Veterans Roundup: Taking a Look at DoD on Retirement Planning, Sexual Assault, and Caring for Sick Children; VA Gets an IG; & a Topic Rarely Discussed

Posted by Fred Wellman

Why US Military Doesn’t Welcome A Decline in Sexual-Assault Reports
Anna Mulrine (@annamulrine), Christian Science Monitor
The Department of Defense has come under fire in recent weeks for downplaying the rates at which sexual assault survivors experience retaliation. They also are not happy with their annual report’s finding that fewer troops are reporting assault. Officials say they would prefer to see increased reporting rates that would indicate confidence in the system. Additionally, DoD is exploring new strategies to address “gray areas” around retaliation in sexual assault cases. –MC
Bottom line: The DoD is making a nuanced argument on this issue. A decline in reported sexual assaults could be spun positively, but the DoD recognizes that since many of the estimated 20,000 sexual assaults are not reported each year, a decline in reported assaults is not necessarily a sign of progress. At the same time, the DoD is sending mixed signals in its treatment of the issue of retaliation. Though the department claims that a careful analysis of the data shows that retaliation rates are far lower than previously reported, advocates like our client the Service Women’s Action Network are not taking this assertion at face value. If DoD wants to encourage men and women alike to report sexual assault in greater numbers, it can’t simultaneously convey a sense of seeking to discredit the legitimate fears and concerns of those service members who have previously reported assaults. That is not a prescription for successful reform. –BW

DoD: Help Is on the Way for Critical New Retirement Choices
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Air Force Times
The Defense Department announced this week that will develop a series of classes to help service members understand the new retirement plan options available in 2018. The courses will be aimed at service members, military leaders who influence their choices, and financial managers who support the military community. Advocates have challenged the retirement system changes and have called for clear language about the choices to prevent service members from making uninformed decisions and getting shortchanged on their benefits. –MC
Bottom line: On a positive note this is a solid plan that will be very important to the success of the rollout of the new system. We beat DoD and Congress up last week for using ridiculously optimistic rates to predict the possible returns for service members under the new retirement system. This week, it’s good to hear that DoD has plans and tools in the works to help the troops. Of course, we’re talking DoD training and tools here. This is a department that spent ten years developing a new personnel management software system that never launched and four years developing a system to meld DoD health records with VAs, which never succeeded. So, there might be some reasonable basis for skepticism that the training and tools might be underwhelming or late to the party. In the mean time, there is no mention of training for military spouses in the plan. In many military families, the spouse makes many of the financial decisions so including them in this process will be key. In addition, great organizations outside of the military both private and public, like ScoutComms client the USAA Educational Foundation, offer courses and training to help young service men and women make smart financial decisions and DoD should be sure to include them in their efforts in their mission to better prepare the troops for the future. –FPW

Trump Faces Mounting Attacks on Veterans Issues
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Likely GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has recently come under attack for his treatment of veterans throughout his campaign. Trump has made ill-conceived comments about prisoners of war and IEDs and claimed to raise millions of dollars for veteran charities that has yet to be fully delivered. Last week, a Trump policy advisor said that Trump would push toward the privatization of the VA, aligning himself with the Koch supported Concerned Veterans of America. Despite this, a recent survey showed that active-duty service members who are Military Times subscribers prefer Trump over Clinton. –MC
Bottom line: We have been very clear in our concerns about many of Trump’s approaches to veterans and military issues including his comments about John McCain and POWs and the discrepancies surrounding his fundraiser in Iowa. Looking closely at this latest comment by his national co-chair you realized that he really doesn’t say anything new. He literally says they will consider privatizing VA like Medicare but they will not close VA facilities that are working. So, what they are saying is they kind of might do something but if it gets too much pushback in poll numbers then they will do something else. Trying to pin down Trump to one position for long is like nailing Jell-O to the wall. Tune in next week for the latest definitive position on veterans from the campaign. –FPW

New VA Watchdog Pledges More Transparency
Donovan Slack (@donovanslack), USA Today
Last week, Michael Missal was sworn in as the new VA inspector general, and he is clear about his goal to increase transparency and fix the image of the office of the IG. Missal’s predecessors failed to release the findings of several reports that would reveal mismanagement, among other issues, at VA facilities across the country. Missal isn’t the only VA official with big changes in mind. Last week, David Shulkin, the undersecretary of health for the VA, discussed his efforts over the last 10 months to overhaul and fix the broken healthcare system in an interview with Sam Wood. –MC
Bottom line: It is a positive step forward for Missal to be confirmed; we previously highlighted the challenges that the delay in his confirmation has created for the VA. Missal will need to prove his independence in the coming months and avoid the temptation to feed red meat to congressional leaders as he explores the VA’s shortcomings, but it is unequivocally a sign of progress for him to be confirmed as the first official VA IG since December 2013. At the same time, all indications point to him being saddled with a limited budget and staff that will limit his ability to examine anything more than a fraction of the complaints the VA receives from patients and providers on a weekly basis. Given his expansive mandate and limited resources, Missal’s time and staff will be best used in looking beyond individual cases to try to identify and address positive and negative trends in the VA related to patient care and employee management, so that the IG’s office is a productive partner to VA leadership in the overall effort to increase accountability and ensure a consistently high quality of care for veterans. –BW

Why Is the US Military Short-Staffing Its Sickest Children?
Adrienne Lafrance  (@AdrienneLaf), The Atlantic
A pediatric social worker can be an asset when a family is in crisis mode dealing with a sick child. While private hospitals like Tufts have six full-time pediatric social workers, military medical facilities have only seven on staff full-time around the country. Pediatric social workers typically guide parents through paperwork, connect them with financial counselors, and provide additional support. Military families can be referred to outside social workers, but reports show that even if a family reaches out to an offsite social worker, the level of care trails far behind. –MC
Bottom line: This is one of those niche topics that we’re always so glad to see covered—much like IVF for wounded veterans. Sure, maybe it doesn’t impact every family, but it could affect every service member under the wrong circumstances and we owe it to those who do need the services to make them available. As anyone who has been hospitalized can tell you, even if you go in prepared, there are always issues that need to be addressed that take a backseat to recovery. A pediatric social worker is the person a family can rely on to write the notes to bosses, argue with insurance companies, and make sure follow-up appointments are scheduled which a family focuses on healing. For military families, which sometimes don’t have two parents around much less a family support system, this role would be invaluable. But when you hear about DoD trying to trim healthcare costs by asking consumers to pay more, it’s not so DoD can provide more pediatric social workers. When advocates go to the Hill, these are the kinds of stories they should take with them. While DoD tries to make service members and retirees pay for its health care “reform”, it’s not really making any reforms to enhance services. –LJ

Repairing Wounded Soldier’s Sex Lives
Joseph Jaafari (@josephjaafari), The Atlantic
According to DoD numbers, 1,367 service members have sustained genital injuries in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. While VA facilities have occupational therapy that includes sexual therapy, the Long Beach VA and Walter Reed Medical Center provide education and counseling centered solely on this issue. In addition to physical injuries, PTS and TBI often contribute to sexual performance issues. Programs like these help patients focus on reinventing their sexual routines to find out what works for them and their partners. –JG
Bottom Line: In my job, I often work with veterans who are uncomfortable talking about themselves, their service, and sometimes particularly their injuries, visible or invisible. So it is with great awe that I read this article about one of those very same veterans discussing something so personal that few articles have been written on the subject. As client Wounded Warrior Project is working to ensure veterans with wounds that impact their ability to conceive children naturally have access to in vitro fertilization through the VA, this article demystifies a piece of why IVF is so necessary. The wounds of war require many men and women to relearn ways of doing simple things like cooking dinner or doing laundry and many inspire us through their athletics feats at events like the Invictus Games. Yet, out of sight and out of mind is the work that some have to put into relearning sex and relationships. Like starting a family, these are the basic foundations of the human condition and its important we have the systems in place to support wounded veterans regain all abilities taken by injury, not just the ones discussed among “polite” company. –LJ

Client News:

But Will It Scale in Kabul?
Sebastian J. Bae (@SebastianBae), Foreign Policy
Matthew Griffin, founder of Combat Flip Flops, is living testimony of the difference veteran businesses can make. The company uses “trade as aid” by training Afghans in shoe-making and reinvesting in the local economy. VetImpact has begun to work with companies like Combat Flip Flops and Rumi Spice, a saffron growing company, to provide them with the business consulting support to grow their operations. With the right kind of support these businesses can achieve a real impact in the lives of men, women, and children in post-conflict regions and emerging economies around the world. –JG

Wounded Vets Lobby Congress for Right to Have Children
Jake Tapper (@JakeTapper), CNN
A coalition of veteran serving organizations, led by Wounded Warrior Project, is encouraging Senators to back a provision in the Senate Military Construction and VA appropriations bill that would allow the VA to pay for in vitro fertilization for wounded veterans. Tyler Wilson and Crystal Black were one of the couples who visited the Hill last week to discuss their situation, and make sure that all veterans with combat related injuries have access to this procedure and do not have to self-fund their family. –MC
Other coverage:
Wounded Veterans Press VA for Fertility Services
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times
Families Lobby for IVF Benefit for Wounded Troops
Jacqueline Klimas (@jacqklimas), Washington Examiner

Quick Hits:

Transgender Vets Seek VA Coverage of Surgeries
Rebecca Kheel (@Rebecca_H_K), The Hill
Currently, the VA covers gender transition-related care including hormone replacement, and pre- and post-surgical care yet the VA does not cover the cost of actual surgery. Advocacy groups have filed a petition stating that excluding surgery violates sexual discrimination laws.–JG

Congress Backs Arlington Burial Honor for Female Pilots
Patricia Zengerle (@reutersZengerle), Reuters
The remains of 1,000 female pilots will be eligible to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery after Congress unanimously passed legislation allowing it. Previously, due to space constraints, the Army had tightened the service requirements to be buried or interred at Arlington. WASPs and World War II-era Merchant Marines were the major groups affected. –JG

Three Deaths Linked to Recent Navy SEAL Training Classes
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), Adam Goldman (@theadamgoldman), and Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), Washington Post
Last week, a Navy SEAL died during a pool exercise as part of a six-month SEAL training course that includes sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and brutal conditions. A service member has now died in three out of the last four courses. Questions have been raised over the safety of trainees, as well as the care they receive if they fail to pass the course. –MC

Marine Veteran Sues Iran for Being Tortured as Hostage
Jeff Schogol (@Jeffschogol), Air Force Times
Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran who Iranian authorities imprisoned for more than 4 years and was released in January, has filed a lawsuit against Iran. Hekmati was brutally tortured, denied medical care, and kept in solitary confinement. He has not specified the amount he is seeking from Iran, but similar situations in the past show that it may be a long time until Hekmati receives compensation. No matter the outcome, the team here at ScoutComms is glad to see him back home, and hope that he will receive the compensation he deserves. –MC

Taylor: San Antonio has ‘Effectively Ended’ Veteran Homelessness
Martin Kuz (@martinkuz), San Antonio Express News
Extensive initiatives to end veteran homelessness in San Antonio, including a $2.1 million investment from USAA, have worked. Mayor Ivy Taylor announced 1,335 veterans have been housed since January 2015, “effectively ending” veteran homelessness in the area. –JG

When the Amtrak Train Crashed, His Military Training Kicked In. A Year Later, He Runs the Army.
Colby Itkowitz (@ColbyItkowitz), The Washington Post
Patrick Murphy was traveling home from a veteran’s advocacy event when Amtrak Train 188 derailed.  After coming to his senses, his military training took over and he did what any soldier would do: “be there for the person on your left and on your right.” He has since been appointed as acting secretary of the army while Eric Fanning awaits congressional approval. Walking away from the train accident virtually unscathed gave Murphy a new perspective on life. Now, everyday, whether it is through his work or with his family, he ensures that he is living a purpose-filled life. –JG

Congress to Vote on Women in the Draft Amid Conservative Opposition
Travis Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes
This week, both chambers may vote on proposed amendments to require women to register for the draft.  The Senate Armed Services Committee said there is no further justification in limiting the selective service exclusively to men and military leadership supports the change. However, votes against the measure are expected from conservative members citing the controversial nature of drafting women into combat. ­–JG

16 West Point Cadets in Raised-Fist Photo Won’t be Punished
Jennifer Peltz (@jennpeltz), Associated Press
Black, female West Point cadets seen in a photo with raised fists will face no punitive action. The commandant’s investigation found that there was no intention of a political statement and that the cadets violated no regulations. –JG

Jacksonville Nonprofit Helps Veterans Tailor Military Experience for Marketplace
Beth Reese Cravey (@Bethreesecravey), Jacksonville Times
Operation New Uniform is a non-profit organization that provides veterans the training, development, resources, and professional networks to make them more competitive in the marketplace. The program has helped 97 veterans focus on their strengths and weaknesses so they can best position themselves for employment. –JG

Veteran Owned Business Q+A: ScoutComms
Capitol Post (@CapitolPost)
Capitol Post grilled our CEO and founder Fred Wellman for its monthly Veteran Owned Business Q&A about the good, bad, and ugly of start-ups. Fred shares how ScoutComms started five years ago, how the company has grown, and some valuable tips for veteran entrepreneurs. Be sure to check it out! –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Navy League: Sea-Air-Space Conference (Mon – Wed, May 16 – 18); Gaylord National Convention Center, National Harbor, MD

Institute for Defense and Government Advancement: Veterans Affairs Healthcare Summit 2016 (Mon – Wed, May 16 – 18); Sheraton Pentagon City, Pentagon City, VA

Disabled Veterans Business Alliance (DVBA) Keeping the Promise 2016  (Tue – Thu, May 17 – 19); AT&T Stadium, Arlington, TX

AFCEA Joint War Symposium (Thu – Fri, May 19 – 20); Chesapeake Conference Center, Chesapeake, VA

Congressional Hearings


Rules: H.R. 4909 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 General Debate
5:00 PM, Monday, May 16, 2016
Where: H-313 Capitol

Armed Services: Assessing the Department of Defenses Execution of Responsibilities in the U.S. Foreign Military Sales Program
When: 9:00 AM, Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Appropriations: Full Committee Markup – FY 2017 Defense Bill, Legislative Branch Bill, and Revised Report on the Interim Suballocation of Budget Allocations
When: 10:30 AM, Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Where: 2359 Rayburn

Rules: H.R. 4909 National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 Amendment Consideration, and H.R. 4974 Military Constriction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act 2017
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Where: H-313 Capitol

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Veterans in Tech: Innovative Careers for All Generations of Veterans
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, May 17, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Agriculture: Service in the Field: Veteran Contributions to National Food Security
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday May 18, 2016
Where: 1300 Longworth


Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Related Agencies: Review of the VA electronic health record network (VistA), progress toward interoperability with the Department of Veterans Affairs electronic health record system, and plans for the future
Who: Ms. Valerie C. Melvin
, Director, Information Management and Technology Resources Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office; Dr. Lauren Thompson, PhD, Director, DoD/VA Interagency Program Office, U.S. Department of Defense; The Honorable LaVerne H. Council, Assistant Secretary for Information and Technology and Chief Information Officer, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Where: S-128 Capitol

Think Tanks & Other Events

Housing Assistance Council: Serving America’s Aging Veterans
Who: Heather Prill, The Home Depot Foundation; Jim Cummings, JPMorgan Chase; Rep. Phil Roe (R-TN), House Veterans’ Affairs Committee; Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA), Chairman, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs; Tony Hernandez, USDA Rural Development; William Crandall, Western Maine Community Action, Elder Home Repair; Jon Sherin, Volunteers of America; Baylee Crone, National Coalition for Homeless Veterans; Doug Dickerson, AARP; Mark Walker, American Legion; Joe Wynn, Vietnam Veterans of America
When: 8:00 AM, Wednesday, May 18, 2016
Where: United States Capitol Visitor Center Room 200-201, Washington, District of Columbia, 20510

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, May 17, 2016 7:30 am

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