ScoutReport – October 25, 2019
We won’t be storming any SCIF’s this week but we did spend some time brainstorming with a slew of really innovative VHA employees and celebrating ‘Heroes and History Makers’ with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, which was much more fun and less illegal. The GAO released a troubling report about the challenges young service members have with financial literacy to make lifetime decisions and a new book from former VA Secretary Shulkin says budget officials stymied efforts to expand Agent Orange connected illnesses after VA recommendations. Alex Horton at the Washington Post caught my somewhat viral tweet about my concerns of the safety of the Iraqi Kurds that had led to them finding me online and wrote a great story about the anguish felt by many in the volatile region. Check it all out, tell your friends and if you haven’t registered for the Veterans Research Network yet we need your help, so register today if you are a veteran, service member, family or caregiver. -Fred
GAO: Some Troops Struggle With Financial Literacy When it Comes to Retirement Benefits
The Government Accountability Office has released a study they conducted at the behest of Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Dick Durbin, D-Ill., that found that in spite of the Department of Defense’s best efforts to inform troops of their financial benefits, it is still falling on deaf ears. Interestingly, there seems to be plenty of efforts to inform service members on the new Blended Retirement System, but service members across the military aren’t being assessed on their financial literacy to process that information and put it to use. It appears that one of the greatest hurdles is that a young person of 18 or so just doesn’t have the financial experience or understanding to process making decisions that will dictate their lifetime earnings upon first entering the military. Because of this they are simply clicking through the mandatory training and making decisions on short term issues. Multiple studies have shown that financial issues are the top stressor for service members and their families even ranking above mental health. The bureaucratic hurdles of the military system aren’t helping either. It appears that when a service member signs up for the Thrift Savings Plan their password has to be physically mailed to them instead of electronically, meaning they get lost in the junk mail or the tumult of constant moves with no permanent addresses. Our long time client the USAA Educational Foundation has dedicated themselves to helping service members understand their financial choices and has partnered with a number of nonprofit and government partners to get their programs to service members, but the battle is an uphill one. A young service member, like any 18-year-old, is often more interested in his next XBox upgrade and a new car next month than what his finances will look like when he is 65. -Fred Wellman, CEO & Founder of ScoutComms
White House Responsible for Delayed Decision on New Agent Orange Diseases, Documents Show
Drawing a lot of press over the past week due to the release of his new book is former Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Dr. David Shulkin. Dr. Shulkin served under President Obama and was later confirmed unanimously to serve as a member of President Trump’s cabinet. Amid a slew of VA scandals, Trump quickly dismissed Shulkin via one of his infamous tweets, because, as stated by Trump, Shulkin didn’t agree with the White House’s efforts to expand care for veterans in the private sector. Yet, while Washington continued to play its game of power politics, veterans subjected to the vile contaminate of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War were suffering from debilitating illnesses en mass, including but not limited to bladder cancer, Parkinson’s-like symptoms and hypothyroidism, the three presumptive diseases addressed in the article. Shulkin was a proponent of including these illnesses in a growing list of diseases eligible for Agent Orange service connected benefits, but faced intense scrutiny from White House officials derailing the approval effort on claims that there is not enough supporting evidence linking these illnesses to the toxin. I understand the argument of needing supporting scientific evidence to link exposures to certain illnesses. The challenge is that epidemiologically, exposures can be difficult to prove, especially when a population, such as military veterans, are exposed to so much in the span of their military careers. What is striking to me is that VA officials are still waiting to make decisions on the inclusion of these illnesses, blaming the wait on the release of internal VA study results, which I know from my personal experiences in dealing with academic research institutions including VA, can be an extensive and drawn out process filled with all kinds of bureaucratic hangups. However, according to the article, Shulkin said VA provided OMB with more than 40 scientific studies, peer-reviewed studies and other documents supporting his regulatory proposal for approval of the illnesses. Why are these viable studies being discounted as evidence by VA decision makers? It isn’t necessary to only rely on internal studies and evidence when existing criteria already exists. The fate of sick veterans continues to take a backseat to a dysfunctional political system and while those in power quibble, people who should be eligible for Agent Orange benefits become more economically disenfranchised, aggravated and ill. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms
What the Army is Doing to Fix Housing Problems and Set up Tenant Bill of Rights
The Department of Defense’s privatized housing program has been under heavy scrutiny recently after military families have complained of health risks in their housing units and “limited responses” to their complaints, with independent surveys showing “a drop in overall satisfaction” with the housing program. Army Secretary Ryan D. McCarthy sat down with Army Times to discuss these military housing issues. Secretary McCarthy acknowledged that in 2014 the Army “[took] the chain of command out of the process” and attempted to “outsource,” or privatize, the housing program, but is currently taking steps to address these issues as well as create resources for long-term program success. He noted that the “Tenant Bill of Rights,” as well as a “dispute resolution process,” are scheduled for completion this fall in order to protect military families and “drive towards appropriate behaviors” on the part of housing program partners.
New DoD ‘Road Show’ to Address Issues of Spouse Employment
U.S. Department of Defense officials will be going on the road with the intent of meeting military families, listening to their concerns and providing resources to help them through their struggles, specifically with military spouse employment. Defense officials will be working to identify installations to visit that are in need of support from organizations that have pledged to “recruit, hire and retain military spouses.” After the meetings, officials will be bringing back the concerns of the families to leadership in order to make the needed improvements. This traveling intends to show how grateful officials are for everything that military spouses do, both in taking care of the household and the family while their loved one is deployed, as well as the contributions that they make to the military community as a whole.
VA Watchdog Calls Mishandling of Veterans’ Personal Info a ‘National Issue’
According to the latest report by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General, veterans’ personal information was left unprotected on two servers, raising concerns about potential exposure to fraud and identity theft. In the report, staff stated that sensitive medical information found on these files “dated back as far as 2016 and were available to any network users with permission to access the drives, regardless of their business need to do so.” Moving forward, the OIG recommends training on safely handling and storing information, as well as developing procedures to keep sensitive information from being stored on shared network drives.
Michelle Obama Honored With Namesake Award by Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Dole Foundation
Thanks to our longtime friends and client Prudential, our CEO Fred Wellman attended the 2nd Annual Heroes and History Makers gala for our client the Elizabeth Dole Foundation, where former First Lady Michelle Obama was awarded the Tom Hanks Award for Service…by Tom Hanks himself. The gala was held at the beautiful Anthem on the DC Wharf with almost a thousand attendees, including dozens of military caregivers and ScoutComms clients sponsoring it, including USAA, Prudential and our partners at Atlas Research.
There’s Way More to the VA 3D Printing Project Than Just Prosthesis
The Veterans Health Administration’s Innovation Ecosystem showcased a wide array of new programs and initiatives at this year’s Innovation Experience. Exhibits like the Stratasys F370 printer are a prime example of how VHA leads the charge in improving veteran care. Dr. Beth Ripley, a VHA senior innovation fellow at the VA Puget Sound Health Care System describes the integral role 3D printing plays in their work, “Really the greatest need we see in the veteran community is to get our patients back to doing the things they love and feeling whole. One big problem we’ve seen is spinal cord injuries, paralysis, loss of limb — all of these things make it much harder to interact in a daily environment. So a lot of our 3D printing technologies have to do with understanding that patient and what they love to do.”
A Veteran Feared for His Kurdish Friends in a Viral Tweet; Then He Began to Hear From Them
After ScoutComms CEO and Founder Fred Wellman wrote a tweet featuring the faces of Kurdish youth in 2003 in reaction to recent news of the President removing U.S. troops from northern Syria, individuals from his past began to reach out. Among those was Bashar Karim, a Mosul University law graduate who was deputized as an interpreter for U.S. troops following the invasion in 2003. Karim worked to connect the U.S. troops and local workers to get water to the Kurdish villagers who were in the line of fire. After 16 years the two had lost touch, but the popularity of Wellman’s tweet helped to reconnect them, as well as some of the now-adults in the photo. Wellman has been vocal about the recent decisions and his concerns for the safety of our Kurdish partners, saying, “To be so flippant, about lives we’re protecting, it’s appalling to me.” Karim also acts as a fierce advocate, protesting with Kurds at the Nebraska state capitol asking “the U.S. representatives to do anything in their power to intervene and maybe revise this decision, or do something about this to stop this decision.”