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Veterans Roundup: The Scout Report: from C-130s to Shark Tank, Cuts to Troops and Families’ Benefits Looking More Certain

Posted by Fred Wellman

Lawmakers Vow to Keep Close Watch on Veterans Affairs Progress, Spending
Ben Kesling (@bkesling), The Wall Street Journal. Top lawmakers who serve on the House and Senate veterans committee have committed to ensuring the VA spends the $16 billion in funding it received last year after the VA scandal in order to expedite reforms. Recent data has shown that VA spending on benefits varies even within states. –MC
Bottom line: Female veterans’ issues and fighting veteran suicide are top priorities for lawmakers chairing the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees, but not surprisingly for Republican budget hawks, “job one” is ensuring the VA follows through on the reforms Congress gave it $16 billion to enact. On the other side of the aisle, Senate VA Committee Ranking Member Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) says passing the Clay Hunt SAV Act is his top priority. He plans to keep mental health and predatory lending at the top of his agenda. With Republicans at the helm of both committees, we expect fewer public disagreements over how VA reform should be handled. With more coordination on oversight, it’s possible the committees could be effective tools for reform as long as the VA and veterans don’t become tools for partisan bickering. –LJ

Hagel: Military Compensation Changes Coming
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. Outgoing Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned troops last week of possible changes to benefits while visiting sailors off the coast of San Diego. Hagel was referring to the forthcoming Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission’s report on troops’ benefits that will be released in February. Also last week, Senate Armed Services Chairman, John McCain (R-AZ) announced that he is open benefit and pay changes. –MC
Bottom line: It’s interesting how often reporters wax philosophically about how Chuck Hagel was an enlisted man in Vietnam and it shows in his love for the troops but then don’t connect that to his near constant banging of the drum on changes and cuts to their benefits programs. The fact that DoD and now McCain are saying that changes are coming tells you that the draft report they are reading out of the MCRMC is going to bring some dramatic recommendations and they are trying to “prep the battlefield” for the coming storm. Everyone involved in the battle over military pay and compensation has been urging a pause in hostilities until the Commission issues their report. The fact that both Congress and DoD are predicting major changes tells us that the report isn’t going to be well liked by the Veterans and Military Service Organizations. But, if Congress and DoD are saying cuts are needed, the battle will be an uphill one for those trying to preserve the current systems and structures. We predict that February will be an epic battle month in our sector. ­–FPW

Veterans Groups Release Annual Priorities Report
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes. On Thursday four of the nation’s biggest veteran service organizations said that the VA system is still underfunded and at risk of more problems even after Congress pumped billions of dollars in funding into the VA. The groups made this assessment in the Independent Budget, a collaborative list of policy recommendations, in which critical issues are identified on access, caregivers, women’s issues, the claims process, and other challenges. –MC
Bottom line: For years, the Independent Budget has recommended that lawmakers increase the VA’s budget because of significant wait times facing veterans, the backlog, and other issues affecting veterans’ care. This year, in the wake of last year’s VA scandal, Congress may be more apt to listen to these veterans’ groups’ recommendations. Actual dollar amounts won’t be released until after the president releases his budget, but for now the VSOs are laying out their priorities—unsurprisingly health care access, including mental health care, is at the top of the list. Two issues to keep an eye on, though, are calls for more resources for both women veterans and caregivers of all eras. These are issues VA has been working on, but not at the pace many in the community would like to see. These issues also represent fertile ground for advocacy that has yet to be undertaken as major causes by any big VSOs—something that could change in the near future. –LJ

Veterans Jobs Bill Advances; Future is Uncertain
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The Hire More Heroes Act made it through the House last week but has stalled in the Senate with an uncertain future. The bill, said to be a boost to veteran employment by allowing businesses to hire veterans without penalties under the Affordable Care Act so long as they have insurance through the VA or Defense departments. 2014 actually proved to be a good employment year for the newest generation of veterans, with the post-9/11 veteran unemployment rate hitting a historic low. –MC
Bottom line: When the economy was in the doldrums and unemployment was up across the board, it was easy to buy in to the “crisis” narrative for veterans. Today, with unemployment down for all groups, including veterans, the narrative is more complicated. When jobs are available, veterans are filling them. Government support can be of value at times, but the Hire More Heroes Act is an example of Congress legislating with its eyes closed. The bill is unlikely to sustain its unanimous momentum from the House when it is taken up in the Senate—we have heard that committee staffs are not in a rush to follow the House’s lead—and it really is not a solution to any current problem. Frankly, we’d love to ask each House member who voted for the bill the following question: if an employer used this incentive to hire a veteran in order to continue denying you healthcare coverage, wouldn’t you resent that veteran? This is not a solution, but a poorly thought-out exemption. –BW

Detailed Study Confirms High Suicide Rate Among Recent Veterans
Alan Zarembo (@AlanZarembo), Los Angeles Times. A recent report on suicide among young veterans confirmed what many recent veterans knew anecdotally: their peers have been committing suicide at a much higher rate than civilians who never joined the military. The data also busts some typical myths: the suicide rate among veterans who never deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan was 16% higher than for those who did. A number of theories are posited including that service members with mental health issues were held back from deployments. Also worrying is the fact that female veterans are taking their lives at twice the rate of female civilians. From a policy perspective, this report comes just as the Senate debates the future of the Clay Hunt SAV Act. –LJ
Bottom line: It may be a bit clichéd to say, but we truly do not understand the human mind. Getting ahead of and preventing suicides—among veterans and among the general population—remains a bridge too far at this point. The obvious answers like “war is hell” don’t stand up when you review the comparably high suicide rate among veterans who never deployed. We need to continue to invest in potential treatments and research, such as studies that help us better understand how drugs—and veterans certainly get prescribed many—affect the brain. At the same time, the study helps us better understand who is committing suicide. The VA estimates that 22 veterans commit suicide each day, but a recent Government Accountability Office report notes that the data it collects on suicide is often inaccurate. If that number is higher, particularly among young veterans, that should strongly shape and influence the response by the VA, VSOs, and other concerned entities, but it is important to note that the vast majority of suicides are among pre-9/11-era veterans. –BW

She Flew C-130 Planes in Iraq. But Friday on ‘Shark Tank,’ She’s a Veteran with a Small-Business Dream.
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. Kristina Guerrero, CEO and founder of TurboPUP and a 2012 graduate of Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship (V-WISE), appeared on ABC’s “Shark Tank” on Friday night. Emily Wax-Thibodeaux delves into Kristina’s entrepreneurial journey and how the training she received from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families helped her thrive. –MC

Veteran Women Igniting My Spirit for Shark Tank
Kristina Guerrero (@TurboPUPs), Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. Kristina Guerrero provides a first-hand account of how programs like V-WISE and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans and Military Families gave her the confidence and skills to launch TurboPUP. Last year, Kristina won the Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream Business Plan Competition through IVMF and that opportunity helped her learn the pitching skills that landed her a $100,000 deal on Shark Tank. –MC

Other Coverage of V-WISE:
Startup program targets female military, veterans
Maria Clark (@MariaClarkCB), New Orleans CityBusiness
New Orleans embraces entrepreneurship for veterans: A letter to the editor
Meghan Conroy Florkowski, The Times-Picayune

The Hire More Heroes Act is Misguided. There is no Veterans’ Unemployment Crisis.
Peter A. Gudmundsson (@PAGudmundsson), The Washington Post. Peter Gudmundsson, CEO and President of RecruitMilitary, writes that the Hire More Heroes Act was introduced with good intentions, but is misguided because it paints veterans as victims, perpetuates a the myth of a veteran unemployment crisis, and implies that the government is better placed than the private sector to drive hiring decisions. –MC

Children of the Fallen: Portraits of Loss
John Woodrow Cox (@JohnWoodrowCox), Petula Dvorak (@petulad), Steve Hendrix (@SBHendrix), Michael S. Rosenwald (@mikerosenwald) and Ian Shapira (@ianshapira), The Washington Post. Through interviews and photos with the children of 14 fallen servicemembers, The Washington Post sheds light on how Gold Star Children cope with the loss of a parent. ScoutComms client TAPS helps children like Lauren Gibbons through grief camps and other programs, a featured part of her story. –MC

How to Know When a Company is Truly ‘Military-Friendly’
Fred Wellman (@fpwellman), Task & Purpose. Fred Wellman’s latest article for Task & Purpose talks about what really makes a company “military friendly”. BLUF: being military friendly takes more than pledging to hire veterans or offering military discounts. Be sure to check it out and tell us what you think makes a company military friendly. –MC

New Year, New You; Why There’s No Better Time Than NOW for Veteran-Owned Small Businesses
Brothers Fund. ScoutComms CEO Fred Wellman spoke to the Brothers Fund earlier in 2014 about what veteran small business owners can do to stay ahead of the competition. Fred says that paying attention to your competition and adjusting your business plan is a key to success for a small business in today’s marketplace. –MC

Quick Hits:

Revealing the Trauma of War
Caroline Alexander, National Geographic. National Geographic’s new series on brain trauma from blast force highlights what several servicemembers felt after being injured. Some of these servicemembers and veterans express themselves through art therapy and creating painted masks. These are powerful stories with powerful photos. –MC

Brain Zapping: Veterans say Experimental PTSD Treatment has Changed Their Lives
Richard Leiby (@richleiby), The Washington Post. Magnetic resonance therapy (MRT), a therapy that pulses energy into a patient’s cortex, has been showing promising results for many patients of brain injury. –MC

Armed Services Chief: No ‘Appetite’ for New Round of Base Closures
Martin Matishak (@MartinMatishak), The Hill. As the Pentagon prepares its Fiscal Year 2016 budget proposal, the topic of military base closures resurfaces. Although the Pentagon claims it could save billions by closing unnecessary infrastructure, the House Armed Services Committee has not been very supportive of this idea. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our Events page.

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans Affairs: Business meeting to formally organize the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the 114th Congress When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs: Building a Better VA: Assessing Ongoing Major Construction Management Problems within the Department Who: The Honorable Sloan D. Gibson, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Mr. Lloyd C. Caldwell, P.E. Director of Military Programs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. David Wise, Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office, Mr. Roscoe Butler, Deputy Director for Healthcare, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division, The American Legion, Mr. Ray Kelley, Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA): Veterans’ Dilemma: Navigating the Appeals System for Veterans Claims When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, January 22, 2015 Where: 340 Cannon

Senate:

Armed Services: Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy Who: Mr. Brent Scowcroft, President The Scowcroft Group and Former U.S. National Security Advisor, Dr. Zbigniew K. Brzezinski, Counselor and Trustee Center for Strategic and International Studies and Former U.S. National Security Advisor When: 9:30 AM, Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Where: 216 Hart
Veterans Affairs: Business Meeting to Consider the Rules of the Veterans’ Affairs Committee for the Resolution Authorizing the Expenditures of the Committee for the 114th Congress and Pending Legislation before the Committee When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, January 21, 2015 Where: 418 Russell

Think Tanks & Other Events

American Enterprise Institute: A Congressional Roadmap for Rebuilding Our Nation’s Military: A Conversation with House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry Who: Mac Thornberry, House Armed Services Committee Chairman (R-TX) When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, January 20, 2014 Where: AEI, 1150 17th Street NW, Washington, DC, 20036

Center for a New American Security: A Conversation About Healthcare Technology as a National Security Asset and Improving Outcomes Who: Dr. Karen Guice, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs When: 5:00 PM, Thursday, January 22, 2015 Where: Willard Intercontinental Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC, 20004

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, January 20, 2015 8:43 am

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