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The Scout Report 307th Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis
Monday, March 6, 2017

Continuing the big news at ScoutComms, we’re hiring! Again! Why? Well, we can hardly bear to discuss it, but true to form we’ve included new on the departure at the end of this report. Do you know the candidate who could fill this giant hole in our hearts? Please send them this way. We pay in whisky and donuts. (And also real money.)

The big non-ScoutComms news breaking over the weekend is certainly something we’ll be keeping an eye on: how the Marine Corps addresses some seriously disturbing revelations about how women in the Corps have been victimized online.

In this week’s Scout Report, we take some deep dives on the VA, how the opioid crisis is impacting the veteran community, and how successful student veterans have been. Also, will there ever be service secretaries? Will Carl Prine get his dream job? Many questions. Few answers. –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

Defense Strategies Institute: 5th DoD Unmanned Systems Summit (Tue – Wed, March 7-8, 2017); AUSA Conference Center, Arlington, VA

American Veterans: Spring National Executive Committee Meeting 2017 (Tue – Sat, March 7-11, 2017); Hilton Alexandria Mark Center, Alexandria, VA

Congress:  

Joint:

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Presentations of Multiple VSOs
When: 10:00 AM, Thursday, March 9, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

House:

Armed Services: Military Assessment of Nuclear Deterrence Requirements

Who: General John Hyten, USAF, Commander, U.S. Strategic Command; Admiral Bill Moran, USN, Vice Chief of Naval Operations, U.S. Navy; General Paul Selva, USAF, Vice Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff; General Stephen Wilson, USAF, Vice Chief of Staff, U.S. Air Force
When: 10:00 AM, Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: The Current State of U.S. Army Readiness
Who: Lieutenant General Joseph Anderson, USA, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, U.S. Army; Lieutenant General Gwendolyn Bingham, USA, Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, U.S. Army; Lieutenant General Aundre F. Piggee, USA, Deputy Chief of Staff, G-4, U.S. Army
When: 2:00 PM, Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Where: 2212 Rayburn

Armed Services: An Independent Fleet Assessment of The U.S. Navy
Who: Dr. Sunoy Banerjee, Portfolio Manager, Naval Research Development Test & Evaluation, The MITRE Corporation; Mr. Bryan Clark, Senior Fellow, Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments; Mr. Charles Werchado, Deputy Director, Assessment Division (N81B), U.S. Navy; Rear Admiral Lower Half; Jesse Wilson Jr., Director, Assessment Division (OPNAV N81), U.S. Navy
When: 3:30 PM, Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: Nuclear Deterrence – The Defense Science Board’s Perspective
Who: Dr. Michael Anastasio, Member, Defense Science Board; Dr. Miriam John, Member, Defense Science Board; Dr. William LaPlante, Member, Defense Science Board
When: 3:30 PM, Thursday, March 9, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Armed Services: The Effect of Sequestration and Continuing Resolutions on Marine Corps Modernization and Readiness
Who: Lieutenant General Gary L. Thomas, Deputy Commandant for Programs and Resources
When: 9:00 AM, Friday, March 10, 2017
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Senate:

Armed Services: Global Nuclear Weapons Environment
Who: General C. Robert Kehler, USAF (Ret.), Former Commander, United States Strategic Command; Dr. Keith B. Payne, Professor And Department Head, Defense Strategic Studies, Missouri State University; Dr. Gary S. Samore, Executive Director For Research, Belfer Center For Science And International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Where: 222 Russell

Armed Services: CLOSED: Briefing on Cybersecurity from the Defense Science Board
Who: Dr. Craig I. Fields, Chairman, Defense Science Board; Honorable James N. Miller, President, Adaptive Strategies LLC And Senior Fellow, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory
When: 2:30 PM, Wednesday, March 8, 2017
Where: 217 Capitol

Armed Services: United States Central Command and United States Africa Command
Who: General Joseph L. Votel, USA, Commander, U.S. Central Command; General Thomas D. Waldhauser, USMC, Commander, U.S. Africa Command
When: 9:30 AM, Thursday, March 9, 2017
Where: 216 Hart

Think Tanks & Other Events:

Armed Services Arts Partnership: Improv Class w/ Unified Scene Theater
Who: Veterans and military families
When: 2:00 PM, Saturdays, March 11 – April 29, 2017
Where: The Unified Scene Theater, 80 T St NW, Washington, D.C.

ScoutComms News:

We’re hiring! ScoutComms is looking for a motivated, hardworkingAccount Manager, as well as summer interns. Ideal candidates for both positions should have outstanding written and oral communications skills, an interest in veteran and military family issues, strong social media and research skills, a high tolerance for donuts, and much more. If you fit the bill, apply today! –AB 

Military and Veteran Issues: 

What’s in the VA secretary’s 10-point plan to reform his department?
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin introduced his 10-point plan for reforming the VA. The plan, which draws heavily from both the plan President Trump presented during the campaign and the work by Shulkin’s predecessor, Bob McDonald, includes provisions for improving accountability, extending the VA Choice deadline, and improving infrastructure and coordination between the VA and DOD for a seamless transition for service members. His plan also introduces what many are calling Choice 2.0, which eliminates the existing rule that veterans must face a wait time of more than 30 days or live farther than 40 miles from their VA facility to utilize private sector healthcare, a change that many veterans organizations say may be costly and indicates a move towards privatization of the entire VA healthcare system. –KB
Bottom line: This is the first time we have seen deeper plans from the Trump Administration for veterans. The ten-bullet list they posted during the campaign was decidedly thin and now Dr. Shulkin is offering a unique blend of those more extreme points and the previous VA leadership’s reform efforts. There are hints of the fears that many hold of a move to privatize the VA, but only the hint with floating an expanded Choice 2.0 but in general there is probably some sighs of relief among veterans advocates and VSOs as Dr. Shulkin takes the helm at VA. In addition, this week it was announced that the former executive director of the MyVA Task Force, Scott Blackburn, has been named Acting Deputy Secretary of the department and Chief of Staff Bob Snyder retired this week. Scott is a terrific leader and passionate about leading change at the VA. We wish them both the best of luck. –FPW 

Lawmakers try again to accelerate discipline of VA employees; union fights back
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
New bills to give VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin more authority over firing VA employees were introduced in the House and Senate. If passed, the VA Accountability First Act of 2017 would give Shulkin the jurisdiction to demote or remove under-performing employees, as well as shorten the timeframe for appeals. The American Federation of Government Employees, which represents about 270,000 VA employees, is pushing back against the bill, saying it would get rid of the option for VA employees to go through their union to request a grievance procedure. –DD
Bottom line: While AFGE has some legitimate concerns when viewing the proposed legislation on behalf of its members, the overriding fact on Shulkin’s mind is that legislators and much of the general public firmly believe that the VA cannot or will not fire underperforming and misbehaving employees. Very little progress was made in 2016 in communicating through words and actions that the VA punishes those who negatively impact the quality and availability of healthcare for veterans; this is looking likely to change this year, with the VA, Congress and the White House appearing aligned on the issue. Even if AFGE’s concerns are legitimate, the VA has to do more and for the senior leaders, protecting the union rights of employees is not the hill they want to die on early in the Trump Administration. The VA theoretically could go too far in punishing employees after passage of this new legislation, but given the hurdles of the last few years, that clearly is a risk that Shulkin is willing to take. The only big question is whether the legislation—if passed—will be derailed by any legal challenges. Otherwise, we could see the VA shedding employees who end up in the news for the wrong reasons at a faster pace by 2018. –BW 

Overprescribed: Veterans and the painkiller problem
Jeanette Steele (@jensteeley), San Diego Union-Tribune
In San Diego, the high concentration of post-9/11 veterans poses a challenge for doctors trying to halt the opioid epidemic; these younger veterans have become addicted at more than twice the rate of their older counterparts. The challenge is exacerbated by the nature of pain-killer addiction: quitting “cold turkey” can lead to increased levels of pain and stress, particularly for veterans with multiple diagnoses for which opiates have become a sort of coping mechanism. While, overall, the decreasing number of patients in the county who are prescribed these medications is promising, there is still much work left to be done to eliminate this issue plaguing our nation’s veterans. –KB  
Bottom line: When the nation faces an opioid crisis, that means veterans do, too. Because of the nature of the VA system, there hasbeen some successes seen by instituting policies across the board about the use and prescription of opioids, but as this article outlines, there are many pitfalls for individual patients on the receiving end. The fact remains that many veterans suffer from pain and other issues that require some medical intervention. Doctors need to be empowered to work with patients to find personalized solutions—and the VA facilities need to have the resources to provide those holistic solutions. That’s an issue that needs to be addressed in DC, where Congress makes budgets that outline how much and where VA can spend its money. You’ll find plenty of politicians in DC decrying the opioid crisis across America, yet as with most issues the policy prescriptions aren’t very plentiful. Perhaps a first step is giving doctors the technology to make the right prescriptions for individual patients. Give someone the right medication rather than hope that a handful will do the trick. –LJ 

Report: Vets more likely to attend for profit schools than civilians
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times 
A new report from the Education Department suggests thatmilitary connected students may be more likely to attend for-profit institutions than civilians, especially since the Post-9/11 GI Bill was created. It is important to note that even though veterans and service members attend for-profit schools at higher rates than civilians, past reports have shown that they are still remain more likely to attend public colleges or universities than for-profit colleges. –MC
Bottom line: Because this report seems to confirm biases about where veterans go to school, it made headlines. Yet, the article notes that the majority of student veterans in fact go to non-profit public or private schools, not for-profit schools. We know that because client Student Veterans of America just recently released the results of its National Veteran Education Success Tracker(NVEST) which shows student veterans are going the more traditional route, taking tough courses, and graduating at higher rates than other non-traditional students. We’ve certainly covered for-profit schools and their relationship to student veterans before, but certainly like any story about a travesty at a VA medical facility, those are outliers. Rather than continuously raising an alarm about for-profit schools, we would do better by student veterans to celebrate their successes at community colleges and in the Ivies. By showing how successful veterans have been at those schools, we will encourage others to follow in their footsteps. –LJ 

Facebook post on VA treatment of patients causes uproar
Associated Press (@AP)
When Stephen McMenamin posted two photos of veterans apparently in pain in a Durham VA hospital waiting room, the post quickly went viral. The photos, as described by McMenamin, wereoftwo separate instances where veterans were made to sit for hours while waiting to be seen for “severe pain.” The Durham VA Medical Center director reached out to address the issue, stating that this level of disrespect for patients “will not be tolerated.” –KB
Bottom line: Assuming that there are no extenuating circumstances related to the photos that is not available in this story, the report out of Durham is shameful and a good argument for the VA to have an increased ability to punish and fire employees. If there was a greater expectation that bad behavior would be punished, perhaps individual VA managers and employees would be more cautious about creating public relations fiascos through their actions. There really is not much else that can be said; we should not extrapolate systemic lessons about VA care based on photos from one waiting room at one facility, but we should not excuse or allow such behavior to be ignored or to go unpunished once discovered. Veterans—and patients anywhere in our healthcare systems—deserve better treatment than the men in this story were receiving at the time their photos were taken. –BW 

One of these four men could become Trump’s Army Secretary
Andrew deGrandpre (@andegrandpre) and Leo Shane (@LeoShane), Military Times
The search for President Trump’s Army secretary continues after his nominee, Vincent Viola, withdrew from the running last month. According to Military Times, Trump is considering four potential replacements, including former Rep. Chris Gibson, Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, former Rep. Duncan L. Hunter and Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill). The choice is a sensitive one, especially for those in the military community, due to several setbacks in filling service secretary jobs and rumored disagreements between Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the White House. –MC
Bottom line: All four of these candidates are Army veterans and each has an admirable career behind them that is of the caliber one would expect of a potential service secretary. None of the four are known to be hardcore partisans or have a history of issues that would raise red flags. So, hopefully we have a nominee this week and the nomination naming process accelerates for the many open deputy and undersecretary positions that still don’t have nominees. It is extremely concerning to many that at this pace many of the key leadership positions needed to run the military will remain unfilled well into the summer if not named soon. Secretary Mattis is probably getting a little lonely without anyone else to hang out with in the Pentagon. –FPW 

Client News:

To help student vets, college staff take a new course – in ‘military competency’
Stacy Teicher Khadaroo (@StacyTKhadaroo), Christian Science Monitor
Texas A&M University in San Antonio is instituting new training for staff members in “military competency.” The training is intended to help professors and other university staff better understand the experiences of veterans and military families in order to help them transition successfully to student life. Jared Lyon,president and CEO of Student Veterans of America, was quoted in an article on the topic and noted that student veterans are succeeding in higher education. He said that although it’s valuable for staff to understand more about military life, student veterans’ problems are typically “no different” than other nontraditional students with jobs and families. –MC 

Former Chief of Staff of the USAF General (Ret) Norton Schwartz coming back for a Q&A on 2/28. What questions do you have for me?
Gen Norton Schwartz for RallyPoint 
RallyPoint, a network for service members and veterans, hosts regular Q&A sessions with prominent influencers in the military and veteran community. Just last week, RallyPoint hosted a Q&A with former Chief of Staff of the Air Force, General (ret) Norton Schwartz. Schwartz answered questions on a number of topics from his worst experiences as Chief of Staff to thoughts about the Department of Veterans Affairs. Make sure you don’t miss the next one by becoming a member at RallyPoint.com. –MC

Quick Hits:

President George W. Bush shines spotlight on military with new book ‘Portraits of Courage’
NBC Dallas Fort Worth
Last week, former President George W. Bush gave a preview of a new art exhibit he’s been working on for the past year and discussed his new book titled “Portraits of Courage: A Commander in Chief’s Tribute to America’s Warriors.” President Bush painted 98 portraits of wounded warriors that hegotten to know on a personal level. –MC 

Former DoD official on transgender policy reversal: Decision ‘saddens me’
Karen Jowers (@KarenJowers), Military Times
Former DoD official Todd Weiler created the policy allowing transgender youth on military bases to use bathrooms based on their gender identity. After the Trump Administration took over in January, the DoD has not been required to enforce this policy. –DD

Army makes history by putting Muslim in charge of 14,000 US soldier’s spiritual needs
Hannah Allam (@HannahAllam), McClatchy 
This summer, Lt. Col.Khallid Shabazz will make history and become the first Muslim to serve as a division-level chaplain in the military. In his new position, he will serve as a spiritual leader for more than 14,000 soldiers who are mostly Christian. We highly recommend you take the time to read this great article and interview with Shabazz. –MC 

Sweden reinstates military draft, includes women
Ryan Maass (@upi), United Press International
The government of Sweden announced a new military conscription which will include women. Swedish leadership feels its volunteer-based armed forces provides unsatisfactory security needs. Between 2018 and 2019, the country will enlist 4,000 new recruits.–DD 

Among Gold Star families, strong feelings about whether Trump exploited the grief of a Navy widow
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe), The Washington Post
Last week,Carryn Owens, wife of Willian “Ryan” Owens, a Navy SEAL killed in a recent raid, was invited to attend President Trump’s first joint address to Congress. Trump’s recognition of Owens during the speech raised strong feelings on both sides about whether he honored her husband’s memory or took advantage of her grief. –MC 

Moves in the Sector:

It is sadly time to say goodbye to our own Account Manager, Margaret Clevenger, who has been hired by the USO of North Carolina as their new Communications and Marketing Manager! Starting next week, she will be helping them with communications efforts for all the USOs in the state, from Charlotte to Fort Bragg to Raleigh. For more information about their mission, visitnorthcarolina.uso.org. We appreciate all the incredible work Margaret has done for the military community through ScoutComms over nearly three years and we’ll miss her, but we’re also very happy for her! Congratulations, Margaret! –AB

 

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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