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Veterans Roundup: VA Not Spending All Its Budget on Outside Health Care, Deployed Moms Don’t Have Worse Health Outcomes, Stolen Valor, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

In Prepping for the Year Ahead, Don’t Forget to Look Back!
National Military Spouse Network
Our CEO and founder Fred Wellman shared some advice for military spouse entrepreneurs as they prep for the year ahead. Wellman notes the importance of awareness of the marketplace because markets are constantly shifting. He believes that frequent analysis of your business battle space will set a great entrepreneur apart from the rest. –JG

Desert’s Battle Continues for Some
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), Fayetteville Observer
On the 25th anniversary of the beginning of Operation Desert Storm, the battle is not over to build the National Desert Storm War Memorial. The National Desert Storm War Memorial has congressional approval, but the organization is headed into the challenging phase of site selection. Spearheading the effort is a group of Desert Storm veterans who make up its Board of Directors, including our CEO and founder Fred Wellman. Wellman was a first lieutenant leading a scout helicopter platoon during Desert Storm. Now as a board member, he is part of the efforts to honor the service and sacrifice of the men and women who secured victory 25 years ago. Learn more about the effort and how you can help at http://www.nationaldesertstormwarmemorial.org/.  –JG

It’s Time to Change the Regulations that Stop Sikhs from Serving in the U.S. Military
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner) for War on the Rocks
ScoutComms Vice President Brian Wagner writes that regulations preventing observant Sikhs from serving in the U.S. military should be modified. Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world. In 1981, the military enacted regulations restricting headgear and facial hair, which forced Sikhs to make an impossible choice – remove their turbans and violate their religious observance, or don’t serve in the military at all; except for a handful of exceptions. We recommend you check out Brian’s article about this important issue. –MC

VA Failed to Spend $1.9 Billion Designated for Health Care, Report Finds
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
A new report shows that the VA has failed to spend 40 percent of its $4.8 billion budget designated for outside care for veterans in fiscal year 2013. Elsewhere in VA, the agency expects to request an additional $1.3 billion in funding to continue work on its electronic benefits management system, which is expected to help decrease the disability claims backlog. Inspector General and Government Accountability Office reports show that these funding issues may come from mismanagement, inefficient contracting, unplanned changes, and overestimating care. –MC
Bottom line: It was clear to everyone—including the VA itself—that it mismanaged and undersold the rollout of the Choice Card in 2015, which was supposed to enable veterans to effectively seek outside care when the VA could not directly support them. In November, the VA acknowledged that its outside referral system was “too complicated” and “saddled with a confusing array of authorizations and mechanisms,” and asked Congress to let it consolidate its outside initiatives into a New Veterans Choice Program. From the new reporting, it is not obvious how much of the mismanagement identified in the audit was connected with the abovementioned mismanagement, but it certainly fell in the same orbit. Calls to break up the VA, though, are shortsighted and reactionary. As I’ve said a number of times, much like a broken record at this point, the VA needs to be given room to succeed or fail under Secretary Bob’s leadership, based on changes that he has enacted or called for over the last year. If the VA audit one year from now finds the exact same inefficiencies and waste in managing private health care, then Congress and other critics will have the ammunition it wants to pressure the VA to enact even deeper reforms. –BW

Military Moms Face No More Health Risk than Other Deploying Women
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
A new report from the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at the University of Adelaide in Australia looks at the affects motherhood has on deployed service members. The study defied conventional wisdom and found that military moms do not face higher risks of psychological or physical health issues while deployed. Most respondents were proud of their service and found it to be an important step in their career. –MC
Bottom line: Here is another nail in the coffin of the combat exclusion that kept women out of combat roles. These findings from an allied nation that has contributed to both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that while military mothers who deploy face unique challenges, they are not adversely affected because of their position as mothers. You may wonder why this study out of Australia is getting press on this issue—simply because so little research has been done on the matter. As the role of women in society continues to evolve, it’s important for the research to evolve with it. We see this in so many aspects of the military and VA systems and the fact that they aren’t already adapted means they are going to be playing catch-up as women make their mark in combat. –LJ

Service Members, not Citizens: Meet the Veterans Who Have Been Deported
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR
Since 1775, joining the U.S. military has been one of the easiest and most certain paths to citizenship for immigrants. But since the law changed and naturalization is no longer automatic, some immigrants in recent years have been deported after committing crimes, even if attributable to untreated post-service mental health issues. To help these immigrants, Army veteran Hector Barajas, who himself was deported, hosts veterans at a place known as the Deported Veteran Support House, in Tijuana, Mexico. Immigration lawyers are currently working to reopen cases and are advocating for a rewrite of the law. –JG
Bottom line: With immigration reform being one of the biggest wedge issues for politicians these days, it seems unlikely a legislative fix for these veterans is coming in the near future. For these immigrant veterans, sometimes the same crime that gets them deported will land a U.S. citizen veteran in a veteran treatment court, thereby avoiding jail time at all. The military is an egalitarian system and so it seems uniquely unfair that these immigrants, who fought for the U.S. are “banished” or “exiled” as they say, are treated so differently because political winds once changed and so did the law. We’re seeing many young veterans take up important causes for the community, one has think this is next. In the meantime, there is a bright side: the support system deported veterans have created in Mexico to provide the services to each other that they would be entitled to for free as veterans on this side of the border. –LJ

U.S. Court: Wearing Unearned Military Medals is Free Speech
Paul Elias, The Associated Press
Stolen Valor is taken very seriously among many in the military community, but last week a federal appeals court ruled that wearing unearned military medals is a practice protected as free speech under the First Amendment—unless used for financial gain. The case tossed out the conviction of Elven Joe Swisher, a Marine veteran who was never wounded in the line of duty, but wore a Purple Heart. –MC
Bottom line: We’ve written a lot about the “stolen valor warriors” who have taken it upon themselves to police the nation looking for anyone who appears to be wearing military uniforms, badges, or awards they didn’t earn and how it’s gotten out of hand – this decision certainly won’t help that situation. It is a very odd situation that wearing a military uniform or awards that weren’t earned, unless for financial gain, is considered free speech but that is what the appeals court found this week. Where this decision gets really fuzzy is that whole “financial gain” part. Let’s face it, in this day and age; anytime you claim to be a war hero, on purpose or not, you can gain financially. Would the court consider getting a 15 percent discount at The Home Depot enough of a financial gains? What about a service dog from a non-profit? What about when the nice people on the airplane give you a free upgrade to First Class? The next step in this battle will be deciding what exactly defines “financial gain” and yet again crafting a law that nips this ridiculousness in the bud. –FPW

Marine Corps to Officially Open Combat Jobs to Qualified Women
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marine Corps Times
Following Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s decision to open all combat positions to women, the Marine Corps will begin to allow female Marines to apply for combat arms military occupational specialties (MOSs). The Marine Corps has been more resistant than the other services to opening combat positions to women, and Navy Secretary Ray Mabus spoke out against the Marine Corps’ position. Last week, the debate resurfaced and Rep. Duncan Hunter (R.-Calif.), said that Mabus’ “social meddling” was more dangerous to Marines than ISIS. –MC
Bottom line: It is great to hear that 240 female enlisted Marines who participated in the Ground Combat Element Integrated Task Force have qualified to apply for positions in previously male-only MOSs in the Corps. While there are no guarantees, this is an important step. It is troubling that no female Marine officers have yet graduated from the Infantry Officer Course, but as I have noted before, combat integration is not about forcing women into combat roles, but instead about giving them fair opportunities to train and eventually qualify for such positions. Hopefully, the improved, increased integration of male and female recruits in the Corps will lead to female Marines being better prepared in the coming years to compete for combat roles within the Corps. –BW

HIPAA Gun-Control Rule Tweak Worries Some Veterans
Joseph Conn (@MHJConn), Modern Healthcare
Among President Obama’s executive orders to more tightly regulate how guns are purchased is a provision that allows certain health agencies to share information about a buyers’ mental health that would prevent them from legally buying a gun. The American Legion has joined a group of organizations that believe this will further inhibit veterans from seeking mental health help. The Department of Veterans Affairs also took a stance on gun issues and said that they will not allow open carrying on VA property, despite Texas’ open carry laws. –MC
Bottom line: There are a lot of veterans that are, like many Americans, passionate gun rights supporters; as a matter of fact the open carry movement in Texas is being driven by a veteran of Iraq. They are extremely sensitive to anything that could possibly smell like a restriction. So, they are ramping up fast and furious on rumors that new mental health checks could lead to veterans, like any citizen, being restricted in their ability to purchase a weapon. The issue gets very, very cloudy with the constant struggle over defining Post Traumatic Stress as a mental health condition. Would PTS qualify as a mental health disability that restricts things? We know that the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens with PTS aren’t veterans at all and go about their lives with no issues…just like many veterans. So, this is another issue of what we often called second and third order effects. It’s not that the VA will have to report certain mental health conditions but there is a fear that eventually PTS may fall within what must be reported and this may lead to fewer veterans seeking care for the condition. Now as far as open carry on VA property goes…this four-time combat veteran supports VA’s stance completely. Seeing someone walking around in the United States in a facility with other veterans slinging a carbine at the ready makes my skin crawl. Leave the weapon at home on federal property and save us all a lot of unnecessary anxiety. –FPW

Quick Hits:

It’s Not Just Big Blasts Damaging Veterans’ Brains
Patricia Murphy (@RadioGirlMurphy), KUOW
The Puget Sound VA and the University of Washington are looking into how close proximity to repeated small explosions affects the human brain. Some veterans like William Kerby, a Marine infantryman who served in Iraq, were exposed to a number of small explosions every day throughout their deployments. The researchers are conducting studies to see how these explosions affected veterans like Kerby in different ways than big blasts and hope these studies can further their understanding of TBI and hopefully provide better treatment. –JG

Why San Diego Hasn’t Ended Veteran Homelessness Even Though Others Have
Lisa Halverstadt (@LisaHalverstadt), Voice of San Diego
The city of San Diego appears to have had an especially difficult time meeting its goal of ending veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. A tight and expensive housing market combined with inefficient coordination of resources and efforts has led to underwhelming results. –JG

Amir Hekmati’s Family Preparing for Reunion with Marine Vet Held by Iran
Mike Householder (@mikehouseholder) and Jeff Karoub (@jeffkaroub), Associated Press
Amir Hekmati, a Marine veteran who was detained in Iran for over four years on charges of espionage, has finally been released and will return to the United States. Amir was one of five Americans released over the weekend in two different arrangements. Hekmati’s family has been working relentlessly for his release and, as early supporters of the efforts to bring Amir home, we’re so thankful and glad to hear of his release. –MC

Military Spouses, Kids Can Apply Now for Millions of Dollars in Scholarships
Kyle Jahner (@KyleJahner), Army Times
Military spouses and children are now eligible to apply for millions of dollars in scholarships through the Army Emergency Relief program. Scholarships ranging from $500 to $3,300 will be available for military dependents working towards their first undergraduate degree. –MC

Pentagon Releases New Details on How U.S. Sailors Were Taken Captive by Iran
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Last week, 10 Navy sailors were captured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf. Although complete details have not been released, a defense official said that the U.S. boats ran into a mechanical issue and drifted into Iranian waters. The sailors have all been released since the incident. –MC

12 Missing Marines Identified after Helicopters Crash in Hawaii
Gina Harkins (@GinaAHarkins) Marine Corps Times
On Thursday, two CH-53E Super Stallion, heavy-lift helicopters, crashed off the coast of Hawaii during night training, leaving twelve Marines missing. The incident is currently under investigation, but early reports suggest that the helicopters collided. Gina Harkins shares the names and details of the four officers and eight enlisted Marines involved in her recent article. We’re deeply saddened to hear this news, and we are all keeping these twelve service members and their families in our prayers. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Value of a Veteran: 4th Annual Recruitment Conference (Wed – Friday, January 20 – 22), 14901 Dallas Parkway, Dallas, TX

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans’ Affairs: Finding Solutions for Veteran Homelessness in Southern California When: 2:30pm, Wednesday, January 20, 2016 Where: 4800 Magnolia Ave, Riverside, CA 92506

Senate:

Armed Services: U.S. Strategy and Policy in the Middle East Who: General John M. Keane, USA (Ret.), Chairman, Institute for the Study of War, and former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Honorable Ryan C. Crocker, Dean and Executive Professor, The George Bush School of Government and Public Service, Texas A&M University, and former United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Honorable Philip H. Gordon, Senior Fellow, Council On Foreign Relations and former Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs When: 9:30 AM, Wednesday, January 20, 2016 Where: 216 Hart

Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support: Oversight of Task Force for Business and Stability Operations Projects in Afghanistan
Who: The Honorable Brian P. McKeon, Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Mr. John F. Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, January 20, 2016 Where: 232A Russell

Armed Services: Nomination – Fanning Who: Honorable Eric K. Fanning, to be Secretary of the Army When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, January 21, 2016 Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: Examining the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Transformation Strategy When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, January 21, 2016 Where: 418 Russell

Think Tanks & Other Events

No events this week.

For a full list of upcoming events, visit our website.

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, January 19, 2016 12:55 pm

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