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The Scout Report 290th Edition

Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis
Monday, October 31, 2016

Look, I know you think you have a really clever “stolen valor” costume or a punny political commentary masterpiece, but two young women from Laguna Niguel, California, have you beat. Truly, they have made Halloween great again.

This week’s Scout Report takes a look at the latest developments in the California National Guard bonus scandal, assesses the fallout from the news that a handful of women passed the Army’s infantry officer course, makes the case for more research about suicide but also some tangible action, and much more.

Every week we bring you this Scout Report and put it in your trusted hands. And then many of you share this email with your friends. We can’t thank you enough for spreading the joy. As a token of our appreciation, please enjoy this video of a corgi puppy and a pumpkin—but the rest of you non-sharers, don’t you dare click that until you spread the Scout Report among the masses! –LJ

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

AFCEA: MILCOM 2016 (Tue-Thu, Nov. 1-3, 2016); Baltimore Convention Center, Baltimore, MD

Congress:

No hearings this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events:

Got Your 6: Storytellers Showcase: LA
Who: Colin Archipley, Marine Corps Veteran, Founder of Archi’s Acres;Matt “Griff” Griffin, Army Veteran, Co-founder of Combat Flip Flops;Marjorie Williams, Air Force Veteran, Lawyer; Joshua Mantz, Army Veteran, Treatment Placement Specialist; Karen Gallagher, Army Veteran; Speech Pathologist and Ph.D. Candidate; Jeff Bosley, Army Veteran, Actor; Zack Bazzi, Army Veteran, Co-founder of TentEd; Tigon Abalos, Army Veteran, Dental Student
When: 9:00 AM, November 1, 2016
Where: TV Academy, 5220 Lankershim Blvd, Los Angeles, CA

ScoutComms in the News:

Germanna student veterans group wants to help with paths to employment
Lindley Estes (@flsLindley), The Free Lance-Star 
The Student Veterans Organization at Germanna Community College, located in Fredericksburg, is helping student veterans be more successful on campus through advocacy and connecting them with resources. Lindley Estes, with The Free Lance-Star, published a feature article on the organization last week mentioning the club’s latest endeavor: a golf tournament sponsored by ScoutComms and other companies in our community. –MC 

Veterans and Military Issues:

Pentagon will stop seeking repayment of California Guard bonuses
Andrew Tilghman (@andrewtilghman), Military Times
Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordered a halt to the repayment of thousands of bonuses that were wrongfully issued during the Iraq War. The California National Guard paid the bonuses, which were used as incentives to recruit and retain troops during the war, to troops who were not eligible by recruiters who engaged in fraud to boost their own recruitment stats. According to a senior National Guard official, Congress had been informed two years ago that the Pentagon was trying to get reimbursed for the money issued to troops, but took no action. President Obama recently told the Pentagon to expedite the debt review process but is not supporting the call to waive all such debts. –DD
Bottom line: To say that this situation has more to it than meets the eye would be the understatement of the year. Just last week we reported on the story that thousands of National Guard members in California are being forced to repay bonuses they received up to a decade ago to re-enlist and often deploy with the Army. The outrage that followed was so intense that in just days the Secretary of Defense ordered a halt to the pursuit of the payments. That’s when the rest of the story started coming out: as it turns out many of those who received bonuses and education benefits likely knew they were not eligible and may have knowingly took advantage of poor oversight of the program. The Sacramento Bee had reported two years ago of a reenlistment NCO in the Guard who had given out millions of bonuses incorrectly including the story of a doctor who had all of his medical school bills paid off some ten years after graduating to the tune of almost $100,000 when the education benefit had a cap of $10,000 and he wasn’t even eligible for that. That might explain why $22 million has already been recovered by the government pretty quietly until now and why the DOD is not committing to just waving off the rest of the cases and insists on dealing with these on a case-by-case basis. While many most likely were completely innocent in accepting reenlistment bonuses, there is a good chance many more knowingly manipulated the system. Needless to say this story isn’t going away anytime soon and we are hearing that the National Guard leadership in almost every state are implementing their own reviews of bonus programs to ensure they aren’t facing the same meat grinder California finds itself in. The same concern remains though as last week; how do we convince soldiers to take a bonus now that they are scared it might be taken back a decade from now? That’s the real damage done by those who chose to break and bend the rules. In the end they are hurting the entire military in their bids to make a buck off of their service. –FPW

When it comes to veterans’ issues, Trump and Clinton offer different approaches
Matthew Daly (@MatthewDalyWDC), Associated Press 
Since April 2014, the VA has received a lot of criticism for its treatment, or lack thereof, of veterans utilizing its system. Each candidate in the upcoming presidential election has their own views on how to fix the VA, addressing topics such as access to timely care, VA employee accountability, the veteran suicide epidemic, fixing the backlog of veteran disability claims, and veteran homelessness. With more than 70 percent of veterans voting in the 2012 election, this population has the capacity to be a pivotal force in the upcoming election. A recent IVMF and Military Times study showed Trump garnering 40 percent of the active duty military vote. However, a new string of controversies surrounding the Republican nominee’s recent comments concerning women in the military, among others, could cause these numbers to shift in the days leading up to the election as Clinton battles yet another addition to her email problems. –KB 
Bottom line: You have to give Matthew Daly credit for putting together a point-by-point comparison of the two candidates’ veterans “policies”. The problem is that like with many things in this election they aren’t comparable on a point-by-point basis because where Mrs. Clinton issued a dozen page detailed policy agenda for veterans a year ago, Mr. Trump has a plan that entails ten bullet points. When it was issued it confused a lot of veteran advocates as number eight is “Mr. Trump will reform the visa system to ensure veterans are at the front of the line for health services, not the back.” No one is aware how the visa system has anything to do with veterans seeking health services. Either way, the policy points that Daly covers are generally in line with each party’s doctrine. Clinton lays out specific approaches to fixing VA while holding a strong line on privatizing care. She also offers strong ideas on finding new approaches to homelessness through public-private partnerships and discrimination laws. Trump promises to crack down on employees and executives at VA with easier firings and taking away of bonuses while advocating for veterans to have the choice between a VA doctor or private provider. In addition, he has talked about installing a 24-hour hotline in the White House to listen to any veteran’s complaints about the VA. That right there would be pretty awesome because as any of us know who work in this sector…well…veterans are really more than happy to tell you how things should be working. That could end up being the largest agency in the West Wing if experience is any guide. Either way you can click on the links above to check out both candidates’ policies yourself and don’t forget to vote! Please…please…vote but for the love of all that is holy…just once. –FPW

10 transgender soldiers seek formal gender identity change
Lolita C. Baldor (@lbaldor), Army Times
As of October 1, transgender service members are allowed to openly serve. In the Army, 10 soldiers have asked to be recognized as their new gender. Army chief of staff, General Mark Milley, said the Army is providing training for soldiers and commanders about the new policies regarding transgender soldiers. Senate Democrats are currently fighting a provision in the defense authorization bill that would allow government contractors to discriminate based on sexual or gender orientation. –DD
Bottom line: In his interview with the AP, Milley notes he would have liked more time to execute the open service of transgender soldiers, but that it was never a question whether or not the Army was going to do it. By next July, training about the new transgender policies for commanders and soldiers must be complete. The new policies Milley outlines are intended to give commanders some leeway because no two transgender cases are the same. On paper, transgender soldiers will only be able to use the bathrooms, housing facilities, etc, of their identified gender once they have legally transitioned and their paperwork is complete. But for many, that may be a far longer time than manageable for units so commanders will be empowered to act on a case-by-case basis. The Palm Center, an independent think tank that has been advocating for transgender service members for years, says they are pleased with the pace and execution to date of military policies on transgender troops. Perhaps this is one area wherein the military has learned from its previous transitions to being more accepting of a force that reflects the nation it protects. –LJ 

Inspector General report finds widespread hazards at military housing
Erik Slavin (@eslavin_stripes), Stars and Stripes
The Defense Department’s Inspector General published a report that found “systemic weaknesses” in DOD policy on consistent building safety inspections. Inspectors found several critical safety deficiencies per building during their inspections from 2013 to 2016 in DOD facilities in major regions like Washington D.C., the US Southeast, Japan, and Afghanistan, among others. The Army has agreed to the recommendations made and has begun drafting a plan for implementation that should be complete in early 2017. –JG 
Bottom line: While there is no specific scandal tied to the DOD IG’s report on military housing, it is clear that either standards for inspections and repairs were too lax on a number of installations or that remediation efforts have been delayed longer than is appropriate for ensuring safe and healthy living conditions for service members and their families. Even as military leaders’ attention is focused on planning around urgent military threats, executing major procurement programs, and implementing new personnel policies, the day-to-day living conditions in military housing and office facilities overseas cannot be neglected. The amount of money involved to resolve these problems is small on the grand scale of the U.S. military budget, and solving these deficiencies is not an optional step. Our military families understand that not all benefits are permanent, but the right to work and live in clean, functional buildings is not a benefit but a basic right, particularly in facilities intended for long-term use and habitation. It is good to see that the services are taking the IG report as guidance to enact immediate repairs and changes, and hopefully the solutions take hold for more than a year or two. –BW

Veterans may face higher risk of suicide during first year home
Lisa Rapaport, Reuters
A recent study analyzed the correlation between deployment and suicide in the U.S. military. The findings suggest that veterans are 2.5 times more likely to commit suicide within the first three months of leaving the military than active duty service members, and three times as likely from months four to twelve. Deployment seems to have a protective effect on service members, but the months immediately following redeployment were a high risk period for service members. The study also found that the highest predictor of suicide was previously diagnosed mental health issues. –LJ
Bottom line: Preventing suicide continues to be a challenge for the military and veteran communities, and for a long time a big impediment to developing or implementing effective solutions has been a lack of information and data about veteran and service member suicides. That’s why VA’s recent in-depth study of the issue was so important. But this kind of research also takes time—something that isn’t in abundance in the midst of a crisis. This recent study published in The Lancet Psychiatry sheds light on when veterans and troops may be most vulnerable—and most in need of interventions. With a finite number of clinicians and resources, it’s useful for practioners to know when and where those resources will be most needed and plan accordingly. Additionally, this empowers officials to point to hard facts and numbers when making the case for more resources to funders. As with most research, though, we find ourselves reluctant to hold our breath that any policies will soon be changed. While the private and philanthropic sectors continue to make significant investments in mental health care innovation, it takes the prodding of lawmkers and the press before DOD or VA seem to lurch towards next steps. –LJ 

Ten women graduate from the Army’s first integrated infantry officer course
Meghann Myers (@MeghannReports), Army Times 
Ten women graduated this past week from the Army’s 17-week Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course, designed to prepare newly commissioned lieutenants and to show they’ve earned their blue infantry cords. The women were among the first to participate in this course since the gender integration of all combat jobs, and will go on to follow-on training such as Ranger School, Airborne School, the Stryker Leader Course, and the Mechanized Leader Course. Maj. Gen. Eric Wesley, head of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence, says that gender integration in combat units is a step towards reflecting the American value of the “opportunity to compete.” The senior enlisted soldier at IBOLC shut down questions about relaxed standards at the course, stating that there was no change in the way that the course was run and that allowing women to enroll in the course has made them a “better Army.” –KB  
Bottom line: In the wake of the national spotlight that shone constantly on Ranger School while the first women soldiers tried to graduate from the program, the relatively quiet manner in which news of the first wave of women graduating from Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course broke is a refreshing change of pace. Gender integration of military combat units is not generated by flipping a switch, but through the slow and steady efforts of service women and their supporters to create opportunities for professional success and growth. We should expect to see additional stories in the future of service women failing to graduate from programs like IBOLC or of suffering setbacks later in their career. Such stories are not gender-specific, but given the relative scarcity of women in combat roles, it will continue to make the news, though no longer on the front page. In the meantime, women with a desire to serve in some of the most physically challenging jobs available in the military will continue to compete—likely in growing numbers over time—for the right to serve in combat roles. –BW

Client News:

Veterans have fewer protections from shady college chains
Jillian Berman (@JillianBerman), MarketWatch 
Derek Fronabarger, director of policy at Student Veterans of America, discussed the challenges veterans face when colleges like ITT Technical Institute and Ashford University close their doors: student veterans are left with wasted or missed benefits and must transfer to a new school if possible. Some lawmakers are urging changes to help protect veterans in these situations, but as of now, student veterans must be sure to make informed decisions about their education. Visit studentveterans.org to learn more. –MC

2 Minutes That Can Save Your (Financial) Life
Scott Curran (@USAAEF) for Task & Purpose
The opportunities for a young military family’s financial stability to be threatened tend to outweigh the opportunities to strengthen them, but that’s where organizations like The USAA Educational Foundation come into play. With their new Command Your Cash Microlearning Center, military millennials have the chance to shape a better financial future with the help of brief videos, assessments and downloadable tools. –AB

A Veteran-comedian walks into the White House…
Maureen Normann, VAntage Point
Armed Services Arts Partnership (ASAP) recently hosted a stand-up comedy show at the White House that featured graduates from their Comedy Bootcamp program. Maureen Normann reflected on her experience of having three traumatic brain injuries, going from having absolutely no experience in stand-up to performing in front of 250 people at the White House. Normann credits the environment of comedy to have open and honest conversations about being a veteran. ASAP’s mission is to empower veterans, service members and their families to find a voice within their communities through the arts. –DD 

USAA Educational Foundation program training financial leaders at Texas A&M
Steve Kuhlmann (@Steve_Kuhlmann), The Eagle 
On Thursday, The USAA Educational Foundation and Texas A&M University kicked off a new partnership to help train our nation’s future military leaders in financial readiness. The program, known as Command Your Finances, is a three-credit course open to all Texas A&M students and is intended to help Corps of Cadets members who may potentially become military officers learn to be financially ready and counsel other future service members on financial decisions. Financial readiness has an impact on military readiness, and this program is a step that will help positively shape the military’s future. –MC 

Fresno Army veteran to share her story nationally via Facebook
Cresencio Rodriguez-Delgado (@cres_guez), The Fresno Bee
Tigon Abalos is more than just an Army veteran – she’s also a dental student at UCLA and co-founder of Operation Bruin Smiles, an effort to subsidize dental care for veterans and foster youth. She will be sharing her story on a national stage on November 1 at Los Angeles’s TV Academy for Got Your 6’s Storyteller Showcase. To find out more about Abalos and some of the other speakers, click here–AB

13 November Events With Free Tickets For Vets And Service Members
Steven Weintraub (@VetTix) for Task & Purpose
Vet Tix, which provides free event tickets to sports events, concerts and other activities for veterans and service members, highlights a number of November events, including college football games across the country, in a new article for Task & Purpose. All the events listed have at least 100 tickets available, and veterans and service members only have to pay a small processing fee. Visit VetTix.org to create a free account and gain access to these and hundreds of other events. –BW 

Quick Hit: 

GAO says Pentagon needs to do more about burn pit exposure
Mark Brunswick (@MarkABrunswick), The Star Tribune
In a report released this past September, the Government Accountability Office stated that long term health issues reported by those exposed to burn pits warranted further review by the Pentagon. The practice, which is common in times of war, has recently become more dangerous due to the burning of new items such as plastic bottles and electronics, which could release harsh chemicals that might have detrimental effects on the body when inhaled. The VA’s official statement as of now is that insufficient evidence exists linking the pits to any long-term health issues. –KB  

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 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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