Veterans Roundup: VA Choice Reform Becomes More Complex, Pentagon Preparing for Transgender Recruiting, Number of Homeless Veterans Rises and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Choice reform becomes more complex as deadline looms
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) have proposed a bill that would create a community of care program aimed at improving the quality of care and overall functionality of the VA. It would further expand when a veteran can seek private care outside of the VA more than other proposals to date. SVAC passed a similar measure to what Moran proposes, but its measure would allow the VA to remain central to the coordination of care. Moran voted in opposition of the SVAC bill last week, reiterating the need for legislation that gives veterans the ability to ultimately decide on their care. Moran’s bill, unlike the SVAC one, also does not make any mention of expanding the VA caregivers program. –JG
Bottom line: Legislators are running out of time to make decisions about the future of the VA Choice Act, as the program is set to run out of funding by the end of the year. Currently, three bills exist in Congress to address this funding shortfall and to address the expansion and access to community healthcare. Each of the bills include infusions of cash to keep the program afloat, but there are also stark differences, including funding an expansion of the caregiver program to include veterans injured before 9/11, which the SVAC proposal includes while the Moran-McCain bill does not. Veterans groups have supported the various bills, but are skeptical that lawmakers will be able to come to a decision prior to holiday recess, which is scheduled to begin on Friday. Reforming Choice has always been a highly nuanced and challenging effort—between fear that it opens the door to dismantling the VA to fears that the program is not expansive enough to support veterans in dire need of care – it seems nearly everyone has an opinion on how to do this right. That being said, folks need to get their acts together, as continuing to rely upon emergency funding infusions every time the clock runs down is simply not a sustainable solution. –RB

Pentagon preparing for transgender recruiting on Jan. 1
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Washington Examiner
Since last month when two preliminary injunctions were issued preventing President Trump’s ban against transgender recruits in the military, the Pentagon said they were taking steps to begin accepting the recruits on Jan. 1, 2018. But with the new year looming, the Trump administration has now requested an emergency stay against the injunctions. Top officials claim that the complex and interdisciplinary nature of the preparations for accepting transgender recruits by Jan. 1 would create an immense burden on the Pentagon. However, former Pentagon official for the Obama administration who assisted with the transgender military policy, Brad Carson, contests the argument: “The Pentagon had already done most of the preparation and training in anticipation of the lifting of the accession ban before the presidential transition, so to claim that the military is not ready to lift the ban now seems a stretch.” –KG 
Bottom line: In the Trump Administration’s effort to undo many of the policies set by the Obama Administration, it seems to have created a hassle for the Pentagon in the process and left transgender service members and recruits in limbo. For now, the Pentagon is preparing to accept transgender recruits on January 1st, after a more than year-long review, training, and implementation process despite Trump’s controversial directive to ban transgender recruits, which has been challenged by four federal lawsuits. If most of the preparation and training has already been completed, as Brad Carson suggests then more than a year’s worth of work will have been wasted, if the president gets his way. We should know more by noon on Monday if Trump’s request for an emergency stay will be accepted or not, as we are now only three weeks from the January 1st deadline. In a recent Scout Insight survey, veteran community leaders overwhelming support the military service of transgender troops. Read more about the transgender service members and potential enlistees who are challenging the transgender ban here and here. –CB

Number of homeless veterans nationwide rises for the first time in seven years
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
According to data collected at the beginning of 2017, the number of homeless veterans has increased for the first time in seven years. President Obama committed to ending veteran homelessness in 2010 and boosted funding that helped lower veteran homelessness by nearly 50 percent in six years. Breaking down 2017 data regionally, states in the southeast fared better with decreases in veteran homelessness, while states like California and Oregon saw an increase of almost 2,500 homeless veterans. This point-in-time count data was collected before any of the Trump administration’s housing policies were implemented, meaning data relevant to the impact of those policies won’t be out until the end of 2018. –JG
Bottom line: The programs to end veteran homelessness should still be regarded as a success. That’s why when the administration made moves to utilize funding for housing vouchers on other programs, advocates were up in arms and got the decision reversed last week. Generally, what the federal government is doing is working—it’s providing resources. Where the fight to bring the number of homeless veterans down is happening these days is at the state and local level—coordinating resources and implementing proven practices is essential. Looking at the data released last week, veteran homelessness rose in 15 states and only seven of those saw an increase over 10 percent. California faced the largest overall increase in veteran homelessness, and Alabama faced the largest by percentage, over 60% more veterans were homeless in the state in 2017 than in 2016. So the increase in raw numbers isn’t a regional issue or a political one—it’s local. We’re very happy advocates were able to secure continued federal funding for these important programs and it will be the work of advocates, too, that ensures best practices from states like Georgia and South Carolina can be shared across the nation. –LJ

I wrote about one family’s history in World War II. Now I wonder more about my own roots.
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Arizona resident Joe Alosi recently found hundreds of letters from World War II in his abandoned storage unit that were written by one family: the Edyes of Rockford, Ill. Three of the four Edyes brothers served in the military, and their letters show how they coped with the war and what effects it had on them. The author of the article, Dan Lamothe, found the Eyde brothers’ closest surviving family member, Vicki Venhuizen, who shared more information about the brothers. These letters were brought to The Washington Post last year by Alosi, where they then were turned into a long-form story, supplemental materials and a podcast, “Letters from War.” –SM
Bottom line: Dan Lamothe reached out to us a few months ago to see if we could help him find some veterans who were voice actors for a project they were working on at the Post. We connected him with our friend Sam Pressler at Armed Services Arts Partnership and a number of talented folks were brought in for this remarkable podcast effort. The letters from the Edyes’ are read by veterans and bring in today’s veteran experience as well. This is one you should download and spend time listening to for a unique window into World War II and also today’s wars. –FPW

Veteran advocates rally at US Capitol for expanded caregiver benefits
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Veteran groups have long-advocated for expanding the VA’s caregiver program, which includes an array of services offered by the department and a monthly stipend, but currently only post-9/11 veterans’ caregiver benefit. While the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee included the expansion in their overall health care reform plan, the expected $3.4 billion additional cost will likely be met with opposition. However, veteran groups estimate the efforts of the caregivers save the federal government hundreds of thousands in health care costs. Supporter Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) summarizes the issue well in saying: “Taking care of our veterans means taking care of those who make their recovery possible.” –KG
Bottom line: While VA Choice Act reform takes up a lot of the air in the room, expanding the caregiver program cannot be lost in the process. Kudos to the Senate for including expansion within its Choice legislation, but we have already seen an alternative bill proposed that doesn’t include this essential next step. By undervaluing the work caregivers do in their households, lawmakers cannot fully understand that the $3.4 billion “cost” over five years really isn’t the budget burden it may be seen as. Nor will the stipends be used to make any caregiver rich. Rather, the stipend will help support caregiver and his or her veteran. As lawmakers vote on ways to give veterans more access to health care in their communities, it would be negligent to exclude the health care provided by caregivers in that conversation. –LJ

Cohen Veterans Network Announces Collaboration with Leading Military Peer Support Nonprofit Vets4Warriors
Cohen Veterans Network (@CohenVeterans), PR Web
On Dec. 5, 2017, the Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) and Vets4Warriors announced a new partnership to provide 24/7 access of their services nationwide to veterans and the military community. This partnership means that veterans and the military community will be able to speak with trained veteran peers from Vets4Warriors during CVN’s off hours, weekends and holidays. The connection of these two organizations allows veterans to be assisted with finding solutions to their challenges and problems before it becomes a crisis. –SM

Noel Fisher Opens Up About the ‘Responsibility’ of Playing Tomas Young in ‘The Long Road Home’
Danielle Turchiano (@danielletbd), Variety
Noel Fisher recently described the obligation he felt to precisely portray his role in National Geographic’s The Long Road Home as Tomas Young, an Iraq War veteran who became paralyzed after a 2004 ambush in Sadr City. Living as a near-quadriplegic, Young later became a well-known war protester and activist who questioned Congress about their decision to invade Iraq. Prior to filming the series, Fisher met with Young’s family in Kansas to get a sense of Tomas Young’s life, which was extremely important to Fisher and his ability to diligently tell Young’s story after his passing in 2014. Because of this series, Fisher expressed that he not only gained a deeper understanding of the military and the lifestyle it demands, but how the military is oftentimes illustrated as “one size” – Fisher was able to break that mold and express the differences felt by Young and so many others. –DD

Commentary: Army Should Focus on More Than ‘What Will We Wear?’
Matt Pelak (@genpelak), Army Times
In his recent piece, Staff Sgt. Matt Pelak had some questions as to the Army’s recent decision to give members of their newest type of unit berets and a new tab for their uniform, which to Pelak seemed “forced and completely unnecessary.” Pelak stated that Special Forces members were upset because the berets seemed too similar to the Special Forces green beret and had started a petition against the new berets. Pelak asks why this was a priority at the time, and wondered if the military was more concerned with how it looks as opposed to how it fights. He provided several suggestions for improvements to existing programs, such as revamping NCOES course to teach leadership and critical decision making instead of focusing on computer games, among other things. –RS

The Air Force failed to alert the FBI about Devin Kelley. Other branches are much worse at reporting violent criminals.
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), The Washington Post
On Dec. 4, the Pentagon Inspector General issued its review of Defense Department procedures that concluded there are significant reporting process failures between military law enforcement and the FBI in regard to violent criminals within the military. At least one of these failures is the reason that U.S. Air Force veteran Devin Kelley was allowed to purchase a semiautomatic rifle and another firearm that he would later use to commit a massacre in Texas. The review found the failures were primarily from the military law enforcement submission of fingerprint cards and final disposition reports to the FBI database if any military personnel were convicted of certain violent crimes. The Air Force has acknowledged these failures and the review showed that they failed to submit 14 percent of fingerprint cards and final disposition reports. Meanwhile, in order of most to least amounts of systematic failure rates, the Army, Navy and Marine Corps have double the percent of fingerprint cards and disposition reports not submitted to the FBI. –ML

No plans to evacuate families off Korean Peninsula, US military says
Kim Gamel (@kimgamel), Stars and Stripes
With rising tensions around the world, some are questioning the safety of the family members of more 28,500 U.S. troops that are stationed in South Korea. However, even after Sen. Lindsey Graham’s suggestion that it is beginning to get too dangerous to keep noncombatants on the peninsula, the U.S. military claims they currently have no plans of evacuating the U.S. families. Experts say that North Korea could interpret the removal of U.S. families as a sign of U.S. preparation for offensive military action. So, life is continuing to go on as usual in South Korea, with many of its own citizens and U.S. troops believing that the North will not attack its own backyard. –CBruns

Post-Traumatic Growth: How Combat Made Me and Other Veterans Better People
Jim Craig, War on the Rocks
U.S. Army veteran Jim Craig talks about his deployment to Iraq and how his experiences affected him and his fellow veterans in a recent War on the Rocks piece. Craig explained how his deployment strengthened his relationship with his wife and son, and how his experience is similar to that of other veterans. He noted that not only are veterans are more employed than civilians, and that they “volunteer more hours, vote more often and give more money to charity.” Craig stated that although veterans and their families may be changed by their experiences, one shouldn’t assume that they are “broken.” –RS

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

Veteran’s Affairs: An Update on the Implementation of the Forever GI Bill, the Harry W. Colmery Educational Assistance Act of 2017
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: Pre-Discharge Claims Programs: Are VA and DOD Effectively Serving Separating Military Personnel
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Armed Services: Update on Research, Diagnosis, and Treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury / Concussion in Servicemembers
Who: Dr. David W. Dodick, Sports Neurology And Concussion Program Director, Mayo Clinic; Dr. Steven D. Devick, Chief Executive Officer King-Devick Technologies, Inc; Dr. Christopher M. Miles, Associate Director, Sports Medicine Fellowship, Wake Forest University; Dr. Joel D. Scholten, Associate Chief Of Staff For Rehabilitation Services For The Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Washington, DC; Dr. David X. Cifu, Principal Investigator, Chronic Effects Of Neurotrauma Consortium, Department Of Veteran Affairs; Captain (Dr.) Michael J. Colston, USN, Director, Military Health Policy And Oversight For The Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Health Affairs
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: U.S. Policy and Strategy in the Middle East
Who: Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, Diplomat-In-Residence, Woodrow Wilson School Of Public And International Affairs, Princeton University; Ambassador Eric S. Edelman, Counselor, Center For Strategic And Budgetary Assessments; Ambassador James F. Jeffrey, Philip Solondz Distinguished Fellow, Washington Institute For Near East Policy; Ambassador Stuart E. Jones, Vice President, The Cohen Group
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, December 14, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

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, December 11, 2017 11:15 am

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation