Veteran’s Roundup: The Abhorrence of Marines United, The Confusion Cause by the Hiring Freeze, The Uncertainty About the Service Secretaries, & More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Secret Marines Group is Still Sharing Nude Photos Amid Scandal
Elliot C. McLaughlin (@ElliotCNN) and AnneClaire Stapleton (@AnneClaireCNN), CNN
Last week, an investigation revealed a Facebook group comprised mainly of Marines shared explicit imagery of other service women, particularly female Marines. The Facebook group, called Marines United, had more than 30,000 members and went as far as to list identifying information on the women whose pictures were posted. While not every member participated in the photo sharing, members and group administrators ignored it. The Marine Corps says this incident has forced them to examine the Corps’ role in the situation to identify whether the culture of the branch is “part of the problem or the solution.” Kate Hendricks Thomas, a Marine veteran and board member of the Service Women’s Action Network, offered her take on this topic, stating that this cultural problem has been largely ignored by Marine Corps leadership in the past and that most female Marines endure harassment on a regular basis. New evidence has emerged that suggests this problem is not specific to one branch, but instead is an issue of endemic misogyny in nearly all branches of the military. –KB
Bottom line: No excuses. Period. That should have been the answer across the board from the beginning when Thomas Brennan, Marine combat veteran himself, exposed the Marines United activities last weekend. Instead, Thomas was threatened and members of the MU group called for the rape of his wife and 8-year old daughter. While many of the members were Marines, it looks like the majority are veterans and many of those being the loudest in saying it was the women’s fault for taking the nude pictures in the first place continue to give the Marines and the military one black eye after another. What’s saddest about all of this is that we constantly hear about the unbreakable bond between Marines and members of the other services but it appears that to a large minority of service members and veterans, that only counts if that other person is a male. Strong statements were issued by the Commandant of the Marine Corps and Secretary of Defense Mattis as they walk the fine line between calling for the heads of those supporting these horrendous behaviors and not tainting any potential prosecutions. Some solace can be found in the fact that the Marine veteran who hosted the Google Drive of nude photos quickly lost his government contractor job within days of the first story but this is a huge issue and one that can completely undermine the bedrock of trust within the military and—more worrying—the bedrock of trust between the American people and their military. There is simply no way to talk about honor, commitment and courage and then treat fellow service members like pieces of meat to be passed around. It’s disgusting. It’s unacceptable. It’s got to stop immediately. –FPW

Veterans Groups Get a White House Meeting, But Without Trump
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Several prominent veterans’ groups had their first official meeting with White House representatives last week. In attendance were several senior staffers from the White House, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin, and a wide range of VSOs. President Trump was not present at the meeting, however the Trump Administration reassured those in attendance that veterans issues remain a top priority for the president. A number of VSOs have been pushing for a meeting with President Trump himself, to ensure their priorities are heard directly with the man who will set policy on veterans’ issues. –DD
Bottom line: Despite meeting with a small group of advocates during the first week of February, President Trump has yet to hold a listening session with prominent veteran advocacy groups such as the VFW, PVA, DAV, American Legion, and others. While the meeting this week was not announced on the President’s public calendar, many assumed that he would at least drop-by to greet those that represent the veteran community. As a candidate, Mr. Trump prided himself on being the candidate for veterans, and ensured that he would do all he could to fix the VA, and hear out vets and military families on their needs. Certainly during the first 100 days of his or her administration, a new president has many pressing issues to assess; however, failing to meet with these groups on a day where he had time in his schedule to surprise a White House tour group seems to create some challenging optics for a president who promised he would “be the best” for veterans. It is a step in the right direction for senior staff at the White House to meet with these groups, as they will focus on the policy agenda daily. That being said, we would urge the president to meet with these groups as soon as possible. These types of meetings will not only allow President Trump to fulfill his campaign promises, but also to hear directly from those who represent veterans impacted by his administration’s policies. –RB

Despite Decreasing Veteran Unemployment Rate, Underemployment Remains a Problem
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
Veteran unemployment has plummeted to 5.1 percent for post 9/11 veterans in 2016. However, the positive trend does not begin to capture the number of underemployed veterans, specifically veterans working long days who can barely get by week to week. Eric Eversole, president of ScoutComms’ client Hiring Our Heroes, said that despite a decreasing veteran unemployment rate, Hiring Our Heroes has seen consistent growth in attendance at its veteran hiring fairs around the country. He emphasized the need for a shift in efforts that prioritize finding the most suitable career opportunities based on each service member’s experience and skills. ­–JG
Bottom line: Three years ago we supported our clients VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families as they examined how long a new veteran stayed in their first job after service. In that survey, 45 percent left their first job within a year for a host of reasons from cultural fit to finding meaningful work. So, it’s easy to celebrate the falling unemployment rate for veterans but the mission to connect veterans with meaningful work and provide opportunities for veterans to grow in the careers they choose hasn’t receded in any way. Like many issues, veterans’ experiences are often reflective of the larger population. The recovery from the recession has seen a reduction in the unemployment rate but lingering issues of underemployment and stagnant wages continue across the United States, and among veterans and military spouses. We would love to spike the ball and do a little touchdown dance ourselves but like many of the issues we face in the veteran community, employment isn’t an issue that will go away, it will just morph into a different aspect to be addressed. The battle never ends. –FPW

VA to Start Offering Mental Health Care to ‘Bad Paper’ Veterans
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
For years, advocates in the veteran health care sector have been asking Congress to reinstate VA benefits for veterans other than honorably discharged from the military for reasons related to mental health issues. Under new VA secretary Dr. David Shulkin, their wishes may become a reality: Dr. Shulkin recently said he hopes to have VA benefits restored to veterans with these “bad paper discharges” within a few months. –KB
Bottom line: This is a win for advocates and activists who have been raising this issue both in recent years and for decades. Mental health care for veterans with bad paper discharges has been a priority of Vietnam Veterans of America for a long time and in recent years it has resurfaced as an issue for post-9/11 veterans, as well, thanks to the efforts of young leaders like Kris Goldsmith (now at VVA.) As proponents of the power of advocacy, we like when policy wins highlight the importance of collaboration and persistence. You can also bet that VVA and Kris won’t stop fighting to ensure the announcement from on high trickles down to the veterans in need. What Shulkin announced was a first step and advocates will want to see more permanent, expansive laws in place to cement care for veterans with bad paper beyond simply mental health. Meanwhile, the VA will need to ensure it has the capacity (including the funding and hiring authority) to handle an influx of veterans seeking mental health care and advocates will need to stand by VA to support its requests to Congress for resources. This also starts larger conversations about how VA can better provide efficient and effective health care and services, particularly preventative mental health care, to more and more veterans as advocates make inroads towards ensuring every veteran in need gets the care they have earned. It’s a big task, one that we think again requires the power of collaboration. –LJ

Report: VA Needs a 10 percent Budget Boost to Meet Vets’ Needs
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
The annual Independent Budget produced by the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans and Paralyzed Veterans of America requests an $8 billion increase in the VA’s budget next year. Holding an opposing viewpoint, Representative Phil Roe, House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman, feels the department does not have a lack of funding, but rather poor management. The president’s plans for the VA budget are expected in April and the VSOs behind the report hope their recommendations will be taken seriously. –DD
Bottom line: We are going to see an interesting debate play out in Washington over the VA’s next budget. President Trump won over veterans on the campaign trail by promising to fix everything that ailed the VA, yet as plenty of research has shown in the last few years, one of the challenges facing the VA is an explosion in demand from both post- and pre-9/11 veterans. That has led to previous increases in funding making smaller dents than hoped, while inefficiencies and malfeasance at regional VA facilities have contributed to the problem. This is the challenge the Trump Administration has inherited: how do you “fix” the VA if you don’t want to increase its funding significantly? What are the magic bullets to clean up shop and fix the current internal problems? While enhanced firing authorities and other tweaks may have some impact, it won’t solve any problems in time to make this budget debate moot. If Republicans like Chairman Roe choose not to increase VA funding as requested in the Independent Budget, and are wrong about the ability to fix the VA’s problems through management reform, they risk taking ownership of new or renewed problems with quality and availability of services and benefits. We are seeing, in real-time, the continuing evolution of the VA to meet the needs of veterans of America’s two longest wars, and the budget fight is going to be an opportunity for politicians on both sides of the aisle to lay out their visions of what a “better” VA looks like and how it is funded. –BW

Federal Hiring Freeze Could Cause More Disruptions to Military Services
Corey Dickstein (@CDicksteinDC), Stars and Stripes
The effects of President Trump’s hiring freeze are being felt at military installations across the world. Some estimates say thousands of empty jobs can be blamed on the freeze leading to cuts by child care providers as well as long lines at commissaries and exchanges. While many facilities have been forced to restrict daily operating hours, some have been forced to close entirely. The profits from these on-post businesses also provide important funds for Morale, Welfare and Recreation services – programs that had already been stripped of funding during years of sequestration. There is a general concern that if these hiring policies remain throughout the summer, when thousands of military families relocate, the employment gap left by military spouses moving away will dramatically effect operations on each military installation. The Pentagon is looking closely to see if exemptions should be granted for filling these positions. –JG
Bottom line: After 16 long years of war, military families are again feeling the squeeze as the services on which they rely are being reduced or even halted as an effect of the federal hiring freeze initiated on January 23rd. The impact across the services is not exactly known: DOD struggles to put a number on exactly how many jobs have been affected and how many services have been reduced. Historically speaking, broad brush stroke policies—such as those halting hiring across the entire government—often have second and third order effects that are much costlier than a simple hiring issue. Here’s the thing folks: family readiness is force readiness and is a national security issue. When we interrupt a military family’s ability to operate smoothly, whether by reducing their access to dependable childcare or hindering the ability of a spouse to get back to work in the Federal system, we run the risk of having a force that is dealing with challenges on the war-front and challenges on the home-front. It is likely no arrangement will make everyone happy, but balancing our nation’s checkbook on the backs of military families is a very bad, and indeed a very dangerous idea. It is our hope that during this 90-day freeze, the government will act quickly to determine the best course of action and that this will indeed be a temporary inconvenience with limited damage, rather than a long-term policy that will unfairly tax our military families. –RB

VA Secretary: Choice Card Extension Needed Now to Ensure Better Medical Care Access for Vets
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
The deadline to extend or end the VA Choice Program is set for this summer, at which point Congress will make its decision based largely on its outcomes to date. Although the program has had critics, VA secretary Dr. Shulkin has said that the program is essential to continue providing access to health care for veterans across the nation. –KB
Bottom line: VA Choice was an emergency response to a terrible situation in 2014. Veterans were found to be waiting far too long to receive care at many VA facilities, so Congress create the Choice Program which enabled veterans who were more than 40 miles from a VA facility or who had been waiting for an appointment to instead seek care from a private provider in their community. Congress allowed 90 days for the program to be implemented. There were, needless to say, challenges. Shulkin wants to revamp the program, but specifics on how are yet to come. He will have support from some in Congress but faces skepticism from budget hawks and some veterans’ advocates. VSOs have complained about Choice implementation and will want to see plans that demonstrate any money set aside for Choice doesn’t impact other critical needs within VA. They will also be keeping an eye on whether a Choice extension doesn’t also become an expansion that starts to look too much like a move towards privatization. Advocates want to make sure veterans have the most options for care, to include going to the VA. Choice offers options, and certainly can be streamlined, but isn’t a replacement for the services or benefits available at VA. –LJ

President Trump is Reportedly Considering These Two Candidates for Navy Secretary
Christopher Diamond (@CDiamond_DC), Navy Times
After Philip Bilden withdrew his nomination for Navy secretary, it is believed that the White House has narrowed the search down to Richard Spencer and former Rep. Randy Forbes. Spencer was a naval aviator before becoming director of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation and a member on the Defense Business Board. In 2010, he proposed closing commissaries at domestic military bases estimating it would save taxpayers $1 billion annually. Forbes, who was Virginia’s fourth congressional district representative for the last 16 years, served on the House Armed Services Committee and chaired the Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces as well as the Subcommittee on Readiness. –JG
Bottom line: The military services, like any other arm of the government, suffer when there is a lack of leadership to set long-term objectives and motivate action. The Navy is not alone—while Secretary Mattis was confirmed to lead DoD, no branch has a confirmed leader yet, and only the Air Force has an official nominee in former Rep. Heather Wilson. For the Navy, with the Trump Administration promising significant budget increases to fund a major increase in shipbuilding, the lack of civilian leadership means that early 2017 is passing with the service focused on maintaining the status quo at the policy level while it awaits for clear signals from the administration. Both Spencer—not to be confused with the despicable white supremacist of the same name—and Forbes are qualified to fill this position. Forbes has long been the favorite of naval experts and the Washington think tank crowd, but he is apparently not preferred by Secretary Mattis, who wanted Bilden and now Spencer. Either way, the Trump Administration would do well to make its choice—hopefully after a thorough vetting—and push the nomination through the Senate with all due haste so that the Navy can have a leader to try to fill the large, impactful shoes of Ray Mabus. –BW

Column: Senior Female Marines Must Speak Out on Sexism in Ranks
Kate Germano (@kate_germano), The San Diego Union-Tribune
Kate Germano, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel and COO of Service Women’s Action Network, spoke out recently on the Marines United scandal, taking on deeply ingrained gender cultural problems in the U.S. Marine Corps. In her op-ed, she states that senior female Marines have a duty to speak out against sexism in the branch, in spite of the possibility that it may make them less popular with their male counterparts. –KB  

Ending Harassment of Women in the Corps Starts with Marine Leadership
Kate Hendricks Thomas, Task & Purpose
Marine Corps veteran and Service Women’s Action Network board member Kate Hendricks Thomas believes that leadership is the key to unlock true change in the military culture that led to the sharing of explicit photos of service women amongst a group of more than 30,000 men. Thomas writes from her own experience with sexual harassment in the Corps, along with first-hand accounts of not speaking up for fellow service women who had been harassed or assaulted. According to Thomas, her silence, and the silence of all leaders in the USMC, is a tacit form of acceptance, which has both allowed and encouraged this disparaging behavior. –KB

Women in the U.S. Armed Forces Honored for Vogue’s 125th Birthday
Mackenzie Wolf, Air Force Times
For Vogue’s 125th birthday, the publication created the American Women project and has been highlighting women from the U.S. military. Several of the profiles feature currently serving females in combat positions and emphasizes that women, officially or not, have been serving in the Armed Forces since the American Revolution. –DD

Military Spouse-Owned Businesses Face Their Biggest Obstacle: The Military
A Coalition of Military Spouse Small Business Owners & Janine Boldrin (@JanineBoldrin), The Huffington Post
The post-9/11 military spouse has characteristics that haven’t been seen in earlier generations, one of the biggest being their entrepreneurial pursuits. Transition programs and nonprofits that advise military families have encouraged more and more spouses over the years to pursue starting their own small business as a way to make a career for themselves that can be picked up and moved to wherever their spouse is stationed. However, military spouses who want to operate out of on-base housing often find their official requests for permission denied due to the possibility that their small business would compete with the local exchange. Additionally, there is no standardization of this approval process. Instead, each installation is in charge of coming up with its own rules and regulations. Military families across the country want to see the military work with spouses to come up with plans to standardize and simplify the process which stands in the way of financial wellbeing for many military families. –JG

For 100 years, Blue Star Flags Have Conveyed the Spirit of Sacrifice
Meg Jones (@MegJonesJS), Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
The Blue Star Flag that typically hangs in a front window to symbolize a family member is serving in the Armed Forces, dates back more than 100 years and will be displayed at an event in Mequon, Wisconsin. The Blue Star and Gold Star collection will be featured at the Howard J. Schroeder American Legion Post to bring awareness and educate people about the service flag. –DD

After Online Photo Scandal, Female Marines Unite to Start a Campaign of Support
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@Emily_Wax) The Washington Post
The website “Female Marines United Campaign” is raising money to support women in the Marine Corps in light of recent revelations that hundreds of nude photos of female Marines were being shared in a secret Facebook group. Captain Justine Elena, who served in Afghanistan, started a GoFundMe campaign this week that has already raised more than $7,000. Donations will benefit Headstrong, a charity dedicated to helping service members and veterans who struggle with mental health. –JG

Still Fighting, and Dying, in the Forever War
Brian Castner (@Brian_Castner), The New York Times
After Navy Senior Chief Petty Officer Scott Dayton died in combat operations in Syria in November 2016, Dayton’s friends and family reflect on his commitment to serving in the longest conflict in American history. Dayton, along with so many others, volunteered to do his part to finish the enduring wars that show few signs of a nearing end. –DD

Moves in the Sector:

After being a defense reporter for POLITCO for the past three years, Jeremy Herb (@jeremyherb) is moving over to CNN to cover national security on the Hill. We’re excited to read (and watch) even more of your excellent news coverage, Jeremy! Congratulations! –AB 

Tradeshows & Conferences:

None this week.

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Full Committee Hearing: “Military Assessment of the Security Challenges in the Greater Middle East”
Who: General Joseph Votel, Commander, US Central Command
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Crafting an Information Warfare and Counter-Propaganda Strategy for the Emerging Security Environment
Who: The Honorable Matthew Armstrong, Associate Fellow, King’s Center for Strategic Communications, King’s College London; The Honorable Michael Lumpkin, Principal, Neptune; Mr. Timothy Thomas, Senior Analyst, Foreign Military Studies Office, Ft. Leavenworth, KS
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Current State of the U.S. Navy
Who: Vice Admiral Philip H. Cullom, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Fleet Readiness and Logistics, U.S. Navy; Vice Admiral Luke M. McCollum, Chief of Naval Reserve, Navy Reserve Force, U.S. Navy; Vice Admiral Joseph P. Mulloy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Integration of Capabilities and Resources, U.S. Navy
When: 8:00 AM, Thursday, March 16, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: OPEN/CLOSED: Information Surrounding the Marines United Website
Who: General Robert B. Neller, USMC, Commandant of the United States Marine Corps
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, March 14, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: All Arms Warfare in the 21st Century
Who: Lieutenant General David A. Deptula, USAF (Ret.), Dean of the Mitchell Institute of Aerospace Power Studies; Colonel Douglas A. Macgregor, USA (Ret.), Executive Vice President of the Burke-Macgregor Group; Mr. Paul Scharre, Senior Fellow and Director for the 20YY Warfare Initiative, Center for a New American Security
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, March 15, 2017
Where: 232A Russell

Think Tanks & Other Events:

Armed Services Arts Partnership: Improv Class w/ Unified Scene Theater
Who: Veterans and military families
When: 2:00 PM, Saturdays, March 11 – April 29, 2017
Where: The Unified Scene Theater, 80 T St NW, Washington, DC

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, March 13, 2017 8:27 am

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