Veterans Roundup: Veterans Not Helping, Useless Bronze Plaques, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA to engrave controversial motto in bronze at all department cemeteries
Military Times, Leo Shane III (@Leoshane) 

Have you ever seen the bit on the Simpsons where the guy gets out of his car and walks around the street stepping on rakes and they pop in his face over and over? Yeah. That kind of feels like the Department of Veterans Affairs lately. Fresh off the controversy surrounding the discovery of grave markers for German Prisoners of War with Nazy swastika’s on them in VA cemeteries, they recently announced they would be installing bronze panels at every cemetery with the motto of the Department, a quote from President Lincoln that is the guidestone of the agency. The motto is from the Civil War Commander-in-Chief’s second inaugural address: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan.” The motto is inspiring, but now somewhat dated as the fastest growing segment of the veteran population is women who have struggled for decades with lack of acceptance, facilities and recognition within the VA system. For several years now, a multitude of veterans advocacy groups have led a charge to change the official motto to: “To care for those who have borne the battle, and for their families and survivors.” The movement has grown with momentum, with even Republican leaders pushing for the change. VA has staunchly fought it, and even more so under Secretary Wilkie, with their main points hanging on the fact that the motto is a direct quote of Lincoln and the overwhelming cost of replacing existing plaques that bear the motto. However, it’s intrinsically simple to keep his quote as the bedrock guidance, but change the motto to one of modern inclusion. It is a patently silly argument that we should only use the exact words of over 150 years ago. I mean…have you seen the way our black brothers and sisters were referred to back in that time? Perhaps times have changed. But, the rake here is the argument that it will be too expensive, as they announce a massive fielding of over 180 new bronze plaques across the globe to more deeply entrench the motto and fortify the stupid “its too expensive” argument. It’s hard not to see this move, this late in the Administration, as a plot to add fortification to the argument and, what can simply put, be seen as a giant ‘FU’ to those who want to see the change. It seems hard to believe there has been a national outcry and requests for the agency’s motto to be added to every cemetery. The people buried there don’t have an opinion. I am positive the nearly quarter of a million veterans who have been added to the backlog of benefits claims since the COVID-19 pandemic would rather see that money put to use hiring more claims evaluators and doctors than brass plates on brick walls. It would be incredibly gratifying to see the Secretary of the VA stop stepping on political rakes and picking useless fights and instead focus on getting veteran healthcare. Like always, I have one simple question for the leadership: how does this help veterans? If you can prove to us that adding a bronze plaque to a wall helps veterans, I am happy to shut up. Until then, can we focus on caring for the 18.6 million men and WOMEN who served our nation and cry out for support? – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms

Prosecutors: 3 Military Veterans Plotted to Terrorize Vegas Protests
The Associated Press, Michelle L. Price (@MichelleLPrice) and Scott Sonner (@ssonner)

Developing news stories reveal bad actors from the fringe right and left that are infiltrating recent protests with the intention to incite and cause violence and destruction and take advantage of current societal upheaval. Three white men, one who is a current Army reservist and the other two who are veterans of the Navy and Air Force, have been accused of conspiring to carry out a plan in conjunction with the protests in L.A. According to the story, the men were arrested this past Saturday on their way to the L.A. protests stocked up with Molotov cocktails in glass bottles. Stephen T. Parshall, Andrew Lynam and William Loomis associate themselves with a group called the “boogaloo,” an anti-government movement consisting of “a loose network of gun enthusiasts who often express support for overthrowing the U.S. government.” They have been arrested under the allegation of “terrorism related charges” in what authorities say was “a conspiracy to spark violence” amidst the protests in Vegas. The story tells us that officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warned that “this could lead to an increase in potentially lethal engagements with law enforcement officials as violent opportunists increasingly infiltrate ongoing protest activity.” I am sure that every person reading this probably has either said or thought, or have had folks in your social networks say, “Not all cops are bad, not all black people are bad, not all protesters are bad…” The same goes for veterans. But, having said that, here we are with so many instances of bad actors whose professional home resides, or did reside, in institutions that train their people to kill and where toxic masculinity flourishes. There is most definitely a correlation between these systems and the population of bad actors they tolerate and helped to produce via the institution’s purposeful enculturation practices. It is a positive that these three have been taken into custody with terrorism related charges.  But how many more are out there? Well, a lot, and dismantling white supremacy and the groups who uphold these poisonous values is critical to our safety as a nation and citizenry. It has taken far too long for the media to acknowledge the threat of domestic terrorism to our national security – which is largely committed at the hands of gun-loving, white male supremacists. Institutional and Justice system reform needs to happen now. And this country needs new leadership. My final thought is that I am just damn tired, as I know you are, too. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

Amid criticism, Secretary Wilkie won’t commit to removing Nazi headstones from VA cemeteries
Military Times, Leo Shane III (@LeoShane)

Both Republican and Democratic House lawmakers demanded Veterans Affairs officials immediately remove a series of grave markers that feature Nazi swastikas and tributes to Adolf Hitler. Instead of removing the problematic markers, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said he’s looking to “find a way to put this in historical context.” In response to comments about the complicated process of removal given technical ownership and jurisdiction, many groups have been sending letters demanding immediate action. On Monday of this week the VA announced a change in course and will put together plans to remove the markers after weeks of pushing back against the calls for change.

Army vaccine researchers are preparing for the possibility of new COVID-19 strains
Army Times, Kyle Rempfer (@Kyle_Rempfer)

Army medical experts collaborating with outside laboratories to test potential coronavirus vaccines are also involved in developing their own vaccine with a “long-term approach” to “combat future strains of the virus.”  Kayvon Modjarrad, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research’s director of emerging infectious diseases, said that while there isn’t yet any evidence that new strains of the virus have emerged, the vaccine “would help researchers more quickly fight any mutated strains should they arise.” Modjarrad also commented that the international community’s “streamlined effort” to develop a coronavirus vaccine contributed to a “compressed” timeline for understanding and mitigating the virus. Col. Wendy Sammons-Jackson, the director of the Military Infectious Disease Research Program, said that it’s “reasonable to expect that there will be some form of a vaccine [available] by the end of the year.”

James Mattis: Trump ‘tries to divide us’ and we must reject those who ‘make a mockery of our Constitution’
Task & Purpose, Paul Szoldra (@paulszoldra)

Former Defense Secretary James Mattis released a letter condemning President Donald Trump in his first time publicly speaking out against Trump since resigning in protest in December 2018. Mattis wrote, “Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people-does not even pretend to try … Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society.” Trump responded with false claims on Twitter about his resignation, saying he fired him and even a previously disproven claim that he came up with Mattis’ longtime nickname of ‘Mad Dog’.. 

Dozens of troops sounded off on the use of the military to help quell civil unrest. This is what they said.
Military Times, Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports)

In a recent speech, Trump urged governors to mobilize the National Guard and “dominate the streets” until the peaceful protests against the police killing of George Floyd are “quelled.” Trump’s aggressive rhetoric fueled concerns that the deployment of 30,000 National Guardsmen and 1,600 active-duty service members will make American cities “[look] a lot like war zones.” Military Times surveyed current service members, and 30 of the 33 respondents voiced opposition to the use of troops to respond to protests. One National Guard noncommissioned officer suggested that using the military to respond to police “failings” will “conflate the two, and would put both military members and civilians at greater risk” while eroding public trust in the military. An active-duty Army captain also voiced concerns that the military’s “reputation will be irreparably damaged” by their actions to suppress protests, which could affect long-term recruiting efforts. Furthermore, an Army staff sergeant wrote that as active service members undergo combat training as opposed to riot control, they would be likely to use deadly force to “[strike] back” at protesters. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper clarified in a recent Pentagon briefing that he “[does] not support invoking the Insurrection Act” and therefore does not intend to imminently “use active duty forces in a law enforcement role,” as it “should only be used as a matter of last resort.”

VA hospitals still an excellent choice for veterans
The Hill, Jill Inderstrodt and Kayla Williams (@kwilliams101)

As the VA health care system no longer rates particular VA hospitals against each other, it can be difficult for military-connected individuals to choose between VA and non-VA medical care. A recent study by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and the Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University (MFRI) tackled the public perception of the VA health system as being lower than the “actual high quality” of VA medical center care. The study compared 125 VA medical centers to local hospitals, and the VA medical centers as a whole “performed the same or better than non-VA medical centers on 3 of the 4 clinical measures […] and 2 of the 3 patient experience measures.” Additionally, a majority of the studied VA medical centers also performed the same or better than non-VA medical centers on 6 out of 7 quality measures when the medical centers were compared one-to-one. The study’s results should encourage service members to feel comfortable pursuing treatment through the VA healthcare systems “where they are likely to get high-quality care.” 

Fred Wellman

Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of 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, June 08, 2020 12:14 pm

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