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The Scout Report 385th Edition

The Scout Report 385th Edition

Military Families and Veterans News and Analysis

Monday, September 17, 2018


With rain still falling and wind having taken its toll, we were glad to see CNN checking in with Team Rubicon field operations early Saturday morning. Where Team Rubicon greyshirts go–and their partners like The Home Depot Foundation–disasters are abated.

This week’s Scout Report covers a lot of VA news, which seems to be a theme lately. We’re big fans of that!
Journalists play an important part in oversight of the VA and tell some incredibly powerful stories… sometimes. These are mostly policy focused, if I’m being honest. But who are we kidding? We love policy and process, too! –LJ


Tradeshows and Conferences:


Community Opportunities:

GORUCK: Selection 020 Live Stream

What: Considered one of the world’s toughest endurance events, GORUCK’s Selection is deliberately based on Special Forces’ assessment. In 2017, only one participant finished the event and it has a less than 2 percent completion rate. To view the livestream of this grueling 48-hour event, follow GORUCK’s Facebook page and tune in.

When: 1:00 PM, Thursday, September 20, 2018

Where: GORUCK’s Facebook Page

Give an Hour/Healthy Minds Fairfax: “Into the Light” Film Screening and Panel
What: “Into the Light” shares the story of Brendan O’Toole, a Marine veteran from Fairfax County, struggling to transition back into civilian life. A panel discussion featuring Barbara Van Dahlen, Founder and President of Give An Hour, “Into the Light” director Charles Stuart, and Give an Hour Healthy Minds Fairfax Provider Dr. Diane Hoekstra will follow the screening.
When: 6:30 PM, Thursday, September 20, 2018
Where: Angelika Film Center Mosaic, Fairfax, VA

Independence Project: Veterans Study
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!


Military and Veteran Issues:

Inspector general finds VA claims backlog greater than reported
Nikki Wentling (@NikkiWentling), Stars and Stripes 
A report by the VA Inspector General’s Office reveals that agency officials did not include 63,000 backlogged claims in a 2016 count of total claims that had yet to be approved after 125 days. In total, the IG says the VA’s count was understating the problem by only taking into account 79 percent of backlogged claims. While the VA has taken measures to reduce the backlog since it peaked at 611,000 delayed claims in 2013, vague guidelines regarding which claims are part of the backlog led to the undercount. Paul Lawrence, the VA undersecretary for benefits, promised employees would be retrained with a better understanding of which claims apply by next September. –KG 
Bottom line: There have been plenty of political debates swirling around the VA and its leadership since President Trump was elected—this is not one of those debates. The known error in failing to count all backlogged claims at the time—assuming it was unintentional as the IG report assessed—occurred early in 2016, under the Obama administration. While these errors in counting do not negate the fact that the VA has succeeded in massively reducing its claims backlog in the last few years, it does cast doubt on the accuracy of the numbers beyond this specific instance and raise the question: how can the public know that there are not more instances of both intentional and unintentional errors in reporting? The VA has been heavily pressured to report good news and reduce delays, so it would be understandable in terms of human nature if employees were more likely to accept or look for positive data trends even if there were flaws in the reporting process. In this case, it appears that employees need more training on classifying claims data for reporting, and little more will occur beyond that corrective action. But this is a good reminder why organizations benefit from having inspectors general or ombudsmen to look for errors, flaws and bad behavior: in order to hold organizations accountable to their stakeholders. In this case, those stakeholders are veterans and the American people, and they deserve an accurate depiction of the state of the claims process. –BW

VA process to verify veteran-owned small businesses fraught with errors, delays
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
In order to win Department of Veterans Affairs contracts and subcontracts, veteran-owned small businesses must be verified through an online system. This system has been plagued with problems, leading to lengthy delays within the verification process. Scott Davidson, owner of a consulting firm that helps veterans through the verification process, said, “It’s maddening. Veteran-owned businesses want to be able to contract with the VA, and they can’t. They can’t get certified, so they’re missing out. It hampers their ability to compete for that money that’s supposed to be set aside for them.” VA Press Secretary Curt Cashour said the agency is working to fix the verification system “as soon as possible,” however, some businesses have given up on getting certified. –LB
Bottom line: This is a topic that causes veteran business owners to go from zero to furious in about ten seconds. Issues with VA’s unique system of verifying veteran-owned businesses have been popping up regularly for as long as we can remember. It can be difficult to navigate for a complicated business model with multiple partners, locations, and other issues and the new website appears to be presenting its own challenges for businesses. Not all of those seeking certification are having issues, our own process took just a few weeks with very little problems. What makes many businesses nervous is that there has been talk for a few years of extending the VA’s system to all of the government agencies where veteran-owned business declaration is currently a self-certifying process. Hopefully the bugs are worked out before that idea gets implemented. –FPW

One of the First Women in the Infantry Will be Discharged From the Marines
Thomas Gibbons-Neff (@Tmgneff) The New York Times
Cpl. Remedios Cruz, one of the few women in a combat role with the U.S. Marine Corps, is expected to be discharged from the service after pleading guilty to a fraternization charge earlier this year. After being assigned to the First Battalion, Eighth Marines infantry unit in January 2017, Corporal Cruz was promoted to sergeant and soon entered into a relationship with a subordinate Marine in her unit. After the command discovered the relationship, the battalion commander Lt. Col. Reginald McClam pursued charges, writing Corporal Cruz had created an “environment which compromised her professional reputation and ultimately the good order and discipline of the unit.” The litigation team for the Marine Corps notes that while these charges are not unusual, the command’s pursuit of court-martial as punishment is rare. Corporal Cruz’s admission of guilt to fraternization allowed her to avoid a trial, but lead to her demotion and may ultimately lead to an other-than-honorable discharge which would make her ineligible for most Veterans Affairs benefits and lead to employment difficulties in the civilian sector. –KG
Bottom line: The corporal violated the UCMJ and it is fully within the commander’s prerogative to punish her via the letter of the law and, to her credit, she accepts her punishment as appropriate. Of course, a lot of advocates and veterans are questioning how the book has been absolutely thrown at this young Marine where similar cases are almost never taken to this extreme involving less prominent service members. In fact, it’s almost completely unheard of to take a case of fraternization to court martial and frankly, nonsense, when the two accused are so close in rank. This isn’t a case of a commander or general officer sleeping with a private. This is an E5 and an E4 who later married. A case can be made that for women to succeed in the infantry they will have to be especially careful not to be entangled in sexual relationships with members of their unit, but by the same token the idea of one of the very first female infantry being court martialed for this sends a chilling message as well about their place in the branch. The bedrock of any judicial system is its fair application to all it oversees. It truly doesn’t seem that is the case here. –FPW

VA establishes new research center focused on caregivers
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
The VA has stood up a new research center focused on caregivers, a move hailed by advocates who had asked for more research and collaboration on the challenges faced by caregivers, the impact of caregiving on children, and more potential future policy areas. Because of Sen. Elizabeth Dole’s dedication to serving military and veteran caregivers and her foundation’s tireless efforts, the VA will name the center of excellence after her. –SM
Bottom line: As noted above, advocates had for some time been calling for a more “whole of government” focus in research on military and veteran caregivers. To date, the private sector had funded the majority of research through the RAND Corporation, research that has been vital to lawmakers’ understanding of the community and its needs. By standing up a research center of excellence, the hope is that best practices from across the care continuum can be consolidated under one roof and can lead to deeper insights and topics for further research (researchers live for more research, for obvious reasons.) It’s been amazing to see a real policy emphasis placed on military and veteran caregivers over the last few years in no small part due to the work of Sen. Dole and her foundation—so it truly is fitting that this research center bears her name. We’re very eager to digest future reports and see how the research continues to inform better support structures for caregivers. –LJ 

No shutdown at VA: Congress passes department’s budget on time
Leo Shane III (@LeoShane), Military Times
For only the second time in nine years, the fiscal year 2019 Veterans Affairs and Military Construction budgets were finalized ahead of the deadline. The plan contains a funding increase of more than six percent for VA, for a total of $209 billion, a quadrupling of the agency’s budget over the last 17 years. This article breaks down the full bill, which is expected to be signed into law by President Trump this week. –LB 
Bottom line: Given the volatile political environment, it’s not surprising that this is only the second time this budget has been passed on time in the last nine years. As Leo points out, the House vote of 377 to 20 came right after the Senate voted overwhelming to support the measure. Many of the outlined items had already been approved as an advanced appropriation earlier this year, no doubt making this passage much easier. Of interesting note, the compromise bill also inserted language prohibiting the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station, which had been a sticking point for the last administration. –CB

Client Hits:

Selection Might Be The Hardest Endurance Event On Earth
Adam Rozwadowski (@adam_roz), NowThis Sports
GORUCK Selection starts on Sept. 20 outside of Dayton, OH, and is considered to be perhaps the hardest endurance event on Earth. The event has only a two percent completion rate, and had just one finisher in 2017. It is both physically and mentally challenging, spanning 48 hours and covering more than 80 miles, both on land and in water. –LB 

Nonprofit Give an Hour Connects Veterans with Free Mental Health Care
Scout MacEachron (@ScoutMacEachron), NowThis News
Barbara Van Dahlen, founder of Give an Hour, saw the need for increased availability of mental health care for returning service members and sought to help. Thanks to Give an Hour and its Campaign to Change Direction, service members and veterans have free access to licensed mental health professionals. –AB

Killeen VFW post hosts forum on recognizing mental health problems
Angela Sims, Killeen Daily Herald
Give an Hour and the Campaign to Change direction recently partnered with Killeen’s VFW post to offer veterans a day-long forum centered around promoting the importance of both recognizing the five signs of emotional suffering and preventing them from spiraling into a mental health crisis. The signs include personality changes, uncharacteristic negativity, withdrawal/isolation, lack of self-care and hopelessness. –AB

Adams selected for Student Veterans of America Leadership Institute
Penn State News
Student Veterans of America (SVA) selected Chris Adams, a Marine Corps veteran and CEO of Penn State Berks SVA chapter, as one of the 100 chapter leaders to attend the 2018 SVA Leadership Institute, taking place Sept. 20-23 in Washington, D.C. The Leadership Institute gathers the nation’s most successful student veterans to be mentored by some of the nation’s top leaders, business minds and veterans’ advocates. –SM 

Give an Hour™ Expands Network to Offer Free Mental Health Services in Response to Hurricane Florence
Globe Newswire
In its ever-increasing effort to provide free mental health support wherever needed, Give an Hour announced last Friday that it is expanding its services to assist anyone affected by Hurricane Florence. Mental health professionals looking to donate their time may do so by joining Give an Hour’s network, and survivors of the hurricane can get the emotional support they need by visiting this link. –AB

Student vet enrollment spikes at Ivy League schools
Natalie Gross (@ByNatalieGross), Marine Corps Times
Ivy League universities have been making an effort toward recruiting and welcoming student veterans, and shifts like allowing transfer student admissions have resulted in successfully increasing enrollment of former service members. Post-9/11 GI Bill use is also increasing, and service members are finding themselves less intimidated by these prestigious universities while overcoming their fear of not fitting in, in pursuit of academic success. –AB

VHA harnessing employees’ ideas for Diffusion of Excellence
Nicole Ogrysko (@NOgryskoWFED), Federal News Radio
In a radio interview with Federal News Radio, Dr. Ryan Vega, director of VHA’s Diffusion of Excellence Initiative, talked about how the VHA’s Innovators Network and Diffusion programs have grown since their beginning a few years ago. VHA has worked with nearly 4,000 employees to spread 344 practices through the agency’s Diffusion of Excellence Initiative, saving nearly $23 million so far while improving care. –BW

Quick Hits:

Measure to let VA doctors recommend marijuana was again left out of budget bill
Nikki Wentling (@nikkiwentling), Stars and Stripes
Following more than a month of negotiations, lawmakers dropped an amendment from the VA funding agreement for fiscal year 2019 that would have allowed VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana in states where it is legal. Other efforts are being made to give veterans access to the drug, such as the Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act and the VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act. The Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act would allow VA doctors to recommend state marijuana programs to veterans, as well as give VA $15 million for research related to using the drug as a pain reliever and decreasing opioid addiction. The VA Medicinal Cannabis Research Act has bipartisan support and pushes VA to start research on the drug. In May, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs unanimously voted to bring the Act to the full House. –LB 

Former VA secretary David Shulkin, fired by President Trump, to join Sanford Health
Jeremy Fugleberg (@jayfug), Sioux Falls Argus Leader
Dr. David Shulkin, former secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, announced he will be joining Sanford Health as an administrator. –SM

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