Veterans Roundup: What the Midterms Mean for Veterans—Those Elected and Those in the Community, Plus a Look at What Qualifies as “Too American”

Posted by Fred Wellman

Virgin Australia Airline Seeks to Thank Veterans for Their Service. Vets Say, ‘No, Thanks.’
Jamie Tarabay (@jamietarabay), The New York Times
Virgin Australia faced backlash after announcing a policy that would offer veterans priority boarding and an in-flight announcement acknowledging their service. Many of the critics stressed the “distinctly un-Australian” nature of the policy and how it seemed to be a political ploy by the Liberal government to sway voters. Mike Carlton, the author of several books about Australia’s military history stated, “It’s a very American thing to do. We’re not quite as loud or noisy as that.” Concerns have also risen surrounding the effect that this policy would have on those who suffer with post-traumatic stress disorder. In response, Virgin Australia said that the policy was “genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country.” –MW
Bottom Line: Now that the public backlash has begun, Virgin Australia says they “will consult with community groups and our own team members who have served in defense to determine the best way forward.” It’s worth noting that in most cases, that’s really the best way to go. Think a community wants something? Ask first! In this case, Australian veterans have said the airline’s proposal comes off as “too American”. Of course, ask many American veterans and some would certainly tell you they would forgo the priority boarding and other nice-but-not-necessary benefits offered by companies. With Veterans Day behind us, we should be looking ahead at what we can do to thank veterans with more than perks. It seems in Australia, that’s what veterans are asking for: efforts that promote an understanding of service rather than widen the divide between civilians and veterans. –LJ

Democrats gain control of key House military, vet committees
Claudia Grisales (@cgrisales) and Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
After Democrats won back control of the House in last week’s midterm election, leadership of key committees will fall to lawmakers like Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who is in line to take over the House Veterans Affairs Committee in January. While issues like veterans’ education benefits and outside health care programs have seen successful reforms pass with a Republican-led Congress and White House in the last two years, a split Congress may lead to gridlock. Takano expressed a commitment to working alongside Republicans and VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, however he has said his priority will be addressing deported veterans and enacting a path to citizenship for immigrants who serve, topics that his Republican colleagues have avoided. –KG
Bottom Line: With Democrats taking the reigns of House committees in the next Congress, expect the number of oversight hearings to increase dramatically. While VA reform legislation has passed with bipartisan support over the previous two years, Democratic lawmakers have made their objections to the implementation of various laws known. On the veterans affairs side, issues like predatory for-profit colleges and vacancies at the VA will take precedence for Rep. Takano. Further, leadership will likely take advantage of any opportunity to grill VA leadership over administration failures or hot topics related to veterans in the news. What remains to be seen is whether any kind of legislation might be able to pass such a divided House and Senate. Traditionally, appropriations bills are supposed to come from the House which would further allow Democrats to set spending expectations, but the appropriations process in DC has been very non-traditional for some time now. As Brian notes below, this new Congress also includes a number of freshman veterans who could additionally drive some of the priorities on veteran issues. What we do know is that the next session of Congress will look and feel much different that the last. –LJ

U.S. House freshman class includes most veterans in nearly a decade
Barbara Goldberg (@blgoldberg17), Reuters
The election last Tuesday means that the freshman class of the 116th Congress will include 16 military veterans, the highest total in almost a decade. More than 150 military veterans ran as a Republican or Democrat, and about 75 of them were elected or reelected. Three of the veterans elected to serve their first term are women, which will nearly double the number of female veterans serving in Congress. Jason Mangone, a former Marine and co-author of “Leaders: Myth and Reality,” said, “Veterans have a formative experience in their 20s that makes them likely to put country ahead of party. That’s the sort of leadership we really want to see. Particularly out of these young veterans.” –LB
Bottom Line: While veterans have always been popular Republican candidates, this election cycle saw increased excitement and attention for veterans running as Democrats, buoyed both by national trends and by enhanced efforts to recruit and support such candidates on the campaign trail. While the incoming class will reverse a decade-long decline in veteran freshman members, it will not stem the continuing trend of overall decline of veterans in Congress, as the newly-elected veterans were outnumbered by the veteran members who retired or lost their seats this year. Because the veteran population in the U.S. continues to shrink, it is unlikely that we will ever see a Congress where veteran representation rises back above 25 percent, and even 20 percent will be a stretch unless large numbers of veterans continue to run for office, and that the electorate picks them at a higher rate. Looking beyond the basic numbers, there is the question of the impact that new and returning veteran members will have on Congress in the next two years. Some of these veterans formally pledged to work in a bipartisan and transparent manner, and many avow that their military service makes them more likely to put country ahead of party. In this nakedly partisan era, with Congress taking a back seat to the White House on most issues, veterans acting in a bipartisan manner have a chance to make Congress effective and relevant again, but that is only if they can withstand the temptation to pander to their bases and treat politics as a no-holds-barred contact sport. –BW

Tips for the Chief Entertainment Officer: Free tickets for YOU!
Military Spouse (@MilSpouseMag)
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) is a national nonprofit that provides free event tickets to all branches of currently serving military including the Guard and Reserve, veterans of all eras, their families, VetTixer caregivers and immediate family of those killed in action. To date, Vet Tix has distributed more than 5.3 million tickets to 1 million members. To learn more and sign up, visit –LB

How Marine Corps training prepared this veteran for a career making children’s toys
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times
U.S. Marine Corps veteran Donald Coolidge is co-founder and CEO of Elemental Path, a technology company that, through its CogniToys product line, creates children’s toys that interact and educate via voice-based artificial intelligence. Coolidge has a background in working with technology from his time in the Marine Corps, but his military training also aids him with the daily leadership and critical thinking skills needed as an entrepreneur. Elemental Path has launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $50,000 before Dec. 7. The campaign is for CogniToys’ most recent invention, Scout, a talking robot that is able to learn and engage with its owner. Coolidge is enthusiastic about the benefits Scout will bring to children, saying, “Kids are already using screens probably more than they should, and Scout is all based on that verbal aspect to get kids thinking and talking and communicating. Removing the screen, it creates this really amazing experience.” –LB

Former Marine Uses Life Skills To Create Award-Winning Toys
Mark Lugris (@Mark_Lugris), TheThings
Donald Coolidge, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who imagined himself working in law enforcement or government, now owns a successful technology company. His company, Elemental Path, has a CogniToys product line that creates voice-activated artificial intelligence to provide educational value and interaction for children. His latest invention, Scout, is a robot that engages and learns with children through AI. Elemental Path recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for Scout with a goal of reaching $50,000 by December 7. –LB

Here’s how one company is using $500 million to help vets
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times 
Since 2011 when it began focusing its giving efforts on the veteran community, The Home Depot Foundation has invested more than $250 million. Now, the foundation is doubling down and increasing that commitment to $500 million by 2020 in organizations like Team Rubicon, Gary Sinise Foundation, Jared Allen’s Homes for Wounded Warriors, Volunteers of America, Semper Fi Fund, and others. Though we’re biased, it’s hard to think of other companies who are doing quite so much. –LJ

Incredible veteran athletes find their injuries don’t hold them back
Cindy Kuzma (@cindykuzma), USA Today
Three service disabled veterans have found strength and healing in athletic performance while also advocating and fundraising for veteran service organizations. These athletes highlight how sports programs aid physical rehab and foster a sense of community that provides psychosocial advantages. Former U.S. Army officer Melissa Stockwell said, “I’ve found I have a passion behind sports, the way it makes me feel. It’s proving to myself that I can still have these big goals, whether I have one leg or two.” –MW

Why won’t companies hire military spouses?
Jane Ridley (@JaneRidleyNY), New York Post
Military spouse unemployment has reached a staggering 28 percent, roughly 24 percent higher than the national rate. With this, many spouses also face underemployment as they are forced to take entry-level jobs in order to provide for their families. This issue could spell trouble for the military’s retention as “dissatisfaction with their family life leads to people leaving the military,” said Dan Savage, LinkedIn’s head of military and veterans programs. –MW

Wreaths Across America to lay wreaths at D-Day headstones in Normandy
Connecting Vets (@ConnectingVets)
Wreaths Across America has announced that for the first time ever the French government has given the organization permission to place American-made wreaths on headstones at the Normandy American Cemetery. The event will take place on December 1, 2018 and will also include a ceremonial wreath laying on each of the five D-Day invasion beaches. –MW

Marine Veteran Among Dead In Thousand Oaks Mass Shooting
Jared Keller (@JaredBKeller), Task and Purpose
Dan Manrique, a former Marine and head of the Ventura County chapter of Team Red, White & Blue, was among the 12 people shot and killed last Wednesday in Thousand Oaks, Cali. Manrique had just arrived to meet friends at Borderline Bar & Grill when the shooting began. Manrique’s childhood friend, Jacklyn Pieper, said “His life was about going above and beyond. His whole life was based around helping others.” –MW

Dave Brown
Brown, senior editor at Washington Examiner, announced that he is moving Politico as their new Deputy Defense Editor. His first day on the job is today, November 13.

Amy Bushatz
Bushatz, Senior Content Editor for, has been promoted to Executive Editor of the publication.

Community Opportunities

Warrior Wellness Alliance: Warriors Connect Research Study
A groundbreaking research project led by the Bush Institute’s Warrior Wellness Alliance and Qntfy using donated public-facing social media and fitness tracker information to better understand mental health and wellbeing, and to design more precise and effective interventions. Watch this short video to learn more.
Who: Veterans are the primary audience, but anyone is encouraged to participate, regardless of military service.
When: Study participation open now. Visit this link to donate your information today.

Congressional Hearings


Veterans’ Affairs: 180-Day Review of the Electronic Health Record Modernization Program
10:00 AM, Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: A Continued Review of GI Bill Payment Delays
2:00 PM, Wednesday, November 14, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: Exploring VA’s Oversight of Contract Disability Examinations
2:00 PM, Thursday, November 15, 2018
Where: 334 Cannon

Fred Wellman

Fred 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, November 13, 2018 12:28 pm

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