Veterans Roundup: Younger Veterans and Rising Costs Within VA, Ending Mental Health Stigma, and Convening Non-Profits

Posted by Fred Wellman

VA Chief Warns of Rising Cost of Caring for Younger Veterans
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan), Last Wednesday, Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald testified before Congress that the number of veterans applying for VA care and benefits is increasing. McDonald stressed that the VA is on track to end homelessness among veterans and end the disability claims backlog but that the increasing cost of care for younger veterans will pose a challenge in the future if budgets don’t also rise. –MC
Bottom line: The numbers tell the tale here. More and more veterans are seeking benefits payments and health care from the VA even as the total number of veterans decreases as the WWII and Korea generations pass away. The current generation of veterans is seeking VA benefits at a pace approaching twice the previous generations and with the Vietnam generation aging they too will seek benefits and payments many didn’t apply for when they were of working age. All of this tallies up to a need for increased funding and support networks for VA in numbers unseen in the past. The idea of cutting benefits to veterans in a time of war is seen as a third rail for American politics but as the wars end and budgets become constrained the push for “efficiencies and reforms” could well translate to fewer benefits and less availability of medical care as bright ideas like outsourcing the entire system to an overstrained civilian healthcare system pop up. We as a nation decided to send our men and women to war and we have a sacred duty to ensure their care as thanks for the service they rendered to the nation. –FPW

Study: soldiers Don’t Recover from Concussions as Quickly as Athletes
Jesse Bogan (@JesseBogan), St. Louis Dispatch. A new study suggests that concussions received in war zones differ greatly from concussions received during hockey or football games. The findings also showed that recovery time is much greater for battlefield concussions. –MC
Bottom line: While this study may seem to be highlighting something obvious, in fact it is the first study of its kind to look at the differences in concussions based on trauma vector done in conjunction with the military. The research indicates that civilian medicine and outcomes for concussion treatment can’t be extended to service members and veterans suffering from brain injuries because blast concussions don’t follow the same recovery trajectory as sports concussions. While much of the current thinking on concussions comes from the world of sports, the research indicates the military may have to change its approach to caring for service members with blast concussions in theater and long-term. It also has implications for VA care—it shows the benefit that VA doctors trained in veteran-specific injuries have over civilian counterparts that may treat veterans like any other patient without knowing how combat unique affects physiology and psychology. –LJ

‘Not In My Squad’: SMA’s Campaign to Fight Sex Assault
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Army Times. New Sergeant Major of the Army Dan Dailey recently launched a grassroots campaign called “Not in my squad” aimed at encouraging young NCOs in the Army to fight sexual assault and empower them to take action. Advocates say that part of the issue is that many sexual assault victims do not report assault in the military. A Mother Jones article explored the reporting process and potential aspects that may be “inherently unfair.” –MC
Bottom line: The Sergeant Major’s campaign sounds a lot like the concept of “intrusive leadership,” which has its champions and detractors in the Navy, the Air Force and across the service branches. The concept essentially calls on leaders to be more “intrusive” in the personal lives of the men and women under their command, to ensure that leaders don’t focus so narrowly on basic job performance that they miss out on personal issues, family problems or, in this case, inappropriate behaviors that may not come to the forefront without prodding. Soldiers are not always fans of their leaders, from NCOs up to general officers, asking questions that go beyond social niceties, but if the military is serious about reducing sexual assault and punishing assaulters, then uncomfortable questions will need to be asked. Looking beyond the “intrusive” element of leadership, the success of the Sergeant Major’s campaign is contingent on NCOs taking a hard line against sexual assault and leading by example within their own chains of command. –BW

At VA Health Facilities, Whistleblowers Still Fear Retaliation
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@Emily_Wax), The Washington Post. Since accepting the job of Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Bob McDonald has put several steps in place to change the culture of the department and establish a system for reporting that protects whistleblowers. However, the process is slow going and whistleblowers and employees are expressing fears of retaliation and feelings of being stuck in a system that they can’t change. –MC
Bottom line:  Bureaucracies have an unfortunate tendency to circle the wagons in face of both internal and external threats to their status quo. Even with a clear signal of change emanating from Secretary Bob, the daily lives of VA employees and their supervisors have not noticeably changed. While the objective observer would look at an employee who raised concerns about the adequacy of services or a potential violation of the law and applaud their civic-mindedness, that’s rarely how such actions are seen by managers who are less concerned about optimal outcomes than they are about personal advancement or survival. This is not always a conscious decision on their part, but it happens far too often in bureaucracies that have learned bad habits. It’s going to take a long time to fix all the problems in the VA, but it’s important that journalists and national leaders alike help shine a bright light on cases where apparent whistleblowers have been mistreated. –BW

GAO: Shortfalls in Tracking Mental Health Discharges
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times. The Army, Navy, and Marine Corps have been incorrectly recording how many service members they have discharged for non-disability mental health conditions making it more difficult to identify troops that were wrongly discharged. Amid these findings, Senators proposed legislation that would increase mental health pre-screenings, Gen. (ret.) Peter W. Chiarelli shared his opinion on veteran mental health care in the Washington Post, and the First Lady helped launch an initiative to end stigma around mental health. –MC
Bottom line: There are few bigger names in DC than Michelle Obama, but even Michelle Obama’s star power didn’t drive too many headlines around Give An Hour’s campaign to change the way Americans think and talk about mental health. If anything, the lack of buzz around the campaign shows how much farther we have to go as a nation before we’re truly comfortable discussing mental health issues. These same stigmas led to the improper reporting GAO found among the branches and now may hinder veterans with “bad paper” from getting upgrades that allow them to get VA benefits and care. Of course, even when service members transition to VA mental health care, they are often subjected to dangerous trial and error prescribing for psychiatric medication even if they were on successful treatment in the military. That’s because DOD and VA operate on two different lists of medications that doctors may prescribe. The VA list is much shorter than DODs so VA doctors often have to try new medications on patients. Two fixes: create one formulary for DOD and VA doctors and end trial and error prescribing with proven technologies like ScoutComms client CNS Response. –LJ

New Association Aims to Help Veterans Group Provide Better Services
Megan O’Neil (@ByMeganONeil), The Chronicle of Philanthropy. The National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO), formally launched last week. This organization includes 45 registered organizations, all paying an annual membership to join an organized network of groups dedicated to serving veterans. Advocates, service providers, and government officials have been calling for a kind of coalition for many years and former Joint Chief’s staffer Chris Ford is leading the way in creating a new organization to meet that concept. –MC
Bottom line:  We had a chance to chat with Chris Ford whom we knew while still in uniform. NAVSO is an ambitious enterprise with four key elements of connecting, coordinating, collaborating and eventually collective impact among the many organizations supporting veterans. There has been very little success in creating platforms that help navigate the many different organizations, creating collaboration among them, and leveraging their impact for the best of the community in the past. While organizations with specific missions often do well convening their sector like ScoutComms client the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans in dealing with homelessness, collaboration on a grander scale has not taken off. NAVSO aims to tackle that challenge in the coming years. We wish them the very best of luck. The recent Bush Institute Summit made it clear that major donors are growing weary of funding the multitude of duplicative efforts in the veterans space so a sea change is coming as organizations will close up shop and/or merge with similar groups. Providing collaboration for maximum impact is a key needed element in the sector. Perhaps NAVSO will be a key part of the solution. –FPW

Quick Hits:

Haunted by Their Decisions in War
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), The Washington Post. Moral injury is a new term that describes the pain and guilt individuals may feel when faced with damage to their moral foundations. Thomas Gibbons-Neff, a former infantry Marine and recent Washington Post intern, delved into this topic last week through the story of Jeff, a soldier who made a very hard decision in Afghanistan and struggled afterward. –MC

National Leaders Selected to Chair Councils Dedicated To Addressing Military Caregiving Issues
Elizabeth Dole Foundation. Ahead of its spring summit on military and veteran caregivers, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation has announced the chairs of its councils that will lead reporting and recommendations on how to solve key issues facing the caregiver community. We’re proud to see many ScoutComms clients and friends represented and we can’t wait to see their results. –LJ

Vets Housing Short on Veterans
Mark Hayward (@mhayward), New Hampshire Union Leader. A New Hampshire program intended to house homeless veterans found it difficult to fill its apartments. The project developed two tenement buildings with three- and four-bedroom apartments for veterans with families, but the program ultimately found a greater need among their population for one- and two-bedroom apartments. –MC

Why Homecoming Can Be Particularly Hard for Female Veterans
Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (@gaylelemmon), PBS Newshour. Last week, PBS interviewed several female veterans and examined the unique challenges they face as they transition from military to civilian life. Women veterans face higher unemployment rates and a higher risk of homelessness than their male counterparts. –MC

Stories of Grief, Love, Penance in Mementos Left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Michael E. Ruane (@michaelruane), The Washington Post. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become a place for reflection and reconciliation. Over the years, visitors have left behind more than 400,000 tokens of remembrance at the Wall. Now, the Vietnam War Education Center is working to share these stories by creating a display featuring some of the items left behind. –MC

Three Reasons Why Veterans Leave the Military that They Love
JJ Pinter (@JJPint), The Havok Journal. JJ Pinter, an Army veteran and Team Red, White and Blue’s Director of Operations, writes on why veterans leave the military that they love and provides some tips for coping with feelings of longing or nostalgia through community service and physical activity. –MC

DoD Wants More Details on Proposals to Overhaul Retirement, Health Systems
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime) and Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times. The Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission has made several recommendations to overhaul the U.S. military retirement and health care systems. Pentagon officials have made few remarks about the proposals thus far, and in their official response due this month are expected request the data the cost-cutting recommendations were based on, since the data has not been made available to-date. –MC

Choice Card Confusion Frustrates Veterans, Congress
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times. The implementation of the Department of Veterans Affairs Choice Card program is under fire and is causing much confusion for veterans, lawmakers, and advocates. Last week, a Veterans of Foreign Wars survey found that 80 percent of those who qualified and tried to receive outside health services were rejected. –MC

IVMF Receives Large Grants to Continue Working with Veterans, Improve Services
Justin Mattingly (@jmattingly306), The Daily Orange. Over the past three weeks, the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University has received more than $8 million in funding to continue supporting the veteran community. First Data is donating $7 million to support the launch of a Center for Excellence, the Wal-Mart Foundation made a $1 million grant to help support the Welcome Home North Carolina initiative, and Intercontinental Exchange gave a $500,000 grant to help IVMF continue work in community engagement, programming, and research. –MC         

A Life, Translated
Justin Sondel (@JustinSondel), Daily Public. A former Afghan translator for the U.S. military, now living in Buffalo, NY, shares his story of service, survival and escape. The article discuses the work of Matt Zeller and his non-profit No One Left Behind, which helps Afghan and Iraqi interpreters get special immigrant visas and establish lives in the U.S. –MC

Tradeshows & Conferences

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

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

Congressional Hearings


The House is in recess.


Armed Services: Posture of the Department of the Navy Who: The Honorable Raymond E. Mabus, Jr., Secretary of the Navy, Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, Chief of Naval Operations, General Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., USMC, Commandant of the Marine Corps When: 9:30 AM, Tuesday, March 10, 2015 Where: G50 Dirksen

Appropriations: Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Subcommittee Hearing: FY16 and FY17 Veterans Health Administration Budget Who: Carolyn M. Clancy, MD, Interim Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration, James Tuchschmidt, MD, Acting Principal Deputy Under Secretary for Health, Veterans Health Administration When: 2:30 PM, Tuesday, March 10, 2015 Where: 124 Dirksen

Armed Services: Subcommittee on Seapower: Marine Corps Ground Modernization Who: Mr. Thomas P. Dee, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Lieutenant General Kenneth J. Glueck, Jr., USMC, Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command When: 9:30 AM, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 Where: 222 Russell

Foreign Relations: The President’s Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts Who: The Honorable John F. Kerry, Secretary Of State, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, The Honorable Ashton B. Carter, Secretary Of Defense, U.S. Department of Defense, Washington, DC, General Martin Dempsey, Chairman Of The Joint Chiefs Of Staff, U.S. Department of Defense Washington , DC When: 9:30 AM, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 Where: 419 Dirksen

Armed Services: Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support: Military Construction, Environmental, Energy, and Base Closure Programs Who: Mr. John C. Conger, Performing The Duties Of Assistant Secretary Of Defense Energy, Installations And Environment, Honorable Katherine G. Hammack, Assistant Secretary Of The Army Installations, Energy And Environment, Honorable Dennis V. McGinn, Assistant Secretary Of The Navy Energy, Installations And Environment, Honorable Miranda A. A. Ballentine, Assistant Secretary Of The Air Force Installations, Environment And Energy When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 Where: 216 Hart

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, March 09, 2015 11:08 am

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