Veteran’s Roundup: VA Choice Act and its Discontents, How the Administration’s Latest Impacts Veterans, IVF for Veterans Still a Go, and a Rogue Legion

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Former White House Advisor Rory Brosius Joins ScoutComms
Susan Larson (@Fxbg2day), Fredericksburg Today
We are thrilled to announce that Rory Brosius, former Deputy Director of Joining Forces and policy advisor to former First Lady Michelle Obama, is joining our team as Vice President in March. Brosius will work directly with ScoutComms clients supporting the veteran and military family community, and we are very excited to welcome her! Check out our website for more information, and keep an eye out for more about the great work Rory will do with us in the future! –MC

ScoutComms Sponsors 2017 EOD Warrior Polar Plunge in Fredericksburg
Thunder 104.5 WGRX
On Saturday, the EOD Warrior Foundation hosted its annual polar plunge in Fredericksburg, Va. Community members came together dressed in fun costumes, from Darth Vader to Gumby and even The Wizard of Oz, to jump into the chilly Rappahannock River at the Fredericksburg city dock. ScoutComms was honored to sponsor this year’s event, and had wonderful time cheering on the Team Red, White, and Blue Fredericksburg members who took the plunge! –MC

VA Hospitals Still Struggling with Adding Staff Despite Billions from Choice Act
Steve Walsh, Patricia Murphy (@RadioGirlMurphy), Stephan Bisaha (@SteveBisaha) and Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR
In 2014, Congress passed the Veterans Choice and Accountability Act, allowing veterans living more than 40 miles from any Department of Veterans Affairs health care facility to receive care from an outside provider paid for by the VA. The legislation also allotted $2.5 billion to hiring more staff at VA hospitals with the largest scope of care. However, an NPR investigation found few successes thus far, with only a small percentage of eligible veterans using the program, and the money allotted to hiring more staff not going to hospitals with the longest wait times. –KB
Bottom line: When discussing the VA’s failures in implementing the Choice Act in the ways Congress and the public imagined, it’s always important to remember that all initial efforts were rushed at a breakneck pace that inevitably led to mismanagement and waste. With that said, actions taken in 2014 only can go so far to explain the continuing problems the VA faces in executing the VA Choice program and in hiring staff for appropriate facilities. Assuming Dr. David Shulkin is confirmed as the next VA secretary, he will be held responsible for improving the VA’s ability to seamlessly bridge the gaps between VA facilities and private providers, and improving the VA’s ability to hire critical professionals for the appropriate VA facilities with the clearest need for staffing support. The Trump Administration has thus far reined in its plans for drastic reform at the VA, but if it continues to see stories like this in 2017, Shulkin may face new hurdles to overcome within the government. –BW

Does Starbucks Ignore Vets While Helping Refugees?
Jonathan Berr (@JDBerr), CBS News
Chairman and CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz made a pledge to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years in response to an executive order banning their entry into the U.S. Trump supporters around the country were quick to organize a boycott against Starbucks, which led to some implying that Starbucks should instead offer those employment opportunities to veterans. The Starbucks Armed Forces Network, an internal organization for Starbucks employees that have served in the military, responded in a statement saying, “Starbucks is already there,” alluding to the pledge Starbucks made in 2013 to hire 10,000 veterans by 2018. To date, Starbucks is on track to meet the deadline, having hired 8,800 veterans thus far. –JG
Bottom line: Probably one of the most ridiculous acts of self-inflicted silliness we’ve seen from the veteran community in a long time is the idea of attacking or boycotting Starbucks for pledging to hire refugees. The total amount of charitable giving in the veterans sector is actually in decline so to see members of our community attack one of the leading companies supporting us is frustrating. In addition, they are promising to prioritize our interpreters and their families who have come over on Special Immigrant Visas and have struggled to find work and settle here in the U.S. Even more insulting is the idea that we’ve seen that Starbucks should focus on veterans instead of refugees like it’s some sort of zero-sum situation. It is not. It is getting very tiring to see certain political factions constantly use veterans as their token victim group as if no problem in the U.S. can be addressed until every single veteran is comfortable with a job, home and free Blooming Onions. Giving back to the nation is the very heart of service in the military. That means we give before we get. We help before we take. We serve those in need before we ask for service. We hope the community remembers that as things become increasingly divisive in the future. –FPW  

American Legion Threatens to Shut Down Renegade Post in Portland
Mike Seely (@mdseely), Los Angeles Times
Sean Davis, post commander of American Legion Post 123, is under a watchful eye from higher-ups at the Legion after an apparent violation of Legion rules. Davis opened the doors at the post to non-veterans in hopes of better connecting the declining number of veterans in our nation with the broader community. Leadership for the American Legion in the state of Oregon has placed the post under investigation due to Davis’ actions to promote inclusivity. –DD
Bottom line: While the Department of Oregon is trying to make the case that it is protecting its post from violating liquor laws by selling alcohol to non-members, Oregon officials have said the post is violating no laws. Additionally, plenty of Legions in other states are open to the public or the community. So this is clearly an issue within the state where a few leaders perhaps do not agree with the inclusivity the Portland post is pursuing. Yet, these are the steps that Legion posts and other legacy organizations need to take if they are to remain relevant to their members and to the community. It’s impressive what Davis has been able to achieve in his community—and based on the sample size of veterans on my Facebook, he’s made a positive impression on young veterans across the country because of what he is doing. He’s drawing young veterans to the Legion and yet some state-level leaders seem uncomfortable with the change. We hope Davis, who is working with his state leaders, will be able to continue keeping the doors to his post open to all. It’s obviously working for his members and his city. –LJ

Defense Spells Out Broad Swath of Civilians Exempt from Hiring Freeze
Eric Katz (@EricM_Katz), Government Executive
On Thursday, Pentagon officials announced guidelines for critical positions at the Defense Department that will be exempt from President Trump’s hiring freeze. The guidelines created five categories for exemption, with positions ranging from those required for cyber security to medical treatment and law enforcement. Officials say that the hiring freeze provides an opportunity for the Defense Department to examine how effectively resources are managed, but also creates a challenge for readiness. –MC
Bottom line: Unsurprisingly, cracks are quickly appearing in the Trump Administration’s hiring freeze as the departments plead their case for retaining the ability to hire a wide array of “critical positions.” Historically, hiring freezes in the Carter and Reagan administrations were largely ineffective and counterproductive; much like a fasting diet, the attempt at extreme change did not lead to positive long-term behavior changes. Cutting people without cutting programs is a failed recipe, and largely an unnecessary one. It may come as a surprise to many, but the federal workforce has actually declined in relative size. According to the Washington Post, “While the absolute number of federal employees has increased, there are fewer federal staffers now compared with the size of the population they serve.” Pruning may be difficult when facing the inertia of bureaucracy, but it is less counterproductive than wholesale firings or hiring freezes, which damage morale. In some ways, this hiring freeze is akin to sequestration, where it creates uncertainty and forces counterproductive decisions. Hopefully, the hiring freeze evolves to become something more narrow, tailored and targeted. –BW

IVF Services for Vets will Move Forward, VA Nominee Promises
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Dr. David Shulkin, nominee for Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said last week that plans to allow injured veterans to use in vitro fertilization services will continue. ScoutComms’ client Wounded Warrior Project worked with veteran service organizations and advocates to change policy and provide wounded veterans access to IVF, and legislation was passed approving the change last fall. Advocates have been concerned that the change would be blocked due to religious beliefs of top Trump administration officials. –MC
Bottom line: Despite winning a long-fought battle to get Congress to reverse its ban on VA covering IVF, advocates had to continue negotiations with VA itself to institute appropriate internal rules that would indeed allow veterans to get IVF services covered. That was mostly due to Congress authorizing the services but not devoting funding specifically to IVF. Rather, VA had to rule that it would use general funds to cover the benefit. It goes to show how tenuous the provision of IVF services has been throughout the process and why it was kind of a big deal that Shulkin said he would ensure IVF continues to be provided in the new administration. The fight over IVF benefits stalled for years in Congress due to disagreements from pro-life lawmakers. Since the Trump Administration has a number of established pro-life senior officials, including the vice president, this is good news for veterans who were playing the waiting game to see if they would be able to start a family the way they wanted to. –LJ

Veteran Groups Warn of Travel Ban’s Impact on U.S. Military
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), Fayetteville Observer
Veterans have voiced their concerns this week with President Trump’s controversial travel ban targeted at seven Middle Eastern countries. Air Force Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve, said there has been no visible immediate impact of the ban. However, many veteran groups criticized the ban, highlighting the importance of interpreters and intel gatherers and what losing that support could mean for the safety of U.S. forces. –JG
Bottom line: It was an incredibly crazy week for many veterans’ advocates who work on supporting our interpreters and support their efforts to move to the U.S. It was shocking to find that one of the very first travelers detained under the Executive Order was an interpreter for the 101st Airborne who has worked for ten years to immigrate to the States. It appears that after protests, an exception has been granted for those holding Special Immigrant Visas but uncertainty reigns and it does nothing to address the damage to our relationship with our allies in Iraq. As a CBS story pointed out that even Iraqi 4-star general Talab al Kenani is now blocked from visiting U.S. Central Command in Tampa and his own children who live here for their safety. Those are the kinds of things that have long-term consequences and undermine our relationships. It’s those pesky second and third order effects we often talk about here at ScoutComms. –FPW

Trump Era a Question Mark for Women, Gays in Military
Sig Christenson (@saddamscribe) and J.P. Lawrence (@jplawrence3), San Antonio Express-News
Pushes for equality in the military for both LGBT service members and service women could be in jeopardy under the new administration, despite recent remarks by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who noted that he had other, more pressing obligations than to rollback previous changes. According to Kate Germano, COO of the Service Women’s Action Network, Mattis’ comments on women and LGBT service members’ rights in the military were neither damning nor promising; rather, they leave the rights of these individuals suspended, at best, as the GOP has openly voiced their opposition to these measures in the past. –KB

SWAN Releases First Annual Planning Summit Report
Service Women’s Action Network
Last week the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), the voice of women in the military, released their first annual Planning Summit Report. This report details their efforts over the past year in advocating for the rights of service women and female veterans. These efforts included the creation of the Service Women’s Institute and the launch of their first survey, which collected responses from more than 1,200 past, present and future service women on issues they felt most pertinent to their success. The report also outlines SWAN’s future undertakings in providing more resources for its members and the organization’s plans to continue their efforts in advocating for expanded roles for women in the military. –KB

‘Hiring Our Heroes’ Event Draws Hopeful Veterans In Dallas
Ken Molestina (@KenMolestina), CBS- KTVT
Hundreds of veterans, servicemembers and military spouses came to the American Airlines Center in Dallas for the Hiring Our Heroes Hiring Expo with the Dallas Stars. The event, hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the Dallas Stars, connected these job seekers with dozens of local and national employers that are specifically seeking out veterans as potential additions to their teams. Hiring Our Heroes hosts hiring events all over the country every week. To learn more, visit the Hiring Our Heroes website. ­–JG

Website Develops into Online Community
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
RallyPoint, an online community helping service members network, seek advice and share opinions, was started by a Fort Bragg Special Forces soldier approximately four years ago. Now, the platform has reached more than one million members, brings on about 1,000 new members each day and hosts an active community with robust conversations focused on issues facing our nation’s military community today. Learn more about RallyPoint by reading Drew Brooks’ article on how RallyPoint impacts the Fort Bragg community, or sign up at –MC

Two-day Employment Event Planned for Fort Bragg Spouses
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
Though the unemployment rate for veterans and service members has declined, military spouses continue to face high levels of unemployment. To help combat this problem, Hiring Our Heroes hosted a Military Spouse Career Event last week at Fort Bragg. The event featured a roundtable discussion where local spouses could discuss the unique challenges they face and the solutions that best address those issues. Bonnie Amos, a program ambassador and wife of the former Marine Corps commandant, was in attendance and spoke at the networking reception, expressing her support for military spouses. Additionally the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation announced the re-launch of their online resume builder, Career Spark, to assist military spouses in building a strong presentation of themselves and putting that on paper to share with potential employers. –JG

Vet Tix Announces Partnership with Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society to Offer Financial and Recreational Assistance to Sailors, Marines and their Families
Veteran Tickets Foundation (@VetTix), Vet Tix Press Room
ScoutComms’ client, Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix), recently announced a new partnership with the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society to provide financial assistance for currently serving and retired members of the United States Navy and Marine Corps and their families. Vet Tix has teamed up with major sports teams, leagues, promoters, organizations, venues and ticket holders to provide free and discounted tickets to community events around the nation. This partnership will leverage both organization’s resources to serve more veterans and their military families. –DD

Military Convoy Flying Trump Flag Belonged to SEAL Unit
Luis Martinez (@LMartinezABC), ABC News
Last week, a military convoy drove down a highway near Louisville flying a Donald Trump campaign flag. Navy regulations allow for some flags, but the Trump flag was unauthorized. This week, news broke that the convoy belonged to a Navy SEAL unit, and officials say that the unit commander will investigate the incident and take disciplinary action as appropriate. –MC

VA Watchdog: Multibillion-Dollar Program ‘Cumbersome’ for Veterans
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling)
Last week, the VA Office of Inspector General released a report detailing the shortcomings of the Veterans Choice Program. The program, created to alleviate many of the most pressing issues affecting the health system, cost $10 billion and was implemented under David Shulkin, the previous VA undersecretary of health and current nominee for position of VA secretary. Shulkin noted in his hearing last Wednesday that the report only reviewed the first year of the program, and that the 90-day time limit given by Congress to implement the program was one of the biggest challenges and one that severely impacted the program’s success. –KB

Marines: Ground Incidents Continue to Plague Aviation Readiness
Tara Copp (@TaraCopp), Stars and Stripes
In the last five years, the number of Marine Corps ground accidents has doubled from 12 in 2012 to 29 in the 2016 fiscal year. There are multiple levels of damage that an aircraft can sustain, ranging from Class A to Class C, and the Marine Corps argues that budget cuts, overuse of the aircraft and lack of spare parts are the cause of the increase in damage. –DD

Pentagon to Launch Retirement Calculator to Help Troops Navigate BRS
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck),
Acting Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Anthony Kurta announced new details on the Pentagon’s updated retirement plan for service members. Grandfathered service members will have a choice between using the original retirement system or opting for the new Blended Retirement System. The Defense Department has resources and training in place, like their online retirement calculator, to ensure military members understand the new system before finalizing their decision. –DD

Tradeshows & Conferences:

Armed Forces Communications & Electronics Association Rocky Mountain Chapter: Cyberspace Symposium 2017 (Mon – Thurs, Feb. 6-9, 2017); The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, CO

Congressional Hearings:

Armed Services: Full Committee Hearing: “The State of the Military”
Who: General Daniel B. Allyn, Vice Chief of Staff of the Army; Admiral William F. Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations; General Glenn M. Walters, Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps; General Stephen W. Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force
When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Cyber Threats
Who: Admiral Michael S. Rogers, USN, Commander, United States Cyber Command, Director, National Security Agency, Chief, Central Security Services
When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
Where: 217 SVC

Armed Services: Current Readiness of U.S. Forces
Who: General Daniel B. Allyn, Vice Chief of Staff, United States Army; Admiral William F. Moran, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, United States Navy; General Glenn M. Walters, Assistant Commandant, United States Marine Corps; General Stephen W. Wilson, Vice Chief of Staff, United States Air Force
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Where: 232A Russell

Armed Services: Situation in Afghanistan
Who: General John W. Nicholson, Jr., USA, Commander, Resolute Support Commander, United States Forces—Afghanistan
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, February 9, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Think Tanks & 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, February 06, 2017 8:34 am

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