Veterans Roundup: Suicide Among Vets, VA Reorganization, Credit Issues for Vets and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Suicide among veterans highest in western U.S., rural areas
Hope Yen (@hopeyen1), Associated Press
This month, the Department of Veterans Affairs released data for the first time on veteran suicide by state. The breakdown of data suggests that large contributors to veteran suicide include social isolation, gun ownership and access to health care. Two former service members and twins, Chris and Mike Goski, both experienced invisible wounds from war, which ultimately led to their suicides. Both brothers lived in rural areas and, at some point, sought medical help for their mental health issues. With the highest rates of veteran suicide being in western states, results found that in some states veterans have to drive 70 miles or more to their closest VA hospital. Female veterans are also at a high risk, with a suicide rate 2.5 times higher than female civilians. With this new data, the VA will be focusing on stronger methods for suicide prevention, as VA Secretary David Shulkin has made clear his top clinical priority is suicide prevention. –DD
Bottom line: On the one hand, Secretary Shulkin says suicide prevention is his top clinical priority. On the other hand, the VA released the latest data on suicide among veterans at 5:00 PM on a Friday evening. Among the statistics was the very concerning news that female veterans are particularly vulnerable compared to non-veteran women. Within the veteran community, this should raise serious questions about just how much progress the VA is making towards offering female-specific care. Yet, undeniably there still remain bigger questions about the future of specialized VA care versus how much we can expect veterans to be pushed towards care in the community. As Michael Phillips incredibly powerful story notes—and anecdotal information from others supports—social isolation faced by veterans in rural areas can be very dangerous for those suffering. If VA facilities aren’t easily accessible, it makes sense that veterans should be able to seek urgent mental health care closer to home, but how do we as a country and as advocates ensure that care meets the specific needs of veterans? These are complicated questions with nuanced answers from varied experts that deserve more attention than a Friday news dump can bring to them. Of course, as a community, we have to get comfortable with discussing issues around mental health and suicide among veterans while still sending the message that overall veterans are doing well. If we expect the VA and others to tackle complex issues, we can’t shy away from them either. ­–LJ

Here’s what fights are left for the annual defense authorization bill
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
The Senate has passed their version of the annual defense authorization bill which means Hill staffers will begin the process of finding common ground between the House and Senate versions to create a compromise that is most likely to garner the most support in Congress. The most polarizing amendments related to base closures and transgender issues were left out of both versions of the bill by congressional leadership. The legislation includes troop increases and increases in spending that raise the overall costs $30 billion above the budget Trump proposed. The conference committee now has less time than normal, in light of the delays earlier this summer from the healthcare debate and John McCain’s medical leave, and must work quickly before we reach the end of the year. –JG
Bottom line: It seems almost inevitable that once again Congress will simply pass a vanilla bill to get it done quickly while avoiding any of the real issues that need to be solved. The fiscal caps known as sequestration will not be addressed, the fight over transgender troops serving is ignored, and tussles over base closures and anything remotely controversial are pretty much off the table. Now it will be a fight over who is the bigger hero with the biggest pay raise, most new weapons, and extra troops so everyone can claim victory and move on to other things. In the meantime, Dreamers in the service remain in limbo, transgender troops have no idea if and when they will be kicked out of uniform, and Tricare rate increases and changes can quietly be loaded onto retirees when everyone moves on to football players kneeling or something else. Senator McCain keeps calling for Regular Order but Congress shows no interest in finding their way to a regular budget cycle even as Secretary of Defense Mattis and the service chiefs nearly beg for some budget certainty. –FPW

What government reorganizations means to the VA, where change is already moving fast
Nicole Ogrysko (@nogryskoWFED), Federal News Radio
Before Donald Trump became president, then undersecretary David Shulkin already had his blueprint for improving efficiency and service at the VA. Gregg Giddens, executive director at the VA Office of Acquisition, Logistics and Construction, believes that modernizing the department and its many dated processes that have not seen updates in decades will only work if the end solution comes from all employees at the VA, from top to bottom. That’s why the VA has spent a significant amount of time and resources collecting the ideas and opinions directly from VA employees through town halls and webinars. Giddens says many of the VA’s regulations lost sight of putting service to our veterans first and that this review process seeks to reinforce that principle all while giving the best value for the American tax dollar. –JG
Bottom line: The fact is that reorganization and modernization at the VA didn’t start on January 20th of this year. Dr. Shulkin was already part of the effort begun under former Secretary McDonald known as the MyVA initiative and many of the leaders of that effort remain in the agency. So, in many ways VA has had a running start on the effort to streamline its work and modernize how it takes care of veterans in its care. Everything from reducing the dizzying number of phone numbers and websites to reach the agency to streamlining how decisions are made from Washington to the many VA facilities are seeing progress. We continue to hear that satisfaction rates with service and morale in the agency has continued to improve in the last two years. Having a secretary who has been in the agency for more than just a few month’s means VA has a unique opportunity to lead the charge in a new Administration and hopefully that’s precisely what we will continue to see. –FPW

DoD official: States ‘spotty’ in easing military spouses’ licensing burdens
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
A panel discussion on family support at the Air Force Association annual conference discussed the licensing difficulties that many military spouses face when moving to different states. When seeking employment in new locations, some states have implemented temporary licensing or expedited applications for military spouses. In fact, the DoD has taken measures to support mobile employment through their My Career Advancement Account program and grants spouses up to $4,000 to obtain a certification, associate’s degree or license. Although progress has been made, there are still gaps in the process and some military spouses are left to pay hefty fees and take time away from their practice to go through the system of receiving a new license. –DD
Bottom line: Despite concentrated work by the Department of Defense’s state liaison office over the better part of the last 10 years, progress in easing burdens in military spouse licensing and credentialing has been inconsistent amongst states. While all 50 states have taken some action on these issues that continue to stifle economic and job mobility for military spouses, there is clearly still immense room for improvement. Though some states are clearly moving mountains to reduce barriers to meaningful employment for military spouses, still others have not done nearly enough. For those military spouses who work in fields requiring license or credentials, frequent PCS moves can be a death knell for career continuity, not to mention an exceedingly expensive burden. ScoutComms client, Hiring our Heroes, released a study earlier this summer that indicated that the lack of employment opportunities contributed to stress in military families and swayed decisions regarding service members’ continued active duty. As we look to retain our best and brightest service members, it is important that we also continue to find ways to promote economic stability and job security for military spouses—smoothing licensure and credentialing bureaucracy is one of the ways to do that. Military spouses are similar to their non-military connected peers in that many want or need to work, so the continued attention on the issue of spouse employment broadly, as well as credentialing and licensing challenges is incredibly important. DOD has commissioned a study from the University of Minnesota to examine state-by-state progress in licensing and credentialing and to take a deep dive into best practices and areas for improvement. While we know that there is so much to be done in this area, we applaud the DOD for continuing to study this issue and work with states. Our sincere hope is that this data will drive a strategy to engage states to push for comprehensive and truly helpful improvements. –RB

Paralyzed Veterans Vs. Airlines
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR
The group Paralyzed Veterans of America is suing the Department of Transportation in an effort to require airline carriers to track and report lost or damaged wheelchairs. Vietnam Veteran Larry Dodson is a quadriplegic and has had one too many instances of airlines losing or damaging his necessary wheelchair – an item that is treated like any other piece of luggage. Serving as the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, Dodson and Paralyzed Veterans of America are pushing to maintain the once agreed upon rule to track wheelchairs. Airlines would have until January of 2018 to comply with the regulation, but President Trump halted new regulations on his first day in office and the lobbying group Airlines for America urged the Department of Transportation to delay the new rule for a year. The delay until 2019 was issued to give airlines more time to comply, however many travelers are now left wondering which airline will safely transport their essential device for mobility. –DD
Bottom line: This is a good reminder that not all veteran policy is set by the VA or Congress—though a PVA legislative priority is pushing Congress for a law rather than pursuing simply case law. Above, Danielle writes that airlines have treated electric wheelchairs like any other luggage—which is to say they have lost them and forced veterans like Dodson into uncomfortable chairs that have, in his case, caused injuries. Perhaps this is also a good reminder that not all government regulations are bad. Instead, now veterans have to sue to get the protections they already lobbied for. –LJ

Veterans Report More Credit Issues Than Other Consumers, Study Finds
Ann Carrns, The New York Times
In a recent New York Times article about credit problems within the military and veteran community, client The USAA Educational Foundation (USAAEF) was listed as a resource for those looking for help with money management. An organization focused on increasing financial readiness for service members, veterans and military families, USAAEF is a one-stop-shop for those hoping to command their cash. Check out their website for articles, videos, publications and more. –AB

MYnd Analytics Appoints Peter Unanue to Board of Directors
Peter Unanue has recently been appointed to the board of directors for MYnd Analytics, a predictive medicine company that brings objective physical findings to psychiatric treatment in order to reduce trial and error prescribing. He comes to them with more than 25 years of senior business experience with companies such as Merck Medco Health Solutions, Baxter Healthcare and Growmark, Inc. and currently serves as Executive Vice President of Goya Foods, Inc. MYnd Analytics is delighted to gain his expertise as they enter their next phase of growth, bringing solutions to government agencies, managed care organizations and other payors. –CB

Feds OK Purdue acquisition of Kaplan
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
Purdue University now has the go-ahead from the federal government to further their pursuit to acquire ScoutComms client Kaplan University, a top-enroller of active-duty military members and student veterans. Purdue’s goal is to use Kaplan’s powerful online program to create a new online school, entitled Purdue NewU. –AB

More memorials jostle for space on National Mall area
Valerie Richardson (@ValRichardson17), The Washington Times
As the sponsors of memorials pursue their efforts to ensure we continue honoring this nation’s history, available real estate on and near the National Mall is shrinking. Last week, the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation (GWOTMF) received its first $1 million donation at their fundraising dinner to begin the building process for a memorial that will honor those who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice in our nation’s longest war. GWOTMF’s goal is to have the memorial finished no later than the end of the seven-year deadline in September 2024, but if everything goes as planned, it could be completed as early as 2022. –CB

VA’s suicide prevention hotline expanding to third site
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Veterans Affairs officials are getting ready to open their third Veterans Crisis Line call center in Topeka, Kansas in the next couple of weeks. This new call center is expected to include 100 new personnel to the emergency response service. In addition to the call center, VA officials are also planning to update the phone systems at department centers and outpatient clinics to allow for automatic transfers of calls from distressed veterans to the hotline. –ML

For the first time, the Marine Corps plans to have a female infantry officer among its ranks
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), Washington Post
For the first time in history, the U.S. Marine Corps plans to soon assign a female infantry officer to a combat unit following her anticipated graduation today from the Infantry Officer Course. The three-week course requires proficiency as an officer in the field and the stamina to loads of up to 152 pounds, with about ten percent of students historically failing on the first day. The woman is the first of three dozen women who have attempted the course since two years ago, when then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter lifted the military’s last remaining restrictions for women as part of an effort by the Obama administration to make the armed forces fully inclusive. Now she is expected to lead about 40 infantry Marines in a service that is mostly seen as the most resistant to full gender integration into the military. –ML

Tradeshows & Conferences

Invictus: Invictus Games Toronto 2017 (Sat – Sat, Sept. 23-30, 2017); Toronto, Ontario Canada

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

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 93; H.R. 501; H.R. 1063; H.R. 1066; H.R. 1943; H.R. 1972; H.R. 2147; H.R. 2225; H.R. 2327; and, a draft bill to make certain improvements in VA’s Health Professionals Educational Assistance Program
Who: The Honorable Debbie Dingell, U.S. House of Representatives, 12th District, Michigan; The Honorable Beto O’Rourke, U.S. House of Representatives, 16th Congressional District, Texas; The Honorable Derek Kilmer, U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District, Washington; The Honorable Steve King, U.S. House of Representatives, 4th Congressional District, Iowa; The Honorable Lloyd Smucker, U.S. House of Representatives, 16th Congressional District, Pennsylvania; The Honorable Mike Coffman, U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District, Colorado; The Honorable Steve Stivers, U.S. House of Representatives, 15th Congressional District, Ohio; The Honorable Ron DeSantis, U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District, Florida; The Honorable John Rutherford, U.S. House of Representatives, 4th Congressional District, Florida; The Honorable David J. Shulkin M.D., Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Armed Services: How to Improve Access to GI Bill Approved Apprenticeship Programs and How these Programs Benefit Veterans
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs: #BeThere: What More Can Be Done to Prevent Veteran Suicide?
Who: John D. Daigh, Jr., MD, CPA, Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections, Office of Inspector General, Craig Bryan, PsyD, ABPP, Executive Director, National Center for Veterans Studies, the University of Utah, Mr. Matthew Kuntz, Executive Director, the National Alliance on Mental Illness for Montana, The Honorable David J. Shulkin, M.D., Secretary of Veterans Affairs, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Carroll, Executive Director, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, September 27, 2017
Where: 418 Russell

Other Events

Cohen Veterans Bioscience: Igniting the Spark
Who: Colonel Dennis McGurk, PhD, US Army, Director of the Military Operational Medicine Research Program, US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Steven A. Cohen, CEO, Point72 Asset Management, Anthony Hassan, EdD, LCSW, Cohen Veterans Network, and more
When: 7:30 AM – 12:00 PM
Where: Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, 1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

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, September 25, 2017 11:19 am

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