ScoutReport – August 23, 2019
It has been a busy week in Washington, both for members of the ScoutComms team and for the news cycle. But we’ve managed to keep things moving forward while Brian wandered the mountains of Peru in search of his inner Inca. This week, a major study shows that storing guns safely under lock and key can greatly reduce the act of suicide when their owners are veterans in crisis. President Trump spoke at AMVETS’ national convention and brought some good news for disabled student veterans. And our client Vets4Warriors has a great op-ed in Military Times about the positive impact of peer support programs for veterans. We appreciate your loyal support and are incredibly excited to soon announce a major program from ScoutComms that all of you will be invited to participate in shortly. Exciting times ahead for our company and the veteran and military communities. – Fred
Study suggests confiscating personal weapons from suicidal service members
Despite plenty of lip service being paid in recent years to reducing veteran suicide, the rate of veterans and service members who die by suicide has remained stubbornly steady. A group of researchers think they know one of the reasons why. A new study found that “a third of surveyed service members kept their weapons unloaded and locked up in their homes, but if they’d ever had suicidal thoughts, they were much less likely to store them safely,” which means that those at the greater risk of using their guns for suicidal acts would have faster, easier access, reducing their ability to change their mind or have someone else intervene. Past research has shown that “the presence of a gun in a home increased the risk it will be used in a suicide sixfold” when the gun is not stored safely, which means being locked up and unloaded. This is not a new finding: we wrote last month about another study that came to similar conclusions for active duty Army soldiers. But the urgency to act seems even sharper now in the wake of recent mass shootings, as public sentiment continues to shift in the direction of pursuing both action and education to reduce both mass shootings and what our client Brady refers to as “family fire” incidents, which include suicide. Yet, instead of using the opportunity to propose actions—such as public education and red flag laws—that might reduce veteran suicides, this week we also learned that President Trump is pursuing an alternative solution that is unlikely to have a significant impact: urging the VA to buy large quantities of a relatively controversial drug to reduce veteran suicide. Trump has been fixated for months on the potential of Johnson & Johnson’s antidepressant Spravato, a ketamine-like drug that is believed to help address depression and suicidal thoughts. While there are proponents for using the drug in the VA and the veterans community, the VA has thus far been very cautious about encouraging the use of any ketamine-like products. Additionally, as we know from numerous studies, the clear majority of veterans who die by suicide are not receiving care from the VA, so any treatment changes within the VA system will only be a very partial solution. -Brian Wagner, President of ScoutComms
Trump Orders Student Loan Forgiveness for Disabled Veterans
President Trump came to the American Veterans (AMVETS) National Convention Wednesday armed with an executive order to grant student loan debt relief to fully disabled veterans. With Veterans Affairs Deputy Secretary Jim Byrne and Education Secretary Betsy Devos in tow the President announced executive action to provide loan forgiveness for approximately 25,000 eligible veterans nationwide. The details are still to be released but this has been a goal for several years of veteran service organizations and state attorneys general who were frustrated that complicated eligibility requirements left half of some 50,000 veterans unable to get relief in a previously approved program. Secretary Devos herself has been seen as a major obstacle to this effort being accomplished with concerns over taxes associated with paying off the debts. It appears that obstacle has been eliminated and 100% disabled veterans will have the opportunity to reduce their debt for higher education. This is a good thing and we should applaud the Administration for getting it done. Let’s see how the implementation goes too. -Fred Wellman, CEO & Founder of ScoutComms
VA hasn’t delivered on promise to rule on Agent Orange-linked diseases 5 months later
Veterans with illnesses linked to Agent Orange exposure, like hypertension and bladder cancer, have yet to receive a decision from the Department of Veterans Affairs on whether they will receive disability benefits. Veterans Health Administration acting head Dr. Richard Stone shared his hope that a decision would be made “within 90 days” five months ago. If the VA decides to include these additional illnesses on the list of those presumed to be caused by Agent Orange, it could cost billions more in benefits.
With Kander at the helm, KC veterans community now a stop on 2020 presidential trail
Jason Kander, former Missouri Secretary of State and Kansas City mayor hopeful before dropping out of the race to receive posttraumatic stress disorder treatment, now helps lead the Veterans Community Project. The project provides rent-free housing and assistance in transitioning homeless veterans into permanent housing and jobs. In Kander’s one month of leadership, three Democratic presidential hopefuls have visited – South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeg, U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton and former congressman from Texas Beto O’Rourke – with more candidates expected. “The reason we have interest from folks all over the country, including those running for president, is what we are doing here is really spectacular and a model for the rest of the country,” said Kander after O’Rourke’s recent tour.
Thousands of veterans fear “burn pits” exposed them to lethal disease
A report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction said, “It is indefensible that U.S. military personnel, who are already at risk of serious injury and death when fighting the enemy, were put at further risk from the potentially harmful emissions from the use of open-air burn pits.” A voluntary burn pit registry has been created by the Veterans Administration for those exposed. Of the roughly 180,000 people who signed up, 12,000 claims have been filed regarding burn pits and only 2,500 have been accepted. Congressman Raul Ruiz has expressed his mounting concern, saying, ”We cannot let burn pit exposure veterans be the ‘Vietnam veterans exposed to Agent Orange’ of our generation. We can’t do that.”
Military parents’ injuries are affecting their children’s well-being. Here’s how.
Recent studies show that a military parent’s injury can cause an adverse impact on their children’s well-being. The research shows that in the two years following the parent’s injury, children experience spikes in medical treatment caused by injuries, mental health care and maltreatment. Karen Ruedisueli, deputy government relations director of the National Military Families Association, said that this data is a “call to action to get everybody mobilized to address this issue.”
‘Sesame Street” Program for Military Families and Caregivers
Through a joint effort between USAA and Sesame Workshop, Sesame Street has launched a new initiative for military families and caregivers. The Sesame Street for Military Families: Caregiving program provides videos, activities and articles aimed at helping children understand “why their parent may look or act differently than ‘before’; how to safely express complicated or confusing feelings; how their parent’s illness or injury can change over time; and how to describe their family’s new situation to themselves and others.”
Veteran peer-support helps prevent crises
Peer-support is an “up-stream tactic” in the fight against veteran suicide, providing the opportunity to connect with veterans before they reach the point of a crisis. Connecting with a peer gives veterans an immediate sense of trust and someone to talk to at any point in their journey – from trouble with finances to feelings of loneliness. Vets4Warriors is a 24/7 peer-support network that serves the veteran and military communities by connecting them with peers who understand where they have been. You can connect with a Vets4Warriors peer by calling 1-855-838-8255 or visiting www.Vets4Warriors.com.