Veteran’s Roundup: The President Releases his Budget Request and Meets with Veterans’ Group Leaders for the First Time, Plus latest on Marines United

Posted by Fred Wellman

Veteran Affairs Budget is in Line to Grow by 6 Percent
Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo), Washington Post
The Trump Administration budget request for the next fiscal year proposes major changes in government spending, including the Department of Veterans Affairs. The VA would see its budget grow by 6 percent, up $4.4 billion to $78.9 billion if Congress approves the administration’s request. The increase could fund hiring more direct health-care providers, give rural veterans more options for private care, and continue to modernize the VA’s outdated benefit claims system. Additionally, the administration says the funds would support programs focusing on veterans’ homelessness and the transition from military to civilian life. –DD
Bottom line: In any other circumstance we would be popping champagne to celebrate an increase in the VA budget but these are just not normal times. (And the VA budget has seen increases for the last several years. Trump is requesting $78.9 billion for VA discretionary funding, Obama’s last request was for $79.7 billion. –LJ) The thing to understand about the network of care that supports veterans is that it doesn’t solely reside in the Department of Veterans Affairs. Healthcare and benefits such as the GI Bill, disability pay, and a few other issues are purely under VA but almost every other program that touches veterans’ lives is shared or led by other agencies. Employment is under the Department of Labor, which will see significant cuts. Vouchers for homeless veterans are shared with the Housing and Urban Development, which will see significant cuts. In the private sector some 500,000 veterans are served by Meals on Wheels through HUD block grants, which are being cut. The list goes on and on. So while it is encouraging that VA will see an increase in its budget the net impact of the budget plan laid out by the Trump administration this week will likely have significant negative impacts on the veteran community through second and third order effects that we will not see for months or even years to come. It’s important to remember that this plan is simply an idea and it will be up to Congress to develop a full budget and pass it in the face of a cascade of concern across the country about the dramatic ideas that the administration has floated. We are a long way from the final funding but we highly recommend you buckle up—it’s going to be a bumpy ride. –FPW

Trump’s Proposed Cuts to Meals on Wheels Would Hurt Veterans
Shawn Snow (@SnowSox184), Military Times
The Trump administration proposed a nearly $3 million cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program, which provides funding for Meals on Wheels. The Meals on Wheels organization serves 500,000 veterans every year and cutbacks could begin to create wait lists, ultimately resulting in fewer meals served. The program costs about $1.4 billion a year, and helps feed the elderly, the poor and many veterans across the nation. –DD
Bottom line: As Fred notes above, increasing funding to the VA while cutting critical funding to other agencies hurts veterans more than it helps them. There are more than 21 million veterans in America, but only a little more than 9 million are enrolled with VA and only about 6 million utilize VA health care services. That leaves more than half of America’s veterans who will not benefit from an increasing VA budget, but will be affected when they don’t know where their next meal might come from, when they lose access to public lands, or when a local art therapy program loses its funding. Like Meals on Wheels, some of the best art therapy programs in America rely on grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and other non-profits serving veterans get funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Cuts to programs that serve Americans are cuts to programs that serve veterans. Further, cuts to international development programs at the State Department may simply lead to new wars that create more veterans—and no federally-funded infrastructure in our communities to support them. Where politicians advertise spending increases, be wary of what the collateral damage will be. Even within DOD, it’s worth keeping a close eye on how military health care, family programs, and retirement fare while weapons systems get a cash influx. –LJ

Marines Eye Changes to Recruit Training Amid Renewed Calls for Coed Boot Camp
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marine Corps Times
In a hearing about the investigation into the Marines United scandal, Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller made comments that indicated a possible shift in recruit training practices. This is only one of many changes coming to the Marine Corps mentioned in the hearing, as the commandant also updated the USMC social media policy, stating that previous incidents led leadership to focus heavily on sexual assault policy without ever tackling the issue of Marines’ behavior online. The American Legion applauded the Marine Corps for tackling the issue, while calling on all service members to stand up against harassment in any form. In an effort to reduce future scandals, Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced a bill to the House this past week which, if enacted, would make it illegal for service members to share nude pictures without the subject’s consent. –KB
Bottom line: My bias on this issue is clear and ingrained, since I’ve been acting as the communications director for the Service Women’s Action Network since late 2015: gender-based barriers that are erected based solely on gender and not on a service member’s ability to meet basic service standards and/or gender-neutral job performance standards do not have a role in today’s military. There is a very clear reason why we are talking about a scandal that started in the Corps and not in another service: they have maintained the strictest gender barriers and been the most complacent in allowing behaviors toward women that the American government and society have largely agreed are no longer acceptable in this country. Marines in leadership and authority positions, from Gen. Neller down to boot camp drill instructors, need to stop looking the other way when “boys are just boys,” and a key step in changing that attitude is to stop making excuses from fully integrating boot camp at both San Diego and Parris Island. –BW

House Bill that Would Enable Gun Sales to Many Vets Deemed ‘Mentally Incompetent’ Draws Criticism
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
The Department of Veterans Affairs has deemed approximately 167,000 veterans “mentally incompetent,” usually meaning that the person requires a caretaker to manage their finances and VA benefits. This information is sent to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, and ultimately prohibits them from buying a firearm. A bill, which advanced through the House Committee on Veterans Affairs this past week, would take away the government’s role in this, leaving it up to the justice system to adjudicate a person’s ability to safely operate a gun – a move that several high-profile former general officers have called “dangerous.” –KB  
Bottom line: On Thursday evening, HR 1181 passed in the House with bi-partisan support and a vote of 240-175. The debate surrounding this policy continues to be highly contentious and powerful veteran advocates are lining up on either side. Prior to the House vote, a group of former generals, including retired generals Petraeus, McChrystal, and Chiarelli co-signed a letter appealing to lawmakers to consider the danger of scrapping rules requiring the VA to report veterans who use a fiduciary to manage their finances to NICS. This reporting effectively bars these veterans from purchasing or possessing a firearm. There are essentially two camps at the root of this policy argument– those that feel repealing this policy is dangerous and could increase incidences of suicide in a population which is at heightened risk and those that feel that the policy takes away a constitutional right of a veteran without any evidence that he or she is a danger to themselves or others. VFW took up the banner of the latter, issuing an action alert to their constituents and urging support of the legislation. They argue that current policy may dissuade veterans from seeking mental healthcare for fear of being stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights. We foresee this heated debate continuing as the bill moves to the Senate for consideration, with even more individuals and organizations stepping up to take sides. –RB

Sex Assault Reports Up at Navy, Army Academies
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor), Associated Press
Although preventing sexual assault has been a major issue in recent years, reports of sexual misconduct have risen at the Navy and Army academies. Officials view the increase in sexual assault reports as a positive trend because they believe it indicates more people are trusting the system and are seeking help. Assistant defense secretary for readiness Elizabeth Van Winkle said that the students need to take accountability on their own because the senior leadership can only do so much on this front. –DD
Bottom line: The data points in this year’s service academies report presents an unclear picture. Judging by the official process of reporting, there were small increases at two academies and a decrease at another. Overall, total reports declined because of a major, unexplained drop-off at the Air Force Academy. Based on anonymous surveys, more women and men alike across the academies reported being the victims of sexual misconduct, though many said the incidents were not serious enough to report. There are several potential explanations. One is that, given the increased attention in the last few years to gender relations and consent issues, more students at the academies have become aware that they have experienced sexual misconduct where they might have excused it in the past. The second is that the academies are simply not as successful as they want to be in setting the right expectations and upholding appropriate standards for personal responsibility and respecting the rights and bodies of others. The report does not provide conclusive evidence, but it does ensure that this topic will not be ignored or neglected in 2017. –BW

Senators Want Details on VA’s Plan to Provide Mental Health Care for ‘Bad Paper’ Vets
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
After last week’s announcement that the VA will begin providing mental health services to veterans with “bad paper” discharges, members of Congress are pressing VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin for details on how these services will be provided. The announcement gave many veterans with these discharges hope that they will soon be able to access much needed resources, prompting eight Senators to write a letter to the secretary on their behalf, pressing him for more details on the matter. –KB  
Bottom line: This is good news. Too often, we see politicians and advocates alike cheering legislative or policy victories and then moving on. Yet, new laws or policies often require a lot of rule-making or regulatory finagling before veterans start seeing the intended benefits. It’s important that advocates are keeping the pressure on VA to really be clear about what its “bad paper” policy means so that if there are veterans who are still excluded from care—or veterans who are eligible who really shouldn’t be—Congress, the VA, and advocates can work together to legislate a long-term fix that is agreeable to all parties. In the meantime, the pressure is on VA to outline when and where veterans with bad paper can begin receiving treatment if they, as Shulkin said, “urgently need it” and if that only means if they are in crisis or also applies to preventative treatment. –LJ

VA Finalizes Disability Benefits Plans for Contaminated Water Exposure at Camp Lejeune
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
After years of lawsuits and months of review, the federal government has made the decision to provide benefits for service members exposed to contaminated drinking water during their time stationed at Camp Lejeune. It is estimated that it will cost more than $2 billion to assist the hundreds of thousands of service members who were exposed to contaminants from leaky fuel tanks and other chemicals while stationed at the Marine Corps base between the early 1950s to the late 1980s. –JG
Bottom line: This long-awaited federal rule now allows veterans who are suffering from any of eight conditions to file for VA disability benefits. It is estimated that as many as 900,000 service members exposed to toxic chemicals will be eligible for these long-overdue benefits. Stories abound in the Marine Corps community describing clusters of formerly healthy children and adults battling with or succumbing to diseases linked to the water in their communities at Camp Lejeune. In 2012, after lawsuits, media coverage, and even a documentary film, Congress passed a law to provide healthcare to service members and families potentially exposed to toxins during their time at the base, but VA benefits lagged far behind. Last week’s rule is far too late for the families who were impacted by diseases and deaths of loved ones, but is the right decision for federal government, one that will hopefully have positive impact for those who are still suffering. –RB

Sources: Trump to Nominate Former Flight Surgeon Mark Green as Army Secretary
Tara Palmeri (@tarapalmeri) and Connor O’Brien, Politico
According to sources close to the White House, Tennessee state senator and West Point graduate Mark Green will be President Trump’s next nominee for Army Secretary. Green served in the Army for 20 years including a deployment to Iraq. In 2003, he was a member of the team that captured Saddam Hussein. Green will be the second man nominated for the position, after Vincent Viola withdrew his nomination due to conflicts of interest with his businesses. Even if an official nomination is made soon, confirmation is not likely before late April. –JG
Bottom line: Green is a name we hadn’t seen on the radar before the reports this week on his pending nomination. While known for his book about interviewing Saddam Hussein after his capture, Green has been a staunch conservative as a state senator representing the Ft. Campbell region of Tennessee. Interestingly, Green had only filed paperwork to run for governor of the state on January 15th so this possible nomination is a surprise in a number of ways. As with many of the positions in the administration there is a long way to go before he will occupy the office while Secretary Mattis remains the sole political appointee in the Department of Defense. Several nominations were filed for deputy and under secretary positions late this week so hopefully the process is accelerating to fill these key positions that are so needed. –FPW

The Rise and Fall (and rise) of ‘Marines United’
Jared Keller (@JaredBKeller), Task and Purpose
In response to the recent controversy surrounding Marines United, Kate Germano, a former USMC officer and COO of client Service Women’s Action Network, spoke out saying that the root of the issue is a lack of accountability within the Marine Corps. –KB

Trump Meets with Veteran Leaders, Promises VA Reforms
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
President Trump met with officials from 10 veteran advocacy groups on Friday for the first time including Jared Lyon, president of Student Veterans of America. Before the meeting, Trump told the media that he refused to allow veterans to be denied the benefits and care they deserve, directing criticism at the VA. While Trump made no new promises in the meeting, he instructed Vice President Pence to consider a White House office for veteran empowerment, as suggested by Got Your 6 Executive Director Bill Rausch. In addition, after the meeting Vice President Pence spoke to Jared about the results of the National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST) and asked to hear more about the findings that show great successes by veterans in higher education. –JG

A Homefront Fighter for LGBT Troops
Rebecca Kheel (@Rebecca_H_K), The Hill
After meeting her wife in 1997, Ashley Broadway-Mack lived through “don’t ask, don’t tell”, it’s eventual end, and the legalization of gay marriage. Now, as the president of the American Military Partner Association (AMPA), Broadway-Mack works to tell stories of gay service members and their families, and the organization has played a key part in pushing policies on the Hill. –DD

Military Schools Get New Reprieve from Hiring Freeze
Amy Bushatz (@AmyBushatz),
Thanks to new hiring exemptions, military school officials have said the federal hiring freeze will not impact their ability to fill empty teaching and administrative positions for the 2017-2018 school year. DoD operates 168 schools with 73,000 students on military installations around the world. Officials plan to start processing applications immediately to fill expected teaching vacancies for the next school year. –JG

Transformation is ‘a marathon, not a sprint,’ VA says
Nicole Ogrysko (@nogryskoWFED), Federal News Radio
The VA remains on the GAO’s High-Risk List, which draws attention toward government agencies that are at high risk for mismanagement and in need of restructuring. While this list indicates a lack of faith in the VA’s progress, new VA secretary Dr. David Shulkin has indicated that he is fully committed to turning the department around, but that it will take time to implement meaningful and lasting change. –KB

U.S. Soldiers Heading to Poland Face a Grim Ordeal: No Burger King
Julian E. Barnes (@julianbarnes), The Wall Street Journal
Next month, the U.S. Army will work alongside British, Croatian and Romanian forces at the Russian border. The Army will be eliminating the luxury of American fast food to which most troops have become accustomed as Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin Muhlenbeck believes it detracts from a combat-like training environment.Internet will remain available for soldiers to keep in touch with family and keep up with necessary paperwork. –DD

Actor and Humanitarian Gary Sinise is Awarded AUSA’s Top Honor for Public Service
Mackenzie Wolf, Military Times
Gary Sinise has been selected by the Council of Trustees of the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) to receive the 2017 George Catlett Marshall Medal, awarded to individuals with a sustained commitment to men and women of America’s armed forces. Sinise’s support for the military community dates to the 1970s, but it was his performance in the movie Forrest Gump that led him to work closely with disabled veterans. After 9/11, he started the Lt. Dan Band to entertain service members deployed overseas and stationed here at home. He began the Gary Sinise Foundation in 2011 to create programs for all who have served our country. –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences:

None this week.

Congressional Hearings:

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Presentations of JWV, FRA, AFSA, MOPH, AXPOW, BVA, TREA, MOAA and IAVA
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: America’s Role in the World
Who: The Honorable Madeleine Albright, Former Secretary of State; Mr. Stephen Hadley, Former National Security Advisor
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Social Media Policies of the Military Services
When: 3:30 PM, Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Full Committee Hearing: “The Evolution of Hybrid Warfare and Key Challenges”
Who: Dr. Christopher S. Chivvis, Associate Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND Corporation, Senior Political Scientist; Dr. Francis G. Hoffman, Distinguished Research Fellow, National Defense University; Mr. Andrew Shearer, Senior Adviser on Asia Pacific Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Director, Alliances and American Leadership Project
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: The Current State of the U.S. Air Force
Who: Major General Scott D. West, USAF, Director of Current Operations and Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations, Headquarters U.S. Air Force
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: High Consequences and Uncertain Threats: Reviewing Department of Defense Strategy, Policy, and Programs for Countering Weapons of Mass Destruction for Fiscal Year 2018
Who: Ms. Shari Durand, Acting Director, Defense Threat Reduction Agency; Dr. Arthur T. Hopkins, Acting Assistant Secretary for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Defense Programs; Mr. Peter Verga, Performing the Duties of Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense & Global Security
When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, March 23, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: U.S. Policy and Strategy in Europe
Who: General Philip M. Breedlove, USAF (Ret.), Distinguished Professor, Sam Nunn School Of International Affairs, Georgia Institute Of Technology; Ambassador William J. Burns, President, Carnegie Endowment For International Peace; Ambassador Alexander R. Vershbow, Distinguished Fellow, Brent Scowcroft Center On International Security, Atlantic Council
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, March 21, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Army Modernization
Who: Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, USA, Deputy Chief Of Staff, G-3/5/7, United States Army; Lieutenant General John M. Murray, USA, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-8, United States Army; Major General Robert M. Dyess Jr., USA, Acting Director, Army Capabilities Integration Center; Brigadier General Promotable Robert L. Marion, USA, Deputy of Acquisition and Systems Management, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: United States European Command
Who: General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, USA, Commander, U.S. European Command / Supreme Allied Commander, Europe
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, March 23, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Department of Defense Civilian Personnel Reform
Who: Honorable Dov S. Zakheim, Former Comptroller, Department of Defense; Honorable Peter K. Levine, Performed the Duties of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Department of Defense; Honorable Laura J. Junor, Former Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, Department of Defense
When: 2:30 PM, Thursday, March 23, 2017
Where: 232A Russell

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 Tuesday, March 21, 2017 8:33 am

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