Veterans Roundup: Short-term VA Fix Could Become Long-Term Mess, Back to the Future: Iraq

Posted by Fred Wellman

Disability Payments to Veterans More than Doubled Since 2000
Erica E. Phillips (@eephillips_wsj), The Wall Street Journal. On Thursday, the Congressional Budget Office released a report about the VA’s disability payments since 2000. Payments have increased from $20 billion in 2000 to $54 billion in 2013. Although the report attributes the payment increases to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the number of Vietnam-era veterans receiving benefits has increased by 60% since 2000 as well. The increase also raises concerns that some veterans are faking or exaggerating PTSD symptoms to receive benefits. Because PTSD is hard to define, and diagnosis depends on personal testimony from veterans, it has become harder for disability raters to honestly and accurately rate veterans claiming to have PTSD symptoms. –MC
Bottom line: This isn’t the first article we’ve seen on the rising cost of benefits over the last 14 years. While it seems logical to assume most of this has come from the new generation of veterans the truth is more complex as large numbers of Vietnam veterans have finally applied for their earned benefits after new rules allowing for Agent Orange claims among others. The fact is that the long-term costs of our wars will be long coming. This week a study found that PTSD symptoms linger in many Vietnam vets for decades with little relief. The nation will have to accept this as the price of our commitment to those who serve and plan for it in years—and wars—to come. –FPW

Retired Navy Officer Helps Run Company that Targets Troops with Bad Credit
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. USA Discounters is back in the news this week, as retired Navy Capt. Timothy Dorsey was found to be one of the organization’s top officials. USA Discounters has been under fire for targeting service members seeking to purchase items with credit and then suing service members for nonpayment in Virginia despite the residency of the service member. Dorsey is no stranger to controversy: his nomination to one-star admiral was hotly contested in 2012 because in 1987 he shot down an Air Force F-4 Phantom during a war-game exercise. –MC
Bottom line: Captain Dorsey may win Blue Falcon of the Year. In many ways, USA Discounters is following in the corporate tradition of hiring former high ranking military officials to appear as if service members and their families are important to the company. Many companies have found ways to serve military families legitimately and honorably and still make a profit without the cover of an executive billet for a former field grade or general officer. Let this be a reminder that actions speak louder than boardrooms. –LJ

U.S. General Killed in Attack at Afghan Military Academy
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe) and Pamela Constable, The Washington Post. An Afghan soldier opened fire at an Afghan military academy in Kabul, injuring up to 15 personnel last Tuesday. Among those injured were a German general and eight Americans. Army Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene lost his life during the attack and is now the highest-ranking U.S. service member to lose his or her life in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, Maj. Gen. Harold Green is not the first U.S. general killed in combat throughout the history of war as Dan Lamothe also tells us in his article about the history of previous U.S. generals to lose their lives at war. –MC
Bottom line: Every death in war is a personal tragedy for a family and a communal tragedy for the nation, but few deaths are as shocking as those of hallowed generals. MG Greene’s death in a green-on-blue attack in Afghanistan is a somber reminder of the harm every service member faces overseas and of the challenges ISAF has faced in quelling insider attacks. With the war in Afghanistan heading towards a inevitable conclusion, perhaps the best that can be said is there will be fewer losses like that of MG Greene or SSG Girard Gass, of 3rd Group, who passed on August 3, two days before MG Greene. –LJ

Lawmakers Costly Plan to Fix Veterans Affairs is Temporary, or Not
Lisa Mascaro (@LisaMascaroinDC), LA Times. Congress passed a $16.3 billion bill that President Obama signed into law on Thursday allowing veterans to seek outside care when they live too far from VA facilities, and giving VA top officials power to remove VA employees who falsified claims. Congress created the bill as a stopgap, meaning that it is a temporary fix until the $16.3 billion runs out. However, the CBO estimates that the funding will run out by the end of next year, right around Congressional elections and Deputy VA Secretary Sloan Gibson said that the VA can be fixed in 2 years. Since cutting support to veterans is something that would not help a campaign, it’s unlikely that Congress would stop assistance to the VA after this bill runs out. –MC
Bottom line: Ah, Congress. Where temporary measures become long-term policy because too often 25 people on a committee (let alone the 535 in Congress) cannot agree on a more permanent solution. The VA reform compromise was such a rare beast in the current political climate that it seems all too plausible the fix could become the status quo. It will take the not insignificant power of the veteran advocacy community to keep Congressional feet to the fire on long-term VA reforms. –LJ

Army to Fire 550 Majors, Some in Afghanistan
Lolita Baldor (@lbaldor), The Associated Press. The Army will soon tell 550 majors that they have to leave the service by next spring, which follows the 1,100 captains notified of their upcoming separations. When the Army told the captains, 48 of them were serving in Afghanistan at the time. Although the Army will not comment on the number of majors currently in Afghanistan who will receive the bad news, General Campbell says that the Army is trying to minimize the impact on the soldiers, and that some of them may have opportunities to continue serving in the National Guard and Reserve components. –MC
Bottom line: While there was a great hue and cry in many places about officers being “pink slipped” while serving in combat it’s really not all that unusual. Many officers are passed over for promotion and forced to leave the service every year. This group will be redeployed and given additional time to transition out with as much as six to nine months for many of them so the argument that they must adjust to coming home and getting out of the service doesn’t quite fit. The fact is that you can’t have it both ways. To cut the force the Army is going to have to cut from every level of the service and do it at times that include deployments. There is just no convenient way to kick people out of the military. The good news for those leaving is that there has never been a larger effort by the corporate community and the Guard and Reserve components to support their transition or retention. Jobs are coming back and opportunities abound. –FPW

As Wars End, a Benefits System Complicates the Process of Moving on for Spouses
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@Tmgneff), Washington Post. A recent article on the Washington Post explores the tough conversation of death benefits for surviving spouses of service members who died as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The benefits system is said to reward spouses who do not remarry or find work; if a widow or widower makes over a certain income, social security payments are reduced and if a spouse remarries before the age of 57, they lose the benefits all together. Another rule, known as the “Widow’s tax,” a combination of benefits that actually cancel each other out, significantly reduces payments to which spouses are entitled. –MC
Bottom line: While nearly everyone would say we must support the spouses and other dependents of fallen service members, the political reality is they are a small constituency with few major voices or advocates. That means much needed benefit reform is a long way off, no matter how much it is needed. Widows, like some veterans with disabilities, say the current benefit system is set up in such a way that discourages growth or healing. Perhaps once Congress wises up to the fact that reform benefiting widows and veterans’ wellness could actually save money in the long-term, they will consider acting. –LJ

Obama Authorizes Targeted Airstrikes in Iraq
Christi Parsons (@cparsons) and David S. Cloud (@DavidCloudLAT), Tribune Washington Bureau. Last Thursday, President Barack Obama announced that he had authorized strikes against Sunni militants in Iraq, and had dropped supplies to displaced Iraqis on Mount Sinjar. President Obama promised that he would not send troops back to Iraq and refuses to be involved in another war in Iraq. The authorized air strikes are restricted to only Iraq and occurred only because the Iraqi government requested assistance from the United States. –MC
Bottom line: The mixed feelings abound right now for many Iraq veterans with many calling for the U.S. to stay out of their mess but many more calling for the U.S. to help our allies in Kurdistan and the trapped refugees on Mount Sinjar. The sad irony is that with the collapse of so many Iraqi security forces the ISIS forces are now better equipped than the Kurdish Pesh Merga trying to stop them and U.S. strikes are being directed on the very equipment we left behind. We can hope for the same success on the ground U.S. airstrikes were able to give the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan back in 2001 (Ed. Note: whether US SOF is on the ground assisting is a question for another day.) The idea of U.S. ground forces once again fighting in Iraq makes everyone from the White House down very uncomfortable but it’s clear that sadly ISIS could very well pose more of a threat to U.S. allies and the homeland than Saddam ever did. –FPW

National Guard Ending Sponsorship for NASCAR, IndyCar
Jenna Fryer (@JennaFryer), The Associated Press. The National Guard has sponsored NASCAR’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. since 2008 and currently sponsors Graham Rahal, one of the most recognizable names in IndyCar. Having spent $32 million on NASCAR and $12 million on IndyCar this year, the National Guard has decided to end its sponsorships. Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons, acting director of the Army National Guard, says the constrained budget environment has forced the Guard into looking for more cost-effective branding opportunities. A USA Today report earlier this year showed that the Guard’s NASCAR sponsorships has failed to recruit a single soldier, something that drew the ire of Congressional budget hawks on the Armed Service committee like Sen. Claire McCaskill. –MC
Bottom line: Like everything these days this issue has quickly become a political one but the return on investment for the money simply can’t be justified today. Fully one third of the Guard’s recruiting budget was going to racing and no one could claim success with the effort beyond ambiguous polls saying that some 90% of new Guard members were aware of the Guard via NASCAR. Hardly a direct correlation between seeing Dale Jr. and deciding to sign up to go to war and it seems hard to believe seeing the Guard logo on a race car pushes someone over the edge to serve their country. Common sense dictates that expensive sport sponsorships that only started in 2007 don’t need to be continued today. For those non-profits bemoaning this terrible loss…well…nothing is stopping them from continuing to take troops to races. If the multi-billion dollar sport wants to support the troops themselves we suspect there are plenty of opportunities for them to do so without U.S. government money being involved. –FPW

Pro-Troop Charity Misleads Donors While Lining Political Consultant’s Pockets
Kim Barker (@Kim_Barker), ProPublica
Move America Forward, an organization claiming to support troops, has been found to mislead donors, falsify charitable accomplishments, and send its revenue to the political consulting firms that back it. The charity has stolen photos from other groups and veterans claiming that the images are from their programs and initiatives. They even claimed to have partnered with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, a partnership the Defense Department says never existed. The major player behind Move America Forward is Sal Russo, a political consultant involved with one of the largest Tea Party groups but the scandal involves a lot of big names in politics and the veteran community. –MC
Bottom line: With the groundswell of support for the troops, plenty of phony and sham non-profits have popped up to separate indiscriminate donors from their money. Move America Forward and its politicking antics should be a reminder to donors big and small to give non-profits a look beyond the surface and discover what impact donations have on real service members, veterans, and their families. Too often the veneer of good will is enough to keep no-good non-profits afloat. Impact is what counts. –LJ 

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Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess for the month of August.

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, August 4, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

National Press Club: National World War I Memorial, 100 Years Later Who: Edwin L. Fountain, U.S. World War I Centennial Commission When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, August 12, 2014 Where: 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, Washington, DC

Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce: Why Hiring Veterans Makes Cents Who: Dawn Halfaker, President and CEO, Halfaker and Associates, Charlie Miles, Directory Military Programs, ManTech, Esteban Morales, Recruitment and Outreach Manager, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Andrew Schwartz, Virginia Values Veterans (V3) Program Manager, Department of Veterans Services Commonwealth of Virginia When: 7:30 AM, Tuesday, August 12, 2014  Where: Gannett Co., Inc. 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, VA

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry and 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, August 11, 2014 2:24 pm

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