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The Scout Report 261st Edition

Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis

Monday, April 11, 2015

Things we’re not going to talk about this week: Mattis 2016, the F-35, reasonable CrossFitters—things that only exist in fantasyland, not in the real world. Things we will talk about this week: VA Choice, female infantry officers, and transgender service members—things everyone is just going to have to get used to.

Typically in the Scout Report, we like to continue covering how important issues we’ve identified are evolving week to week. Often, this includes hot issues on the Hill, the latest developments in VA reform, or military personnel issues. We’re trying to give more space to an issue that hasn’t been grabbing headlines, but is frightening to all of us in its implications: how sequestration may end up costing the lives of service members. Fred tackles the issue below, and I’d challenge you to consider how you or organization can highlight what is already a critical, but less discussed, issue for military families.

Your Monday wisdom: be polite, be professional, and have a plan to bill everyone you meet. What, that’s not the quote? –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows & Conferences:

17th Annual Science & Engineering Technology Conference (Tue – Thu; April 12 – 14, 2016); Hilton Tampa Downtown Hotel, Tampa FL

Congress: 

House:

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs (DAMA): Legislative Hearing on: H.R. 3936; H.R. 4087; H.R. 4757; H.R. 4758; H.R. 4759; H.R. 4782; H.R. 3715; and 4 draft bills

When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Appropriations: Markup of FY2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Bill and Report on the Interim Suballocation of Budget Allocations
When: 11:00 AM, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Where: 2359 Rayburn

Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces: Building the Fleet We Need: A look at Navy Force Structure
Who: The Honorable John Lehman, Former Secretary of the Navy, Admiral Robert Natter, Former Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health: Evaluating VA IT: Scheduling Modernization and Choice Consolidation
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, April 14, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Oversight Subcommittee on National Security: Connecting Veterans with PTSD with Service Dogs
When: 2:00 PM, Thursday, April 14, 2016
Where: 2154 Rayburn

Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 748; H.R. 2551; H.R. 3286; H.R. 3419; H.R. 4138; and 4 draft bills
When: 2:00 PM, Thursday, April 14, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Senate:
Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats: Strategy and Implementation of the Department of Defense’s Technology Offsets Initiative
Who:
 Honorable Stephen P. Welby,Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Research And Engineering; Dr. Arati Prabhakar, Director, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; Dr. William B. Roper, Jr., Director, Strategic Capabilities Office
When: 2:30 PM, Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower: Marine Corps Ground Modernization
Who: Mr. Thomas P. Dee
, Deputy Assistant Secretary Of The Navy For Expeditionary Programs And Logistics Management, Office Of The Assistant Secretary Of The Navy For Research, Development, And Acquisition; Lieutenant General Robert S. Walsh, USMC, Deputy Commandant For Combat Development And Integration, Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Where: 232A Russell

Events:

Hiring Our Heroes: DC Hiring Expo with Washington Wizards
When:
10:15 AM, Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Where: Verizon Center, 601 F Street Northwest, Washington, DC, 20004

Major themes and issues from last week:

Veteran and Military News Analysis:

Donald Trump gave a veterans charity $200,000 – and all hell broke loose
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
In January, Donald Trump hosted a rally to raise money for veterans charities while boycotting a Republican presidential debate. 22Kill is one of the organizations that accepted a $200,000 donation from Trump’s campaign and has since experienced criticism, increased support, and a spike in donations. Cliff Sosamon, 22Kill’s executive director, insisted in a recent op-ed that the donation is not a reflection of the organization’s political views, but other groups are turning down the donations due to the political theater involved. –MC
Bottom line: 22Kill faced a classic question facing a growing non-profit—is there such thing as “bad” money? This year’s presidential campaign is certainly trying to test the question with Trump’s attempt to insulate himself with veterans non-profits when he decided to skip the Fox News hosted debate in Iowa. It took only moments for positions to be staked in the veteran community with organizations like IAVA stating they would not accept any money and then paying a heavy price on social media and weeks of pummeling via email and phone by incensed Trump supporters. On the flip side, a struggling non-profit like 22Kill saw it as money that could be put to good use and accepted it with the corresponding fall out from Trump opponents. In the middle are organizations just trying to do the right thing. It’s hard to criticize the organization for taking needed money. The criticism still goes to Mr. Trump for placing these organizations in the position they find themselves. There is simply no excuse for using veterans as a pawn in his pursuit of the presidency. Even if his efforts were meant to be noble, the fall out for those that said no and those that didn’t colors the entire affair as inappropriate and a misguided idea. –FPW 

44 women have volunteered to become Army infantry officers
Matthew Cox, Military.com
Last Thursday, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley told Congress that 44 women from West Point and Army ROTC battalions have volunteered to be infantry lieutenants upon graduating in May and June, and with training could be in infantry units this time next year. As the services work to include women in all military positions, they must also work to recruit more women for these positions. Last week the Marine Corps announced it will produce new recruiting ads including more female Marines and the Army began upping its efforts to enlist women infantry and armor careers. Last Thursday, a 25-year old police officer from Louisiana made history and enlisted as the Army’s very first female infantry recruit–MC
Bottom line: We always knew this would be true, but it is great to see service women once again proving critics wrong when it has been said that women wouldn’t be interested in or volunteer for combat jobs. Are there a whole lot? No, but these young future officers are the ones who will lead the way for units to not only include women, but be led by women. They are also critical to ensuring female infantry grunts have mentors and leaders within their units who can help normalize the idea of women in combat roles. With these women ready to take on the challenge of leading infantry platoons, it’s going to be critical for the Army to break down any barriers that remain to allowing them the opportunity to succeed or fail in all the same way young men have. And, of course, we hope these women have adequately crusty but helpful first sergeants to guide them as they assume command. As the Marines’ attempt with their new ads show, it’s important that women see other women assuming these combat jobs rather than just hearing lip service. –LJ 

VA bosses in 7 states falsified vets’ wait times for care
Donovan Slack (@DonovanSlack), USA Today
Reports released over the past few weeks by the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general show that supervisors at VA facilities in at least seven states ordered employees to manipulate patient records to give the impression that they were meeting performance measures. The report also found that 40 facilities in 19 states “zeroed out” patient wait times. The VA is working to retrain employees and ensure that wait times are no longer being manipulated, but whistleblowers say that the practice is still in use and more must be done. –MC
Bottom line: Undersecretary David Shulkin said all the right things in his interview with USA Today, acknowledging the long-term, enduring, systemic issues that the VA is dealing with in changing behaviors and reducing incentives to obfuscate at facilities across the country. The reports from the inspector general largely exposed practices going back years or even a decade, which have been previously hashed out in the national media. Yet the VA’s delay in releasing them, and the “trust us” response about the actions being taken, ring hollow in the face of the years of slow-drip bad news. The VA has lost a great deal of trust since the wait time scandals broke, and erring on the side of excessive transparency would benefit its reputation with stakeholders in Congress and the veterans community. –BW 

The military’s transgender policy, stalled
The Editorial Board, The New York Times
Ash Carter stated last July that he would implement a policy allowing transgender individuals to serve openly in the military. Noweight months later with no proposal in sight, many trans-rights advocates wonder if the Secretary of Defense and his team can accomplish this task within his time left in office. –JG
Bottom line: What Ash Carter has done for transgender troops is huge: he’s virtually paused discharges by forcing the matter to be elevated to a level at which the discharge will not be approved. That is not enough. As the editorial board notes, because there is no policy in place, commanders are free to implement grooming, uniform, pronoun usage, and other gender binary standards at their discretion, not at the will of the service member in question. Additionally, the board points out the case of Ali Marberry, a recent Naval Academy graduate who had been on track to head to flight school. When she came out as transgender, even though women are certainly allowed to fly all airframes, her career was put on hold and she has been made to wear male uniforms and use men’s restrooms while serving at a desk job. Is that truly the best use of her time? When so few Americans choose to serve, our military should not be putting barriers in place to any qualified Americans who choose to serve—and there is little evidence that being transgender is an impediment to service. Certainly the 77 current service members who are openly transgender have proven themselves to be superb comrades in arms. With the end to a combat exclusion on women, there exist no more antiquated barriers in place because of biological sex or gender identity. These service members deserve an answer about their future—one way or another. (And, well, let’s hope not too many of them are stuck at Bragg or Lejeune.) –LJ 

McCain defends Veterans Choice program amid overhaul
Travis Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes 
On the Senate floor last week, Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) defended the VA Choice program against critics by highlighting its successes and laying blame for its shortcomings with VA. McCain wants to make VA Choice permanent and ensure VA does a better job implementing the program so that it helps eligible veterans get the care they need and ultimately shortens appointment waitlists that still plague veterans. Senator Jonny Isakson and supporters are looking to pass the Veterans Omnibus Bill that proposes changes to VA Choice among other related issues. –JG
Bottom Line: Like far too many legislative solutions, the VA Choice program was rushed into service on a timeline mandated by politics, not common sense or logistical considerations. It is unsurprising, given the rush to launch the program to help some veterans obtain rapid access to care outside the VA, that it stumbled initially. Now the challenge is to navigate the complicated path between improving the program so that it strengthens the VA, and turning it into fodder for the small but vocal group of stakeholders that is seeking to blow up the VA and replace it with a private sector solution. Right now, Sen. McCain and VA Secretary Bob McDonald seem to be on a similar page with their statements about improving VA Choice after a rocky start; hopefully they are able to cooperate in coming to a solution this year that improves the Choice program without undercutting the VA’s core offerings and infrastructure. –BW 

Milley warns of disaster if Congress increases Army troop levels without funding
Travis Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes
The Army is planning to reduce the number of active-duty soldiers by 40,000 due to budget cuts, but Congress wants to reverse the reduction. At a hearing last week, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley warned that if troop cuts are reversed but not fully funded, installations would close, soldier quality-of-life programs would suffer, and there would be an overall “national disaster.” –MC
Bottom line: Once again Congress is tying itself in knots trying to find a way out of the absolute mess they created with the disastrous sequestration agreement and their continued failure to conduct the nation’s business in an appropriate and responsible manner. Now they want to try and push the Army to reverse the troop cuts forced upon it by a budget completely disconnected from the realities of fighting the ongoing combat operations and a service that has been in continuous conflict since 2001. The facts are very simple. More soldiers cost more money. Period. That money doesn’t exist without a new budget agreement which would mean the two parties would actually have to talk to each other and even, God forbid, compromise. Instead, representatives are trying to create magical dollars from the Overseas Contingency Accounts or squeeze it out of existing programs. Milley is right to take a stand. There are no more hidden pools of money to be drained. With every bright idea Congress comes up with that doesn’t include an increase in the top line budget, another program that supports our troops and their families will have to go away. Another training exercise will be canceled or desperately needed flight hours or maintenance services will be cut and the Army will march towards being nothing but a shadow of what is needed to fight and win our nation’s wars. If you read the Scout Report regularly, you know we are sounding like a broken record, but Congress must do its duty and fund the military services in a regular and strategic way or lives will be lost both in peacetime and in our next war. This isn’t Monopoly money or video games. We don’t get a re-do with the lives of those who serve. –FPW 

Quick Hits:

Uber is donating $1 million to veterans’ groups
Christine Lagorio-Chafkin (@lagorio), Inc. 
Uber has met its goal of signing up 50,000 veterans and their spouses as drivers. In celebration, Uber donated $1 million to veteran organizations including Hiring Our Heroes, Homes for our Troops, TAPS, and IAVA. Uber’s next goal is for their veteran employees to earn $500 million before 2020. Elsewhere in philanthropy, hedge fund manager Steve Cohen has pledged $275 million to open 20 to 25 clinics across the country offering free counseling and mental health treatment for post 9/11 veterans. –JG

The next fight to help combat veterans
Jacqueline Klimas (@Jacqklimas), The Washington Examiner
In recent months, advocates have pushed for more institutional protection for veterans who may have been wrongly denied services due to symptoms of combat related post-traumatic stress or traumatic brain injury. Congressman Mike Coffman has introduced the Fairness for Veterans Act, a bill that would give veterans the “benefit of the doubt” when appealing discharges deemed other than honorable. The language was initially included in the Clay Hunt SAV Act but was removed in late negotiations. –MC

Instead of a parade, Glendale honors its veterans with affordable housing
Arin Mikailian (@ArinMikailian), The Los Angeles Times
A low income housing complex for veterans called Veterans Village formally opened last week and offers a community approach for veterans at-risk of homelessness. The current residents names’ were drawn in a lottery of 4,500 eligible applicants. Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian is hoping that other cities will follow in their footsteps by allocating affordable housing to low-income veterans and their families. –JG

Experts: Troops in Europe could be next terrorist target
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
At a Senate Homeland Security Committee hearing, Foreign Policy Institute security fellow Clinton Watts warned that service members, State and Defense Department employees stationed in Europe could be targets for terrorists. Those at most risk are employees and their families who do not live on secured military bases or who frequent popular off base military recreational destinations. Many experts agree also that increased cooperation with European intelligence agencies would also increase the overall safety of federal employees in Europe. –JG

Reserve suicides up 23 percent – active-duty count remains steady
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
While the rate of active duty suicides is holding steady, an increase in Reservist suicides has many officials concerned. Suicide prevention experts say it is most likely due to a lesser availability of mental health care and support services for Reserve members. The report drew no conclusions about these figures however the DOD might order an in-depth analysis of the report to ensure these numbers are statistically significant. ­–JG

List of Agent Orange-related diseases may expand
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
After an Institute of Medicine report last month, VA is reviewing what could be a stronger correlation than previously thought to exist between Agent Orange exposure and conditions like bladder cancer, hypothyroidism, and Parkinson’s. Employees at the VA expect this review could take up to two years. –JG

Moves in the Sector:

Assistant secretary of defense for health affairs to step down
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the current assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, will step down from his position on May 1. This move was expected since the Obama administration is entering its final months. Dr. Woodson is expected to return to the private sector. –MC


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