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Veteran’s Roundup: Trump Names a Future VA Secretary, Mattis gets Inclusive at Confirmation, Military Mental Not Just an Enlisted Issue, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation Expands Board of Advisors
Last week, the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation (GWOTMF) announced two new members on its board of advisors. Mike Stevens, former Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy and Fred Wellman, our founder and CEO, joined the board that already includes General David H. Petraeus (ret.) and Team Rubicon’s Jake Wood, among other esteemed individuals. Fred will assist the GWOTMF’s communications and outreach efforts as the organization moves toward its goal of building a memorial on the National Mall in honor of those who took part in our nation’s longest war. –MC

Veterans Fight Misconception: Wartime Service is Linked to Violent Crime
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR
Last week, Esteban Santiago shot and killed five people in the Fort Lauderdale airport, and headlines including his status as a National Guard veteran quickly emerged. This incident is one of seven in the past eight years where a post-9/11 veteran has been a gunman in a mass-shooting, leading to a false and damaging narrative that veterans, particularly those with post-traumatic stress disorder, are dangerous. These headlines come in spite of statistics showing that veterans are less likely to be incarcerated, and that only four of the last 29 mass shootings in the United States have been committed by someone with a military background. –KB
Bottom line: There is no question that we often sound like a broken record in the veteran community that not enough stories focus on the heroic efforts of everyday veterans in our community instead of the rare fallen members of the community. Having watched this arc over the last six years there is definitely a feeling that we are making progress in countering the narrative that combat veterans are more likely to be suffering homelessness or commit crimes than their civilian peers. By the same token, every time a veteran commits a horrific crime that status ends up as the backbone thematic of the coverage. The coverage of Santiago does seem to recognize its more likely he had an existing mental health condition than this being a case of a “troubled veteran” but it can’t be emphasized often enough that violence to others is not a symptom of PTSD. As we so often say at ScoutComms; when a crime is committed it’s more likely the emergency responders are veterans than the actual perpetrator. –FPW

Trump Picks Top Vets Health Official as the Next VA Secretary
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
After a long selection process, last week President-elect Donald Trump named the first non-veteran to serve the role of Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Dr. David Shulkin, currently Under Secretary of Health at the VA, will be appointed to the role and bring years of experience in the health care sector. In Dr. Shulkin’s current role, he oversees about 1,700 medical facilities in the VA health system and has voiced support of expanding private-care partnerships with VA hospitals. –DD
Bottom line: For those in the veteran community that advocated for keeping Secretary McDonald as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (not the Veterans Administration for those tracking these things) then Dr. Shulkin’s selection should be cause for some relief considering the remarkable list of names that had appeared at one time or another over the last months. While some corners of the community have grumbled about Shulkin not being a veteran himself, we certainly don’t see that as an obstacle to providing world-class leadership and medical care to the 20.9 million U.S. veterans. We have some pretty passionate non-veterans working at ScoutComms World Headquarters who understand the issues and provide a unique outside approach to our community. We wish Dr. Shulkin the very best but keep in mind the Deputy Secretary has not been named yet to replace Sloan Gibson, so don’t let go of your hat yet. It could be a fascinating few weeks. –FPW

Supreme Court Lets Stand Texas Veterans Tuition Aid Program
Associated Press (@AP)
The Hazlewood Act, unique to the state of Texas, allows up to 150 hours of free college tuition to military veterans if they lived within Texas borders when they enlisted. One veteran who enlisted in Georgia but then moved to Texas after service filed a lawsuit to allow the tuition aid to be used for veterans who move to Texas but did not enlist in Texas. It was appealed to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled that the state of Texas is allowed to regulate their own education system. –DD
Bottom line: We’ve been watching the developments out of Texas around the Hazlewood Act for some time now. In recent years, some Texas state lawmakers have made noise about reducing the benefits to dependents provided through the Hazlewood Act, a nearly century-old program. Costs for the program have risen from $24 million in 2009 to an expected $390 million in 2019, and those rising costs mostly fall to public colleges to cover. The program had been limited to Texas residents who enlisted in the military, and the Supreme Court has allowed that to stand. This will surely be good news to Texas public school officials and lawmakers. What we find so fascinating about the back-and-forth over the Hazlewood Act is how it may be a bellwether for future small cuts and pared back benefits like the GI Bill. As lawmakers look for extra space in their budgets, too often “lucrative” veterans’ benefits are an easy target. We’re big believers in keeping the promises made to those who take an oath to defend our country. –LJ

General Jim Mattis: I Won’t Repeal Women in Combat or Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Military Reforms
Tim Mak(@timkmak), The Daily Beast
Gen. Jim Mattis (ret.) addressed in his confirmation hearing this past Thursday issues such as ISIS, Russia and cyberwarfare. Also in his remarks, he stated that he will not proactively seek to repeal actions taken by the previous administration to make the military more inclusive of both women and LGBT persons, despite previously voiced concerns when he served in the Marine Corps. Lt. Col. Kate Germano (ret.), an outspoken Marine Corps veteran and advocate for women in the military, and the COO of ScoutComms’ client Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), commended the general for his acceptance of the Armed Forces’ new policy on gender integration, along with many other advocates for both female and LGBT service members. –KB
Bottom line: While Mattis is easily the most popular of PEOTUS Trump’s cabinet nominees, and is expected to be easily confirmed, that does not mean he is not causing heartburn for some groups, particularly women in the military. He is one of several high-profile Marine leaders who in the past few years has questioned personnel policy changes in the military. Yet during his confirmation hearing he said largely what everyone wanted to hear, focusing on ensuring the U.S. has a strong military and is capable of countering present and future threats, while asserting that he would not spend his early months in office seeking to roll back hard-fought victories achieved by women and members of the LGBT community who serve honorably in today’s military. While you can never judge anyone entirely by what they say in a public confirmation hearing, given Mattis’ reputation for honesty and dedication to his country, there is little his potential critics can do at this point beyond hoping that he remains true to his word, and is a good shepherd of the Department of Defense under the Trump administration. –BW

Army Report: Self-doubt and Sleep Deprivation Led to 2-Star’s Suicide
Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports), Army Times
Maj. Gen. John Rossi, a two-star Army General who was about to be promoted to three-star, committed suicide prior to his promotion back in July – a death that Army investigators are now ruling a result of his lack of sleep and stress caused by the impending promotion. According to Eric Fanning, current Secretary of the Army, Rossi’s death has led the Army to begin a systematic review of mental illnesses specific to the general officer corps. –KB
Bottom line: It’s unusual for the tragedy of suicide to be witnessed at the highest ranks of the military. Flag officers are typically thought to have plenty of support around them and set an example as leaders by seeking mental health care. This case has shown the Army still has a long way to go, though, in understanding the very complex reasons that soldiers turn to suicide. As studies have shown, it’s not necessarily the relived trauma of direct combat experience that leads to suicide. Other factors like pre-existing mental health issues are far more likely than combat experience to predict suicide among service members. Yet, in this case, factors that are emblematic of the military experience seem to have had a role in Rossi’s death. Fanning, the outgoing secretary of the Army, is doing the right thing by focusing and Army review on general officer mental health as it’s their leadership that guides the rest of the service. Yet, as this case demonstrates, the military must continue to work on making treatment seeking the gold standard rather than allowing those suffering like Rossi to do so in isolation. As the article indicates, soldiers saw the signs, but for the general help never arrived. –LJ

U.S. Agrees to Pay Billions to Marines Affected by Toxic Water at Camp Lejeune
William R. Levesque (@Times_Levesque), Tampa Bay Times
The VA will provide compensation to service members who were exposed to toxic drinking water during their time stationed at Camp Lejeune. To be eligible, veterans must have been stationed at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 consecutive days between August 1,1953 and December 31, 1987.  It is believed that thousands of these veterans or their spouses will file for compensation, costing $2.2 billion over the next five years. This announcement has been a long hoped for by hundreds of military families who have needed assistance paying for healthcare costs associated with serious health conditions that are linked to military service at the Marine Corps base. –JG
Bottom Line: The Department of Veterans Affairs is not always right, far from it, but even slow-moving bureaucracies can eventually make the right decision for their constituencies. Amidst widespread evidence that veterans who served at Camp Lejeune over several decades were likely exposed to toxic drinking water, the VA has agreed to provide compensation to veterans or their spouses who can provide evidence of having been negatively impacted by their service at the base. While the resolution of this issue may be favorable for those affected, it serves as a reminder that the moral and right decision can sometimes take decades to be recognized by those in power. Veterans—whether individuals or groups—will have to remain vigilant to guard against abuses, negligence or other situations in which they are asked to do more than their service requires or exposed to conditions not essential to their obligation to defend the country and its interests at home and abroad. Want proof? Check out the ongoing series from Pro Publica and The Virginian-Pilot on Agent Orange, which remains a topic of heated debate and controversy in the U.S. –BW

VA Secretary Robert McDonald’s Advice to Vets
George Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times
Last week, outgoing Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald spoke at Student Veterans of America’s 9th Annual National Conference (#NatCon2017). The conference is the largest gathering of student veterans in the country, with approximately 1,700 in attendance. McDonald had advice for the student veterans in the audience ranging from setting big goals and to never stop learning. He also expressed frustration with the politics that are involved in his role, and said that the focus should be on positively impacting veterans rather than ideology. –MC

American Women Are Signing up for Combat in Unexpected Numbers
Kevin Knodell (@KJKnodell), War is Boring
Since the decision to open all combat units to women in 2016, women have been signing up for combat roles in the military in unprecedented numbers. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Kate Germano (ret.), COO of the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) ,spoke about her experiences overseas, saying that her time as a captain shaped her as a person, and noted that her time as a training officer in the Corps revealed that women were not being trained to the same high standards of male Marines. She asserted that this lack of standardization across both genders is what leads to poorer performances by women in Marine Corps studies, and that gender equality will never truly be a reality until these “separate but equal” training policies come to an end. –KB

New UCLA Programs at the VA Aim to Help Homeless Veterans, Their Families and More
Alison Hewitt (@ashewitt), UCLA News
Thirty student veterans woke up at 6 a.m. to complete a service project at a Veterans Garden in Los Angeles, officially kicking off Student Veterans of America’s 9th Annual National Conference. The project, completed in partnership with The Home Depot Foundation and the University of California, Los Angeles, involved cleaning up debris, and gave the participating veterans an opportunity to connect, network and make new friends. –MC

Air Force Approves Discharge Upgrade for 91-year-old Gay Veteran
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
In 1946, Hubert “Edward” Spires enlisted in the Air Force. After going through “horrific” and “unbearable” interrogation about his sexuality, he was given and undesirable discharge from the military. Now, the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records states that while some vital records to his discharge cannot be found, in the interest of justice the board decided to recommend Spires’ discharge be changed to honorable. Sen. Richard Blumenthal called for further investigation into thousands of other bad paper discharges over the past several decades that have likely resulted from discrimination based on sexual orientation. –JG

She was Born in a Russian Prison and Became a US Marine. The Infantry is Next
James Clark (@[email protected]), Task and Purpose
Maria Daume was born with her twin brother Nikolai in a prison in Siberia where their mother was incarcerated. After their mother passed away, they were moved to an orphanage where they were soon adopted by an American family in Long Island, NY. As a teenager, Maria first encountered Marines when they were gathered around apull up bar among the booths at a fundraiser for brain cancer. For the young athlete and mixed-martial arts competitor, joining the Marines to become a grunt was an easy decision. Now, Daume is one of the four most recent female graduates at Parris Island with contracts to join the infantry. She is confident that her service will prove to herself and to other women that they can serve their country on the frontlines. –JG

Millions More Vets to be Able to Shop at Exchanges Online
Tom Philpott (@Military_Update), Stars and Stripes
The Department of Defense approved a policy change to allow any honorably discharged veteran to shop at online military exchanges. The change will take place this upcoming Veterans Day and will allow 16 million veterans to use the discounted military exchange. –DD

Stephanie Gaskell joins Military Times
Stephanie Gaskell will be joining Military Times as Editor of Social Media and Digital Development. Prior to joining Military Times, Gaskell was a policy writer for Mic, opinion editor for The Daily Dot, managing editor for Defense One, and covered the Pentagon for Politico. She brings years of experience as a war correspondent and defense reporter to her next career at Military Times. Congratulations on this next step in your career, Stephanie! –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences:

Army Navy Military Expo: ANME Winter 2017 (Sun – Tue, Jan. 15-17, 2017); Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV

Congressional Hearings:

None this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events:

ScoutComms: #ScoutSocial
Who: All the coolest people in the veteran and military community
When: 6:00 PM, Jan. 17, 2016
Where: City Tap House, 901 9th Street NW, Washington, DC

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 17, 2017 8:37 am

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