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the Scout Report

The Scout Report 306th Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis
Tuesday, February 27, 2017

Another one bites the dust. Trump’s nominee for Navy Secretary has pulled his name from consideration due to the difficulties of untangling his financial interests. Jeremy Herb at Politico has more. This makes Philip Bilden the second Pentagon nominee to withdraw after Vincent Viola, who had been up for Army Secretary. Civilian leadership vacuums at the service secretary level will prolong the uncertainty and confusion that have pervaded the last month.

Meanwhile, VA Secretary Shulkin raised eyebrows yesterday when he told a gathering of veterans advocates that he wants to do away with the current constraints on VA Choice. Today, veterans have to live farther than 40 miles from a VA facility or have to have been waiting longer than 30 days for an appointment to instead see a private doctor. This proposal seems to offer veterans an “either-or” between VA or private care, but isn’t full on privatization of the VA. We’re eager to see how Shulkin fleshes out his vision. Nikki Wentling at Stars and Stripes has more from Shulkin’s talk at DAV’s legislative conference.

Below, we get into a lot of hot topic from the last week: the impacts of the hiring freeze on military family services, yet still more on the VA, and we talk about diversity in the military.

This week, the big VSOs begin laying out their policy agendas for the year to Congress. Except VA Choice to be a big part of those discussions. –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

Disabled American Veterans: DAV 2017 Mid-Winter Conference (Sun – Tue, Feb. 26 – March 1, 2017); Crystal Gateway Marriott, Arlington, VA

Congress:

House:

Armed Services: Hearing on Department of Defense Inspector General Report “Investigation On Allegations Relating to USCENTCOM Intelligence Products”
Who: The Honorable Glenn Fine, Acting Inspector General, Department of Defense; Mr. Jacques Grimes, Director, Defense Analysis, Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence; Major General James Marrs, Director, Intelligence, Joint Staff; Major General Mark Quantock, Director, Intelligence, U.S. Central Command; Mr. Neil Wiley, Director, Defense Analysis, Defense Intelligence Agency
When: 3:30 PM, Tuesday, February 28, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Senate:

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Presentation of Disabled American Veterans
Who: David W. Riley, National Commander; Jim Marszalek, National Service Director; Joy J. Ilem, National Legislative Director; Garry J. Augustine, Executive Director, Washington Headquarters; J. Marc Burgess, National Adjutant; Barry A. Jesinoski, Executive Director, National Headquarters; John Kleindienst, National Director of Voluntary Service; Jeffrey C. Hall, National Director of Employment; Frances Costa, DAV Auxiliary National Commander
When: 2:00 PM, Tuesday, February, 28, 2017
Where: SD-G50 Dirksen

Joint:

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Presentation of The American Legion
Who: Charles Schmidt, National Commander; James Oxford, Chairman, National Legislative Commission; Ralph Bozella, Chairman, National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Commission; Matthew Shuman, Director, National Legislative Division; Louis Celli, Jr., Director, National Veterans Affairs and Rehabilitation Division; Paul Dillard, Chairman, Veterans Employment & Education Commission; Joseph Sharpe, Jr., Director, Veterans Employment & Education Division
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Where: SD-G50 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Presentation of Veterans of Foreign Wars
Who: Brian Duffy, Commander in Chief, Veterans of Foreign Wars; Gerald Manar, Director, National Veterans Service; Bob Wallace, Adjutant General; Carlos Fuentes, Director, National Legislative Service; Mark Alvarez, National Legislative Chairman
When: 2:00 PM, March 1, 2017
Where: SD-G50 Dirksen 

Think Tanks & Other Events:

Armed Services Arts Partnership: Intro to Solo Performance with Nilaja Sun
Who: Nilaja Sun, Obie award-winning playwright, actor and teaching artist
When: 10:00 AM, Saturday, March 4, 2017
Where: Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St NW, Washington, DC 20004

Military and Veteran Issues: 

Army vows child care will continue, despite hiring freeze
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
Last week, two Army installations had to shut down on-base child care services due to the federal hiring freeze. The Army has since corrected the issue, stating that childcare providers for children of military personnel are exempt from the freeze and the cuts may have been made in mistake. Although the childcare services will continue, military families may soon see cuts to other benefits including the commissary, Army and Air Force Exchange services, and nearly every facet of military family programming if timely exemptions are not granted for related positions. –MC
Bottom line: Confusion. That’s the issue. The hiring freeze was thrown out there and left everyone scrambling to figure out what is exempt, what is not, and what is the process to get an exemption at all. So, while it seems the base commanders were not correct when they cited the hiring freeze as the issue in these cases, you have to wonder how many hundreds more there are that simply didn’t make it to social media? The fact is that a blanket freeze is like using a wrecking ball to smash a flea. The reasoning behind the freeze in the first place is flawed because the administration claimed the federal government has exploded in size when actual data shows almost no growth overall for the last four decades. So, we are “solving” a non-existent problem by making life miserable for those that serve and those that have stepped up to serve their nation as civilians. The question we have to ask is at what point is a job not worth being labeled the enemy by the person who is your overall boss and what will that mean for the quality of the federal workforce? We have no doubt that by the next Scout Report there will be more reports like this one of hiring freeze issues. By publication next week, the Department of Labor will have released the February jobs numbers. That should be interesting to see if there has been an impact on veteran unemployment in just one month. –FPW

Shulkin promises problematic VA workers will be fired
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times 
In his first public interview since his Senate confirmation, VA Secretary David Shulkin vowed to fire VA employees who are not doing their job. Emphasizing that the vast majority of employees at the VA do good work, Shulkin said he will not sit by and watch as small numbers of employees negatively impact the functionality and efficiency of the VA. Shulkin intends to work with Congress on passing necessary legislation to increase accountability of VA employees. –JG 
Bottom line: If the last few years are any indication, Shulkin is in for a bumpy ride as he seeks to rid the VA of underperforming and problematic employees. It never seemed like Secretary Bob McDonald didn’t want to fire bad apples, only that his lawyers told him there were numerous hurdles to overcome and that he fearedsetting any precedent that would run roughshod over conventional standards and negatively impact the VA’s overall talent pool by reducing job security. With that said, if Shulkin can make progress in 2017 in ridding the VA of even a few dozen of its most egregious offenders, especially at the regional management level, he will deserve kudos from both sides of the aisle for navigating through a maze of complications. It remains to be seen if he and his lawyers interpret federal law differently than McDonald, but it is likely that any legislative reforms he considers necessary will be quickly communicated to Congress where it’s anyone’s guess if a VA reform bill can successfully navigate both chambers this year. We’ll be staying tuned. –BW 

The challenge of accessing birth control in the military
Leslie Nemo (@leslie_nemo), The Atlantic
Birth control has emerged as one of the best ways for deployed women to deal with menstruating while overseas; most forms of contraception can reduce the often-painful symptoms associated with menstruation or eliminate it altogether. However, recent studies have shown that women’s access to birth control through DoD-provided healthcare can be limited. –KB
Bottom line: There is a misconception that birth control is a gratuitous prescription, rather than the necessary medical intervention it is for so many women. For women in the military, access to birth control crosses one more thing off the list of stressors, particularly for deployed women. Today, the military can deploy certain service members with diabetes because they can make medicine available. The same should be true for easily transportable drugs like birth control. The fact that this is still an issue shows the military is still adapting to what a more female-heavy force will mean logistically—and that there is a stark need for more women at higher levels of command who can be raising issues like this as policy matters in DC before they become life altering issues downrange. Women aren’t asking for special treatment, rather they are simply asking for the same availability of medical supplies other service members would have—without the stigma. –LJ 

Uncertainty surrounds program to protect troops’ immigrant relatives
Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
Advocates and members of the military and veteran community are trying to identify implications of President Trump’s recent executive actions on our nation’s service members. Advocates say that the White House’s attempts to crackdown on undocumented immigrants may negatively affect service members with immigrant families, because they may have a hard time focusing—especially when deployed—if they are worried about their children and spouses potentially being deported. Another source of uncertainty stems from Trump’s transgender directive and what it could mean for recently instituted rights for transgender service members–MC 
Bottom line: As Fred mentioned with the hiring freeze, the big problem is the confusion and uncertainty fueling anxiety among service members. Thousands of immigrants serve in the military. Programs that keep our military families strong keep our military strong. Reducing protections for the families of potentially thousands of service members reduces readiness. This doesn’t only impact the immigrants who serve, either, it also affects citizens whose parents or grandparents might have come here illegally. With the strain our military families have been under for over a decade, it’s unfortunate that any service member should face more uncertainty. That goes not only for immigrants, but also for women who worry about rolling back combat integration and transgender service members who wonder if they will be able to continue serving honorably. Our military has always been a place where what you can do matters more than where you came from or how you label yourself. The administration needs to offer clear policies on these issues, but without civilian leadership at the service branch level, it will continue to be difficult. Yet, service members need to be allowed the opportunity to make important decisions fortheir futures based on those policies. –LJ 

More Female, Minority Officers Join as Marine Corps Stresses Diversity
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck) Military.com
In January at the farewell ceremony for Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller, announced that among the new Marine Corps officers commissioned in fiscal year 2016, 33.3 percent were non-white, and 9.8 percent were women. That is sharp increase compared to only 26.4 percent non-white officers in 2015. While diversity is on the rise among the new generation of Marines, they still face a stark lack of diversity at senior leadership levels. Marine Corps Recruiting Command plans to take targeted actions to continue to increase diversity in the Corps’ ranks. –JG
Bottom line: The Marine Corps deserves kudos and encouragement for its efforts to reshape its ranks to be more welcoming to minorities and women who want to be part of one of the world’s elite fighting forces. The numbers don’t lie, the Corps is becoming slightly more representative of America, which is unequivocally a positive development. At the same time, a positive uptick in the numbers is just a start. As the Corps’ strong opposition to gender integration in the last two years showed, there are many senior leaders who still believe that gender-neutral standards are not appropriate or effective. What is necessary to turn these numbers into a truly strengthened Corps is comprehensive cultural change that begins with the acceptance that gender and racial diversity is important for more reasons than just feel-good social engineering, and continues with leaders at all levels sharing the right messages and setting the right examples to encourage acceptance and understanding in a military branch that cherishes tradition and selectivity. But this is a good direction to be moving in. –BW 

VA secretary: ‘It’s time to stop beating us up’
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times 
VA Secretary David Shulkin spoke out this past week against criticism of his department, saying that it’s time to stop disparaging the VA and instead come together to mend the system. Shulkin mentioned that the constant flow of criticism coming from the public, the media and elected officials alike may deter veterans from utilizing their benefits by inciting a lack of confidence in the system. –KB
Bottom line: We agree. The one thing we see in much of the constant stream of criticism of the VA is how shockingly often it is based on dated information, what someone heard from a “buddy”, or just plain repeating of the same old complaints. We often ask people who are the loudest anti-VA voices if they have ever used the services and it’s amazing how often they never have or it’s an active duty service member. Not long ago a colleague of mine sent me the funniest set of messages. He wanted me to know how embarrassed he was at the excellent care he got here in our local VA clinic. He felt “over-serviced” and regretted being one of the one’s spreading the negative narrative. Is the VA perfect? Of courseit isn’t, how could it be? Are there massive issues to resolve? Yes, and the leadership from the previous administration and this new one seem genuinely determined to get to the heart of the issues. What is the result of false criticism? Late last year the VA announced the release of its online scheduling system that had been in development for about a year and a half under Secretary McDonald. Within the same week Congress passed a measure directing VA to seek out an online scheduling system because they don’t have one. They are literally being directed to seek out a system that they have been working on and released even as Congress “directed” them to do just that. At some point it gets silly. Reasonable, fact-based criticism leads to improvement and doesn’t scare off potential patients and potential healthcare professionals who are desperately in need. –FPW

Client News:

Study: Vets do better in college than comparable civilians
George Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times 
The National Veteran Education Success Tracker (NVEST), a new research project conducted in partnership by Student Veterans of America, National Student Clearinghouse and the Department of Veterans Affairs, found that student veterans using the Post-9/11 GI Bill are succeeding when it comes to higher education. The study found that despite family and work commitments that often come with being a nontraditional student, veterans are graduating at rates higher than their civilian peers, with higher GPAs, and are pursuing rigorous degrees. Check out the full report at nvest.studentveterans.org–MC

For nearly 200 for-profit colleges, taxpayers pay the bills
Aaron Glantz (@Aaron_Glantz), Reveal
An internal Department of Education study released before President Barack Obama left office showed that for-profit colleges are receiving most of their revenue from taxpayer dollars, due to a loophole that allows them to take advantage of the GI Bill and service members’ tuition assistance. Because of the loophole, 193 for-profit colleges took in nearly $7.9 billion from taxpayers. Student Veterans of America’s vice president of government affairs Will Hubbard said that educations from such institutions are not likely to result in degrees. –MC

Vet Tix and Blue Star Families announce partnership to increase support for military families
Last week Vet Tix and Blue Star Families announced a strategic partnership that will help both organizations support military families. Through the partnership, more military families will learn about both organization’s resources and programs for military families and service members. To learn more about the partnership, check out the full press release, and to sign up, learn more or donate tickets to Vet Tix, visit vettix.org–MC 

Quick Hits:

Military History for Black History Month
WUSA
In an interview with WUSA, Military Times’ Tony Lombardo and Rodney Bryant sat down to talk about the launch of “Black Military History Month” on the Military Times website. This is Military Times’first year featuring the untold stories of African American service members throughout the month of February. Lombardo and Bryant said they expect this to be the start of an annual tradition. –JG
 

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