Veterans Roundup: Sequestration Putting Lives at Risk, Iraq and Afghanistan Vets Getting Bad Paper More Frequently than Past Vets, Opioids, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Congressional Failures Just Forced the Marines to Raid a Museum for Aircraft Parts
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
On a recent trip to some military bases, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, said that resources seem low, and some Marines he met were even forced to raid a museum for parts to get their aircraft up and running. This anecdote has raised the question of readiness and resources among the Marine Corps and other services, particularly Marine aviation. Lawmakers worry that these deep-seated issues can’t even be fixed by the White House’s 2017 budget request and more will be needed. –MC
Bottom line: If you are a regular reader of the Scout Report you’ve heard us state before that the current budget crisis for the military is settling into a pattern that will have far reaching effects on the service members, their families, and the security of the nation and will cost lives even in peace time. This story is yet another example of the measures that the services are being forced to take to meet a mission set that has not been reduced in any way in the last three years. Congress continues to deny their continued failure to provide a working budget for the military and our military members and their families are facing increasingly uncertain benefits, training and more dangerous, reliability of their equipment. Aviation accidents are up significantly and benefits continued to be “reformed” one small change at a time that is steadily marching towards substantially reduced support to military families and retirees. What is disheartening is that almost no one is talking about any of it. The average American has no idea that there is a problem and the current election cycle is hardly even talking about military budgets in any substantial way. At some point something outrageous will finally get the nation’s attention and we only hope it’s not a lost battle or major accident that costs lives of those who serve. –FPW

VA Audits Find Stressed, Overworked Staffs Made Scheduling Mistakes
Adam Ashton (@TNTmilitary), The News Tribune
Last week, the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general released a number of audits that have been underway since spring 2014, when the VA came under fire for the major wait time scandal. These audits found that employees at VA facilities across Washington state were stressed and overworked. As a result, they took some “questionable short-cuts” when booking appointments for patients. The hospitals are now taking actions to prevent such practices, like hiring more staff and aiming to see patients within 30 days of appointment requests. –MC
Bottom line: Unlike the VA scandals in Arizona, the reports coming out of Washington state seem relatively tame in comparison. The inspector general paints a picture of a system that is overburdened and underfunded, and managers who in a handful of cases asked employees to cut corners to try to meet overly ambitious VA goals. A few years ago, this news might have sparked outrage. Now, it pales in comparison to other reports, and frankly, highlights problems that the VA and Congress have been working furiously to address since the end of the Shinseki era. What Ashton covers here are problems caused by a significant growth in patients, which was not met in real-time by a concurrent increase in medical providers and funding. That problem has been seen across the country, and is an ongoing challenge that the VA is tackling under Secretary Bob. Hopefully, the tame IG report from Washington will not be followed in the coming year by more salacious scandals. –BW

Report Finds Sharp Increase in Veterans Denied V.A. Benefits
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), The New York Times
A report released last week by Swords to Plowshares found that more than 125,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have received discharges under other than honorable circumstances and as a result, post-9/11 veterans were more likely than other generations to be denied benefits. Over the past few months, advocates have been calling for more checks and balances in place regarding discharges related to mental health because the disciplinary issues may be the result of combat related Post-Traumatic Stress or traumatic brain injuries. As these discharges are revisited, the way the military’s criminal justice system treats suicide is also being reevaluated. –MC
Bottom line: The biggest revelation in Swords to Ploughshares’ report is how heavily it seems the military is relying on other-than-honorable discharges to get around the lengthy, and costly, process of medically discharging service members. The DOD process leaves former service members with “bad paper” that means VA is, in most cases, unable to help with health care issues, both physical and mental. The article suggests this is the fault of VA and its faulty interpretation of Congressional intent in 1944 when it outlined which veterans were entitled to benefits—all those “other than dishonorable”. Of course it is easy to lay blame with VA these days, but in fact this is an issue that begins with DOD and, only recently, is Congress pursuing a fix. Where VA may be able to improve is in its handling of discharge upgrades: currently only 10 percent are approved and the process often takes years. Meanwhile, it’s incumbent on Congress to work with DOD on a way to ensure service members with mental health issues get treated with respect throughout the discharge process while also preserving commanders’ ability to kick-out truly bad actors. –LJ

Sorting Out a New Life Back Home
Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe), The Washington Post
After nearly fifteen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s no secret that many our nation’s service members have been through multiple deployments. But civilian contractors and advisors like Matt Sherman have also experienced multiple “deployments” and in some cases spend more time in combat zones than service members. Sherman was overseas for a total of almost thirteen years and saw a close friend lose his life. –MC
Bottom line: Jaffe’s piece, as so many of his do, hits on more than a few important topics through the individual’s story. You can read the story about a lawyer called by patriotism to utilize his skills to support his country’s war effort. You can read the story about how the lack of institutional knowledge has hurt the prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. You can read the story about how life overwhelms the plans we once had for ourselves. In our reading, the story that stands out is about the stark difference between how a civilian and a service member return from war. For Sherman, there is no transition assistance to help him find a new job, no mental health care to deal with redeployment stress, no community of comrades in arms. Civilians at war, whether diplomats, contractors, or aid workers, face some of the same challenges that veterans do upon returning, but often do not have the same support systems. It’s certainly an area where the veteran community has a lot of expertise it could use to support those who supported them in theater. –LJ

Veterans Face Greater Risks Amid Opioid Crisis
Sarah Childress (@sarah_childress), Frontline
Several studies over the past few years have shown that military veterans are more likely to suffer from chronic pain than civilians, and in turn veterans are also more likely to die from opioid overdoses. The issue of opioid use among military veterans, efforts to control the problem to date, and the challenges the VA must overcome to improve treatment are gaining more and more attention from the media and lawmakers. –MC
Bottom line: There is a meme that floats around social media pretty regularly that says, “Pain is weakness leaving the body. Unless you were in the military, then it’s arthritis.” It’s not uncommon for service members as young as their late 30s to be diagnosed with osteoarthritis and athletic type injuries that leave them in near constant pain. This has lead to many veterans finding themselves regularly taking opioid painkillers and a growing addiction problem in the population. Latest data shows that some 68,000 veterans or 13% of all veterans in VA care using opioid painkillers are suffering from some form of opioid-disorder. The VA for its part is seeking more pain management options but the challenge is always the time necessary to track and handle individual cases where the pressure to see a long back log of patients means doctors are quickly prescribing medications and many vets end up with a host of different drugs to deal with the laundry lists of ailments. The VA is now plugging into state databases to track prescriptions and ensure that vets aren’t using too many drugs signaling addiction or overdose risk. There isn’t an easy answer to this challenge as older generations of veteran’s age and the new generation has injuries related to long years of wear and tear from multiple deployments and an athletic lifestyle. Kudos to the VA for making progress but there is a long way to go. –FPW

When Serving in the U.S. Military Isn’t Enough to Prevent Deportation
Nigel Duara (@nigelduara), Los Angeles Times
After the Vietnam war, the military halted its practice of offering naturalization to non-citizens who chose to join the military. Although naturalization was resumed after 2009, many military veterans fell through the cracks of those middle years and now face deportation if convicted of a felony despite their service. Nigel Duara brought attention to this last week through the story of Juan Valadez, a Navy veteran who was deported after serving time in prison for a crime he committed when he left the service. –MC
Bottom line: Deportation is an amazingly disruptive process for the life of an individual. It’s even more jarring for families, especially when they are torn apart against their will by borders. In my personal opinion, if anyone serves in the U.S. military, if they don’t start out as citizens, they had better be made citizens before they ever deploy to a foreign battlefield. Anything less would be mercenary. Juan Valadez is a relative success story, having built a family and a life as a small business owner in Mexico after deportation, but based on recent reporting, not all veterans are so lucky. Deportation is a life-altering event, and while it may seem the simplest way to solve a domestic problem, the U.S. can afford to be more deliberative and cautious before taking the extreme step of deporting anyone who has served in the armed forces. –BW

ScoutComms’ Client News:

MYnd Analytics Receives IRB Approvals for SMART-MD Replication Trial
MYnd Analytics has received approval to conduct a clinical trial of its Psychiatric EEG Evaluation Registry (PEER) technology among 500 patients, beginning in Canada and Southern California. The trial will replicate results that show the technology reduces trial and error prescribing and so creates better outcomes in patients with PTS and depression. The study will examine patients, including service members, veterans, and military families, who suffer from depression. –MC

Program Helps Veterans Adapt to Life in College
Alex Hsieh, Daily Trojan
The Warrior-Scholar Project, a nonprofit organization that hosts academic boot camps at top universities across the country for enlisted veterans, was highlighted by the Daily Trojan at University of Southern California. Jessie Ramirez, a program director at WSP and junior at USC, shared his positive experiences with the program and its impact on veterans who are transitioning from the military to student life. –MC

HillVets House Fellowship
HillVets, a bipartisan organization working to get more veterans working on and around Capitol Hill, is taking applications for its 2016 House Fellowship. Veterans who have recently separated from service or are finishing up their educational opportunities will be eligible for the program beginning in July. If you’re interested, check it out here and learn what it takes to apply: –MC

Veterans Returning to School Fight Stigmas, Culture Changes
Braley Dodson, Daily Herald
At colleges across the nation, student veterans are finding their way as nontraditional students. Many, like Trampas Rogers, an Army veteran who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, are joining their campus Student Veterans of America chapters, helping them connect with other veterans and succeed in an academic environment. SVA’s CEO Jared Lyon and Vice President of Programs Walter Tillman just traveled across the nations on a Listening Tour, to meet veterans like Rogers and hear firsthand from members the challenges facing student veterans. Keep an eye out for great research, data, and lessons learned from SVA in the coming weeks! –MC

Quick Hits:

Pentagon and State Department Order Families of U.S. Troops and Diplomats to Leave Turkey
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), The Washington Post
Last week, officials announced that the U.S is withdrawing all military family members from installations in Turkey due to security concerns and its proximity to the Syrian border. The announcement came after travel restrictions were also put into place as a result of the recent Brussels attacks that took the lives of four Americans, including Gail Minglana Martinez, an Air Force spouse. –MC

Sen. John McCain Calls for Universal, Permanent VA Choice Card
Dennis Wagner (@azrover), The Arizona Republic
At a town hall in Phoenix last week, Arizona Sen. John McCain discussed proposed new legislation that would make the VA Choice Card universal and permanent. McCain said that many veterans currently struggle to access the Choice Card and are put on hold for hours before they can reach someone to discuss the program with. –MC

This is the U.S. Military’s New Medal for Troops Fighting ISIS
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times
Last week, the Pentagon announced a new medal to honor service members who have served in Iraq and Syria fighting against Islamic State militants. Nearly 11,000 service members are currently eligible for the medal, which requires a deployment of 60 nonconsecutive days or 30 consecutive days to Iraq or Syria. –MC

Care Commission Shocker: The Push to Privatize VA Health Care
Tom Philpott (@Military_Update), Stars and Stripes
In a “straw man” document released last week by the Commission on Care, seven of 15 advisors recommended an eventual privatization of healthcare for veterans and shutting down VA medical centers. Advocates and other commission advisors have spoken out against this recommendation, and noted that several of the commissioners could gain financially from the privatization of care. –MC

Moves in the sector:

Wounded Warrior Announces New Chief Operating Officer
Florida Times-Union (@FCN2go), WTLV
Last week, the Wounded Warrior Project announced retired Army Maj. Gen. Charlie Fletcher as its new chief operating officer. Fletcher will take over the position next month, and he currently serves on WWP’s advisory council. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Marine Military Expos: Marine South Expo (Wed – Thu, April 6-7); Camp Lejeune, NC

Congressional Hearings


Armed Services: Posture on the Department of the Army
Who: Honorable Patrick J. Murphy, Acting Secretary of the Army, General Mark. A. Milley, USA, Chief of Staff of the Army
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, April 7, 2015
Where: G50 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

Center for a New American Security: The Literature of our Post-9/11 Wars
When: 5:30 AM, Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Where: Bank of America Reception Hall, Washington, DC

Blue Star Families: 2016 Neighbors Celebration
When: 6:00 PM, Friday, April 7, 2016
Where: U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Washington, DC

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 04, 2016 5:40 pm

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