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Veterans Roundup: Veterans not Taking ISIS “Hit List” Threat Seriously, VA Expands Choice Eligibility

Posted by Fred Wellman

Military Community Mocks Threat from Islamic State Group
Derrick Perkins (@DerrickTPerkins), Marine Corps Times. Two weeks ago, ISIS supporters published a supposedly “hacked” hit list with the names and addresses of 100 troops—though most of the information was available online. Since then, some military families have voiced concerns about the threat, but many active-duty and former service members have turned the tables on ISIS, daring its supporters to try and attack them. Defense Department officials have warned service members and their families to be wary of what they post on social media while they further investigate the threat. –MC
Bottom line: One of the secrets of military life is the tendency towards a dark gallows humor in the face of threats and danger. Some of the most inappropriate stunts and pranks occur the night before crossing the line of departure and that same approach carries forward into civilian life leading to such public displays as the ridiculously off-color Duffel Blog and cartoons like Terminal Lance that have even crossed over and gained attention from civilians and more mainstream humor outlets. So, it’s no surprise that most guys on the “hit list” aren’t taking it too seriously. It’s hard to take a “hacked” hit list that was really just some guys using Google to find publicly accessible information too seriously. As we said here last week there have been exactly zero attacks on U.S. military personnel or their families connected to any internet threats to date. Ever. –FPW

Senate Votes to Expand Veterans’ Access to Private Care
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordon), Military.com. Last week the Senate passed an amendment that if signed into law would allow veterans who live within 40 miles of VA facilities to use the VA Choice benefit to seek private care if their local VA facility does not provide a specific needed service. The VA is also changing the way it calculates the 40-mile requirement from “as the crow flies” to “as the veteran drives”, potentially doubling the number of veterans eligible for the program. –MC
Bottom line: After much criticism of the VA Choice Program and the way its 40-mile rule had been implemented, the VA determined it was able to change how it calculates distance without new legislation. That’s good news for the many rural veterans who reported that long country roads often meant they were much farther from their local VA than a straight line. The VA should be given credit—and not The Daily Show, despite what The Huffington Post might say—for listening to veterans’ feedback and changing its policies. Still, many veterans say they won’t be able to take advantage of VA Choice because they live within 40 miles of a VA facility—but not within 40 miles of the specialty care they need. The VA contends that Congress needs to enact legislation to change this policy while Congress says the intent of the original law would include this change. Last week, Senator Jerry Moran introduced an amendment to a Senate budget resolution that would give VA the cover it needs and it passed the same day. Clearly, this is the next big change to VA Choice. Whether more veterans will now choose private care—or whether VA begins to approve more veterans for private care—remains to be seen. –LJ

Top Military Doctors: our Health System Works
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has recommended that military families and retirees be moved to private health care plans, which would enhance care for active-duty troops and activated reservists and ultimately improve readiness. The Defense Department is signaling it will reject this recommendation as each of the services’ surgeons general told a Senate panel this week that the military healthcare system ensures readiness. Army Surgeon General Patricia Horoho said there is no comparison between the civilian health care system and the military one. –MC
Bottom line: The response of the military healthcare leaders sets up an interesting scenario where they are saying that allowing military healthcare facilities to treat a wide variety of patients ensures the readiness of the practitioners for a wide range of missions and healthcare needs. It’s a different angle from that taken by the commission, which is looking at reform from the perspective of reducing the long-term economic burden of healthcare commitments on the military. Lt. Gen. Horoho is certainly correct that there are big differences between the civilian and military healthcare systems, but it is unclear if that point really matters when discussing the needs of, for example, a drilling reservist and her family, whose needs are generally indistinguishable from those of the average American family. What this response shows is that if Congress moves to act on the commission’s proposed changes, it will face opposition from the services’ healthcare leaders. –BW

Laws to Prevent Abuse of GI Bill Benefits Weren’t Enforced, Records Show
Alan Zarembo (@AlanZarembo), LA Times. On Tuesday, Congress took up legislation that would close a loophole in in Post-9/11 GI Bill that has allowed flight schools to reap more than $250,000 of benefits per veteran by working as contractors for public schools. Additionally, the VA has said it will review its application of a rule that is intended to prevent the federal government from paying for courses that are only being taken by veterans. –MC
Bottom line: First, like C.J. Chivers getting an apology for the Iraq veterans impacted by chemical weapons, the ongoing reporting by Zarembo shows the importance of investigative reporting. In this case, Zarembo has found another instance of legal loopholes and misapplied VA rules creating confusion about how best to serve veterans. Groups that can profit from the GI Bill are going to figure out ways to do it if the VA does not stay vigilant. For advocates, stories like this are problematic because with Congress looking to cut budgets, some might see the combination of lucrative GI Bill and lax VA as a place to tighten belts. In Texas, where veterans receive free in-state tuition and since 2009 have been able to pass that benefit along to their children, state lawmakers are openly saying the cost of veterans’ education is too high. A half-dozen bills have been introduced in the Texas legislature to amend their generous veteran education benefits. While politicians love to tout their support of veterans issues, elections still come down to the economy and budgets play a big role in how good voters feel about their wallet. –LJ

Advocates Spar Over Plans for Retirement Overhaul
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. Veterans groups and advocates are divided on the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commissions’ plan to overhaul the military retirement system. Groups such as the American Legion and Military Officers Association of America have voiced concerns over any changes whereas groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America support the intent of the MCRMC changes. –MC
Bottom line: The situation is a classic case of “where you stand depends on where you sit.” In this situation, veterans and military service organizations that tend to support military retiree populations are roundly against major changes to existing structures. On the other hand, organizations representing younger populations of veterans are pushing for changes offering earlier financial rewards for those who only serve shorter terms in uniform. Somewhere in the middle, organizations that represent military families are still figuring it all out. Everyone involved agrees that a lot more research and work remains to be done before dramatic changes are made to the existing military benefits and compensation system. It all sounds easy. Build 401(k)s like those great civilian systems but then you read a story like this one from USA Today that shows how millions of the retirement plans are all but failing to provide for the average employee and continue to shrink. A common sense approach will be needed that puts aside politics and today’s fiscal situation before massive change occurs. –FPW

Veterans Unemployment Rate Drops to Lowest Point Since 2008
Josh Hicks (@reporter_hicks), The Washington Post. New federal data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the 2014 veteran unemployment rate has dropped to 5.3 percent, the lowest point since 2008. The year also proved to be an all-time high for veterans hired among federal agencies. As we see these rates change, entrepreneurs and corporate leaders are discussing whether or not hiring veterans has become a marketing initiative or a smart decision for businesses. –MC
Bottom line: As our client Peter Gudmundsson asserted in the Washington Post in January, there is no veteran unemployment crisis. Certain segments of the veteran population—particularly young and female post-9/11 veterans—still are dealing with higher than acceptable rates, but thanks to three trends, veteran unemployment is decreasing across the board. The biggest driver is the strength of the U.S. economy. As more businesses hire, more veterans will get jobs as part of the overall workforce. The second driver is the government’s emphasis over the last few years on hiring veterans for federal jobs. And the third driver is the impact that a plethora of public and private sector efforts, like the new Onward to Opportunity partnership between the Schultz Family Foundation and our client the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, are having in breaking down barriers to employment and creating new opportunities for veterans. This is unequivocally positive news, and we hope that the rate continues to decline. But there will continue to be a significant need for targeted programs to help veterans in employment for years to come. –BW

Quick Hits:

New paperwork: VA filing, appeals system changes begin Tuesday; advocates voice concerns
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars & Stripes. Last Tuesday, veterans had to begin using a new standardized VA benefit claims form, a move that has caused some controversy among advocates and veterans groups. The American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the National Veterans Legal Services Program, AMVETS, and the Vietnam Veterans of America have filed a lawsuit against the VA over the end of informal claims. –MC

Medal of Honor Society Eyeing Legacy as Numbers Decline
Kyle Jahner (@kylejahner), Army Times. The number of Medal of Honor recipients has been steadily decreasing since Vietnam. As the number of recipients dwindles, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society is working to educate Americans and create a cadre of civilian supporters who embody the spirit and legacy of the society. –MC

Task Force Violent: The Unforgiven
Andrew deGrandpre (@adegrandpre), Military Times. The fourth part of the Task Force Violent series explores the ‘unbalanced’ investigation of Marines accused of committing war crimes in Afghanistan. –MC

Veterans Hurt by Chemical Weapons in Iraq get an Apology
C.J. Chivers (@cjchivers), The New York Times. Undersecretary of the Army Brad R. Carson formally admitted that the military did not follow its own care policy for troops exposed to chemical weapons in Iraq. Carson apologized to service members affected and has promised to improve their care going forward. –MC

Army to Create Certifications or Licenses for Every MOS
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Army Times. Army leaders are working to improve the Army Credentialing Program by providing civilian-equivalent certifications and licenses to soldiers of every MOS. These efforts will help soldiers leverage their military skills in the civilian workforce. –MC

US: Chicago-Area Cousins Planned US Terrorist Attack
Michael Tarm (@mtarm), The Associated Press. Hasan R. Edmonds, an Illinois Army National Guardsman, and his cousin were arrested last week for allegedly planning a terrorist attack on a U.S. military facility in support of ISIS. –MC

Former Pentagon Spokesman Ready for Life After the Podium
Howard Altman (@haltman), The Tampa Tribune. Navy Read Adm. John Kirby reflects on his time as a public affairs officer and Pentagon spokesman during an interview with the Tampa Tribune. Kirby left the Pentagon earlier this month and is considering what his future holds. –MC

Bergdahl Charged with Desertion, Faces Article 32
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Army Times. Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a soldier held captive by the Taliban for five years, was charged on one count of desertion and one count of misbehavior before the enemy after an extensive investigation of the events that led to his capture by enemy forces. –MC

U.S. to Keep 9,800 Troops in Afghanistan Through 2015
David Jackson (@djusatoday), USA Today. Last week the President announced that the United States would keep 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through 2015. Although the US will still decrease the number of troops in Afghanistan by about half, the overall withdrawal is slowing down at the request of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani. –MC

Defense Secretary to Visit Syracuse University Tuesday
Dave Tobin (@dttobin), The Post-Standard. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is paying a visit to Syracuse University and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families this Tuesday. Carter will receive a briefing from Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud, Vice Chancellor for Veterans and Military Affairs and Executive Director of IVMF Dr. Mike Haynie, and other members of the IVMF team about the institute’s research, programs, and community engagement efforts. This visit is part of Carter’s first domestic trip since swearing in as Secretary of Defense. –MC

How Team Depot Efforts go Beyond Reveal day
After five years in the Navy and three deployments, Jacob Snowden finally got to settle down with his family. But after years of neglect, their yard was too much to take on by themselves. That’s when Team Depot and Habitat for Humanity Orange County stepped up to renovate the Snowdens back yard and give the family a place to spend quality time together. That was three years ago. Checking back in today, Team Depot finds the family still enjoying their updated space and making long lasting memories together. –MC

Starbucks’s Schultz Opens new Front in Helping Veterans Enter Work Force
Megan O’Neil (@ByMeganONeil), The Chronicle of Philanthropy
The Schultz Family Foundation has partnered with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University and the U.S. Department of Defense to help troops and their spouses train for civilian jobs before they leave the service. The innovative program will be coordinated on-base by IVMF, and the training will be industry-specific with support from Microsoft and Starbucks and other corporate partners. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

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

Congressional Hearings

Joint Field Hearing:

Tomah VAMC: Examining Quality, Access, and a Culture of Over-Reliance on High-Risk Medications Who: Candace Delis, Auburndale, WI, Ryan Honl, Tomah, WI, Noelle Johnson, PHARM.D., BCACP, CGP Urbandale, IA, Heather Simcakoski, Stevens Point, WI, Marvin Simcakoski, Stevens Point, WI, John Daigh, M.D., Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections, Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Alan Mallinger, M.D., Senior Physician, Office of Healthcare Inspections, Carolyn Clancy, M.D., Interim Under Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Renee Oshinski, Acting Network Director, VISN 12, Veterans Health Administration, Mario V. DeSanctis, FACHE, Medical Center Director, Tomah VAMC When: 1:00 PM CT, Monday, March 30, 2015 Where: Cranberry Country Lodge, 319 Wittig Road Tomah, Wisconsin, 54660

Think Tanks & Other Events

RecruitMilitary: All Veterans Job Fairs
Who: Disabled American Veterans, Lockheed Martin Corporation, The Home Depot, JP Morgan Chase, and other companies When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, March 26, 2015 Where: Louisville, KY: 2800 South Floyd St., 40209, Austin, TX: 9201 Circuit of the Americas Blvd, 78617

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, March 30, 2015 12:08 pm

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