Veterans Roundup: What One Veteran’s Extreme Act Tells Us–or Doesn’t, VA Gets In On Coordinating Care, Wilkie’s Non-Confrontational Hearing, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Be out. Be proud. Be vocal.
Chance Browning (@ChanceBrowning), ScoutComms
LGBTQ Pride Month may be coming to an end, but our Associate Vice President Chance Browning shares a pretty key message that matters far beyond just the month of June: “It’s so important to lift the voices of marginalized populations and ensure their voices are heard, and their needs are met. It’s important now more than ever to be visible, and proud.” Read more, in the latest ScoutComms’ blog post. –AB

VA backs off suicide study that indicated thousands of unreported military deaths
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), The Military Times
Last week, the Department of Veteran Affairs’ issued an update to its National Suicide Data Report, which takes a closer look at suicide rates among specific demographic groups. The report shows that six veterans who receive VA health care take their own lives each day, while this number rises to 11 veterans per day who do not receive VA care. Additionally, the findings suggested a much higher total number of suicide deaths among the military than the DOD has reported. Following the confusion created by the statistics, the VA’s National Director of Suicide Prevention, Dr. Keita Franklin, stated that the VA report “did not differentiate deaths between active duty, current never federally activated Guard and Reserve, and discharged never federally activated Guard and Reserve.” Dr. Franklin stated that in future suicide data reports, VA analysts and researchers aim to use definitions that more closely match those of DOD researchers. Notably, this report also indicates that younger veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are not the veteran population most likely to take their own lives. The Veteran Crisis Line is available to all veterans, service members and military families at 1-800-273-8255. –NJ
Bottom line: As noted at the outset of last week’s Scout Report, this new report caused some consternation at the prospect that thousands more service members had died of suicide than previously known. What the VA seems to be saying now is that the veteran suicide numbers are mostly the same as advocates have been using for the last few years: about 20 veterans and one service member per day die by suicide. The confusion stems from a different data sources and various ways agencies count someone as a veteran. With more analysis of the data, researchers should be able to determine why some veterans may be falling through the cracks. If, as this report suggests, some were reservists who were never federally activated, it’s possible they don’t know about VA services–particularly mental health ones–that might be available to them. For service providers who work in the veterans community, it should be a reminder that the definition of veteran varies and someone who needs help might not be getting it because they themselves don’t recognize their veteran status–or think groups out there to help may not. The raw numbers aren’t budging, which means much work has yet to be done, and it’s some of the most important work we can do. –LJ

A plan to help veterans from ‘the first minute’ they leave the service
Martin Kuz (@MartinKuz), The Christian Science Monitor
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) are launching a campaign to reduce the rate of suicides among service members and veterans. This public health campaign encourages cities across the U.S. to expand suicide prevention strategies by creating alliances between public agencies and private organizations. Cities with large veteran populations and high veteran suicide rates have been selected for the initial phase, with the intent to add an additional 20 cities. The participating cities are provided with guidelines to improve the coordination of services to support veterans with mental health conditions. Las Vegas City Councilman Mr. Steve Seroka says, “We can’t keep waiting until the last minute to save people. We need to start helping them from the first minute when they get out of the service.” –SM
Bottom line: Like many issues we have faced over the years surrounding veterans, the real solution isn’t at the national level but at the local. This program understands that it will be up to local organizations and networks to catch service members as they leave the uniform behind and transition to a new “tribe” to prevent them from slipping into the spiral that leads to suicide. There is a myriad of available efforts that can help a veteran in need, but that cacophony can often become a problem of connecting with one that is right for each person. It comes down to one-on-one connections so it’s good to see this effort recognizing that deploying a range of local assets will be the foundation of the mission. One key fact that appears to be missed in this conversation, unfortunately, is that the overwhelming majority of suicides among veterans are not among young veterans. VA’s most recent study showed yet again that most of those taking their lives are older and not using VA’s services. Cracking that nut is all the more difficult. –FPW

Veteran Sets Himself on Fire Outside State Capitol in Atlanta
Karen Zraick (@karenzraick), The New York Times
John Michael Watts was taken to the hospital in critical condition with burns on 85 to 90 percent of his body after setting himself on fire outside the state Capitol in Atlanta. Watts said he took the extreme action because he was upset with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Capt. Mark Perry of the Georgia State Patrol said, “He was strapped with some homemade incendiary devices, some firecrackers and doused himself with some kind of flammable liquid and attempted to set himself on fire.” An off-duty trooper who happened to be driving by at the time of the occurrence was able to douse Watts quickly. This is not the first time someone has set themselves on fire due to frustrations with the Department of Veterans Affairs – a 51-year-old veteran died this way in March 2016. –LB
Bottom line: Our current lack of knowledge of the broader circumstances around Watts’ actions makes it difficult to assess the situation effectively. We know that he left a phone number written on a sign in his car, which at the time of reporting, the police had stated they avoided calling it in case it was a trigger for any of Watts’ known or additional incendiaries. Watts was reportedly disgruntled, but given the lack of details, we don’t know if his problems were real or imagined, or if his past experiences with the VA were usual or unusual for a veteran. While it is tragic that any veteran would feel so lost that they would inflict intentional harm on themselves, it is important not to rush to judgment or use Watts’ case as another trigger for sweeping denunciations of the VA. Hopefully he survives his severe injuries, and hopefully the lessons learned from this case—whatever they may eventually be—are enough to prevent a future veteran from following in Watts’ footsteps. –BW

VA secretary nominee promises more medical choices for vets, but not privatization
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Robert Wilkie, current undersecretary for personnel and readiness at the Department of Defense, and the nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, has already established his goals for leading the VA: improving processes and areas regarding benefits payments, culture, medical care and human resources. Wilkie plans to achieve these goals, in part, by hand-picking his own staff – regardless of White House staff opinions. As expected, however, he is not immune to the scrutiny that nominees before him have faced – specifically concerns regarding sexism and racism, due to organizations he has supported in the past and political leaders for whom he has worked. –AB
Bottom line: As Military Times indicates, most predict Wilkie’s confirmation to be a fairly simple process, when you take into account his breadth of experience within the government sector, not to mention that he is an officer in the Air Force Reserves, the son of a wounded combat veteran and has worked closely with Secretary Mattis, and no senator has cast a vote opposing a president’s VA nominee since the position became cabinet level 30 years ago. That’s not to say that Wilkie won’t face further scrutiny, especially given that this is an election year. He seems to have addressed most of the controversial pieces during his hearing, assuming those questioning him give him the benefit of the doubt and accept his explanations as the truth–and nothing else is revealed. –CB

6 Perfect Military Vacation Discounts
Amy Bushatz, (@amybushatz),
ScoutComms’ client Veteran Tickets Foundation provides an excellent way for military families to save money on their summer adventures. Vet Tix provides free event tickets to veterans of all eras, currently serving military, military families and VetTixer caregivers to concerts, sporting events, family performances and more. Other great ways to save money for military families include The Blue Star Museums, Tents for Troops and the Space-A flight program. –KG

Veterans seeking elected office get boost from ‘Craigslist’ founder
Drew Brooks (@DrewBrooks), The Fayetteville Observer
There are currently 80 veterans in the House and 19 in the Senate. However, with the help of Craig Newmark scholarships for up to 10 University of San Francisco MA in Public Leadership program students, client Veterans Campaign expects to see those numbers increase soon. While the priority deadline for this hybrid program consisting of both online classes and in-person seminars has already passed, they are still taking applications; learn more here. –AB

Veterans, service members find stress relief through community concerts and events
Tim Hudak (@hoodyhudak), VAntage Point  
Artists like Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Lorde and many more are working alongside client Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix), creating opportunities for stress relief for veterans struggling with post-traumatic stress (PTS). Vet Tix offers free concert and event tickets to the military community, and veterans are pleased with the resulting relief and benefits. U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Holly, said of her experience: “Me and my ‘plus 3’ had a phenomenal night!! I am one step closer to managing my anxiety in crowds and loud noises because you donated tickets for veterans!” While concert venues may not seem like an ideal setting for those who struggle with PTS, Vet Tix events often allow service members and veterans to sit alongside one another, providing a secure environment for them to reintegrate into the community and connect with their comrades. –KG

This Marine spearheaded the latest GI Bill
Andrea Scott (@_andreascott), Marine Corps Times
Client Student Veterans of America’s (SVA) Vice President of Government Affairs and Staff Sgt. Will Hubbard’s goal is to create a better understanding between the military and lawmakers on Capitol Hill since he believes that they are making decisions on behalf of the military, without understanding anything about it. He is attempting to transform veterans’ benefits for higher education by advocating for the creation of the “Forever GI Bill.” –SM

Vet Tix using new tech platform to fully automate ticket giving process
Hayley Ringle (@PhxBizHayley), Phoenix Business Journal
A new technology program allows Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) to give out more tickets to users. Vet Tix offers donated entertainment and sports tickets to the military community, and has more than 600,000 members. Vet Tix co-founder Butch Hogan said, “In one day we can give out up to 2,000 sets of tickets, which is about one a minute. Now we can give out more with this technology, especially since we often get tickets last minute.” This new program fully automates the process of receiving tickets, which, in addition to new and existing partnerships, will allow Vet Tix to give out around 1 million tickets this year. –LB

VA Report Provides Updated Information on Veteran Suicide Rates
Wes O’Donnell (@WesODonnell01), In Military
Earlier this month, the VA released a new report providing updated numbers and information regarding veteran suicide; it revealed that there are a total of 19.8 military and veteran suicides per day. There are ample organizations and resources available to veterans, working diligently to reduce the risk of suicide and change the negative stigma surrounding mental health, including client Give an Hour. –AB

Veterans Need Not Apply
Kim Velsey (@kvelsey), The New York Times
Air Force veteran and full-time student, Alex Donahue, became homeless after struggling to find an apartment in New York City that would accept his G.I. housing allowance. Because of his student status, his tax returns showed no taxable income, which caused landlords to illegally turn him away. –LB

Over 50 women veterans’ groups are meeting in Atlanta to form a new coalition
Jake Hughes (@JakeTheArmyGuy), Connecting Vets
Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) is organizing the first “Military Women’s Coalition.” The idea to do this came to light when members of SWAN researched organizations that serve women veterans and found over 150, most of them very small. In an effort to bring these organizations together, the first Military Women’s Coalition meeting will be held on September 7, 2018 in Atlanta with 45 groups already confirming their attendance. –LB

Planning for Trump’s military parade finally getting underway
Courtney Kube (@ckubeNBC), NBC News
Despite months of uncertainty regarding the budget, as well as some backlash from the American public and a number of U.S. officials, it seems as though planning is underway for the military parade President Trump requested. France’s Bastille Day Parade serves as Trump’s inspiration for the event, but it is unclear where the money for an event of that magnitude would stem from. –AB

Gina Harkins
Gina Harkins, former senior staff writer at the Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), will now be covering all things U.S. Marines, Navy and Coast Guard-related at She also previously held several roles at Marine Corps Times, ending her time there as managing editor. –AB

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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 02, 2018 12:08 pm

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