Veteran’s Roundup: The Future of VA Health Care, Homeless Programs, and HR Departments, Plus a Look at the Latest on Marine Corps Basic Training

Posted by Fred Wellman

McDonald to Trump Administration: Don’t Backtrack VA Progress
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
In the weeks leading up to the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, current VA Secretary Bob McDonald wrote in an exit memo that it is critical to sustain the momentum in reforming the VA that started under his leadership. This plea from the departing Secretary comes at a time of mounting concerns about the incoming administration’s plans to privatize the VA, a plan that officials within the Trump Administration have said he is considering, though he has failed to nominate an official to run the VA. In the face of the differences between the incoming and outgoing administrations, President Obama said in his last meeting with top military officials this past Wednesday that the transfer of power from one Commander in Chief to the next needs to be “seamless” to ensure the continued support of our nation’s service members. –KB
Bottom line: McDonald’s exit memo accompanies a number of public appearances and private meetings where he has very directly pleaded for the new administration to carry forward the many reforms underway and resist the pressures to further privatize VA that is already sending over 30 percent of health appointments to community providers. There is now less than two weeks until the inauguration and there remains no VA Secretary or Deputy VA Secretary appointees named. That means there is little if any time for the incoming and outgoing leaders to coordinate and discuss in depth the many efforts underway to transform the department that are widely recognized to be making progress. It’s simply a worrying and nearly unprecedented situation that is weighing heavier on veteran’s advocates and the 300,000 employees of the second largest federal agency charged with caring for the nation’s 20.9 million living veterans. Word is that there is absolutely no chance at all Trump will ask McDonald to stay on in spite of this late hour and the new administration is reportedly angry that it was even proposed by many VSOs. So, while emoji-loving Omarosa got the nod to serve as Communications Director in the Office of Public Liaison, the VA remains without a single appointee to be identified. Like we have said many times before; it’s going to be an interesting four years. –FPW

As Obama Leaves Office, Goal on Homeless Veterans Goes Unmet
Jennifer McDermott (@JenMcDermottAP), Associated Press
Though there has been significant progress in ending veteran homelessness in the U.S., federal and state efforts have not yet met the goal. The Obama Administration, along with many other veteran-serving nonprofits, have made great strides in providing veterans with access to affordable housing regardless of the hurdles they may have faced in their transition. Whether the Trump Administration will further this progress, or cut funding for social programs, remains uncertain. –AB
Bottom line: Without a new VA secretary in line to take the reins, it’s difficult to predict what kind focus on homelessness efforts the next administration will have. With much of the talk around further privatization of the VA, it’s hard to imagine that will be good news for homelessness programs that rely heavily on VA services. Indeed, the continuum of care that many homeless veterans use to navigate their health and housing issues is likely to fall apart if the health care piece is shifted to the private sector. The good news is that over the last six years, the community of organizations serving homeless veterans has learned a lot about how to use the various federal, state, and local resources available to them to house homeless veterans. That institutional knowledge and funding won’t disappear. There may be a flattening in the typically decreasing number of homeless veterans as those organizations have to reevaluate their processes if the VA health care delivery changes dramatically. We’ve worked for years with the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and The Home Depot Foundation as they’ve led the fight towards zero so we are closely watching how the future of homeless veterans programs shape up under Trump. –LJ

Report: VA Employees Received Millions of Dollars in Unjustified Incentives
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
A recent investigation into the Department of Veterans Affairs exposed more than $30 million in overspending on employee incentives in an effort to recruit and retain employees. The acting assistant secretary for human resources at the VA, Meghan Flanz, reported that the department has already updated their procedures for employee incentives. While some of the incentives were distributed to positions that were difficult to fill, the report shows that some of the incentives given were not fully justified. –DD
Bottom line: Based on the IG report, it appears that we are continuing to see the challenges arising from the disconnect between the VA’s top leadership and those in charge of executing their policies. Secretary Bob and his staff rightly worry about the challenge of recruiting and retaining medical professionals in the numbers and of the quality required to meet continually increasing demand among the veteran population over the last few years. Yet important tools like performance-based incentives are misused, undercutting the justified narrative of scarcity, when incentives are not clearly tied to a logical, measurable structure. The inspectors “concluded VA officials did not always confirm the incentives were being used to help fix workforce gaps or were necessary to recruit and retain employees.” While that is far from a worst-case scenario—such as clear signs of embezzlement or fraud—the VA can’t afford to be giving out incentives that it cannot justify. Such sloppiness will reduce the VA’s leverage with Congress when it comes to its long-term ability to attract and retain top talent in a highly competitive market. –BW

Marine Drill Instructors Accused of Using a ‘Dungeon’ on Recruits and Drinking on the Job
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Several Marine drill instructors at Parris Island are under investigation after reports of drinking around recruits and conducting training in a run-down building referred to as “the dungeon.” There have been several reports of misconduct at this particular training center in the past. The recent accusations come after Staff Sgt. Antonio B. Burke, another Parris Island drill instructor, was charged with hazing due to multiple reports of abuse among trainees. –DD
Bottom line: It is fascinating and horrifying to observe the continuing controversies impacting Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, where if it isn’t the latest allegations of hazing, it’s a dispute about gender-segregated training and the existence of low expectations for women Marines. I’ve personally talked with a Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego-based Marine drill instructor in recent months about how the DIs out west view Parris Island, and his feedback was that they simply couldn’t comprehend how different the Parris Island experience is from San Diego, where many of the reported misbehaviors—at least from his point of view—would never be allowed. The Marine Corps is proud of its reputation and its history, but it has to clean up its act in two ways that related to old school conceptions of masculinity. First, in regard to cases such as this one, it needs to drill into everyone’s head the difference between training and abuse, because the line seems to be crossed with far too much regularity. And second, it needs to join the rest of the military in dropping artificial gender barriers. It’s one thing to question whether women can cut it in combat infantry jobs; it’s an entirely different issue to simply decide that women and men should not train together in the 21st century. Until the Corps makes changes in these areas, it’s continuing to set itself up to tacitly endorse the aggressive treatment of recruits who are not willing or able to stand up to what can only seem like abuse and harassment to them. –BW

New Members Appointed to VA Advisory Committee
Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs
This past Tuesday, the Department of Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee on Women Veterans appointed four new members to its council, including Kate Germano, COO of the Service Women’s Action Network and a tireless advocate for the rights and fair treatment of service women and female veterans. The Advisory Committee provides counsel to the Secretary of the VA on issues pertaining specifically to women veterans. –KB  

ASAP’s Sam Pressler on Forbes 30 Under 30 – Social Entrepreneurs
Sam Pressler, founder of the Armed Services Arts Partnership, has been named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in the Social Entrepreneurs category. ASAP has assisted more than 300 veterans, hosting more than 250 performances, one being a comedy show at the White House. –JG

Student Veterans Jumpstart West Los Angeles VA Gardens Restoration
Jonathan Van Dyke, UCLA
A team of more than 50 volunteers from Student Veterans of America, The University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) and The Home Depot Foundation gathered early last Thursday morning to help beautify the West Los Angeles VA garden area. Their mission: to make it a lively and active area for fellow veterans, just like it was before the West Los Angeles VA program dedicated to the garden was cut more than a decade ago. A partnership between UCLA and the West Los Angeles VA will benefit this garden, along with a number of other programs. –AB

RallyPoint Welcomes 1 Millionth Member from Military Community
Globe Newswire
Last week RallyPoint welcomed its one-millionth member to its fast-growing online network for the military community. RallyPoint connects veterans and active duty service members across all generations to discuss issues and problems specific to the military experience. Learn more about this leading veteran startup by visiting RallyPoint’s website. ­–JG

Veterans Get Free Tickets Thanks to Vet Tix
Heather Sweeney (@WriterSweeney),
Founder and CEO of Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix), Mike Focareto, was in attendance at the 2008 Super Bowl XLII in Arizona when he took notice to the several empty seats in the stadium around him. Since then, Vet Tix has served the veteran and military community by providing free community-based event tickets to events around the nation. In 2016, Vet Tix hit a milestone of 2.5 million tickets distributed and that number will continue to soar in 2017. –DD

A Love Story and Twins for a Combat Veteran Amputee
James Estrin (@JamesEstrin), The New York Times
Jason Hallet was deployed as a minesweeper in Afghanistan when he lost both of his legs, most of his right arm and fingers from his left hand, in addition to other severe injuries. While recovering in San Diego, he reconnected with Rachel, his middle school sweetheart from his hometown in northern Colorado. After getting married four years later, they knew they wanted to start a family together. However, they also knew that Jason’s injuries complicated the probability of conceiving naturally. Doctors advised that in vitro fertilization was necessary if they were ever going to conceive. Luckily, their first attempt was successful and on October 13, 2015, Rachel Hallet gave birth to twins, a boy, Jason Jr., and a girl, Marina, named after the Marine Corps. –JG

First Female Infantry Marines Joining Battalion on Thursday
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marine Times
Last Thursday, three female infantry Marines headed to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to begin their services as a rifleman, machine gunner and mortar marine, respectively. These three women are the first ever to serve in combat infantry ranks in the Marine Corps following Ash Carter’s historic order this past March to integrate all combat units in the armed services. –KB

Tradeshows & Conferences:

Army Navy Military Expo: ANME Winter 2017 (Sun – Tue, Jan. 15-17, 2017); Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Civilian control of the Armed Forces
Who: Dr. Eliot A. Cohen, Robert E. Osgood Professor Of Strategic Studies, Johns Hopkins School Of Advanced International Studies; Dr. Kathleen H. Hicks, Senior Vice President; Henry A. Kissinger Chair; Director, International Security Program, Center For Strategic And International Studies
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, January 10, 2017
Where: Hart 216

Armed Services: Confirmation Hearing – Mattis
Who: Mr. James N. Mattis, To Be Secretary Of Defense
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, January 12, 2017
Where: Dirksen G50

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, January 09, 2017 8:52 am

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