Veterans Roundup: Sexual Assault Cases, Ambush in Niger, Union Warns of VA Privatization and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

How the military handles sexual assault cases behind closed doors
Craig Whitlock (@CraigMWhitlock), The Washington Post
In September 2015, a female civilian reported a colonel in the U.S. Air Force, her direct supervisor, for sexual misconduct. Despite sending countless expletive-ridden text messages, instigating unwanted physical encounters and not acceding to multiple attempts to shut down the unwelcomed behavior, Ronald S. Jobo never faced a criminal charge. Later in March 2016, Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, the senior officer in Jobo’s chain of command, had the ultimate say in whether Jobo would be charged. Even after the victim attempted to reach out to Thompson to express the severity of the situation, Thompson gave Jobo a non-judicial punishment – Jobo was forced to retire and was demoted one rank. With more than 6,000 reports of sexual assaults in the armed forces last year, the Pentagon viewed the increase as a positive sign of victims coming forth to report cases. Even after Jobo’s 2016 retirement, he will continue to receive his military pension for the remainder of his lifetime. –DD
Bottom line: This case of sexual assault and harassment again draws serious concern to the problem of how sexual assault cases are handled in the military. The case against Col. Ronald Jobo asserts that he both harassed through email and text message and physically assaulted a civilian subordinate over the course of 2015. Yet, despite a large quantity of evidence—there are hundreds of text messages as well as photographic evidence of the physical assault—the senior officer in Jobo’s chain of command, a three-star general, decided not to file criminal charges. As it often does, this technique of dealing with senior officer misconduct quietly, and doling out a NJP seems counter-intuitive. It seems that we should hold more senior officials to the highest standards of conduct, not allow their rank to give them a pass. The action to instead pursue non-judicial punishment was completely within the purview of the chain of command in the current military judicial system, and yet as this incident and many other have shined an unflattering light on the results of quietly “handling” these issues without a court martial. Those who support the current system state that a commander’s involvement in handling these cases is necessary for the good order and discipline of the unit. Advocates and some politicians disagree. Many feel that taking decision-making away from commanders and instead relying upon independent military prosecutors would be a huge step in ensuring that those accused of sexual assault are treated uniformly and without partiality sometimes shown within their own chain of command. While an increase in reported sexual assaults in last year’s statistics (note that civilian survivors of assault are not counted within official statistics) have defense officials stating that this is a positive response and the result of victims’ heightened sense of confidence in the system, stories like this do nothing but undermine what confidence may exist. –RB

3 Special Forces Troops Killed and 2 Are Wounded in an Ambush in Niger
Eric Schmitt (@EricSchmittNYT), The New York Times
During a training mission in Niger last Wednesday, four U.S. Army Special Forces troops were killed and two were wounded from a surprise ambush during a routine training mission. As of Friday, the body of a fourth soldier assigned to the 3rd SFG was found after he was reported missing, following the attack. Special Forces have been assisting the Nigerien military with training on surveillance, intelligence and other military operations, and this marks the first fatalities in Niger from enemy fire. The attack occurred in an isolated area of the country, but so far there have been no leads on who performed the raid. The attack took place near the border of Mali, where militants have been conducting cross-border raids. By next year, the U.S. will have completed a $50 million drone base in Niger where they will be able to more closely monitor the insurgents that are crossing the northern border. –DD
Bottom line: In addition to the four lives lost in Niger, a 10th Mountain Division soldier was killed in Iraq by an IED this week. At ScoutComms, we think it’s important to note that while we deal mainly with issues impacting veterans and military family life, that our service members are still serving and sacrificing. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are still ongoing, and neither looks to have an immediate end to hostilities in sight. Troops are currently in Syria and a number of special operations units are surely in other countries like Niger that many Americans would never be able to find on a map. Our own Brian Wagner is joining the fight in Afghanistan. The war isn’t over for millions of Americans—and you dear Scout Report readers are the choir, I know—and that’s the message the rest of America needs to hear in order for the programs and resources we all know are important continue to get support. Care about VA healthcare and VA Choice? Then Americans need to know there are still men and women who will need that taxpayer provided care. Just as we can’t forget the memories of those we’ve lost, we can’t let America forget their fight, either. –LJ

‘One hand tied behind your back’: Why DoD’s empty policy chair matters
Aaron Mehta (@AaronMehta), Military Times
As we approach mid-October, the Department of Defense continues to be understaffed in several key policy roles. More specifically, the undersecretary of defense for policy remains unassigned. Defense Sec. Jim Mattis has said the understaffing is slowing down communications to Congress, while preventing others within the DoD from fully focusing on their specific jobs. The USD-P role serves as an advisor within the department as well as to the general public. Many former officials describe it as a combination of consigliere, strategist and diplomat – a key role regarding international relations. It is critical to fill the position in a timely manner as the administration sets policies for homeland defense, reviews war plans, determines a process on how to approach bilateral relationships with allies and more. –DD
Bottom line: The Trump administration continues to struggle to fill key positions across the federal government and the empty Undersecretary for Policy seat is a critical one. The position is a go-to leader in the Pentagon and is in effect a right-hand to the SECDEF. In a geo-political environment in which expert policy minds and senior staff members are integral to the country’s missions and readiness across the globe, many have raised concerns that a lack of manpower and expertise could have serious ramifications down the road. The bipartisan Partnership for Public Service, along with the Washington Post have been tracking 600 key political appointments across the cabinet agencies. DOD positions such as Inspector General and General Counsel are open, with no nominees. This opening and lack of official nominee, coupled with a recent announcement by Sen. John McCain that the Senate Armed Services Committee will not confirm any positions to the Pentagon are creating a critically short-staffed agency during a time in which we have no shortage of complex defense issues around the globe. –RB

Veteran Students speak out after Career Center shuts down
Carly Moore (@CMoore_News), FOX 21
After the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it was reviewing Retail Ready Career Center, a trade school that provides HVAC training and job placement, the school announced they were closing their doors, sending dozens of student veterans’ educational careers to disarray. According to school officials, the Department of Veteran Affairs ordered that the school close. According to the VA, all GI Bill payments to the school were revoked due to a violation of VA policy that states a school’s total revenue cannot be made up of 85 percent or more of GI Bill funding, but the VA says it did not force the school to close. ­–JG
Bottom line: Retail Ready Career Center has been a well-regarded training program with visits from many veteran advocates and leaders to speak and support the program. It appears that the program suffered from one of the key challenges any training effort that intends to have veterans pay using their GI Bill benefits faces: it can’t get the majority of its money from just veterans. There are a lot of good reasons for the 85/15 rule and primarily it’s designed to ensure that the generous benefits given to military veterans are specifically preyed upon. Retail Ready is a veterans program so in a certain sense it’s baffling how they were able to run the program for as long as they did and were seemingly surprised that there could be a problem when the VA inspected them. We believe that there is real value in a veteran having a buy-in to his or her training but it is a fine line and there has to be an assurance that they will get an industry standard certificate or degree leading to a job. There will be more information to come on what led to the closing of RRCC, but if it is permanent and what lessons are there for other similar programs in the future? Nonprofit-based training programs run the risk of losing funding as interest in veterans causes lessons or other priorities take precedent so we have to find a way to continue with paid programs that are legal and meet the needs of our veterans. –FPW

Union warns of VA privatization ahead of Choice reform debate
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Members of the American Federation of Government employees, a workers’ union that represents 230,000 VA employees, formed a protest to condemn the White House’s latest efforts to privatize VA healthcare ahead of the coming debate in Congress. Last Thursday on Capitol Hill, protestors demanded additional VA funding to help fill the gaps in VA health care. The White House is looking to improve and simplify the Veterans Choice Program, which helps veterans that live 40 miles or more away from a VA facility to find care from a more local private healthcare provider. One of the critical concerns expressed by the workers’ union is the profit healthcare companies stand to make from ill and injured veterans all at the taxpayer’s expense. ­–JG
Bottom line: As you can read in the quick hits below, this was not the only drama surrounding the future of VA healthcare on the Hill last week. Democrats boycotted a VSO roundtable on VA healthcare simply because the advocacy-oriented, Koch-aligned CVA was attending. Then they held their own session later in the week. With AFGE also making a show of union power, it’s clear that various groups are beginning to draw lines in the sand on what comes next for VA Choice and care in the community. But it’s important to remember veterans could seek care in the community long before VA Choice made that benefit more readily accessible to a larger number of veterans. There has always been room in the VA system for specialized care to be augmented by community care. Many veteran organizations report that their members need and want the specialized care offered by VA, and that can’t be discounted either. A balance has to be made, but that seems like it will be harder if the two sides ultimately voting on the issue aren’t even attending the same public forums. This will be a moment for veteran groups to lead legislators to the middle and find a solution that’s not partisan and instead is pro-veterans health. –LJ

GE executive selected as University of Montana president
Keila Szpaller (@KeilaSzpaller), Missoulian
Last Tuesday, Seth Bodnar former executive at General Electric, was chosen to become University of Montana’s next President. On paper, Bodnar initially sounds like a long shot, being the only candidate without a doctorate and having earned no tenure in his career previous. However, the search committee found the inspiring leadership style they were looking for in him, in addition to his academic performance, citing his two master’s degrees, and his top overall performance in his class at West Point. Bodnar now must await confirmation until the school hosts a public hearing and receives formal school board approval. –JG
Bottom line: One thing we like to say at ScoutComms is that when you’ve met one veteran…you’ve met one veteran. Seth Bodnar is in many ways a unique member of the veteran community and in many ways he represents many of the incredibly talented former service members we meet on a regular basis. Bodnar is a West Point graduate, Rhodes Scholar, Special Forces combat veteran and then went on to serve as an executive at GE to much acclaim (Ed. Note: We met Seth while working with GE). His leadership and inspirational style is a natural fit for many leaders who have served and it’s a perfect fit for a university looking for leadership in a new generation and outside the confines of academia. We are excited to see Seth take this position and hopes the board approves his appointment. There are more Seths out there today ranging from industry to public service and we are happy to see them get the opportunities that will help our nation in their second service as much as they did in uniform. Congratulations Seth from the ScoutComms team. –FPW

VA names Elizabeth Dole to head caregivers advisory group
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
The VA has been addressing many issues relevant to the military and veteran community as of late, and the need for improving caregiver benefits and their overall wellbeing is certainly among them. Now leading the charge on this as chair of the VA family and caregiver advisory committee is former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole, founder of ScoutComms client Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Goals of this new committee include improvements to the caregiver stipend, outreach, communication and more. –AB

Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway talk challenges with Lejeune spouses
Bianca Strzalkowski (@BiancaSki) JDNews
Last week, Ivanka Trump, White House advisor Kellyanne Conway, and White House special assistant Jennifer Korn delivered remarks at the Military Spouse Symposium hosted by Hiring Our Heroes and MOAA at Camp Lejeune. In the theme of “Keeping a Career on the Move,” Korn, a U.S. Marine spouse herself, shared her personal experience navigating the workforce and how she took on the obstacles she faced building her career as a military spouse. –JG

New Trailer For Nat Geo’s ‘The Long Road Home’ Is A Haunting ‘Rendezvous With Death’
James Clark (@JamesWClark), Task & Purpose
National Geographic recently released a new trailer for its upcoming new show “The Long Road Home,” and it is a powerful glimpse into the emotional journey viewers will experience throughout the formidable eight-part series. Based on Martha Raddatz’s New York Times Best-Seller, the show relives “Black Sunday” – the supposed 2004 “peacekeeping mission” and its dramatic pivot to a battle against insurgents in Sadr City, Iraq. –AB

Army veteran risked his life to save others at Las Vegas concert massacre, but don’t call him a hero
Matt Hamilton (@MattHjourno), The Los Angeles Times
Robert Ledbetter, a former U.S. Army Ranger scout sniper, was at the Jason Aldean concert in Las Vegas last Sunday when a night of expected fun erupted into chaos. Seconds after Ledbetter’s emergency response reflex kicked in, he found himself running through a field of carnage as bullets continued to rain down from above. He assisted the wounded any way he could by crafting a makeshift tourniquet out of a flannel shirt and carrying a man away to safety. After finally escaping the horrors of the night, he rushed to the side of his brother and boss who were among the 500 plus injured on Sunday. By every definition of the word, Ledbetter is a hero for his actions, but he doesn’t seem to see it that way. Ledbetter says he simply just did what he was trained to do, alongside at least five other combat medics, to offer whatever aid he could to those that needed it. –ML

Advocates warn war injuries could lead to Alzheimer’s disease
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
According to an analysis from the Veterans Against Alzheimer’s – PTSD, TBI and other brain-related trauma associated with military service put them at a much higher risk of Alzheimer’s and similar dementias compared to their civilian counterparts. Advocates in the fight against Alzheimer’s are looking toward community organizations to help spread the word about these risks, while also aiding the effort to help families that have a loved one suffering from the disease. This effort is also being coupled with existing efforts to reach out on mental health issues, which has focused lately on younger veterans, highlighted by the fact that one in five post-9/11 injuries are brain injuries. –JG

VA About To Scrap Ethics Law That Helps Safeguards Veterans From Predatory For-Profit Colleges
 Adam Linehan (@adam_linehan), Task and Purpose
The Department of Veteran Affairs currently has an ethics law that prohibits its employees from receiving money or owning a stake in for-profit colleges. The VA claims that this 50-year-old regulation has “illogical and unintended consequences” and proposed to suspend it, as they feel other laws provide sufficient safeguards against exploiting veterans. However, many veteran advocacy groups reject the idea of the proposed changes, with fear that for-profit colleges will take advantage of our nation’s heroes. This change is set to go into effect Oct. 16, unless a significant opposing comment is made by or on that date. –CB

House Dems boycott VA reform discussion over inclusion of right-leaning group: report
Ellen Mitchell (@EllenMitchell23), The Hill
On Tuesday, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee democrats boycotted a veteran health care reform discussion because Concerned Veterans of America (CVA) was attending the discussion. Democrats have accused the CVA advocacy group of focusing on political agendas instead of creating new policies. Other veterans groups that were invited to and attended the event included the American Legion, AMVETS, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and Wounded Warrior Project. –ML

Tricare reform rules fire a curveball over Jan. 1 fee levels Tom Philpott (@Military_Update), Stars and Stripes
Last week, the Defense Health Agency (DHA) released proposed regulations for Tricare reform on Jan. 1. These changes include restructuring appointment fees for active duty families, retirees under 65 and their families who access health care outside of military treatment facilities. Many military associations were not surprised that the DHA wants to impose fixed fees because defense health officials have been urging Congress to allow them to eliminate fees tied to percentages of allowable charges for many years. DHA leaders insist the new “fixed dollar” fees for the newly renamed “Tricare Select,” which intends to replace Tricare Standard and Extra, simply reflects “average” out-of-pocket costs that occur under the traditional cost-share method. –CB

James LaPorta
U.S. Marine Corps infantry and intelligence veteran James LaPorta will join the ranks of United Press International (UPI) as a defense reporter. LaPorta currently writes for The Daily Beast covering military news, and has previously written for The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Daily News and more. –AB

Tradeshows & Conferences

Association of the United States Army: 2017 AUSA Annual Meeting & Exposition (Mon – Wed, Oct. 9-11, 2017); Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC

MilBlogging and ScoutComms: Military Influencer Conference (Sun – Tue, Oct. 22-24, 2017); Sheraton Dallas Hotel, Dallas, TX

Congressional Hearings

Veterans’ Affairs: Economic Opportunity Legislative Hearing
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Other Events

None this week.

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 09, 2017 11:31 am

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