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The Scout Report 376th Edition

The Scout Report 376th Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis

Monday, July 16, 2018

 

In this week’s Scout Report, our analysis takes on the latest big fight over funding VA Choice, the impact a service member or veteran’s mental health issues could have on their families, the future of Robert Wilkie’s nomination, and what, if any, changes were announced to the Forever GI Bill this week. –LJ

 

Tradeshows and Conferences:

VFW: 2018 National Convention (Sat – Wed, July 21-25, 2018); Bartle Hall Kansas City Convention Center, Kansas City, MO

 

Military and Veteran Issues:

Veterans’ Families Also Suffer From The Wounds Of War
Peggy McCarthy (@mccarthy_peggy), Hartford Courant
The mental health needs of veterans’ families, while not often discussed, are a growing area of concern. Research conducted by the RAND Corporation indicates that a parent’s mental illness, such as PTSD, can lead children to develop mental illnesses as a result. Since healthcare provided by the VA is mostly focused on serving veterans, many family members who are experiencing these mental health struggles have to seek private counseling, which can be expensive. There are a few private organizations that offer help to accessing mental health counseling for family members, including Cohen Veterans Network, Give an Hour and Home Base. But according to Anthony M. Hassan, president and chief executive officer of the Cohen Veterans Network, the need is still great: “One child can actually have grown up their entire life with their parent or parents impacted by war and deployment. Family members can’t help but be impacted, but families are often an afterthought.” –LB
Bottom Line: While there is a noticeable lack of studies on the effects of military service and its associated mental health challenges on military family members, there is certainly a wave of anecdotal evidence that the invisible wounds of war and the difficulties of military life in general can impact service members’ and veterans’ families. It’s encouraging to see two ScoutComms clients, Cohen Veterans Network and Give an Hour, mentioned as resources in this article but it also shows the need for more programs, private and public, and research on how we can support the families of those we send to war. We are in the 18th year of the longest war in U.S. history and our men and women continue to fight and die while their families carry the burden of the repeated deployments and damage left by violence on the psyche. We owe it them all to do more than offer discounts and a “thank you for your service” and mental health care is most important support we can provide. –FPW

VA Secretary Nominee Promises Care for All Vets, Including Transgender Veterans
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
Last week, President Trump’s Veterans Affairs Secretary nominee, Robert Wilkie, assured congressional leaders that he sees suicide prevention and care for transgender veterans as important issues facing the department’s future. Prior to his nomination, Wilkie served in the U.S. Navy Reserve and is an U.S. Air Force Reserve colonel. In his current role, he serves as a senior official tasked with personnel and readiness issues at the Pentagon. Congress members strongly endorsed Wilkie in June during his confirmation hearing. Wilkie stated that he sees “the service of all veterans regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation,” as important, and that “they will all be treated with the respect and the support they deserve.” As Secretary, Wilkie aims to advance improvements in the VA human resources system, its electronic medical record system, and community health programs. –NJ
Bottom Line: Last week, the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee moved Wilkie’s nomination ahead to the full Senate by voice vote. Notably, Wilkie received a “No” vote, the first for a president’s VA secretary nominee. The lone no came from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who said the vote was less about Wilkie and more so against the president. So while there is “opposition” to Wilkie’s nomination, in this administration his appointment remains fairly uncontroversial. As the article notes, Wilkie is saying all the right things that veterans advocates and some potential “No” votes want to hear. When his nomination comes up for a full vote, perhaps as early as this week, it is expected Wilkie will be easily confirmed. What Congress and advocates will expect afterwards is that his actions follow his words on important matters like the future of specialized VA health care. –LJ

VA funding dispute sidelines Congress’ appropriations progress
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times 
After reaching an impasse on funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs’ VA Choice program, which was created in 2014 to increase efficiency in veteran healthcare by allowing medical appointments with private-sector providers, lawmakers’ work on a number of federal agencies’ budgets for the coming year has come to an abrupt halt. A scheduled conference committee to begin negotiations on the appropriations package (including budgets for energy programs, legislative branch operations and military construction) was cancelled on Thursday, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala. admitted the delay was caused by disagreement over VA funding. Funding for Choice will expire in May 2019, creating a $1.6 billion gap in the VA’s budget. While Democrats push for removing spending caps, Republicans remain staunchly opposed and prefer to reallocate funds from within the existing appropriations package. There is currently no scheduled time for conference negotiations to resume. –KG
Bottom Line: This latest conflict over VA Choice funding should come as no surprise. It is the logical end result of Congress’s open-ended and increasingly permissive promise to empower veterans to seek care in the private sector. VA Choice reduces pressure on VA facilities and services, but it does not necessarily reduce their workloads, meaning that costs—as we have seen consistently since 2014—will continue to rise, as will the necessary budget to support VA Choice. Since VA Choice was first proposed, Democrats have expressed concerns that no matter how well-intended the program is, it would contribute to the gradual privatization of the VA. While we are not seeing an open move in that direction at the moment, we are seeing a more subtle debate, where the costs of VA Choice are used by Republican lawmakers as justification to demand a reduction in other areas of the appropriations package. Given the current administration’s lack of interest in pursuing traditional GOP debt and deficit reduction goals, it is hard to see committee Democrats feeling pressured to give in to Sen. Shelby’s preferred course of action. While people will surely complain about veterans being held hostage, this really boils down to traditional partisan budget debates in Washington. –BW

‘Forever’ GI Bill Isn’t Always Forever, Under New DoD Guidance
James Clark (@JamesWClark) and Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Task and Purpose
On Thursday, the Department of Defense outlined stricter requirements service members must meet in order to transfer GI Bill benefits to their dependents. Starting July 12, 2019, only those with fewer than 16 years of service will be eligible to transfer benefits. Additionally, the new guidance requires that service member be able to serve an additional four after transferring the benefit.  Veterans’ advocates and organizations, including the American Legion, oppose the new restrictions: “We understand the minimum time-in-service for transferability eligibility, and that makes sense from a retention perspective, but the 16-year transfer or lose rule makes no sense to us as DOD has articulated it and disadvantages the veteran when it comes to the use of this earned benefit,” said Legion spokesman retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Joe Plenzler. –SM
Bottom Line: What’s important to note up front is that nothing about the Forever GI Bill has changed. What has changed is the parameters service members must meet to transfer the Forever GI Bill benefit to their dependents. Additionally, DOD told Congressthis was potentially coming way back in November 2017. Does it make it harder for some military members with many years of service to transfer benefits? Well, yeah, but organizations like MOAA and the Legion are on it. Does this hurt veterans? Not really. It’s a DOD policy change intended to impact retention in a very specific way. Could DOD have done a much better job rolling out these new guidelines? Most definitely. –LJ

Client Hits:

Jacksonville Marine gets special recognition
Sara Potter (@SaraPotterWCTI), WCTI
U.S. Marine Sgt. Brooke Sharp has been named the Marine Corps Times Marine of the Year for her superior work in her job field and being a vital member of Task Force Southwest. She was recognized at the Military Times Service Members of the Year awards ceremony on July 11. –LB

Quick Hits:

Bob Woodruff Foundation Acquires Veterans Org Got Your 6
Ellis Clopton (@ECloptonBrand), Variety
The Bob Woodruff Foundation, one of the nation’s largest foundations serving veterans, has acquired Got Your 6, which works to empower veterans by creating alliances between nonprofits, Hollywood and government partners. “Got Your 6 represented an incredible and timely opportunity to reignite those Hollywood and entertainment industry voices that have worked hard to improve the veteran narrative in our popular culture,” said Anne Marie Doughtery, Bob Woodruff Foundation Executive Director. This acquisition will aid in the foundation’s efforts to expand to the West Coast. –LB

U.S. Army Will Restrict Its Marketing Efforts After an Audit Finds Millions in Wasteful Spending
Patrick Coffee (@PatrickCoffee), Adweek
Documents from fiscal year 2016, acquired by Adweek staff via a Freedom of Information Act request, report that the U.S. Army spent over $930 million in unsuccessful recruitment marketing programs between 2013 and 2016. An audit found that these marketing expenditures didn’t yield substantial gains in recruitment over the three-year period. An Army Marketing and Research Group spokesperson stated that these audit findings would result in “more stringent oversight,” in the future to ensure effective allocation of taxpayer dollars. –NJ

People on the Move:

Rachael Riley
Rachael Riley has left The Daily Dispatch to become a military reporter at The Fayetteville Observer, filling a position that has been vacant since May. Her talents were previously featured in publications such as The Herald-Sun and the Killeen Daily Herald.

CNAS Welcomes Kayla Williams as Director of the Military, Veterans and Society Program
The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) announced on July 12, 2018 that Kayla Williams is joining their team as the new Director of the Military, Veterans, and Society program where she will lead research concentrated on addressing issues faced by the veteran and military community. Williams is a former U.S. Army Sergeant, former Director of the Center for Women Veterans at the Department of Veterans Affairs and former member of the VA Advisory Committee on Women Veterans.

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