Veterans Roundup: VFW Scolds Members for Heckling, Mental Disorders Frequent Diagnosis, Companies Still Don’t Understand Vets and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

VFW scolds members for heckling the press during Trump speech
Rebecca Morin (@RebeccaMorin_), Politico
During a speech by President Trump at the 2018 Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, members of VFW booed the press, leading representatives of VFW to express their disappointment with their members’ behavior. The heckling was prompted by Trump’s criticism of the press throughout his speech, calling CNN “the worst” and accusing NBC News of publishing a story by “the lobbyists.” Randi Law, manager of communications and public affairs for VFW, stated: “We were disappointed to hear some of our members boo the press. We rely on the media to help spread the VFW’s message, and CNN, NBC, ABC, FOX, CBS, and others on site today, were our invited guests. We were happy to have them there.” –LB
Bottom line: The President’s speech at VFW was a really unusual and bizarre situation on about a half dozen levels. Before he even arrived the organization saw that only a portion of the 11,000 convention goers planned to attend so they moved it from the main floor of the convention hall into an arena that held 3,500. Even then it was only about three-fourths full as he uncorked a highly politically charged speech that only briefly even touched on veterans issues. Instead, he hopped from asking the GOP candidate for Senate from Missouri to come to the podium and urged attendees to vote for him to attacks on the press. We have heard since that it was only a tiny number of audience members that booed the press and many we know that were in the room didn’t even hear those. It doesn’t excuse the behavior and indignation of so many of us who have served next to some incredibly brave journalists in combat and watched them hold our government and others accountable for supporting our veterans and service members. This newsletter could be filled with key stories by courageous reporters who have exposed wrongdoing from the outrageous conditions at Walter Reed to the wait list scandal at VA. The veteran community is being split for a political end like it has not in decades and it is both sad and unacceptable. –FPW

Mental disorders most frequent diagnosis among service members before separation, Pentagon study says
Nancy Montgomery, Stars and Stripes
Data collected from 45,000 service members by the Defense Health Agency indicates that mental health issues are the most commonly diagnosed medical disorder among troops immediately prior to separating from the military. While mental health issues are rarely diagnosed at the start of military service, the report’s revelations underscore the likelihood that the military’s “many unique stressors” may lead to deteriorating mental health over time. Other possible factors that may explain the data include increased acceptance of mental health treatment, as well as timing and motivation.  Service members facing separation are more likely to be motivated to report their mental health problems as doing so will make VA resources and disability benefits available to them. –KG
Bottom line: There seem to be a few key points to keep in mind with this recent Pentagon study, the first being that there is a growing acceptance that mental health ailments are common and there is no disgrace in seeking care for them. I think we would all agree that this growing acceptance and understanding is great. Another key point here would be the perception that any service member who reports a mental health problem would in turn be potentially jeopardizing their career. This appears to be the crux of the problem and as a result what would explain the increase in mental health diagnoses specifically with separating service members. As Stars and Stripes points out, these repercussions can include the possibility of adverse personnel actions such as medical evaluation boards, duty location or deployment limitations, and career field denial or termination, particularly in occupations such as aviation and Special Forces. It’s not exactly new information that service members face many unique stressors that can lead to deteriorating mental health over time, but an important takeaway from this study would be how those currently serving members perceive their post-service healthcare options and why they see it as important for these diagnoses to be documented prior to exiting the military, as doing so makes them eligible for VA and disability benefits. –CB

Marines Who Fired Rocket Launchers Now Worry About Their Brains
Jon Hamilton (@NPRjonhamilton), NPR
A recent study revealed that troops who frequently fire powerful, shoulder-launched weapons experience short-term difficulties with memory and cognition, symptoms similar to a concussion, but it is not clear whether firing rocket launchers can lead to long-term brain damage. Two Marine veterans believe their brains sustained damage from their time firing rocket launchers in the late 1990s. Tracie Lattimore, director of the U.S. Army’s traumatic brain injury program said, “If you talk to us in a year from now, I think we’re going to have exponential growth in our knowledge coming out of these current studies and our future studies.” –SM
Bottom line: Like Agent Orange before and burn pits now, traumatic brain injuries have the potential to be a long-term fight for the veterans community in the future. In addition to rocket launchers, we’ve also read about repeated door breaching with explosives causing concussion-like symptoms. As we learn more about TBI, hopefully our knowledge about how to prevent and treat them will increase, but so will the likelihood that many will be considered service-connected. That means the VA will need to be prepared from a benefits and a health care perspective to deal with the long-term effects of brain trauma. –LJ

Study: Companies still don’t understand veterans
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
Research compiled by Edelman indicates 46 percent of employers surveyed don’t think that veterans pursue education past high school. Additionally, among those employers, 53 percent believe that veterans typically do not achieve career success post-service, while employment data indicates that veteran unemployment reached an all-time low in 2017. Eric Eversole, president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes, said of the findings: “I think, ‘You need more education’ is code for: ‘We don’t understand you.’” While companies are beginning to focus on veteran recruitment, there is a disconnect at the hiring-manager level – companies must understand how “time and tasks done in service measure up to the job requirements” in order to stretch beyond the claim of “military friendly” to become truly “veteran inclusive.” –KG
Bottom line: This annual survey was based on over 4,900 recipients ranging from veterans to employers and advocates and it is truly stunning that after all this time the myths about veterans’ education, employment opportunities, and their place in civil society continue to linger in so many corners as indicated here. It seems hard to believe that the level of cluelessness about this population still exists in our society and it truly appears that the issue isn’t that we aren’t just getting the word out about veteran success as much as that the old myths of the ‘broken veteran’ still linger from the dark times before 9/11 among baby boomers and others who don’t know many veterans. We must continue to pound the drum that our nation’s veterans are not victims. They are attending school and succeeding better than their peers. They are starting businesses in numbers larger than their portion of the populace. They are running for office in record numbers. They aren’t failing. They are leading. –FPW

V.A. Shuns Medical Marijuana Leaving Vets to Improvise
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), The New York Times
While at least 30 states across the country have legislation that permits medical marijuana use, the Department of Veterans Affairs has lagged behind the growing trend. In a 2017 study, the National Institutes of Health reported that marijuana has a host of therapeutic properties, and recommended that the U.S. fund research on its effect on post-traumatic stress. The VA, in an effort to follow federal regulations, has not endorsed or explored medical marijuana’s potential benefits as an avenue to better support veterans grappling with chronic conditions. This spring, the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, Reps. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) and Tim Walz (D-Minn.), introduced legislation that would require the VA to research medical marijuana’s role in addressing the chronic pain treatment needs of former service members. Veteran service organizations such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars have also issued statements in support of more research. –NJ
Bottom line: Any analysis of this issue needs to start with the words of Rep. Walz, the highest-ranking enlisted soldier to serve in Congress: “You may be a big advocate of medical marijuana, you may feel it has no value. Either way, you should want the evidence to prove it, and there is no better system to do that research than the VA.” The VA, in its unwillingness to push the limits of federal law and support marijuana research, is falling out of touch with the veterans it serves. Veterans are self-medicating in increasingly large numbers across the U.S. but are doing so without the benefit of any targeted research or guidance. While the VA continues to deny responsibility and point a finger at Congress, veterans are opening a new frontier of treatment without the VA. This situation is unsustainable; hopefully the Roe and Walz bill will open the floodgates, but that can only happen if the VA is on board and ready to move forward once it is given the Congressional approval to move forward. We have seen countless anecdotes in recent years from veterans who have gained access to and relief for medical marijuana, but anecdotes alone are not adequate to inform the medical treatment process. The VA and Congress have seemingly no power to stop veterans from gaining access to marijuana, so the logical next step for them is to become allies of these veterans in the quest for knowledge and data to help promote only the forms of use of medical marijuana that are quantifiably beneficial and which do no harm. –BW

Vet fired by Mets paid out of pocket to give tickets to Gold Star family
Eric Dehm (@EricDehm), Connecting Vets
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Nick Francona was fired by the New York Mets after using Twitter to publicly question Major League Baseball (MLB) about what percentage of the proceeds from the sale of patriotic merchandise was going to charity. Francona, son of Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona, said that he had privately asked this question prior to going public, but didn’t get any answers. Francona also had a disagreement with the Mets over providing tickets to Gold Star families honored with video presentations during games. Francona was told not to offer any weekend or “premium” game tickets, but couldn’t bear to tell the families no, even using his own money to buy tickets for one family. –LB

VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship Program
Student Veterans of America (SVA) and the Veterans of Foreign Affairs (VFW) are looking for motivated veterans to take part in their 2019 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship program. To participate, the applicant must be a student veteran enrolled at a college or university with an SVA chapter, a VFW member, and complete the application process. –SM

‘How Much More Merit Do You Need Than Saving American Lives?”
Priscilla Alvarez (@Priscialva), The Atlantic
From January to June 2017, more than 10,000 immigrants entered the U.S. utilizing a special immigration visa (SIV) designated for Afghan citizens and their immediate families who aided the U.S. government. During the same months in 2018, just over 4,000 have been able to utilize the program.  Matt Zeller, who served as an Army officer in Ghazni, Afghanistan, had to lobby state officials for two years to get a visa for Janis Shinwari, an Afghan interpreter he credits with saving at least five American lives. Calls from the Trump Administration to “increase scrutiny of visa applications” has led to the decline of SIV arrivals; Zeller, who founded No One Left Behind in 2013 with Shinwari, and has assisted more than 6,000 Iraqi and Afghan families in obtaining special visas, is concerned about the trend: “These are the most heavily vetted immigrants. Republicans talk about merit-based immigration. I’m not going to get involved in the greater immigration debate, but how much more merit do you need than saving American lives?” –KG

Top Trump-appointee at Veterans Affairs spread conspiracy theories, made anti-Muslim comments
Andrew Kaczynski (@KFILE), CNN
Thayer Verschoor, a senior Trump administration appointee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, shared numerous Facebook posts before and during President Trump’s campaign which contained conspiracy theories and comments attacking Muslims and Syrian refugees. Verschoor’s posts commended Trump for accusing President Barack Obama of birth certificate fraud, stating that the U.S. has a Muslim “problem,” using the hashtag #Syrianinvasion, and more. –SM

ICE to deport wife of Marine, Iraq veteran Aug. 3
Tara Copp (@TaraCopp), Military Times
Former Marine Sgt. Cuahtemoc “Temo” Juarez, an infantryman who served in Albania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and across South America, married his wife Alejandra Juarez in 2000. Just two years before, Mrs. Juarez crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally. Now, 20 years later, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has scheduled to deport Mrs. Juarez at the end of this week. Although the U.S. government has protections against deportation for servicemembers, many of these policies do not extend to spouses. The Juarez family hopes to work with the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to allow her to stay in the U.S. –NJ

The Millennial Who Uses Comedy to Help Veterans Heal
Derek Robertson (@afternoondelete), Politico
Sam Pressler started Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) while still an undergraduate, with the intention of helping returning veterans overcome obstacles and successfully reintegrate into civilian life. The primary classes in ASAP’s programming include storytelling, improv and the “Comedy Bootcamp.” Pressler describes the need to bridge the civilian/military divide through these classes by stating: “Trauma is universal. Loss is universal. There are universal elements in the veteran’s experience that create a level playing field, and you have to create the space to allow that to happen.” –LB

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs: Field Hearing: VA Long-term Care: What’s Working, What’s Not, and How to Best Serve Our Aging Veteran
Who: Katy Krul, Acting Executive Director, Oxnard Family Circle ADHC; Mike McManus, County of Ventura Veterans Service Officer; Thomas Martin, Assistant Deputy Secretary, Homes Division, California Department of Veteran Affairs; Dr. Teresa Boyd, D.O., Acting ADUSH, for Clinical Operations and Management, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Dr. Scotte Hartronft, M.D., Chief of Staff, VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Veterans Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Dr. Bernard Salick, Salick Comprehensive Diabetes Centers
When: 10:00 AM, Monday, July 30, 2018
Where: Salon B and C, Ventura County Office of Education


Veterans’ Affairs: Pending Legislation
Who: Paul R. Lawrence, Ph.D, Under Secretary for Benefits, Veterans Benefits Administration, Department of Veterans Affairs; Ralph Erickson, M.D., M.P.H., Dr. PH, Chief Consultant, Post Deployment Health, Veterans Health Administration; Tammy Czarnecki, Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health/Administrative Operations, Veterans Health Administration; Jessica Bonjorni, Acting Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Workforce Services, Veterans Health Administration; Chanin Nuntavong, Director of Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, The American Legion; Gerald Manar, former Director, National Veterans Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars; Thomas J. Snee, National Executive Director, Fleet Reserve Association; Rick Weidman, Executive Director for Policy and Government Affairs, Vietnam Veterans of America
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, August 1, 2018
Where: SR-418 Dirksen


Job Opening: Virginia Department of Veterans Services
What: Veteran Entrepreneurship Ecosystem Coordinator
When: Apply by July 30, 2018
Where: Richmond, VA

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, July 30, 2018 11:18 am

Leave a Reply

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

Notify me of updates to this conversation