Veterans Roundup: VA Choice, 5 Trans Service Members Sue, the Impact of No-Suicide Contracts, Military Bands, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Troops at risk for suicide not getting needed care, report finds
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today
According to a report by the RAND Corporation, the Department of Defense has failed to provide follow-up care to many service members suffering from depression and post-traumatic suicide. The report asserted that 54 percent of service members diagnosed with PTSD and less than a third of those diagnosed with depression received follow-up appointments after being identified as being at high-risk for self-harm. The report also identified that a third of troops who were diagnosed with PTSD were then prescribed a medication that hindered, rather than facilitated, their path to recovery. –KB
Bottom line: Let’s look on the bright side: this was a report asked for by the Pentagon. Military leaders want to be doing better by service members with mental health issues. Yet, it is admittedly disheartening to read some of the findings that inevitably have solutions which haven’t been implemented or may be nearly impossible. To wit: as RAND expert Kimberly Hepner notes, a key to preventing suicide among service members who have indicated giving thought to the idea is discussing the service member’s access to firearms and doing something to secure that access. It’s not a discussion that comes easy to the veteran community or America at large. Second, the report notes that doctors prescribing the wrong medication is a big problem among troops with PTSD. Regular readers of the Scout Report will undoubtedly have heard us beat the drum about client MYnd Analytics and its technology that helps doctors pick the right medications that will work with a patient’s brain chemistry. So there are interventions that could help service members with mental health issues if and when the Pentagon starts taking action based on the reports it keeps commissioning. –LJ

Rural veterans face long paths to health care
Jen Fifield (@JenAFifield), PBS Newshour
Rural veterans are more likely to be older and have a disability than others who reside in rural areas, making delayed access to healthcare common in these areas. The creation of VA Choice under the Obama Administration was meant to curb this issue, however it still persists, leaving many veterans frustrated and reliant on programs such as Medicaid to fulfill their healthcare needs. The VA is currently trying out new programs, including telehealth networks as well as transportation programs, in order to provide veterans in rural areas the help that they need. –KB
Bottom line: In a way, this entire article could have been written before the Choice program was created and served as one of the many logical arguments to be made in favor of pioneering a more comprehensive program of funding private sector care for veterans who could not conveniently access VA facilities. The fact that it was written in August 2017 highlights the fact that Choice—even with its recent legislative extension—has not become a comprehensive solution for rural veterans and others living in geographically disadvantageous locations. Rural Americans, by the nature of where they live, unfortunately have far fewer options when it comes to accessing care, particularly specialty care not provided by many medical facilities. Though veterans are affected at a slightly higher rate by this geographic issue due to their increased propensity to live in rural areas, they are not that different. Beyond the efforts made to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of Choice, programs designed to bridge rural-urban divides in healthcare, starting with telehealth, which has been restricted and delayed for far too long in its growth and acceptance, are going to be crucial to improving the quality of care provided to rural veterans and rural Americans. For those like Lynn Graham, whose conditions cannot be easily treated locally, there is not yet a clear cut solution, highlighting the imperfect nature not just of VA healthcare but of our healthcare system in general. –BW

5 Transgender Troops Are Suing Trump Over His Tweets On A Military Ban
Dominic Holden (@DominicHolden), BuzzFeed
Five openly transgender service members have filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration, as well as several top military officials, for the president’s Tweets two weeks ago stating that transgender service members would no longer be welcome to serve in “any capacity.” While there has yet to be any policy reinstating a ban, nor any guidance from the White House to the Pentagon about the ban, the lawsuit indicates that the Tweets alone leave the estimated 15,000 transgender service members scrambling for backup plans in response to the possibility of waking up tomorrow without a job. –JG
Bottom line: If you’ve been reading the Scout Report for the past few weeks, I’m quite sure you know how I feel about the trans-ban “policy by Tweet” (here’s a hint: not amused). The complaint filed by National Center for Lesbian Rights and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders on behalf of five trans service members challenges the policy on its constitutionality to deny trans service members the right to serve in the military. In addition to addressing this discrimination, the complaint also serves as a forcing function on the government that is struggling to say exactly what this policy entails. The suit will effectively force the government to declare and define the policy that has resulted in outright chaos for transgender service members, their families and the broader military community. These service members need to know the position of this Administration and of the DoD, and they needed to know it the moment President Trump went to town on Twitter. Leaving them in limbo, trying to figure out if they will have jobs, benefits, security for their families or the right to serve their country while White House lawyers scramble to figure out what the heck the President meant on Twitter is a travesty. –RB

Plan to institute military oath against suicide could backfire, some experts say
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Army veteran Rep. Brian Mast (R-Fla.) created a bill that would encourage veterans exiting the military service to sign an oath to not attempt suicide. With the oath being voluntary and the intent being to encourage veterans with suicidal thoughts to reach out to other veterans and seek mental help, many experts are suggesting it could have no effect, or create the opposite outcome. The American Psychological Association continues to urge senators to remove the oath from the National Defense Authorization Act that passed in the House mid-July. According to a study conducted at Fort Carson, soldiers who sign a no-suicide contract had attempted suicide more than those who used a crisis-response plan. Caitlin Thompson, the former director of suicide prevention programs at the VA and current vice president of the Cohen Veterans Network, agrees that crisis-response plans are more effective and are proactive alternatives to the suggested oath. –DD
Bottom line: While there is no question that Rep. Mast, a decorated combat veteran, is well-intentioned, experts in mental health say that a no-suicide oath could have a neutral or negative impact on someone experiencing suicidal ideation. The military community prides itself on being an environment where we take care of our own and look out for one another—and that is valuable and noble. We also know that peer-to-peer relationships, especially in mental health are effective and immensely important. But suicide prevention is a much more complex issue than merely needing to reach out to a fellow veteran for support. Studies show that an oath like this could increase the shame experienced by a suicidal individual, resulting in less communication regarding their thoughts and potential actions, rather than more. Instead of no-suicide contracts, most mental health clinicians now rely upon crisis or safety plans made with clients in their standards of practice. As a social worker who trained in a clinical environment, I know these types of documents to be important and helpful. These plans are well-thought out documents worked on between a client and a provider—in advance of crisis—and often identifies safety steps, social supports and coping mechanisms to keep the individual safe, rather than making a simplistic promise to not harm oneself. Both Rep. Mast and mental health experts are working towards the same goal, reducing veteran suicides, but it is clear that more conversations need to happen before we implement a practice that could do more harm than good. –RB

It’s hard to measure the performance of the military’s 136 musical bands
Tara Copp (@TaraCopp), Military Times
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a 49-page document that outlines the 136 military bands offered through each branch, and how they have yet to contribute towards their overall mission. With Defense Secretary Jim Mattis placing a heavy focus on readiness, the GAO questions the $260 million a year budget for the 6,500 uniformed musicians that make up the more than 130 bands. The GAO also found that many of the band members are deployed to perform, not to protect. After further review from the Defense Department, each branch claims they intend to reduce the number of bands in service. –DD
Bottom line: Look, we could all use a bit of amusement to start our week, right? And what’s more amusing than a military band? Well, actually, no one knows if they even are amusing because the military has been unable to measure these bands effectiveness or, well, even determine what exactly they would be measuring in the first place. It’s reassuring that each of the branches is committed to reducing the number of its bands, let’s not forget that the funds saved could, in fact, go towards actually improving morale by, say, funding more family support programs. Without question, Congress and the military itself will likely look to shift savings towards equipment—and a very strong case can be made that more funding should be made available in aviation maintenance and equipment—so it will be in the hands of MSOs and VSOs to make sure personnel issues don’t get shorted again. –LJ

­Former VA Sec. McDonald talks VA legislation, joining RallyPoint Board
Eric Dehm (@EricDehm), CBS Radio
Upon ending his role as Secretary of Veterans Affairs earlier this year, Bob McDonald was looking for an effective and meaningful way of staying involved in the military community. RallyPoint, the premier social network for the veterans and service members, announced McDonald was joining their esteemed board of directors. He’s not only connecting with RallyPoint members directly, but he’s also helping to connect members with each other and to other VSOs. –AB

How Can We help Ex-Military Transition To Civilian Life?
Steve Bramucci (@SteveBram), UPROXX
Hiring Our Heroes is a key player when it comes to ensuring that service members have a place to work when re-entering civilian life. Many veterans return from service with a wide array of experience and work skills. Hiring our Heroes hosts hiring events as well as mentorship and employment training programs at military bases across the country. –JG

What do service women need: Invisible veterans but resilient leaders
Kate Hendricks Thomas, Social Work Helper
The Service Women’s Action Network recently released its second survey meant to assess the mental health needs of both service women and women veterans. This survey will build off of the results of last year’s survey, which was meant to be a broader needs assessment of this community and found, among other issues, that women do not feel that their service is valued. Interested in taking the survey? You can find it here. –KB

Military Veterans an Untapped Talent Pool for Tech Industry
Sandra Erwin (@Sandra_I_Erwin), RealClearDefense
Technology companies are recruiting and training more veterans to fill jobs in the tech industry, which has thousands of vacancies and not enough qualified candidates. Representatives from companies like Microsoft say that veterans have the skills and discipline necessary to succeed in these positions, even if the service members do not have a robust technology background. Microsoft’s outreach program began in 2013 and has since graduated 600 veterans, while growing to nine different military bases around the country. –JDG

Marines eye plan to put women in West Coast combat training
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor), Associated Press
The U.S. Marine Corps is developing a plan to let the first group of women attend previously male-only combat training in Southern California. In addition, they are also considering allowing women to attend boot camp in San Diego, rather than only at Parris Island. Marine Corps officials suggest that separating men and women in training could be contributing to some of the disciplinary problems the Marine Corps faces. They say that they are working on ways to tackle these recurring issues of sexism and other dishonorable behaviors among the Corps. If senior Marine leaders approve this change, female Marines could experience this re-organization as early as next spring. –CB

Why Democrats Fall So Hard for Military Candidates
Bill Scher (@billscher), POLITICO
Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath and Army veteran Randy Bryce have garnered national attention for the launch of their congressional campaigns to unseat Republican incumbents. Political polarization and gerrymandering have played an increasingly critical role in determining which districts remain truly competitive in today’s political climate. In turn, these systemic challenges pose a growing threat to all Democratic candidates, not solely the party’s military veteran candidates, hoping to recapture the 24 seats in the House needed to regain their control of the chamber. However, Democrats must allocate their party’s time and funding strategically as to avoid the “shiny object problem,” where well-crafted and creative campaign videos detract resources from candidates running in true swing districts. –NJ

Solving VA’s problems, one innovative idea at a time
Meredith Somers (@msomersWFED), Federal News Radio
VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin spoke last Tuesday at the VA’s Innovation Demo Day held at Georgetown University. He addressed the VA’s top five priorities: greater choice, modernizing VA systems, improving timelines, investing in foundational services and eliminating veteran suicide. Representatives from many of the VA medical centers across the nation were also present at the event and spoke to individual solutions and improvements that their facilities have recently adopted. Their topics ranged from working to engage and retain Veterans Affairs Department employees to addressing veteran suicide through awareness projects intended for veterans leaving Community Living Centers. Shulkin expressed hope that these innovations will lead the path to solving the problems in the VA, and develop a stronger and more sustainable system for our country’s veterans. –CB

Navy secretary on transgender troops: ‘Any patriot’ should be allowed to serve
Rebecca Kheel (@Rebecca_H_K), The Hill
In response to a reporter’s question on transgender service members, newly confirmed Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer on Thursday said that “any patriot” should be allowed to serve in the armed forces. At his July confirmation hearing, Spencer expressed his belief that policy should be formulated at the Department of Defense level and should be thoroughly discussed before implementation. Spencer was confirmed on Aug. 1, exactly one week after President Trump tweeted his plans to bar transgender individuals from military service. –JDG

Tradeshows & Conferences

The American Legion: National Convention 2017 (Fri – Thur, Aug. 18-24, 2017); Reno-Sparks Convention Center, Reno, NV

Congressional Hearings

None this week.

Other Events

The American Legion: National Veteran Employment Summit
Who: Senior military and government officials, corporate HR leaders and professionals within the veteran community.
When: 8:30 AM, Saturday, August 19, 2017
Where: Atlantis Resort, Emerald Room, Sections A & B (second floor), 3800 S. Virginia St., Reno, NV 89502

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, August 14, 2017 10:47 am

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