Veterans Roundup: VSOs List Their Priorities, Infertility in Military Women, New Report From CNAS on Minority Veterans, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Why Isn’t Infertility in Military Women a Bigger Conversation?
The War Horse, Kelly Kennedy (@KellySKennedy)

In an exceptionally well-researched and well-written article, Kelly Kennedy digs into an important issue area in need of much more attention from advocates, health science professionals, policy-makers and journalists alike—infertility and women service members. Kennedy draws attention to results from a recent survey that suggest a possible linkage between higher rates of infertility among service women and three specific causes for infertility, including exposure to toxins, prescriptions for psychiatric medications and a higher-than-average rate of reported sexual trauma among the population. Additionally, she uncovers valid experiences that affect women service members and their reproductive health, like job-related and military cultural barriers that differ from the experiences of men, and ultimately can lead women to delay childbirth. Just as with the general population, fertility treatments are largely out of reach for many current and former service members due to exorbitant costs associated with treatments. Additionally, information about infertility is not discussed with people while in service. For many women, challenges with infertility are not uncovered until later in life when it may be too late to even consider treatments. As the number of women veterans significantly climbs, VHA and other service providers have faced a myriad of challenges in trying to get women service members the gender-specific care they need. If infertility is deemed service-connected than VHA may cover Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART), but proving service-connection is not easy, leading many military women largely without support when faced with infertility. Military service members often have high rates of environmental exposures, complicating matters further, as making epidemiological connections to specific exposures is difficult, thus resulting in a lack of evidence-based research to substantiate exposure related arguments. But, with increased awareness about exposures, veterans and advocates, like the well-known Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), are focusing in as fears about the effects of exposures grow among the population. The article identifies data gaps in research dealing with infertility and the connection between infertility and sexual trauma specifically, suggesting an area ripe for further inquiry. Strikingly, the article reports that there has not been a DOD-wide survey of women’s health conducted since 1989. Recognizing this, researchers from RAND are working on a Defense Department sponsored survey on military women’s reproductive health and are expecting survey results to be released by next year. Kelly Kennedy’s article is a must-read, not just for women service members, but for stakeholders across research, policy and advocacy in our military-connected community. As women, our reproductive health is a critical part of our livelihood and must be made a priority, especially due to high instances of reproductive health complications resulting from military service. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms

VSOs to Congress: Act on toxic exposure, women vets’ care, TBIs and suicide prevention, Abbie Bennett (@abbierbennett)

It’s that time again when the major veterans service organizations testify before Congress on their priorities for advocacy for the year. This time it comes at a moment of great turmoil at the Department of Veterans Affairs with the recent, still poorly explained firing of well regarded Deputy Secretary James Byrne and accusations that Secretary Robert Wilkie dug up negative information on a Congressional staffer and woman Navy Reserve officer who reported a sexual assault at the DC VA Medical Center. While the VA’s budget has increased, it comes amid a host of questions about the costs of the MISSION Act and the number of veterans being sent to private care. VSOs represent millions of veterans and most have polled and surveyed their members to gain insight into what is driving their concerns. We’ve been at this for over nine years now and the priorities have certainly changed, but not lessened in seriousness. Leading the issues is the continued scourge of suicides among veterans and currently serving military members. Little progress has been made and there is growing frustration that most of the approaches just aren’t working. Second was toxic exposure issues which have now touched yet another generation of veterans — after Agent Orange in Vietnam and Gulf War Syndrome from Desert Storm, today’s generation faces continued health issues tied to burn pits. Third surrounded Traumatic Brain Injuries, which have been in the news lately after Iran launched missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq leaving over a hundred service members with various TBIs and President Trump dismissed the injuries as inconveniences. Finally, the many challenges facing the fastest growing segment of the veterans population-women veterans. The challenges women face in VA hospitals is another issue that was made more prominent after the fiasco mentioned above that appeared to be victim blaming, even as VA mounts a public information campaign in many hospitals to get male veterans to treat their counterparts with respect. All in all, these are solid issues for the organizations to focus on and we expect you will hear more about them as the year progresses. You know we aren’t letting our foot off the gas here at ScoutComms. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder at ScoutComms

800 soldiers, rushed to Middle east, return home to Fort Bragg
ABC News, Luis Martinez (@LMartinezABC)

In December, over 3,000 soldiers were rushed to the Middle East to assist with regional security after protesters attacked the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. Since then, “nearly 800 paratroopers from the 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, along with members of the 3rd Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, the 3rd Battalion, 319th Airborne Field Artillery Regiment and several enabler teams from the Immediate Response Force Brigade (IRF) began their redeployment from the Middle East back to Fort Bragg, N.C.,” according to a statement from the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

Marines to Review Proposed 1-Year Maternity Leave Policy for New Moms, Gina Harkins (@ginaaharkins)

Commandant Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps’ top general, has called on leaders to identify the benefits and risks of giving new mothers a full year off before requiring them to return to duty. In his planning guidance, Berger called the current Marine Corps’ parental leave policies inadequate, noting, “we should never ask our Marines to choose between being the best parent possible and the best Marine possible.” Berger also wants to revise the Marine Corps’ leave policy for adoptive parents, “to include same-sex couples.”

New York State Minority Veteran Needs Assessment
Center for a New American Security, Nathalie Grogan (@NathalieGrogan), Emma Moore (@moreemmamoore), Brent Peabody (@brent_peabody), Margaret Seymour (@maggie_mae_mour) and Kayla M. Williams (@kwilliams101)

Since 9/11, there has been significant progress in identifying and addressing challenges faced by veterans via support from public, private and nonprofit organizations offering programs and services to military personnel and veterans, their families and caregivers and survivors. However, this progress has not been felt evenly across the entire veteran population. This report utilizes existing literature, key stakeholder interviews and veteran focus groups to assess the extent of the disparities for women, racial/ethnic minority veterans and LGBT individuals. The assessment identifies differences between outcomes for minority versus non minority veterans, likely causes for identified variations, and recommendations for organizations that serve these populations to enhance equitable outcomes across the population.

Working military families will soon get more access to DoD child care
Military Times, Karen Jowers

A new Department of Defense policy set to take effect on June 1 will give working military families “higher priority” in the department’s child care programs, while moving DoD civilians further down the priority list. This program is intended to address “the lack of available and affordable child care” for families of visiting service members. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper reportedly stated that the policy will keep the Department of Defense’s child care programs focused on “service member and mission requirements.” Nicole Russell, government relations deputy director of the National Military Family Association, said, “DoD civilians…don’t move nearly as frequently as active duty….We’re pleased that DoD is recognizing the hardship that child development center wait lists pose for military families.”

GAO: VA must improve plans for providing long-term care to aging veterans
Military Times, Patricia Kime (@patriciakime)

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) projected that in the next 20 years the cost of providing veterans with long-term VA care will double, and the office is warning that the department must be prepared. The GAO noted that the VA currently has issues hiring employees for its community living centers and providing long-term care in rural areas with high demand for care, but poor infrastructure. The report recommended that the VA make their specialized service care more accessible to veterans nationwide and “develop measurable goals for meeting demand despite workforce challenges and regardless of a veteran’s location.”

Scientists find ‘insufficient evidence’ to link antimalarial drugs to long term health issues in veterans
Connecting Vets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBenntt)

The number of veterans seeking disability compensation for conditions said to be caused by antimalarial drugs is consistently increasing, however, scientists have yet to find any direct linkage between the drugs and the conditions. Before any decision is made, scientists are calling for more research to be done about the antimalarial drugs and any possible links to long term conditions, particularly in military service members and veterans. Because of the wide range of toxic exposures that active U.S. troops tend to face, the research process is generally complicated. Service members have reported that they have noticed post-traumatic stress symptoms after taking the required antimalarial drug. There have also been warnings against the drug put out by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2016, stating that the drug can cause dizziness, ringing in the ears and hallucinations. In the past year, there have been six approved antimalarial drugs, though there continues to be discussion on the strong side effects. After studying the drugs, reports found that there was “insufficient evidence” in the linkage between the drugs and the neurological conditions that many have been reporting. 

Senators demand investigation into Wilkie’s handling of sexual assault case at the VA
Stars and Stripes, Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling)

Six senators, led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., have called for an investigation on how Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie handled the recent alleged sexual assault, casting doubt on the victim and portraying her as dishonest instead of taking her claim seriously. The senators wrote in their letter that this poor judgement is part of what makes women veterans feel as though they are not supported and welcomed by the country that they served. Sec. Wilkie’s description of the case caused public backlash after he stated that the claim was “unsubstantiated.” Andrea Goldstein, the Navy Veteran who stated that she was sexually assaulted in the VA Medical Center in Washington, wrote in her article for Jezebel earlier this month that Wilkie was painting her out to be a liar, causing “public retaliation and gaslighting.” Reports came to light that Wilkie searched for damaging information about Goldstein in order to discredit her, though Wilkie denies these actions. The VA Office of Inspector General is reviewing requests to open an investigation. 

The VA has some serious problems with how it handles claims of military sexual trauma
Task & Purpose, Kayla Williams (@kwilliams101) and Samatha Kubek (@SamanthaKubek)

In order to seek care and assistance, Military sexual trauma (MST) survivors often have to navigate both halves of the VA, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) — both of which have systems in place that tend to severely re-traumatize MST survivors. Seeking help during this process can be extremely difficult and limiting. One of the hardships MST survivors face occurs when they first enter the VA clinic or hospital. Some survivors have reported that they have been unable to make it past the first step, which is the “gatekeeper” when seeking an appointment with a VA provider. Another barrier they face is the male-dominated environment. MST survivors have been through a serious trauma that most often is caused by men, and therefore this environment can feel unwelcoming to some. The VA has made steps in acknowledging this by starting the End Harassment campaign, however recent events have shed light on their inability to face this problem head-on. The survivors that are able to make it past these barriers are often eligible for care, though the process in getting the help they need has proven to be traumatizing for them. In order to get their benefits and care, they are required to tell their experience over and over again, and are continually asked about details relating to the assault. The victim will also have no control over whether the person who is assisting them through this process will be a man or a woman, a detail vitally important for some survivors. 

What Kobe’s memorial can teach us about connection in the face of tragedy, Mark Graham (@mgrahamm2)

During an interview in 2012, legendary star athlete Kobe Bryant discussed his respect for the military community for the amount of pressure they have to deal with every day, saying, “If you look at our armed forces, and what they do, that’s real pressure — at a level that is beyond our comprehension.” The public’s reaction to the loss of Bryant in a helicopter accident, alongside his daughter and seven others, not only expressed sadness and grief, but compassion for the families that were directly impacted by the tragic passings. This opinion piece by Vets4Warriors‘ Director Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mark Graham, a Gold Star parent, explores how this heartbreaking loss showcases exactly why it is important for a community to come together in a time of grief.

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, March 02, 2020 11:28 am

Leave a Reply

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

Notify me of updates to this conversation