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The Scout Report 267th Edition

Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis

Monday, May 23, 2016

In an election year with summer quickly approaching (I’ve been told, at least, and have seen little evidence) expect congressional debates to flare up ahead of a rush to recess so incumbents can spend more time on the campaign trail. Last week, that took the form of partisan bickering over voting procedure and amendments to the NDAA and House version of the Military Construction-VA appropriations bill. The drier the bill, it seems, the more easily it takes a spark. What might be next? So many possibilities!

As always, we have analysis of important issues like integrating transgender service members, military benefits cuts, the future of the veteran population and its effect on veteran organizations, sexual assault, and much more. In quick hits, don’t miss some stories that follow-up on issues we’ve been tracking for a while: VA health care, paid patriotism at sporting events, and the least surprising veterans news of the election cycle: Trump raised less for veterans than he has been claiming he did.

This week, as you are inundated with angry veteran memes about barbecues, remember that civilians are people, too. They mean well. You have an opportunity to share with them your favorite memories of your fallen comrades and leave them with something more meaningful than a Facebook f-bomb. Save that for that uncle. –LJ 

This week ahead: 

Tradeshows and Conferences: 

One Mind: One Mind Summit 2016 (Tue-Wed, May 24-25, 2016); Crystal City, VA

Special Operations Force Industry Conference: 2016 SOFIC Conference & Expo (Tue-Thu, May 24-26, 2016); Tampa Convention Center, Tampa, FL

Association of the United States Army: 2016 AUSA ILW LANPAC (Tue-Thu, May 24-25, 2016); Sheraton Waikiki, Honolulu, HI

Congress:  

House:
Veterans’ Affairs: draft legislation to establish a permanent Veterans Choice Program and H.R. 5083, the VA Appeals Modernization Act of 2016
When: 
10:30 AM, Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Senate:
Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense: Markup of the Defense Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2017
When:
 10:00 AM, Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Where: 192 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: Pending Legislation
Who:
 Sloan Gibson, Deputy Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs; Laura Eskenazi, Executive in Charge and Vice Chairman, Board of Veterans’ Appeals; David McLenachen, Deputy Under Secretary for Disability Assistance, Veterans Benefits Administration;Baligh Yehia, M.D., Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Community Care, Veterans Health Administration; Michael H. Michaud, Assistant Secretary of Labor for Veterans Employment and Training, Department of Labor; Patricia Shiu, Director, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Program; Carlos Fuentes, Senior Legislative Associate, Veterans of Foreign Wars;Lou Celli, National Director, Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation, The American Legion; Adrian Atizado, Deputy National Legislative Director, Disabled American Veterans; Carl Blake, Associate Executive Director, Government Relations, Paralyzed Veterans of America; Diane Boyd Rauber, Executive Director, National Organization of Veterans’ Advocates;Jerome Ensminger, Master Sergeant (Ret.), United States Marine Corps
When: 2:15 PM, Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Where: 418 Russell
Appropriations: Markup of the Defense Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Markup of the Homeland Security Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2017
When: 
 10:30 AM, Thursday, May 26, 2016
Where: 106 Dirksen

Think tanks and other events: 

American Veterans Center: 2016 National Memorial Day Parade
Who: Thousands of veterans including 500 Gulf War veterans with the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association will march in the national parade on Constitution Avenue at 2:00 on Memorial Day. Much of the ScoutComms team will be on hand while Fred Wellman joins his fellow board members and Gulf War veterans to march in the parade.
When: Monday, May 30, 2016
Where: Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, DC

Major themes and issues from last week:

Veteran and Military Issues:

Study finds few obstacles to lifting military’s transgender ban
Michael S. Schmidt (@NYTMike), New York Times
A study on transgender service members ordered by Secretary of Defense Ash Carter estimates there are 2,450 transgender troops in the military and approximately 65 of them will seek a gender transition every year. Given the small minority of transgender troops, the study’s authors note any health care costs associated with gender transition would be relatively low and that the real cost of a continuing ban is in driving these troops to seek alternative medical therapies, abuse alcohol, or consider self-harm. –JG 
Bottom Line: RAND has delivered to Carter the hard evidence he needs to continue fighting for the acceptance and integration of transgender service members into the military. Already numerous examples of honorably serving transgender service members exist, and while Carter has effectively put a hold on discharging transgender troops there are de facto and de jure barriers to their continued service. As the RAND study notes, without offering health care services that includes coverage for service members to transition genders, there would be an added cost and moral burden to the military in the form of increased risk of depression and suicide. Carter has said DoD is moving forward with plans to fully integrate transgender service members, and has sought to reassure onlookers that DoD is being deliberate about a complicated issue with regard to uniforms, housing, restrooms, etc. Meanwhile, advocates say there is nothing complicated about lifting the ban on transgender service members and point to the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” as one that was considered complicated but in reality was not. Likely, though, this is a case of Carter seeking to get ahead of the entities that will be in loud opposition to allowing anyone who chooses to serve the opportunity to do so in a manner true to themselves. –LJ 

The military isn’t fully documenting dismissals of troops who claim sexual assault
Charles S. Clark (@cclarkjedd), Government Executive
A recent report by the Pentagon inspector general shows that more than two-thirds of service members who reported sexual assault were later dismissed from the military without proper documentation about the cause of their dismissal, making trends difficult to track. Also this week, Human Rights Watch released a report about military sexual assault victims who later received dishonorable discharges. Many survivors have difficulty finding employmentand face challenges due to the conditions under which they were discharged, ranging from other-than-honorable to honorable with unbecoming conduct or personality disorder. –MC
Bottom line: Very rarely is any fuss made about the discharge of a single service member, particularly one who has not had a spotless record. On a case-by-case basis, that allows abuses of the system or injustices to potentially go unchecked. But when you line up a long string of similar discharges and find gaps and errors, it becomes impossible for anyone to ignore. That’s what has happened here with the Pentagon IG report and the related HRW report. The potential (and likely) mistreatment of men and women who have had the courage to file unrestricted sexual assault reports is a serious issue, potentially when you think that abusers may have felt empowered to abuse again, and that society—and government—was saddled with the cost of retroactively dealing with the mental and physical needs of sexual assault victims who were potentially pushed out instead of being helped. The IG report does not, and cannot, make clear how many of the improperly documented cases were cases where the punishment was inappropriate. But the inability to trace the paper trail effectively highlights one of several ways in which the military has failed to treat sexual assault as seriously as it deserves. Hopefully the current spotlight being shone on these issues will result in institutional and cultural changes that will deter more future abusers and protect victims from retaliation or mistreatment. –BW 

‘Nickled and dimed’: The military pay crunch is on a course to get considerably worse
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
After years of higher than scale pay due to multiple combat deployments, military pay cuts are an increasing concern for advocates and military families. Now, lawmakers are examining legislation that would require service members to pay an access fee for their families’ medical care. Last week, Leo Shane, Patricia Kime, and Karen Jowers examined the issue in a deep-dive of most recent pay cuts affecting troops and military families. –MC
Bottom line: Leo, Patricia, and Karen do an admirable job of rolling up the many different small cuts and “reforms” occurring across the military over the last several years. The numbers are pretty damning on their own. There is simply no way to deny that a methodical disassembling of the military benefits system built over the last two decades is underway in the name of “readiness”. There will be a reckoning at some point. We are not at peace. No matter how much many in the nation want to make believe there is a “peace dividend” to be gained with the announced ends of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we appear to be deep into some sort of ridiculous straight-to-cable sequels that everyone is ignoring. Therein lies the problem with a Congress more interested in scoring points for the next election than guiding the nation. We literally have a Congress so dysfunctional they are suggesting only funding the actual wars occurring in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan for not even half a year to magically create money for other projects. As we say often here in the Scout Report, political games in Washington D.C. are paid in blood on the battlefield and a hollow military at home eventually. But, don’t worry this next election will fix everything. –FPW 

Traditional organizations for veterans face membership crisis
Isabel Rosales (@WHSVisabel), WHSV
The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars are some of the most well-known and longest existing veteran organizations. According to reports, both organizations have seen a decrease in membership and are facing difficulties recruiting the newest generation of veterans. Experts say that the older organizations must continue to evolve and change with a focus on recruiting more veterans. –MC
Bottom line: Long-time readers of the Scout Report and those that know us are aware of our respect and admiration for the traditional veterans service organizations. This story like many before it once again harps on the need for American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars to reform and change their images. Got it. They know and in many places it’s happening but that simply isn’t the only reason they are declining in membership. As a matter of fact, it’s not even the main reason. There simply aren’t the numbers of veterans being created to fill the ranks of those that are passing. It’s simple math. Some 30,000 or more veterans are dying each month and almost 400,000 a year die as the World War II and Korea era veterans age. About 250,000 service members leave uniform each year. Simple arithmetic tells you that the groups that hosted the millions of previous generations are going to come up a little short and that might mean in small towns across America posts will close from simple lack of qualified members. We often hear how groups like Team Red, White and Blue and Team Rubicon are scooping up all of the veterans today. That sounds great but the Legion has over 2 million members and VFW has 1.1 million. RWB has just over 100,000 and TR far less and many of those who join are members of the other VSOs, too. There isn’t a war for the hearts and minds of today’s veterans. There just aren’t that many of us. So, while we continue to believe posts must adjust to the new dynamic and that might mean fewer bars and more consolidated veteran organizations facilities in many towns, we also believe that working together all eras of veterans are better served. –FPW 

Veterans Groups Seek a Crackdown on Deceptive Colleges
Gardiner Harris (@GardinerHarris), New York Times
Major military and veteran-serving organizations are demanding that the VA take an active role in preventing for-profit educational institutions engaging in fraudulent behavior from enrolling veterans only to charge high fees while rarely providing the education and career placement they promise. These schools specifically target veterans using GI Bill funds to meet arcane federal rules while serious issues with quality often go unaddressed leaving the GI Bill recipient with few tangible results after fully expending their benefit.–JG
Bottom Line: Most veteran advocates with whom you speak will tell you: there are good for-profit schools that leave veterans with the skills to pursue their desired careers. What sets those schools apart, though, is they are often very tailored to a specific set of skills and career path and so the students who attend are typically savvy consumers who chose that particular school to follow a particular path. Unfortunately, too many veterans leave the military with a generous GI Bill benefit but without the preparation to choose the right school for their needs. That’s when bad actors in the for-profit industry swoop in with big promises that tend to lead to big debt. Some advocates want VA to suspend for-profit schools that are under investigation from receiving GI Bill benefits. That’s probably tricky given these colleges haven’t always been charged with anything and the fact that some non-profit schools are probably also under investigation—do you ban them, too? Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration want VA to do more to protect veterans from predatory for-profit colleges, but perhaps rather than place an even greater burden on VA, there is a way for the public, private, and non-profit sectors to work together to better inform veterans about their educational choices. That’s certainly something client Student Veterans of America is working to do every day. –LJ

House drops plans to make women register for the draft
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, members of the House Rules Committee removed language from the annual defense authorization bill that would have required women to sign up for Selective Service. The provisions were expected to cause controversy among both parties and were supposed to be debated last week. However, the issue is likely to come up again in the Senate as part of a larger defense bill and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, has voiced his support for requiring women to register. –MC
Bottom line: While the move to allow women to compete for combat jobs in the military cracked the door open to the draft debate, Rep. Duncan Hunter blew the door off the hinges—completely counter to his own intentions—when he introduced an amendment to call for women to be required to register for Selective Service. Since then, the surprising passage of Hunter’s amendment has jumpstarted debate throughout the halls of Congress, raising issues of women’s rights, traditional gender roles in society, and ongoing disputes over which Americans should be expected to directly contribute to our national defense. It’s a potent combination, and one that House Republicans on the Rules Committee apparently wanted nothing whatsoever to do with. Bydoing their backhanded best to kill the debate when no one was looking, they have guaranteed that more partisanship will be injected in what should be a nonpartisan debate. They have also placed the ball squarely in the hands of the Senate Republicans, who seem more willing to embrace the debate and the change in the status quo, at least per Sen. McConnell’s statement last week. It could all add up to one very interesting conference committee discussion before the National Defense Authorization Act is passed this year. –BW 

Client News:

Veterans’ academic ‘boot camp’ returns to Cornell
Nancy Doolittle, Cornell Chronicle
Piragash Swargaloganathan is a former Navy petty officer who attended the Warrior Scholar Project (WSP) program at Cornell University last summer. Swargaloganathan honed the necessary academic skills to ensure his success as he pursues a career in medicine. WSP is organized on each campus by student veterans and taught by professors and graduate students to help enlisted veterans make a successful transition to a four-year school or university. Cornell is one of 12 schools across the country hosting these free academic boot camps for eligible service members. To learn more about the program visit their website–JG

Senate moves to approve fertility care for wounded veterans
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
A group of veteran serving organizations, led by Wounded Warrior Project, have been pushing for Congress to allow VA to cover in vitro fertilization for veterans who, due to their military service, lost their ability to conceive children naturally. Last week, veterans and advocates got one step closer when the Senate passed the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs appropriations bill with a provision requiring the VA to cover IVF treatment. The next step for the provision will be surviving a conference committee between the Senate and House bill. –MC

Veterans enlist in STEM – but struggle to stay
Alan Neuhauser (@alneuhauser), U.S. News and World Report
On Friday, a panel at the U.S. News STEM Solutions Conference explored how more veterans can be recruited into the science, technology, engineering and math fields, known as STEM. Representatives from Hiring Our Heroes and the Warrior-Scholar Project discussed their organizations’ efforts to support veterans in STEM careers and higher education and the unique strengths veterans bring to the field. Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) has introduced legislation to extend GI Bill benefits an extra year for veterans pursuing STEM degrees. –MC & JG

Program Support Coordinator – Armed Services Arts Partnership
Last week, the Armed Service Arts Partnership (ASAP) issued a call to AmeriCorps VISTA members who want to serve veterans through the arts. ASAP is hiring a full time program support coordinator with a passion for our community and a knack for organizational details. Please share the posting with potential candidates and learn more about the Armed Services Art Partnership on their website–JG 

Job fair encourages hiring veterans
Melissa Nelson Gabriel (@NelsonNelson9), Pensacola News Journal
In Pensacola, Hiring Our Heroes is hosting a free hiring fair onThursday, May 26, for active duty service members, veterans, and military spouses. Interested attendees can register for the eventhere. –JG

Midlands veteran to take part in National Memorial Day Parade
Mike DeSumma (@MikeDeSumma), WIS TV
Next Monday, nearly 500 Operation Desert Storm veterans are gathering in Washington, DC, to march in the American Veterans Center’s National Memorial Day Parade. The veterans are marching as part of the National Desert Storm War Memorial Association, in commemoration of the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm and to honor their fallen brothers and sisters. Gerry Jones is one of those veterans, be sure to watch the piece on him and don’t forget to check out the other great stories on other marchers below. Visit ndswm.org to learn more about the National Desert Storm War Memorial and learn how you can support the effort. –MC 
Other coverage: 
Desert storm veteran to join national parade
Marian Dennis (@MarianDennis1), The Mercury
Batavia Gulf War vet to march in National Memorial Day Parade
Billie Owens, The Batavian 

Quick Hits:

Top of the world: Marine amputee makes history with Everest climb
Kevin Lilley (@KRLilley), Marine Corps Times
Staff Sgt. Charlie Linville lost his right leg below the knee after a blast injury suffered while serving in Afghanistan. Last week he successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest as a part of “Operation Everest: 2016” organized by The Heroes Project, a nonprofit that sponsors climbing expeditions for wounded veterans. This week, Linville and the team are in the process of descending the mountain. –JG 

Trump said he raised $6 million for veterans. Now his campaign says it was less.
David A. Fahrenthold (@Fahrenthold), The Washington Post
At his now infamous “fundraiser” for veterans in January, Donald Trump announced he had raised $6 million for veteran-serving charities. After months of questions from reporters and advocates about donations that didn’t seem to add up, the Trump campaign is now admitting it only raised about $4.5 million. According to Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski the discrepancy comes because several big donors promised large checks but later backed out of those pledges. The Trump campaign’s continued reluctance to disclose any specifics about the donations leave many skeptical about how much was actually raised and, more importantly, how the money is being distributed and to which organizations. –JG 

NFL returning $723K for sponsored military tributes
Darren Rovell (@DarrenRovell), ESPN
The NFL and Defense Department have been criticized for “paid patriotism” at football games including homecomings and enlistment ceremonies that were paid for by the military. Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the NFL would return $723,734 to the government for the paid acts and has promised closer audits in the future to prevent such activities. –MC 

Federal employee groups blast Veterans First Act
Carten Cordell (@wccordell), Federal Times
Twelve federal employee unions voiced concerns about the Veterans First Act in a letter to Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-KY, and Sen. Harry Reid, D-NV, last week. The groups believe that provisions in the bill will undermine the constitutional rights of Department of Veterans Affairs employees and ultimately hurt our nation’s veterans by exposing VA employees to political influence. –MC 

How Congress and the VA left many veterans without a ‘Choice’
Steve Walsh, Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), Jessica Pupovac (@JesPup), NPR
Congress established the VA Choice program about two years ago to allow veterans to see a non-VA doctor if they lived more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility or if they faced a long wait time for a provider. But new reports show that long waits still exist and private care isn’t always more efficient. –MC

Moves in the Sector:

Eric Fanning sworn in as Army secretary after eight months in limbo
Michelle Tan (@MichelleTan32), Army Times
Last week, Eric Fanning was finally sworn in as Secretary of the Army many months after President Obama nominated him for the position. Fanning’s competency was never in question, rather it was senatorial quibbles with the administration over GITMO that held up his appointment and left the Army without a permanent leader for far too long. Current Under Secretary of the Army Patrick Murphy was an able caretaker as acting secretary and his biting digs at the 101st will be missed (or not.) ScoutComms is thrilled to see the future of the Army guided by these two distinguished leaders. –JG 

 

The Scout Report is a weekly analysis of news and events in the veterans and military family communities produced by the staff of ScoutComms, Inc. and is emailed each Monday morning except on holidays. Follow us on Twitter at @ScoutComms to get up to the minute news on defense and veterans issues all week. Did you get this as a forward? Subscribe yourself for free here right now!

About Us: ScoutComms, Inc. is an award winning social enterprise communications, corporate social responsibility, and philanthropic strategy firm supporting veterans, military families and organizations committed to their well-being. Our mission is to empower veterans and military families through communications grounded initiatives and collaborative alliances that lead to greater awareness of veterans’ needs and expanded access to economic and social resource opportunities. We are one of the first Benefit Corporations, B-Corps, focused on veterans and military family issues in the nation. We accomplish our mission by supporting companies, non-profits and foundations who are providing programs and charitable giving efforts in support of veterans and military families. To learn more about what we can do for your organization visit our website at www.ScoutCommsUSA.com.

Questions? Comments? Additions? If you have any questions, comments, or have an event you would like us to include, send an email to LJenkins@scoutcommsusa.com and we will make sure we let our readers know. For questions about ScoutComms, email FWellman@scoutcommsusa.com.

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