Veterans Roundup: Transgender Troops, PTSD Disability Claims, GI Bill Expansion and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Survey: Veteran Community Leaders Overwhelming Support Military Service of Transgender Troops
Our market research department, Scout Insight, last week conducted a survey of leaders and experts in the veterans and military community to capture their reaction to Trump reinstating the ban on transgender service members, focusing in part on how he went about announcing it. More than 50 influencers responded, and most support allowing transgender service members to serve and strongly disapprove of issuing major policy announcements using Twitter. Check out the rest of the survey results here. –AB

Dunford: DoD will implement Trump policy on transgender forces
Tara Copp (@TaraCopp), Military Times
Last week, President Trump announced via Twitter his plan to reinstate the ban on transgender individuals serving in the military, arguing their continued service would create an undue financial burden and threaten military readiness. The Pentagon was caught off guard by the policy announcement and said that, in the short term no immediate changes are in effect. However, once the Pentagon receives formal orders from the White House, Secretary Mattis and his team will be in charge of drafting implementation guidance for enforcement of the ban. Politicians from both parties, as well as transgender activists and advocacy groups across the country, have come out against Trump’s proposed ban, with many calling the reinstatement of this ban disgraceful and unpatriotic. –JG
Bottom line: The Pentagon has been studying how to implement guidance on integrating transgender service members from the previous administration and recently extended its timeline to implement the policy to work out details like associated medical procedures. While reasonable people can argue that supporting the medical needs of a service member going through transition can be substantial the fact is that thousands of transgender individuals are serving with honor and without drama. What was an issue of policy implementation is now a disastrous issue of mass discrimination. What truly makes this outrageous is that many transgender service members were quietly serving without revealing their status until the Obama orders last year and now they are identified by name and will easily be separated and kicked out after having the courage to come out. The fact that President Trump announced such a massive change in policy via three Tweets with absolutely no warning, no implementation guidance and all done while the Secretary of Defense was on vacation makes this a national embarrassment and a historically outrageous act of discrimination. Our snap poll of veteran community leaders found almost overwhelming disapproval of the policy and the way it was announced. This is not how a mature democracy behaves and we can only hope that newly named White House chief of staff and retired general Kelly can force some type of proper process and procedure on this chaotic situation. –FPW

PTSD disability claims tripled in the last decade
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Marine Corps Times
The number of VA disability claims originating from PTSD has increased nearly threefold, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. According to a testimony given during a House Veterans’ Affairs subcommittee on disability assistance hearing, the number of veterans reporting disability connected to PTSD was 345,000 in 2008, and has since skyrocketed to more than 940,000 cases in 2017. Despite this staggering rise, members of Congress still are concerned that the VA is not offering full disability benefits to those suffering from the disease. –KB
Bottom line: On the one hand, the rise in PTSD cases can be seen as good news: it’s good that more veterans are ignoring any stigma and coming forward to get help for PTSD symptoms; it’s good news that the VA relaxed eligibility and evidentiary thresholds for PTSD diagnoses so more veterans could get help; it’s good news that Congress is exercising its oversight role. Yet, lawmakers and advocates are still concerned that veterans are being denied a PTSD diagnosis when it comes to their disability benefits. What lawmakers should be particularly concerned about is whether these veterans who may be denied disability payouts are still able to access mental health care. Within VA there can be a disconnect between health care delivery and the disability rating a veteran receives, and while both are important to a veteran’s long-term well-being, in the case of PTSD it’s crucial veterans have as much immediate access to services as possible—even if a monetary benefit comes later. –LJ

GI Bill expansion moves to Senate floor for a vote
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
After running into legislative hurdles earlier this year, veteran advocates led by Student Veterans of America successfully worked with House legislators to advance and ultimately pass a massive expansion of the current Post-9/11 GI Bill benefit. Dubbed the “Forever GI Bill” because the legislation would remove a 15-year deadline on utilizing the benefit, if passed it would also expand the benefit’s availability to survivors, Purple Heart recipients, Guardsmen and Reservists, in addition to making it easier for STEM majors on longer degree plans to graduate without incurring debt. The bill next heads to the Senate where Senate Veterans Affairs committee leaders hope it will pass quickly. –LJ
Bottom line: Rarely have we seen legislation with such broad and wide-ranging support from both advocates and Congress. More than 40 veteran and military family organizations have come together this summer to ensure that more veterans, survivors and Purple Heart recipients can benefit from the educational opportunities afforded by the GI Bill. The current GI Bill is a generous benefit that has allowed many student veterans and military family members to pursue higher education. The new legislation, officially dubbed the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, will expand these opportunities to even more deserving recipients while also expanding protections in the event of school closures and eliminating the time limit for GI Bill use. We know that education plays a huge role in future economic and career stability so we are hopeful that the Senate will move quickly to pass the bill and send it over to the President’s desk for signature.  –RB

Congress Reaches Deal to Avert Shutdown of Veterans’ Health Choice Program
Nicholas Fandos (@npfandos), The New York Times
Last Thursday, Congress agreed to extend the Veterans Choice Program which was expected to run out of funds by mid-August. The $2.1 billion continuation of the Choice program will ensure veterans can receive health care from providers outside of the VA over the next six months. Earlier in the week, the House passed a proposed Choice funding bill that was opposed by most major veteran groups on grounds it was robbing other parts of VA to pay for further privatization. While many lawmakers and veteran organizations agree that the Choice program should become permanent, many fear that complete privatization would be a disservice to veterans and their families. –DD
Bottom line: The short-term deal that appears set to move through Congress and to the president’s desk in short order is good news for the VA and for veterans seeking care both in-house and through private providers. But it may mark the end of the surprisingly strong détente that has held through the first half of 2017, as the number of areas left for bipartisan agreement shrink and advocates on both sides return to pondering the long-term viability of the VA’s current service delivery and funding models. While Secretary Shulkin has been vocal in opposing privatization, his efforts to find a middle ground have still laid the groundwork for future privatization if Congress and the White House inch closer towards conservative advocates pushing for greater privatization. If the Choice program continues to expand at its current rate, the short-term solutions proffered last week will only be a Band-Aid delaying a heated fight later in 2017. –BW

Bob McDonald, Former VA Secretary and P&G CEO, Joins RallyPoint Board of Directors
RallyPoint, the fast-growing online network for the military community, announced last Monday that former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald has joined its board of directors. McDonald will be an advisor, advocate, and influencer in the military community in order to further RallyPoint’s mission to help service members and veterans lead more successful and fulfilling lives. He recognizes that RallyPoint brings a focused version of the world’s leading social, professional and informational online networks to the fight in support of the military community’s unique needs. –AB

Former Secretary McDonald: All Americans, not just vets, need VA
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Bob McDonald, former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, shared his insight on recently joining the board of RallyPoint with Military Times reporter Leo Shane. He said that while he may not be involved in the daily operations of the VA anymore, he recognizes that everyone needs its services and plans to continue fostering collaborative relationships within the military community. –AB

Former secretary McDonald: Keep politics out of VA
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Bob McDonald knew he wasn’t ready to give up on serving veterans, even after stepping down as Secretary of Veterans Affairs. This is why RallyPoint announced on Monday that McDonald has joined their board of directors, where he plans on utilizing his robust experience for the greater good in the military community. He also still feels passionately about the VA, and encourages policymakers to keep politics out of the VA. –AB

Military spouse employment is a national security issue
Eric Eversole (@EricEversoleHOH), Military Times
In his latest op-ed, Hiring Our Heroes president Eric Eversole emphasizes the importance of addressing military spouse employment and underemployment. According to HOH’s Military Spouses in the Workplace Survey, as many as 25 percent of spouses are unemployed, and up to 40 percent are underemployed. Because of this, 44 percent of military family members live paycheck to paycheck, struggling to fulfill all of their financial responsibilities. Eversole argues that companies must offer programs and incentives that remove barriers to military spouses searching for careers because when military families can afford basic necessities, our military is stronger. –JG

Filmmaker: You can’t praise the military while bashing my generation
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
On Saturday, the Pat Tillman Foundation gave film producer, screenwriter, and 2010 Tillman Scholar Chris Roessner the Make Your Mark Award. Each year, the foundation recognizes one of its scholars from a cohort of military veteran and spouse leaders who demonstrate “strength in character, academic excellence, and incredible potential” for his or her contributions to civic life, courage and dedication to service. In his acceptance speech, Roessner celebrated the spirit of sacrifice, hard work and tenacity of millennials, characteristics he feels that many overlook when they describe the generation. –NJ

House committee blocks attempt to let VA docs recommend marijuana
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
The House Rules Committee on Tuesday voted down the “Veterans Equal Access” measure, which would have allowed doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend medical marijuana to veterans who live in states where the drug is legal. The vote prevents the measure from being debated on the House floor, where last year it passed by a margin of 233-189. Tuesday’s rejection of the measure is at odds with a growing movement among veterans to explore marijuana as an alternative treatment for service-related health issues.  –JDG
Army combat vet, Clemson grad Daniel Rodriguez embraces life after football
Joey LoMonaco (@JoeyLoMonaco), Military Times
Bronze Star recipient, Army veteran and former football player Daniel Rodriguez is thriving in his newly found passion for coaching and motivational speaking. Later this week, he will host a soft opening of his first football camp, ‘Stay Driven,’ which aims to mentor and coach young athletes. Rodriguez has an ultimate goal to travel to military bases around the country, and teach military discipline and football technique to military children who may not have a parental figure in their lives to coach them anymore. –CB

A suicide attempt in an Army unit can lead to more, study finds Jacqueline Howard (@JacqEHoward), CNN
Recent research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry indicates that recent previous suicide attempts within a given unit could significantly influence a member’s risk of attempting suicide. The study found that in Army units, a soldier’s suicide attempt risk increases as the number of attempts made within the past year in his or her unit climbs. Currently, the Military Health System estimates that military veterans make up approximately 20 percent of suicide deaths in the U.S. –NJ

Tradeshows & Conferences

Disabled American Veterans: DAV 2017 National Convention (Sat – Tue, July 29 – Aug. 1, 2017); Hilton New Orleans Riverside, New Orleans, LA

American Veterans: 73rd National AMVETS Convention (Sat – Sun, Aug. 5-12, 2017); Norfolk Waterside Marriott, Norfolk, VA United States

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

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 Monday, July 31, 2017 11:52 am

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