Message from Fred Wellman, President

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The Scout Report 248th Edition

Military Families and Veterans Issues and Analysis

Monday, January 11, 2016

Happy Monday! Tomorrow, President Obama will give the final State of the Union address of his presidency. Expect a preview of what veterans’ advocates are hoping to hear from the president later today from the veterans’ reporter with the best hair…

We’re back from semi-sunny Orlando where Student Veterans of America hosted their best conference yet. Lots of excited chapter leaders, alumni mentors, nonprofit organizations, and corporate supporters on hand, as well. We’re looking forward to seeing how Jared Lyon and the team keep moving the needle for student veterans. And congrats to Student Veteran of the Year, Brian Adam Jones (or “Badge” as his friends call him.)

This week, the world will mark the 25th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. The National Desert Storm War Memorial Association is working to ensure the more than 600,000 service members who deployed and the 292 men who lost their lives are not forgotten through the construction of a memorial. Our Fred Wellman, a Gulf War vet himself, has joined the association’s board of directors in order to better support their efforts. Learn more below!

Save the Date: Thursday, January 28, 5:30-8:30pm, ScoutComms will be hosting our now annual social event at City Tap House. We would love to see you all there! (A more formal invite will follow.) –LJ 

The week ahead:

Tradeshows and Conferences:

No major tradeshows or conferences this week.

For a full list of upcoming events check out our Events page.

Congressional Hearings:

House: 

Veterans’ Affairs: 1988 to 2016: VETSNET to VBMS; Billions Spent, Backlog Grinds On
When: 10:30 AM, Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Where: 334 Cannon

Armed Services Subcommittee on Military Personnel: Views on Commissary Reform
Who: Mr. Patrick B. Nixon, President, American Logistics Association; Mr. Tom Gordy, President, Armed Forces Marketing Council; Ms. Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director, National Military Family Association; Ms. Brooke Goldberg, Deputy Director for Government Relations, Military Officers Association of America
When: 10:30AM, Wednesday, January 13, 2016
Where: 2118 Rayburn

Events:

No events this week.

Major themes and issues from last week:

ScoutComms in the News:

ScoutComms Founder and CEO Joins National Desert Storm War Memorial Board of Directors
Our Founder and CEO Fred Wellman joined the National Desert Storm War Memorial board of directors last week. Then-1st Lieutenant Wellman served in the Gulf War as a scout helicopter platoon leader, and honoring the men and women who served—and the men he lost—is very personal to him. With Fred’s help, the NDSWM will work to raise $25 million in 2016, the 25th anniversary of the Gulf War, to build the memorial and ensure the legacy of Desert Storm is not forgotten. Be sure to check out the organization’s website, and follow it on Facebook and Twitter–MC

Veterans and Military Issues:

Marine Corps boot camp, job titles to be gender neutral by April
Gina Harkins (@ginaaharkins), MarineTimes 
Since the Marine Corps submitted its plan to integrate women into combat roles, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has directed two memos to the Corps concerning more fundamental changes to how women are integrated within the Corps. First, Mabus directed the Marines to submit a plan by January 15 to end gender segregation of its boot camp and Officer Candidate School. Second, he’s directed the Marines and the Navy to make job titles gender neutral, where appropriate. The Army has already submitted their official plan to incorporate women into their infantry, armor, and Special Forces. –JG
Bottom line: Lt. Col. Kate Germano, who led the training of women Marines at Parris Island before being pushed out earlier in the year, and is now active with the Service Women’s Action Network, has been on the right track for years—the Marines have been selling their women short by separating them and treating them different from male Marines during early training. Though the logistical steps required to meet Mabus’ mandates could be challenging, Mabus is entirely in the right to push the Marines to stop dragging their feet and to break down gender barriers between men and women in both enlisted and officer training programs. While the pursuit of gender-neutral job titles may not seem nearly as consequential or challenging as a revamp of training programs, it is evidence that the Secretary believes that gender integration needs to be reflected in both words and actions. It remains unclear for now how many job titles will be changed. In the article by Harkins, a source says that words incorporating “-man,” like “infantryman,” will remain unchanged. But in reporting by Harkins’ colleague Mark Faram, it is reported that the Navy would in fact seek to change job titles like “seaman” within its service ranks. We’ll keep an eye out on what changes actually become realities in 2016. –BW

After feds bungle management, contractor to resume control of Army child-care program
Lisa Rein (@reinlwapo), The Washington Post 
A program that helps Army families pay for child care services not available on base will be once again managed by a private contractor, Child Care Aware of America, after a government agency failed to keep the program running efficiently. The Army handed program management to the General Services Administration in 2014 to save money, but some families waited months for requests for reimbursements to be processed and others never had applications processed. This left many service members wondering if their spouses needed to quit their jobs and careers to stay home and watch their children. –JG
Bottom line: In the end, something that was supposed to save the Army money ended up costing the same amount because it costs money to fix incompetence. While the GSA, tasked with running the program, has been able to get its backlog of applications for assistance down from 26,000 to 1,500 but that cost it just as much as the Army was going to save by going with a government agency, not a contractor. The good news is that the Army is quickly fixing the issue by handing the task back to the contractor that had been running the program. These are the kind of situations advocates have to be vigilant about as both Congress and DOD look to trim costs, sometimes without thinking about how that will impact military families or veterans. –LJ 

Twice removed: after botching 1st attempt, VA demoted 2 senior executives
Dianna Cahn (@DiannaCahn), Stars and Stripes 
The Department of Veterans Affairs has once again demoted two senior executives, Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves, who have been accused of manipulating the department’s hiring system for personal gains and financial benefits. The VA had previously demoted the pair, but rescinded the action after an evidence handling error. Associate Director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System Lance Robinson is also under the microscope for alleged actions during the patient wait time scandal, but Robinson has said that if he were guilty, he would have already been fired–MC
Bottom line: It is never a good sign when an agency’s first attempt to punish misbehaving employees fails due to procedural errors. The VA is hopeful that it’s second attempt to demote Rubens and Graves for their poor leadership and mismanagement—which is a more mild description than some critics would readily use—succeeds in slapping them on the wrist for showing poor judgment in making personnel decisions that were to their own benefit. While their case seems to be coming to a close—at least temporarily—it is interesting to see the bravura performance from Robinson, whose latest broadside against public censure falls somewhere along the lines of “fire me or get the hell out of my way.” For outsiders, these cases have done little to resolve concern that VA middle managers are not being punished firmly or decisively enough to deter future offenders, but as I have said before, with the number of challenges the VA senior leadership is trying to resolve right now, it is better to judge them with on a monthly—and not a daily basis—to allow for some clearness of perspective. –BW 

Why veterans look at the Oregon occupation and see ‘loose cannon clowns’
Dan Lamothe (@DanLamothe) and Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@tmgneff), The Washington Post
Over the holidays, an armed militia including Jon Ritzheimer, a Marine Corps veteran, occupied a wildlife refuge in Oregon. The incident has provoked discussion across the nation about the training and leadership roles veterans sometimes play in militias. But many veterans, even those who are members of other militias, have spoken out against the Oregon occupation, and see these groups as “loose cannon clowns.” –MC
Bottom line: A huge chunk of the veteran community is horrified and infuriated that former service members are playing such a prominent role in the militia movement and especially the situation in Oregon. There is no denying that a growing number of veterans are taking part in controversial causes from the ‘Open Carry’ movement in Texas that was spearheaded by a well-known veteran blogger to the Oathkeepers which claims hundreds of veterans in its ranks. Are they harmless? Are they a danger to society? At this point that discussion is heavily burdened by which side of the political spectrum you fall on but for most of us the very act of suggesting taking up arms against the constitutionally elected government of the United States goes against everything we stand for. Politics in a civilized nation is done at the ballot box and on a soapbox. When guns are added we are descending into banana republic territory and “loose cannon clowns” is nothing less than an incredibly charitable description. –FPW 

Despite concerns, military continues use of burn pits in Iraq
Tara Copp (@TaraCopp), Stars and Stripes 
In Iraq, the military is continuing to use burn pits to get rid of waste, despite years of evidence that it negatively impacts the health of service members exposed to the air. The use of these pits has been discontinued in Afghanistan, but forces who have returned to Iraq in 2014 and 2015 once again began using the method of waste disposal. –MC
Bottom line: There are many lessons that should have been learned after nearly a decade of war in Iraq, including that burn pits can cause serious health issues for exposed service members. If you dive deeper into the details on this particular story, it looks a little better than the headlines since not too many troops have been exposed—yet. There had been two burn pits in Iraq, one at Al Asad and one at Al Taqaddum but the one at Al Asad has been replaced by an incinerator. Still, the medical waste burn pit at Al Taqaddum continues to put troops at risk. Next week, a federal court will hear arguments that KBR, which operated many burn pits, should be held liable for illnesses and deaths connected to burn pit exposure. While the VA hosts a burn pit registry to track veterans’ symptoms, it also states its research shows no connection between burn pit exposure and long-term health effects. For advocates who fought for years on expanding presumptive illnesses for Agent Orange exposure, the VA’s research statements don’t mean much. The military needs to put in place alternatives to burn pits, particularly since the VA does not appear to be in a position to accept a service-connection for any of the effects they might have on exposed troops. And as our mission expands in Iraq once again, it’s important the military finally learn from past mistakes. –LJ 

DoD examines rules for on-base military spouse businesses
Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz), Military.com
The Department of Defense is working to remove barriers for military spouses who operate their own small businesses from on-base housing. To date, several rules limit the types of businesses allowed in on-base housing, like hair salons and personal training businesses. In addition, local exchange offices and Morale, Welfare, and Recreation (MWR) are allowed to refuse businesses falling under 18 specific categories like retail stores and photo studios. –MC
Bottom line: The challenges military families face today are numerous and not going away. A constant has been the ability for military spouses to earn a living while supporting their service member during constant moves and deployments. Unemployment among military spouses hovers at 30% by last count and many are turning to home-based businesses to make ends meet. But, by accepting on base housing many are being subjected to multi-layered bureaucracy that keeps them from making a living. The rules are simply ridiculous. The idea that a home based Etsy shop could take on the PX or their website is just silly. The rules need to be clarified and standardized across the entire Department of Defense. –FPW 

ScoutComms’ Client News:

Gun debate could mean new focus on vets’ safety device
Leo Shane III (@leoshane), Military Times
Last week, President Obama announced new gun control efforts, including an increased interest in gun safety technology. But two military veterans have already been working on how to make handguns in the home safer. Matt Barido and Skylar Gerrond have been working for the past six years to create a handgun trigger lock, opened by fingerprint technology, and hope to offer a “real solution that makes sense and provides more safety for individuals who own guns.” If you haven’t’ checked out Guardian, we highly recommend taking the time to read Leo’s article and check out their revolutionary technology. –MC

Evicted days before Christmas, this translator was saved by those he served alongside
James Clark (@JamesWClark), Task & Purpose
No One Left Behind, an organization that supports wartime Iraqi and Afghan interpreters as they migrate to the United States, was highlighted in a recent Task & Purpose article. The group helped Thomas, an Iraqi translator, who was evicted with his family from his apartment right before Christmas. With support from the nonprofit, Thomas and his family were able to move into a new home, just in time for the holidays. In 2015, NOLB helped 1,355 individuals secure more than 300 homes. –MC

Quick Hits:

City of San Antonio announces $2.1 million pledge from USAA to fight veteran homelessness
San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and USAA CEO Stuart Parker announced a pledge to end veteran homelessness in San Antonio and Parker committed $2.1 million from USAA to support this initiative. Last year, Taylor joined the Mayors Challenge to End Veteran Homelessness, and San Antonio has since helped more than 800 homeless veterans move into housing or begin the process. USAA’s contribution will help the city assist its remaining homeless veterans.  –JG & MC

One-third of new hires in the federal government last year were veterans
Eric Katz (@EricM_Katz), Government Executive
The Office of Personnel Management announced last week that one third of federal hires during 2014 were military veterans, resulting in the highest ever hiring rate of military personnel. In 2009, President Obama signed an executive order to increase the number of veterans in civil service jobs. Since then, efforts have increased significantly. –MC

Colin Powell remembers Desert Storm
Tom Philpott (@TomPhilpott), Military Officers Association of America
In August 1990, General Colin Powell was chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff when Iraq invaded Kuwait. In a recent interview, he sits down and takes us back to what the world was like 25 years ago, and identified some of the biggest influences on his decisions during the war.  –JG

Vet unemployment sees record year despite December jump
George Altman (@George_Altman), Military Times
The veteran unemployment rate increased by more than a full percentage point in December. However, the slight uptick does not reflect an overarching trend of veteran unemployment. In fact, it represents quite the opposite. For 2015, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans was only 5.8 percent. –MC

Pentagon may upgrade hundreds of troops to possible Medals of Honor
Tom Vanden Brook (@tvandenbrook), USA Today 
Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has ordered a review of up to 1,100 medals awarded for valor on the battlefield, potentially leading to hundreds of awards being upgraded to the Medal of Honor. The recommendations were met with opposition from the Navy and Marine Corps, which said say that reviewing the original decisions undermines commanders’ authority. –JG

Moves in the veteran support sector:

FSU grad named CEO of national veterans organization
Byron Dobson (@byrondobson), Tallahassee Democrat 
Jared Lyon, a Navy veteran, Florida State graduate, and former employee at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University, was recently named president and CEO of Student Veterans of America. SVA is a nonprofit organization working to help military veterans succeed in higher education and beyond. Congratulations, Jared! –MC

The Scout Report is a weekly analysis of news and events in the veterans and military family communities produced by the staff of ScoutComms, Inc. and is emailed each Monday morning except on holidays. Follow us on Twitter at @ScoutComms to get up to the minute news on defense and veterans issues all week. Did you get this as a forward?  Subscribe yourself for free here right now!

About Us: ScoutComms, Inc. is an award winning social enterprise communications, corporate social responsibility, and philanthropic strategy firm supporting veterans, military families and organizations committed to their well-being. Our mission is to empower veterans and military families through communications grounded initiatives and collaborative alliances that lead to greater awareness of veterans’ needs and expanded access to economic and social resource opportunities. We are one of the first Benefit Corporations, B-Corps, focused on veterans and military family issues in the nation. We accomplish our mission by supporting companies, non-profits and foundations who are providing programs and charitable giving efforts in support of veterans and military families. To learn more about what we can do for your organization visit our website at www.ScoutCommsUSA.com.

Questions? Comments? Additions? If you have any questions, comments, or have an event you would like us to include, send an email to LJenkins@scoutcommsusa.com and we will make sure we let our readers know. For questions about ScoutComms, email FWellman@scoutcommsusa.com.

Join the Conversation: For updates on our clients, employment opportunities and the issues that matter in our focus areas follow @ScoutComms on Twitter and ‘like’ our Facebook page.

 

 

 

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