Veterans Roundup: The Politicizing of Military Widows, Military Women Join the #MeToo Protest, Preventing Suicide Among Vets and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

‘Learn his name first’: The politicizing of military widows is touching a nerve
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), The Washington Post
A recent trend of politicizing military widows has emerged. Photos taken to honor the fallen and their surviving spouses are being appropriated by the Trump Administration and others for political gain. Seana Arrechaga is one such spouse. After discovering a photo of her standing over the casket of her deceased husband, Army Sgt. 1st Class Ofren Arrechaga, who was killed on his fourth tour to Afghanistan in 2011, had been “meme-ified” and tweeted by a conservative commentator, she voiced her disapproval. Arrechaga noted it was another prime example of “a photo being used against our wishes,” urging those who would share such photos to learn his name and story first. Kori Schake, a Stanford University’s Hoover Institution fellow, as well as co-editor of the book “Warriors and Citizens” with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, says this trend is concerning because it marks the military as partisan and “erodes public support for the military.” –KG
Bottom line: It is just so easy. So easy to steal a photograph, throw in a caption and post it on social media. Easy to spread misinformation. Easy to make others in our echo-chambers agree with our opinions. Easy to forget that these are real people with real stories and real families feeling very real grief. Under no circumstance should these families be used as political pawns. We had a very similar conversation just this fall over which presidents called families of the fallen. It’s a true shame to think about the amount of time and energy we have spent talking about how or when to use images like these, or which president or Administration did what to support Gold Star Families. We should be asking ourselves and our community what more can we do to support the families of the fallen. What more can we do to ensure that Americans know their names and their stories—and hopefully our politicians will follow suit. –RB

‘Where’s our reckoning?’ | Military women gather outside Pentagon in #MeToo protest
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars and Stripes
Last Monday, female service members gathered outside of the Pentagon to speak out against sexual assault in the military. The #MeToo and the more recent #TimesUp movement have permeated Hollywood and Washington, DC. However, despite the pervasiveness of sexual assault and harassment in the military, the movements have yet to catch on among service members. The women at the protest, organized by the Service Women’s Action Network, told their individual stories of sexual assault in the military and described the backlash they received from male military leaders when they came forward with their reports. With 80 percent of women in the military reporting sexual assault or harassment during their career, only about four percent of cases ended with convictions in the 2016 fiscal year. The women at the Pentagon expressed their desire to end the misogynistic military culture and take cases of sexual assault out of the control of commanders. –DD
Bottom line: Later in this Scout Report I write about the Army’s recruiting challenges due to obesity in the South, which may not seem like a direct correlation to this story, but if the military is already facing recruiting challenges and 80 percent of women in the military report being sexually harassed, how many other women are being dissuaded from joining the military by the alarming figures in this story? While it’s great that Army Col. Rob Manning says there is “zero tolerance” for sexual assault or harassment, that policy is not reflected in the numbers reported by women that have and are currently serving. Numbers like: the Pentagon’s estimate of more than 6,100 sexual assaults in 2016, the fact that two-thirds of victims don’t report, making the actual number more like 18,300 sexual assaults, that only about 4 percent of cases resulted in a conviction, and 60 percent of those who reported sexual assault say they faced retaliation. The #MeTooMilitary demonstration outside of the Pentagon is how change and progress begins, and it’s critical that we tell those stories, as painful as they may be. It’s critical to put a face to a statistic, because that’s what evokes the emotions that translates to political pressure and ultimately action and change. There is a larger conversation to be had here, about women holding more leadership positions, both in the military and across all sectors. If women don’t have a seat at the table and aren’t equally represented decisionmakers, then we can create all the “zero tolerance” policies in the world, but we can’t expect them to be actually be enforced effectively, and the good ol’ boys club to be held accountable. –CB

New Trump order focused on preventing suicide among new vets
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week President Trump issued an executive order directing DOD, VA, and DHS to create new and necessary mental health resources for recently separated service members. White House officials have ordered a new plan to be developed within 60 days that will have a heavy focus on updating post-service transition programs, as veterans are three times more likely to commit suicide in the first year of post-military life. Other changes could result in wider access to health services in the private sector, a broader expansion of VA health services and more. Once the new plan is fully developed, agencies will have six months to implement changes. –DD
Bottom line: A wise man told me to wait until March 9 until trying to guess what will be in the administration’s plan. That stems from the confusion created by mixed signals sent from the White House and the VA on the day the executive order was signed about whether veterans with bad paper would be included in expanded health coverage. For the next 60 days, as these agencies are putting together their plan, expect veterans’ advocates to be pushing officials to be as inclusive of their priority issues as possible. It’s heartening to see the administration put a focus on service members’ transitions and veteran mental health. Unfortunately, whatever plan the agencies come up with will only be able to go so far. At some point, Congress will need to be involved whether it’s about regulations, funding authority, or other bureaucratic challenges that will surface. So let’s look ahead to March to read the plan, but in the meantime ensure that those writing the plan know what the veteran community expects to be included. –LJ

This Marine tried to stop misogyny in the military. Now he’ll take on the Pentagon from outside.
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Col. Scott Jensen and his team spent months researching before submitting a briefing to general officers with suggestions on how the U.S. Marine Corps should best handle a pervasive “online culture of misogyny, harassment and retaliation” within the community. Despite their extensive efforts, the plan fizzled after being passed to the Marine Corps headquarters due to lack of direction and organization. After a massive online scandal was unearthed months later, with the private “Marines United” Facebook group at the center of it all, along with the birth of the #MeToo movement, this topic has gained significant attention. This past Tuesday, Jensen was named the new CEO of Protect Our Defenders – a nonprofit group that is dedicated to ending sexual assault in the military. While the Corps has made some efforts recently to combat the established culture of misogyny, Jensen maintains that leaders need to establish specific mandates and timelines for exactly what will be changed and how, noting his acceptance of this new position is, in part, due to his disappointment with the previous handling of these issues. –KG
Bottom line: There is an old joke among former military officers of middle grade that we need to get out of the military, put on a suit and call ourselves “executives” to get our former bosses to listen to us. There is a lot of truth to the old tale when it comes to changing a system and culture that is resistant to change like the Marine Corps or for that matter the entire military. After years of trying to make systemic changes to how the military handles sexism and discrimination within its ranks, the numbers simply don’t show significant improvements with only slow declines in the numbers of sexual assaults and incidents of misogyny like last years Marines United scandal which to date has seen few actual Marines pay any consequences for their association with the group that was posting revenge porn and sexist memes about female service members. Jensen is taking the lead of one of the most aggressive advocacy organizations on this issue and he brings a deep knowledge of precisely the roadblocks he faces. We wish him the best of luck. If history is any guide, offices that once were off limits to a mere colonel will suddenly be open to having conversations from the leader of one of the leading veterans advocacy groups. –FPW

Physically fit recruits for Army are hard to find. Especially in these states
Jim Michaels (@jimmichaels), USA Today
Even though the South traditionally recruits the highest percentage of soldiers, the Army is having some difficulty finding physically fit recruits because of the rising rates of obesity there. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity rates are 35 percent or higher in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia, all of which are among the states that have the highest rates of injured recruits during basic training. Percentages of qualified, physically fit recruits have dropped to 23 percent and it remains a rising issue for the military. Researcher Daniel Bornstein and retired three-star Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling say that the Army is not able to fix this situation without the support of society, which can hopefully be solved by bringing physical education back into schools and improving infrastructure that encourages more physical activity. –SM
Bottom line: What this newly released study tells us is that not only is the American obesity epidemic compromising national security by forcing the Army to modify its standards in order to achieve recruiting goals, but it’s also costing tax payers approximately $31,000 per recruit that is lost to attrition. That cost is based on a 2005 study, so that figure is now no doubt higher at this point. While other factors do come into play when talking about recruiting challenges, such as criminal records and a lack of a high school diploma, a lack of physical readiness by far outweighs the others. As this story points out, what this comes down to is our culture and making physical fitness and healthy eating a cornerstone of early childhood education, something that had been pushed by the previous administration through Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative. Other important questions that this article touches on but doesn’t delve that deeply into, and is perhaps best left as the subject of another study and another article is why the heavy reliance on these eleven states for Army recruits… just some food for thought. –CB

Former VP Joe Biden says military burn pits may have led to his son’s death from cancer
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Amidst ongoing studies regarding the prevalence of terminal health conditions among service members exposed to carcinogens produced by burn pits, former Vice President Joe Biden believes exposure to those pits may be at fault for his son’s fatal brain cancer. Beau Biden served in the Delaware Army National Guard and had deployments to both Iraq and Kosovo. Due to the undocumented nature of what was burned in these pits, officials from the DoD and VA shy away from drawing any conclusions linking illness and burn pit exposure. –JG
Bottom line: The correlation between specific illnesses to burn pit exposure continues to be a hotly contested issue in veterans’ health. In 2014, at the demand of legislators, the VA launched an Airborne Hazards and Open Burn Pit Registry to allow military members who had served after 1990 in a variety of locations to file information related to their health and service. Unfortunately, there is little research or data that could tie burn pit exposure to those who have been diagnosed with or died from cancer. Critics say that the burn pit registry just isn’t enough and is rife with flaws that could hinder real advancements in research. Chief among these complaints is that the registry must be completed by the veteran, rather than by a family member in the case of a deceased veteran. There are so many stories of young, formerly healthy service members and veterans falling ill after being exposed to the pits during overseas deployments. Advocates and vets alike say that exposure to the toxic pits is the Iraq/Afghanistan generation’s version of Agent Orange. Without dedicated research dollars and a commitment by the government to dig in on this issue, these losses are a solemn reminder that things may only get worse. –RB

Former airman named SVA Student Veteran of the Year
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
Student Veterans of America (SVA) awarded their Student Veteran of the Year award to U.S. Air Force veteran Chris Rolph at NatCon 2018. Rolph is the SVA Chapter president at Queens University of Charlotte, co-founder of QU4Troops and is on track to graduate in May with his bachelor’s in business administration. Rolph was selected among an initial pool of 120 nominees and then again from the nine other finalists for the award. While he has not set a path for his career as of now, he knows that he will use his time and energy to continue his advocacy for student veterans everywhere. –JG

‘Chain of Command’: Nat Geo’s New Series Explores War From The TOC Down
James Clark (@JamesWClark), Task and Purpose
National Geographic’s new docu-series “Chain of Command” captures the military’s decision-making process with unprecedented access to the Global War on Terror to fight violent extremism. The documentary offers a birds-eye view of military service from the top-down in the military hierarchy and footage spans from decisions made in the Pentagon to service members around the globe. Last week, the first episode premiered at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford in attendance. The series will air on Monday’s starting last night Jan. 15, at 9/8c. –DD

Queens University Veteran Student Wins National Award
Gwendolyn Glenn, WFAE – Charlotte’s NPR
Chris Rolph, a senior at Queens University in Charlotte was awarded the 2018 Student Veteran of the Year award at NatCon 2018. SVA gave this recognition to Rolph, an Air Force veteran, in large part for founding his school’s SVA chapter and quickly securing a grant from The Home Depot Foundation to build their own vet center. In the coming year, Rolph plans to stay focused on ensuring that college campuses are a place where student veterans feel like they belong as he travels to SVA chapters around the country. Rolph is slated to graduate in May with his bachelor’s in business administration with plans to find a job in Charlotte. –JG

National Geographic Continues Commitment to Vets
Paul Gaita (@Variety), Variety
National Geographic has documented many historical eras and events, to include military documentaries. Their recent series “The Long Road Home” shed a light on a key battle of importance, while paying tribute to military veterans, service members and their family members. And now a new docu-series, “Chain of Command,” gives an unbiased and insider perspective on the inner-workings of military strategy. Nat Geo was only able to receive unheard of access due to the trust they have established by continuously treating their subjects and stories with respect and their commitment to accurate storytelling and documentation. Nat Geo also sponsored Variety’s Salute to Service event in New York City last week, where five individuals were honored for significantly impacting the military space. –DD

Documentary shows military’s fight against terrorism, highlights roles of Fort Bragg troops
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
Fans of National Geographic’s recent 2018 Critics’ Choice Award nominated mini-series “The Long Road Home” will be pleased to hear that they’re releasing another military-focused series tonight (Jan. 15). This particular series, “Chain of Command,” will instead be a docu-series which provides a groundbreaking, deep look into the war against violent extremism and the chain of command that drives our nation’s service members to defend our security. The series was filmed over the course of a year in Fort Bragg, inside the Pentagon and overseas on the front lines of battle. –AB

Fighting the war on MISIS right meow
Airman 1st Class Sydney Campbell, Barksdale Air Force Base
It’s a tough and dangerous job fighting the war against MISIS and helping Airmen unwind after a long day, but not for Captain. The new mascot at Barksdale’s Honor Guard at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana is a furry, feline friend named Captain the Cat. Her commitment to chasing mice all day and supporting those around her are highly recognized at the Air Force Base for being a “great morale booster.” –SM

Secret bitcoin philanthropist backs research of ecstasy as treatment for PTSD
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
The Pineapple Fund, an unidentified benefactor’s initiative which is funded by the cryptocurrency Bitcoin, has offered a $4 million matching grant to the nonprofit Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). MAPS is studying the use of MDMA/ecstasy as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, and began including veterans in their studies in 2010. Initial trials have been promising, with 61 percent of chronic PTSD patients no longer meeting the clinical diagnosis after treatment. MAPS must raise the additional $4 million by March 10 in order to receive the grant. –KG

U.S. military history is rich with immigrants who left the countries Trump disparaged and sacrificed in combat
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
The battle in Ganjgal, a village in Kunar Province, on Sept. 8, 2009 was one of the most traumatic for the U.S. military in Afghanistan, but it was also a lesson on how the U.S. military is a combination of various cultures, races and religions – all with the same common goal. This particular battle serves as a reminder, since President Trump made this comment last Thursday during a meeting focused on immigration reform: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?” What Trump fails to realize is that thousands of non-citizens are stepping forward each year to serve and about 25,000 non-citizens currently are serving, some of whom have sacrificed their lives for the U.S. According to the Migration Policy Institute, more than 511,000 U.S. veterans are foreign-born, which represents 3 percent of veterans in the nation. Even though the White House did not deny the report from Thursday night, Trump says that the language he used was “tough,” but denies what was reported. –SM

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings


Oversight & Government Reform Subcommittee on National Security: Battlefield Successes and Challenges – Recent Efforts to Win the War Against ISIS
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Where: 2154 Rayburn

Veteran’s Affairs: Addressing Veteran Homelessness: Current Position; Future Course
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, January 18, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon


Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs: Unintended Consequences: Medicaid and the Opioid Epidemic
Who: Sam Adolphsen, Former Chief Operating Officer at the Department of Health and Human Services, State of Maine and Vice President, Rockwood Solutions; J. Otto Schalk, Prosecuting Attorney, Harrison County, State of Indiana; Emmanuel Tyndall, Inspector General, State of Tennessee; David A. Hyman, M.D., Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law Center; Andrew Kolodny, M.D., Co-Director of Opioid Policy Research, The Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Where: 342 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: The State of the VA: A Progress Report on Implementing 2017 VA Reform Legislation
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, January 17, 2018
Where: 418 Russell

Other Events

Armed Services Arts Partnership: Veterans Comedy Show at Fair Winds Brewery
Who: Veterans, service members, and military family members from DC Metro Area
When: 7:00 PM, Sunday, January 14, 2018
Where: Fair Winds Brewery (7000 Newington Rd K & L, Lorton, VA

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 11:46 am

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