Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis
Monday, November 19, 2018
Your Monday morning thought: what is the “raking the forest” of the veterans community? Is there something the Finns do that we should be doing? I have to wonder.
Your Scout Report this week is graced by new initials! Welcome SG, Stephanie Gaskell, who has joined the ScoutComms team as a senior manager. We have so much to look forward to with her on board! As a first order of business, she breaks down the news that a woman has been selected for Army Special Forces training. Elsewhere in the Scout Report, we look at the unfortunate state of DOD suicide prevention efforts, military medical malpractice, and student veterans delayed GI Bill payments. –LJ
Military and Veteran Issues:
First Female Soldier In Decades Selected For Green Beret Training
Jeff Schogol (@JeffSchogol), Task & Purpose
The first female soldier in decades was recently selected to attend the Special Forces Qualification Course after completing the 24-day Special Forces Assessment and Selection stage of training. In 1981, the first female to ever be Special Forces qualified was Capt. Kathleen Wilder. Lt. Col. Loren Bymer, U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesman, said, “We’re proud of all the candidates who attended and were selected to continue into the qualification course in hopes of earning their Green Beret.” –LB
Bottom Line: The female soldier will now attend the Special Forces Qualification Course, which can last up to 24 months, according to U.S. Army Special Operations Command spokesman Lt. Col. Loren Bymer. She will remain anonymous in her goal to become the first female Green Beret since combat jobs were opened to women in 2013. “It is our policy to not release the names of our service members because Special Forces soldiers perform discreet missions upon graduation,” Bymer told Task & Purpose. While women continue to break barriers in military combat roles, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in late September that “the jury is out” on whether the policy to let women in combat positions is working or not. He said it’s too soon to tell and too few women are signing up for infantry units. “This a policy that I inherited, and so far the cadre is so small we have no data on it,” Mattis said. “We’re hoping to get data soon. There are a few stalwart young ladies that are charging into this, but they are too few – right now, it’s not even dozens. It’s that few.” The numbers are small. According to Military Times, there are 51 female infantry officers and 253 enlisted women in Army infantry units. Another 51 are serving in the Army Reserve. While they may remain largely anonymous, these women are certainly making their mark on the history of the Army and paving the way for those to follow. –SG
The Pentagon Spent Millions to Prevent Suicides. But the Suicide Rate Went Up Instead.
Dan Spinelli (@danspinelli902), Mother Jones
The Defense Suicide Prevention Office, a President Obama-era effort to address the growing suicide rate among active duty service members, comprises a fraction of the Department of Defense’s massive workforce, with only nine employees. Since its founding in 2011, annual reports have been scarce and the office has been fraught with internal disputes, leadership changes, employee complaints and broken contracts. Initially subsisting on a budget of $6.9 million, “adds” from Congress ballooned the budget to $20 million. Despite a growing budget, a 2014 evaluation revealed that the office was unable to fulfill 21 of its 36 directives originally given to the Department of Defense. Data through 2016 revealed that since its founding, the suicide rate of active duty military personnel had risen by 2.5 percent and doubled since 2001. –KG
Bottom Line: You know how you don’t solve a suicide crisis in the ranks? Create an office with hardly any budget, give it no authority to issue regulations, move it from division to division within the DoD, don’t even give them an office in the Pentagon and undermine the leadership at every turn. There is no one to “blame” for the fact that the DSPO seems to have struggled to accomplish its mission when you unpack it and realize that mission was never really laid out in a fashion that could possibly be accomplished. The entire story reads like a classic Pentagon shuffle for an effort they really don’t want to support and it’s sad and frustrating. The services all want to do things their way. One branch thinks you can build more gyms so guys can sweat off their suicidal ideations. Another thinks they should be trained in obscure pseudo-science resiliency techniques like a depression prophylactic. Everyone thinks there is too much stigma surrounding mental health treatment yet in the ranks troops are still ostracized and kicked out of the service for those very issues. Now we have a Pentagon that is essentially half empty of political appointees and a leadership team that only cares about things being “lethal”. This issue isn’t going away and DoD isn’t fixing it any time soon. That’s a tragedy that should make everyone angry. –FPW
Lawmakers grill VA over GI Bill ‘debacle’
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Military Times Reboot Camp
After months of service members receiving the wrong amount of Post-9/11 GI Bill housing stipends, VA officials could not tell lawmakers when the necessary software would be ready during a hearing Wednesday. The VA initially projected a July deadline to have it systems ready for August 1, but VA Director of Education Service Robert Worley said that VA was unable to have the new software up to date due to getting “six months of work in about two months.” Student Veterans of America’s Vice President of Government Affairs Lauren Augustine said, “After the hearing, I think it’s important we hear from VA how they are going to make students’ payments whole and how they are going to prevent this from happening in the spring 2019 semester.” Congress is giving VA officials one week to provide their intended date of completion and additional costs. –SM
Bottom Line: The congressional hearings taking VA to task this week were too late for some student veterans whose fall semesters had already been adversely affected. The hardship may be compounded by the fact that VA leaders warned that there may not be a fix in place ahead of the spring semester, either. While all of this came to a head with hearings this week, that this would be a big problem for student veterans should not have been a surprise to VA or its congressional overseers–groups like client Student Veterans of America and others had been raising concerns since April. Of course, these aren’t the only issues with technology overhauls that the VA is facing. Congressional leaders have pointed to funding they’ve provided VA for software updates to counter VA’s complaints about lack of funding for IT upgrades. That kind of bureaucratic back and forth rarely benefits the veterans waiting for results, though. Given the president’s stated commitment to veterans, he could lean on VA leadership to focus on these kind of technical problems that–while not very TV friendly–have a very real impact on veterans’ daily lives. –LJ
‘It’s A Scandal’ – Inside The Fight To Hold The Military Accountable For Medical Malpractice
James Clark (@JamesWClark), Task & Purpose
In May 2017, Army Sgt. 1st Class Richard Stayskal visited the emergency room twice, including on base at Womack Army Medical Center. In June, he began coughing up blood. After numerous calls to have his appointment moved up at Womack, Stayskal went for a consultation with a civilian pulmonologist and was soon after diagnosed with lung cancer. The cancer could have been caught five months prior when he had a routine health screening at Womack that found a mass on his right lung. Stayskal intends to file a lawsuit for medical malpractice, but it may not get far due to the Feres Doctrine, which prevents service members from suing the Department of Defense. The rule states that the government can’t be held liable “for injuries to members of the armed forces arising from activities incident to military service,” because injury or death compensation already exists through disability compensation and life insurance payments and because “opening the military to lawsuits might invite second-guessing of command decisions in civilian courts.” However, the Feres Doctrine is not going to stop Stayskal from moving forward with the lawsuit. He said, “I just don’t believe that this should be left alone, and allowed to continue to happen to soldiers, sailors, airmen, whatever — it shouldn’t happen to anyone, in the civilian world or the military.” –LB
Bottom Line: On its face, the Feres Doctrine makes sense. It protects the federal government from being held liable “for injuries to members of the armed forces arising from activities incident to military service.” If you get shot or otherwise injured in combat, the government is not liable, because that is a fundamental reality of the job. But the debate that James Clark captures is not about injury in anything resembling the line of duty, but instead about whether military members have any rights when they are being provided general medical treatment at military facilities. What we learn in his article is that general medical malpractice is being protected from litigation under the Feres Doctrine, which seems to be a distortion of the intent and purpose of the original court ruling. If medical professionals working for the military make serious mistakes, it does not seem fair that they should be entirely protected from punishment, nor that that system they serve should be held blameless for their errors. Clark found that based on the current situation, the Feres Doctrine can only be changed by Congress or the Supreme Court. The reality is that any changes to loosen the protections of the Feres Doctrine could cost the government a significant amount of money. But at the same time, the treat of outside punishment for failure could also improve the standard of care and help hold providers within the military system more responsible for providing high-quality care. Ultimately, the Feres Doctrine is providing a blanket protection to the military medical system that it does not deserve, and people like Sgt. 1st Class Stayskall deserve to be treated as more than a deceased footnote in military medical history. –BW
VA to ban medical professionals from union activities at work
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
The Department of Veterans Affairs issued an order ending “official time,” union activities at work, for more than 400 medical professionals. The VA reasoned that these activities waste taxpayer money and cited a U.S. Office of Personnel Management report showing employees spent 1 million hours on official time in 2016. Union leaders have spoken up in strong opposition of this order. National Nurses United’s executive director, Bonnie Castillo, said, “This is a huge overstep by [VA Secretary Robert] Wilkie, and we intend to fight back.” –LB
Marijuana – PTSD study reaches target enrollment of 76 veterans
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes
On Veterans Day, the Scottsdale Research Institute in Phoenix, Arizona achieved its total enrollment of 76 veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress (PTS) to participate in their study to determine whether PTS is treatable with the use of marijuana. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie says the VA will not be exploring marijuana as treatment until the federal government legalizes the drug. –SM
Millions in Cost Overruns Hit Effort to Merge VA, Military Health Records
Richard Sisk, Military.com
Concerns about progress in integrating VA and Department of Defense electronic health records have risen, as the $16 billion project already has a cost overrun of $350 million. Officials say the original estimate did not include the salaries of those working on the project. In response, Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, the chairman of the HVAC subcommittee with oversight, said, “I find it hard to believe that such a basic part of the program — government salaries — could be overlooked.” –MW
Trump Administration Plots Costly Private-Care Expansion for Veterans
Isaac Arnsdorf (@iarnsdorf), ProPublica
According to four anonymous sources, the Trump administration aims to shift “millions more veterans to private doctors and is aiming to unveil the proposal during Trump’s State of Union address in January.” This plan could spell trouble for the VA as the rising cost of privatized healthcare for veterans would be covered by the VA’s health system. –MW
Inaugural Military Appreciation Night on Veterans Day
Sharks Foundation (@SharksCare), San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks hosted its Military Appreciation Night, aligned for the first time with the Veterans Day holiday. Throughout the night, fans were encouraged to join in the celebration of former and current service members with items such as a “This is Military Appreciation” sign. Veteran Tickets Foundation (Vet Tix) was the “Non-Profit of the Night” partner and was the beneficiary of an in-game auction of Adidas military jerseys. Throughout the evening, VetTixers were invited to participate in experiences like Zamboni rides and a photo on the ice. –LB
One day, many meanings. Veterans Day perspectives.
Eric Dehm (@EricDehm), Connecting Vets
GORUCK Founder and CEO Jason McCarthy believes that Veterans Day is an opportunity to get out and connect with the community members, veteran and civilian alike. “It’s not necessarily just go donate money or just go do something anonymously,” McCarthy said. “That’s great, a lot of non-profits need funding, I’m not saying don’t do that. But more powerful than that is to sort of let your heart get run over, go strike up a conversation, go do something… go do something that brings people together over the cause of veterans.” McCarthy spent his Veterans Day doing just that, as he led the NYC Veterans Day Parade as an Honorary Grand Marshal. –KG
People on the Move:
Drew Brooks, Military Editor at the Fayetteville Observer, announced that he is moving to DC to work for the military service organization National Guard Association of the United States.
Warrior Wellness Alliance: Warriors Connect Research Study
What: A groundbreaking research project led by the Bush Institute’s Warrior Wellness Alliance and Qntfy using donated public-facing social media and fitness tracker information to better understand mental health and wellbeing, and to design more precise and effective interventions. Watch this short video to learn more.
Who: Veterans are the primary audience, but anyone is encouraged to participate, regardless of military service.
When: Study participation open now. Visit this link to donate your information today.