Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis
Monday, September 21, 2015
We’ve got important stories this week. Particularly the latest from Pulitzer Prize winning Dave Philipps at the New York Times about the high rate of suicide among the men of the Marines’ 2/7. It’s long, it’s worth your time, and it’s worth figuring out what you can do to make a difference.
Elsewhere, there is VA news, there is the future of women in combat, there is a fake veteran non-profit, and there are Vietnam veterans making a case for Agent Orange exposure benefits. –LJ
The week ahead:
Tradeshows and Conferences:
No relevant tradeshows this week. For a full list of upcoming events check out our Events page.
No relevant hearings this week.
Major themes and issues from last week:
ScoutComms in the News:
Marines fire back at Carson’s readiness comment in GOP debate
Matthew L. Schehl (@MattSchehl), Marine Corps Times
Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson has been staking out his position on veterans issues with an op-ed for USA Today outlining his goal to abolish VA, and last week he discussed our nation’s military readiness during the GOP debate, including the comment that the U.S. Marine Corps is not ready to be deployed. As you can imagine, this comment received quite a bit of pushback on social media and Twitter commentary and our Vice President Lauren Jenkins was among those voices. –MC
Veterans and Military Issues:
In unit stalked by suicide, veterans try to save one another
Dave Philipps (@David_Philipps), The New York Times
Marines who served in the Second Battalion, Seventh Marine Regiment saw more casualties than any other Marine battalion in 2008. Since returning home, the group faced a very high suicide rate. Sometimes frustrated by VA services, the group created a tracking system using shared spreadsheets and social media to monitor and help comrades who may be struggling. This is a long, but very important, read. –MC
Bottom line: This is the kind of reporting that should cause heartbreak and outrage and ultimately action. Each of us has the ability to do something, even a small thing. Some others have the ability to do more. Look no further than the young men of 2/7 profiled here, all of whom have said “no more”. Some created their own quick reaction force to respond to men within their ranks in need. Some, like Jake Wood, have started nonprofits dedicated to enabling veterans to continue serving and continue connecting. Some have saved their own lives at the last minute. Others have not been so lucky. While it’s easy to get into the big picture—there are not enough psychiatrists for veterans or civilians, the VA needs to improve access and care, we must do more for the moral injuries of war—but this story is about how the one-on-one connection matters. However you can, let your friends or family in needs know: they are not alone. –LJ
After the VA scandal, veterans were told their wait for care would get shorter. But it’s actually getting worse.
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux (@emily_wax), The Washington Post
According to a new 4,000-page study, veterans seeking health care services through the VA may face longer wait times in coming years. The report found that VA facilities cost twice as much to run as public facilities, and found that VA patients are less satisfied with their care than patients at non-VA hospitals. The review sparked further discussion of closing and moving unnecessary or unused facilities. –MC
Bottom line: First, if you think that this latest report is primarily fodder for those who have advocated a shift from VA care to private sector care, you are wrong. What this report highlights is that the VA is an extraordinarily complex organization that is failing in a number of critical areas to meet the unique and costly needs of veterans. Despite all of the VA’s funding it still fails on many fronts, according to this report. But that only makes it more daunting to consider passing the buck to the private sector, which has no claims to possessing unique knowledge of veterans’ health care needs. While we hate to repeat a cliché, the VA remains “too big to fail,” and as we’ve stated in previous weeks, if Congress wants to truly hold Secretary Bob McDonald accountable, it should give him carte blanche to pursue reforms in the next year that his leadership team believes could make a dent in this long-established problem. That would be a better use of time than indulging in our once-weekly panic attacks as we are reminded that the VA’s problems have not been solved overnight. –BW
The fake vet nonprofit that sponsored Trump’s USS Iowa speech on veteran’s issues
Rick Cohen (@cohenreport), Nonprofit Quarterly
Last week, Donald Trump spoke at the U.S.S. Iowa Museum, sponsored by an organization called Veterans for a Strong America.Leo Shane’s deep-dive into Trump’s speech found it light on military and veterans issues, but according to Nonprofit Quarterly’s Rick Cohen, his speech wasn’t the only thing lacking in veterans and military content. The organization has failed to file a Form 990 for the past three years which caused the IRS to revoke its non-profit status, does little to support veterans, and is apparently run in tandem as a Super PAC. –MC
Bottom line: There really isn’t any doubt that this organization is nothing but a front for the political activities of its founder and sole employee, former Army officer Joel Arends. The organization hasn’t properly filed its Form 990 in three years and there is no evidence anywhere at all that they have ever done anything for veterans other than conduct political activities in support of conservative candidates for office. Period. Throw in that endorsing a political candidate is directly in violation of regulations governing 501(c)3 activities. Probably the final insult is that the U.S.S. Iowa Museum was under fire for hosting the event but insisted that since the organization was a non-profit that it was appropriate to allow the event and even gave them a discount. That’s a lot of lies and they only hurt the veteran’s community since these fake non-profits smear hard working non-profits that are actually making a difference. It would be a nice change of pace to see some kind of legal action taken against one of these growing numbers of fake veterans organizations. –FPW
Mabus: women will be allowed in infantry
Gretel C. Kovach (@gckovach), The San Diego Union-Tribune
Last Monday, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus reiterated that combat positions would be open to women by the end of the year, despite a recent Marine Corps study that showed all-male units performed better. Mabus’ comments have received pushback from Marines involved in the study. The debate will continue as lawmakers have asked for a briefing about the recent study, and outgoing Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, and next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has recommended that women be banned from some combat positions. –MC
Bottom line: There are a few things going on here. First, at least one woman who took part in the study on integrated combat units is defending the way the study was set-up and how women were trained—issues Mabus has used to discredit the results. Sgt. Danielle Beck says the women who took part were all strong Marines, not bottom-of-the-barrel candidates cherry picked to fail as some have painted them. Second, supporters of women in combat jobs still have some valid critiques of the study. Third, Dunford may be incoming Chairman, but the final decision will ultimately falls to Secretary of Defense Ash Carter. Remember, the Marines were the only service to recommend against the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”—but we still have a fully functioning, more equal Marine Corps today. –LJ
Forty years after the Vietnam war, blue water Navy vets fight for Agent Orange benefits
Mike Hixenbaugh (@Mike_Hixenbaugh), Charles Ornstein (@charlesornstein) and Terry Parris Jr. (@terryparrisjr), The Virginian-Pilot
Blue Water Navy veterans may have been exposed to Agent Orange and other harmful chemicals without having stepped foot in Vietnam, the current requirement for veterans to receive VA benefits for presumptive Agent Orange diseases. The Institute of Medicine says thousands of former sailors’ ailments may be the result of water consumed and used aboard ships that may have been contaminated by Agent Orange in rivers that washed out to the sea.–MC
Bottom line: The team at The Virginian-Pilot and ProPublica presented an exhaustively researched story on the effects of Agent Orange flowing into seas off of Vietnam and into the drinking supplies of U.S. sailors on ships. Today thousands of these Navy veterans complain of the symptoms accepted as Agent Orange exposure for veterans that served on the ground in country but these Navy veterans cannot receive benefits. The science in this case isn’t as solid as it might be for other veterans. Proving that dioxin tainted waters made it in concentrations to be dangerous and then into ship drinking water systems hasn’t been confirmed by any studies conclusively. The question comes down to whether that matters and at what point the government simply accepts the claims to take care of these men as they age before it’s too late. –FPW
ScoutComms’ Client News:
The Marine Corps’ study doesn’t change facts about women in combat
Judy Patterson (@servicewomen) for Task & Purpose
Judy Patterson, CEO of SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network), shares the organization’s view on the recent Marine Corps study and the future of women in combat. Patterson notes the success and history of women in combat, including the recent female graduates of Army Ranger School. Patterson says that strong leadership and training are necessary to make sure gender-integrated units are combat ready, and she believes that all branches of the military are capable of making this happen. –MC
Lawmakers oppose proposed changes to Asia produce commissary contract
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz), Military.com
Five Members of Congress recently submitted a letter urging fellow lawmakers to support military families in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act as it remains in conference. The Senate version of the NDAA would allow the Defense Commissary Agency to shift shipping prices to suppliers. If adopted, prices for fresh produce would be about 66 percent higher for service members and their families in Asia and Guam, according to a study by Raymond Express International. –MC
I was wounded in Iraq. But please talk to me like you would any other person
Justin Constantine (@Constantine_Jus) for The Washington Post
Justin Constantine, a wounded veteran, discusses the way that veterans are treated by the general public. Constantine shares several pieces of advice and notes that our wounded veterans don’t need pity—instead, they have a lot to offer friends, communities and businesses. –MC
Bowe Bergdahl will require lifetime of care for injuries suffered in captivity
Dan Lamothe (@danlamothe), The Washington Post
Bowe Bergdahl was held in captivity for five years after walking away from his base in Afghanistan and now faces up to 29 years in prison if convicted of desertion. Last week, a medical professional testified that Bergdahl would need a lifetime of medical care due to injuries he received in captivity, but Bergdahl could likely be denied benefits if convicted. The closing statements at Friday’s hearingshed light on the search for Bergdahl and raised questions the severity of charges. –MC
Obama to nominate first openly gay secretary to lead the Army
Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe), The Washington Post
President Obama has nominated Eric Fanning for the next Secretary of the Army. Fanning is openly gay, and has played a key role in overseeing shipbuilding and fighter jet programs at the Pentagon. His knowledge of the bureaucracy and acquisitions is said to be a key asset to the Army, if he is confirmed. –MC
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