Veteran’s Roundup: The Future of Joining Forces, A Case of Whistleblower Retaliation, Why VA Reversed a Decision to Cover More Care, SecVA Speculation

Posted by Fred Wellman

Michelle Obama’s Signature Military Initiative Faces an Uncertain Future Under Donald Trump
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
First Lady Michelle Obama and Second Lady Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces faces an unknown future. Since 2011, Joining Forces has focused heavily on hiring veterans in business, military spouse credentialing and ending veteran homelessness. After its years of progress and its work to bridge the civilian and military divide, the First Lady has urged the new administration to continue to push the same efforts, even if that means rebranding the project. –DD
Bottom line: We have had the privilege of working with Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden’s efforts at Joining Forces these last few years and attended the final reception last Monday evening. We have truly been fortunate especially to get to know Rory Brosius, who has served as the Deputy Director for three years while a string of incredibly talented military officers have held the directorship culminating with COL Will Johnson. The effort has been remarkable in its ability to highlight key issues in our community and use the power of their offices to bring together diverse voices, organizations and agencies to better serve our nation’s veterans, service members and their families. All of this was accomplished with no budget whatsoever. It remains to be seen what the next administration has in mind for the same community but it’s increasingly unlikely that it will be the same focus or effort. Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden both hinted in their speeches that they plan to continue their efforts after they leave office. I hope we have the opportunity to continue working with them. –FPW

VA Whistleblower Resigns, Citing Retaliation
Dan Elliot (@DanElliottAP), Military Times
Brian Smothers, a Department of Veterans Affairs employee who accused the Colorado VA of using false waitlists to cover up a wait time scandal for mental health services, resigned from his position earlier this week. Smothers alleges that he faced retaliation after his statement because he was relegated to an office with no computer access and no contact with other workers, conditions he called “intolerable.” The VA has thus far not commented on these alleged abuses. –KB
Bottom line: There is a constant tension inherent in considering the VA. At the top, you have a sincerely committed senior leadership team that is trying to slowly shift the course of a massive ocean liner. And further down the chain of command, you keep finding middle managers committed to throwing troublemakers into the ocean. Is this the best metaphor? No. But it’s functional. I don’t know all the details of the Smothers case, but it would not surprise me to know that he had legitimate complaints and was in turn punished. At the same time, I would not have a difficult time believing that Secretary Bob and his team are angered and offended by this news, which undercuts their key messages. There is a gradual realignment in process, but it will not solve or prevent every VA employee problem. And the change of overall command in January promises to open up entirely new lines of communication to be considered and resolved. –BW

VA Drops Plans to Allow Sex Change Surgeries
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
After deciding to look into paying for sex change surgeries earlier this year, the VA is now retracting those plans, citing a lack of dedicated funding. Officials stated that they will still continue to support transgender veterans through hormone replacement therapy and mental healthcare. In a statement released on Monday, officials stated that the idea of integrating sexual reassignment surgery into the list of surgeries covered by the VA is still an idea that is worth pursuing, and that they will continue exploring options to assist in the procedure for transgender veterans. –KB
Bottom line: To put this decision by the VA in perspective, a bipartisan vote in Congress authorized VA to cover in-vitro fertilization for veterans but did not specifically set aside funding for the procedure and so there is a possibility that veterans may have to continue fighting for the right to start a family with IVF. So, it is not necessarily a stretch to imagine VA having difficulty changing its own policy regarding a sometimes controversial health care procedure without any funding behind it. The irony, of course, is that in both cases there are hundreds if not thousands of veterans who need these treatment options to live a happy, healthy life that we say all veterans deserve. The incoming president says he wants to cut red tape and bureaucratic inaction that plagues Washington and at the same time do better by veterans. The VA offers up plenty of ways to increase services to veterans, but it takes willing and able partners in the legislative branch and support from the legislative side more often than not. –LJ

House Veterans Chair Says He Would ‘Very Seriously’ Consider Running VA
Connor O’Brien (@connorobrienNH), Politico
In an interview with outgoing House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.), Miller says that he would consider working in the Trump Administration as VA Secretary, if asked. Miller, who supported Trump early on, had a hand in creating Trump’s 10-point veterans plan. While there is little indication of who Trump will choose, Miller believes that a Trump presidency is a once in a lifetime opportunity to cut through the red tape and bring reform to the VA. ­–JG
Bottom Line: On the one hand, it is entirely unsurprising that Trump would consider Rep. Miller for the position of VA Secretary. The congressman has been responsible for conducting oversight of the VA for years, and is well positioned as a thorn in the side of the agency who never accepts Secretary Bob’s pronouncements and stated concerns at face value. On the other hand, Miller would be the first non-veteran ever to run the VA, and he also has to be acutely aware of the challenges that he would face in taking the reins of a high profile and troubled agency. If Miller is offered the job, and he takes it, he will face a wide array of challenges, starting with putting himself in his former punching bag’s shoes, and ending with interpreting and acting upon the new commander-in-chief’s directives. We live in fascinating times, and one of the biggest questions the VA faces in the Trump era, regardless of Miller’s decision, is whether the VA will be negatively impacted in 2017 by the increased prominence of the Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). –BW

Veterans Continue to get Jobs in the Federal Government
Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo), Military Times
This past fiscal year was a good year to be a veteran applying for a federal position: 44 percent of all full-time federal hires were veterans. When taking into account seasonal positions, this number jumps to nearly a third of all new hires being former service members, with nearly half of them being disabled (43 percent). This continues a seven-year streak in the Obama Administration after the President’s pledge in 2009 to put veterans first in line for federal jobs. –KB  
Bottom line: The number of veterans gaining positions in the federal government is really just staggering if you keep in mind that only about 7.8% of the U.S. population has served in uniform. Seven years of continued improvement in the hiring of veterans has been a big part of the lowering of the veteran unemployment rate to below that of their civilian counterparts. You have to give credit to the outgoing administration for this effort and federal hiring officials that have stuck to their guns even as rumors of frustration among non-veteran federal employees has grown. It’s likely this high rate will dissipate from sheer demographic changes in the coming years as the veteran population ages. The youngest Vietnam veteran is now in his 60s and older generations are retiring rapidly with fewer younger veterans behind them. For now, it’s fair to applaud the U.S. government for putting their actions behind their words on this effort. –FPW

Most Female Vets Feel Service Isn’t Values, Survey Finds
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck),
The Service Women’s Action Network held its first annual summit in which female service members, veterans and advocates came together to discuss solutions to the challenges that women in the military face. Among other discussions at the summit, SWAN released its first annual survey, which represented more than 1,000 women in 49 states across the United States. Overwhelmingly, the women surveyed said that they did not feel that their service was recognized by civilians and expressed significant concerns about gender bias.. Many of the women also cited concerns about the incoming Trump Administration, namely that LGBT rights could change and gender integration in combat units could be reversed. Kate Germano, COO of SWAN and advocate for gender integration in the military, said that the reversal of gender integration would be a “blow to both women in the military and camaraderie within the ranks.” –KB

If You’ve Got 2 Minutes, Our Videos Can Help Teach You About Finance
In October, the USAA Educational Foundation announced its Command Your Cash Microlearning Center. The program, designed for young service members and military families, provides “bite-sized” financial readiness advice in on topics ranging from credit, to spending plans and retirement. To learn more about Command Your Cash or the USAA Educational Foundation, visit, or follow the organization on Twitter and Facebook for even more financial information. –MC

Wounded Warrior Project Welcomes Four New Board Members
Four outstanding individuals with experience in military, medicine, nonprofit management and more are joining the Wounded Warrior Project’s board of directors. The new board members include: Lt. Gen. (Ret.) Richard Tryon, the Honorable Juan Garcia, Mr. Ken Fisher and Dr. Jonathan Woodson. If you work in the nonprofit sector, you might recognize Mr. Ken Fisher, the chairman and chief executive officer of the Fisher House Foundation. –MC

23 Veterans Groups Share $1.5 Million in Donations from Newman’s Own
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
Newman’s Own Foundation recently announced a distribution of $1.5 million to 23 different veteran service organizations with a focus on education, career coaching and entrepreneurship. Among the organizations selected for a grant are the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, Student Veterans of America, and Warrior-Scholar Project (WSP). Such organizations are enabling the military community to use their existing skill set and are advancing veterans knowledge and leadership in business and higher education. –DD

SBA Executive: How More Veteran-Owned Small Businesses Can Keep America Strong
Barb Carson (@barbcarson) for Military Times
Almost half of post-World War II veterans and 40 percent of Korean veterans have taken the dive into entrepreneurship and started their own business. Statistics show fewer post-9/11 veterans are continuing the small business ownership trend, but about 25 percent would like to own a business after their service. Boots to Business Reboot is an entrepreneurship training program that is open to veterans, service members (including members of the Guard and Reserve) and military spouses who run a business or are interested in starting a small business. This program is offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration through a partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and is connecting veterans and their spouses with the tools necessary to become successful business owners. If you’re a local veteran in the Stafford and Fredericksburg, Virginia area our own CEO Fred Wellman will be speaking at the Boots to Business Reboot held at the University of Mary Washington Stafford campus on December 5th. Be sure to sign up soon! –DD

Military Personal Finance is a National Security Issue
Scott Halliwell (@USAAEF), RealClearDefense
The USAA Educational Foundation’s Financial Readiness Program Manager, Scott Halliwell, shared his thoughts on why financial readiness for military personnel is a national security issue, in a recent op-ed for RealClearDefense. Halliwell notes that personal finance directly affects military families; when things are bad financially, stress is increased and service members may have a harder time obtaining or maintaining required security clearances. The USAA Educational Foundation offers programs and tools for young service members and their families to help. Visit to learn more. –MC

USO Expands Military Transition Services and Fully Integrates RP/6 Programmatic Resources Into USO’s Global Operations
RP/6, a Washington State-based organization committed to helping service members, veterans and military families, will be fully integrated by the USO starting Jan. 1, 2017. The USO recognizes the RP/6 model for military transition as the standard to be replicated for troops and their families worldwide. RP/6 and USO have been engaged in a strategic partnership since 2015, but this merge will allow both organizations to reach and help more service members than they were able to accomplish alone before. –AB

Hiring Our Heroes Career Fair Wednesday in Huntsville
Carla Fields (@carlafieldstv), WAAY
Hiring Our Heroes hosted a hiring fair in Huntsville, Alabama for all service members, veterans and military spouses looking for employment. More than 40 employers attended the fair. The US Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosts hiring fairs for veterans, transitioning service members and military spouses across the country. Visit the Hiring Our Heroes website to find out when one is coming to a city near you. ­–JG

Vet Tix Donations Exceed 25k Over Veteran’s Day Weekend
Jacob Garcia, Phoenix Business Journal
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) received more than 25,000 donations over Veterans Day weekend. Vet Tix secures tickets to a variety of sporting, performing arts events and concerts and provides those tickets for service members, veterans and immediate family members of troops killed in action. Each event brings together military families to help strengthen their bond and also provides an environment where other veterans can meet and engage with their peers. Vet Tix and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts are currently giving free tickets to a variety of events for active-duty and retired veterans and full-time teachers. Since its launch in 2008, Vet Tix has served the community year-round and continues to expand its efforts. –DD

Measuring Brain Waves Helps Doctors Fine Tune Treatment Plans For PTSD Patients
Dr. Max Gomez, CBS New York
MYnd Analytics technology helped Col. Kelly Thrasher get his life back. Thrasher’s story, and how MYnd Analytics’ PEER technology helped his doctor find the right medication for him, was featured on CBS New York by medical correspondent Dr. Max Gomez. PEER technology uses algorithms and a database consisting of outcomes from more than 10,000 patients to generate an objective report which can help a physician select the right mental health medication for an individual as opposed to “treatment as usual” which involves a significant degree of trial and error. Thrasher had suffered through trial-and-error prescribing which left him feeling, he said, like a “zombie”. Getting on the right medication “definitely saved my marriage, probably saved my life to tell you the truth,” Thrasher told Gomez. The company, based in Mission Viejo, CA, just partnered with Carolina Partners, a Durham, NC-based psychiatric practice, to bring the technology to veterans and service members in the triangle area. –LJ

New Study Could Pressure VA to Expand Agent Orange Benefits
Charles Ornstein (@CharlesOrnstein), ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh), The Virginian-Pilot
A new study conducted by a VA working group has been researching correlations between medical conditions such as hypertension and exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War. While the interpretation of the data is disputed, there is evidence to suggest a significant link that warrants adding treatment for the disease as a federally funded care option for those who served and were in direct contact with the toxin. While no formal estimated cost associated with this expansion of care have been released, some experts cite the relatively low cost of hypertension medications as reason to believe that the cost would not be as staggering as some claim it would be. –JG

US Veterans Courts Grow Quickly but Inconsistently
Jay Price (@JayatWUNC), KPCC
Veteran courts are programs within our judicial system that provide additional resources, like counseling and drug and alcohol abuse monitoring, to divert veterans who have committed a crime from going directly to jail. This is available for veterans charged with minor crimes in an attempt to provide a support system that will lower the likelihood of repeated arrests. There are approximately 300 veteran courts operating with success across the country, yet there are still 17 states that have not acted to incorporate veteran courts into their judicial systems. –JG

Advocates Want More Veterans on Congress’ Policy Staff
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Recent surveys conducted found that the number of Capitol Hill staffers with military experience has dropped to 1 percent. HillVets is currently leading the initiative to encourage every lawmaker to add at least one veteran to their policy team. As HillVets board member Saki Ververis points out, 60 percent of our nation’s annual budget is related to the military and veterans’ issues, yet the teams working for each lawmaker don’t include staffers with a veteran’s perspective. Additionally, Ververis highlights the added possibility for bipartisan compromise that can come from individuals that were trained to complete the mission by overcoming disagreement and political division. –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences:
None this week.

Congressional Hearings:
No hearings 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 Monday, November 21, 2016 8:34 am

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