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The Scout Report 302nd Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis
Monday, January 30, 2017

Typically, this is where I write something funny, but to be honest I’m having a hard time coming up with something to laugh at.  Fortunately, if you look around, there is plenty to smile about. Including, very soon, another big announcement from ScoutComms. That’s right, we’re issuing some executive memoranda of our own—and we’ll publish the details the same time we announce them.

So, last week. A lot happened. We’ve captured some of the major points here, including the hiring freeze at federal agencies you probably already forgot about (totally understandable!) For veterans looking for jobs or hoping to get paperwork processed by the VA, that might be a problem. We also look at how President Trump’s recent executive orders about Pentagon spending and immigration could play out for the military.

Want to know more about how the new administration is impacting our community? Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to get the most up to date analysis of the major stories as they develop. –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

Marine Military Expos: Marine West 2017 (Wed – Thurs, Feb. 1-2, 2017); Pacific Views Events Center, Camp Pendleton, CA

Congress:

No hearings this week.

Think Tanks & Other Events:

None this week.

ScoutComms Reporting:

The national security imperative for civilizing social media
Brian Wagner (@brianbwagner) for Real Clear Defense
Our vice president and chief operating officer, Brian Wagner, shared six ideas that we can use to reduce our nation’s vulnerability to social media national security threats in a recent Real Clear Defense op-ed. Wagner recommends that social media companies work harder to restrict trolls, increase protections for everyday users and reduce widespread sharing of fake news. He also recommends that individual users stop “feeding the trolls,” control their outrage impulses online and treat others with respect in the same way they would offline. Be sure to check out the full article for even deeper insight! –MC

Hiring Freeze:
Last week, President Trump announced a federal hiring freeze that will impact veterans both looking for jobs and seeking services at the VA. Here’s why that will impact our community in ways beyond employment.

Federal hiring freeze could cause problems for managers, veterans
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times 
Last week, an executive action by President Donald Trump ordered a hiring freeze on all federal civilian employees including the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense. Advocates and military community members are concerned that the move may disproportionally hurt veterans, who make up about one-third of our government’s workforce. Although the order does not include “appointment to federal service made prior to Jan. 22, 2017,” offers without firm start dates or dates after Jan. 22 may still be subject to the hiring freeze, causing concern for would-be Pentagon or Veterans Affairs employees. –MC
Bottom line: The hiring freeze was launched without a lot of guidance last week. Things are settling out slightly but uncertainty is the name of the game. Beyond just freezing new hires and creating new positions, the order specifically forbids using contractors to get around the freeze. As a military operations planner, you’re constantly looking at the second and third order effects of decisions. Last year, 44 percent of all federal government hires were military veterans. Jobs in government have proven to be a huge part of reducing what had been a massive unemployment crisis just three years ago. Many more veterans go into government contracting positions. We will watch the situation but it seems hard to believe that it won’t impact veteran unemployment soon. We have already heard from many veterans who had been in pursuit of jobs that have been canceled. We will probably see the effects in the March or April DOL employment reports. While there are some 100 jobs that VA will still fill in health care, new clinic management and at the cemeteries, those aren’t necessarily jobs veterans typically fill. Benefits processors and other backend VA jobs will go unfilled—by veterans and unable to serve veterans. The Department of Defense has announced that DoD civilians are included in the freeze and many of the new positions for vets have been in non-defense agencies. We are hoping that this freeze does not have a long-term impact for veterans after years of progress but it’s hard not to see how it won’t. –FPW

Hiring freeze and Obamacare repeal could clobber Veterans Affairs
Quil Lawrence (@QuilLawrence), NPR 
In his first week as President, Donald Trump has issued executive orders that cast further uncertainty on the future of the Affordable Care Act, as well as stop government agencies from hiring employees. The latter froze the hiring process for the thousands of jobs at the Department of Veterans Affairs, which could lead to a growing backlog of veterans waiting to receive care through the VA or get their benefits approved. Meanwhile, the VA released a list of positions it will continue to fill despite the freeze because it has deemed them “frontline caregivers”. On the other side, the estimated three million veterans who seek care elsewhere through utilization of the health exchanges provided by the Affordable Care Act could see their healthcare disappear. –KB
Bottom line: Sadly, despite plenty of vigorous campaign trail rhetoric, there is no evidence thus far that President Trump has any actual plan to improve how the VA treats veterans. His hiring freeze complicates efforts for the VA – already in a poor position to compete with the private sector – with fewer options to hire personnel to keep up with a demand for services that has remained elevated for several years now, despite past investments and hiring spurts. But Carrie Farmer from RAND highlights a possibly even more complicated issue: how many veterans will be affected by efforts to topple the Affordable Care Act, and if affected, how many will shift some or all their care to the VA? If the VA sees another increase in patient load in 2017, its ability to sustain any positive progress to reduce backlogs will surely suffer. To put it simply, there are a lot of questions concerning the VA right now, and very few answers. The only positive news thus far was the announcement that Under Secretary of Health David Shulkin would be nominated as the next Secretary, indirectly validating the leadership of former Secretary Bob McDonald, who was overlooked for the job despite the nation’s largest veterans groups urging the president to at least consider Bob. Veterans have a lot of questions about Trump’s plans to “fix” the VA, and it may be months before they receive any clear answers. –BW 

Future Military Operations
President Trump issued a ban on issuing visas to people from certain Muslim countries and refugees. This ban includes Iraqis who served alongside the U.S. military as interpreters and other mission enablers, which may make it more difficult for U.S. troops to recruit allies on the ground in Syria and future battlefields. On Sunday, President Trump discussed creating “safe zones” in Syria and Yemen with leaders from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. “Safe zones” typically require a robust ground force to ensure security. Additionally, Sunday marked the first military casualty of Trump’s administration when a Navy SEAL was lost during a raid in Yemen.

Trump discusses Syrian safe zones with Saudi king
Mallory Shelbourne (@MalShelbourne), The Hill
An early draft of the executive order banning visas for refugees and people from certain Muslim countries indicated that the Trump administration is considering implementing “safe zones” in Syria to maintained by the U.S. military as a solution to the refugee crisis. The final executive order did not include the “safe zone” language, but Trump went on to discuss “safe zones” with the leader of Saudi Arabia and the UAE over the weekend. Many are skeptical of these plans, citing that the past failed attempts to build and maintain infrastructure in Iraq and Afghanistan. –JG
Bottom line: While President Trump may have omitted “safe zones” in one executive order, it is clear from his conversations this weekend that he still has an interest in seeing they are created and supported. The idea behind safe zones is that they create a place for Syrians and Yemenis to go in their country, so they become internally displaced persons and not refugees who flee to Europe or the U.S. for safe haven. The challenge with safe zones is that to maintain their safety requires an enormous investment of resources, both monetary and military. In 2013, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Dempsey estimated a safe zone would cost about a billion dollars per month to maintain. Perhaps that is what the president spoke with the leaders of Saudi Arabia and the UAE about: bankrolling the safe zones. It’s hard to imagine either country’s military having the manpower or legitimacy to establish a safe zone within Syria. Yet, if it’s the U.S. military that will be called upon to secure the safe zones, how much harder will their job be when it comes to recruiting allies on the ground? With Syrian refugees banned from entering the U.S. and now a history of Iraqis who worked with us being banned, too, our military will face undue harm. The world is a dangerous place and it will become more so for those charged with protecting and defending us. –LJ 

Among veterans, raw responses to Trump’s effort to block refugees and others from Muslim countries
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), Washington Post
On Friday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order that bans the entry of refugees and citizens of seven Muslim countries—to include those who are also permanent residents or green card holders in the United States. Veterans have been rather outspoken about the executive order, particularly those who served alongside Iraqi interpreters or service members whose lives were put in danger by helping the U.S. military and now will not be allowed into the U.S. –LJ 
Bottom line: It didn’t take long for outrage to start coming from a lot of veterans and the fact that one of the very first two people reportedly detained under the new rules happened to be a former interpreter for the 101stAirborne heightened the frustration. Many have been fighting for years with inconsistent help from Congress or the former administration to get our former interpreters to safety in the U.S. and now that entire system has been frozen leaving thousands in limbo. Veterans have poured out in support of protests, writing letters to papers and appearing on TV to condemn the moves by the administration. This is a very personal issue for many of us who served and it’s unlikely those concerns will be cooled anytime soon. Concerns are real that treating our allies like enemies to be suspicious of doesn’t help us fight an already difficult war or future ones either. This issue touched a raw nerve and it’s probably one of many to come. –FPW

Trump says military more important than balanced budget
Alex Johnson (MAlexJohnson), NBC News
In a Fox News interview with Sean Hannity, President Donald Trump said that a strong U.S. military takes immediate priority over providing a balanced budget for his first fiscal year as president. This comment is in direct conflict with the ideology of Trump’s current White House Office of Management and Budget nominee, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.). Mulvaney has staunchly opposed federal spending that result in deficits. Trump acknowledges the challenge of figuring out where military and fiscal conservatism meet and intends to deliver on the promises he made during his campaign. –JG
Bottom line: As we say often, a strong military means a lot of different things to different folks. The memo that the President signed on Friday calls for an expansion of a number of missions and programs including the nuclear triad but also says to cut “non-priority programs” which is yet to be defined. What might the term “non-priority” mean? Family support programs? Healthcare for retirees? No one knows and reports from inside DOD say they don’t know either at this point. So, while it’s far too soon to celebrate the potential funding of the military…it’s also far too soon to freak out about what might be cut. In the meantime we can expect a strange dance between the fiscal conservative wing of the Republican party and the military hawks of the same party. If you haven’t bought a mass supply of popcorn yet you should. This promises to be some entertaining political watching. –FPW

Military and Veteran Issues: 

Lack of quality school choices is hurting military families
Brock Vergakis (@BrockVergakis), The Virginian-Pilot
A recent report by the Lexington Institute examined the performance of school systems across the country serving military children, and found major differences in performance. In Virginia, students in Virginia Beach and Fairfax County outperform peers in other states, but in areas like Norfolk, Newport News and Suffolk lag behind. To solve these discrepancies, researchers recommend allowing military-connectedstudents to attend schools in nearby divisions, a practice currently prohibited in Virginia. –MC
Bottom line: Using Virginia as a microcosm of school choices is a good reminder of how much more states could be doing to be more military friendly. Virginia is already at the top of most lists when it comes to military friendly states, but as the article notes, by not allowing military families to enroll their children in schools in neighboring counties, Virginia is limiting children to sometimes less than stellar educational experiences. For military families, moving homes and schools is an added stressor to an already very hectic life. States like Virginia could ease the burden on families by allowing them more flexibility in where they can enroll their military-connected children and by encouraging magnet and charter schools to have more rolling admissions options. For the state, these should be fairly easy carve outs for military families. For military families, a better school experience could literally change lives. –LJ 

Male and female infantry Marines to share tents in the field
Jeff Schogol(@JeffSchogol), Marine Corps Times 
The first female infantry Marines, who started on Jan. 5, will be sharing close quarters with their male counterparts – namely, they will be staying in the same fighting holes and tents when in the field. The executive officer for the battalion stated that this was an attempt to maintain “unit cohesion.” This decision reawakened debate on whether gender integration for combat positions is a good idea, with some saying that it feels “morally wrong.” Still, advocates for women’s rights in the military, such as Kate Germano, COO of the Service Women’s Action Network, think that this move will help to better integrate women into combat units. –KB
Bottom line: This decision is easy to mock—Russia’s RT went with the lovely “Oorah-la-la” headline—and is certain to be controversial, but there is no reason it shouldn’t or couldn’t happen. As service women will tell you, many have found themselves in situations where shared sleeping quarters were the only option, especially when on deployments. And with barracks remaining gender-separated, the daily routine of the Marines will not change much. Like everything else related to gender integration in the military, strong and clear leadership from top to bottom will be the key to determining whether this gender-neutral quartering exercise will succeed. Ultimately, though, if we want to hold all service members to occupation-specific standards to determine their capabilities, we should not shy away from demanding that they not only perform the same jobs, but that they do so in a way that removes as many barriers as possible when they are deployed together in the field. As Major Lisa Jaster, an Army Ranger School graduate, noted in the comments section of Schogol’s article, “this has been the standard for deployments and field problems for a long time. Nothing new.” The success of this policy change could help reduce opposition in the Marine Corps to gender integration in general. –BW 

Client News:

Vet Tix Announces New Partnership With Service Women’s Action Network
Veteran Tickets Foundation (@VetTix), Vet Tix Press Room
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and the Service Women’s Action Network recently announced a new partnership in support ofservice women. Vet Tix provides community-based event tickets to all branches of currently serving military and veterans, including immediate family of troops killed in action. This new partnership will support the integration of service women and women veterans in their communities through events. –DD

With a million members, military network looks to expand reach
Hope Hodge Seck(@HopeSeck), Military.com 
After reaching one million members in December, RallyPoint, a social networking site geared specifically toward service members and veterans, has its sights set on becoming the go-to resource for service members who are PCSing or transitioning out of the military. The site helps to provide the social capital needed to make these changeovers easier, whether it’s through finding a new job in the civilian sector or finding more information about the location of their PCS. Check them out and create a profile for yourself athttp://www.rallypoint.com. –KB   

Vet Tix provides soldiers, veterans and families event tickets
Steve Weintraub (@weintraub_sd), Association of the United States Army Magazine
Veteran Tickets Foundation was featured in a recent AUSA magazine article and told the stories of several Army “VetTixers” and their families who have attended Vet Tix events. Patriotism, support and recognition, quality of life and family are the four key values that Vet Tix provides when supporting the military community. To learn more or sign up for Vet Tix, visit vettix.org–DD

13 February Events With Free Tickets For Vets And Service Members
Steve Weintraub (@weintraub_sd), Task & Purpose
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) recently announced 13 of the many new 2017 event tickets available for the month of February. Vet Tix is a national nonprofit that supports the veteran and military community by providing free event tickets to professional and collegiate sporting events, concerts, performing arts and family activities in all 50 states. To become a “VetTixer,” veterans, members of the military, and Gold Star family members can sign up for free. –BW 

Quick Hits:

Troops Who Cleaned Up Radioactive Islands Can’t Get Medical Care
David Philipps (@David_Philipps), New York Times 
In true New York Times fashion, Philipps has uncovered another subset of veterans who have yet to get recognition for the health effects resulting from their unique military service. In this case, it’s veterans who participated in the cleanup of atomic waste on atolls and islands throughout the Pacific. Years later, the veterans say they are suffering from cancer, tumors, and rare diseases, and perhaps worse, their children have been born with health issues and defects, as well. –LJ 

Muslim Marine answers questions in efforts to fight Islamophobia
Staff, NPR
Mansoor Shams, a Muslim who previously served in the Marine Corps, has been traversing the country with a sign reading “I’m a Muslim and a U.S. Marine. Ask anything” in order to start conversations that he hopes will lead to the less xenophobia. In his interview with NPR, Shams talks about how he explains Sharia law to those who aren’t familiar, how the election of Donald Trump has further stigmatized Muslims and how the simple act of asking a question can lead to the de-escalation of tensions surrounding the Muslim-American community. Our VP and COO Brian Wagner had a chance to talk with Shams on Sunday at a Marylandmosque, and reports that Shams plans to continue traveling the country as his work schedule allows. At the mosque, Shams told a story of a man he met in Houston, who started by glaring at him and after an initial confrontation, texted him later that the encounter had helped him recognize his prejudices.  –KB & BW

McCain blasts congressional ‘cowardice’ in avoiding base closings
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Sen. John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, spoke out against Congress and its “cowardice” around military base closings. McCain believes maintaining underused DoD facilities is a threat to military readiness and is unnecessarily tapping into the defense budget and taxpayer dollars. This will be a major topic of discussion in the 2018 defense budget debate. –DD 

Vets train for battle on a new front
Mark Brunswick (@MarkABrunswick), Star Tribune
Bunker Labs, a nonprofit that supports veteran entrepreneurs, hosts meetings across the country that give advice and provide connections to veterans looking to start their own business. Since launching in 2014, it has helped more than 70 companies raise more than $23 million in capital. Bunker Labs is changing the lives of veterans by empowering them to use their skills and leadership to create their own employment that realizes their passion. ­–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 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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