Veterans Roundup: VA Scandal Turns One, New DOD Chief Proposing Big Changes, Plus Much More

Posted by Fred Wellman

New Personnel Rules: Carter’s Plans to Keep Best Troops
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. Defense Secretary Ash Carter is proposing an overhaul of the personnel system which would change the way our military recruits and retains its troops. The suggested changes focus on attracting and keeping the best troops in our military in competition with corporate high-paying jobs. Some changes include making military life easier for single parents, increasing sabbatical opportunities, allowing older well-trained recruits to enlist, and paying back student loans for college-educated recruits. –MC
Bottom line: The ideas that Secretary Carter floated during his speech to his former high school last week are ones that have bounced around in a host of forums over the years, but have not seen much daylight within the Pentagon as the incredibly hidebound military personnel system has continued almost unchanged for decades. Anyone entering service today faces almost the same promotion, assignments, rating, and retirement systems that have been in place since the creation of the All-Volunteer Force. Taken in turn, the ideas are not bad ones at all. Does it make sense that one must sacrifice the “fast-track” to pursue higher education? Does it seem logical that someone with much needed technical skills can’t serve the nation in some way other than starting as a Private or Second Lieutenant if they’ll never command troops in combat? It is far past time for the military personnel system to get a thorough scrubbing for logic and function in the 21st Century when I can find a private sector job, apply, and get hired without ever leaving my couch. The question is…can a political appointee in the last two years of an Administration make lasting change on the most intransient bureaucracy and entrenched interests in the U.S. government? That’s the real test. –FPW

To Meet L.A. Veteran Housing Goals, Governments Go Into Action Mode
Gale Holland (@geholland), Los Angeles Times. In Los Angeles, the VA and local government officials are working together to ramp up veteran homelessness efforts and get all L.A. veterans off the street and meet the VA’s goal to end veteran homelessness by the end of the year. Efforts include hiring more employees for homeless programs, millions of dollars in aid, and creating new space to house the veterans. To achieve the goal, Home for Good reports that nearly 6,000 veterans will need housing. –MC
Bottom line: Many articles this week, a year after the VA scandal first broke, focused on how little it seems the VA has changed over the last few months. In many ways, this article is no different—the VA hasn’t changed its focus on ending veteran homelessness. Secretary Bob has doubled down on Los Angeles, an important move to meet the goal because LA has the highest homeless veteran population in the country. This focused effort can be seen in VA’s recent settlement of a lawsuit that frees up land at its West LA facility to make way for veteran housing and Secretary Bob taking part in the annual point in time count of the homeless population in LA. The many government dollars now flowing into LA should allow service providers to expand their capacity and support more veterans. Our client the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans helps service providers build on that momentum in LA and across the country through technical training and advocacy. At their annual conference next month, service providers will share best practices and plan for what comes next: preventing any more veterans from falling into homelessness. –LJ

One Year After Phoenix, the VA is Under More Scrutiny than Ever
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. As whistleblowers continue to come forward and face retaliation for reporting wrongdoings at Department of Veterans Affairs facilities and hospital costs spiral out of control in Denver, the VA is facing more scrutiny than ever. A year after the wait time scandal rocked the department, advocates and lawmakers argue that little progress has been made and express frustration with the pace of reform. –MC
Bottom line: There are few people who understand the scope and scale of the VA’s problems who would wish to switch places with Secretary Bob right now. Despite the fresh enthusiasm he has brought to the VA, he is still in an uphill battle against the inertia to preserve the status quo that is blocking his efforts to rapidly reform the VA. In his summary of the VA’s recent challenges, Druzin proves that no matter how hard Secretary Bob tries to spin the news, he’s operating in an environment where his best communications efforts are being undercut by the slow drip of bad news from VA facilities across the nation. –BW

Growing up Military has Lasting Impact
Jenn Rowell (@GFTribe_JRowell), Great Falls Tribune. Jenn Rowell, an Air Force brat turned journalist, reflects on her experiences as a military child in a Great Falls Tribune piece. Rowell expresses that she hated moving all the time as a child, but the experiences ultimately made her a more adaptable person. –MC
Bottom line: Although I’m a little biased because I’m an Army brat, I’d argue that Jenn’s article is a great tribute to the lives military brats lead just in time for the Month of the Military Child. All of those military moves shape you as a person, creating resilience and adaptability. I was really glad to see this article this week. Military children are often left out of the conversation, especially those who have become adults and left the military life. More brats should speak up and share their experiences as we can bring a lot to the table in the military community. –MC

Veterans Affairs Makes Little Headway to Shorten Waiting Times for Care
David B. Caruso, AP. Last week, the Associated Press reported that VA statistics do not show an overall improvement in the long wait times that spurred last year’s scandal. The number of veterans waiting 30-60 days for non-emergency appointments has stayed stagnant but the number of appointments that took longer than 90 days to complete actually doubled. Last week, AP also looked at the top six locations where veterans wait the longest for care. –MC
Bottom line: A year ago, we were reading reports that 40 veterans may have died in Arizona while waiting for appointments at the Phoenix VA. The veterans were said to be on a secret waiting list because hospital officials had told employees to manipulate patient wait time data. Today, the AP reports that veterans are waiting just as long or longer overall for VA health care. In some localities, though, wait times have improved but across the board the numbers aren’t great. But what made headlines last year was the allegation that 40 veterans had died and the revelation of an endemic culture of corruption at VA facilities all over the country. Today, the VA is being much more transparent with data across its health and benefits agencies. Secretary Bob is making a concerted effort to show he is changing the culture within VA. More importantly, veterans have options when seeking health care both from the VA and in the private sector. Obviously, veterans should have access to care more quickly, and VA is hoping its recruitment efforts can help, but even in the civilian health care sector, wait times for appointments can be very long. –LJ

Army Chaplains Need Training to Help Suicidal Soldiers
Gregg Zoroya, (@greggzoroya), USA Today. A RAND study found that Army chaplains don’t have enough suicide prevention training. Suicidal soldiers often go to chaplains for help to avoid the stigma of seeking medical help or getting the chain of command involved. 45 percent of chaplains and 57 percent of chaplain assistants believe they need more suicide training and nearly all of them said they had dealt with a soldier considering suicide. –MC
Bottom line: There are some startling numbers in the RAND study covered in Gregg Zoroya’s article. The fact that a third of chaplains and assistants would not call a crisis hotline for a potentially suicidal service member—and assuming that they also fall in the half of respondents who would not alert the chain of command—means that a large number of potentially suicidal individuals are confessing their concerns and intentions to chaplains and their assistants without activating any additional forms of support. It is also troubling that many respondents reported an aversion to recommending therapy and are influenced by concerns about how the service member would be perceived by peers. Additional training is clearly needed, but it is also crucial that these chaplains and chaplain assistants reset their expectations about how they can provide value to potentially suicidal individuals. –BW

Quick Hits:

Study: Troops Don’t get Enough Sleep
Military Times. A RAND study discovered that approximately a third of our nation’s service members are only getting five or fewer hours of sleep per night. The report noted that the study didn’t show a link between deployment history and lack of sleep. Less than five hours of sleep is linked to an increased risk of health problems and only 8 percent of the general US population reports this sleep pattern. A 2013 study by VetAdvisor found similar startling sleep statistics among veterans. –MC

Warrior Pose – One Way to Help Veterans with PTSD? Lots of Yoga.
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. A great piece on the practice of yoga and the positive effects it has had on veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. –MC

Women now 0 for 29 in Attempting Marine Infantry Officer Course
Dan Lamothe (@Danlamothe), The Washington Post. A trial period during which women were allowed to attempt the Marine Corps’ Infantry Officer Course is closing without a single woman passing the course. The Marines had hoped 100 women would attempt, but due to the narrow eligibility and how attempting would interfere with careers, few women volunteered. –MC

Transgender in the Military: A Pentagon in Transition Weighs its Policy
Juliet Eilperin (@eilperin), The Washington Post. Under current military policy, transgender troops are typically discharged from the military. That policy is currently under review, in part thanks to a lawsuit from an Army sergeant hoping to continue serving his country in uniform. –MC

Lawsuit Would Force Quick Decision on Vets’ Appeals
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A Marine Corps veteran filed a suit that would require the VA to quickly decide on appeals involving veterans facing medical and financial hardships that have been pending for over a year. About 290,000 veterans are still waiting on appeals decisions even though the VA has made strides in decreasing the disability benefits case backlog. –MC

Vets Ride to Raise Awareness, but not for Themselves
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. This weekend, 15 injured veterans will ride 180 miles to raise awareness about multiple sclerosis and inspire others facing physical challenges. The athletes are part of Team America’s Fund, a program of the Semper Fi Fund, and riding in the BP MS 150, the largest MS ride of its kind, alongside Team BP and are using it as an opportunity to bridge the civilian-military divide. The Semper Fi Fund assists injured and ill service members for life. Watch Omar, a Marine veteran, talk about why he’s riding. –MC

Report: Poor Coordination of Support Efforts Hurt Vets
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A study released last week by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University shows that uncoordinated veteran support efforts are ineffective. A collective approach to delivering services can help communities provide better assistance to veterans and military families. In New York City, IVMF is spearheading a collective impact approach through the NYCServes project, and so far the project is demonstrating that coordinated networks of services are more effective. –MC

Striving for a Collective Purpose in Veterans’ Services
Nick Armstrong (@NArmstrongIVMF), James McDonough, and Daniel Savage (@dsavage_83), for The Hill. Nick Armstrong, James McDonough, and Daniel Savage from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University argue in The Hill  that a collective impact approach to coordinating veterans’ services and creating local networks of services will increase the quality of assistance veterans and their families receive in our nation. –MC

An Afghan Translator who Helped U.S. Forces Settles Uneasily into Seattle
Jason Bacaj (@jbacaj_star), Seattle Weekly. Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who worked alongside U.S. troops during the wars and faced threats because of their service are moving to the United States to protect themselves and their families. However, the process proves to be an uphill battle for interpreters like Adil who worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Afghanistan. Organizations like No One Left Behind are working to help those who assisted our troops overseas and their families adjust to life in America. –MC

Semifinalists Announced in “Realizing your Dream” Business Competition for Veteran Entrepreneurs
Citi and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families have announced the 20 semifinalists for the “Citi Salutes: Realizing Your Dream Business Competition.” The competition is open to graduates of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Boots to Business and Veteran Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship programs. The 20 semifinalists will compete for a share of $130,000 in seed funding to help support their businesses. –MC   

Tradeshows & Conferences

NOVA Seminar: Spring 2015 Conference (Thu-Sat, 16-18 April); Hyatt Regency Financial District, San Francisco, CA

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

Congressional Hearings


Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations: Addressing Continued Whistleblower Retaliation Within VA When: 4:00 PM, Monday, April 13, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: Budget Hearing on Defense Health Program Who: Lieutenant General Dr. Douglas J. Robb, Director, Defense Health Agency, Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho, Surgeon General, United States Army, Vice Admiral Matthew L. Nathan, Surgeon General, United States Navy, Lieutenant General Dr. Thomas W. Travis, Surgeon General, United States Air Force When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, April 14, 2015 Where: 2359 Rayburn

Armed Services: Member Day on National Defense Priorities from Members for the FY 2016 National Defense Authorization Act Who: TBD Members of Congress When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, April 14, 2015 Where: 2212 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 675; H.R. 677; H.R. 732; H.R. 800; H.R. 1067; H.R. 1331; H.R. 1379; H.R. 1414; H.R. 1569; and H.R. 1607 When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, April 15, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans Affairs: Denver VA Medical Center: Constructing a Way Forward When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, April 15, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies: Markup of FY 2016 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Bill When: 11:30 AM, Wednesday, April 15, 2015 Where: 2358-A Rayburn


Foreign Relations: Business meeting to consider S.615; oversight to Iranian nuclear program Who: Dr. Graham T. Allison, Director Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs John F. Kennedy School of Government, The Honorable Kurt M. Campbell, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Asia Group, Dr. Michael J. Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair Center for Strategic and International Studies, Admiral Gary Roughead, USN (Ret.), Annenberg Distinguished Visiting Fellow Hoover Institution When: 2:15 PM, Tuesday, April 14, 2015 Where: 116 Capitol

Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces: To examine the National Nuclear Security Administration plans and programs in review of the Defense Authorization Request for fiscal year 2016 and the Future Years Defense Program Who: Honorable Frank G. Klotz, Under Secretary For Nuclear Security And Administrator, National Nuclear Security Administration Department Of Energy, Honorable Donald L. Cook, Deputy Administrator For Defense Programs National Nuclear Security Administration Department Of Energy, Honorable Anne M. Harrington, Deputy Administrator For Defense Nuclear Nonproliferation National Nuclear Security Administration Department Of Energy, Admiral John M. Richardson, USN, Director, Naval Nuclear Propulsion And Office Of Naval Reactors National Nuclear Security Administration Department Of Energy, Mr. David C. Trimble, Director, Natural Resources And Environment Government Accountability Office When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, April 15, 2015 Where: 222 Russell

Appropriations: Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs: Examine proposed budget estimates and justification for fiscal year 2016 for military construction and military family housing for select combatant commanders and select defense agencies Who: Major General Stephen A. Clark, U.S. Air Force, Director of Force Structure, Requirements, Resources, and Strategic Assessments (J8), U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), Major General Michael G. Dana, U.S. Marine Corps, Director for Strategic Planning and Policy (J5), U.S. Pacific Command (USPACOM), Mr. Joseph B. Marshall, Jr., SES, Director, Business Support Directorate, Defense Health Agency (DHA), Brigadier General Kenneth E. Todarov, U.S. Air Force, Deputy Director Missile Defense Agency (MDA) When: TBA, Thursday, April 16, 2015 Where: 124 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

RecruitMilitary: All Veterans Job Fair Who: Disabled American Veterans, Lockheed Martin Corporation, The Home Depot, and other companies When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, April 16, 2015 Where: 1701 Bryant Street, Denver, CO 80204

Operation Homefront: 2015 Military Child of the Year Awards When: Thursday, April 16, 2015 Where:  Ritz-Carlton, 1250 S Hayes St, Arlington, VA 22202

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, April 13, 2015 2:51 pm

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