Veterans Roundup: We’re Staying in Afghanistan, Female Marines Fit for Combat, Benefits Big Loser in the NDAA, and at Least One Cool VFW Post Exists

Posted by Fred Wellman

Obama Outlines Plan to Keep 5,500 Troops in Afghanistan
Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe) & Missy Ryan (@missy_ryan), The Washington Post
Despite campaign promises to bring troops home from Afghanistan, President Obama announced Thursday that 5,500 U.S. troops will remain in Afghanistan until at least 2017. The President also noted that pace of troop reductions will slow as the current force of 9,800 troops will remain in Afghanistan through 2016 and will continue to focus on training the Afghan army. –MC
Bottom line: In probably the least shocking decision related to the military in a long time, President Obama announced his intent to dramatically slow the withdrawal of existing U.S. forces in Afghanistan and delay the final departure date previously announced. This means that one of his signature promises to end the U.S. involvement in our longest war before he leaves office will not be met. While unfortunate, it has been widely known that military leaders were urging a slow down for some time. The ramifications are yet to be defined but we can probably stop saying things like “now that our war’s are over we can now focus on xxxxxxxxx.” Our wars are not over. The fight to provide long-term support for our service members, veterans and their families has barely started. –FPW

Marine Corps Study Finds no Detriment to Morale in Mixed-Gender Combat Units
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), The New York Times
A Marine Corps report about integrating women into combat units was leaked last week after much debate surrounded the previously released executive summary. Among other takeaways reported in the media, the study shows that sexual assault levels are not higher in gender integrated combat units than in the Marine Corps as a whole, and that morale was equal to male-only units and higher than integrated noncombat units. Last week at the Association of the US Army Annual Meeting, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley made it clear that he supports expanding women’s role in combat, just before a third woman earned her Ranger tab on Friday. –MC
Bottom line: While the gender integration debate has been playing out for months, with a particular level of intensity once the Marine Corps released its skewed four-page summary, the leaking of the full study has reinforced what Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and others have been saying: that the other services have the right idea when they recognize that any challenges posed by integrating qualified women into combat jobs can be overcome through intense training, strong leadership, and clear standards. As Philipps notes in his article, the “additional pages suggested that although women were not as physically strong, on average, as men, the Marine Corps could successfully integrate women by setting clear standards.” Secretary Carter is in the driver’s seat now, with more than two months until he must publicly announce his decision, but this latest news certainly won’t strengthen the Corps’ leverage on the issue inside the Pentagon. –BW

VA Benefits Chief Allison Hickey Resigns
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
On Friday, Allison Hickey, the Department of Veterans Affairs Under Secretary for Benefits, resigned. Hickey had drawn criticism from lawmakers and advocates that blamed her for management issues, lengthy wait times for patients, and data manipulation—all intrinsic to the scandal that rocked VA last year. Principal Deputy Under Secretary Danny Pummill will serve as acting undersecretary. –MC
Bottom line: Talk about Friday news dump. Last April, as the VA wait times scandal was grabbing headlines, the American Legion was one of the first veterans organizations to call for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation—and Hickey’s (and then-VHA chief Dr. Robert Petzel, to be thorough). Just a few weeks ago, the Legion reiterated their call for Hickey’s resignation over allegations she played a role in helping someone assume a directorship of a VA regional office through non-kosher measures. That makes Hickey the last hold out of the Shinseki era, but do not expect this to mean big changes in how VBA does business. Under Hickey, VBA had been making great strides in ending the benefits backlog and hadn’t been making headlines—always a positive when it comes to VA. This will be a big win for the Legion, but may make life more difficult for the leadership at VA as they seek to fill an important, but terribly thankless, position. –LJ

In Defense Bill Battle, Military Pay and Benefits Are Casualties
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
The 2016 defense authorization bill may contain big losses for military advocates on pay and benefits if signed into law as is. Troops face a decrease in Basic Allowance for Housing, higher Tricare co-pays, lower pay raise growth, and changes to commissary and exchange funding, which could mean higher prices and reduced buying power for military families. Once Congress finalizes the legislation, the White House will have 10 days to sign or veto the measure, which the President has threatened to do. –MC
Bottom line: There is no nice way to say it but military advocates lost nearly every fight they mounted against cuts to pay and benefits in the new NDAA. Are any of these devastating on their own? No. But taken as a whole this is a surprising run of cuts and setbacks and truly opens the spigot to greater ones in future years. Throw in the dramatic changes to the military retirement system we discussed last week and you have a very serious shift in the way the nation supports those who serve in the military and their families. Advocates have little time to lick their wounds because you can be sure the next round that comes out of the Pentagon and championed by the Senate will be yet another set of “tiny little cuts that mean hardly anything” until everyone wakes up one day and discovers the bond we have promised with those who serve has bled to death and the dreaded hollow military of the past return again. –FPW

Money Smarts: Survey Shows How Soldiers, Spouses Rate
Karen Jowers and Kathleen Curthoys (@KACurthoys), Army Times
A new Military Times survey on finances showed that service members, spouses, veterans and retirees are generally knowledgeable about savings, credit scores, and benefits, but many are not familiar with non-military retirement options like 401(k)s and the Roth IRA. In addition, many respondents reported that they believe it’s acceptable to spend more than the recommended limit of their income on credit cards and loans. –MC
Bottom line: First, I’m going to point out that I’m qualified to analyze this article because I aced the survey contained in the article. I’m feeling like a trendy financial guru right now. Second, and far more important, the survey shows what we already knew—financial literacy among veterans and military families is not as prevalent as one would hope. Part of this may be chalked up to the immaturity of younger respondents, and part of it may be linked to a broader financial literacy issue among Americans. But regardless of the excuses or reasons, it is important that reports like this serve as motivation for renewed public and private sector efforts to provide unbiased, neutral financial education from the moment Americans join the military until long after they retire. Poor financial decisions don’t just harm individuals, they create new obligations and challenges for family and society, which often must step in and sacrifice other priorities to aid those who have made poor decisions. Bottom line: if we can increase financial literacy levels in the veterans and military family communities, we will improve lives and save everyone money from unnecessary expenditures. So don’t buy that shiny new truck. Don’t max out three credit cards. Do save. Do invest in retirement savings. And when in doubt, seek help from a financial expert. –BW

A Veterans of Foreign Wars Post in Denver Trades Beer for a Sun Salute
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), The New York Times
VFW Post 1 is changing the “dark dive bar” image many individuals have about the organization’s posts. The post is recruiting young veterans from nearby colleges and hosts art, exercise, and community service events. The VFW has struggled to change its image to reflect the membership and needs of the recent generation of veterans. VFW Post 1 members hope that their efforts can be used as a model for other posts nationwide. –MC
Bottom line: We are always excited to see VFW Post 1 in the news because we call one of the young women behind its transformation, Navy vet Dana Niemela, our friend. We would also love to start seeing less of Post 1 in the news in a future when it is not so notable because more posts—whether VFW or American Legion or AMVETS—have transformed to meet the needs of their shifting memberships. That is certainly something to remember: the VFW and other legacy veteran organizations are seeing more young veterans join their ranks. In fact, the VFW counts more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans among its membership than many veteran organizations catering specifically to that generation. Certainly, the VFW and others have a lot more transforming to do to ensure Post 1 isn’t a newsworthy anomaly, but it’s also clear that what has made VFW posts successful for so many generations of veterans, that ability to bring young and old veterans together, cannot be lost. –LJ

ScoutComms’ Client News:

Crowdfunding Site to Host Veterans Day Charity Drive
Heath Druzin (@Druzin_Stripes), Stars and Stripes
Razoo, a leading crowdfunding website for causes, is hosting Day For The Brave, a 24-hour giving campaign on Veterans Day to benefit more than 100 charities supporting veterans, service members, and military families. Razoo hopes to shift the way Americans view Veterans’ Day and encourage financial support for those who have served our nation. Razoo is looking for companies to sponsor the initiative; nonprofits in good standing are still eligible to sign up to participate. –MC

Fox flash: Sisters Turn Military Surplus into Stylish Bags
Fox News
Sword & Plough, a company that repurposes military surplus materials into fashionable accessories, is a finalist in the Intuit QuickBook’s Small Business Big Game Competition. The winner will have a free ad developed for the third quarter of the biggest football game of the year and it’s a huge deal. To support this veteran-owned small business with a quadruple bottom line, you can cast a vote for them online each day until November third. Don’t forget to help spread the word by sharing on your social media and telling your friends. –MC

Funds Help Wounded Warriors Focus on Recovery, Fulfill Basic Needs
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Military Times
Last week, the Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund attended the Association of the United States Army’s Annual Meeting to spread the word about the services and assistance they provide to Soldiers and all branches of the military. The Semper Fi Fund and America’s Fund provide immediate and continuing support to wounded, critically ill, and injured service members like former Army Staff Sgt. Michael Cain and Marine veteran BJ Ganem, who discuss their experiences with the organization in this Military Times article. –MC

Wounded Warrior Project Engages with Soldiers, Families, and Caregivers at 2015 Association of the U.S. Army Annual Meeting and Exposition
The Wounded Warrior Project engaged with Soldiers, families, and veterans last week at the AUSA Annual Meeting and Expo. In pursuit of honoring and empowering wounded warriors, WWP sponsored Military Family Forum V and the senior spouse luncheon in addition to hosting an exhibit at the conference. WWP currently supports more than 76,000 alumni and over 13,000 caregivers. –MC

‘A Corps of Volunteers for Every Refugee’ – The East Bay Welcoming Afghans, Iraqis Fleeing the Taliban
Sam Richards, The Daily Democrat
No One Left Behind, an organization supporting Iraqi and Afghan interpreters as they arrive in the US to begin new lives, is ramping up efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the United States. In March, the group welcomed former interpreter Salim Shah to the East Bay. Just yesterday, ScoutComms joined NOLB staff and volunteers to welcome Naqeeb to Washington, D.C. NOLB will be providing him with support as he begins his new life in America after fleeing the Taliban in Kunduz, Afghanistan. –MC

Symposium Offers Support, Job Tips for Military Spouses
Howard Altman (@haltman), The Tampa Tribune
Last week, Hiring Our Heroes hosted a Military Spouse Program networking event and hiring fair in Tampa, Florida. Alongside the HOH event, the Military Officers Association of America hosted a symposium to discuss employment opportunities and challenges for military spouses. Hiring Our Heroes is hosting a number of job fairs and expos for veterans and military spouses across the country. To learn more or register for an event in your area, visit –MC

Quick Hit:

Army Captain to Receive Medal of Honor for Asadabad
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Military Times
Capt. Florent Groberg will receive the Medal of Honor on November 12 at the White House for his selfless actions in Afghanistan. Groberg will be the tenth living service member to receive the Medal of Honor for actions in Iraq and Afghanistan (Ed. Note: but mostly they have been for actions in Afghanistan). –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

Points of Light 2015 Conference on Volunteering and Service (Mon-Wed 19-21 October); George R. Brown Convention Center, Houston, TX

2015 Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving National Summit & Training Institute (Thu-Fri 22-23 October); Georgia Southwestern State University, Americus, GA

For a full list of upcoming events check out our Events page.

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs: Business Meeting: Motion to issue subpoenas to employees of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to compel them to appear and provide testimony to the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs on the Inspector General’s final report, entitled “Inappropriate Use of Position and the Misuse of the Relocation Program and Incentives.” When: 10:15 AM, Wednesday, October 21, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: An Examination of the VA Office of Inspector General’s Final Report on the Inappropriate Use of Position and the Misuse of the Relocation Program and Incentives When: 10:30 AM, Wednesday, October 21, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon House

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health: Evaluating VA Primary Care Delivery, Workload, and Cost When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, October 22, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: A Review of VA’s VetSuccess on Campus Program When: 2:00 PM, Thursday, October 22, 2015 Where: 334 Cannon

Think Tanks & Other Events

No major events this week.

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, October 19, 2015 6:39 pm

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