Veterans Roundup: VA Won’t Study Marijuana for PTSD, Moves to Help Whistleblowers, Is Public Disconnect Hurting Recruiting and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

BlackRock’s Message: Contribute to Society, or Risk Losing Our Support
Andrew Ross Sorkin (@andrewrsorkin) The New York Times
Laurence D. Fink, the founder and CEO of BlackRock – the world’s largest investment firm – is sending a letter to the CEOs of the world’s largest public companies demanding that they begin making positive contributions to society or face losing his support. The investment firm’s portfolio consists of more than $6 trillion in investments, giving Fink the clout to back up such a mandate. Fink is determined to hold companies accountable and is planning to add additional staff to help monitor their responses. Fink notes that he was inspired in part by “governments failing to prepare for the future,” and the understanding that society will increasingly look to the private sector to respond to social issues. Fink will certainly face opposition from the companies he has invested in, but also notes that contributing to society will generate public goodwill and combat the image of the “soulless corporation” that faces increasing opposition. –KG
Bottom line: This is really heartening for companies like ours that are dedicated to doing more for our community, not just making money. Ever since we converted to a B Corp in 2014, a consistent theme we’ve heard is the concern that investors or potential buyers aren’t interested in B Corps because of the unique aspects that go with being certified including placing employee interests, customers, community impact and investment in giving back ahead of our profits. These are considered counter to modern return on investor priorities in business. Clearly that’s not what we are about at all. We care about making a difference and taking care of our employees and clients’ interests first. We sincerely hope that this is a sign of things to come where companies that take into consideration more than maximizing profits for a few shareholders or VCs are given the capital and support to grow and make a bigger difference in the world. In the mean time, we will keep on doing what we do. –FPW

Exclusive: Inside Trump’s new VA office, early moves to help whistleblowers draw praise
Donovan Slack, (@DonovanSlack), USA Today
The Trump Administration’s newly created VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection has quietly been providing VA whistleblowers with relief, and longtime advocates are calling the efforts unprecedented. The office called for delayed discipline for more than 70 VA employees until further investigation is complete. Tom Devine, the legal director for the Government Accountability Project, a nonprofit organization that has assisted federal whistleblowers since 1979, said, “There’s no agency in the executive (branch) that’s come close to providing temporary relief for over 70 people in less than a year.” However, public instances of whistleblowers still suffering retaliation leave some skeptical of the new office’s effectiveness. –KG
Bottom line: The director of the this newly formed office, Peter O’Rourke points out that he “designed the office to take quick, decisive action on complaints and track them until they are resolved.” It will be a matter of time to see if the VA Office of Accountability Review effectively achieves the goals that it has set out to accomplish – protecting whistleblowers, while improving the VA overall. It has been designed to replace the VA Office of Accountability Review, an Obama-era initiative that focused most of its efforts on holding senior leaders accountable for systematic failures. However, as O’Rourke himself points out, “we’re kind of building the airplane as we fly it.” Understandably so, that approach has many inside and outside the VA skeptical. For me, the numbers make the most compelling case for change and also offer a glimpse as to the type of change we might expect. For example, as the author points out, historically whistleblowers only get relief in 2% to 5% of cases. Also, since its formation in June, the office has fielded more than 1,000 complaints about VA operations. The author also added, “of those, roughly 300 alleging employees had violated rules or laws, abused their authority or were engaged in mismanagement. In 28 other cases, the office determined they involved threats to public health or safety. A total of 232 complaints alleged retaliation against whistleblowers for speaking out about problems.” Only time will tell how these quick, decisive actions on complaints will contribute to the Trump Administration’s efforts to reform the VA.  –CB

Harsh response to Shulkin’s decision that VA won’t study medical marijuana for PTSD
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
A letter to House Democrats was released on Tuesday by VA Secretary David Shulkin, saying that the VA cannot undertake a study on medical marijuana and the drug’s effects on post-traumatic stress. On Tuesday, Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. and other democrats requested that Shulkin explain by Feb. 1 why the VA does not want to research veterans using medical marijuana. Both the American Legion and the group of House Democrats believe that a VA study would be valuable to the ongoing research of medical marijuana because of its access to “veterans struggling with PTSD whose symptoms haven’t improved through other treatments.” –SM
Bottom line: This was something of a fascinating story to watch unfold over the week. At first, it seemed like the VA was really kind of obfuscating about what kind of role it has in researching medical marijuana by playing the “oh we just can’t because of the law, isn’t that too bad?” card. But, when pressed at a Senate oversight hearing later in the week, Shulkin admitted the law does give the VA an ability to research marijuana. Marijuana is a Schedule I drug according to federal law, but there are mechanisms within the law to conduct research. Rather, it’s the attorney general of the United States currently holding up that process that would enable VA and other researchers to begin studies that could ultimately benefit veterans. At the hearing, Shulkin threw the hot potato back in congressional hands saying it’s up to them to change the law. I agree, Congress should change the law so that the attorney general can’t use procedural maneuvering to upend scientific research, but it was a bit unfair to put it all on their shoulders when a fellow cabinet member could do just as much far quicker. –LJ

‘Warrior caste’: Is a public disconnect hurting military recruiting efforts?
Charlsy Panzino (@charlsypanzino), Military Times
With fewer military recruits coming from military families, military leaders are finding new and creative ways to close the military-civilian divide by recruiting young adults who may not come from a service background. A study conducted by Booz Allen Hamilton and Blue Star Families found that 90 percent of service members encouraged their next generation to join the military in the late 90s, compared to only 40 percent of our current service members making those recommendations. To garner interest in potential recruits and the civilian sector, the Defense Department has focused their efforts on educating this audience to grasp what it truly means to serve in the military and what tasks are associated with service. The DoD is launching an initiative called “This Is Your Military” next month and will team up with sports teams, Hollywood, nonprofits and other organizations to reach civilians who don’t have an understanding of what our military is doing in present day. –DD
Bottom line: It’s unfortunate that the Department of Defense when announcing their new campaign pinned a large portion of this perceived disconnect on alleged negative portrayals of military life in the media and Hollywood instead of the rapidly dwindling population of veterans and families related to them. Another study found that in 1995 some 40% of all American’s were related to a service member or veteran parent or grandparent while today just 15% say the same. With 80% of all recruits coming from military families, a smaller number of those in the population today and even those connected recommending the “family business” less you can see there is a recipe for an impending disaster for the All Volunteer Force. While any effort to better connect the military to the population it serves is admirable it can go awry when it addresses the wrong problem. –FPW

Advocates concerned veteran homelessness isn’t a VA priority
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
This week, advocates and nonprofits focused on ending veteran homelessness expressed concerns to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that the VA is losing focus on the battle to end veteran homelessness. Last year’s effort by Secretary Shulkin to moving funding for the VASH program to a general account raised the hackles of advocates and organizations—ultimately causing the VA to backtrack on that plan. VA deputy undersecretary for health Thomas Lynch described the attempt to reallocate those funds as adding unnecessary confusion to the VA’s process of dealing with veteran homelessness. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) told Secretary Shulkin that more transparency with Congress is required moving forward. Shulkin, while recognizing the error, stated that it was never the VA’s goal to create less transparency and that, in an attempt to accomplish many goals in a short period of time, mistakes have been made. ­–JG
Bottom line: Throughout the first year of the new administration, homelessness advocates have been on high-alert for changes in or reductions to the programs designed to drive veteran homelessness down to zero. From last year’s budget proposal to eliminate the US Interagency Council on Homelessness and the Housing Trust Fund to Secretary Shulkin attempting to reduce the VASH program by $460 million dollars, advocates are right to worry. While I have no doubt that the Secretary wants to continue progress in reducing veteran homelessness, rash decisions are not the way to meet these goals. The agency will solicit feedback and input from experts within the community of advocates and service providers working on these issues day in and day out. Hopefully this input will help to drive efficiency and effectiveness in housing programs. Lynch feels that it is time to take a hard look at these aging housing programs, and while he is absolutely right, that process must involve stakeholders, veterans, legislators and advocates. Anything less will do a disservice to the hard work and progress we have made tackling this issue. –RB

Trump’s go-to guy at VA faces first major opposition from Republicans on Capitol Hill
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
The first year of the Trump Administration has been a good one for VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin. He has had a much higher profile within the White House than his predecessors to include attending high profile meetings, giving statements in the press room, and even hosting an event on telehealth with the president. Shulkin, the lone holdover from the Obama Administration, gives much of the credit for his work at the VA to President Trump, saying he even models his leadership style after the president. Generally, the secretary has been appreciated by advocates and lawmakers alike for his attitude that places veterans’ needs first. At a Senate oversight hearing last week, though, Republican Senator Jerry Moran accused the secretary of being duplicitous with lawmakers and warned that if he continued to talk out of “both sides of his mouth” that it would make it difficult for Congress to continue trusting his leadership. –LJ
Bottom line: The Senate hearing last week was the epitome of “DC testy”. Senators were, in the most genteelly acceptable way, telling Shulkin they have had it with what they perceive to be him telling them one thing and telling another lawmaker or advocacy group another thing. While Republicans may not be willing to go after the president for actions they deem uncouth, they certainly seem willing to go after his cabinet, in this case Shulkin. The tensions between Congress and Shulkin can in some ways be traced to differences in approaching VA health care reform. Shukin hasn’t endorsed any of the plans currently circulating in Congress and the administration has its own preference about what reform would look like. For Congress, veterans-related legislation has been among the few measure that have moved amicably on the floor. They want to see more wins ahead of mid-terms and that requires either some cooperation or a little pushing and shoving. Shulkin could do more to help his case (see the story right above this one) but for now he has the president on his side. At the end of the day what really matters, though, is how much the VA is measurably improving its care for veterans. –LJ

USAA pledges help for members affected by possible January 2018 government shutdown
J.G. Noll, MilitaryOneClick
On Thursday, Jan. 18, USAA said that their financial services group is prepared to support their members affected by the possible federal government shutdown set for midnight on Jan. 20. USAA has offered to assist military members in the past and are continuing to this time for any members that find themselves financially distressed due to the government shutdown. Director of Public Affairs for USAA, Roger Wildermuth said that USAA is “prepared to offer a no-interest payroll advance loan to our military members in the event of a protracted shutdown that disrupts military pay.” –SM

Bipartisan Senate bill targets predatory home-loan practices aimed at vets
Kevin Lilley (@KRLilley) Military Times
Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) introduced legislation to crack down on companies targeting veterans and military families, pushing them to refinance their VA backed home loans within the first six months. The Protecting Veterans from Predatory Lending Act of 2018, a bill with 10 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle, will require lenders to provide a “net tangible benefits test” that lays out all of the changes between the previous loan and the new refinanced one. It will also enforce a 36-month deadline for reimbursing refinancing fees to veterans, as well as minimum interest rates that are “50 basis points” below the previous rate, in order to be eligible for backing by the VA. This is to ensure that the refinance is in the best interest of the veteran instead of the company coordinating the refinancing. –JG

He Studied Accounting. Now He Hunts the Taliban.
Eric Schmitt (@EricSchmittNYT), The New York Times
Navy Lt. William Conway, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, the University of Chicago, and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, brings a unique perspective to his current role as military intelligence analyst. As a former state prosecutor in Chicago, he uses some of the same skills on the Afghanistan intelligence team that he gained while working on embezzlement cases in court. He monitors threats from the Taliban and Islamic State to provide updates on potential targets. The weekly intelligence reports from Lt. Conway’s team equip senior officers and planners with the information needed to make decisions that “assess air operations in a very complex fight,” said Maj. Gen. David S. Nahom – the deputy U.S. air commander for the Middle East and Southwest Asia. Lt. Conway’s assignment ends in March, after which he plans teach real-estate finance at DePaul University in Chicago. –NJ 

Congressional Hearings

Armed Services: Officer Personnel Management and the Defense Officer Personnel Management Act of 1980
Who: Honorable David S.C. Chu, President, Institute For Defense Analyses; Honorable Peter K. Levine, Senior Research Fellow, Institute For Defense Analyses; Dr. Timothy Kane, Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University; Lieutenant General Thomas C. Seamands, USA, Deputy Chief Of Staff, G-1; Vice Admiral Robert P. Burke, USN, Deputy Chief Of Naval Operations, N-1; Lieutenant General Gina M. Grosso, USAF, Deputy Chief Of Staff For Manpower, Personnel And Services; Lieutenant General Michael A. Rocco, USMC, Deputy Commandant For Manpower And Reserve Affairs
When: 3:00 PM, Wednesday, January 24, 2018
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: Global Challenges and U.S. National Security Strategy
Who: Dr. Henry A. Kissinger, Chairman Of Kissinger Associates And Former Secretary Of State; Dr. George P. Shultz, Thomas W. And Susan B. Ford Distinguished Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University And Former Secretary Of State; Mr. Richard L. Armitage, President, Armitage International And Former Deputy Secretary Of State
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, January 25, 2018
Where: 50 Dirksen

Other Events

Service Academies Global Summit: 2018 Early Bird Registration
Who: The “super-community” of graduates worldwide from the five U.S. Service Academies
When: Before January 31, 2018

Military Spouse Magazine: Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year 2018
Who: Nominations now open to military spouses from all branches of service
When: January 2 – 31, 2018

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, January 22, 2018 11:40 am

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