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Scout Report 272nd Edition

The Scout Report 272nd Edition:
Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis
Monday, June 27, 2016

This is decidedly a spoiler-free zone. Except, okay, one: Burr shoots Hamilton. Have I mentioned I got to see Hamilton last week? “It must be nice, it must be nice to have Washington on your side…”

Okay, sorry, getting carried away. To this week’s stories, which will not be presented in verse. This week we take a look at why federal contractors now don’t need to hire as many veterans, what gender-neutral physical standards are having on the makeup of combat units, what the NDAA could mean for service members and military families, how VA may someday be able to fire its employees, and more.

In the week leading up to celebrating our nation’s independence, let’s remember not only America’s favorite fighting Frenchman, but also the sacrifices that make our continued independence possible. And let’s thank goodness we’re already free from the UK. Awesome. Wow. (Phew!) –LJ 

This week ahead: 

Tradeshows and Conferences:

Military Child Education Coalition: National Training Seminar (Mon-Wed, June 27-19, 2016); Marriott Wardman Park, Washington, DC, 20009Congressional Hearings:

House: None

Senate:

Armed Services: Improving Strategic Integration at the Department of Defense
Who: Honorable James R. Locher III, Distinguished Senior Fellow, Joint Special Operations University; General Stanley A. McChrystal, USA (Ret.), Managing Partner, McChrystal Group; Dr. Amy C. Edmondson, Novartis Professor of Leadership and Management, Harvard Business School
When: 9:30 AMTuesday, June 28, 2016
Where: 216 Hart

Veterans’ Affairs: Pending Legislation
When: 2:30 PMWednesday, June 29, 2016
Where: 418 Russell

Think Tanks and Other Events:

Military Officers Association of America: Military and Veteran Networking Forum
When: 
6:30 PM, June 30, 2016     
Where: 
National Air and Space Museum, Washington, DC

Major themes and issues from last week:

Veteran and Military Issues:

Pay, housing, healthcare, retirement: Congress faces thorny military decisions
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Washington patted itself on its collective back on June 14 after both the Senate and the House succeeded in passing their respective versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Yet there is still a great deal of work—possibly months of consequential negotiations—to come, and the two chambers are not in agreement on a number of military decisions. Shane highlights four areas—pay raises, housing stipends, military medicine and retirement reform (I would add to that list requiring women to register for Selective Service)—where there are significant differences of opinion. For both housing and pay, the Senate is more focused on budget savings than the House. For military medicine, both chambers are proposing significant reforms to Tricare, with substantive differences that need to be ironed out. And the Senate has an idea to enable more flexibility in providing continuation pay incentives, which the House will need to explore. Conference committee members and their staffs will be very busy this summer, and they will be lobbied and observed closely by both individual service members and by the military service organizations. And even if these issues are ironed out, there are many other non-personnel issues that require compromise, and disputes on any single one of these issues could ultimately sink the NDAA. –BW

How the Marines’ new physical standards for combat jobs weed out men and women
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@Tmgneff), Washington Post
The Marines, long most reticent to integrate women into combat roles, have implemented a new gender-neutral testing regimen for male and female recruits hoping to go into the combat arms. The tests incorporate typical exercises like running and pull-ups, but also require recruits to carry ammunition cans and perform combat job-specific movements like lifting 100 pounds from the floor to overhead. Marine officials felt the old standards for combat jobs were too low. With the new tests, 40 men of about 1,500 have failed the meet the standards and six out of seven women have failed. It’s a good sign that the tests are also weeding out men who do not meet the neutral standard. That’s all advocates and female service members were calling for: a fair and equal opportunity to compete for combat jobs. The challenge now for the Marine Corps and other services is figuring out how best to integrate those women who do meet the combat standard into units. With so few women in combat roles—seven in the Marine Corps—senior leaders need to ensure those women are placed in units where they can be successful. In the Marines, that means putting two women together, if possible, or putting women in units with men with whom they went to school so the women are known quantities. It will be important for the military and outside advocates to take stock of how these efforts at gender-neutral physical tests and integration play out over the next six, twelve, eighteen months and beyond. –LJ

Veterans: Report validates wait-time allegations at Houston VA
St. John Barned-Smith (@stjbs) and Samantha Ketterer (@sam_kett), Houston Chronicle
The good news in this article is that the “report” was release by the VA’s own inspector general. As the VA’s IG works through a backlog of reports, expect more news pieces like this one that covers a time period ending in June 2015. Of course, we know there have been long-standing issues with wait times at VA medical facilities, but the issue in Houston is centered on the fact that wait time issues there were identified in May 2014 but persisted. The IG notes a lack of training or oversight is to blame. Secretary Bob often describes in his “stump speech” how VA employees need more opportunities for professional development, something a corporate CEO is expected to provide but something Congress doesn’t prioritize for federal agencies. This is another area in which VA and Congress need to figure out how to work towards a solution rather than devolve into more finger-pointing and playing the blame game. ­–LJ 

Senators pushing new law for firing VA employees
Travis Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes 
In the wake of the VA’s decision to abandon use of its new fast track firing authority due to unexpected challenges to the legality of the authority, the Senate is scrambling to develop new legislation to create a more robust process that avoids legal pitfalls, though the July recess looms as a hard stop for all short-term efforts. In the meantime, while the VA defends its decision and says that the importance of the fast track authority was overrated, critics in Congress have laid the blame on the VA for its voluntary move away from the solution previously designed by those same Congressional critics. Secretary Bob has pointed to language in the bipartisan Senate Veterans First Act as holding the key to a long-term solution, though that legislation faces its own challenges on the path to a vote. This dispute over firing authority is yet another episode in the Congress-VA power struggle, yet if Congress can legislate a new solution before recess, the VA will indisputably be in a more legally secure position to clean house. ­–BW 

Iraq, Afghan vets may have their own Agent Orange
Mark Brunswick (@MarkABrunswick), Star Tribune
Vietnam veterans wrestled for 30 years to gain recognition for the effects of the defoliant Agent Orange and its impact on their health. Advocates are hoping that today’s veterans are not facing the same long fight to gain recognition for the apparent ill effects of burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is estimated that some 60,000 or more veterans of the two wars are suffering from a range of health problems. For its part the VA has established a registry that some 75,000 vets have logged in to. They are taking a wait and see approach as the science and research continues to develop to find connections between burn pit exposure and long-term health problems. It’s probably too soon to begin with accusations about the issue being ignored but there is no doubt that the issue isn’t going away and more health problems will be coming for those who were living close to the toxic fumes of everything from burning Styrofoam to batteries. –FPW 

Federal contractors’ veterans hiring benchmark down 6.9 percent
Lydell C. Bridgeford (@LCBridgeford), Bloomberg BNA News
The Office of Federal Contract Compliance lowered its protected veteran’s hiring benchmark to its lowest level this past week to 6.9 percent. This measurement is based on the number of veterans in the workforce and has steadily inched down for the last few years. The benchmark is used as a measure for federal contractors to seek as the number of “protected status” veterans in their employ. That includes disabled veterans; recently separated veterans; active duty wartime or campaign badge veterans; or Armed Forces service medal veterans. Interestingly the analyst in the article states that she believes its going down because troops are returning from overseas. That’s wrong. The percentage of veterans in the workforce is going down because older generations of veterans are retiring and passing away at an accelerating rate. We are losing 30,000 veterans of WWII and Korea a month and the Vietnam generation’s youngest veteran is now 60 years old so that cohort is now retiring from the workforce. There are fewer veterans in the workforce based on the sheer size of the veterans community steadily declining and affecting everything from the number of veteran service organizations members to benchmarks for hiring. Everyone who works with veterans both in support via nonprofits and to hire them faces a changing landscape in the years ahead. –FPW

Client News:

 

Last-minute Senate fight snares repeal of VA fertility treatment ban 
Travis Tritten (@Travis_Tritten), Stars and Stripes 
In the wee hours of Thursday, the House approved a provision that would allow wounded veterans who have lost their natural ability to start a family to have in vitro fertilization treatments covered by the VA. But the appropriations bill to which the IVF provision is attached is becoming entangled in a political fight over federal funding for birth control, the Zika virus, and a host of other divisive issues. The House and Senate are expected to continue negotiating over those details before agreeing to a final compromise bill. Advocates and veteran-serving organizations, led by Wounded Warrior Project, are pressing lawmakers to ensure the IVF provision remains in the final funding package, despite opposition from anti-abortion activists–MC 

BGSU student veterans receive grant to upgrade center
Sentinel-Tribune
Student veterans at Bowling Green State University are looking forward to a brand new dedicated space for student vets on campus thanks to a Vet Center Initiative Grant from Student Veterans of America and The Home Depot Foundation. In addition to the $10,000 provided, members of Team Depot will assist with the project’s renovations and build out. For more information about the Vet Center Initiative, visit Student Veterans of America’s website–JG

Hiring Our Hero’s Summit aim to help military veterans and their families
Shaq Lord, WFXG
The Hiring Our Heroes Hiring Summit at Fort Gordon welcomed hundreds of veterans, active duty service members, and military spouses. This is the fourth year that Hiring Our Heroes has come to Fort Gordon to connect service members and their spouses with meaningful employment. Find out if a Hiring Our Heroes Hiring Fair is coming to city near you by visiting its website–JG

Veterans Use Battlefield Experiences to Build Business 
Aili McConnon (@AiliMcConnon), New York Times
In the past few years, more and more veterans have been leveraging skills-development resources to start their own businesses, and they’re succeeding. Businesses like Rhumbix and Major Mom show that veterans have the traits it takes to launch and maintain successful businesses, and they’re getting help from programs like Boots to Business, a program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University. More than 42,000 service members and military spouses have participated in Boots to Business to date. To learn more about Boots to Business and the Boots to Business Reboot programs, visit http://boots2business.org/MC

Military’s top ‘rookie truck driver’ sought
Drew Brooks (@drewbrooks), Fayetteville Observer
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program has teamed up with FASTPORT and Kenworth to find the military’s top “rookie truck driver.” The Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award will recognize a deserving veteran, Guard or Reserve soldier who made a successful transition from military service to a career in professional truck driving. Nominations are still being accepted this week. –BWOther Coverage:

Quick Hits:

Pentagon close to repealing transgender ban
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today
In the coming weeks, the Pentagon is expected to release new policy that will allow transgender troops to serve openly. A Pentagon spokesman recently acknowledged that the issue has taken longer than originally hoped, but said officials are now working through some of the final issues to meet the needs of transgender service members while maintaining military readiness. –MC

Heroic Huey pilot to receive Medal of Honor five decades later
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook) and Gregory Korte (@gregorykorte), USA Today
Charles Kettles, an 86-year-old Vietnam veteran, will be awarded the Medal of Honor on July 18, an upgrade from his current Distinguished Service Cross. On May 15, 1967, the Army pilot fearlessly ferried reinforcements into the Song Tau Cau river valley while removing the injured and dead from an ambush. The Army’s decision to reopen Kettles’ case was initiated by William Vollano, a historian interviewing veterans for the Veterans History Project. –JG

Amid attacks, Trump promises new focus on vets issues
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Presidential hopeful Donald Trump will soon make veterans issues a major topic throughout his campaign, officials close to the campaign announced. Trump is expected to discuss employment, issues with the VA, and address the “narrative of the broken veteran.” Trump has come under fire in the past for comments about POWs, the service of service members handling cash in Iraq, and his pledges to veteran-serving charities. –MC

Female Navy vet gets apology after being shamed for using veterans-only parking
Scott Stump (@Scott_Stump), The Today Show
Dr. Rebecca Landis Hayes, a Navy veteran, walked out of her local grocery store to find a note on her windshield accusing her of disrespectfully using a parking space dedicated for veterans’ use. She shared her thoughts on the issue with her friends on Facebook, which in a matter of days went viral. Days later, Hayes shared again on Facebook an anonymous apology mailed to her work with no return address. The letter contained a sincere hand written apology from the accuser which also thanked her for her service in the armed forces. Hayes hopes this will remind others to think twice before casting harsh judgement on those around us. ­–JG

Legion Slams ‘Mouthpiece’ Vet Groups over VA Health Care Plans
Bryant Jordan (@BryantJordan), Military.com
On Monday, the American Legion asked Congress to stop considering recommendations from veterans groups that it called “mouthpieces” for organizations that want to privatize VA health care. Although the Legion did not name a specific group, many believe they were targeting Concerned Veterans for America, an organization linked to the Koch brothers that has been pushing for privatization of the VA. –MC

 

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