Veteran’s Roundup: Someone Dems and GOP Can Agree on Finally in the White House, What an Increase in Troops Means for Afghanistan and the Army, & more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Senate Confirms David Shulkin as New VA Secretary
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
The Senate has unanimously confirmed Dr. David Shulkin, Donald Trump’s pick for Veterans Affairs Secretary. Shulkin has served as the chief of VA health programs, and will take on this new position after being sworn in today. –KB
Bottom line: After former VA Secretary Shinseki resigned, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing over what kind of experience the person who took over the VA should have: either experience running a larger hospital or business or military experience. In Secretary McDonald, we got a bit of both. In Secretary Shulkin, we will have our first civilian VA secretary but also one who has experience running a large hospital, in addition to experience working at the VA. Shulkin will bring real world knowledge to the job that no general could about what actually happens in VA facilities and how several years of incremental reforms have played out for veterans seeking care. Additionally, as a civilian, Shulkin might be able to uniquely connect to the VA’s many civilian employees. It’s not only veterans’ advocates that are cautiously optimistic about Shulkin, but also Congress as evidenced by the Senate confirming him 100-0. A repeated chorus of bipartisan voices has been reassuring the community that the VA will not be privatized and it seems Shulkin and his confirmation are an endorsement of that. Indeed, the most vocal proponent of privatization has been quiet on that front lately, instead focusing its efforts on issues like the Supreme Court and outlining a policy of improving services “provided through the VA”. That bodes well for President Trump and VA Secretary Shulkin to get to work on veterans’ issues without the sometimes too partisan politicking that has made for raucous congressional hearings and unnecessary delays to implementing necessary reforms. –LJ

Trump Taps Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as His New National Security Advisor
John Wagner (@WPJohnWagner), Missy Ryan (@Missy_Ryan) and Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe), Washington Post
Last week, Army Lt. Gen. (ret) Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s national security advisor, resigned after allegations hit the news that he withheld information and misled top White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador to the U.S. After his resignation, well-known military figures including retired Gen. David Petraeus and retired Vice Adm. Robert Harward turned down the opportunity to take over the job. Trump also considered other military leaders like Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen and retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, for the position before he named Army Lt. Gen. Herbert Raymond “H.R.” McMaster as his new national security adviser on Sunday afternoon. –MC
Bottom line: To say it was a fascinating week in Washington is like saying the sun seemed unusually yellow today. It was a crazy week in Washington for those watching the national security news cycle. There was hardly a single tear shed for the loss of LTG (R) Flynn. Hardly anyone in the military community had much love left for a loudly Islamaphobic, hyper-partisan retired general and his management of the NSC in just three weeks was seen as a bit of a train wreck. Having VADM Harward turn down the President and stay in the private sector was a shock to the system as well. But, the POTUS has a flair for the dramatic and announced the remarkably smart choice of H.R. McMaster just Sunday afternoon. McMaster is a hero of both the Gulf War where he earned the Silver Star at the famed ‘Battle of 73 Easting’ and went on to greater impact commanding the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment around Tal Afar in northern Iraq in 2005 which served as a proving ground for what became the dominant counter-insurgency strategy of the U.S. for the remainder of the war. He tells truth to power so it will be fascinating to see how his ‘shoot it straight’ approach works in a White House where a tight circle surrounds a president who gets much of his information from cable news shows. We stocked up with more popcorn at ScoutComms (Whirley Pop is the best, don’t settle for microwave. –LJ) for the inevitable show and recommend the same for you. –FPW

Dem Proposes Exempting Veterans From Trump’s Hiring Freeze
Cristina Marcos (@cimarcos), The Hill
Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.) introduced a piece of legislation last week that would allow the federal government to hire veterans despite the hiring freeze. The freeze, mandated by President Donald Trump in his first week in office, is estimated to hurt veterans more so than other populations, due to a study last November that indicated nearly 31 percent of federal jobs are held by veterans. –KB
Bottom line: As we’ve said the past few weeks, the federal hiring freeze is bound to hit veterans harder than other demographics of job seekers. Because of the hiring preferences placed on veterans at the federal level, 44 percent of full-time federal hires in 2015 were veterans. Anecdotally, that has spurred some resentment among civilian job seekers who feel they might be losing out on jobs to less qualified veterans (whether it’s true or not.) So, carving out an exemption for veterans during the federal hiring freeze would only serve to deepen that resentment. Does the freeze impact veterans? Yes, of course. But are veterans doing so poorly in the job market that they need this special exemption? No, probably not. And long-term, exemptions like this only further serve to create a divide between veterans the broader community of Americans. Some Americans shouldn’t suffer while veterans get special status. Rather, this is a time for everyone to come together and say: federal hiring freezes never work and cost more money than they save whether they’re implemented by a Democrat or Republican. –LJ

Thornberry: Sending More Troops to Afghanistan Won’t Mean a March Back to War
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Tex.) believes increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will resolve political conflict in the region. These remarks came one week after Army Gen. John Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan, stated that thousands more troops would be needed to break the current “stalemate.” Currently, 8,500 U.S. service members and 5,000 foreign allies are stationed in Afghanistan. ­–JG
Bottom line: To be clear, what Thornberry and Nicholson are discussing is not a new “surge.” Nicholson is explicit that the troops he is asking for would be utilized in training roles to support Afghanistan’s military, which still lacks the consistent capability and discipline to assert full control over the country’s interior. At the same time, there are very valid questions about whether more personnel can make any noticeable difference, and whether an increased U.S. presence – which brings along with it increased capabilities – would make it hard to avoid engaging in combat missions when Afghan forces were not sufficient or could not be trusted to adequately complete the job. Ultimately, all debates about numbers seem incomplete until the Trump administration lays out a clear policy on Afghanistan. Presence alone means nothing, and you can’t “win” a conflict if you don’t know what you are trying to achieve. This applies not just to the military forces on the ground, but to the commander-in-chief and the secretary of defense. We can talk all we want about troop increases, but action in that direction should certainly not come before an American policy toward Afghanistan is laid out by President Trump. –BW

Lack of Experienced Maintainers is Fueling the Corps’ Aviation Crisis
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marine Corps Times
When the U.S. Marine Corps downsized from 202,000 to 184,000 people, many Marines could take early retirement. Among those were some of the Corps’ more experienced aviation maintainers, leaving the bulk of the Corps’ maintainers with significantly less experience. This has led to an aviation crisis within the USMC, with more than half of their current fleet unable to fly. The plan to alleviate this crisis, according to Lt. Gen. Jon Davis, is to invest more in current maintainers, rather than training new ones. –KB
Bottom line: Sing it with me Scout Report regulars “Second and third order effects!” It’s a broken record isn’t it? Here was the plan: let’s offer early retirement bonuses and departure incentives to cut the force down to the completely made up sequestration levels. What could go wrong? We learned this lesson in the 90s with the post-Cold War drawdown. Offering monetary incentives for people to depart motivates the most capable who will easily find work on the outside to take the money and run. Those who stay behind do so for a mixture of reasons ranging from not enough experience to get the big job, to self-awareness that they won’t do well in the civilian market, to those who just feel safe in the all-encompassing warm blanket that is military service. In the end we found ourselves starved for decades for high-quality mid-grade and later senior leaders to replace the talented ones that had left. Lt. Gen. Davis is right. Creating new maintainers will just exacerbate the problem because they will lack experience. So, now the Corps will have to (A) invest extra money in training for the remaining service members and (B) hire contractors to fill the gap in capability until uniformed personnel can catch up. Here’s the punch line: Guess who all those expensive contractors will be? If you guessed…the same guys we paid to get out then you are the winner in today’s ‘it seemed like a good idea at the time’ sweepstakes. The U.S. military has been around for about 242 years and yet history has a nasty way of repeating itself over and over. –FPW

Army to Spend $300 Million on Bonuses and Ads to get 6,000 More Recruits
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today
Over the course of the next eight months, the Army will need to recruit approximately 6,000 new soldiers without lowering standards. By Oct. 1, with the help of incentives like shorter enlistments and larger bonuses, the Army expects to hit the new target of 476,000 active duty soldiers. –DD
Bottom line: The Army will likely take flak for headlines that make it sound like it is just throwing dollars away to find recruits, it is clear from Vanden Brook’s reporting that the Army is acting solely in response to 2016 legislation that sought to roll back years of drawdowns. The challenge the Army faces—assuming Congress appropriates enough money to meet the new recruiting needs—is in rapidly increasing the recruiting pool without lowering standards, something that Maj. Gen. Jeffrey Snow of Army Recruiting Command acknowledges was done poorly after 9/11. Snow is committed to maintaining standards, but if Congress does not fully fund the Army’s requests, the Army may see itself forced to lower standards again in its attempt to conduct the “largest in-year increase in the history of the all-volunteer force.” President Trump has expressed his desire for a much larger increase down the road, so this year’s recruiting effort could prove to be a litmus test as to the feasibility of any major expansion efforts. There are a lot of questions and moving pieces to address, but given the legislative mandate, the Army is going to have to do the best it can to recruit 6,000 more soldiers in short order. Hopefully, the rush to expand won’t prove detrimental to current soldiers, training exercises, equipment maintenance or other mission-critical investments. –BW

Military Spouses – and a Renewed Call to Hire Our Heroes
Eric Eversole (@EricEversoleHOH), The Washington Times
In the last six years, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has helped more than 28,000 veterans and military spouses find jobs through its hiring events. Additionally, it has partnered with more than 2,000 companies that have committed to hire 710,000 veterans and military spouses. While this progress is tremendous, and should be celebrated, Hiring Our Heroes President Eric Eversole reminds us that there is still work to be done. Through targeted efforts, more and more companies are hiring military spouses, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because of what their talents and skills can bring to any company. –JG

Vets Group: New Study Results Justify Continued Funding for GI Bill
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Student Veterans of America teamed up with National Student Clearinghouse and the Department of Veterans Affairs to examine student veteran success in higher education through a research project titled the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST). They found that student veterans are graduating at rates higher than their civilian peers and are pursuing degrees in STEM fields. The report ultimately shows that student veterans are succeeding in higher education, and helps justify continued support and funding of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Keep an eye out next week for the full report from SVA. –MC

Cielo Partnership with RallyPoint Confirms Commitment to America’s Servicemen and Servicewomen
Cielo, a leading recruitment outsourcing company, announced a partnership with RallyPoint, America’s leading online vertical network for service members and veterans. Dave Gowel, CEO of RallyPoint, expressed his enthusiasm for the partnership, which connects RallyPoint’s one million service members and veteran members with Cielo employment opportunities that best fit each veteran’s unique skills and backgrounds. –JG

Vet Tix Nonprofit Reaches Over 500,000 Veterans and Their Families
David Polsdorfer (@DPolsdorferLC), Lima Charlie News
Since its founding in 2008, Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) has distributed more than 2.6 million tickets to deserving military personnel and their families, and has over 500,000 registered VetTixers. Vet Tix provides service members, veterans, spouses, caregivers and their families tickets to events that help reintegrate the military population into civilian life. Ninety-five percent of Vet Tix’s donations go towards buying event tickets. Read more in a new interview with Vet Tix’s Chief Marketing Officer, Al Maag. –DD

Deadlines Looming for Military Family Scholarships
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
Deadlines for many military children and spouse scholarships are approaching quickly. From military relief society scholarships to the Scholarships for Military Children Program, there are several educational resources for military families that are offered by veteran service organizations, spouse clubs and other groups that support military families. Read more to find a good fit for you or your family member. –DD

Got Your 6 Welcomes Lauren Augustine as Director of Government Relations
Got Your 6 is growing! Last week, the organization announced that Army veteran Lauren Augustine is joining Got Your 6 as its very first director of government relations. She previously worked in legislative roles at Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the American Federation of Government Employees, advocating for veterans and military families. Congratulations to Augustine and the Got Your 6 team! –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences:

West Conference: WEST 2017 (Tue-Thurs, Feb. 21-23, 2017); San Diego Convention Center, San Diego, CA

Disabled American Veterans: DAV 2017 Mid-Winter Conference (Sun-Tue, Feb. 26-March 1, 2017); Crystal Gateway Marriott, Arlington, VA

Congressional Hearings:

Congress is in recess this week

Think Tanks & 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 Tuesday, February 21, 2017 10:13 am

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