Veterans Roundup: VA IG Report Raises Voices on the Hill, Veteran Homelessness Taking on a New Face

Posted by Fred Wellman

Criminal or Victim?
Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe), The Washington Post. Robert Carlson, a former soldier dealing with PTSD symptoms, had an outburst of anger, assaulted his wife, and fired gunshots, which led to a court-martial and eight year jail sentence after a civilian grand jury decided not to go to trial. Also this week, an article this week by Jordain Carney, examined servicemembers who received less than honorable discharges, in turn locking them out of VA care. This story follows a veteran, Brian Lewis, who received a less than honorable discharge because of a personality disorder, but may have actually been suffering from PTSD symptoms instead. Stories of veterans such as Carlson and Lewis raise questions about what can be done to prevent and identify the emotional effects of war, how to deal with criminal acts by those suffering, and how to correct possible systemic injustices. –MC
Bottom line: These stories are unfortunately timely with news that a man who jumped the White House fence and made it just inside the doors to the building before being tackled by Secret Service is a former soldier allegedly suffering from PTSD. Carlson’s case speaks to the deficiencies within the military legal system to handle cases which involve potentially mitigating circumstances like mental health issues due to service. The civilian grand jury that passed on sending Carlson to trial was said to have done so because they “felt sorry for him” and the military judicial system is said to treat mental health defenses with more suspicion than sympathy. One has to wonder what the outcome for Carlson would have been had Fairbanks had a diversionary program such as a Veterans Treatment Court. Indeed, the Vet Court model may be something the military should look into (or that Congress must legislate it does so.) Once Carlson is released, he will likely leave the service with a dishonorable discharge meaning his hopes for getting help from the VA are equally dim. –LJ

Homeless Vets: They’re Not Just Single Men Anymore
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR. The San Diego Stand Down, an annual three-day event that offers assistance to homeless veterans, has seen a rise in the attendance of families and women. This trend can also be seen nationwide; although the number of total homeless veterans is decreasing, the number of homeless female veterans, often with children, is increasing. Female veterans face a different set of challenges than their homeless male counterparts and organizations are quickly trying to ramp up services for them. –MC
Bottom line: It’s inevitable that as women make up a larger and larger percentage of those who serve in the military and thus a larger percentage of veterans that they would also inevitably begin to have a larger representation among the homeless veterans. The challenges for women are very different than men as they are often dealing with children needing a home, too, and carrying burdens such as sexual assault and anxiety disorders. More organizations are moving into focusing on women veterans’ specific needs and VA’s ambitious goal to end homelessness by 2015 has come with a heavy focus on housing first approaches that help families get homes faster than previous efforts. The need for supportive services from homelessness to health care for women veterans is only going to increase going forward and efforts to help veterans must include those calculations in their efforts. –FPW
Editor’s Note: Don’t miss NPR’s brilliant portraits of homeless veterans at the San Diego Stand Down.

GAO Report Raps VA for Problems in Family Care
Gregg Zoroya (@greggzoroya), USA Today. A report by the Government Accountability office found that the VA mishandled a program designated to support caregivers of veterans wounded in the Iraq or Afghanistan. The VA estimated 4,000 families would apply for the program, but in reality more than 30,000 families applied for the Program of Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers and the rate of applicants is rising by 500 monthly. With a monthly backlog of more than 4,000 applicants, the VA has promised to attempt to correct these issues but the GAO warns that this issue will likely take time to fix. –MC
Bottom line: Until the Elizabeth Dole Foundation funded a study by the RAND Corporation that found there are hundreds of thousands of military and veterans caregivers in the nation, no one really knew how extensive the needs of these families might be. So, when VA told Congress in 2011 that they only expected around 4,000 families to signup they had no real clue how vast the need was and now more than 30,000 have applied and another 500 are coming in every month. Caregivers are saving the country billions of dollars as they relieve government programs of the day-to-day care of our nations ill and wounded veterans but they suffer tremendously for their efforts. VA and Congress need to act quickly to put in place the systems, personnel, and funding to help these families or a year from now yet another backlog and mismanagement scandal from VA will be the news story. It’s not just tragic it’s ridiculous when the facts are now known about this critical community. –FPW

The VA Needs to Move Fast to Better Help Its Newest Veterans
Charles S. Clark (@cclarkjedd), Government Executive. The VA, according to the GAO, has little information or data on the pressures young veterans are facing with financial troubles, joblessness, homelessness and personal relationships. While the VA knows quite a bit about the physical and mental health ailments of young veterans, the broader readjustment issues that could impact dependence on services are unknown. The report recommends that the VA quickly work to more deeply understand the difficulties returning veterans face during their transitions, especially because the population of returning veterans is becoming increasingly younger and composed of more females.  –MC
Bottom line: Much as the VA’s lack of knowledge about the caregiving community led to an unexpected demand for services, the unknown unknowns of the young veterans community could continue to put VA at a disadvantage in delivering timely, effective benefits. As they say, knowledge is power. The more data VA and other agencies can collect through surveys (or iPhone 6s, maybe?) the better Congress will be able to appropriate funding and VA will be able to predict and implement demands for services. –LJ

At Tense VA Hearing, Doctors Link Delays to Patient Deaths
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. Despite the VA Inspector General’s final report and Congressional testimony, a VA official under the IG acknowledged the linkage between VA patient deaths and healthcare delays during a contentious hearing. In the hearing, the IG’s report was challenged by Members of Congress who accused it of being used for “damage control” rather than exposing inefficiencies in the system. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Florida, wants to expand investigations to VA headquarters and find out if anyone at the top knew about problems before they were exposed by whistleblowers. –MC
Bottom line: Chairman Miller sees a scandal within a scandal at VA: that the IG may be deliberately covering for VA and the mismanagement that led to long wait times for veterans’ health care. Miller is increasingly pushing to expand the investigation of VA from the medical centers like Phoenix to the headquarters staff in DC. The commonly accepted explanation around DC is that Shinseki didn’t know about the long wait times because people below him didn’t tell him. Now, it seems, Miller wants to know who knew what and when they knew it. We’ll have to wait until at least November, though, as Speaker Boehner adjourned the House until after the midterm elections a few weeks earlier than expected. –LJ

Army Captain Battling Cancer Takes on Veteran Suicides
Jonathan Elias, WBZ-TV. Army Captain Justin Fitch has been diagnosed with terminal cancer but has decided to use every minute he has left to help fellow veterans and make a difference on the scourge of suicide in the community. Working through ‘Carry the Fallen’ he has already helped dozens through fundraising, personal mentoring, and telling the story of his battle so others may step back from the brink. –FPW
Bottom Line: Fitch is what selfless service looks like. He represents the best of the U.S. military with his unwavering resolve to make a difference in this world until his last breath. No one has the answer why so many veterans of all ages take their lives. Each one is different but we do know that personal connections and finding someone to lean on can take many back from the brink. Guys like Justin Fitch are the kinds of guys that can make a difference. –FPW

VA Plans to Offer Salary Boost to Attract New Doctors
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. Hiring new doctors, nurses, and clinicians is a big part of Secretary McDonald’s plan to reform the VA, but the government pay scale has always been one issue hindering recruitment. (Other issues being government bureaucracy and the finite number of doctors, nurses, and clinicians practicing.) By raising salaries, the VA is hoping to shorter wait times for veterans and increase the quality and quantity of care. –LJ

U.S. to Commit Up to 3,000 Troops to Fight Ebola in Africa
Helene Cooper (@helenecooper), Michael D. Shear (@shearm), Denise Grady (@nytDeniseGrady), The New York Times. International health advocates have criticized the U.S. for being slow to act in the face of the deadly Ebola outbreak afflicting West Africa. Finally, the Obama administration has committed to send 3,000 troops to the region to perform necessary logistics, security, and health care duties. While overall it should be a permissive environment, at least 8 aid workers were recently killed in Guinea by locals fearful the aid workers were spreading Ebola. –LJ

Student Veterans Can Help Bridge the Civilian-Military Divide
Don Gomez (@dongomezjr), Task & Purpose. We’re suckers for good civilian-military divide stories and good student veterans ones, so Don’s opinion piece here really hits our Scout Report sweet spot. –LJ

Are U.S. Soldiers Dying from Survivable Wounds?
Michael M. Phillips (@MPhillipsWSJ), The Wall Street Journal. This one really goes against the conventional wisdom and asks one to rethink assumptions, but any comparisons between the battlefields of WWII, Vietnam, and Iraq have to be seen as comparing apples to oranges to potatoes. –LJ 

TechShop: A Place Where Veterans Can Build Their Dreams
TechShop, one of the founding members of Get Skills to Work, is a place where members have access to high-tech equipment that they can use to create whatever they might imagine. In partnership with Get Skills to Work and the VA Center for Innovation, TechShop is providing thousands of free memberships to veterans interesting in manufacturing. Get Skills to Work and TechShop are also holding meetups for veterans in Austin, San Francisco, and Washington, DC to introduce veterans to the resources available and provide an opportunity for networking. –MC

Boots for Building in Philadelphia
Sharrie Williams (@WilliamsSharrie), WPVI-TV Philadelphia. Boots for Building, a new initiative by The Home Depot Foundation, Student Veterans of America, Team Rubicon, and Habitat for Humanity kicked off in Philadelphia this weekend. Teams of veteran volunteers are working to make a difference in the community by building homes, but the program offers much more than that: the nationwide partnership between the organizations will provide veterans an opportunity to continue serving and volunteering at home. Over the weekend, the volunteers worked on building six homes for veterans and renovating the homes of several others. –MC

One Veteran’s Story Moves a Congressman to Action
John Grady, ScoutComms. Our own John Grady looks at how the story of combat wounded veteran Micah Welintukonis has helped Rep. Joe Courtney, a Connecticut Democrat who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, understand the plight of our wounded warriors and move him to find ways to help.

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

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

Congressional Hearings

Both chambers are in recess.

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, September 22, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

TechShop & Get Skills to Work: Meet-up for Veterans When: 6:00 PM, Monday, September 22, 2014 Where: 120 Sundance Parkway Suite #350, Round Rock, TX

TechShop & Get Skills to Work: Meet-up for Veterans When: 6:00 PM, Wednesday, September 24, 2014 Where: 926 Howard St, San Francisco, CA

Heritage Foundation: The Legal Basis for Military Action Against Isis Who: Steven G. Bradbury, Partner, Dechert LLP, Robert M. Chesney, Charles I. Francis Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University of Texas at Austin School of Law, Steven Vladeck, Professor of Law, The Washington College of Law, American University When: 12:00 PM, Thursday, September 25, 2014 Where: Lehrman Auditorium, 214 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington DC

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, September 22, 2014 5:48 pm

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