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Veterans Roundup: Trumpmania Hits the Veteran Community, Lawmakers and VA Actually Agree on a Needed Reform

Posted by Fred Wellman

Veterans Trumped by Presidential Politics
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner) for BuzzFeed
Our Vice President Brian Wagner gives the low-down on Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s recent efforts to raise funds for veteran organizations. We’ll go more in depth into the situation below, but we highly recommend checking out Brian’s BuzzFeed op-ed on the topic. –MC

What Veteran Groups Will See Money from Trump’s Rally?
Leo Shane, (@leoshane), Military Times
Fisher House and the Disabled American Veterans’ Charitable Service Trust are among the 22 veterans’ organizations listed as beneficiaries of the $6 million Donald Trump says he raised online and at a rally in Iowa on Thursday night. Trump’s decision to host the rally was in protest of Fox News allowing Megyn Kelly to do her job. His campaign has not clarified how much will go to which organizations or when they can expect the funds. In an official statement, the DAV said that acceptance of the donation was not an endorsement, and instead encouraged all candidates to prioritize veterans’ issues among their platforms. –JG
Bottom Line: It is important to understand that not all of the 22 veterans’ groups listed as beneficiaries of Trump’s fundraising are created equal. Some, like Fisher House, are highly respected organizations with clear track records of making a difference. The same cannot be said for others, like the Sarah Palin-endorsed Puppy Jake Foundation in Des Moines, which has been criticized by watchdogs within the service dog community, or Racing for Heroes, which is run by a veteran who is a noted doomsday prepper. Overall, while Trump’s largesse carries more baggage than it is worth for the community, it is difficult to directly blame those deserving organizations that have agreed to accept his funds—they don’t have the luxury of turning down five- and six-figure donations. According to various social media reports, Trump began handing out large cardboard checks for $100,000 to the local Iowa veterans groups at campaign rallies on Saturday and Sunday, with the initial money going to the Puppy Jake Foundation, Support Siouxland Warriors and Partners for Patriots. We will be interested to see which of the 22 groups get larger shares of the monies, and how each responds to Trump’s contribution to the cause. –BW

Wounded Warrior Project Responds: CBS Investigation ‘Patently False’
Sean Norris, NonProft Pro
Last week, CBS News and the New York Times published stories accusing the Wounded Warrior Project of not spending enough of the money it has raised on veterans. The organization has since released a statement proving that the articles did not accurately portray Wounded Warrior Project’s spending on programs or its internal meetings. The organization has also posted a video of CBS News reporter Chip Kelly stating during the interview that he has pitched many stories about all the good things WWP does for veterans. –MC
Bottom line: Wounded Warrior Project is a client of ScoutComms as we help them with outreach here in DC. That said, there are an absolute ton of frustrating factual errors in the CBS report and almost all of the follow on media from other outlets piling on like sharks to chum. Most notably is the misreading of the Form 990 to say that some $26 million was spent on meetings for employees. That figure is not internal meetings but is for programs like caregiver retreats, peer-to-peer meetings for alumni, and a host of others that are all part of programs to help wounded warriors and their family members. Those are incredibly important parts of the recovery efforts for wounded service members and their families. Also, WWP doesn’t pay for alcohol at their annual meeting nor did it cost $3 million. That is completely false. As far as the most damning accusation that only 60 percent of funds goes to programs that the media and Charity Navigator insists on saying, in WWP’s most recent independently audited financial statements, 80.6 percent of total expenditures went to provide programs and services for wounded service members, their caregivers, and families. That is completely in line with similarly sized nonprofits. Look, you can’t compare organizations run by volunteers or with less than 10 percent of the annual programmatic spends of WWP as comparable organizations. This is yet another time someone ran with what they think are “facts” from unreliable sources, what they think they are reading in a Form 990, or without checking the numbers methodically. No nonprofit is perfect, but WWP is doing big things and there are even bigger partnerships and efforts coming with incredibly important post-9/11 organizations. Reasonable review of nonprofits is both appropriate and expected. Falsification of data and use of unverified rumors or sources that don’t have personal knowledge of the accusations they are making is just wrong. –FPW

Pentagon Extends Maternity and Paternity Leave for Military Families
Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan), The Washington Post
As part of a larger Defense Department effort to make serving in the military more family-friendly, Secretary Ash Carter announced that some service members will receive more paid maternity and paternity leave. The services will now provide 12 weeks of maternity leave, and 14 days of paternity leave. While a huge increase from the six weeks the Army currently provides, the new standard is below the 18 weeks the Navy and Marine Corps provide, and that the Air Force was planning to provide. In addition, the department will add “mother’s rooms” to major facilities, and a pilot program for sperm and egg freezing for later use. –MC
Bottom line: On the one hand, it is clearly a positive step forward for DoD to double the leave available to service women who are also mothers across the branches, sending a clear signal that pregnancy should not be an implicit ticket to the nearest off-ramp. At the same time, it has to be disappointing to reformers in the Navy and other services who have moved or been moving, after careful deliberation, toward 18 weeks of leave to see their plans derailed through a new generalized approach. It is unclear whether Navy Secretary Ray Mabus—the leading proponent of 18 weeks of leave—will push back, but the situation in Washington will likely remain unsettled until the service secretaries each signal their formal response. The changes signaled by Carter for fathers, on the other hand, will result in little noticeable change for the time being. –BW

VA Secretary: Appeals Process is ‘Failing Veterans’
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
VA Secretary Bob McDonald asked Congress last week for an overhaul of his department’s benefits appeals system. McDonald said that the current system has become so confusing that it is failing veterans and asked for a quicker, simplified system that can help turn cases around in a months rather than years. These changes are part of a larger reform effort that came after a care delay scandal rocked the department in 2014. The veteran who became the human face of cost of those delays, Barry Coates, passed away this week from the cancer his VA facility did not catch in time to fight. –MC
Bottom line: The slow appeals process is what is driving the backlog of disability claims. Smartly, VA prioritized first-time claims in its push to end the backlog, but the rising number of appeals for higher disability ratings meant the agency didn’t meet its self-imposed deadline to get to zero claims waiting longer than four months. Lawmakers are working on a legislative fix that would speed the process by creating a “fully-developed appeals” process similar to the current initial claims process. That would cut down on veterans’ ability to add new disabilities or diseases in the midst of the claims process—something that seems unlikely to fly with most veteran service organizations. It’s good to see VA and Congress working together towards a solution to a problem, though. It will be important for both sides to also hear from the VSOs who work with veterans to file these claims every day. –LJ

Slew of Military Helicopter Deaths Raises Question of Whether Budget Cuts Endanger Troops
Tara Copp (@TaraCopp), Stars and Stripes
In 2015, our nation saw an increase in military helicopter crashes which killed 30 service members, a number three times higher than 2014. The increase in crashes has raised questions about whether or not budget cuts may be the cause. Nondeployed units have experienced reduced flight training opportunities and officials note that reduced flying hours are directly linked to increased accidents. –MC
Bottom line: Yes. Yes they do. There really is no way not to tie cuts in training, cuts in real flying hours, cuts in maintenance budgets to increased risk for aviators and, in turn, increased mishaps. This situation is all because of Congress’s inability to address the ridiculous budget circus they have created and continue to perpetuate in a race to the bottom. We are demanding extraordinary things from our military aircrews and they are facing worn out aircraft, reduced time in actual cockpits, and numerous training requirements that have little to do with actually flying helicopters. The military and Congress need to wake up to the reality that the results of years of neglect of training and maintenance budgets is coming to fruition and consequences are deadly ones. –FPW

The U.S. Was Supposed to Leave Afghanistan in 2017. Now It Might Take Decades.
Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe) and Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan), The Washington Post
Last fall, President Obama canceled plans to totally withdraw troops from Afghanistan and now top military commanders are discussing plans that may keep service members in the region for decades. The goal of building an effective and sustainable Afghan military is something that officials say will take many years. The President has pushed back at the idea of “endless war,” but Pentagon voices say we cannot leave. –MC
Bottom line: I wrote a bit about this last week but it’s an important point to reiterate for veteran-serving organizations. We can’t let the American people forget that our service members and their families are still at war and that the programs your organizations provide will be needed for years to come. Undoubtedly, the rise of ISIS in a post-withdrawal Iraq has colored how political and military leaders have considered the future of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Lt. Gen. John Nicholson, recently tapped to take over as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, referenced our presence in South Korea as a potential model for our future presence. Germany, Japan, and South Korea are popular allusions for leaders to make because each has turned into an important ally. They generally fail to mention the historical significance or how those countries played into the U.S. grand strategy during the Cold War. Next to those post-war nations, Afghanistan looks much different. How it may turn out is very unclear, but what is clear is that service members will be training and going to war for a very long time. –LJ

Free Small Business ‘Accelerator’ Training for Up to 12 Veterans or Spouses
Jon R. Anderson (@GengisJon), Military Times
Venture Hive recently announced the opening of applications for its first-ever Veterans Virtual Accelerator, for veterans across the nation. The program is designed to help veteran- and military spouse-owned companies grow their businesses into large and scalable ventures through mentorship, training, and education. Applications for the Virtual Accelerator close on February 12. –MC

‘Hiring Our Heroes’ Finding Jobs for Austin Veterans
Alicia Inns (@aliciainns), KXAN
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosted Hiring our Heroes job expos for veterans, service members, and their spouses in Cleveland and Austin this week. The organization seeks to assist transitioning service members and their spouses in finding meaningful employment. Hiring our Heroes is hosting many more job fairs throughout 2016. Find the nearest Hiring Our Heroes fair coming your way! –JG

Back to School Bootcamp Helps Veterans in the Classroom
Elizabeth Tietz, USA Today College
The Warrior-Scholar Project hosts academic boot camps for veterans transitioning to college after their military service. Recently released studies show for-profit schools and online schools are the option with which many transitioning veterans decide to go. However in many cases these schools do not provide service members with the support and resources many veterans will need to reach academic success. WSP boot camps boot camps are run by student veterans and taught by professors and graduate students and they help veterans prepare for academic life. Interested applicants must apply before April 15th. –JG

As Military Integrates Combat Jobs, a New Push to Position Women as Leaders
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
As the military prepares for women to step into additional combat and command roles, the Service Women’s Action Network is working to help more female veterans become leaders in the veteran community. The organization is hosting a forum that brings together leaders to discuss resources, discrimination, and other topics for women in the military. We hope to see you there next week, don’t forget to register here. –MC

Quick Hits:

Chicago Teens and Combat Veterans Join Forces to Process Trauma
Audie Cornish (@NPRAudie), NPR
The Urban Warriors program is uniting children living in violent neighborhoods in Chicago with combat veterans who can help them process traumatic events. Eddie Bocanegra, the program director, says that some of these children show signs of PTSD from living in war-zone like conditions. He believes that sharing stories is therapeutic for children raised in violent neighborhoods and and veterans. Once the teenagers tell their stories the veterans offer their advice on how to process it all. Researchers at the University of Chicago have already begun their looking into the difference of having veterans involved makes for the program’s success. –JG

Veteran Suicide: The False Narrative of the Number “22”
Wes O’Donnell (@WesODonnell01), InMilitary
Twenty-two is the commonly accepted number of veterans committing suicide each day. But many veterans’ advocates believe that this number is harmful to our youngest generation of veterans, and reinforces negative stereotypes about service members. Wes O’Donnell, a veteran and managing editor of InMilitary, shares his view on the number in a recent op-ed. –MC

Moves in the veteran support sector:

IAVA Appoints Allison Jaslow as Director of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs
Cynthia Olson (@olson_iava)
The newest IAVA teammate is Allison Jaslow who will serve as the Director of Political and Intergovernmental Affairs. As a former Army Captain who deployed twice to Iraq and later became involved in politics, she provides an array of experience and knowledge that will go towards benefiting a cause so important to her and many others. As a replacement for Bill Rausch, she has BOOM shoes to fill. –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences

NASPA Foundation: 2016 Symposium on Military-Connected Students (Thu – Sat, February 4-6), Lake Buena Vista, FL

Habitat for Humanity: Habitat on the Hill 2016: Framing the Future (Tue – Thu, February 2-4), Omni Shoreham Hotel, Washington, DC

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health: Choice Consolidation: Evaluating Eligibility Requirements for Care in the Community When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, February 2, 2016 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: Lost Opportunities for Veterans: An Examination of VA’s Technology Transfer Program When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, February 3, 2016 Where: 334 Cannon

Senate:

Armed Services: Hearings to examine the implementation of the decision to open all ground combat units to women When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, February 2, 2016 Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Hearings to examine the situation in Afghanistan When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, February 4, 2016 Where: G50 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

Service Women’s Action Network: Operationalizing Combat Integration When: 12:30 – 4:30 PM, Thursday, February 4, 2016 Where: 1779 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20036

The Brookings Institution: Defense Strategy For The Next President Who: Mackenzie Eaglen, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, Robert Kagan, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, The Brookings Institution, James Miller, President, Adaptive Strategies, LLC When: 10:00 AM, Monday, February 1, 2016 Where: The Brookings Institution, Falk Auditorium, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

 

This entry was posted on Monday, February 01, 2016 3:02 pm

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