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The Scout Report 391st Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis

Monday, October 28, 2018

Happy Halloween week! How many of you are going as the Ghost of CRs past?

In this week’s Scout Report, we look at how the fight to recognize the effects of burn pits is… somehow… still ongoing, how many service members are throwing away possible retirement savings, and how some positions at the VA are being politicized like never before. –LJ

Military and Veteran Issues

Agent Orange Concerns Joined by Worry Over Modern-Era ‘Burn Pits’
Ben Kesling (@BenKesling) and Stephanie Armour (@StephArmour1), The Wall Street Journal
Efforts to increase aid for veterans who suffered poor health effects from toxic exposures were fueled last week after 45 representatives penned a letter to the Senate VA committee advocating for the passage of the House bill that would expand benefits. Current benefits exist for many Vietnam veterans, but they do not include veterans who served in the U.S. Navy off the coast of Vietnam and are now seeking assistance. Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie has stood in opposition of the expansion, and this marks the first congressional action that challenges the new secretary. The estimated additional cost is approximately $900 million, and the current bill will raise fees for some VA home loans to cover it – a proposition firmly opposed by Wilkie. –KG
Bottom Line: We can argue costs, fees, and approval mechanisms like whether a condition is considered presumptive or not all day but in the end we must go back to the mission of the VA to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise: “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan,” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans. The fact is the science is piling up that burn pits have caused lasting damage to many of us who served overseas near them. It’s simply common sense at some point that when you burn toxic chemicals like batteries and petroleum products within yards of the living facilities of our service members it’s going to make people sick. The United States government has sent millions of men and women to war for more than 17 years and all of them went with the belief of an unbreakable contract that they would put their lives and health on the line for the nation and the nation would take care of them when they got back. $900 million isn’t even ten F-35 jets but it’s the fulfillment of a promise we must keep if we truly want to have brave young men and women continue to sign the dotted line and defend this nation. We used to joke the driving force behind our occupation of Iraq was the Pottery Barn rule from Colin Powell, ‘if you broke it, you fix it’. Taking care of our veterans is the very essence of that rule. You sent them to war and broke their bodies so we better damn well spend the money to fix them. Balancing the budget on the health of those who defend our nation is a death spiral we cannot enter. -FPW

Not many troops are opting into the new retirement system
Karen Jowers (@karenjowers), Military Times
Of the service members eligible to opt into the new military retirement system, only one in six have chosen to do so. With the year-end deadline fast approaching, the response to the new system has fallen short of expectations. There is a lot of speculation as to the reasoning behind the low response, and the question of whether it is a procrastination issue or something larger, such as lack of education on the subject or advice from older influencers. The Marines have the highest opt-in rate, which could be because they are the only service to require its members to register their decisions, regardless if they are choosing the new Blended Retirement System (BRS) or if they are sticking with the traditional system. Beth Asch, a senior economist at RAND who has done a large amount of research and analysis on the BRS, thinks junior enlisted should opt in. She said, “The people who choose not to opt in who are young… with two, three years of service… are leaving money on the table, because most of them will not make it to retirement…They’re going to leave without any benefit, whereas if they opt in, they’d leave with something.” –LB
Bottom Line: The key data point in this article is 81 percent. That’s how many service members currently separate with no retirement benefit in the legacy system. From an economic standpoint, the Blended Retirement System is a better deal for a vast majority of eligible service members: they get something instead of nothing. That’s why I personally opted in to BRS even though I could theoretically serve 20-plus years, but I was better armed than many young service members, given my age, education, Reserve status and exposure to outside military financial education through work with clients such as the USAA Educational Foundation. The Marine Corps has the right idea by requiring mandatory action among all its members; even if service members still want to stick with the legacy system, they should be presented with the choice because it is one that will have a significant impact on their future financial situations. The other key is education: grandfathered service members only have two more months to decide if they want to move to the BRS before their decision is made for them. There is not much DoD can do at this point beyond its existing outreach efforts, but anyone who is a leader to young service members should take the time to remind them they have an important life decision to make, and it is critical they spend a few hours reviewing their choices and their own financial expectations before they no longer have the ability to choose. –BW

‘I’ve never seen these positions politicized’: White House rejection of veterans judges raises concerns of partisanship
Lisa Rein (@Reinlwapo), The Washington Post
This past summer, more than half of the candidates for the veterans appeals board were rejected after the White House required them to reveal their party affiliation and insights into their political preferences. According to documents and interviews, three Democrats and one independent were among those rejected, while three Republicans and one individual with no party affiliation were accepted. Since these positions have not been politicized before, it is raising concerns for many—including former and current Department of Veterans Affairs officials—who believe the judges were selected based on their political views. –SM
Bottom Line: The push for more appeals board judges came after much was made about the ongoing backlog in veterans’ appeals. That judges are being rejected for their political leanings is not only worrisome because well established norms are being broken, but also because it means there will be fewer judges available to assist veterans and cut down the backlog. All of the judges nominated in the most recent round had been working at the appeals board for years and had been nominated by the head of the board, a traditionally political appointee. No one doubts the four new judges will expertly and efficiently adjudicate appeals, the problem remains that four other highly qualified individuals will not. If this is the new norm, it’s incredibly worrying that we might see an overall erosion of apolitical agency positions. Are we to expect that agencies’ staff will turn over every four to eight years now? –LJ

Veteran Tickets Foundation and Cohen Veterans Network Collaborate to Serve the Military Community
Veteran Tickets Foundation (@VetTix) and Cohen Veterans Network (@CohenVeterans)
Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) and Cohen Veterans Network (CVN) have formed a partnership that will enable both nonprofits to spread awareness of their individual missions, while enhancing their common goal of providing mental health care resources and support to veterans and military families. Mike Focareto, Vet Tix founder and CEO, said of the partnership, “The relationship with CVN will introduce VetTixers to mental health resources, while continuing to provide them with memories that last a lifetime. We care deeply about meeting mental health needs and are excited to help bring awareness to the resources offered by CVN.” –LB

Killeen: Food delivery app teams up with Operation Phantom Support
Alex Cano (@AlexCanoNews), KWTX
JoyRun, an app that allows users to get items they need brought to them by members of their community, has teamed up with Operation Phantom Support, a nonprofit in Killeen, Texas that serves soldiers, veterans and first responders through a food pantry. The partnership will allow users to distribute pantry items to community members who are unable to get to the pantry themselves. Manish Rathi, founder of JoyRun, said, “JoyRun is a mobile app that rewards people for helping others in their community. We are a match with Phantom Support because the mission they have is aligned with the mission we have.” –KG

Quick Hits:

Wounded Warrior Project Pledges $160 Million to Battle PTSD
Richard Sisk, Military.com
The Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) has pledged to raise $160 million to be used for treatment for veterans suffering from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. The money, which is projected to be raised over the next five years, will be given to four institutions. WWP CEO, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Linnington, said, “We’re grateful to be able to help warriors access world-class mental health treatment … [and] we’re humbled by the support of the nation that allows us to commit to this care.” –LB

Military Families Already Have Enough PCS Support, New Study Finds
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz), Military.com
A RAND Corporation report released earlier this month explored the impact that Permanent Change of Station (PCS) moves have on military families, and how the Pentagon assists them along the way. The study revealed that even though moving is hectic for military families, the Department of Defense currently has “programs in place to address all of the documented stresses” but they do need to better utilize and understand the existing services and policies. –SM

The military could see big changes if Democrats win control of Congress
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane) and Joe Gould (@ReporterJoe), Military Times
A proposed plan to overhaul the $716 billion defense authorization bill for next year has been drafted by members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, with a goal of extending those plans to general Democratic leadership if they regain control of the House. “The Trump agenda drastically cuts programs supporting working families … while giving massive tax cuts to big corporations and bloating the military budget beyond belief,” their plan stated. Priorities would shift from military budgets to reinvesting in American families, along with allocating greater funds for education, healthcare and job growth. A significant number of Republican representatives have retired this year, and polls indicate a possibility of growing Democratic traction and potential pick-ups of district seats. –KG

Community Opportunities
Independence Project: Veteran Employment Study
What:
A research study that helps veterans find a job.
Who: Veterans who meet the following requirements: Interested in getting a job; Discharged in the past 12 months OR have a discharge date in the next 8 months; Served at least 6 months of active duty; Be/have been an enlisted service-member between ranks E1 – E9; Have applied for a disability rating; Under 45 years of age.
When: Study participation open now!

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