veterans around the country
When: Applications are open until April 20, 2017; Training dates: Sun-Sat, June 4-10, 2017

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, April 17, 2017 4:24 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation