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The Scout Report 326th Edition

The Scout Report 326th Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis

Monday, July 17, 2017

No spoilers!

This week’s Scout Report looks at some of the few bipartisan things happening on Capitol Hill (and some of the things Rs and Ds disagree on), as well as the latest in the Marines United scandal, and how big data provided by 22.5 million veterans’ health records might lead to medical innovations. –LJ 

Tradeshows & Conferences

None this week.

Congressional Hearings

House:

Veterans’ Affairs: Legislative Hearing on H.R. 3218, the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017

Who: The Honorable Kevin McCarthy, U.S. House of Representatives, 23rd Congressional District; California; The Honorable Mark Takano, U.S. House of Representatives, 41st Congressional District; California; The Honorable Gus Bilirakis, U.S. House of Representatives, 12th Congressional District; Florida; The Honorable Scott Peters, U.S. House of Representatives, 52nd Congressional District; California; The Honorable Mike Coffman, U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District; Colorado; The Honorable Brad Wenstrup, U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd Congressional District; Ohio; The Honorable John Rutherford, U.S. House of Representatives, 4th Congressional District; Florida; The Honorable Jim Banks, U.S. House of Representatives, 3rd Congressional District; Indiana, The Honorable Luke Messer, U.S. House of Representatives, 6th Congressional District; Indiana; The Honorable Paul Cook, U.S. House of Representatives, 8th Congressional District; California; The Honorable Raúl Labrador, U.S. House of Representatives, 1st Congressional District; Idaho; Mr. Curtis L. Coy, Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; Mr. Patrick D. Murray, Associate Director, National Legislative Service, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States; Mr. William Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs, Student Veterans of America; Mr. John Kamin, Assistant Director, Veteran Employment and Education, The American Legion; Ms. Ashlynne Haycock, Senior Coordinator, Education Support Services, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, The Honorable David McKinley, U.S. House of Representatives, 1st Congressional District; West Virginia; The Honorable Markwayne Mullin, U.S. House of Representatives, 2nd Congressional District; Oklahoma; The Honorable Tim Ryan, U.S. House of Representatives, 13th Congressional District; Ohio; The Honorable Susan Brooks, U.S. House of Representatives, 5th Congressional District; Indiana
When: 7:30 PMMonday, July 17, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Veterans’ Affairs: Markup of Pending Legislation
When: 10:00 AMWednesday, July 19, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Senate:

Armed Services: Nomination – Selva 
Who: General Paul J. Selva, USAF, for Reappointment to the Grade of General and Reappointment to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
When: 9:30 AMTuesday, July 18, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Armed Services: Nominations – Gibson – Lord – Niemeyer – Donovan
Who: Honorable John H. Gibson II, To Be Deputy Chief Management Officer Of The Department Of Defense; Ms. Ellen M. Lord, To Be Under Secretary Of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, And Logistics; Mr. Lucian L. Niemeyer, To Be Assistant Secretary Of Defense For Energy, Installations And Environment; Mr. Matthew P. Donovan, To Be Under Secretary Of The Air Force
When: 2:30 PMTuesday, July 18, 2017
Where: G50 Dirksen

Veterans’ Affairs: Pending Nominations
Who: Thomas G. Bowman, of Florida, to be Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs; Brooks D. Tucker, of Maryland, to be an Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs (Congressional and Legislative Affairs); James Byrne, of Virginia, to be General Counsel, Department of Veterans Affairs; Michael P. Allen, of Florida, to be a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Amanda L. Meredith, of Virginia, to be a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Joseph L. Toth, of Wisconsin, to be a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims
When: 1:30 PMWednesday, July 19, 2017
Where: 418 Russell

ScoutComms in the News:

Deployment to Employment: ScoutComms – “Now is the Time to be a Veteran Entrepreneur!”
Jarid Watson (@JaridWatson), CBS Radio ConnectingVets.com
ScoutComms CEO Fred Wellman is an expert on many things: Bold Rock Hard Cider, Star Wars, donuts and, most notably, being a successful veteran entrepreneur. He recently spoke on this particular topic on CBS Radio’s ConnectingVets.com network – specifically about how we at ScoutComms empower veteran-serving organizations – and encouraged other veterans to go out there and start successful businesses of their own. –AB

ScoutComms’ Allison Borthwick Promoted to Account Manager
We’re excited to announce the promotion of Allison Borthwick to Account Manager! Allison joined our team a year ago after graduating from Murray State University. She’s been a talented leader and public relations pro since hitting the ground running in Fredericksburg. Join us in congratulating Allison; we’re proud to have her on our growing team! –FPW

Military and Veteran Issues: 

A Bipartisan Congress That Works? Veterans Committees Show How It’s Done
Nicolas Fandos (@Npfandos) The New York Times
In light of current efforts to reform health care and other highly partisan issues, both congressional Veteran Affairs Committees have remained productive this summer. Under the leadership of Chairman Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) and Ranking Member Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), as well as their House counterparts, these committees have worked together on the unanimous Senate confirmation of the VA Secretary, the passage of VA employee accountability legislation, and temporary Veterans Choice Program funding. However, there is still much work to be done, specifically regarding a long-term plan for VA Choice that is expected to face much more debate and resistance from both sides. –JG
Bottom line: A couple of years ago I met with a member of the Virginia Senate and he told me that they discovered that the one way to get a bill passed easily by both parties is to put “veteran” in the title somehow. It was about the only topic they could agree on in Richmond. Of late, it appears to be the same thing up I-95 in Washington as well. Political moderates of both parties lead the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees and finding common ground with civility has ruled the day in this Congress so far. (See Rory’s discussion of the latest GI Bill developments below.) Of course, you’d have to be hiding on a desert island at this point to not understand that the political climate is anything but collegial right now and it’s a fair description to say that the successful bills passed to date are truly low hanging fruit that anyone can agree on. Is the appeals process broken? Yes. Is it too hard to fire a federal employee? Yes. Let’s talk about privatizing the VA in some way by leveraging the Veterans Choice Act that isstrongly supported by Koch Brothers backed Concerned Veterans of America and the party is just starting. (See Brian’s discussion of that topic below). In the meantime, kudos to the leaders on the Hill for working for the nation’s 20.9 million veterans and their families and putting partisan rancor aside in that endeavor. –FPW 

House reaches deal to greatly expand GI Bill
Hope Yen (@HopeYen1), Associated Press
A bipartisan agreement has been reached to bring the largest expansion to the GI Bill in several years.  The legislation patches gaps in coverage and fixes shortcomings of the current Post-9/11 GI Bill. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) says that the economy has changed significantly since the GI Bill was passed and requires updates to meet service members’ changing educational needs. HVAC Chairman Phil Roe, lead sponsor of the bill, is looking to schedule a committee vote next week. If passed into law, these benefits including protections for students affected by sudden school closures, an expansion of benefits to all Purple Heart recipients, among others, are expected to take effect for those beginning their GI Bill benefits next year. ­–JG
Bottom line: After conversations on GI Bill changes went souththis spring, some advocates thought that improvements to the benefit may be slow going. However, a coalition of 40 veteran and military family groups came together with lawmakers to move the ball forward. In less than three months, advocates hosted roundtables, built consensus and spurred action. A hearing on the new bill, HR 3218, formally titled the Harry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, will be held on Mondayevening at 7:30pm and a vote will take place on Wednesdaymorning. HR 3218 ensures that future generations of veterans will have access to the economic opportunity provided by higher education as well as expanding coverage to those in STEM fields, Guard and Reserve, survivors, and Purple Heart Recipients. The cooperation between both parties to move this bill forward stands in stark contrast to the current adversarial tone of Congress, and it is fantastic to see bipartisan support for this legislation which isexpected to pass by August. Kudos to our client Student Veterans of America who have been working tirelessly to see this legislation through. –RB 

Gulf War veterans face more, longer delays at VA, government report says
Jake Lowary (@JakeLowary), USA Today
A recent report released by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that veterans from the 1991 Gulf War are experiencing much higher claims denial and longer wait times at the VA than other veterans. The GAO believes that said veterans are waiting up to four times longer to receive care and are three times more likely to have their claims rejected. With an increase in Gulf War veterans reporting Gulf War Illnesses (GWI), the report suggests that the VA is starting to recognize they need improved medical training and understanding of GWI. With inadequate training for VA examiners, GWI claims are being denied and ultimately contributing to the longer wait times. –DD 
Bottom line: This is a trickier issue to unpack than it sounds. Gulf War Illness remains an elusive medical ailment and even after a $2 million study by the VA, it ended up with two separate definitions of the condition. Like many veteran cohorts before them, more Gulf War veteran are seeking care through the VA as they age and Gulf War Illness-like symptoms of joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, fatigue and neurological problems are also key symptoms of other illnesses. The real punch line of the issue is buried deep in the story where you discover that the front line medical examiners that evaluate veterans’ disability claims are simply not trained to identify the illness. Bizarrely, the training for GWI identification is voluntary and only some 10% of all VA examiners have taken the training meaning there is a high likelihood that when a veteran sees an examiner for GWI-related evaluation that person has no idea what they should be looking for at all. Understandably, Desert Storm veterans are only about 600,000 of the 20.9 million veterans in the U.S. so you get that the focus is on the vast majority of veterans in examiner training, but this is a cohort that already feels forgotten by the nation and under recognized between Vietnam and Post-9/11 veteran cohorts. Not having your claims recognized and waiting four times longer than those groups for disability claims doesn’t help that feeling of being forgotten at all. –FPW 

Congress debates how much choice is too much, as it nears key decisions on veterans health care
Nicole Ogrysko (@nogryskoWFED), Federal News Radio 
Lawmakers are running into issues surrounding the redesign of the Veterans Choice Program, namely in trying to figure out how much freedom to give enrollees in utilizing private sector care. The current program has been subject to heavy criticisms, namely that communication lines between private sector and VA care is often slow, leaving many veterans with either delayed access to care or damaged credit due to unpaid medical expenses. Lawmakers have introduced two potential replacement programs, one utilizing a “choice card” similar to the current program and another that takes into consideration individual criteria that must be met for a veteran to receive private sector care. Regardless of which route they decide to take, a decision must be made soon, as the funding for the current Choice program is dwindling due to accelerating utilization. –KB
Bottom line: If we step back for a moment and get out of the weeds of the current debate, it is clear that the VA is in the process of a multi-year transformation that is going to leave it in a much different position than when it began, in terms of how and where veterans can access healthcare. The initial VA Choice effort opened up a new front, and now the debate in Congress is how much farther the country should go in encouraging and allowing VA-enrolled veterans to seek out care in their community. At issue here are both the future of the VA as a provider of healthcare services and support, as well as the future of the VA budget and how it is allocated. We have already seen how Choice is consuming VA funding at a faster-than-expected rate. Chairman Isakson’s legislation could create a pathway for Choice to rapidly eat up a larger percentage of the VA’s budget, while Ranking Member Tester’s legislation would support a slower and more gradual expansion that is in line with the hopes of the major VSOs that fear significant disruption within the VA, which despite scandals, continues to provide necessary care that is popular with most veterans who utilize the system. Beyond the ideological differences, how the VA’s budget will be used in the future is a major question. It will be interesting to see the CBO score of Isakson’s legislation to understand how the bean counters foresee an expansion of Choice affecting costs. As Fred mentions above, this discussion has been relatively civil thus far this far, expect fireworks down the road when tough legislative decisions need to be made. –BW 

Guilty plea in first Marines United court-martial
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marines Corps Times 
A Marine accused of taking part in an online group that shared explicit photos of fellow service women pled guilty this past week to the offense and will be sentenced to a reduction in rank and docked pay, as well as confinement for 10 days. The Marine will also be administratively separated from the Corps, along with two other members who pled guilty to the same offense. The scandal, which arose from the large Facebook group “Marines United,” involved the crowd sourcing of thousands of images of service women, most of which were collected on a Google Drive and then distributed via the Facebook group. Other members who were found to have been sharing and contributing to this account were given sentences that were less harsh, a light punishment that Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) says “sends the wrong message.” In the wake of the ongoing proceedings, another cache of photos wasdiscovered this past Friday – an offense that the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is currently looking into. –KB
Bottom line: While getting kicked out of the Marine Corps certainly is not a desirable punishment, the Corps’ actions thus far seem to range from severe to mild hand slaps, which while they may be appropriate in a few individual cases, do not seem appropriate to deter future harassment and misbehavior. The message that the Corps is sending is that it is being pushed to bring offenders to justice, but that it does not want to take too harsh of a stance on a scandal that has rocked the Corps and revealed the inadequacies of its vaunted culture and historical narrative at a time when those elements have resulted in the Corps lagging behind the other services in the acceptance and integration of service women. As Thomas Brennan, James LaPorta and others have continued to reveal, this scandal has legs because Marines and Marine veterans are continuing to excuse such behavior or looking for new opportunities to continue such behavior. If a stronger signal is not sent, one which communicates a complete lack of tolerance for such behavior, Marines who do not respect women will continue to explore avenues to exploit women online. This problem is far from solved. –BW 

Veterans’ health care data could lead to rapid medical breakthroughs
Brittany Crocker (@BrittCrocker), Knoxville News Sentinel 
Researchers in Tennessee have begun work on the development of a secure database of the healthcare data of 22.5 million veterans, in order to speed up the development of medical research that can lead to improved health care in the veteran sector. This large mine of data is meant to help address health issues that affect the veteran population at much higher rates than their civilian counterparts, such as prostate cancer, cardiovascular conditionsand suicide. The initiative is a collaboration between the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Energy Department, in conjunction with Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn. –KB 
Bottom line: We have seen, thanks to clients like MYnd Analytics, the power of big data in healthcare. The VA has a massive amount of comprehensive healthcare data on more than 20 million veterans of all ages, ethnicities, genders, and even more narrow demographics that will make any researcher eager to fire up SPSS. By partnering with DOE to make its data more accessible to researchers, VA seems to be continuing in its long history of fostering research and innovation in healthcare like inventing the first implantable pacemaker and conducting the first liver transplant. By empowering other researchers to use its healthcare data, we could see artificial intelligence and other tools leveraged to discover patterns or track ailments in ways never before considered. While we often think of VA as still running on 500 different software platforms with an appointment system too dependent on snail mail, there is a lot of higher tech advancements taking place. These are the kind of partnerships and stories that fly under the radar but could ultimately have a huge impact on veterans’ lives. ­–LJ 

Client News:

Harbin Clinic to launch personalized mental health program using MYnd Analytics PEER registry
Globe Newswire 
Last week, ScoutComms client MYnd Analytics teamed up with Harbin Clinic to further provide precision mental health to their clients in Georgia.MYnd Analytics utilizes predictive analytics to eliminate trial-and-error based prescribing that is currently the norm in behavioral health practices. Harbin Clinic, a multi-specialty medical group based in Georgia, will utilize MYND’s PEER registry, which utilizes a simple brain scan compared against a crowd-sourced database of similar EEG results to assist physicians in prescribing psychoactive medications to their patients. –KB

MYnd Analytics announces uplisting to NASDAQ and pricing of $8.79M underwritten offering
MYnd Analytics, which utilizes predictive analytics to provide physicians with objective evidence about which psychotropic medications will work based on their patients’ brain chemistry, recently announced its common stocks will be publicly offered on NASDAQ. This move will allow the company to expand and provide their services to more doctors. –KB

Veterans seriously injured in service deserve a choice in healthcare
Ryan Kules (@RyanKules), The Hill
Some of our nation’s most severely injured veterans are being forced into a healthcare plan that is not financially supportive to their needs and lifestyle. Many wounded veterans like Ryan Kules, who is a combat stress recovery director at Wounded Warrior Project, are being forced off of TRICARE and onto Medicare. The majority of veterans are paying premiums as low as $282 per year for the traditional TRICARE plan, but are now paying as much as five times more on Medicare. Through their selfless service, these veterans deserve the right to have a choice in healthcare for themselves and their families. –DD

Military Times Service Members of the Year honored at Capitol Hill ceremony
Christopher Diamond (@CDiamond_DC), Military Times
Last Wednesday evening, five service members from each of the U.S. military branches were honored at the distinguished Military Times 2017 Service Members of the Year Awards. In addition to this honor, client Kaplan University presented full scholarships to each of the recognized service members as the Education Sponsor of the ceremony. –AB 

An Army Veteran’s Story: The Three Millionth Ticket
Kevin Hobster (@KevinHobster), The SITREP
Robert Hanna, a U.S. Army veteran and VetTixer with Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix), reflects on his experience of receiving the three millionth ticket in the history of the organization. Hanna grew up attending New York Yankee MLB games with his two older brothers, but never expected that he would sit behind the dugout at a game and receive the three millionth ticket from an organization that provides veterans and service members with free tickets to events across the country. Since 2008, Vet Tix has distributed more than 3.1 million free event tickets to more than 550,000 verified VetTixers and expects to deliver over one million tickets this year alone. –DD

Expanded ‘ forever’ GI Bill poised for quick action in Congress
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
Thanks to advocacy efforts organized by Student Veterans of America, representatives in the House have introduced legislation resulting in the largest expansion of the GI Bill in the last 10 years. This legislation does away with the 15-year cap on using GI Bill benefits, extends education benefits to deployed Reservists, and protects veterans affected by sudden school closures, among several other much needed changes. Will Hubbard, Vice President of Government Affairs at SVA, is optimistic that the bill will quickly pass in the House. –JG

Female amputees are changing perceptions of combat veterans
Melissa Nelson Gabriel, Pensacola News Journal
Kirstie Ennis, a combat Marine who lost her leg overseas and now is a competitive amputee athlete, recently posed for the cover of ESPN Magazine’s Body Issue, a move that other veterans say is “changing the way the public sees female veterans.” Lory Manning, a retired U.S. Navy Captain and fellow at the Service Women’s Action Network, says that Ennis is only one of many women veterans shattering the archetypal veteran amputee, pointing to U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), a double amputee combat veteran who won her seat in the Senate during this past year’s election. –KB

Quick Hits:

Representative wants departing troops to take an oath to help fellow veterans
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Representative Brian Mast (R-Fla.), an Afghanistan war veteran, has proposed adding a voluntary “Oath of Exit” to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during the bill’s upcoming floor debate. In an effort to prevent suicides among veterans, the oath would task separating and retiring service members with checking in on their fellow troops. This measure, designed to help service members facilitate conversations about well-being and mental health, asks service members to commit to speaking out about their challenges and obstacles before harming themselves. –NJ 

Rep. Hartzler seeks to bar transgender health care in U.S. military
Chris Johnson (@chrisjohnson82), Washington Blade
Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.) proposed an amendment that would prevent transgender service members from receiving transition-related health care. The amendment, which came attached to the $697 billion defense authorization bill, was narrowly defeated in a House floor vote. The rule would have meant care such as gender reassignment surgery and hormone treatment would be unavailable to troops. –JDG 

Will women have to register for the draft? Republicans say no
Anshu Siripurapu (@AnshuSiripurapu), Stars and Stripes
Although it has been more than a year since the Pentagon officially opened up all military combat jobs to women, Congress is still debating whether to require women to join the men in registering for Selective Service when they turn 18. The House and Senate both approved plans last year to draft women if necessary, but Republicans used a procedural maneuver to later scrap the plans, and instead, only a study of the issue was called for. –CB

The PFT and CFT can be gender neutral. Here’s how.
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Marine Corps Times
Although the Marine Corps doesn’t currently have plans to design and implement a gender-neutral standard for physical fitness and combat fitness tests, the idea has gained popularity among its rank-and-file. After researching the evolution of Marine Corps fitness testing, Lt. Col. Misty Posey, who will soon lead the Corps’ only female recruit training battalion, remains hopeful that if the Corps chose to adopt a single fitness standard in the future, women could capably meet the challenge “given how far female Marines had come and still could go,” she said in an interview with Marine Corps Times. Posey’s research shares information that challenges common ideas about physiological differences between men and women, claiming that women might have a greater resistance to fatigue during sustained exercise. Posey writes that a single-standard upper-body strength test might prove easier to adopt before looking to adapting the running test. –NJ

Trump’s VA Secretary Is Off to a Fast Start
Jim Geraghty (@jimgeraghty), The National Review
Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin, the first non-veteran to lead the VA, has already made significant strides in reforming VA processes. He has overseen the passage of major legislation that facilitates an efficient employee firing system, allows the VA to regain bonuses from employees convicted of crimes, and strengthens protections for whistleblowers who reveal VA scandals. Leaders across government and veterans service organizations have praised Shulkin’s work. American Legion spokesman Joe Plenzer and Representative Phil Roe (R-Tenn.), HVAC chairman, both commended Shulkin for his responsiveness to community concerns and his understanding of key challenges the VA faces moving forward. –NJ

Moves in the Sector:

Tara Copp
Military Times is bringing on Tara Copp as Pentagon Bureau Chief this month. Copp has years of experience in this sector, from being a Pentagon correspondent for Stars and Stripes to serving as a defense correspondent for the Washington Examiner and more. –AB

Andrew deGrandpre
Previously senior editor and Pentagon bureau chief for Military Times, Andrew deGrandpre will now be taking his talents over to The Washington Post. He has also worked for the Marine Corps Times as their managing editor, and has received numerous awards for excellence in reporting throughout his impressive career. –AB 

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