Veterans Roundup: What the Budget Deal Means for the Military, the VA Secretary Wants to Expand Services, Immigrants in the Military, and More

Posted by Fred Wellman

Budget deal includes money for Marine Corps nude photo scandal, visas for Afghan immigrants
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, Congress reached an agreement on a budget deal that increased military spending by $15 billion. While some of this spending will go toward equipment upgrades, other funds will be appropriated for special purposes. These include consulting support for Marine Commandant Gen. Robert Neller as he addresses the recent nude photo scandal in the Marine Corps, as well as $50 million to help the Department of Veterans Affairs address opioid and substance abuse within the veteran population. –KB
Bottom line: This will shock you, I’m sure, but the communications consultant thinks that it’s not so outrageous that the Marine Corps is getting $18 million for “consulting” services related to the Marines United scandal. First, having an outsider come in and detail the issues that could have led to the culture that fostered this could be very useful to institute change. Second, if there is a PR component to the consulting, that could benefit internal communications and increase the likelihood that Marines would report significant issues like this earlier. It could also mitigate any hits to Marine Corps recruiting amongst women, thus ensuring the diversity and strength of the force moving forward. So, while consulting may seem like an extravagance in an austere budgetary cycle, it has national security purposes. Of course, in an ideal world, there never would have been a need in the first place. Elsewhere in the budget, we’re enthused to see lawmakers continue the visa program for interpreters, even if on a small scale. Again, a cheap way to ensure our nation’s security. –LJ

Vetting Delays Snarl Path to Citizenship for Thousands in Military
Frances Robles (@FrancesRobles), The New York Times
Thousands of service members are facing long and difficult journeys to citizenship under new regulations regarding background checks. Many immigrants with valid visas enlist with hopes to attain full citizenship. However, for up to 1,500 enlisted service members, their background checks take so long that by the time they go through their legal status visas had expired. President Trump has voiced support for noncitizen service members, however Attorney General Jeff Sessions has disagreed with this stance over security concerns. –JG
Bottom line: The initial desire to be outraged about this story gets more complicated when you realize that this is not, apparently, the immediate result of anti-immigrant sentiments in the Trump Administration, but is a ripple effect resulting from an Obama-era policy change to increase the level of scrutiny of non-citizens who join the military. With that said, no one can honestly believe that if Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others who share his skepticism of inclusive immigration and citizenship policies were faced with the choice of speeding up the process or allowing it to stall, they would be more comfortable with the latter decision. Looking beyond contemporary politics, it is harmful to our country and to our military to be seen as walking back the promise that military service in defense of the country is a unique pathway to citizenship and proving ground for one’s commitment to an adopted nation. If there are specific security concerns that motivated the increased scrutiny, that is the prerogative of the government. But in such a case, given the importance of these immigrants and the commitment they are making, every effort should be made to prioritize and accelerate the necessary background checks so that they are not left in limbo. Until that happens, this barrier in the process sends a message to others that their willingness to serve requires a commitment on their part that may not be met in a timely manner by a commitment on behalf of the military to welcome them fully and completely into its ranks. –BW

Veterans at risk of suicide negotiate a thorny relationship with guns
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR
For the first time ever, the veteran suicide rate is exceeding that of civilians, a statistic that is as troubling as it is hard to study.The nature and relative infrequency of these situations make them difficult to examine, however most researchers can agree that one thing contributes heavily to veteran suicide: guns. Reducing access to firearms is associated with a decreased chance of suicide, however Congress is having a difficult time doing so due to the constitutional right to bear arms. –KB
Bottom line: It is challenging to have a conversation about suicide without talking about means. In the past several months we’ve seen increased attention paid to veterans and their access to weapons as it relates to policy and the current uptick in suicide. In March, the House took up and passed HR. 1181 which challenged current VA policy labeling veterans assigned a fiduciary “mentally defective.” Those that were identified as “mentally defective” we also reported to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, effectively barring them from obtaining a firearm. Who would want someone labeled a “mental defective” to have a gun right!? Well, it turns out that “mentally defective” doesn’t mean what folks think it does. In current policy, it simply means that that person uses a fiduciary to assist them with their benefits.  While groups like VFW supported HR 1181 there was also heavy opposition, such as a letter authored by fourteen retired general officers who argued that access to guns contributes to the high rate of veteran suicide. One of the arguments for HR 1181 is that a veteran’s need for a fiduciary does not in and of itself indicate a high risk of suicide, nor is the use of a fiduciary determined by an official who screens a veteran for suicide risk. Experts tell us that reducing access to lethal means can reduce the rate of suicide, but is the answer to completely strip an individual’s second amendment rights? This is a challenging and incredibly nuanced conversation and one that our community certainly needs to have. In my opinion, a “solution” in this space must address three discrete areas: 1) reducing access to lethal means without reducing trust by veterans in the VA, 2) acknowledging, supporting and promoting the role of peers in veteran suicide prevention, and 3) resourcing proactive suicide prevention programs like the VA’s trigger-lock distribution program and educational programs and partnerships like the one recently announced by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. This issue cannot be boiled down to simple pro-gun/anti-gun or us-against-them argument–this is a complex issue that we must address with critical thinking, innovative solutions, and non-traditional partnerships to save lives. –RB

VA secretary vows to expand services, with or without more funding
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
VA Secretary David Shulkin will be expanding mental health and caregiver support programs regardless of his ability to get funding from congress to cover it.  While Trump has proposed a six percent boost in VA funding, VA Subcommittee chairman Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) clarified that the increase will not fund those expansions. Shulkin has also announced a controversial plan to close 1,100 vacant and underutilized buildings at VAs across the country as an attempt to save the VA $25 million per year. –JG
Bottom line: Balancing an agency budget is not like balancing a home budget, and while reducing costs by closing facilities may free up dollars at the VA, that money won’t be used to resource programming. While I am personally all in for providing mental health to those with other than honorable discharges and expanding the caregiver program, the former government employee in me sees a bureaucratic nightmare in the making. I am certainly a fan of Secretary Shulkin’s “make it happen” attitude and hope that we can see long-term fixes to programming that will support veteran mental health and our exceptional caregiver community but I fear making promises this early in the game with a spendthrift Congress could be setting our community up for a massive let-down. I look forward to seeing a plan informed our community’s needs as well as the agency’s fiscal realities that will help us smartly and sustainably resource programs that provide necessary lifelines for our veterans and caregivers. –RB     

Sexual assault on both men and women in the military is declining, Pentagon survey finds
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
According to a report coming out of the Pentagon last week, the number of sexual assaults occurring within the military is declining. Because service members often forego reporting sexual assault officially, the Pentagon utilized an anonymous survey, in addition to looking at known reports of sexual assault across all branches of the military. The final numbers indicated that around 14,900 assaults occurred in 2016, down from 34,000 in 2006. The report also concluded that the number of reports of sexual assault rose: in 2016, 1 of every 3 attacks were reported this past year, up from 1 in 14 in 2006. –KB
Bottom line: I find myself largely in agreement with our client, the Service Women’s Action Network, which in response to the report commended DOD on making positive progress and investing the time and energy in exploring not just the direct assaults, but the ways in which other actions in the continuum of harm set the stage for conditions that encourage and enable sexual assault to occur in the military. Their big concern is that DOD has still not fully accepted that sexual harassment—which is even more difficult to quantify effectively and vastly more pervasive than sexual assault—is a key enabler that affects at least one in every five service women every single year. As SWAN wrote in an online statement, “If women are exposed to this risk every single year of their career, they will likely experience sexual harassment once or multiple times over their careers. This contributes to a toxic work environment that damages morale, productivity, unit cohesion, retention, and other readiness factors.” While DOD has begun to discuss this connection and its importance in the report, the untamed prevalence of online harassment such as the actions of users on the Marines United Facebook page shows that there is still a wide range of ways in which harassment can occur in the military that remains far outside the control and reach of those who seek to improve behaviors and create an environment that allows all members—male and female—to serve without being harassed or assaulted. –BW

Marine recruit needed skin grafts to treat chemical burns suffered at boot camp, documents reveal
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), Washington Post
A Marine recruit received second and third-degree chemical burns after a suspected hazing incident on Parris Island. Doctors reported that the burned skin was liquefied from concentrated chlorine. Former Marine Sgt. Jeffrey VanDyke was sentenced in 2014 to serve one year in military prison after being connected with several other hazing related incidents. Marine Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller said that hazing related activities will not be tolerated. ­–JG
Bottom line: This is one of those stories that the reporting on it is as telling and concerning as the story itself. The story itself is outrageous. A recruit was forced to kneel and roll around in bleach that he spilled by a Drill Instructor and then not allowed to change his uniform afterward leading to massive chemical burns that led to major surgery. The good news is that the DI went to actual jail as anyone who tortures another human should. Then there is the rest of the story. Dan Lamothe did the hard work to dig up these quietly buried reports and publish an article that shows a clear and obvious long history of abuse by trainers of new Marines. Sadly, he has been the subject of yet another avalanche of anger from Marines and veterans for even questioning the Corps and some ridiculously stupid comments about how this is how real Marines are made and reporters and other critics are just “snowflakes” and other disgusting names for digging up these stories. The military prides itself as a profession. A profession needs to have checks and balances to ensure that it is acting in the best interests of its mission. Torturing those who volunteer to join the military isn’t right. Period. It’s tiring to see the “Veteran Anger Machine” be so predictable in its online outrage whenever these things are discovered. We should point our outrage at the monsters who are abusing our kids and not the people exposing these criminals. –FPW

Mark Green withdraws as Trump’s Army secretary nominee, citing ‘false and misleading attacks’
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Mark Green, an Iraq veteran and state senator in Tennessee, withdrew as President Trump’s nominee for Army secretary on Friday amid intense criticism for his views on several issues. Green has been known to make degrading comments about those in the LGBT community and even wrote a Facebook post back in 2013 insulting former President Obama for supporting “transvestites in uniform.” Green has also suggested that public healthcare encourages citizens to turn to the government for assistance rather than the Christian church, and questioned evolution’s validity. Green is the second nominee to step down from consideration, after Vincent Viola withdrew back in February. –DD
Bottom line: You read it right here a week ago folks. We said he wouldn’t last the week and he was out by Friday. It’s not just the clearly idiotic things that Mr. Green has said as a politician. What really ended it for him was his reaction to that criticism and behavior towards those questioning his ability to be fair and impartial in leading our soldiers. The sad punchline to this tale is that an anonymous Department of Defense spokesman told a journalist after Green pulled out that they were surprised to discover his past comments and claimed that the White House had vetted him and not DOD. There’s a great line in the Princess Bride along the lines of, “you keep using that word; I don’t think you know what it means.” Members of this administration keep saying they are vetting nominees and they keep blowing up when reporters do basic investigative work. All of this was really easy to find on Green. Much of it was his very own words on social media or public speeches he gave that were reported on by journalists. Proper vetting would have found them in days and he would have known to point them out himself. But no, so we are now four months into this administration and the only single confirmed political appointee at DOD is the Secretary with over 250 empty posts under him. Things need to happen quickly or the potential for real problems will just get greater and greater. –FPW

Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Partner to Support Disabled Veterans and Their Families at Community Events
Veteran Tickets Foundation (@VetTix), Vet Tix Press Room
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and Disabled American Veterans (DAV) have formally partnered to give more access to community events for disabled veterans and their families. Vet Tix and DAV understand the necessary resources for those living with a service-connected disability and have partnered to expand both organizations’ impact and reach within the military community. The DAV Charitable Service Trust (CST) recently granted Vet Tix with its second grant to increase the number of tickets available with accessible seating. –DD

Making a Difference: An Enduring Commitment to Service
Leaders Magazine
Harriet Dominique, Senior Vice President of Corporate Responsibility and Community Affairs for USAA, was recently interviewed by Leaders Magazine for her insight on community engagement on a corporate level. Check it out to find out about USAA’s commitment to the “giving mentality,” having the most impact in corporate responsibility, tracking that impact and more! –AB

13 May Events With Free Tickets For Vets And Service Members
Steven Weintraub (@weintraub_sd), Task and Purpose
Major community events oftentimes come with a large price tag and Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) works to alleviate the burden that military personnel and their families too often face. With 2.9 million event tickets distributed since its founding in 2008, Vet Tix offers tickets to community-based events at a discounted price for all service members, veterans and their families of all branches of service. During the month of May, Vet Tix has a range of ticket offerings from MLB games to major music concerts and even events in the arts. –DD

House considers measure to trim years off the VA appeals process
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
If veterans are unhappy with the benefits they receive from the VA and choose to appeal their disability rating, they currently can wait more than five years to have their cases reviewed. Members of the House of Representatives recently drafted legislation that would help overhaul this by providing veterans with a choice on how to resolve the issue. –KB

Army: Change to burial eligibility would expand life of Arlington National Cemetery
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling) Stars and Stripes
With space at Arlington National Cemetery (ANC) extremely limited, cemetery officials expect it to reach its capacity by the early 2040s. The Army, which manages ANC, is considering limiting the eligibility requirements to be buried there, but will present several options to Congress on how to best preserve and extend ANC’s future. –DD

Pentagon chief cracks down on service academy athletes going pro without serving full-time
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis has called for an end to a 2005 policy, which was interpreted more expansively in recent years, that allowed for student athletes at service academies to be exempted from immediate active duty service so they could join professional sports teams. Emphasizing that the academies serve to provide future officers who will work to improve all branches, Secretary Mattis mandated that from now on all graduates will be required to complete at least two years of active service before they can pursue a career in professional athletics. –JG

Storage Company Reacts to Military Household Good Auction Outrage
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz),
After an auction company, Gene Daniels Auctions, recently announced an upcoming auction of more than 100 unclaimed containers of goods formerly belonging to military members from overseas, the company received incredible backlash. Originally posted to Facebook, the post has since been deleted as military members disagreed with auctioning off items belonging to families who are required to move every few years. –DD

Pentagon considers sending more troops to Afghanistan as it prepares options for President Trump
Ryan Browne (@rabrowne75) and Zachary Cohen (@Zachary_Cohen), CNN
In a continuation of our counter-terrorism efforts, top military officials said that they are considering deploying more troops to Afghanistan. Additional deployments would be intended to end the “stalemate” that defense officials have said they’re currently experiencing in the region. –KB

Iraq, US in Talks to Keep American Troop Presence after ISIS
Qassim Abdul-zahra (@Qabdulzahra) and Bradley Klapper (@BKlapperAP),
Iraq Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and President Trump recently discussed the need for a continued US presence in the country to ensure long-term stability. While no details for this plan have been confirmed, proposed plans would include stationing US forces at five Iraqi military facilities in Mosul and along the border with Syria. US officials highlighted that this doesn’t include the construction of an American-run installation, a plan that would require committing to sending thousands of military personnel. Currently, the US has approximately 7,000 service members in Iraq. –JG

Tradeshows & Conferences

Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International: XPONENTIAL 2017 (Mon – Thur, May 8-11, 2017); Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center, Dallas, TX

Congressional Hearings

Veterans’ Affairs: Examining the Veterans Choice Program and the Future of Care in the Community
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, May 10, 2017
Where: 418 Russell

 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 08, 2017 12:57 pm

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