Veterans Roundup: Veterans Choice Underused, Few VA Employees Fired, Ending Veteran Homelessness

Posted by Fred Wellman

$10B Veterans Choice Program More Underused than Previously Thought
David B. Caruso, Associated Press. The Veterans Choice program that aims to get patients off Veterans Affairs appointment waiting lists by allowing veterans to seek private care has not been as successful as expected. During the initial phase of the program, only 37,648 medical appointments were made, representing only a small portion of eligible veterans. Many advocates said eligibility for the program was too narrow and so last week the VA changed how distance is calculated when determining eligibility for care. –MC
Bottom line: There are more than 432,000 appointments in the VA system for which veterans have been waiting more than 30 days. Previously the VA had reported more than 45,000 private care appointments had been made, but like the number of employees the VA claimed it had fired, that to be revised down. With the now effective rule change, advocates and the VA hope the number will go up now that the 40 mile distance will be calculated by driving distance rather than as the crow flies. The two contractors who run the program say they have received nearly a million calls to their Veterans Choice hotline and while all of those were not regarding scheduling, it does indicate there is a lot of interest in the program. Congress wants to see more veterans taking part in the program, but they may have had more to do with the bureaucratic issues the program has had to date. The VA had only 90 days to implement the program by law and by the time TriWest and HealthNet were brought on, only weeks were left until the deadline. So next time Congress goes after VA for the program, keep in mind who created it. –LJ

Few People Lost Jobs with V.A. in Scandal
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), New York Times. Internal documents show that only three VA employees have actually been fired as a result of the VA scandal last year and eight have been reprimanded. Lawmakers are frustrated by the lack of firings and have proposed new legislation making it even easier for the VA to let go its employees. Lawmakers have also accused the department of ignoring warnings and lying about the new Denver hospital, which is expected to cost $1.73 billion, almost triple of the amount expected. –MC
Bottom line: On its face, it seems absurd that the VA has only fired three people in the last year, given the breadth of the scandal that chased former Secretary Eric Shinseki from office and focused the nation on the VA’s shortcomings. At the same time, this should be a teaching moment for people who do not understand how the federal hiring and firing process works—it’s slow. It’s inefficient. It’s designed to protect employees, not expedite their departure. There needs to be a better balance, but it’s unclear if Chairman Miller’s bill to strip VA employees of some of their federal protections will solve the problem. Regardless, the VA is not helping its cause by appearing relatively unconcerned even as its estimates regarding the number of employees punished has been reduced multiple times. Regardless of the truth, the perception of the VA circling the wagon around inefficient and incompetent employees will not contribute to improved relations with lawmakers. –BW

Can New York City Actually End Veteran Homelessness This Year?
Christopher Mathias (@letsgomathias), The Huffington Post. New York City has made strides in ending veteran homelessness since 2012. Numbers from Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office show that the city is on track to functionally end homelessness among veterans by the end of this year. Last week First Lady Michelle Obama visited New Orleans to recognize the city for its work in ending veteran homelessness and to announce new efforts in cities all over the nation. –MC
Bottom line: We are coming up on the Obama Administration’s self-imposed deadline to end veteran homelessness by the end of the year. Last year, the First Lady challenged local leaders to pick up where federal funding ends with the Mayors’ Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness. It was a recognition that hundreds of millions of federal dollars only have an impact when local communities and service providers are getting the right funds for their particular needs. With mayoral leadership from leaders like de Blasio and Mitch Landrieu in New Orleans, major cities are helping the nation get closer to the goal of functional zero. At the end of May, ScoutComms client the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans will bring together leaders and service providers from across the country to hear from each other and speakers like Secretary Bob McDonald about how that momentum can be sustained at the street level. Even as we approach zero, there is a recognition that there will always be veterans at risk of experiencing homelessness so even now the conversation has to start including preventing homelessness even as we focus on ending it once and for all. It will be an important shift for advocates as they work to convince Congress to maintain robust funding for vulnerable veterans long after the deadline. –LJ

First Army Ranger School with Women Opens with 16 Passing Initial Test
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), The Washington Post. For the first time in history, female soldiers are participating in Army Ranger School. Nineteen women started the course and 16 passed the initial fitness test. After the first four days of the Ranger Assessment Phase, 8 women and 184 men remained. The class began with 380 men and 19 women. –MC
Bottom line: By all accounts the Army is running the first class with women by the book and putting them through the same challenges as the men. If a female ends up with her tab at the end there will be a thousand voices screaming the standards were lowered to make it possible so playing this first class right is an imperative for all involved. So far it appears the women are keeping up with the men in an almost statistical dead heat. They made it through the first day with a higher success rate then their male peers but at the end of RAP week they were hanging in at virtually an identical statistical rate. Once you make it through the first week of the school the pass rate is pretty solid so it’s a pretty good chance at least one of these tough soldiers will make it to the end and we certainly wish them the best. –FPW

Megan Moloney: Using Digital Media to Inform and Assist Veterans
Partnership for Public Service for The Washington Post. More military veterans are finding answers to their questions on benefits, employment, and other topics through social media. The Department of Veterans Affairs works to answer veterans’ questions on these subjects and has recruited veteran service organizations jump in the digital conversation to help too, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Student Veterans of America, and Women Veterans Connect. –MC
Bottom line: Despite the VA’s widely-publicized challenges in providing care to veterans and ensuring accountability among its employees, it’s important not to overlook the organization’s continued growth in social media, particularly in its focus on engaging veterans online to address their questions and concerns. This sort of hands-on, creative, and adaptive engagement can go a long way to resolving the needs of veterans with questions that are a matter of pointing them to the right resources. It’s also an acknowledgment that post-9/11 veterans don’t want to wait on the phone for an hour to speak to a customer service representative, but are quite happy and comfortable posting social media messages to register their concern and demand support. We hope that the VA will continue to invest in developing this kind of organic, online engagement. –BW

House Panel Backs Major Military Retirement Overhaul
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The House is backing a military retirement system overhaul as part of the 2016 defense authorization bill. The proposal would do away with the 20-year retirement model and adopt a 401k-style plan to be in place for new recruits by October 2017. Increased financial literacy training for troops, increased childcare opportunities, and consolidation of the Reserve component statuses are also part of the mandate. However, though recommendations to reform Tricare will not be included, service members, veterans, and retirees can expect to see changes in the future. –MC
Bottom line: Word is that the Senate is also planning on a similar recommendation so it looks like this will be the year that a move is made to overhaul the military retirement system through the National Defense Authorization Act. It is time for the big battle we’ve been predicting for some time. It remains to be seen how this will end but it seems inevitable that some kind of change is coming for a system that has hardly been altered since the beginning of the All-Volunteer Force in the 1970s. The question is what the final result will look like when the dust clears. At this point it seems likely that some form of a 401k-style effort will be in there at the end. Hopefully our troops are able to manage their investments better than the overwhelming majority of U.S. citizens who have little or nothing for their retirement. –FPW

Is She Here for Her Husband? Her son? No. She’s a Veteran Too.
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. DAV (Disabled American Veterans) has requested that the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct a study evaluating the needs of female veterans. The most recent study of health services for female veterans was done in 2009 and came to the conclusion that the VA culture was not welcoming to women. The study would elucidate the specific services to which female veterans do not currently have access. –MC
Bottom line: DAV has invested a great deal of time in the last year on highlighting the unique needs of female veterans, particularly with the release last September of its study “Women Veterans: The Long Journey Home.” It is hard to quibble with their request; women veterans are significantly more represented in the post-9/11 generation than in any previous period of conflict, and the legacy policies and systems in place from previous decades are simply not designed to reflect their unique needs and challenges. DAV calls out issues of homelessness and sexual assault as areas particularly in need of additional attention. The VA has begun to do more work in these areas, it is still playing catch up, and would benefit from better data about the makeup and needs of its female constituency. –BW 

Quick Hits:

National Guard Seeks New Mission After War
Steve Walsh, The Lakeshore. With two major wars in the rearview mirror, the Indiana National Guard is looking for ways to keep bases like Camp Atterbury and the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center relevant. These bases were upgraded at a cost of $300 million as our nation was ramping up war efforts. –MC

Saint Joseph’s University Joins Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities Program Consortium
The Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV), a program developed and coordinated by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, has expanded to include Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, PA. EBV is an entrepreneurship and small business training course that provides disabled veterans with the skills to launch and maintain successful businesses. –MC

Taking Care of Business: Spotlight on EBV Program Graduates
Rob Enslin, Syracuse University. Graduates of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) leave the program with newfound networks they can use to launch or maintain successful businesses. One 2013 EBV graduate, Marine Corps veteran Chris Dambach, recently spoke as a guest panelist to fellow vetrepreneurs at the Syracuse University EBV class in February. To read more about successful EBV graduates and what the program provides, be sure to check out this great article by Syracuse University’s Rob Enslin. –MC

Syracuse University Gets $330,000 Federal Grant to Teach Vets Business Skills
Rick Moriarty (@RickMoriartyCNY), The Post-Standard. Last week, Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet of the U.S. Small Business Administration visited the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University (IVMF). She announced that the SBA’s Boots to Business Program, operated in part by the IVMF, has reached a new milestone in training 25,000 individuals. In addition, she also announced $330,000 in additional funding to support the Syracuse University Whitman School of Management’s new Veterans Business Outreach Center. –MC

Where the Grave Isn’t Free: One Afghan Interpreter’s Trial of US Resettlement
Pete Cobus, Voice of America. Former Afghan and Iraqi interpreters who worked with U.S. troops in the midst of war often face many challenges if they move to the U.S. Organizations like No One Left Behind are helping former interpreters like Aimal as they transition to a new life in the US. But stories like Aimal’s show that much more work is needed to help those who supported our troops at great risk. “I would rather die in Afghanistan with my pride intact than live here in poverty and shame,” he said. “At least in Afghanistan, the grave is free. Here, they make you pay for it.” –MC

Casper Paralympian Rides to Inspire Others with Disabilities
Brendan Meyer (@Brendan_Meyer13), Casper Star-Tribune. Omar Bermejo, a Marine Corps veteran who was injured in a motorcycle accident, recently rode in the BP MS 150 to show the world that injured does not mean broken and to support the fight against multiple sclerosis. Bermejo and 13 other veterans participated in the ride as the result of a partnership between the Semper Fi Fund and BP America. The Semper Fi Fund has supported Bermejo throughout his recovery and is committed to supporting Omar and others like him for life. –MC

Wounded Veterans Back in the Saddle
Jacob Threadgill (@JacoboLaSombra), The Clarion-Ledger. Over the weekend, 16 wounded or ill veterans progressed in their recovery by challenging themselves to learn new skills, being physically active, and bonding with other veterans. The Jinx McCain Horsemanship’s inaugural Dixie Challenge, a program of the Semper Fi Fund, teaches veterans that despite disability, they are still very capable and allows them to prove it through friendly competition. –LJ

$25k Tech Grants for Veteran-Owned Businesses Now Taking Applications
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. Venture Hive, a Florida entrepreneurship educator and accelerator, is teaming up with the city of Fort Walton Beach to launch a 12-week accelerator course for military veterans who want to start large-scale globally focused technology companies. Veterans and military spouses can also apply for a pre-accelerator program, to help them in the early stages of developing business. Applications for both programs close on June 1. Venture Hive is also currently hiring a new director to lead the Fort Walton Beach accelerator. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

ITEC (Tue-Thu, 28-30 April); Prague, Czech Republic

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

Congressional Hearings


Armed Services: Markup of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016 When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, April 29, 2015 Where: 2118 Rayburn

Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade: ISIS: Defining the Enemy Who: Ms. Maryam Rajavi, President-Elect, National Council of Resistance of Iran, The Honorable Robert Ford, Senior Fellow, The Middle East Institute, Walid Phares, Ph.D., Co-Secretary General, Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counterterrorism, Mr. Daniel Benjamin, Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director, John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, April 29, 2015 Where: 2172 Rayburn

Veterans Affairs: Examining Access and Quality of Care and Services for Women Veterans When: 10:30 AM, Thursday, April 30, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon


Veterans Affairs: GAO’s High Risk List and the Veterans Health Administration When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, April 29, 2015 Where: 418 Russell

Armed Services: United States Security Policy in Europe Who: Admiral James G. Stavridis, USN (Ret.), Dean Of The Fletcher School Of Law And Diplomacy Tufts University, Mr. Ian J. Brzezinski, Resident Senior Fellow Brent Scowcroft Center On International Security Atlantic Council, Dr. Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow For Russian And Eurasian Studies Council On Foreign Relations When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen

Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: Fiscal Year 2016 Funding Request and Budget Justification for the United States National Guard and Reserve
When: General Frank J. Grass
, Chief of the National Guard, Lieutenant General Stanley E. Clarke III, Director of the Air National Guard, Major General Timothy J. Kadavy, Director of the Army National Guard, Lieutenant General Jeffrey W. Talley, Chief of the Army Reserve, Vice Admiral Robin R. Braun, Chief of the Navy Reserve, Lieutenant General James Jackson, Chief of the Air Force Reserve, Lieutenant General Richard P. Mills, Commander, Marine Forces Reserve Where: 9:30 AM, Friday, April 24, 2015 Where: 192 Dirksen

Think Tanks & Other Events

Women in International Security, Alliance for National Defense, the Reserve Officers Association and No Exceptions: Women in Combat: Where They Stand Who: Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, Congresswoman Martha McSally, Juliet Beyler, Director of Officer & Enlisted Personnel Management, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Maj Gen Jacqueline Van Ovost, Vice Director of the Joint Staff, Mary Beth Bruggeman, Executive Director of the Southeast Region, The Mission Continues, among others When: 12:30 PM, Monday, April 27, 2015 Where: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 1779 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

RecruitMilitary: All Veterans Job Fairs Who: Disabled American Veterans, Lockheed Martin Corporation, The Home Depot, and other companies When: 11:00 AM, Thursday, April 30, 2015 Where: Coffman Memorial Union, 300 Washington Ave, SE Minneapolis, MN 55455; Oxnard Performing Arts & Convention Center, 800 Hobson Way, Oxnard, CA 93030

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 27, 2015 10:00 am

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