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The Scout Report 287th Edition

Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis
Tuesday, October 11, 2016                                  

In this week’s Scout Report we look at the legacy Rep. Jeff Miller leaves as he retires to include a combative history with the VA, how the Army is reframing the fight against sexual assault among the ranks, what progress has been made on burn pit registries, how the NCAA is screwing up, and more.

What, you expected me to even get close to talking about the current political climate in this country? No thanks. I had a great long weekend watching bike racing and riding bikes, why ruin it?

We hope all our friends in the southeast are safe and in recovery mode post-Matthew. We’re glad there are organizations like Team Rubicon and others eager to step in and help. –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

National Association of Veterans Program Administration: NAVPA’s 41st Annual Training & Conference (Tue – Thur, Oct. 11-13, 2016); Manchester Grand Hyatt, San Diego, CA

The Texas A&M University System: 8th Annual Military and Veteran Educational Support Symposium (Wed – Thur, Oct. 12-13, 2016); Willie Albert Tempton, Sr. Memorial Student Center, Prairie View, TX 

Congress:

No hearings this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events:

VetImpact: Veteran Entrepreneurs Pitch Night
When: 6:00 – 8:00 PM
Where: Capitol Post, 625 N. Washington St, Suite 425, Alexandria, Virginia 22314

ScoutComms in the News:

Civilians need to get as engaged in their communities as veterans
Brian Wagner (@BrianBWagner) for Task & Purpose
ScoutComms’ Vice President Brian Wagner recently wrote an op-ed for Task & Purpose about the latest Got Your Six Civic Health Index, which tracks veterans’ engagement in their communities and how civilians stack up in comparison. Data from the 2014 Census Current Population Survey and its supplements show that veterans are more involved in their communities and more generous when it comes to volunteering and charitable giving. Be sure to check out Brian’s article to learn more about why civilians should follow the example our nation’s veterans are setting. –MC

Major themes and issues from last week:

Veterans and Military Issues:

Miller vs. McDonald: A clash of agendas and legacies for veterans
Tom Philpott (@TomPhilpott), Stars and Stripes 
House Veterans Affairs Committee chairman Jeff Miller is retiring soon and leaving behind a committee that has been fixated on exposing the wrongdoings of the VA. According to Miller, the issues within the VA, and the government’s failure to fix them, lie on the shoulders of VA Secretary Bob McDonald. Miller charged McDonald with “breaking promises” pertaining to fixing the VA, as well as “abandoning” tools given to him to help with the task, such as the VA Choice Act. –KB 
Bottom line: After an initial grace period, Bob McDonald’s VA has been under fire constantly from the House Veterans Affairs Committee. And despite many missteps—often at the regional level—I’ve consistently argued that the committee is failing to ever give the VA room to change, piling accusation upon accusation as if change could reasonably be expected to happen immediately and comprehensively across an incredibly diverse, complex and decentralized system. Miller, who in his path to retirement has detoured to become the Trump campaign’s veteran expert, refuses to acknowledge that Congress is a part of the problem in failing to compromise on necessary VA reform legislation. The comments made by DAV’s Garry Augustine and the American Legion’s Lou Celli closely mirror those I’ve made in the past. There is simply no clear path to improvement that begins with blowing up the VA. We don’t know what is going to happen in 2017 under a new president, regardless of party, so it is imperative that Secretary Bob be left to his own devices—hopefully supported by newly enacted legislation—to continue his reform process while he still has a job. Because no matter who follows him, they will have to restart the process before they can continue or modify McDonald’s work. –BW

Fanning: It’s time to do a better job of preventing sexual assault
Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports), Army Times
Army Secretary Eric Fanning believes the Army has made strides in its Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, but the spotlight needs to turn toward prevention. According to the program’s director, the Army has included prevention training, but the focus has been on thoroughly investigating incidents and providing support for survivors. To combat the issue, the Army will conduct research on how to identify predatory behavior along with toxic command environments to specifically address those issues.–DD
Bottom line: Secretary Fanning is right on the mark at this point. The Army, along with the other services, has been beating the drum for victims of sexual assault and harassment to step forward andreport the acts, for military chains-of-command to support the victims, and provide mandatory training to soldiers to teach them what are inappropriate behaviors. Yet, there is almost no change whatsoever in reducing the actual number of sexual assaults that are occurring. This past week has shown us as a nation that the numbers of people willing to just write off “locker room” banter, and behaviors that are clearly ‘sexual assault’, are many in society and the Army is certainly a place where “locker room” mentalities are pretty normal. So, how do we take these sons and daughters of the nation and stop them before they commit these acts and victimize their peers? That’s probably the billion-dollar question but it’s time the military sought the answers and did something to implement them. We cannot maintain a powerful fighting force when thousands of our members live in fear of their fellow service members. Identifying the toxic behaviors, command environments, and mentalities that foster sexual assault and mistreatment is a step in the right direction. Punishing those with those behaviors like relieving them of command and ending their careers is another step. Recognizing that just because a board in Washington said you were God’s gift to mankind to command a battalion, brigade or higher doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be fired for fostering and protecting those beneath you who are criminals.  Those are the hard choices the military has to make. Let’s see if it happens. –FPW

Trump’s comments on veterans mental health care spark new outrage
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at a town hall event with veteran supporters in Virginia last week. He was asked about what his plan would be to address a failing mental health care system for veterans. He responded with determination and a sense of urgency on the subject, however his word choice wandered into a grey area of language that contributes to the stigma existing around mental health. –JG
Bottom line: This Trump controversy, to be frank, seems like it took place 100 days ago, not last week. The last debate, coupled with the release of old Access Hollywood recordings, has shoved Trump’s mini-controversy about veterans to the background of the political chatter. With that said, there is a lot of smoke but not fire with this supposed controversy. When it first broke on social media last Monday, it seemed as if Trump had maligned veterans with PTS as being weak. But a quick read of the full response shows that while he proved he is no expert on veteran mental health needs and challenges, this is one time where his heart seems to be in the right place, even if he was ham-handed in his delivery of the sentiment. Advocates like Sean Foertsch and Bill Rausch are right to focus not on the false controversy in their comments to Leo, but on the need to create a broader public conversation about PTS and its impact on veterans as well as civilians who have never stepped foot in a war zone. There are legitimate complaints to level at Trump over his statements and actions involving veterans—this is not really one of those times. ­–BW 

Inspectors rip Phoenix VA hospital again for delayed care
Dennis Wagner (@AZRover), The Republic 
Last Tuesday, the Office of the Inspector General released a newreport on the Phoenix VA Health Care System that identified 215 deaths of patients awaiting specialized care at the facility. Thereport also unveiled a large backlog of patients still waiting to receive care, despite a dramatic increase in medical staffers due to the 2014 wait-time scandals at the same facility. –KB  
Bottom line: If one veteran dies while waiting for VA care, it is a tragedy that deserves scrutiny. And on close reading of the latestreport, you will find the IG was able to link only one veteran’s death of the 215 to delayed care. That is a significantly lower number than found previously after the scandal first broke in Phoenix two years ago—but as noted it’s still unacceptable. The VA has invested a lot of time, energy, and money into retraining staff on proper scheduling and, perhaps more importantly, putting veterans’ wellbeing at the core of everything staff does. For VA to continue improving its delivery of timely care, reports like this will be a necessary part of the process to learn what is working and what still needs to be tweaked. While the media and congressional furor around the latest report hasn’t reached 2014 levels, that should be no reason for Secretary McDonald and his team to put less emphasis on an issue that certainly needs attention. –LJ 

Vets are still dying from burn-pit illnesses, advocates say
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
In an open letter to President Barack Obama, a group of 700 veterans and family members plead for government leaders to acknowledge and take action on their debilitating health problems as a result of inhaling fumes from burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Defense Department has a registry to monitor burn pit victims, however a recent Government Accountability Office Report found flaws in the system and now families are urging for significant changes in the National Airborne Hazards Open Burn Pit Registry. There are currently more than 81,000 veterans and current service members in the registry and they have documented illness like respiratory fatigue, rare cancers and neurological disorders. –DD 
Bottom line: Burn pits are an incredibly difficult issue to pin down. Agent Orange was actually much clearer as a spray came down from the sky on your unit, was stored on your aircraft or was processed by your own hands. The exposure was clear while the illnesses may not have been for many years. Burn pits just aren’t that simple. Almost every base had a burn pit on it. What constitutes exposure? Just being on a base that had one? Every pit had something burned in it not just by location, but also, by day at each location. On top of that there isn’t just a single set of symptoms or illnesses to pin to it. Maybe one person was exposed to lithium battery fumes one day but another was exposed to medical waste products the next. The illnesses are varied and multifaceted. The government is being cautious for a host of reasons. To declare that everyone “exposed” to a burn pit gets extra care opens up a flood gate because there simply is no way to determine what exactly is “exposure”. The registry was designed to build a database to answer many of those questions. It’s not fast work and its heartbreaking to see veterans ill and dying from what could be diseases associated with these pits. This is one of those terrible situations of uncertainty that leave many guessing and desperate. Throw in that even with the extra 5,000 veterans whom have possibly died added to the registry, 86,000 still represents just 2 percent of all service members that deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The DoD and VA can’t lose sight of this issue but by the same token we don’t envy the difficult questions that must be answered. –FPW

After serving in war zones, Army veteran ruled ineligible to play in college by NCAA
Gary Parris (@GaryParrisCBS), CBS Sports 
After being discharged from the Army this past April, Isaiah Brock had plans to attend Oakland University to play basketball, a dream that was squashed this past year when the NCAA ruled him ineligible to play. Brock met Oakland University head coach Greg Kampe through Troops First, a foundation that puts on a basketball tournament in Kuwait for soldiers who are deployed overseas. When Brock decided to play basketball for Kampe, the NCAA ruled him ineligible due to freshmen eligibility requirements, citing his high school transcripts from six years ago. Oakland is planning on appealing the decision in hopes of reversing the ruling. –KB
Bottom line: Student veterans like Isaiah Brock have a lot to bring to campus, something Coach Kampe knew when he recruited Brock to play basketball. Kampe didn’t want Brock for his admittedly middling basketball skills, he wanted Brock to be a leader on the team and show his peers what hard work, integrity, and selflessness look like. Brock’s military experience, not his ball handling, made him the perfect addition to Kampe’s squad. That is until the NCAA would rather judge the veteran based on his high school grades rather than his subsequent academic and military achievements. Since high school, Brock had taken college courses and received above average grades. He’d also met the NCAA standardized test threshold. Yet the NCAA won’t let Brock play. It’s an unfortunately not uncommon story for student veterans who sometimes struggle with schools that don’t understand how military experience can be just as transformative as higher education. Hopefully the NCAA will respond kindly to Brock’s appeal which would demonstrate to many in the college world that veterans bring a great value to campus. –LJ 

Client News:

Voting under way for top military trucking rookie to win Kenworth T680
Commercial Carrier Journal
Sponsored in part by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative, the Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence program has launched the final public voting phase to pick the veteran who will receive a Kenworth T680 semi-truck valued at $170,000. The contest sought out the best and most-deserving rookie truck drivers who served or serve in the military. Now through Nov. 11, you can vote every day to decide who will be the award recipient. Visit the voting page to learn more about each contestant and cast your vote. –JG

New microlearning tool to help combat financial stress for military families
Last week, The USAA Educational Foundation launched theCommand Your Cash™ Microlearning Center at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) Annual Meeting and Exposition, to help service members and military families combat financial stress. Using short, bite-size videos and assessments, the program teaches users lessons on managing debt, building an emergency fund, creating a spending plan and much more. If you are a young service member, sign up for the program here, and check out The USAA Educational Foundation’s presentation during one of the AUSA Family Forums here–MC

Student veterans awarded $10k for new vet center
Penn State News
Student veterans at Penn State Berks will soon have a new space on campus to host meetings, hang out in between classes, and interact with other students of similar experiences. The Student Veterans of America chapter at Penn State Berks recently received a $10,000 Vet Center Initiative grant, sponsored by The Home Depot Foundation to help open a vet center on campus. The center is slated to open at the end of the Fall 2016 semester. –MC

Corpsman, CEO and scientist: Perspectives on PTSD
Jeff Stoffer (@JeffStoffer), The American Legion 
This past week, The American Legion’s TBI/PTSD Committee held a meeting in Indianapolis that outlined the issues surrounding treatment for service members with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries. Among the presenters was client MYnd Analytics, a health technology company that uses a crowd-sourced database of brain scans to better predict which pharmaceutical drugs will work for individual patients. CEO George Carpenter spoke on the utility of providing objective data to physicians prescribing medications for mental illness, as well as the importance of working together to achieve more positive mental health outcomes for patients. A video of the presentation can be viewed here. –KB 

How to score free veteran tickets
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz), Military.com
VetTix, a nonprofit organization that provides free tickets to veterans and service members, was highlighted in a recent article for its support of all veterans, no matter when they served. VetTix collects donated tickets from organizations and individuals and also purchases select tickets before distributing them to veterans through a lottery system. To learn more about VetTix, we highly recommend that you take the time to read the article, and visitvettix.org. Free membership is open to anyone who has ever served. –MC

Quick Hits:

20 percent of Army kids will need mental health treatment
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Defense News 
At the Association for the United States Army Annual Meeting and Exposition, Dr. Christopher Ivany, chief of the Behavioral Health Division and Service Line Office of the Army Surgeon General, said that one in five Army kids need mental health support before they turn 16 years old. Ivany drew attention to the lack of child psychologists and psychiatrists, which makes it hard for not only military children to access care, but all children nation-wide. –MC

Arm transplant recipient says he can now hold fiancée’s hand
Associated Press
After a double arm transplant, former Marine Sgt. John Peck  expressed excitement that he can now hold his fiancée’s hand and pursue his dream of becoming a chef. In May 2010, Peck lost all four limbs in an IED blast in Afghanistan. The transplant procedure involved 14 hours of surgery, which took 60 doctors and nurses. After the transplant, Peck will need about nine to 12 months of rehabilitation before the nerves in his arms and hands are fully functioning. –DD

22 Pushup Challenge? Not in uniform or on duty, says Air Force
Stephen Losey (@StephenLosey), Air Force Times
The Air Force is reminding service members that they cannot participate in activities associated with nonprofit, non-federal entities or fundraising, while in uniform or on duty. The reminder was speaking indirectly about 22Kill, the organization associated the 22 Pushup Challenge. ­–JG 

McCain agrees to drop veterans hiring preference changes from NDAA
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John McCain expressed his opposition to a proposal to limiting federal hiring preferences for veterans, after Senate lawmakers approved a draft of the annual defense authorization bill with language that raised veterans advocates’ hackles. Those against the veterans’ preference policy argue it is too generous and that qualified applicants without military experience are being overlooked for some federal jobs. McCain said he will work towards removing the provision from the final draft of the defense authorization bill. –DD

A general’s new mission: leading a charge against PTSD
Dionne Searcey (@dionnesearcey), The New York Times
Brig. Gen. Donald C. Bolduc, commander of Special Operations Forces Africa, spoke out about his experience seeking help for post-traumatic stress. Bolduc regularly uses his position to advocate for service members and encourages them to seek help, reiterating that their future military careers will not be affected by seeking mental health treatment. –MC

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.

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