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Veterans Roundup: VA Has 100-Day Reform Plan, Fallacy of Military Reunion Videos

Posted by Fred Wellman

McDonald Launches 100-day VA Reform Plan
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. VA secretary McDonald recently announced a new initiative, “Road to Veterans Day,” to help rebrand and reform the VA, whose culture has been described as closed and unfriendly. McDonald’s reform initiatives are a reaction to the recent VA scandal and although an audit by the Inspector General found no direct link between VA wait times and veteran deaths, they did find employee-manipulated wait times and are questioning the role VA leaders played in these abuses. Last week, Wounded Warrior Project, an organization that assists injured post-9/11 veterans, released survey results about its members’ challenges with VA care. The results show that many WWP veterans did have a hard time getting care but for the first time in four years, respondents cited the VA as their primary place to receive care for mental health. –MC
Bottom line: The good news is that at least post-9/11 veterans who are WWP members have shifted to using the VA as their primary mental health care provider despite lingering stigmas found in the survey. In at least this one regard, the VA is making inroads to providing more veterans with quality care. Unfortunately, the VA still suffers its own stigmas related to long wait times faced by many veterans who then begin to believe the VA is a hopelessly broken system. The biggest challenge for Secretary McDonald at VA will be implementing reforms that lead to better access to care for veterans. The second biggest challenge will be PR: McDonald and VA will have to convince veterans and the taxpayers that the reforms are actually working—if they ever do. –LJ

Happy Reunions Can Obscure the Challenges that Military Families Face After Deployment
Christie Aschwanden (@cragcrest), The Washington Post. Last Monday, the Washington Post published an article that discusses military reunions after deployment. The images that most civilians see about reunions involve surprises and are plastered all over YouTube. However, these happy reunion reaction videos might actually be damaging, as children do not always react with hugs, and fail to demonstrate that there may be adjustment challenges for reunited families. The public only sees these homecomings in two ways, the happy reunions or the horrible ones. –MC
Bottom line: Like veterans, military families often get pigeonholed as either unfailingly stoic and perfect or dysfunctional and broken. The truth is often more nuanced. For civilians who want to feel good about the wars for which they have been asked to sacrifice little, these happy reunions put a nice wrapping replete with bow on the whole affair. Rather than helping bridge the civil-military divide, these reunion videos continue to perpetuate stereotypes about the military. (And don’t think we can replaces them with animal videos: for every happy dog reunited with a service member, there is a blasé cat who barely gives a damn but that doesn’t make the bond less real.) –LJ

“Son, Men Don’t Get Raped”
Nathaniel Penn (@natepenn), GQ. Eliminating military sexual trauma has received a lot of attention recently, but a whole subset of victims has rarely been heard from: men. GQ is telling the stories of countless men who experienced sexual assault during their time in service. Many of the men explain why they never spoke up for reasons varying from fear of physical retaliation, stigma, to fear of ruining their careers. The report mentioned that 81 percent of the men who suffered from military sexual trauma never speak up, and in the cases of those who do, only 7 percent of offenders ever go to trial. –MC
Bottom line: An important topic, one that’s hard to put words to. Proportionally, women are the victims of MST at a much higher rate than men, but overall men outnumber women as the victims of MST. Their voices need to be heard, too, to lessen the stigma on all service members to report sexual assaults. Justice is said to be blind, so too should prevention and treatment measures when it comes to MST. –LJ

Obama Push to Hire Veterans into Federal Jobs Spurs Resentment
Lisa Rein, Washington Post. The Obama administration has made federal hiring of veterans a priority for all departments of the government and that has led to some 46% of all new hires being vets in the last year and they now make up fully a third of all feds. This push has not gone without some quiet controversy as a flood of former military employees show up at agencies that hadn’t previously seen many and the set asides for them making it harder to hire other qualified employees. A long running effort by the Post to collect stories from insiders shows that resentment is building from both sides as veterans see their federal employee peers as less motivated and long time feds see the veterans as rigid, socially inappropriate, and unquestioning of their leadership. –FPW
Bottom line: We salute the efforts of the Administration but it’s hard to say that hiring almost half of all new employees for the Federal government just from the pool of veterans is good for building a diverse workforce. There comes a point where too much of a good thing is a little ridiculous and when you are pulling half your workforce from a pool of potential employees that make up less than 9% of the total population you are bound to have problems. Good people won’t apply for jobs if they know, as the story states, a veteran is going to get it even if the civilian is more qualified. Now that the pendulum has swung in the direction of helping vets find work it needs to make its way back to a more happy middle ground to ensure we have a diverse and long-term federal work force. –FPW

Opinion: On Sept. 11, Recognizing the Future of the Military Depends on Re-energizing Support for It
Deborah A. Bradbard, The Washington Post. On Wednesday, in commemoration of September 11, Deborah Bradbard, director of research and policy at Blue Star Families, wrote for the Washington Post, addressing issues with the perception of the United States military and veterans care. Bradbard says that for the United States to maintain an all-volunteer force, the military needs to seem appealing to young people and over the past few years with sequestration, downsizing, benefit changes and other military issues, there’s not a lot encouraging people to serve. –MC
Bottom line: Deborah highlights the results of the soon to be released Blue Star Families annual survey and they are troubling. The survey of active-duty service members, veterans and military family members found 62% of all respondents said they have no confidence in the federal government, and only 23% said they would recommend military service to a young person. The military is very often a “family business” and generations of family members tend to serve, so finding that less than a quarter would recommend it now goes right to the very heart of what many of us have said for several years. Cutting benefits, failing to care for veterans, and treating military members like hired guns where we expand the military dramatically one year then six years later cut just as dramatically sends a message to future service members that the promises made when you sign the dotted line aren’t likely to be kept. Convincing someone to risk their life in service relies on a lot of factors but the steady drip of bad news for those who serve and their families is clearly impacting the decisions of those who influence the next generation. Is Congress and senior military leadership listening? Not so far and as we embark on yet another war with ephemeral goals convincing more to serve will just get harder. –FPW

Veterans’ Care Emerges as a Key, Bipartisan Issue in Campaign Ads
Brian Naylor (@brinaylor), NPR. As midterm elections approach, many candidates are using ads addressing VA problems and promising to support veterans in their campaigns—unlike their opponents. As of last month, more than 34,000 veteran-themed ads have run in campaigns nationwide. These veteran-themed advertisements aren’t intended to win the veteran vote – a small population of voters – but rather convince undecided voters not to vote for anyone who wouldn’t support veterans. –MC
Bottom line: Lest you think politicians actually care about veterans, these are calculated political ads made to paint opponents as uncaring, America-hating blowhards who probably spit on veterans at VFW halls. If your Congressman doesn’t care about veterans’ health care, he probably won’t care much about you is the logic these ads want viewers to follow. These ads aren’t about electing a Congress more attuned to veterans’ needs. Veterans’ organizations like VFW and the American Legion can’t, according to their Congressional charter, endorse anyone seeking public office. These ads, then, are from left and right leaning political groups with their own agendas. –LJ

Army Commanders: White Men Lead a Diverse Force
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today. Last week, an article by USA Today challenged diversity within the Army, stating that among all Army officers, fewer than 10% are African-American, compared to 18% of enlisted soldiers. With no African-American colonels in command among the Army’s 25 combat brigades this year, the problem is said to be most significant for the future diversity of the general officer corps as those top leaders typically stem from combat unit commands. In interviews, Army officials including BG Ron Lewis, the Army’s chief of public affairs and an African-American, said that there is a plan in place to increase diversity among commanders, but the process complicated and will take time. –MC
Bottom line: This issue is substantially more complicated than simple explanations can address and Tom has done a terrific job of laying out the many factors that have influenced how the service got where it is today. The piece is worth the long read. This isn’t as simple as upping the number of set aside slots for diversity on promotion boards of the future. This is an issue that goes to the very beginning of commissioned service when officers choose their career paths and a lack of African-American officers choosing combat branches when they are already coming in as under represented in the commissioning sources of OCS, ROTC and West Point. The Army is moving to put in place efforts to address the future but for the foreseeable future the problem will only get worse. –FPW

War Veterans Try Yoga, Hiking, Horseback Riding to Treat PTSD
Michael M. Phillips (@MPhillipsWSJ) and Shirley S. Wang (@ShirleySWangWSJ), The Wall Street Journal. Veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are experimenting with new ways to cope with symptoms. More and more alternative therapies are emerging including everything from hiking, to dance, drama, companion dogs, to hyperbaric oxygen treatments. Alternative medicine advocates are putting pressure on the VA to cover these treatments for individuals who do not respond to medicine and talk therapy, but research on these alternatives is limited. Although the VA says it is open to embracing new ideas, as it has recently approved acupuncture to treat sleeplessness, in a time of tough budgets it’s hard to find the money without the science to back it up. –MC
Bottom line: Almost anyone who has worked in the veterans sector over the last few years has heard of some really innovative new approaches to dealing with the mental health challenges of the community. There is no question that there isn’t one single solution to PTSD and there is great resistance to new approaches among traditional channels like the VA and many in the mental health community. This is where some of the remarkable non-profits and service organizations in the sector can make an impact like our friends at Team Red, White & Blue, Semper Fidelis Health and Wellness, Give an Hour and a number of others that are finding unique ways to support veterans. Investing in those organizations, helping them reach larger numbers of potential members and supporting their missions can help provide the support needed. The community must also push researchers to study results and encourage VA to act when the science shows it’s worth the investment. –FPW 

Hundreds of Volunteers Renovate Wounded Veteran’s Damaged Home
Justin Zaremba (@JustinZarembaNJ), NJ Advance Media. The Home Depot Foundation’s Team Depot recently sent about 220 volunteers to renovate the home of George Alakpa, an Afghanistan veteran who suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury during deployment. Alakpa’s home suffered damage this winter by a burst water pipe. Renovating Alakpa’s home was one of 10 projects across the country that kicked off Team Depot’s annual Celebration of Service. This year’s Celebration of Service will touch more than 1,000 veterans’ homes in three months between September 11 and Veterans Day, November 11. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Air Force Association Air & Space Conference (Mon-Wed, 15-17, September); National Harbor, MD

For a full list of upcoming events, check out our recently updated Events page.

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans Affairs: Scheduling Manipulation and Veteran Deaths in Phoenix: Examination of the OIG’s Final Report When: 12:00 PM, Wednesday, September 17, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Intelligence: Threat posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), al-Qa’ida, and other Islamic extremists Who: General James M. Mattis, USMC (Ret.), former commander of the U.S. Central Command, The Honorable Ryan Crocker, former Ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon, Dr. Dafna H. Rand, Center for a New American Security When: 8:00 AM, Thursday, September 18, 2014 Where: HVC210 Capitol

Armed Services: the Administration’s Strategy for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant ISIL Who: The Honorable Chuck Hagel, Secretary of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense When: 11:15 AM, Thursday, September 18, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Foreign Affairs: The ISIS Threat: Weighing the Obama Administration’s Response Who: The Honorable John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, U.S. Department of State When: 11:30 AM, Thursday , September 18, 2014 Where:2172 Rayburn

Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel: Religious Accommodations in the Armed Services Who: Mr. Michael Berry, Esq., Senior Counsel, Director of Military Affairs, Liberty Institute, Dr. Ron Crews, Chaplain (COL) USAR Retired, Executive Director, Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty, Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn, D.D., CAPT, CHC, USN (Ret), Mr. Travis Weber Esq., Director Center for Religious Liberty, Family Research Council, Michael L. Weinstein, President, Military Religious Freedom Foundation When: 8:00 AM, Friday, September 19, 2014 Where: 2212 Rayburn

Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: The Department of Defense Excess Property Program is Support of U.S. Law Enforcement Agencies: An Overview of DOD Authorities’ Roles Responsibilities and Implementation of Section 1033 of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act Who: Mr. Alan F. Estevez, Principal Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vice Admiral Mark D. Harnitchek, Director, Defense Logistics Agency When: 9:00 AM, Friday, September 19, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Senate:

Armed Services: US Policy Towards Iraq and Syria and the Threat Posed by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant Who: Honorable Charles T. Hagel, Secretary of Defense, General Martin E. Dempsey, USA, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Where: SH-216 Hart

Foreign Relations: United States Strategy to Defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant Who: The Honorable John F. Kerry, Secretary of State When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, September 17, 2014 Where: 419 Dirksen

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, September 16, 2014 2:54 pm

5 thoughts on “Veterans Roundup: VA Has 100-Day Reform Plan, Fallacy of Military Reunion Videos”

  1. Should the VA desire not to or in error not award your benefits there is no practical way to get those benefits and no effective legal means at all. One knows that the system is corrupt simply by looking for an instance in the entire corrupt system that demonstrates this – almost 50% of all appeals are remanded seemingly in an automatic manner – once in this process it has virtually no chance of ever being awarded and they will tie you up as years become decades – for instance – you may have a covered condition but there is no means to ever prove this – no time frame, no mechanism, no effective due process. In my case 1. the condition is covered and has been awarded to others, 2. Is there a record of this in the Military Record – in my case yes. 3. Can the VA demonstrate evidence that this wasn’t a result or aggravated by service – no they cannot. But they take the reverse approach of entangling such a claim up with insurance like claims examiners who act as both final medical experts and adjudicators and say that I have to prove through non-existing evidence that it wasn’t the case before service and or that one of their medical professionals has to state an absolute cause and effect basis – which is not a cognitive or epistemological construct allowed by the medical profession – hence fraudulent denial which is in direct conflict with the charge that the VA shall act on behalf and in favor of the veteran where doubt exists and conclusive evidence to contrary may not be offered. They know that it is for all practical purposes a de facto permanent denial. It creates the backlog by acting as an insurance company vis-a-vis on behalf of the Veteran. The VA’s entire process is set up to create grid lock by its philosophical positioning which holds truly that the Veteran is attempting to submit a fraudulent claim.

  2. Backlogs – VA – It is not the cavalcade of new applications that the VA points to – it is the 1. NOD appeal to the BVA hearing – created by VA policy of denying claims without cause 2. BVA decision takes 3 years or more it then creates the 3. Remand to RO Backlog and the mostly endless appeals/remand cycle 4. If the Vet is finally denied by the BVA then the Vet restarts the claim or goes to the Court – the backlog here just waiting for it to get to court is at least 4 years – then once the decision is rendered again a long wait – often it is sent back to #3. and the process starts again.

  3. The VA is charged with awarding covered conditions with benefits to the Veterans, but instead places claims processors in the role of medical expert and judicial expert to deny covered claims without cause. It uses deception, simply ignores evidence, and commits fraud in denying covered conditions. It denies a large number of claims in cursory manner, it denies due process in an endless appeals and remands cycle as a de facto denial with some Vets dying or being caught up in the cycle for decades with no means to force to the court. Sometimes the courts remand back to the cycle. There are no time obligations on behalf of the VA for processing such claims. After the appeal and waiting for the remand to be sent back just to be reviewed again by the RO – some claims are just gathering dust in the records center for over 2 years. It took three years just for the judge to make a decision not to decide. The RO is not obligated to process in any time period at all – it is when the RO gets to it. Decades come and go and covered conditions are not covered.

  4. There are actually a few different backlogs and the VA relies on these to excuse its delay, deny, demean – and hope that the Vet dies process. The VA creats the initial backlog by denying covered benefits. The VA assumes fraud or no liability and gives an initial cursory denial. The appeals process is not functional in that it seemingly remands almost 50% of appeals in a cursory manner. Keep in mind the Vet as waited years already in the initial claim, then waiting for a BVA inital hearing of the appeal, then waiting 3 years in my case for the response for the BVA, which was then remanded to the RO – The records sit sometimes over 3 years just to make it back to the RO – then the wait is as long as the VA RO chooses – there is no time obligation on the part of the VA. All – just to prove what was already in my Military medical records – covered condition. If the RO responds incorrectly the the cycle of appeal and remand starts over. If it denies – then must start claim over – not able to force to courts unless denial is final. Meanwhile it does not matter how much evidence is submitted or even what their expert says. In my case – the QTC said yes he has claimed condition. The VA sets up a strawman wherein it uses an ex parte method of contact to the medical expert and then asks a leading question as a strawman to deny. In my case I claimed disability on the basis of condition A which is mentioned as early stage by the Army doctor at the time of service. Another condition B is also discussed. The VA then asks the QTC can A come from B – no, but does not provide information to the evaluator about both being mentioned in the records.

  5. The BVA remanded my case back to the RO in March – I have been in this cycle for 10 years – hardly expeditious – and now EBenefits still says – “Your case has been received at BVA, and BVA has mailed your decision to you (and your representative, if any) and will be returning your claims file to the Regional Office. Please note that transit times vary, and there may be some lag time between when BVA forwards your claims file to its appropriate location and when that location receives it. ” And they still cannot tell me where my records are right now. ASK THIS – WHY DO TRANSIT TIMES VARY? WHY ARE THERE NO TIME CONSTRAINTS ON THE VA?

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