Veterans Roundup: the future of VA Choice, food insecurity among military families, suing over “bad paper”, regulating photo sharing, and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Veterans with PTSD are suing the Army to have their discharges upgraded
Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports), Army Times
Two soldiers who were removed from the Army with other-than-honorable discharges are now suing the service for failing to apply “liberal consideration” to their dismissals, which they claim were related to deployment-related mental health issues. The Army Discharge Review Board’s decision to not consider their PTSD diagnoses in their discharges was in direct opposition to a memo, written by previous Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, which stated that the Board should take variables such as post-traumatic stress into careful consideration when deciding what level of discharge should be given to service members whose misconduct could be attributable to mental illness. –KB
Bottom line: This will not be an easy case to prove but it is a discussion that needs to occur. It’s clear with even a momentary glance at the comments on Myers’s article that most active duty service members simply do not get that mental health and PTSD issues can be the underlying cause for a host of misbehaviors in uniform that lead to a service member being deemed a disciplinary problem. In uniform, it’s simply black and white. Good soldiers and bad soldiers. Heroes and dirtbags. There is no in between in a world where physical and mental health problems are simply “weakness”. This case shows that despite years of discussions, training, and awareness campaigns, nothing has really changed among many of the rank and file of the military nor apparently at the Army Discharge Review Board. We have been at war for 16 years, perhaps at some point the majority of the military will recognize that it’s at the cost of the bodies and minds of many who serve and the payment is supporting them when they break and long after. –FPW

Can virtual reality help cure PTSD?
Katie MacBride (@mcmacb), Rolling Stone
A new type of treatment is emerging for those who suffer from PTSD: virtual reality therapy. In these types of therapies, doctors utilize digital reenactments to fully immerse a patient in the trauma that caused the disorder. Instead of merely talking about difficult experiences, this type of full immersion allows the person to relive it and talk about the different cues that they might experience in the real world, such as certain noises or smells – essentially reprogramming the brain to not react to them. –KB
Bottom line: A quick reminder that inclusion in the Scout Report isn’t an endorsement. Rather, by highlighting this article and its focus on exposure therapy, I want to show that there are a lot of doctors and clinicians still looking for the best solutions for mental health patients… despite plenty of studies that point to other proven methods. Of course, more research in the field of mental health is typically a good thing: we want to see more evidence-based options for veterans and all Americans. Yet, stories like this one heighten expectations for quick fixes. Again, research shows patients typically respond best to treatment that involves several layers of treatment rather than a single element. We want to see innovation, and we want to see doctors trying new therapies with willing patients, but within a research framework that encourages collaboration and refinement. Whenever “silver bullets” are offered, I’m skeptical. I want to see the research. And it sounds like based on his statements and actions, VA Secretary Shulkin is similarly interested in research but not beholden to having 482 studies before he implements smart policy. –LJ

When Active-Duty Service Members Struggle To Feed Their Families
Dorian Merina (@dorianmerina), National Public Radio
A growing number of active duty service members across America are facing financial hardships, preventing them from affording basic groceries for their families. Many programs have been put in place, to include food pantries on military bases that families can access. However, studies show there is a larger need. Last summer, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) reported nearly 1 in 4 children at DOD schools are eligible to receive free lunches. The GAO urged the Department of Defense to capture and analyze more data on service members’ needs and use of food-assistance-programs, but there seems to be little to no change on how this issue is tracked. –DD
Bottom line: It is no secret that service members and their families often rely on external, non-DOD programs to support their families. Having been employed by the Marine Corps as a family readiness trainer nearly a decade ago, I regularly briefed families on the programs that existed to help them make ends meet. Even then, the programs we talked about included SNAP (then called food-stamps), WIC and on- and off-base food pantries. Food insecurity, or the need to stretch a household budget further, is not a new problem facing our military families. It is a fact that sometimes our youngest and most vulnerable families will need assistance, but without a coordinated effort it remains difficult to see the full-scope of this issue. We need a more comprehensive picture across the board if we hope to change or improve the personnel policies that may contribute to food insecurity and thus, family readiness. But utilization data isn’t just important for the DOD, it is incredibly important for our lawmakers to have this data as they develop policies to ensure military families have the support they need. Inter- and cross-agency coordination is a necessary part of the data sharing and analysis effort, highlighted in last summer’s GAO report, that will help us to better understand this complex issue. In a constrained budget environment, however, it is unlikely that this data sharing and collection will be made a priority. This is not just a task for the DOD, but for the inter-agency partners like USDA who will need to be empowered and motivated to share this data and make policy recommendations if we are to face this issue head on. –RB

Posting private nude photos is now a crime in the Navy and Marine Corps
David B. Larter (@DavidLarter), Navy Times
Following the Marines United scandal, the Navy and Marine Corps have revised their regulations to prohibit the posting and sharing of nude photos without the consent of the subject. This prohibition is conditional, and sharing will be considered violating regulations if the images are shared with the intent to harm, to receive personal gain or the intent to intimidate. These new regulations were signed off on by Secretary Sean Stackley last week and are effective immediately. –KB
Bottom line: Like teaching Marines and sailors about proper social media behavior, the act of criminalizing the unwanted sharing of nude photos is a Band-Aid, not a full solution. It will not halt such behaviors entirely, nor necessarily deter the most egregious and unrepentant violators. But it is progress, and a step in the right direction to protect the interests and reputations of service members and their families. In the long run though, the key to cutting off all such behavior – if such a result is ever possible – depends on changing how people think about their peers and strengthening military culture so it effectively embraces the reality that the military today is a band of brothers and sisters, not a band of brothers that has been weakened by the inclusion of women. The downside to this rapid action is that legal experts think it may not stand up in court because it is a Navy policy change and not a change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Whether that is true or not, the Department of the Navy will likely need to take more steps in the coming months to ensure its entire response plan is not built on a weak legal foundation. –BW

Trump extends private-sector health care program for vets
Darlene Superville (@dsupervilleap), ABC News
Last week, Donald Trump signed into legislation a temporary extension of the Veterans’ Choice Act – a program implemented under former President Barack Obama which allows veterans who live outside of a 40-mile radius of a VA hospital to seek care from a private sector doctor. The original program was set to expire in  August, and would have nearly $1 billion in its original budget left over. This extension will allow current VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin the chance to deliberate more on proposed reforms to the program. –KB
Bottom line: Despite some breathless media and social media coverage from Trump supporters, the extension of the VA Choice program does not improve anything about VA healthcare; it only extends the authorization of VA Choice so that the VA can continue to operate its existing program until funding runs out. In the meantime, the VA, White House and the Congress will work on legislation to reform the program, which will be closely watched both by those who believe the VA is broken and those who believe the Choice program is no more than a necessary evil to fill the gaps in VA programs. The real debate is still pending, though VA Secretary David Shulkin has already expressed his desire to modify the geographic restrictions built into the current program, to remove hurdles preventing veterans from finding care. We’ll be keeping a close eye on ongoing deliberations, which could prove to be an interesting test for the Trump Administration in managing expectations of its base versus the realities of what is best for veterans. –BW

USAA Educational Foundation launches digital readiness tool
Andrew Fickles,
In an effort to more effectively teach the importance of financial readiness and planning to young service members, the USAA Educational Foundation recently launched its  Command Your Cash Microlearning center. The interactive tool provides short video segments, followed by brief assessment quizzes. The tool is free and available to all service members, ROTC commanders, financial advisors and more. Sign up today at –AB

Proposal in Congress would require servicemembers to pay into GI Bill for benefits
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Veteran advocates and congressional staffers have been working on a GI Bill overhaul that would improve service members’ educational benefits, while increasing spending by $3 billion over 10 years. Student Veterans of America’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Will Hubbard, expressed the organization’s support for this bill, which would protect the GI Bill from potential future cuts in funding, ensuring that veterans will be able to use these benefits for years to come. Advocates are pushing to pass the legislation by Memorial Day. –JG

Westminster resident, student veteran proposes a reform in the VA
Peyton Garcia (@PeytonMGarcia), The Denver Post
Karthik Venkatraj was selected to be one of 10 student veterans to participate in the Veterans of Foreign Wars-Student Veterans of America 2017 Legislative Fellowship program. The program is designed to get young veterans engaged in the legislative process, allowing them to meet with policy makers to discuss their ideas for improving services for veterans. Venkatraj proposed an exchange program for senior VAmangers and private sector companies. Through the exchange program, participants would mutually benefit from learning how the other conducts business and implements new innovations. The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs added Venkatraj’s program to a bill that passed unanimously in the House and awaits Senate approval. –JG

90,000 Views and Rising: Marketing Tips From RallyPoint
Lucy Stratton, Blog
RallyPoint’s Vice President of Marketing, Nick Petros, and Vice President of Sales, DanPetrossi, recently shared their expert marketing advice in a brief Q & A. As leaders of the premier social network for service members and veterans with more than 1 million members, they know a thing or two about reaching tens of thousands of people. To read their tips on helping service members, branding, engagement and more, check out their interview! –AB

Campaign aims to place rose on veterans’ graves for Memorial Day; advocates start push for GWOT memorial
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
This Memorial Day, RallyPoint – the leading social media network for members of the military community – has launched the #FlowerOnEveryGrave initiative to remind Americans of the true meaning of the historic holiday. In partnership with Memorial Day Flowers Foundation, other organizations and hundreds of volunteers, their goal is to honor our fallen service members by placing at least one flower on every grave. –AB

VA halts changes to caregiver stipends, pending a full program review
Leo Shane(@LeoShane), Military Times
VA officials announced that they will not remove any more caregivers from its stipend program, pending an internal review taking place over the next few weeks. The review will find out if VA employees are properly explaining program changes to its 22,000 members. The review was ordered in response to reports across the country that monthly stipend recipients for severely disabled veterans were being removed from the assistance program without any explanation. This review will not halt the processing of new caregiver applications. –JG

Jill Biden Added to JPMorgan’s Military and Veterans Affairs External Advisory Council
Victoria Craig (@VictoriaCraig), FOX Business
JPMorgan Chase appointed Dr. Jill Biden, former Second Lady of the U.S., to their Military and Veterans Affairs External Advisory Council. In this position, Dr. Biden will guide the organization on their initiatives to help military members transition back into civilian life. Dr. Biden will bring years of experience from Joining Forces, where she and former First Lady Michelle Obama worked with the public and private sectors to provide employment, education and wellness resources to service members, veterans and military families. –DD

Walk of Fame Honoree Gary Sinise Goes Above and ‘Beyond’ for Veterans
Jenelle Riley (@JenelleRiley), Variety
Last week, CSI: NY star and Oscar-nominated actor Gary Sinise was given a star on the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame. While his career in acting is impressive, perhaps what is even more impressive is his foundation: The Gary Sinise Foundation. After 9/11, Sinise was unable to sit idly by and watch while others were crossing the ocean to go to war so he created his foundation that focuses on programs that honor and help veterans and military families – the most notable being the RISE (Restoring Independence, Supporting Empowerment) program which builds homes and provides adaptive equipment to wounded warriors and their families. –JG

Veterans Affairs launches pilot program with CVS to reduce wait times for veteran care
Hope Yen (@hopeyen1), PBS NewsHour
Three years after the 2014 VA wait time scandal in Phoenix, current VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin announced CVS MinuteClinic locations local to the Phoenix area will be open to veterans to reduce wait times for care. Dr. Shulkin continues to push for all scheduling to go through the VA, however, this initiative will allow veterans a wider range of health care options in the private sector. –DD

The toxic homefront: As Marine families fall ill, some are accusing the Corps of negligence
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Task and Purpose
Many families who were previously stationed at Camp Lejeune are now reporting multiple miscarriages and illnesses such as cancer, Parkinson’s disease, as well as babies born with birth defects. They are claiming that the base itself is to blame for their medical ailments. These people say that their medical abnormalities are the result of dangerous toxins from aviation fuel, pesticides and paint having been found in both the soil and the water – a situation that was never properly brought to the attention of base residents. –KB

‘Sand Castle,’ a film written by an Iraq veteran, is fiction shaded by war’s realities
Alex Horton (@AlexHorton), Stars and Stripes
Army veteran and film-maker Chris Roessner used his own personal experience of military service to write a new film that was released on Friday through Netflix called “Sand Castle.” Roessner, who originally enlisted to help pay for college, wanted to authentically depict the reality behind a war zonee and tell the stories of his generation of veterans. –DD

Veterans saw dramatic gains in coverage after Obamacare
Tami Luhby (@Luhby), CNN Money
Following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the number of uninsured veterans has been cut by almost half, going from 9.6 percent to 5.9 percent, respectively. This change was seen most prominently in veteran populations in states that chose to expand Medicaid. However, other populations, such as veterans meeting qualifications for subsidies and veterans’ families, also saw a dip in the percentage of uninsured after the passage of the ACA. –JG

Fred 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.  Fred Wellman

This entry was posted on Monday, April 24, 2017 5:29 pm

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