Veterans Roundup: TRICARE, VA, OPTEMPO, Oh My! More on Sleep Disorders, Charities Behaving Badly, and an American Hero Inside 

Posted by Fred Wellman

Obama Vetoes Annual Defense Authorization Bill
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), The Military Times
On Thursday, President Obama vetoed the 2016 defense authorization bill over objections to Congress resorting to funding the Defense Department with Overseas Contingency funds to avoid sequestration spending limits. Many advocates are disappointed because it included measures such as a retirement overhaul to replace the current 20-year all-or-nothing plan with a 401(k)-style plan, which is now up in the air. The bill also included measures of protection for victims of sexual assault, re-enlistment bonuses, and a review of troops ability to carry firearms on base. On November 5, House leaders will attempt a congressional override, but experts say it’s unlikely this will happen. –MC
Bottom line: The interesting thing about this situation is that it’s pretty much anyone’s guess how this will go. We’ve found very little consensus on what happens next. You’ve got a lame duck Speaker of the House, a Republican party in complete disarray, a president using only his fifth veto in his administration, and a nation at war in every sense with no defense authorization bill months into a continuing resolution. Good times for all. Everyone is already maneuvering to ensure various interest groups won’t get hurt by this situation as questions arise about troops getting paid, procurement programs being frozen, and a host of other ramifications of this situation. It would be a huge surprise if this Congress could mount an override to the veto. With the issue being the way Congress is making up tricks to avoid their own failure to repeal sequestration this could finally push them to act on their failure to lead and create compromise to end the gridlock at the Capitol. Hahahaha…sorry….we’re kidding. It’s going to keep on being a complete train wreck. They will just come up with another trick to avoid fixing things. Enjoy the circus. –FPW

First American Soldier is Killer in Combat in Iraq Since 2011 Troop Exit
Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan) & Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), The Washington Post
On Thursday, Master Sgt. Joshua Wheeler became the first U.S. service member killed in Iraq since our combat role officially ended in 2011. Wheeler was killed during a special operations mission on an Islamic State detention center. The incident has sparked debate over whether or not U.S. troops are serving in a ‘combat role’ in Iraq, but Defense Secretary Carter reiterated that our 3,500 troops there are not on a combat mission. –MC
Bottom line: Master Sgt. Wheeler embodies the kind of heroism we expect from our special operators. He earned four bronze stars with valor over 14 deployments. His record also speaks to the incredibly high OPTEMPO that has been placed on special operations forces throughout more than a decade of war. When US troops’ official combat role ended, I’m not sure how many of us believed that held true for SOF, as well. Though this president has been more aggressive at “ending” the wars, that has meant the increased burden on operators. The current strategy of hope in our ongoing conflicts does not bode well for more stability and thus less reliance on SOF. In a perfect world, our traditional forces would be the best and most able tool to fight our wars. In a perfect world, we’d have a political establishment that could enable our traditional forces through funding and additional soft power support. We live in an imperfect world, though fortunately men like Wheeler are on our side. –LJ

More Veterans Take Issue with Home-Building Charity
Brett Shipp (@brett_shipp), WFAA
A Texas charity known as Helping A Hero has come under fire for unfulfilled promises and potential financial abuse. The organization claims to build smart homes for veterans, but several recipients of Helping A Hero assistance have come forward to say that they were misled, forced to pay significant amounts of money, and did not receive the services promised. The organization has also denied requests by reporters to examine its financial records. –MC
Bottom line: This is a great reminder: always do your homework when it comes to giving to veteran-serving charities. Look at their financials—and they better have financials. Look for program metrics. Read reviews from veterans using their services. Or, well, ask ScoutComms. Over the last fourteen years, Americans have been very generous to charities serving veterans. It has meant some unsavory people have tried to capitalize on that generosity. But Americans, generally, don’t know as much about veteran non-profits as we might have assumed. That means they are more likely to be suckered by bad actors. Good non-profits can educate donors about what right looks like while at the same time showing how their programs impact lives. For the community we serve, it’s important that we don’t allow organizations like Helping A Hero to color views of Americans about the entire industry. Transparency, openness, and a willingness to talk about what works and what doesn’t will be critical to the continued success of the community supporting veterans and their families. –LJ

Cancer Patients Died Waiting for Care at Troubled Veterans’ Hospital, Probe Find
Lisa Rein (@ReinIwapo), The Washington Post
A recent investigation of the Phoenix VA found that a number of patients died waiting for cancer treatment and 1,500 others faced appointment delayed due to a staffing shortage and mismanagement of urology care. Medical center senior staff failed to respond to significant staff shortfalls as recently as April, according to the report. To hide the shortfall, 3,200 urology patients’ appointments were canceled and never rescheduled. –MC
Bottom line: While the VA’s primary job should not necessarily be to accede to all of Congress’ demands, as it acknowledged when it refused to let five officials testify because they are part of internal VA investigations, it’s extremely difficult at this point to keep up with the continued flow of only mildly backdated news coming out of some of the VA’s most severely troubled facilities. Secretary Bob has claimed—and we take him at his word—that he wants the buck to stop at his desk. Yet, in a system as diverse and dispersed as the VA, it is seemingly impossible for national leadership to keep up with the piles of dirty laundry being dumped on Congress’ doorstep by whistleblowers, investigators and journalists alike. The VA’s regional leadership system appears to be fundamentally flawed—with senior leaders behaving at best like the clueless pointy-haired boss from Dilbert and at worst like they are taking leadership classes from Mr. Burns—and even as we express optimism that there is light at the end of the tunnel, we’re starting ourselves to question when the bad news stops, and the fresh good news begins. The VA needs to clean shop aggressively, and worry less about trampling on mid-level managers and more about leaving in place incompetent or malfeasant leaders who do not value the veteran as anything more than a number to be solved. –BW

For Our Returning Troops, Post-Traumatic Sleep Disorders Are the New PTSD
Peter S. Green (@PeterGreenNews), Van Winkle’s
New data shows that service members who have served in combat may be suffering from sleep disorders at higher rates than civilian adults, and that those who experience insomnia while deployed may even have a higher chance of developing depression or post traumatic stress. Peter Green delves into the issue through personal testimonies by service members, examining sleep treatments, and exploring available data. –MC
Bottom line: There is a great deal of fascinating content to unpack from Green’s survey of the sleep disorders affecting service members and why good sleep is so hard to come by. On the one hand, it’s easy to dismiss some of the concerns as a result of being on a wartime footing, where the mission comes before everything else, including personal creature “comforts” like sleep. It would be fascinating to know how sleep disorders have affected veterans of previous wars, to understand if this issue is new or if we are simply rediscovering it with fresh eyes. On the other hand, there are a lot of good questions raised about why “business as usual” is necessary, when we know the consequences of sleep deprivation. I spent two weeks in 2014 aboard a destroyer trying to keep the same schedule as the ensigns who among other shortest straw duties took the helm from midnight to three a.m. and rarely enjoyed a full sleep cycle. The end result was not pretty; unprepared, I was exhausted constantly and my weakened immune system fell prey at the end of the transatlantic trip to a vicious cold/flu combination, just in time for a 24-hour stint of international air travel. There may not be easy or simple solutions, but not pushing for better sleeping habits simply because a good night’s sleep isn’t as macho as a M-4 is not a good excuse. And addressing the litany of drugs consumed by interviewees in Green’s article is a topic that would require its own Scout Report special edition. –BW

Drug Shortages Hit Tricare
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), The Military Times
As of October 1, all Tricare For Life beneficiaries and most using name brand medications for chronic illnesses have been required to sign up for Express Scripts, Tricare’s home delivery program, or get their medication at an on-base military pharmacy. But many beneficiaries using the mail order service has received notices that their prescribed drugs are out of stock, and the pharmacies sometimes cost more than mail order. –MC
Bottom line: This is exactly the concerns that so many advocates continue to have with these “tiny little changes” that save DoD millions of dollars. While the military touts the cost savings and continues to talk about the cost burden of medical care for family members and retirees, the real cost is paid by those who have served and were given certain promises for that service such as affordable healthcare for life. The small change here means that due to known and predicted drug shortages, many of the retirees relying on important medicine for chronic illnesses are instead getting letters weeks after the medicine was supposed to be filled saying their drugs are out of stock. This only leaves them the choice to spend dramatically more money for 30-day prescriptions at their local pharmacies. Small changes to the government almost always equals major pain for the people using the systems. Lots of small changes equals complete degradation and breaking of the promises we’ve made to those who served. It reminds many of us of how the Russians used “little green men” to invade Crimea. Everyone knew they were Russian soldiers but by the time it was all over it was too late. These little changes are DoD’s little green men to those who served and the end result will be major changes to the promises we made and it will be too late to stop the tide. –FPW

Looking Back On Iraq So We Can Move Ahead
Emma Sky, Army Magazine
Emma Sky, a former civilian advisor to many generals in Iraq, discusses her experiences in Iraq and her opinions about the politics surrounding the war. Although Sky wishes more had been done to learn lessons from Iraq, she commends organizations like the Warrior Scholar Project and No One Left Behind, created by service members, for their efforts to give back and assist our nation’s service members. –MC

CNS Response Wins Platinum Innovations in Healthcare Award
CNS Response
CNS Response was awarded the Platinum Innovations in Healthcare Award from the Adaptive Business Leaders Organization, last week. The award is given to companies that are considered to be the most innovative companies improving the delivery and quality of healthcare while lowering its cost. CNS Response provides a new technology that reduces trial and error pharmacotherapy. Congratulations, CNS! –MC

Marathon Training Helps Military Couple
Meagan Fitzgerald (@MeaganNBCDC), NBC Washington
This weekend, nearly 1,000 runners and handcyclists participated in the Marine Corps Marathon in support and embodiment of the Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund missions. Athletes like David Emison and his wife, Teresa Emison have trained for months, challenging themselves and rising through sport. Lauren and Margaret from the ScoutComms team saw hundreds of Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund athletes push themselves to the limits and inspire fellow runners, spectators, and even event staff. Congratulations to all of our MCM finishers! –MC

Former Fort Drum Residents’ Business in Running to Win Super Bowl Advertisement
Gordon Block (@itsgblock), Watertown Daily Times
Sword & Plough is a business founded by two sisters who grew up in a military family—one who is currently an active-duty Army officer. The company, which repurposes military surplus into fashionable bags, is a finalist for Intuit Quickbooks Small Business Big Game contest. The winner will receive a free TV ad during the nation’s biggest, most “super” game of the year. To support this quadruple bottom line business, vote for Sword & Plough every day until November 3 here, and spread the word on your social media accounts. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

MILCOM 2015: Leveraging Technology- The Joint Imperative (Mon-Wed, 26-28 October); Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, FL

MOAA 2015 Annual Meeting (Thu-Sat, 29-31 October); Buena Vista Palace Hotel, Orlando, FL

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight & Investigations & Oversight Subcommittee on Information Technology: VA and DOD IT: Electronic Health Records Interoperability When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, October 27, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon House

Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel: Transition Assistance Program – A Unity of Effort Who: Mr. Phil Randazzo, Founder, American Dream U, Mr. Bill York, Governance Council Co-Chair, Zero8Hundred, Dr. Susan Kelly, Director, Transition to Veterans Program Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Brigadier General James Iacocca, Adjutant General, U.S. Army, Mr. Thomas Yavorski, Executive Director, 21st Century Sailor Office, U.S. Navy, Major General Burke Whitman, Director, Marine & Family Programs Division, U.S. Marine Corps, Mr. Horrace Larry, Deputy Chief of Staff, Manpower and Personnel, U.S. Air Force When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, October 28, 2015 Where: 2212 Rayburn


Armed Services: United States Military Strategy in the Middle East Who: The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Secretary of Defense, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, October 27, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: VA Mental Health: Ensuring Access to Care When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, October 28, 2015 Where: 418 Russell

Think Tanks & Other Events

No major events 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, October 26, 2015 9:05 am

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