Veterans Roundup: Wait Times for VA Haven’t Gone Down, New PTSD Treatment Doesn’t Require Talking, Obesity as National Security, BAH Cuts, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Some Veterans Still Wait Months for Medical Care
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
If there is one upside to the ongoing VA wait time scandal, it’s that the near-weekly controversies indicate that the VA has become more transparent in its dealings with Congress and the public. Unfortunately the increase in transparency has not heralded a broader array of positive developments. As Patricia Kime reports, the percentage of veterans waiting more than a month for an appointment has barely changed since 2014. The VA counterpoint is that the number of veterans seeking care has been increasing at the same time, making it significantly more difficult to effectively counter the backlog even with increased resources. With the Choice program getting up to speed more slowly than Congress expected—no matter how unreasonable those expectations—the VA is looking to pursue alternative measures to maximize its ability to provide care in a timely manner, with one new proposal focused on empowering nurse practitioners in the VA to fill more roles traditionally performed only by doctors. That has created a conflict between nurses groups and doctors groups, unsurprisingly, but reflects the VA’s ongoing struggle to provide high-quality care to every single veteran who requests an appointment or a follow-up. At the same time, the VA is under attack for the poor showing of its IG office in following through the Tomah VA opioid prescription scandal to its full conclusion, with critics alleging that the IG office tried to conceal its conclusions and inadequately investigated all the problems that were unearthed at Tomah. It’s another challenging week for Secretary Bob and the VA. –BW

No Talking, No Drugs – Spec-Ops Vets Pioneer Quiet PTSD Therapy
Kimberly Dozier (@KimDozier), The Daily Beast
A little over ten years ago, a bomb ripped through an Army patrol killing several soldiers and two of the CBS News crew embedded alongside them. Kim Dozier survived the attack but has felt survivor’s guilt ever since. After hearing from several veterans about Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART), she looked into the apparently revolutionary treatment for anxiety, depression, and PTSD. ART works by making the eyes mimic REM sleep through a series of therapist-led hand movements. The patient doesn’t have to say anything—a potential game changer for SOF veterans who aren’t able to discuss missions and others unwilling to—rather they paint over the memories to make them less objectionable. The treatment is gaining a few acolytes within the military, just as many “silver bullets” have in the past, particularly since one study has shown the efficacy of ART. Let’s hope the military and VA are able to make ART more widely available, but the same must hold true for other emerging therapies, too. Stories about silver bullets can serve to diminish the fact that traditional therapies also work. A recent study, in fact, found VA is better than the private sector at providing mental health medications, likely because it is a one-stop-shop and isn’t driven by profit. Taken together, a faster rollout of proven therapies and better medication delivery, we can’t help but note that our client MYnd Analytics provides doctors and patients with a data-driven way to know which mental health medications are going to work. As we talk about ensuring more service members and veterans have access to therapies like ART, that has to apply across the board to clinically proven therapies like MYnd’s PEER Report. –LJ

VA to Review 24,000 Brain Injury Diagnoses
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
In December, we highlighted some important investigative reporting coming out of Minnesota about unqualified doctors and improper tests being used to screen veterans for TBI and said this “could have major national implications.” Well, the VA has announced that more than 24,000 are eligible to be retested for TBI. In most cases, this is due to VA facilities not following proper procedure by having a specialist conduct the TBI screening. In addition to being an excellent example of the power and importance of reporting, this also shows glimmers of hope in how VA reform is supposed to work. Here is an issue raised within the last year that has been addressed in a straightforward way without legislation having to get involved. This is the kind of action we want to see VA taking when problems arise: swift, simple, and serving the veteran. –LJ

Too Fat to Fight: Is the Obesity Crisis a National Security Risk?
Andrea King Collier (@andreacollier), NBC
The numbers are just staggering. Current research shows that by 2020 only two out of 10 military recruits will meet fitness requirements to even serve in uniform. Even more concerning is that the nation’s obesity crisis is landing on minorities in larger numbers than others leading to a further reduction in the diversity of the nation’s all volunteer military. This is a national health crisis, and without question, a national security one as well. We are not taking this issue at all seriously as a nation and as every young officer is taught: the military is a reflection of the society it represents. A fat military is unable to fight and win the nation’s wars. More and more servicemembers are being kicked out for breaking weight guidelines. The Marines are even now allowing their members to wear their fitness tracking devices all the time in acknowledgement that the battle is real. The military must stick to its standards in the face of these headwinds and those who aspire to serve must also aspire to be healthy enough to do so. –FPW

Lawmakers Target Troops’ Housing Allowance: ‘The Benefit Now Far Exceeds the Actual Cost’
Douglas Ernst (@douglasernst), The Washington Times
A recent U.S. Army Audit Agency report found that when factoring in the exact costs of housing for service members’ rent and utilities the military was overpaying as much as $200 million for those expenses under the current housing allowance framework based on the average cost of housing in a specific zip code. Using this as yet another opportunity to seek “reform” (Congress-speak for cuts to military benefits) the Senate version of the National Defense Authorization Act includes tying housing allowance to actual costs of housing. Makes sense right? Then you realize that this means each service member will have to turn in their bills to prove their actual costs. They will figure out that the more expensive the place the more money they get so who cares since its government money anyway? The bureaucratic layers needed to manage by individual will be staggering and all in the name of saving about an F-35s worth of money on the backs of service members and their families. There comes a point where you break the spirit of your military with constant tinkering with their benefits, earnings, and careers in the midst of continued deployments and wars. Congress needs to wake up and realize that day is coming and it won’t be anyone’s fault but their own ridiculous efforts at “reform”. –FPW

VA Looks to End Ban on Sex Reassignment Surgery for Transgender Veterans
Katy Steinmetz (@katysteinmetz), TIME
The VA, reports my college classmate Katy Steinmetz, is planning to use the federal rulemaking process to remove a 20-year-old ban on performing sex reassignment surgery for transgender veterans, following in the footsteps of Medicare’s 2014 decision. The action comes at a time when the medical community no longer views sex reassignment surgery as a risky or unproven process, and reflects the VA’s efforts to align its policies with the contemporary medical and scientific consensus. This news, while it will affect a very small number of people—the VA estimated it treated about 2,500 transgender veterans in 2013—is a positive step forward in reinforcing that the VA exists to care for veterans in their time of need, not to judge them through a normative lens. While many Americans still do not understand the concept of gender dysphoria or support the rights of transgendered service members, there is no practical reason to discriminate against a relatively small group of Americans who no longer associate themselves, mentally or physically, with the gender they were born with. Some will see this rulemaking process—which could take up to two years—as another fight to be won or lost in the culture wars, but I personally choose to see it as one good deed that the VA should be applauded for at a time when the common choice of words to describe VA services often begin and end with an epithet. –BW

Client News:

Eric Eversole: Helping Vets Navigate a New Employment Chart
Eric Eversole (@EricEversoleHoH) for the Virginian-Pilot
In a recent op-ed for the Virginian-Pilot, Eric Eversole, vice president at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and president of Hiring Our Heroes, discusses the need to continue providing job hunting resources to transitioning service members, military spouses, and veterans in Virginia despite record-low veteran unemployment rates. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation is hosting its 1,000th employment event this week, a two-day Hampton Roads Transition Summit. Learn more at (Also: last Wednesday, the Navy Reserve saw fit to promote Eric Eversole to captain. Congratulations from our team, Eric!) –MC

After Missed Deadline, Work to Help Homeless Vets Continues
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, more than 600 service providers and experts from organizations like Friendship Place, gathered in Washington, DC, for the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans annual conference to continue the fight to ensure our nation provides the resources to end veteran homelessness. Attendees heard from Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, interim VA Chief of Staff Robert Snyder, and Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez about how federal and state officials are committed to the cause. Also, The Home Depot Foundation announced it will contribute $250 million to supporting veteran housing through 2020. If you weren’t able to attend the conference, be sure to check out C-SPAN’s coverage of the opening session and check out the #NCHV16 discussion on Twitter. –MC

Warrior-Scholar Program Prepares Veterans for Transition to Higher Education
Kevin Linder, Michigan Daily
The Warrior-Scholar Project has officially kicked off its 2016 courses, beginning with a weeklong boot camp at the University of Michigan. WSP was founded at Yale University in 2012 and has since expanded to top universities across the country. This year’s session marks the third consecutive year the University of Michigan has hosted a WSP boot camp. This week, a boot camp hosted by Georgetown graduated 14 students and culminated with a reception attended by retired Army Gen. David Petraeus, a member of the WSP Board of Academic Advisors. To learn more about the Warrior-Scholar Project and upcoming boot camps visit –MC

Student Veterans to Help Clean Up Warwick’s First Public Burial Ground
Warwick Beacon
As part of Student Veterans of America’s first 2016 Leadership Summit, a group of student veterans helped the Warwick Historical Cemetery Commission clean up the first public burial ground in Warwick, Rhode Island, by cutting trees and bushes and removing debris. SVA Leadership Summits are three-day events hosted by Student Veterans of America and its supporters like BP America and The Home Depot, among others. The summits take place across the country each summer as part of SVA’s Leadership Institute Series and provide student veteran leaders with advanced techniques to help manage their chapters. In addition to a community service component, attendees develop business plans and present them to a panel of judges from the local business community. For the full schedule of upcoming Leadership Summits, visit –MC

Quick Hits:

NPR Photographer, Interpreter Killed In Afghanistan
Army Releases Names of All 9 Soldiers Killed in Fort Hood Truck Accident

After Tragic Crash, Blue Angels Return To Florida To Grieve And Regroup
It was a tragic week for the military and military reporting community as a dozen lives were lost in service to our nation. Most recently, David Gilkey and Zabihullah Tamanna were killed when the Afghan army unit with which they were embedded came under attack. Earlier this week, Marine Capt. Jeff Kuss lost his life piloting an F-18 as a member of the Blue Angels. He is said to have gone down with the aircraft to prevent it from hitting an apartment complex. Finally, nine soldiers died in a flash flood at Fort Hood that overtook their Humvee. Undoubtedly, these were not the only service members to have died this week, and each loss is a reminder that whether at war or at home, those who dedicate themselves to the military or telling the military’s story are putting themselves in harm’s way for us. For that we are thankful. –LJ

Post-9/11 Vet Unemployment Sets Records in May; U.S. Hiring Slows
George R. Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times
Post-9/11 veteran unemployment reached an all-time low of just 4 percent in May, continuing the trend among younger veterans seen in recent months. Unemployment rates for the post-9/11 generation have been the lowest or second lowest on record for eight of the last 13 months, showing promising results of national efforts to hire young veterans. Overall, the unemployment rate for veterans was just 3.4 percent in May. –LJ

Fired Phoenix VA Director Scores Legal Win, Sparks Outrage
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes
Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney General, says the law allowing VA to fast-track dismissals of problem employees is unconstitutional because it doesn’t provide fired employees an opportunity to appeal final decisions by the administrative judge. –JG

The Pentagon Moves to Set Troops Straight on Military Retirement Plan
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
The Defense Department recently announced four new programs that will help current service members and military families gain a better understanding of upcoming changes and options with military retirement. Starting in 2018, service members who entered the military after 2005 will have to choose whether or not they would like to adopt the new retirement system or stick with the old system. –MC

Veterans Deserve a Chance in College, Not a Free Pass
Alexander McCoy (@AlexanderMccoy4) for The New York Times
More than one million veterans have used the Post-9/11 GI Bill and many schools try to lure prospective student veterans with promises of transfer credits for their military training and education. However, argues veteran Alex McCoy, this could work against the student veteran’s best interest if they miss some of the foundational knowledge required for a successful academic career or if they end up choosing a college that provides more transfer credits but a lower standard of education. –JG

Putting Donald Trump’s $1 million for Veterans in Context
Peter Eavis (@petereavis), The New York Times
At face value, $1 million for a veteran-serving charity could do great things for veterans. But some argue that for billionaires like Donald Trump, that amount is hardly a sign of authentic support for veterans. In the context of donations to veteran causes by wealthy businessmen, Trump’s donation is dwarfed by Steven Cohen’s $275 million pledge to mental health and Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s pledge of $30 million. –JG

Don’t Privatize the Veterans Health Administration
John D. Rockefeller, Defense One
When the Commission on Care makes its final report on recommendations to reform the Veterans Health Administration next month, it is expected to call for the privatization of veterans’ health care. However, many advocates and lawmakers strongly oppose privatization and former Senator Rockefeller argues that the same people pushing for privatization are the ones who will benefit most. Organizations dedicated to serving veterans have largely lobbied to provide the resources necessary to actually reform VA, not replace it. –LJ  

Tradeshows & Conferences

US Chamber of Commerce Foundation: Hiring Our Heroes Hampton Roads Transition Summit (Wed–Thu, June 8-9, 2016); Chesapeake Conference Center, Chesapeake, VA

Congressional Hearings

Veterans’ Affairs: VA and Academic Affiliations: Who Benefits?
4:15 PM, Tuesday, June 7, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

Defense One: 2016 Tech Summit
Who: Ash Carter, Secretary of Defense; Richard Ledgett, Deputy Director, National Security Agency; Martin Casado, General Partner, Andreessen Horowitz; Mary Miller, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering, and many more
When: 7:30 AM, Friday, June 10, 2016
Where: The Newseum, 555 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC

United States Institute of Peace: Irreversible Damage: Civilian Harm in Modern Conflict
Who: Michèle A. Flournoy, Moderator, Co-Founder and CEO, Center for a New American Security; Christopher Kolenda, Senior Military Fellow, King’s College, London, and President and CEO, Kolenda Strategic Leadership; Rachel Reid, Advocacy Director for Middle East, North Africa, Southwest Asia, Open Society Foundation
When: 1:00 PM, Wednesday, June 8, 2016
Where: U.S. Institute of Peace, 2301 Constitution Ave, 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 Tuesday, June 07, 2016 8:24 am

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