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The Scout Report 327th Edition

This week will be a busy one on Capitol Hill with the House expected to consider a number of veterans-related bills for votes this week. Of course, when it comes to the Hill, many folks’ thoughts are still with John McCain and certainly all of us at ScoutComms wish him and his family didn’t have to face what’s ahead.

Our Scout Report stories this week run the gamut from DOD inside baseball about the next Army secretary to VA reform to immigration to military sexual assault. So basically we tried to touch on all the most fraught subjects this week. Enjoy! –LJ 

Tradeshows & Conferences

Veterans of Foreign Wars: 118thVFW National Convention (Sat – Wed, July 22 – 26, 2017); Ernest A. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, LA

Disabled American Veterans: DAV 2017 National Convention (Sat – Tue, July 29 – Aug. 1, 2017); Hilton New Orleans Riverside, New Orleans, LA
Congressional Hearings

House:
Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs: PTSD Claims: Assessing Whether VBA is Effectively Serving Veterans
When: 10:30 AMTuesday, July 25, 2017
Where: 334 Cannon

Other Events 

None this week. 

With Medicaid cuts still in Trumpcare bill, many veterans remain opposed
Jake Lowary (@JakeLowary), The Tennessean
Many provisions in the newest version of the American Health Care Act, released last week by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), were largely included to appease Republicans on the fence about supporting the bill. However, the changes are not enough to appease some veterans who say that cuts to Medicaid will affect their access to healthcare. An estimated 1.75 million veterans rely on these benefits to supplement the insurance provided by the VA, particularly for mental health services. –KB
Bottom line: The key to remember with VA healthcare for veterans is that it only covers the veteran and not his family—and only about 9 million veterans are enrolled in VA healthcare. Some 1.75 million veterans are estimated to rely on Medicaid and that’s probably on the low side so when talking about cutting support for that program you will also hurt veterans. We aren’t big fans of “throwing the vet card” on every issue at ScoutComms but these are the facts. Veteran issues are American issues and vice versa. You can’t separate veterans from the rest of the U.S. because 20.8 million have stepped up and represent some seven percent of the population. Draconian cuts to American healthcare will hurt them too. So many assume that all veterans are eligible and get their healthcare from the VA and that is far from accurate. The majority are on employee plans like average Americans or public programs like Medicaid. The big axe will get them too. –FPW

At a four-star veterans’ hospital: Care gets ‘worse and worse’
Johnathan Saltzman and Andrea Estes (@BostonGlobe), The Boston Globe
The Manchester VA Medical Center in New Hampshire is rated as a four-star facility. However, two top leaders at the location were recently removed due to unsanitary surgical instruments, an infestation of flies, long wait times, canceled surgeries and more. After The Boston Globe broke the initial story about the internal problems the Manchester VA is facing, VA Secretary Dr. David Shulkin removed the top two officials for the facility’s unsatisfactory care. –DD
Bottom line: This is a deeply troubling story that shines a light on a significant number of problems at the Manchester VA, but also closes with a warning shot at the VA Choice program, which seems to have utterly failed to meet the Manchester VA’s needs after its inception. The case of the Manchester VA and it’s four-star rating brings to mind then-Under Secretary Shulkin’s warning when the rating system scores were released by USA Today—that the star ratings were not a “ranking tool” and should only be viewed as an “internal improvement tool.” As noted by the Globe, the Manchester VA’s rating was skewed by being uniquely based on largely perceptual responses and not quantitative data. But regardless, the situation described by the numerous whistleblowers and patients paints a picture of a hospital that took pride in positive news and sought to diminish the importance of systemic and individual cases of neglect and poor performance. The challenge in using this instance to develop fresh judgment of the VA is that it’s often difficult to tell how national VA changes are trickling down to individual institutions, which operate with a lot of leeway given their size and scope. This is a fresh headache for Secretary Shulkin, and now puts him in the position of having to address issues very similar to what his predecessor and former boss Bob McDonald dealt with during his term of service. –BW

Foreign-born recruits, promised citizenship by the Pentagon, flee the country to avoid deportation
Alex Horton (@AlexHortonTX), The Washington Post
A program that promised fast-tracked citizenship to foreign-born military recruits has been put on hold since last September, due to increased security measures which further slowed the already thorough process. Many of the program’s participants now fear the promise of U.S. citizenship will not come to fruition. This has caused some participants to seek asylum elsewhere rather than worry about deportation back to their homelands where they would likely be greeted with malice for their participation in the American military. –KB
Bottom line: Horton continues to do excellent reporting on the stalled Pentagon program to recruit immigrants with critical skills into the military with a promise of expedited citizenship. The program has been a boon to the special operations community and various military intelligence needs, but previous reporting revealed that recruits in the pipeline were in danger of having contracts cancelled because of overarching security concerns. Now, as some recruits were in danger of deportation if they couldn’t enlist, we are seeing the effects in real time as at least one has decided Canada is a better place to be than the U.S. If more of these recruits decide to seek asylum or refuge elsewhere, as Horton reports they are discussing, the country will lose assets that would make our military stronger. Further, we would also lose some of our moral authority that draws freedom-seeking immigrants to our shores and inspires them to serve and become Americans. As one former military official notes in the story, scrapping this program and casting aside these recruits would hurt our national security in the short-term and the long-term. It’s reported Secretary Mattis recently did some personal lobbying to Congress to shut down attempts to block the military from paying for transgender troops’ health needs—this is certainly another issue that could use direct attention from the secretary. ­–LJ

Trump to nominate Raytheon VP, Gulf War vet as next Army secretary
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Former Army lieutenant colonel Mark Esper, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and current vice president of government relations at Raytheon, has been nominated by President Trump to take on the role of Army secretary. Esper will be the third person to receive a nomination for this position by the president and, if confirmed, will bring years of military and civilian work experience with him. A confirmation hearing is not expected until the fall. –DD
Bottom line: Not much is known about Mark Esper in most veteran circles it seems, marked by the noticeable lack of chatter about his nomination from the community. He has worked in the defense industry since retiring from the Army and will be the third try and getting an Army Secretary in place by the administration. With John McCain out dealing with cancer there is a good chance that Esper will do well in his confirmation since McCain has been complaining about the large number of defense industry insiders being put into place in the DOD civilian leadership. Hopefully three’s a charm and the Army will finally have a civilian leader. Now there are just some 200 other positions that need filling at DOD. At this pace they may all be in place by the time we all leave the planet for Mars. –FPW

Navy has first female applicants for SEAL Officer, Special Boat Units
Hope Hodge Seck (@HopeSeck), Military.com
Two women are now prospects for elite positions within the Navy, according to the Naval Special Warfare Center deputy commander. Two women in boot camp are competing for spots in the Navy’s Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewman program, and a female ROTC member has applied to be considered for the SEAL officer selection process. This represents a huge step forward for both the Navy and for women in combat positions; the Navy has in recent years allowed women into every job except for these two. The possibility of filling these positions was only opened in 2016. –KB
Bottom line: Slow and steady. That’s the best way to describe the trickle of ongoing news about women aspiring – and in some cases succeeding – in their attempts to fill combat jobs in the military that were previously denied to them because of their gender. While the Marine Corps continues to remain in the news for being on the wrong side of reform and force evolution due to Marines United and a heavily male-centric culture, the Navy and Army have been making headlines for more supportive and business as usual attitudes toward the small numbers of women who are stepping up to be considered for some of the most physically-taxing positions in the military. Even failure can be a positive this early in the process, and like women in other industries, the success of early adopters will encourage and pave the way for more women to aspire and compete for combat positions. Given that military jobs and warfare itself are no longer predicated as heavily on pure physical strength, the diversification of the military with qualified service members of both genders is a net positive for the military and for our national security. –BW

Sexual assault victims say Air Force Academy uses mental health counseling to get rid of them
Pam Zubeck (@PZubeck), Colorado Springs Independent
Multiple people have now come forward to say that the Air Force Academy utilized mental health diagnoses to dismiss them from the Academy after they were sexually assaulted. These men and women claim that they were diagnosed with personality disorders after being urged to seek counseling due to their reports of being sexually assaulted. According to the Department of Defense’s reports on sexual harassment, the Air Force Academy has the highest rates of sexual assault among the military academies, with 32 reports in 2015-2016 alone. –KB
Bottom line: You are hard pressed to get through a week without seeing a high-profile story on sexual assault in either the military or at institutions of higher education. As the military grapples with an very public and problematic sexual assault issue, concerns raised by survivors, advocates and some military leaders reveal that there is still an incredibly long way to go before we can consider this issue improved. Two major issues emerged in this story focused on the Air Force Academy: the use of mental health diagnoses to discharge cadets at the academy and the falsification of medical documents to justify faulty decision-making. Apart from the actual assaults and unacceptable reprisal, perhaps one of the most troublesome aspects of this story is the two assault survivors who claimed if they had known the ultimate outcome of their reports, they never would have come forward. Much of behavior change is dictated by peer-to-peer input and advice, and the unacceptable experiences of these victims could deter future victims from coming forward. It is imperative that the leadership of our military tackles these issues aggressively to ensure that those who need seek are able to seek it out. Experiences like those detailed in this story set back hard fought progress, both in mental health and in sexual assault prevention. –RB

Client News:

They enlisted, fought and died after 9/11. They should be honored.
Foon Rhee (@foonrhee), The Sacramento Bee
Last Friday, the House National Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands held a hearing on HR 873, which would authorize the Global War on Terrorism Memorial Foundation to begin the process to establish a national memorial. The legislation has bipartisan support, with more than 139 co-sponsors from both parties, since being introduced in April. With more than 6,900 casualties since September 11, 2001, the Global War on Terror Memorial will make sure that the U.S. will never forget the heroism and sacrifice from these service members during our nation’s longest war. –CB

Pittsburgh Veteran Leading Charge In Washington DC For War On Terror Memorial
Andy Sheehan (@AndySheehankdka), CBS Pittsburgh
After attending West Point and serving as a U.S. Army captain and helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, Andrew Brennan is now the founder and executive director of the Global War on Terror Memorial Foundation. He began the pursuit five years ago to ensure veterans of the Global War on Terror have a memorial in Washington D.C. Last week, he asked Congress to lift a restriction that says no memorial can be built until 10 years after that war has ended, given the prolonged nature of the GWOT. The GWOTMF bills, H.R. 873 and S. 926, already have bipartisan support, with 141 co-sponsors in the House and 21 in the Senate. If everything goes as planned, the bills will be approved by both chambers by September, with the hopes for presidential signing on the 16th anniversary of 9/11. –CB

Large GI Bill expansion faces easy review in House hearing
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
A hearing to examine HR 3218, dubbed the #ForeverGIBill, brought 16 witnesses, 24 members of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, and numerous veteran-serving organizations together last Monday evening. Proponents of the bill, chiefly Student Veterans of America, are optimistic about the vote this Wednesday morning, as the vast majority of the committee members voiced no questions or opposition. The sole concern is in regard to the impending necessary IT system at the VA. In the wake of the positive hearing on Monday, Senate committee leaders Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) introduced their own GI Bill expansion legislation last Thursday, which is not expected to face much opposition. –AB

RallyPoint Welcomes Mavens & Moguls CEO to its Advisory Board
PR Web
RallyPoint, the leading online military network, is continuously working to grow its 1.3-million-member base and its distinguished board of advisors. The online platform where the troops talk has now added Paige Arnof-Fenn, CEO of Mavens & Moguls, to the list of impressive names on the advisory board. She adds incredible value through her robust experience in top-level marketing and managing successful global brands. –AB

Play’s vision of integrated infantry casts women who saw combat
Scott Stiffler (@ScottCon77), Chelsea Now
A play being shown this month in New York City is putting women in combat into the spotlight by portraying women and men serving together in an infantry unit. The play, called “Bullet Catchers,” is unique in that some of the women in the play were stationed overseas themselves. Lory Manning, a retired Navy captain and fellow at the Service Women’s Action Network, spoke about the broader journey that service women have taken to get to where they are today. –KB

‘We are at war and people don’t even know’: Inside the divide between the military and the rest of America that’s wider than its ever been
Kate Taylor (Kate_H_Taylor), Business Insider
Research shows there is a significant divide that military personnel and spouses feel with their civilian counterparts, but that separation seems to be larger than ever. When Army Maj. Scott Smiley became legally blind from shrapnel from a car bomb, several doctors and VA administrators encouraged Smiley’s wife Tiffany to sign papers that would retire Scott from active duty. Tiffany Smiley refused, as the military gave her husband his purpose and a surrounding of people who shared that same purpose. Veterans and military spouses experience a similar gap especially in the work force. While organizations like Hiring Our Heroes are staffed by many veterans and military spouses, they realize the need for other companies to not just say they are military friendly, but to understand the capabilities of military veterans and spouses. –DD

Hi everyone, Bob McDonald here, 8th Secretary of Veterans Affairs. I’ll be by on July 25th for a Live Q&A. What questions do you have for me?
RallyPoint
Client RallyPoint is hosting an hour-long live online Q&A with former Secretary of Veterans Affairs Bob McDonald on Tuesday, July 25. All veterans and service members are encouraged to submit questions in advance and then engage with him on Tuesday. –AB

Quick Hits:

How VA Reform Turned into a Fight Over Privatization
Russell Berman (@russellberman), The Atlantic
Concerns have emerged over what some see as a creeping privatization of the Department of Veterans Affairs. After a 2014 scandal involving the cover-up of long wait times for veterans in need of care, the VA created the Choice Program, which allows certain veterans to use their benefits to receive treatment from private doctors. The Choice Program was due to expire this summer before congressional Republicans passed legislation that keeps the program going until it runs out of money. Republicans hope to expand the program while Democrats harbor concerns that program expansion will weaken the VA. –JDG

Veterans lining up for the Democrats in congressional races
Bill Lambrecht (@blambrecht), San Antonio Express-News
Joseph Kopser, an Iraq War veteran, has launched his campaign for the Democratic Party’s nomination to unseat San Antonio-area U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas). The changing demographics of Smith’s district has given hope to Democrats who feel they can better reach a millennial and Hispanic electorate. With hopes of recapturing a majority in the House, Democrats have looked to prominent veteran leaders within the Party, such as Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) for inspiration. Veterans across the country, from North Carolina to Colorado, have stepped up to run against Republican incumbents. –NJ

Do military veterans really win more elections? Only in ‘purple’ districts.
Jeremy M. Teigen (@ProfTeigen), The Washington Post
Recent research from Monika McDermott and Costas Pangopoulos of Fordham University illustrates that voters use a given candidate’s military service as a predictor of his or her expertise in defense. Research by Jeremy Teigen, Washington Post contributor and professor at Ramapo College, highlights that voters view a congressional candidate’s military experience as an asset in handling national security issues. Both studies underscore that veteran candidates can more easily appeal to voters along the political spectrum than can non-veterans. However, this slight electoral advantage matters most in fairly-drawn and competitive districts where challengers have a level playing field with the sitting incumbent. Teigen cites case studies of veterans running as Democrats in right-leaning districts who lost their races to demonstrate that where veteran candidates run plays a critical role in determining the outcome of their campaigns. –NJ

US Vets Offered Free Mental Health Care Through Burgeoning Nonprofit
Casey Stegall (@caseystegall), Fox News
The Cohen Veterans Network, a nonprofit that offers mental health services to veterans, currently operates more than five clinic locations with four more slated to open in the next few months. The purpose of the clinics is to reduce wait times for veterans who need mental health care. Military families are also eligible to take advantage of the clinics, where clinicians put a focus on healing the whole family unit. The network was founded and initially funded by financier Steven A. Cohen. –JDG

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