Veterans Roundup: Veterans Day in Review, the VA’s Largest Revamp Ever

Posted by Fred Wellman

Best for Vets: Colleges 2015

George Altman, Military Times. Last week, Military Times published its 2015 list of the best undergraduate colleges for veterans. The rankings considered graduation rates, veterans as a percentage of student population, and other data from the U.S. Department of Education and information provided by the individual schools. The University of Nebraska Omaha came out at the top of the list and our friends at Syracuse University ranked 39th. Also last week, The Washington Post showed us what the U.S. veteran population looks like in 10 maps. –MC
Bottom line: Anyone who has applied to a U.S. college in the last few decades is well-aware of the role that rankings play in influencing students’ decisions, and also how often the importance of those rankings to one’s happiness and success in college are entirely superfluous. Ultimately, students—especially veterans who are returning to school after full-time employment—need to pick the school that feels right for them. But it is important to know which schools provide the most financial, academic, and cultural support to veterans and rankings like these are helpful in narrowing down during the search process. The best resource for veterans though is not any ranking system, but the experience of their fellow veterans. –BW

VA Moves to Overhaul Customer Service
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes. Last Monday, the VA announced plans to set up a new branch within the department to oversee veteran access to services. VA Secretary Bob McDonald is also creating advisory councils featuring state and local advocates and setting up a digital service team to improve veterans’ access to the VA online. These changes are said to be the largest restructuring of the VA to date. –MC
Bottom line: The VA press shop got ahead of the Veterans Day news cycle and was able to drive most of the conversations on Tuesday. If the steps McDonald is taking are the biggest overhaul in VA’s history, it says a lot about the failure of past presidents and secretaries to keep the VA on par with civilian and military health care providers. Most advocates and veterans welcome these new changes, but remain skeptical that adding a customer service branch will be enough to shift the overall culture at VA. Wait times for care are going down, but 10 percent of veterans are still waiting a month or longer to get an appointment at their VA facility—at least that’s what the data says. Real reform will mean not only shifting the culture at VA but also rebuilding trust in the VA and its reporting mechanisms. –LJ

VA Secretary: ‘We’ve Got to Design this Organization so It Doesn’t Depend on My Cellphone’
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post. During VA Secretary Bob McDonald’s first three months in the cabinet, he has been trying to reform the VA and has announced many efforts to help move the department forward. In an early press conference, McDonald even gave out his personal cell phone number to show his dedication to helping veterans directly. Since then, McDonald has announced many changes to the VA, including the customer service overhaul, and he hopes that the VA can get to a point where it doesn’t rely on his cellphone. However, he has still been criticized for firing too few employees after the scandal. –MC
Bottom line: When he first gave out his phone number, Secretary McDonald received around 250 calls a day. That’s down to about 10-15 calls per day now. The cell phone gambit is part of McDonald’s overall push for greater access and better customer service. In his first 100 days, McDonald has made a public and concerted push to differentiate himself from his predecessor, Secretary Shinseki. A recent example: IAVA CEO Paul Rieckhoff frequently called out Shinseki for not meeting with him, but on Thursday McDonald spoke at the IAVA Heroes’ Gala. For as much as McDonald is doing to improve the VA’s PR and outreach problem, many lawmakers and veterans’ advocates remain frustrated by the low number of fired VA officials. The VA presents many challenges, and no one thought turning the ship around would be a quick process, but it seems McDonald’s first 100 days did not move the needle enough for some critics. –LJ

Gary Sinise: Government Alone Can’t Take Care of Our Veterans
Sandy Cohen (@APSandy), Associated Press. Gary Sinise, a long-time veterans advocate and the actor known for playing Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump, has met hundreds of thousands of service members and veterans, and has worked with hundreds of veterans organizations. He knows what it takes to care for our nation’s veterans. Sinise recently noted that neither the VA nor any one government agency can completely meet the needs of veterans. He called for increased teamwork, support, and collaboration among organizations and civilians within America’s communities to better serve veterans. –MC
Bottom line: ScoutComms is a huge fan of Sinise, who is one of those rare individuals whose reputation for supporting veterans and servicemembers actually undersells the depth of his commitment. While some may lament the end of CSI:NY, we see it as a chance for him to focus even more fully on a subset of Americans who have embraced his friendship unequivocally. So when Lt. Dan speaks, we listen. And in this case, he’s right on the money. As our friends at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families wrote last week, increased community collaboration and engagement is the key to improving the quality and comprehensiveness of services provided to veterans in cities and towns across the U.S. While we loved the Concert for Valor—and our whole team was in the crowd—splashy events are small potatoes compared to the contributions of communities that, in Sinise’s words, “pull together and take a more active approach.” –BW

Concert for Valor: Massive Show Shines Spotlight on Veterans’ Issues
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes. On Veterans Day, entertainers including Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Rihanna, Eminem, and Metallica came together for a concert on the National Mall to raise awareness among civilians about the issues facing the veteran and military communities and to highlight some of the organizations supporting them. Organized and sponsored by Starbucks, HBO, and Chase, the concert highlighted organizations like Semper Fi Fund, Team Red, White and Blue, and Team Rubicon. During the 3-hour concert, donations to these organizations spiked to rates higher than some had experienced in 13 years. –MC
Bottom line: The ScoutComms team got the opportunity to attend the concert together and it was a great event that highlighted some inspiring stories of veterans and warriors as well as the organizations helping them. There was some controversy generated by political types about song choices, artist choices, and the many, many ‘f-bombs’ dropped on stage. But for those of us on the ground there wasn’t any at all. The veterans had a blast, felt honored, and the idea that heavy use of the ‘f-word’ might offend those who serve shows a pretty silly understanding of what it’s like to be in uniform where talented use of the curse is expected and taken in stride. Congratulations and thanks to HBO, Starbucks, and Chase for throwing a great event to honor those who have served. –FPW

For Afghanistan Vets, the War Will Never End
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), The Washington Post. As America’s military efforts in Afghanistan come to a close, Washington Post contributor Thomas Gibbons-Neff, an Afghanistan War veteran and Georgetown student, writes that while many Americans want to quickly move on from the long, bloody war, those who served cannot just forget their experiences. Also this week, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Wood spoke with NPR about moral injury, an invisible wound that some combat veterans face as they return home, but that too often goes untreated and unacknowledged. –MC
Bottom line: While we often hear about PTSD and the long term effects of traumatic events there is a growing understanding of the effects of what are commonly called “moral injuries” of war. The mental traumas that come with being at war, causing the deaths of others, and losing those under your command lead to many of the psychological symptoms associated with PTSD but outside of the traditional definitions of that specific malady. It’s inappropriate to stretch and say all combat veterans suffer from psychological trauma after their service but its impossible not to admit that going to war comes with certain experiences that can leave their mark. Many veterans grow from that experience and become stronger from it, while many suffer pain and long-term negative impacts. 21.9 million veterans come in all shapes and sizes…and they come in all different experiences and how they manage them. –FPW

Report: Retaining Vets in Civilian Jobs Should Be Employers’ Focus
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. A new survey from the 100,000 Jobs Mission found that companies are enthusiastic about hiring veterans but lack programs to adequately support them once they’re on the job. The report echoes the challenge facing companies needing to balance the twin needs of recruiting and retaining veterans, as evidenced in the recent study by VetAdvisor and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families. While companies are enthusiastic about hiring veterans, many female veterans are still having a tough time finding work, as highlighted by a speech First Lady Michelle Obama gave at the White House last Monday. –MC
Bottom line: While the veteran employment crisis seems to have abated to some extent, it is far too soon to declare victory, if ever. The challenges for transitioning military have always existed—and always will—but have only been highlighted and addressed in the last five years. The next phase is, as this report finds, keeping veterans in the jobs that many have worked so hard to help them find. Without programs in companies to help transition new veteran employees, support them in the workplace, and help them succeed in new careers very different from their military service, we will find ourselves seeing the same faces over and over at job fairs and unemployment numbers will once again rise. In addition, the new rules from the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs demand that federal contractors have their workforce be 7.2% veterans by the end of 2015. Interestingly, when asked if companies that don’t meet those percentages would be penalized at a recent 100,000 Jobs Mission event, the director Patricia Shiu said probably not but were more likely to if real efforts to meet the regulation weren’t made. She specifically mentioned specialized hiring programs and employee support programs as demonstrations of a company’s commitment to hiring and retaining veterans in the workplace. If your company is unsure how to build these programs, ScoutComms clients’ the Institute for Veterans and Military Families and GE have teamed up to provide a handy guide to best practices for employing veterans as part of the Get Skills to Work effort. Check it out here. –FPW

Quick Hits:

Starbucks CEO- Veterans Day ‘Has Been Turned Into a Weekend Sale’
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), The Washington Post. During a panel discussion promoting his book For Love of Country co-authored with Washington Post journalist Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, expressed concern with the way Americans celebrate Veterans Day and said it should be more than a ‘weekend sale.’ Schultz also contributed to an op-ed alongside HBO and Chase’s CEOs highlighting the role of military families and encouraging a national commitment to assisting them through transition challenges. –MC

Veterans Charities Don’t All Make Grade
Jeff McDonald, San Diego Union-Tribune. A case of “you can’t always believe what you read”. Judging veterans organizations by how much money they give away as grants misses the point of most veterans’ organizations is to provide services that benefit veterans. DAV is not a bad charity because it doesn’t give away grants relative to its overhead. We’ve got to start judging charities in a more effective way—and donors need to look at more than charity ratings. –FPW & LJ

Accenture Awards $895,000 to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families
Accenture will donate $895,000 to the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University to fund the continued provision of educational, employment, and life skills training to veterans and their families. The award brings Accenture’s support of IVMF up to $1.4 million since 2011 and is part of Accenture’s Skills to Succeed initiative, which aims to help 700,000 people learn skills for employment and entrepreneurship by 2015. –MC

From the Battlefield to the Ivy League: Warriors Go Back to School
Jacqueline Alemany (@JaxAlemany), CBS News. The Warrior-Scholar Project was featured on CBS News this week. WSP is an academic bootcamp designed to help veterans unlock their full academic potential and prepare for the transition from military life to student life. Nathan Lyons, a 27-year-old former Army Ranger, and Thomas Raio, who served in the Marines, spoke about their experiences in the program and how it helped give them a foundation for academic life. –MC

Group Urges Lawmakers to Hire More Veterans
Kristina Wong (@Kristina_Wong), The Hill. HillVets, a nonpartisan veteran support group comprised of military veterans who work on and around Capitol Hill, wants lawmakers to hire more veterans on their staffs. According to HillVets, less than three percent of Hill staffers have served in the military, a percentage much lower than most federal agencies. HillVets representatives say that veterans can be valuable assets to Capitol Hill and bring experience in defense issues, foreign affairs, and many other topics that can be useful as troops deploy overseas and the VA undergoes a major transformation. –MC

Lehigh Valley Hospitals’ Model Way of Helping Veterans to be Promoted Statewide
Sam Kennedy, The Morning Call. Training provided by The Steptoe Group has led to a growing movement in Pennsylvania to provide better health care for local veterans. Founder Ron Steptoe notes that only about one in four veterans are registered with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the rest get their care from private institutions. The company’s Warrior-Centric Healthcare model offers civilian healthcare providers a set of questions and approaches to discover and treat the unique health challenges and medical histories of veterans. After catching on in Lehigh Valley-area hospitals, it was announced last Tuesday by the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania that the organization will promote the practices taught by The Steptoe Group statewide. –FPW

Collective Impact: Channeling Waves into Currents for Veterans in the Sea of Goodwill
A new op-ed from the Institute for Veterans and Military Families discusses how services for veterans are improved when groups and organizations work together to support local veteran communities. The IVMF recommends that those who serve veterans work towards collective impact strategies, coordinated measurement, and continuous learning in order to ensure public and private funding is used most effectively and efficiently. –MC

Full Slate of Events to Honor Local Vets
Regina Weiss, The Free Lance-Star. Fredericksburg had a full day of events to honor veterans last Tuesday. Our CEO, Fred Wellman, served as master of ceremonies for the Fredericksburg Veterans’ Day Ceremony and spoke to The Free Lance-Star about what Veterans Day is really all about. –MC 

Tradeshows & Conferences

Foreign Policy: Transformational Trends When: Monday, November 17, 2014 Where: Four Seasons, 2800 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

Defense One: Defining the U.S. Military’s Purpose in the New Global Security Architecture When: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 Where: Renaissance Hotel, 999 9th St. NW, Washington, DC

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

Congressional Hearings


Foreign Relations: Countering ISIL in Iraq and Syria When: 10:00 AM, Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Where: 216 Hart

Veterans’ Affairs: Mental Health and Suicide Among Veterans Who: Harold Kudler, MD, Chief Consultant for Mental Health Services, Veterans Health Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs, Caitlin Thompson, PhD, Deputy Director, Suicide Prevention, Department of Veterans Affairs, Dean D. Krahn, MD, Deputy Director, Office of Mental Health Operations, Department of Veterans Affairs, Susan Selke, mother of Clay Hunt, a deceased Marine Corps combat veteran, Valerie Pallotta, mother of Joshua Pallotta, a deceased Vermont National Guard combat veteran, Vincent Vanata, MSgt, USMC (Ret.), Combat Stress Recovery Program, Wounded Warrior Project, Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, COL, USA (Ret.), Chief Clinical Officer, District of Columbia’s Department of Mental Health, Blayne Smith, Executive Director, Team Red, White and Blue When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, November 19, 2014 Where: 418 Russell


Veterans’ Affairs: VA’s Longstanding Information Security Weaknesses are Increasing Patient Wait Times and Allowing Extensive Data Manipulation When: 1:30 PM, Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Foreign Affairs: Iranian Nuclear Talks: Negotiating a Bad Deal? Who: Mr. David Albright, President, Institute for Science and International Security, Mr. J. Matthew McInnis, Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute, Ray Takeyh, Ph.D., Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Where: 2200 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: The Role of the State Approving Agencies in Ensuring Quality Education Programs for Veterans When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, November 19, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 4720, H.R. 4887, H.R. 4977, H.R. 5059, H.R. 5475, H.R. 5484 Who: CNS Response, among others
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, November 19, 2014 Where: 334 Cannon

Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa: Next Steps for U.S. Foreign Policy on Syria and Iraq Who: The Honorable Elliot Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council of Foreign Relations, The Honorable Robert Stephen Ford, Senior Fellow, Middle East Institute, Kimberly Kagan, Ph.D., Founder and President, on behalf of Institute for the Study of War When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, November 19, 2014 Where: 2172 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: Filipino Veterans Equity Compensation Fund: Inquiry into the Adequacy of Process in Verifying Eligibility When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, November 20, 2014 Where: 340 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

National Veterans Center: Federal Hiring Workshop for Veterans When: 5:00 PM, Monday, November 17, 2014 Where: The National Veterans Center, 2013 H Street NW, Washington, DC

NS2 Serves: Congressional Reception — Helping to Improve the Well-Being, Employment Status and Opportunities Available to Post–9/11 Veterans and Families Who: Peter Berg, Writer and Director of “Lone Survivor,” Board Member of IAVA. When: 5:00 PM, Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Where: U.S. Capitol Building, Room SVC 209, Washington, DC

Center for New American Security: Conference on Civil-Military Divide and the Future of the All-Volunteer Force Who: General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Hon. Michèle Flournoy, CEO, Center for a New American Security, Dr. Margaret C. Harrell, Director, Army Health Program; Senior Social Scientist, the RAND Corporation, Maj. Gen Arnold Punaro, USMC (Ret), Chief Executive, The Punaro Group, LTG David W. Barno, USA (Ret), Senior Fellow, Center for a New American Security. When: 9:00 AM, Thursday, November 20, 2014 Where: Willard InterContinental Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

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, November 17, 2014 12:52 pm

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