Veterans Roundup: Thousands of Veterans May be Added to VA Backlog, Employment Numbers Looking Up

Posted by Fred Wellman

New Rules May Allow Benefits Long Denied to Vietnam-Era Veterans
Dave Philipps (@David_Phillips), New York Times. On Wednesday, the Defense Department released new guidelines for military discharge review boards and addressing post-traumatic stress disorder. As a result, many Vietnam-era veterans who received less-than-honorable discharges and suffered from PTSD symptoms may be eligible for discharge upgrades and new access to benefits. The conversation began when a group of Vietnam veterans and Vietnam Veterans of America filed a class action lawsuit claiming the military denied upgrades to veterans whose cases involved PTSD. The lawsuit estimates that 250,000 Vietnam-era veterans received other than honorable discharges and up to 80,000 of those veterans may have had PTSD. –MC
Bottom line: While DOD is certainly making the right call here, you can imagine there are a few dozen disability claims adjudicators at VA banging their heads against a wall. “Bad paper” that comes with other than honorable discharges means thousands of veterans have been denied access to VA health care and disability assistance. The VA has made progress toward ending the disability claims backlog, but this new guidance from DOD could add thousands of new claims into the queue. Mental health care access, too, could become an issue if a significant portion of the now eligible veterans seeks treatment. This is another case of poor coordination between DOD and VA and doesn’t bode well for future conflicts. ­–LJ

Are American Troops Already Fighting on the Front Lines in Iraq?
Ford Sypher, The Daily Beast. U.S. troops have officially stayed away from the front lines in Iraq in the fight against ISIS, but an article last week on The Daily Beast argues that the role of U.S. special operations may be bigger than officials let on. Kurdish intelligence officers have reportedly confirmed that German and American forces were on the ground supporting attacks in Zumar, a story much different from White House official word. As the conflict continues, the success of special operations forces may serve as an example for the White House’s larger strategy. –MC
Bottom line: Sypher has been doing some stellar on the ground reporting from Iraq for Noah Shatchman’s The Daily Beast. A former Ranger and veteran of Iraq, Sypher is well placed to recognize SOF in country and verify the officially unverified boots on the ground. The Obama military strategy has been to rely more on SOF than conventional military forces in an effort to achieve specific objectives and it was a common presumption that the OPTEMPO for SOF would stay high even after the official end of the Afghanistan war. This reengagement with ISIS in Iraq seems to indicate those assumptions were correct. What that means for the veteran and military support community is that while the American public shifts its focus to the next trendy cause, there will still be a not insignificant military family and veteran community with unique challenges and needs still to be met. –LJ

Navy vet accused of faking Silver Star paperwork
Jason Clayworth (@JasonClayworth), The Des Moines Register. Navy Veteran Dennis William Myers, who was awarded a Silver Star medal by the office of Sen. Tom Harkin, is facing accusations that he used fabricated documents to earn it. Many military groups such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars are questioning his award, but Myers sticks to his story claiming that he was part of a covert mission and that’s why no one can find all of his military records. Also on the topic of fakers, a former Navy SEAL who claimed to be shot in an Ohio parking lot was also called out for making up the story of his attack. Last week did have some true good news though, Army officer, Maj. Adam Czekanski was recognized with the Soldier’s Medal, for saving a man who fell from the train platform in front of an oncoming train. –MC
Bottom line: Just this morning Senator Harkin’s office confirmed that the medal was given to Myers inappropriately. It really seems hard to believe that this is still occurring in the modern information age. Honestly, there is no such thing as “covert missions” that people are awarded medals for with no paperwork. Non-profits, government officials, and everyone else need to question these and refuse to accept forms that were clearly bought online. These fakers and frauds are only getting more common as more good-hearted people make heroes out of those that don’t deserve it. It’s gratifying to see a real hero like MAJ Czekanski earn a real citation for doing what comes natural to a soldier…running to those in need. So, when someone tells you that they can’t provide paperwork proving their heroic war story because it was secret. Stop. Turn around and walk away. It’s almost without question a lie and your organization will get damaged for trusting a “hero”. –FPW

Post-9/11 Vet Unemployment at 8.1 Percent in August
George Altman, Military Times. The unemployment rate for young veterans in August dropped by more than a point, but still sits higher than the low of 5.3 percent that young veterans faced in May. Nationwide, the unemployment rate was 6.1 percent overall and 5.6 percent for veterans. Although the rate continues to fluctuate, long-term trends look positive with lower unemployment rates. Recent data also addresses the number of unemployable veterans, finding that 56% of veterans receiving disability payments for unemployability from the VA are 65 years old or older and wouldn’t be working anyway. Restricting the benefit to veterans that are actually of working age could save the government more than $17 billion, but the consequences of doing so for our nation’s veterans are heavily debated like every suggestion of changes to the benefits system. –MC
Bottom line: More good news for the employment of veterans as the new lower numbers seem to be steadying out. While there remain pockets of difficulty and the need to help newly transitioning service members remains a priority to ensure they don’t push the numbers back up again, it’s safe to say the corner has been turned on the employment crisis. But, the second story about retirement age veterans being newly designated as “unemployable” poses another issue entirely. It gets to the heart of the issues surrounding the antiquated disability rating and benefits system that has grown almost out of control for decades. A system that gives people who should be retired extra pay cause they can’t work, designates sleep apnea that can be controlled with a simple breathing device at night as a 50% disabling condition while amputations are only 30%, and continues to get more cumbersome instead of easier. It’s time for a serious effort to be made to modernize and apply common sense to the disability system and thereby make it a more realistic measure of a veterans employability and save dwindling government funds for those most in need. –FPW

Unions Warn of Problems with Referrals Outside Veterans Affairs System
Adam Smeltz (@ASmeltz), Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Veterans are now being sent to private medical centers to skirt long wait times at VA medical center but unions representing VA employees argue that sending veterans away from the VA may be a slippery slope to privatization. Union leaders say that VA could provide the necessary care if they hired more doctors and nurses rather than sending veterans away. Privatization also raises concerns that more veterans may fall through the cracks seeing doctors who aren’t familiar with veterans’ issues. –MC
Bottom line: In a rush to “do something” about the VA wait time scandal, Congress made it easier for veterans to access care through private doctors. As we’ve mentioned in previous Scout Reports, there are serious concerns that this outsourcing could become the new normal for VA health care. Congress seems perfectly happy to wash its hands of the VA scandal rather than make serious, long-term changes that might enable VA to recruit and retain more doctors. So rather than make veterans keep waiting for care at VA, Congress could simply make its reform program a permanent solution. It’s veterans advocates who, like unions, will put up the biggest fight against privatization. It’s important to remember that quality of VA care isn’t an area of concern: it’s bureaucracy and access—two issues found in the civilian health care sector, too. –LJ

The Women of West Point
The New York Times recently published a series highlighting women who attend West Point and the challenges they face. More women are attending West Point than ever and this year they made up 22 percent of the incoming class. For a look into a day in the life of the women who attend one of the nation’s most elite educational institutions, we recommend you check it out. –MC

Veterans Head Back to Boot Camp to Learn Business
At the 96th American Legion Convention, a handful of veterans spent two days learning about entrepreneurship during Boots to Business: Reboot. The workshop, hosted by the U.S. Small Business Administration and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families, is offered to veterans and their spouses to assist them in leveraging their military skills to launch a small business. Reboot kicked off in Washington, DC, in July and took place in 12 cities all across the country as part of a pilot program. –MC

Ward Carroll Joins Military Focused Media Startup THE MIGHTY
Ward Carroll, the former editor and retired Naval Aviator, recently joined THE MIGHTY as Editor-in-Chief. THE MIGHTY, an innovative “double bottom line” media enterprise will showcase the military community’s talent, provide a platform to share stories, be inspired and connect with resources. At, Carroll was responsible for news, editorials, commentaries and other content on the website. Now at THE MIGHTY, Carroll will assist in launching, and growing the venture. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

MOAA/NDIA 2014 Warrior-Family Symposium (Wed, 10 September); Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, Washington, DC

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

Congressional Hearings


Homeland Security: One flight away: An Examination of the Threat posed by ISIS Terrorists with Western Passports When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, September 10, 2014 Where: 311 Cannon

Armed Services: Operationalizing Cyber for the Military Services Who: LTG Edward Cardon, USA Commander, U.S. Army Cyber Command, Major General Vincent Stewart, USMC Commanding General, Marine Forces Cyber Command, VADM Jan Tighe, USN Commander, Tenth Fleet/Fleet Forces Cyber, Major General Burke E. Wilson, USAF Commander When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, September 10, 2014 Where: 2212 Rayburn

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, September 8, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

The National Geographic Channel: World Premiere Screening Event: American War Generals When: 7:30 PM, Monday, September 8, 2014 Where: Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20240

Impact Makers: Happy Hour and B Corp “Hackathon” When: 4:30 PM, Wednesday, September 10, 2014 Where: 1707 Summit Avenue, Suite 201, Richmond, VA

Center for a New American Security: The Hornet’s Nest: Film Screening and Discussion Who: John F. Allen, David W. Barno, Mike Boettcher, Christian Tureaud When: 5:00 PM, Wednesday, September 10, 2014 Where: U.S. Navy Memorial, 701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC, 20004

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry and 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 08, 2014 5:47 pm

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