Veterans Roundup: VA Scandal Widens to Include VBA, VA Secretary Nominee to Appear Before the Senate

Posted by Fred Wellman

Study: Indirect Link Between Combat and Suicide Risk
Gregg Zoroya (@greggzoroya), USA Today. The increasing rate of veteran suicide in recent years, from 18 per day in 2007 to 22 per day in 2013, was examined in a paper published last Thursday. Despite rising numbers, no specific cause can be reported with absolute certainty for military suicides. However, the report does note that along with military suicides, the number of reported mental health problems in the military have surged. Periods of transition like returning from combat, leaving the military, or growing old are times when veterans with mental health problems are most vulnerable to suicidal thoughts, the study reports. –MC
Bottom Line: The study doesn’t necessarily provide new light on what we have suspected anecdotally for some time which transition periods such as deployment, return, divorce and leaving the service can lead to increased risk of suicide for veterans. Finding a purpose in life after service is key and for that reason we are seeing the growth of non-profits like Team Red, White, & Blue and Team Rubicon that give members the ability to contribute to their communities. –FPW

Colleges Are for Sale but They Continue to Recruit on Bases
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times. Corinthian Colleges, the owner of an array of for-profit colleges across the country, has agreed to sell 85 of its 97 schools after a Department of Education compliance review. That hasn’t stopped two of those 85 colleges, WyoTech and Heald College, from recruiting service members at on-base education events to register for the fall semester. The Department of Education has accused Corinthian of using fraudulent marketing materials to lure students in the past and is requiring recruiters to disclose the colleges’ impending sale to prospective students. Officials at Student Veterans of America warn veterans to carefully weigh a school’s future when using their VA benefits. –MC
Bottom Line: For-profit colleges have been put under a microscope with state attorneys general and the Department of Education looking for ways to enforce what few laws exist to regulate colleges receiving federal and state financial aid. Corinthian is a big win for the critics of the for-profit industry, but as these colleges go out of business its their current students—many veterans and service members—who may be hung out to dry. Getting rid of bad actors in higher education should be a high priority as no one wants to see GI Bill benefits wasted, neither veterans nor taxpayers, but there should also be a plan in place to assist those veterans attending to-be-closed for-profits, especially those duped by fraudulent marketing. –LJ

How Veteran Unemployment Compares to Overall Unemployment in Every State
Richard Feloni (@RichFeloni) and Andy Kiersz (@AndyKiersz), Business Insider. While veteran unemployment goes down nationwide, there are regional differences as evidenced by this Business Insider piece. Veterans are more likely to be employed in states with high active-duty and veteran populations and low populations of college graduates. Also, not all states have jobs that involve skills learned in the military. On the note of employment and veteran populations, this week the Washington Post published a map explaining where veterans live in the United States and Michelle Obama spoke at Unite for Veterans, a Century City gathering, encouraging businesses leaders to seek out veterans for jobs. –MC
Bottom Line: Even as veteran unemployment is falling across the country many still struggle to find work and more service members will be departing the military as budgets continue to tighten. The map from Business Insider highlights a key issue that jobs aren’t necessarily where the veterans are located. Transitioning service members need to consider where they’re going to do what they will do just as much as what they will do when they leave the service. Going where the jobs are is a key part of the transition decisions veterans need to make. –FPW

House Lawmakers Press VA on Claims Backlog
Martin Matishak (@martinmatishak), The Hil. While the Veterans Health Administration has taken the bulk of the scorn in recent months at the VA, the scandal around the backlog of disability benefits at the Veterans Benefits Administration is heating up. Witnesses before the House Veterans Affairs Committee last week told of problems at VBA eerily similar to those at VHA: falsifying records to make old claims look new, manipulating data, setting unrealistic goals, and punishing whistleblowers. By VBA says it has completed one million disability claims this year and that it is on track to meet its 1.3 million end-of-the-year goal, but lawmakers at HVAC are not buying what VBA is selling. –MC
Bottom Line: According to a VA IG report, the VA paid out more than $40 million in excess benefits last year because VBA improperly processed claims under pressure to lower the backlog. Veterans’ advocates have long decried the massive backlog of claims at VA and last year the department made a big push to clear the backlog by 2015. Now it appears the bureaucrats staffing VA manipulated records to meet goals set by headquarters. If you thought the VA problems were just health care problems, this is a stark reminder that the agency needs a cultural shift just as much as an increase in productivity. –LJ

V.A. Official Says Fixing Issues at Root of Waiting-List Scandal Will Cost Billions
Richard A. Oppel Jr., The New York Times. Acting VA Secretary Sloan D. Gibson told the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday that $17.6 billion would be needed over the next three years to resolve the VA’s system-wide problems which are preventing the timely delivery of health care. $10 billion would go towards paying for veterans’ private health care, building new VA facilities, and hiring 10,000 doctors. Some on the committee met Gibson’s proposed numbers with skepticism. Gibson also said that changing the culture of the VA will require a minimum of two years until the VA can make things right, but that he is committed to winning back the trust of veterans and their families. –MC
Bottom Line: “More funding” has been the request of VA leaders trying to fix the agency in the wake of the scandal over health care wait times, but in Washington few lawmakers have the appetite to keep pumping money into the failing system. Each year, veterans groups present Congress with an Independent Budget for VA that is regularly about $10 billion more than the administration requests or Congress funds. Some would say the current scandal has roots in the fact that Congress has put more demand on the VA without giving it the proper amount of supply. Democrats and Republicans, House and Senate—each will have different ideas about how to fix the VA but in the end it will come down to dollars, where they’re coming from and how many will go to VA. –LJ

The Push to Get American Civilians to View a New, Gritty War Documentary
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), Washington Post. “The Hornet’s Nest,” a war documentary that follows two embedded journalists through Afghanistan as, is making an impact on civilians who see it, though many may never get the chance. Defense officials such as retired General John Allen and Wendy Anderson, deputy chief of staff to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, are promoting the movie as a way for civilians to understand why they’re really thanking troops for their service. A screening for Capitol Hill officials is planned for the fall and it should be released on DVD around September 11. –MC
Bottom Line: Unlike big budget Hollywood films like “Lone Survivor”, “The Hornet’s Nest” doesn’t have big name actors that would draw large crowds so don’t expect the film to play in thousands of movie theaters across the country any time soon. While documentaries give viewers a more accurate depiction of war, we have to narrow the civil-military divide much more before most civilians show an interest in learning about the realities of war. –LJ

Marine Paralyzed by Sniper’s Bullet Walks with Use of Exoskeleton
Patricia Kime (@patriciakime), Military Times. ReWalk Robotics, an exoskeleton technology is helping people such as Marine Capt. Derek Herrera, get back on their feet. Recent research has found that paraplegics using exoskeletons like ReWalk rather than wheelchairs will be healthier overall, avoiding the loss of muscle mass, circulation issues and other problems that are often the result from extended wheelchair use. As usage of exoskeletons increases, the next battle for defense health agency officials will be Tricare coverage. –MC
Bottom Line: New technologies are offering increasingly revolutionary treatments for wounded veterans suffering from amputations, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD but medical systems that test them and implement them move slowly still. It remains to be seen if the insurance and healthcare systems that support military members and veterans will be able to leverage these new capabilities. –FPW 

Tradeshows & Conferences
115th VFW National Convention (Sat-Wed, 19-23 July); America’s Center, St. Louis, MO

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

Congressional Hearings
Both chambers are in session this week.


Homeland Security: The Rising Terrorist Threat and the Unfulfilled 9/11 Recommendation Who: The Honorable Thomas H. Kean, Jr., Co-Chair, Homeland Security Project, Bipartisan Policy Center and Former Chair, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, The Honorable Jamie S. Gorelick, Former Commissioner, National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Where: 311 Canon

Foreign Affairs: Terrorist March in Iraq: The U.S. Response Who: Mr. Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Iraq and Iran, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, U.S. Department of State, Ms. Elissa Slotkin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For International Security Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Where: 2172 Rayburn

Armed Services: U.S. National Missile Defense and the Growing Threat: Is a “Limited Defense” Enough? Who: Ambassador R. James Woolsey, Jr., Chairman, Foundation for Defense of Democracies, Ambassador Robert G. Joseph, former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Dr. Phil Coyle, Senior Science Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs: Restoring Trust: The View of the Acting Secretary and the Veterans Community When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, July 24, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon


Veterans Affairs: Pending nomination Who: Robert A. McDonald, nominee for Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, July 22, 2014 Where: G50 Dirksen

Foreign Relations: Iraq at a Crossroads: Options for U.S. Policy Who: Mr. Brett McGurk, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iraq and Iran, U.S. Department of State, Ms. Elissa Slotkin, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Of Defense For International Security Affairs, U.S. Department of Defense, The Honorable James F. Jeffrey, Phillip Solondz Distinguished Visiting Fellow, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Mr. Michael D. Barbero, Lieutenant General, U.S. Army (Retired), Dr. Kenneth M. Pollack, Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institute When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, July 24, 2014 Where: 419 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Stress Relief Meditation for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, June 23, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

Public Relations Society of America: Moving Veterans Forward Career Transition Workshop Who: Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder, ScoutComms, David Albritton, Chief Communications Office, Exelis, Merrit Allen, Owner and Executive Director, Vox Optima, Jon Anderson, Deputy Director, Public Affairs, National Guard Bureau, Vic Beck, Managing Director, Burson Marsteller, Hiram Bell, Chief, Strategic Planning and Communication for the U.S. Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate When: 8:30 AM, Wednesday, July 23, 2014 Where: The Women in Military Service Memorial of America, entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA

The Brookings Institution: The Congressional Role in U.S. Military Innovation: Preparing the Pentagon for the Warfighting Regimes of Tomorrow Who: The Honorable J. Randy Forbes, 4th District of Virginia, U.S. House of Representatives, The Honorable Jim Langevin, 2nd District of Rhode Island, U.S. House of Representatives, Michael E. O’Hanlon, Director of Research, Foreign Policy, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center for the 21st Century Security and Intelligence  When: 12:00 PM, Thursday, July 24, 2014 Where: 1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, D.C.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America: 2014 Member Survey Launch and Panel Discussion Who: Jackie Maffucci, Ph.D., Research Director, Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America, Terri Tanielian, Senior Research Analyst, RAND corporation, Phil Carter, Senior Fellow, Counsel and Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society Program, Center for New American Security When: 12:00 PM, Thursday, July 24, 2014 Where: National Press Club Holeman Lounge, 529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC

Fred WellmanFred Wellman, President ScoutComms, brings us his weekly review of defense industry and 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, July 21, 2014 3:06 pm

Leave a Reply

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

Notify me of updates to this conversation