Veterans Roundup: We Take a Deep Dive into the Veterans First Act, the Long-Awaited Senate Omnibus; Uncover Less Discussed Topics Like Hazing & More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Senator: Large Veterans Reform Bill Promises ‘A New VA’
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane) and Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Last Thursday, a bipartisan group of senators proposed a reform package that would result in massive changes to in the Department of Veterans Affairs. The omnibus bill would change accountability rules, expand efforts to support veteran caregivers, and seek to make the VA’s culture more veteran-friendly. The legislation has raised concerns due to its proposed limits on administrative leave and bonuses, as well as increasing the agency’s ability to fire workers for misconduct. –MC
Bottom line: It is wonderful to see members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee working together in a bipartisan manner to address ongoing challenges that veterans face. They are approaching this endeavor with the best of intentions, and we should be grateful to see the world’s greatest deliberative body acting in a manner reminiscent of its reputation. The Veterans First Act does attempt to tackle a wide array of issues that have continued to pose problems or create lost opportunities for veterans. At the same time, as Leo notes in his article, there are a lot of questions and issues to address. Cost is a huge question mark, because you really can’t expand services and eligibility for programs without footing a larger bill. In seeking to vastly expand the caregiver program, the Senate may be jumping the gun for a program that has yet to reach its full potential for the post-9/11 families that were initially targeted. And most troubling, this comprehensive omnibus bill does not address two of the more prominent issues of the last year: consolidating the VA’s outside care programs and reforming the disability claims appeals process. While committee chairman Sen. Isakson said he hopes to get to those issues later in the year, it’s quite possible that leaving them unaddressed may cause problems in getting the VA, the House and the White House on board. In the wake of the initial rollout of the bill, we look forward to the op-eds, interviews, and inevitable hearings that will help us better understand the impact of the Veterans First Act. –BW

Senate Legislation Shrinks GI Bill Housing Allowance Over Time
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan),
On Thursday, Senate lawmakers approved a controversial bill that expands numerous programs for veterans and their families but pays for those by cutting the annual increase to the housing allowance for veterans utilizing the GI Bill. Some veteran advocates like IAVA had been pressuring Congress not to halve the housing allowance provided to children of troops utilizing the GI Bill, a provision that does not appear in the proposed omnibus. The proposed one percent reduction in annual increases to the GI Bill housing allowance would bring the BI Bill into line with service members’ BAH which will only cover 95 percent of housing costs by 2018 thanks to a measure in the NDAA. –MC
Bottom line: So, sometimes there are unintended consequences thanks to advocacy. This might certainly be considered one of those times. Sure, dependents’ housing allowance wasn’t cut to pay for other programs. Rather, everyone’s GI Bill housing allowance will be reduced. For advocates who support student veterans, this is no time to celebrate. Client Student Veterans of America notes that this proposed across the board reduction hits a vulnerable population: 49 percent of student veterans are married, 42 percent have children, and 15 percent are single parents. Those are all situations that require off-campus, likely more expensive housing than a typical college student. Before the omnibus language was released, advocates like SVA, VFW, and others did not join the minority of voices fighting cuts to dependent housing. These organizations know how the Hill works. The money has to come from somewhere. Smart advocacy takes a big picture approach to these very complex trade-offs. While the omnibus contains some important measures, it’s going to be an uphill battle now for groups to fight for a compromise. –LJ

House Panel Backs ‘Gotcha’ Amendment to Make Women Eligible for Draft
Connor O’Brien (@connorobrienNH), Politico
The House Armed Services Committee backed an amendment that will require women to register for Selective Service. The amendment’s sponsor Rep. Duncan Hunter only introduced the measure—which he voted against—to make a point that women should not be on the front lines in combat, but it backfired on him when several committee Republicans voted with Democrats to pass the amendment. In the same week, the Army announced Capt. Kristen Griest, one of the first women to complete Ranger School, has volunteered to be its first female infantry officer. –MC
Bottom line: If you are going to introduce an amendment to make a point, you should make sure that you have a handle on your colleagues. Otherwise, they’re likely to make you look bad by joining the other party in validating an argument you were trying to ridicule. Then again, Rep. Hunter hasn’t always been known for his tact or careful planning. Unlike Hunter, the House Democrats and the Republicans who crossed the aisle, including veterans Joe Heck and Martha McSally, knew exactly what they were doing in casting a vote that reinforces that women are now an integral part of the US military. In the next few years, there will be women holding every single job—including combat positions—the services have to offer. Whether Selective Service and the draft are necessary in the 21st century is an important discussion to have as well, but last week HASC members cast another vote recognizing that one should not be asked to defend one’s country solely on the basis of gender. –BW

After Combat Stress, Violence Can Show Up At Home
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLarence), NPR
In a tough piece, several caregivers of combat veterans describe recurring instances of their partners physically abusing them due to post-traumatic stress. Veterans advocates and doctors caution against stereotypes associated with PTS and note that most veterans with PTS are nonviolent, but top researchers like Dr. Casey Taft say that veterans with PTS are “three times more likely to be violent”. –MC
Bottom line: Read and listen to this piece. These are the stories you don’t hear about caregivers at the conference and summits we all attend. Of course, and I shouldn’t have to say this, not all veterans and not all caregivers commit or experience domestic violence. But for those that do, this piece notes that too often there aren’t support systems in place. For some caregivers, their family depends on the VA caregiving stipend so they feel they cannot leave. For others, they have been full time caregivers for years and don’t feel empowered to get a job to build the economic mobility to leave. For even others, they feel it is their duty to stay. It has to change. It’s unacceptable that any man or woman should feel obligated to endure violent abuse. Our community has committed to caring for caregivers and that has to also mean when they can no longer give care to their abuser. Then we have an obligation to both. We applaud Senator Elizabeth Dole and her foundation for working with Quil on this story and empowering these women to share their stories. As the senator writes, “Their stories are difficult to hear, but they clearly cannot be ignored.” –LJ

The Pentagon Will Be Required to Track Military Hazing if This Legislation Passes
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Congress is reviewing legislation that would require the military to track and report hazing and issue an annual survey capturing the prevalence of hazing in the armed services. Representative Judy Chu from California drafted the legislation and has been a leading advocate for accountability on hazing after her nephew was a victim while stationed in Afghanistan, and later killed himself. The proposed database used to track hazing would have much in common with the one used currently for tracking military sexual trauma. –JG
Bottom line: This is obviously an issue the military wants to put to rest. Hazing in the ranks has been tied to suicide, workplace violence, and retention issues for years but like many of these issues with the military, the devil is in the details. What is hazing? When does hard training and disciplinary action go from being something to burnish tougher service members to being abuse? Extreme cases like that of Congresswoman Chu’s nephew are fairly obvious but with centuries of tradition and extreme training, the military will continue to wrestle with what is a hazing incident and what is simply the rigors of military discipline. That is going to be the real struggle. No one in the military is pro-hazing but defining it and bridging the understanding of what in reality is training or smoking is the mountain to climb for military and civilian observers. –FPW

Seeking a Center, Student Veterans Get a Room of Their Own
Time Wilhelm (@LakePatriot), The University News
St. Louis University student veterans are looking forward to their new veteran students’ commons opening May 4. Jonathan Hurly, president of SLU’s SVA chapter, said he is looking forward to having a central space for student veterans at their school to work together and better position themselves for academic success. He hopes to expand the center with help from a Student Veterans of America Vet Center Initiative grant, sponsored by The Home Depot Foundation. To learn more about SVA grants and scholarships available for student veterans visit their website! –JG

Seminole State Students Remodel Bathroom for Disabled Veteran
Kimberly Allen (@SeminoleTribune), Seminole State College of Florida
John Minita served in the Army and Navy Reserve for eight years before enrolling at Seminole State University. Minita was just diagnosed with an autoimmune disease that will leave him wheelchair-bound. With the help of fellow students, faculty, alumni and a $5,000 grant from The Home Depot Foundation he now has an ADA accessible bathroom that will meet all of his changing mobility needs. –JG

Latest Defense Bill Could Decimate Visa Program for Afghan Allies
Alana Goodman (@alanagoodman), The Washington Free Beacon
A provision in the latest National Defense Authorization Act would limit the ability of Afghan interpreters who worked along US troops to obtain Special Immigrant Visas to move to the United States and escape Taliban threats. No One Left Behind, an organization supporting former Afghan and Iraqi interpreters as they move to the US, spoke out about the bill and how it will affect this group of interpreters. –MC

Wounded Warrior Project Provides $9 Million to The Mission Continues
Wounded Warrior Project (@wwp), PR Newswire
In its continued effort to honor and empower Wounded Warriors, the Wounded Warrior Project is supporting a number of veteran service organizations, such as Team Rubicon and America’s Warrior Partnership, Inc. Most recently, WWP announced a $9 million investment in The Mission Continues to help veterans use their unique skills to give back in their communities. These investments will allow veteran-serving organizations to fulfill needs beyond WWP’s 20 direct programs. –MC

It Was a Historic Week for Military Women. So What Happens Next?
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, Capt. Kirsten Griest became the first female infantry officer, Col. Cindy Jebb was nominated to become the first female dean at West Point, and Gen. Lori Robinson was confirmed as the first woman to serve as a combatant commander. Kate Germano, the new chief operating officer of the Service Women’s Action Network, said that these achievements are worth celebrating now, but down the road “firsts” like these should become the norm in the military. She emphasized that these are not just achievements of women, but achievements for the entire military. –JG

Experts: Military Has Uphill Battle Against Sexual Assault, Harassment and Hazing
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars and Stripes
Last week, the Service Women’s Action Network hosted an event at the Women in Military Service for America memorial to discuss sexual assault and harassment in the military. Panelists at the event said military leaders are failing to identify risk factors and do not recognize that the nature of some units and commands cultivate an environment with more risk of sexual assault. If you missed the panel but want to learn more, check out C-SPAN’s recording of the event. –MC

Sexual Assault Still Major Problem for Military, Researchers Say
Mariama Diallo (@mariamadc), Voice of America

Quick Hits:

Kerry Expresses Reservations about Nation’s All-Volunteer Military
Ralph K.M. Haurwitz (@ralphhaurwitz), Austin American-Statesman
During the Vietnam War Summit at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed deep reservations about our armed forces relying completely on an all volunteer military. He stopped short of advocating for a reinstatement of the draft, but emphasized his stance saying, “Everybody ought to give back something.” Kerry also noted he thinks veterans should be able to access care in their communities, not just at VA facilities. –JG

Service Academies: Where the U.S. Military Meets Liberal Arts
Nick Anerson (@wprick), The Washington Post
Military academies have always strived to compete with the nation’s top civilian educational institutions. While the Naval Academy is tied for 9th best liberal arts college in the country, West Point is 22nd and Air Force Academy is 29th. The academies regularly collaborate and work together to achieve their shared goal of fostering educational environments to produce the best critical thinkers and problem solvers to lead our nation’s military. –JG

House Adds Protections for Stars and Stripes Funding to Defense Budget
Travis J. Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes
Rep. Martha McSally isn’t only saving the A-10. She added language to the National Defense Authorization Act that would only allow the defense secretary to cut funding to Stars & Stripes after justifying cuts to the House Armed Services Committee. . A majority of the publication’s budget comes from sales, subscriptions and advertising however it relies on the government for the costs of safely conducting reporting, sometimes in conflict areas, and distributing the paper to troops worldwide. –JG

Moves in the Sector:

The New Pick to Lead the Air Force Is a Decorated Fighter Pilot Who Was Once Shot Down
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
General David L. Goldfein has been nominated to become the next top officer in the Air Force replacing General Mark A. Welsh III who is retiring in July. Goldfein is well-known for being shot down during a combat mission over Serbia, ejecting from his F-16C, and evading capture before being rescued. He is currently Air Force Commander of Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East. –JG

Colonel Tapped to Become West Point’s First Female Dean
Army Times
If the Senate endorses her selection, Col. Cindy Jebb will become the first female Dean at West Point Military Academy. Jebb would succeed Brig. Gen. Tim Trainor, and has been tapped by President Obama for the position. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No relevant tradeshows or conferences.

Congressional Hearings

No committee hearings scheduled.

Think Tanks & Other Events

PsychArmor Institute: “Closing the Gap” Gala
Who: Senator Elizabeth Dole, founder of the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, David McIntyre, CEO, TriWest Healthcare Alliance
When: 5:30 PM, Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Where: Hilton La Jolla Torrey Pines, San Diego, CA

Center for a Strategic & International Studies: Progress, Promise, and Challenges in U.S. Veterans’ Health Policy
Who: Bob McDonald, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
When: 9:00 AM, Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Where: 1616 Rhode Island Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036

Invictus Games Foundation: 2016 Invictus Games
When: Sunday – Tuesday, May 8 – May 12, 2016
Where: ESPN Wide World of Sports, Orlando, FL

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, May 02, 2016 6:35 pm

Leave a Reply

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

Notify me of updates to this conversation