Veteran’s Roundup: The Latest on VA Reforms, The Army Tries to Look like It’s Doing the Right Thing, SOCOM Commander Says Zip It, and more

Posted by Fred Wellman

Congress’ Inaction is Hindering Veterans Health Care Reform, VA Secretary Says
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times
Months following the Commission on Care’s final report, VA Secretary Bob McDonald blamed Congress for failing to pass meaningful reform measures. The VA embraced 15 of the report’s 18 recommendations, asking Congress for legislation to expand the system’s partnership with private healthcare providers, as well as close VA facilities that aren’t meeting standards. Within the recommendations not accepted by the VA was the privatization of its healthcare system, which McDonald took down in a Senate committee hearing, saying that it would be enormously expensive. Congress is instead focusing more on accountability for employees, with the House recently passing a bill to ease the firing of VA workers, just a day before it was revealed that the department rewarded a director with immunity and paid leave after severe misconduct. –KB
Bottom line: I have written often about the constant back-and-forth between the VA leadership and Congress as to who is to blame for a wide array of systemic and individual problems. In this case, I can’t disagree with VA Secretary Bob, who is stuck between Congress, his budget, his regulations and his lawyers. He has voiced his support for legislative reforms to enable the VA to remodel its portfolio of community care programs. He has agreed to work toward the execution of many of the Commission on Care’s reform recommendations. Yet he, like many other congressional supplicants, is now finding the biggest problem is Congress’ inability to cooperate to achieve meaningful reform. The next step in VA reform still should be a gradual one that takes into account the VA’s own recommendations and professed desire to change. Yet that step is stalled in Congress, and for once, it’s difficult to swallow that the VA is the guilty party. –BW

Top U.S. Special Operations General: ‘We’re Hurting Ourselves’ with All These Movies and Books
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), The Washington Post
Last week at a conference hosted by the Institute for the Study of War, Army Gen. Raymond Thomas, who heads U.S. Special Operations Command, spoke out against former elite forces who choose to write books, contribute to video game productions or play roles in movies. Thomas’s comments come just after a $6.6 million settlement between former Navy SEAL Matt Bissonnette, author of “No Easy Day,” and the government. –MC
Bottom line: The flood of books and movies about and written by the nation’s special operators has been unbelievable since Operation Neptune Spear took down Osama Bin Laden. It’s reached peak pop culture when you can get t-shirts at the souvenir shops in town saying “SEAL TEAM 6” on them celebrating a unit that wasn’t even acknowledged to exist ten years ago. The settlement against Bissonnette essentially takes away every dime he made directly from his book sales and now the SOCOM commander is making his opinion clear that it’s time that special ops went back into the shadows. There is no question that all of the many media productions have exposed tactics, techniques and procedures like never before and in many cases actual names and careers of operators have been widely disseminated. All of it is baffling since the watchword of these forces is about being the “quiet professionals.” Hopefully that day will return and they can go about protecting our nation with a sense of anonymous security. Of course, that will totally ruin the joke: How do you know a guy is a Navy SEAL? Give him a second…he’ll tell you. –FPW

Casualties on the Homefront
Jeremy Shwartz (@JinATX), Austin American-Statesman
In 2015, 109 accidents were reported on Fort Hood, the highest that number has been in the past decade. In the same year, accidents involving severe injury, death or significant equipment damage increased by 20 percent. Officials cite the rhythm of wartime deployments and training schedules as potential causes despite the declining number of service members stationed there. Rep. Mac Thornberry, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, points to the increased accident numbers as resulting from reduced military budgets. –JG
Bottom line: One of the biggest takeaways from this article is that being in the military is a dangerous business, even when you’re not at war. While some accidents in garrison can be seen through a lens of budget cuts, like the uptick in aviation accidents across the services, others like vehicle rollovers point simply to the inherent dangers of military life. Still, there are other accidents such as off-post motorcycle accidents that may point to broader issues with mental health. Yet, if the increase in accidents at Fort Hood is related mostly to fatigue from the relentless OPTEMPO of recent years, where are the calls for more dwell time and personnel? What about increasing services for families to ease the burden of stress on service members? Secondary indicators like increased accidents on base should be seen as a potential barometer of a wider problem. Serving in the military will always be dangerous, but there is no reason it should be more so due to entirely preventable accidents. –LJ

Program to Help Military Children in Trouble
Joshua Marshall (@JoshKHOU), KHOU News
The future of the Texas Hazelwood program providing tuition assistance to children of military veterans remains up in the air. Colleges claim they cannot financially sustain admitting nearly 20,000 military children, known as ‘legacy students,’ without forcing traditional students to cover the difference in tuition costs. The debate remains whether military dependents should receive such financial assistance, since it is costing higher education institutions more with each passing year. –DD
Bottom line: My first thought when reading this story: “how did they manage to misjudge the number of military children who would take advantage of the Hazelwood program by 18,000 students?” The Hazelwood Act has been around since after World War I, but in 2009 Texas state legislators opened the program to military children as well, without adequately increasing the state funding, and now that burden is falling on the colleges. While the change is an admirable effort to support families who undeniably sacrifice between frequent moves, deployments and other challenges that come with having a parent in the military, there was obviously a lack of appropriate analysis and consideration. The lesson learned here is that just like with any effort to support veterans and their families, it is important to remember the limitations that come with supporting such a large community before making such a large, unfunded commitment. –MC

Troops Often Don’t Vote, Cite Obstacles and Skepticism Their Ballots Will Be Counted
Nancy Montgomery, Stars and Stripes
The pursuit to get Americans to voting booths has been an uphill battle for years, and it’s one that even applies to military voters. Due to frequent relocation and the complexity of the voting process, young service men are actually among the least likely to vote. The Federal Voting Assistance Program has tasked thousands of designated officers to help these service members overcome these factors. –AB
Bottom line: In the wake of recent reports about the lack of knowledge at the state and federal levels about exactly how many service members cast absentee ballots, Stripes’ Nancy Montgomery has provided a helpful refresher on the state of military voting and why service members tend to be among the least likely to vote. Montgomery points out that young male voters in general tend to participate at a lower level than other groups, and that service members—who move around frequently—often lack the ties to a specific community that could generate interest in local elections. At the same time, it is clear that the uncertain process of absentee voting can depress service member turnout, as two-thirds are not confident their ballots would actually be counted. The process is getting simpler as state election officials and federal election officials collaborate to improve the process and regain service member trust, but there is still a lot of work—both substantive and educational—to be done to help service members become more active participants in the political process when they are not stationed in their home cities and states. –BW

After Review, Army Could Upgrade Dozens of Discharges for Soldiers with PTSD, TBI
Kevin Lilley (@KRLilley), Army Times
According to a letter to Congress from Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning just posted online, 73 soldiers with post-traumatic stress (PTS) or traumatic brain injury (TBI) are eligible to be considered for upgrades to their other-than-honorable discharges by the Army after a lengthy review. This group left the Army between January 2009 and July 2015 and before they were discharged, the soldiers may not have received a required medical exam or had incomplete documentation of their diagnoses made available to their commanders. In recent months, Army officials, advocates and a group of lawmakers have been pushing for the review in light of so many servicemembers being processed out for discipline issues that may actually have been tied to PTS or TBI. –MC
Bottom line: This is one of those stories that at first glance you’re like “This is great news! Good on the Army for looking at this!” But then you start thinking about the numbers. The Army said it discharged some 67,697 soldiers with a behavioral health diagnosis in their record for misconduct between 2009 and mid-2015. Then they talk about how just 3,327 of those had deployed in the last two years and had a PTSD or TBI diagnosis and should have gotten a pre-separation exam. While most got honorable discharges, 394 didn’t. Of those, 73 soldiers had “insufficient documentation”. So, that’s it. The paperwork wasn’t filled out right. This is in no way the Army saying, ”Hey…maybe all these soldiers we are kicking out for behavior problems might have PTSD or TBI.” It’s them saying “we just didn’t fill out the right forms before kicking them out.” Throw in that they are only saying that those who deployed in the last two years are getting flagged. There are a lot of things that lead to PTSD other than combat and a lot of folks are able to cover up their problems for years before crashing and burning finally and getting in trouble. So, a two-year purely deployment related window of review leaves a lot of potential mischaracterized discharges on the table and men and women who have real issues without veterans’ services or benefits. Finally, all the Army is saying is that these men and women should get an “appropriate behavioral health evaluation” that is then reported to their commander for review to determine their discharge. The fact is that those commanders are humans and a lot of times they are pissed off because some platoon sergeant screwed up their perfect command performance of zero DUIs and they may not give a rip if some psychologist says that SFC Smith has PTSD from his deployment three years ago. All CPT Jones cares about is that Smith is a dirtbag today. Out he goes with a dishonorable discharge and there goes the chance Smith had at getting help. There is a lot of work to do in the military to deal with the stigma and consequences of mental health issues and brain damage to our service men and women. This announcement doesn’t mark any real progress at all. –FPW

EEG Registry Reduces Trial-and-Error Approach to Depression Treatment
Tori Rodriguez (@torirodriguez), Psychiatry Advisor
This past week, MYnd Analytics released the results of their study on utilizing a crowdsourced EEG registry to help doctors better predict which psychoactive medications will work best for patients suffering from PTS and depression. The study involved veterans and service members undergoing a simple brain scan, which was then compared to a database of EEG results from others. An algorithm was then utilized to craft a report, given to physicians to assist in prescribing medications. The results were astounding: patients who were prescribed medication by doctors utilizing the report showed a 144 percent improvement in depression, a 75 percent decrease in suicidal ideation and a 139 percent improvement in PTSD symptoms. –KB

Former President Bush speaks at Fort Carson’s Transition Summit
Former President George W. Bush attended the Hiring Our Heroes Transition Summit in Fort Carson. Bush delivered remarks advocating for the work Hiring Our Heroes has done nationally and continues to do. The event was designed to be an educational resource as well as an opportunity for transitioning service members and their spouses to connect with employers that are looking to provide meaningful employment. To find out if a Hiring Fair is coming to a city near you, visit the Hiring Our Heroes website. –JG

Live Nation Becomes Top Ticket Donor to Vet Tix 
Taylor Mims, Amplify
Live Nation has become a top donor to Vet Tix, a nonprofit providing free entertainment tickets to service members, veterans and their family members. This year alone, more than 750,000 tickets have been donated to bring family members together through a concert, sporting event or another event that will create lasting memories. The University of Arkansas Athletics is another great partner to Vet Tix and has supplied more than 2,180 baseball and football tickets through the generous donations of Razorback fans. –DD

USO RP/6 Program Helps Vets Transition to Civilian Life
Dianne Derby (@Dianne11News), KKTV
RP/6, in partnership with USO, has had proven success with helping veterans transition from military to civilian life. Their commitment to work hand-in-hand with clients to build a plan for new careers and more is making a world of difference in their clients’ lives. Senior Master Sgt. Dean Miller, for instance, recently got a public information officer job – a position which, with the help of RP/6 and USO, achieves his goal of working somewhere where he feels like he’s a part of a team. –AB

Veterans Entrepreneurship Training Program Deploys to Atlanta
Phil W. Hudson (@AtlBizPhil), Atlanta Business Chronicle
When you mix veterans with entrepreneurship, the results are limitless. A free entrepreneurial training program, Boots to Business Reboot, is offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and has a public private partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). Dr. Mike Haynie, Executive Director and Founder of the IVMF, will be instructing a course in Atlanta this week that is open to all service members, veterans and military spouses. Distinguished classroom instructors teach Boots to Business Reboot and courses are held nationwide year-round. –DD

Quick Hits:

War Games
Paul Shinkman (@PDShinkman), U.S. News & World Report
In the last several years, we have seen the rise of VA funded programs and initiatives that rehabilitate and support wounded warriors. These programs made it possible for injured Army veteran Jennifer Schuble to become a Paralympic cyclist with Team USA. Her path to recovery is one she shares with many other injured veterans whose lives improved thanks to adaptive sports programs. Continued advocacy for funding the VA and supporting nonprofit programs like these will ensure that those who have sacrificed so much for our country will be able to continue representing us on the world stage. –JG

Marine Drill Instructor Accused of Running a Clothes Dryer with a Muslim Recruit Inside
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Last year, a drill instructor accused a Muslim Marine recruit of being a terrorist and ordered him to get into an industrial clothes dryer, consequently burning the former recruit’s neck and arm. This particular incident of hazing and abuse was reported in November 2015 and initially wasn’t taken seriously by officials, as the unnamed sergeant was allowed to continue training recruits. However, the service is now proceeding with criminal charges against those involved. –AB

Tricare Makes it Easier to Get Mental Health Services
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Beginning October 3, Tricare beneficiaries will see expanded mental health coverage bringing the military’s coverage up to par with laws regulating the civilian health care industry. The new policy will lift limits on substance abuse treatment, relax restrictions on smoking cessation and psychotherapy and counseling, and eliminate limits on inpatient and residential mental health treatment. –MC

VA Now Taking Health Benefits Applications by Phone 
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times
A new Department of Veterans Affairs regulation will allow veterans to apply for health benefits by phone. The previous system required an in-person application and created a backlog of 847,882 applications, and the VA could not keep up with demand. Former service members are still able to apply for health benefits in person, but the change will allow for more efficiency. –DD

Taking Military Sexual Trauma Seriously
Juleyka Lantigua-Williams (@JuleykaLantigua), The Atlantic
The VA has estimated that one-in-five female veterans that use their health-care are victims of Military Sexual Trauma (MST), while other reports indicate an 88 percent increase in sexual assault in the military since 2007. It was an issue that military leadership turned a blind eye to for decades, until recently. Now more than ever, MST victims are empowered to take action against their attackers and have them held accountable. Oftentimes these victims suffer mentally from their assault and require counseling for years, if not for the rest of their life. The Orange County Community Court has served as a model to all local governments in providing resources and processes to make sure victims can find what they need to cope and return the focus to improving their quality of life. –JG

VA Quit Sending Performance Data to National Health Care Quality Site
Donovan Slack (@donovanslack), USA Today
It was revealed last week that the VA has stopped reporting information about the quality of its facilities’ healthcare to a national database as of July 1. The national database, as well as the VA’s own site,, were efforts to increase transparency in the Veterans Healthcare System. When asked about the takedown, a representative mentioned that it was due to “accessibility issues” with the user interface of the website. –KB

Will Military Families be a Top Priority for the Next President? These First Ladies Hope So
Leo Shane III(@LeoShane), Military Times
In an American University event series highlighting the role of the First Lady in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama and former First Lady Laura Bush spoke out on the plight of military families in the United States. The women both talked about their roles in advocating for better policies to help military families thrive, and the importance of continuing that role despite the public’s waning attention on our role in the wars. –KB

Tradeshows & Conferences:
Air Force Association: AFA Air, Space & Cyber Conference (Mon – Wed, Sept. 19 – 21, 2016); National Harbor, MD

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Nomination: Hyten
Who: General John E. Hyten, USAF, For Reappointment to the Grade of General and to be Commander, United States Strategic Command
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, September 20, 2016
Where: 216 Hart

Armed Services: Full Committee Hearing 15 Years after 9-11: The State of the Fight Against Islamic Terrorism
Who: The Honorable James Jeffery, Former U.S. Ambassador to Turkey and Iraq; Mr. Brian Jenkins, Senior Advisor to the President of RAND Corporation; Lieutenant Colonel Bryan C. Price, Director of the Combating Terrorism Center, West Point
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Seapower and Projection Forces in the South China Sea
Who: Dr. Andrew S. Erickson, Ph.D., Professor of Strategy, China Maritime Studies Institute, U.S. Naval War College; Ms. Bonnie S. Glaser, Senior Adviser for Asia and Director, China Power Project, Center for Strategic and International Studies; Dr. James Kraska, S.J.D., Professor of International Law, Oceans Law and Policy, Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, U.S. Naval War College
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, September 21, 2016
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Think Tanks & Other Events:
Bipartisan Policy Center: Understanding The Military Compensation Conundrum
Who: Jeri Busch, Director for Military Compensation, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness; Jason Dempsey, Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security; Carla Tighe Murray, Senior Analyst, National Security Division Congressional Budget Office; Cristin Orr Shiffer, Senior Advisor for Policy and Survey, Blue Star Families; Chris Marvin, Principal, Marvin Strategies
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, September 22, 2016
Where: Open Society Foundations, 224 W 57th St, New York, NY 10019

Heritage Foundation: From The Front Lines To Congress: The Unique Responsibilities Of Veterans Overseeing The Department Of Defense
Who: The Honorable Ryan Zinke (R-MT), Member, House Armed Services Committee, and a U.S. Navy Veteran; The Honorable Steve Russell (R-OK), Member, House Armed Services Committee, and a U.S. Army Veteran; James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow
When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, September 22, 2016
Where: Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, D.C. 20002

For a full list of upcoming events, visit our website

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, September 19, 2016 8:41 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation