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The Scout Report 286th Edition

Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis
Monday, October 3, 2016                                   

Welcome to AUSA week! As usual, the ScoutComms team will be out in full force supporting our clients Wounded Warrior Project, USAA Educational Foundation, and Vet Tix on the show floor and at the Family Forums. If you see us, say hi! If you see some great swag, let us know!

This week’s Scout Report highlights a recent win for wounded veterans with IVF, a couple VA stories making headlines, how Obama answered some tough questions from military personnel, and how veterans are engaged in their communities. We also feature Alex Horton’s big feature story from the weekend.

Having just returned from Dallas where I got to work with client Student Veterans of America to help train some of their chapter leaders from across the country, I am excited and reenergized about the future of this country. However we disagree, we can find solutions by working together and empowering leaders of all ages and experiences through higher education. A great reminder ahead of several more weeks of heightening political rhetoric! –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

Association of the United States Army: 2016 AUSA Annual Meeting and Exposition (Mon – Wed, Oct. 3-5, 2016); Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C.
Look for ScoutComms clients Wounded Warrior Project, USAA Educational Foundation and Vet Tix on the floor and at the Family Forum’s.

Congress:  

No hearings this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events:

The Brookings Institution: Charting A Way Forward In Afghanistan
Who: General David Petraeus (Ret.), American Academy of Diplomacy, KKR Partner and Chairman; James B. Cunningham, American Academy of Diplomacy, Nonresident Senior Fellow; James Dobbins, RAND Corporation, Senior Fellow, Distinguished Chair in Diplomacy and Security; Ronald Neumann, American Academy of Diplomacy, President
When: 10:30 AM, Monday, October 3, 2016
Where: The Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036

Major themes and issues from last week:

ScoutComms in the News:

ScoutComms welcomes three new team members
Margaret Clevenger (@mmcleven), ScoutComms
As we make the transition into fall, our team wanted to take a moment to reflect back on the crazy, but awesome, summer we had. This summer we added three new account executives to our team. Allison Borthwick, a recent graduate of Murray State University’s public relations program; Danielle Doss, a fellow Syracuse Alumna, military child and former intern with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families; and Kirstie Breland, our previous intern who is finishing up her master’s degree at American University in health promotion management with a concentration in health communications. Learn more about them by reading our blog, and join us in welcoming them to the team! –MC

Veterans and Military Issues:

Congress approves fertility services for wounded veterans, but no funding
Patricia Kime (@PatriciaKime), Military Times
Last week, a group of advocates and lawmakers won a long fight to get wounded veterans access to in-vitro fertilization. ScoutComms client Wounded Warrior Project led a coalition in the effort. The legislation passed on Wednesday as part of the continuing resolution that will keep the government running until December. –MC
Bottom line: This is good news to start your week with: veterans who were severely injured during their military service can now start a family without having to mortgage a home or max out their credit cards. Thanks to the dedicated advocacy of veteran families, Wounded Warrior Project and a coalition of several other organizations, the VA will now be allowed to cover the cost of infertility treatments and adoption for veterans who are no longer able to conceive naturally due to their service-related injuries. Knowing several veteran families who have sacrificed so much to pay for IVF to have a family, I can say this legislation will truly change lives and give veterans back something so basic that was taken from them. There has been some discussion about how long this legislation will cover IVF and how it is funded because it ended up in the continuing resolution, rather than a standalone bill. Funding will come from VA’s plentiful Medical Services line item and typically authorizations like this stand indefinitely until they are proactively stripped by future legislation. That should all be good news to families and advocates who will now turn their attention to ensuring VA implements the policy as quickly and simply as possible. –LJ 

Obama faces tough questions from military and veterans
Greg Jaffe (@GregJaffe), The Washington Post
Last Wednesday, military personnel, veterans and their spouses questioned President Obama on their priority topics at a CNN town hall special. The audience featured skeptics of Obama’s past eight years in office and pressed him to justify why he refuses to use the term “Islamic terrorism,” his view on the Department of Veterans Affairs health services and his stance on Colin Kaepernick’s decision to kneel during the national anthem. One military spouse, whose husband committed suicide after combat trauma, asked the President about how we as a nation can help veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues. –DD
Bottom line: You have to give President Obama credit for stepping into situations like this one. With just four months to go in his term he could avoid situations that are set up to be contentious but he hasn’t stayed in the White House. This town hall really shows how controversial many of the changes that have been implemented under his administration really are in the ranks and among veterans. Women in combat positions, continued wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, challenges at the VA and a host of other issues affected the military and attendees didn’t shy away from asking the tough questions. In the end, change is hard and that goes for all of the issues brought up at the town hall. The world is changing and the military will change with it…good leaders will have to keep on standing up and answering every question until they are all answered so it’s encouraging to see it starting from the top. –FPW

Vets in prison received $100M in improper benefits payouts,report says
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Over $100 million has been overpaid to incarcerated veterans since 2008. Because information the VA receives from the Bureau of Prisons about inmates is incomplete, it almost impossible for the VA to update the veteran’s benefit status accordingly. Investigators suspect that the strong emphasis placed on reducing the VA backlog caused oversights like this. However, this only makes up a small portion of all VA oversights in 2015, which some estimates put at $1.3 billion, indicating the true scope of the oversight problem. –JG
Bottom line: It is difficult to get too outraged about this latest example of VA inadequacy. The VA leadership has been scrambling for over two years to address congressional and public outcries over the VA backlog, and in any system, an intense focus on one area is bound to lead to a reduction in focus on another area. To put it simply, the VA was not being accused of literally killing veterans by overpaying them when they were incarcerated, so it is not difficult to understand why these improper benefits payouts—which have been traced back through the end of the second Bush Administration—were allowed to continue unfettered. At the same time, once one obvious failure in the system is brought to light by an IG report—with a notable price tag attached to it—it is contingent upon the VA the work to address the issue, which is unfairly rewarding veterans who do not deserve full compensation while draining VA resources that might be better used elsewhere. Yet we must not lose sight of the roadblocks that VA reform have run into in Congress, where legislative efforts to empower the VA to enact greater internal change have completely and utterly stalled in recent months. If Congress cannot be a fully cooperative partner with the VA, there is bound to be more bad (avoidable) news in the future. –BW 

Official: One-third of calls to VA suicide hotline roll over
Matthew Daly (@MatthewDalyWDC), Military Times 
A recent statement by a former director of the VA’s Veterans Crisis Line has revealed that 35 to 40 percent of the calls made to the Veterans Crisis Line go unanswered by front-line staffers, leaving them to then roll over to lesser-trained employees at a back-up call center or, worse, not get answered at all. The director stated that crisis calls from veterans experiencing suicidal ideation have seen a sharp rise this year, yet many of the crisis line staff take fewer than five calls per day, often leaving before their shift ends. Calling the lack of response “unacceptable,” Rep. David Young (R-Iowa) sponsored a bill, unanimously approved by the House on Monday, requiring the VA to ensure no outreach goes unanswered. –KB  
Bottom line: Like so many of the issues facing the VA as it seeks to meet the needs of all veterans, the Veterans Crisis Line is an instance where many veterans received much needed support and assistance, but where a notable number of veterans were let down due to inexcusable behavior or a lack of resources. Like in many other areas, the Veterans Crisis Line is dealing with major growing pains, as the workload has increased 50-fold in less than a decade. If there is one thing we have learned about the VA, it is that the department was not prepared—across multiple programs and numerous geographic locations—for the significant surge in demands for support in the last decade. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, combined with the reentry into the system of veterans of past wars, has revealed an inflexibility and rigidity in the system that is not excusable nor is it sustainable in a system that veterans put not just their trust but their lives in the hands of on a regular basis. The Veterans Crisis Line provides an invaluable service not wholly replicable in the private sector; it is important that the VA fix the problems and expands its capacity in the coming months. –BW 

Veterans are an untapped resources for charities and their communities, report says
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times              
Got Your Six has released its annual Veterans Civic Health Index – the organization’s overview of veterans’ post-military engagement in their communities. This year’s report includes findings that veterans spent more time volunteering and are more likely to vote in local elections than their civilian counterparts. Read the entirereport to learn more about what  veterans are doing in their communities. –JG
Bottom line: I won’t bore you with the details. Our friend Bill Rausch’s team at Got Your 6 has got it all laid out on their site with graphics and facts and stuff (#BOOM!) We rigidly agree with Bill that we are now at a unique moment for the veteran community. It’s becoming obvious that veterans are not just victims of war or broken by the experience. It’s readily accepted that the overwhelming majority of veterans are leaders in their communities in a host of ways from business, to charity, and volunteerism. The next step is activating those veterans in our communities and nation and helping them make the bigger differences in our country, not just for each other, but for the toughest issues we face. Today’s combat veterans have seen the results of war on refugees and children, they’ve dealt with international law, learned new cultures, and worked in one of the most diverse workforces in the world. They can lead in the fight on these issues and change the direction of our nation and not just for our own military community. That’s the next mission here at ScoutComms and we hope we will see more join the lead. –FPW

Revisiting massacre site helps veteran feel whole, but one year later, he’s still haunted by what-ifs
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), Stars and Stripes
Saturday marked the one-year anniversary of a devastating Oregon massacre at Umpqua Community College. Chris Mintz, a former infantry soldier, was shot several times while trying to protect other students attacked in the shooting. He carries the burden of many uncertainties regarding whether or not he could have helped more people that day. After receiving AWOL and marijuana charges years ago, Mintz missed his unit’s deployment and was kicked out of the Army, which has caused him years of guilt. This November, Mintz will appeal his other-than-honorable discharge with the Army Review Boards Agency to determine if his recent actions can overshadow his past mistakes. –DD
Bottom line: Together with part one, this story from Alex Horton tells the story of a heroic veteran—one the Army doesn’t consider very honorable. Mintz’s story shows how complicated veteran stories can be, how people rarely fall into neat and tidy boxes. After treating a training injury with marijuana, Mintaz’s Army career quickly deteriorated until he was kicked out with an other-than-honorable discharge. Fortunately for Mintz, the Army will consider post-military actions for upgrade appeals. Since last year’s shooting, Mintz has, like many veterans, struggled with reintegrating into the life he lived before what Horton calls his “six-minute deployment”. Because of his other-than-honorable discharge, Mintz doesn’t have access to VA health care or other benefits that might help him with the physical or mental consequences of his actions last year. By putting himself in the line of fire to protect others, Mintz showed himself to be the kind of leader we expect veterans to be. Hopefully the Army sees that, too, and allows Mintz the honor of all that comes with being a veteran. –LJ 

Client News:

Organizations join forces to improve lives of military caregivers
Anette Crawford, The Rivard Report
On Tuesday, USAA, The Elizabeth Dole Foundation and otheradvocates came together in support of military caregivers at the launch of the Hidden Heroes campaign. Since 2014, USAA has redefined its corporate philanthropy strategy, and supporting military caregivers is a major component of that new strategy. By sponsoring the campaign, USAA hopes to “lead and inspire others through education and knowledge.” The campaign encourages collaboration between nonprofits in support of caregivers andraises awareness of their needs. At the event, actor Tom Hanks, journalist Tom Brokaw, Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald and several political leaders spoke about the effort and the challenges our nation’s military caregivers face. –MC

Job Fair to help transitioning military
Linda McIntosh (@SDUMcIntosh), San Diego Union-Tribune
This past Wednesday and Thursday, Hiring Our Heroes hosted a transition summit to assist service members transitioning from military to civilian life. The first day of the summit featured workshops for job seekers, followed by a networking reception. The event culminated in a job fair on Thursday featuring dozens of employers. To find out about the next Hiring Our Heroes transition summit, visit their website here. –KB  

Time to vote for top military rookie truck driver
American Trucker
The time has come to vote on the three finalists for the Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence Award, presented by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative, FASTPORT and Kenworth. The contestant that gets the most votes will win a 2016 Kenworth T680 commercial truck to advance their career in the trucking industry. Votes may be submitted every day until voting closes on November 11. –JG 

PTSD: Are Algorithms and Big Data the Key to Helping Veterans?
Dan Webb (@DanWebbLC), Lima Charlie News
A recently published study shows that mental health prescriptions guided by an EEG scan and big data can greatly reduce symptoms of PTSD, depression, and suicidal thoughts in service members and veterans. The study of MYnd Analytics’ PEER technology shows it provides a great deal of promise when it comes to ameliorating a problem everyone from DOD to VA to the general public have recognized needs immediate action. ­–LJ 

Quick Hits:

New bank lending rules to protect troops
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
As of today, a new law is in effect to help protect service members and their families from predatory lenders while still allowing access to low-cost loans. A 36 percent interest rate cap now applies to all types of consumer credit for active-duty members and their dependents. Although the rules do not apply to mortgage loans or purchase money loans, the DoD hopes to keep military personnel out of debt by placing stricter rules on lending. Retired Air Force major general and president/CEO of the Association of Military Banks of America hopes that this new rule will not reduce lending to military members, but provide them responsible sources of lending.–DD 

Best for Vets: Places to Live 2016 – new ranking of 125 cities
George Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times
Taking into consideration economic factors, the presence of military communities, and livability measures, Military Times has identified the 125 best places for veterans and their families to live. With San Diego and Honolulu taking two high spots on the list, others include cities in the Washington D.C. metro-area (Ed. Note: yes, including Alexandria, Bill). Check out the list for yourself to see how your community sizes up against the rest. ­–JG

Marines may ditch ‘The Few, the Proud’ slogan
Jeanette Steele (@jensteeley), San Diego Union-Tribune
The Marine Corps announced this past week that it may be replacing its “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.” slogan with something that focuses less on who Marines are and more on what they do. The spokesman for the Marine Corps Recruiting Command stated that he wanted a slogan that more closely embodied the “fighting spirit” of the Marines. This would mark the first tagline change for the Marine Corps since 1976. –KB  

Fight over privatizing veterans care moves from campaign trail to House
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times 
The privatization of VA health care has been a hot-button issue this campaign season, and now House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Mark Takano (D-CA) wants to bring the issue up for a vote. Rep. Takano introduced a measure this past week that would oppose the privatization of Veterans Affairs programs, a proposal that he says is needed to “echo the voices of millions of veterans” who want the VA to remain a public system. The measure carries no force of law and is not expected to advance past the Republican-controlled House. –KB 

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