ScoutReport – October 31, 2019
Maybe it’s just me, but you know…it really felt like a crazy week in Washington, but mostly because of the World Series and not whatever else is going on. The Nationals brought home the title and the other stuff seems to be infecting even the once bipartisan veterans affairs committees on the Hill. There is no escaping the tumult anymore. For veterans and service members there has been some interesting developments including a fascinating data journalism report from McClatchy on increased cancers and Wounded Warrior Project’s annual survey has hopeful signs for injured veterans, but now the challenges of long term health and aging are starting to show. If you missed it you should really check out this month’s ScoutInsight Spotlight by Dr. Kiersten Downs, with great work from intern Céilí Peake on toxic exposures. We are going to keep asking you to sign up for the Veterans Research Network and share with your friends and colleagues! Hope you had a fun, and dry, Halloween last night! – Fred
Exclusive: Veterans Want Answers As New Data Shows Rise In Cancers Over Two Decades of War
Tara Copp and her colleagues at McClatchy’s data journalism team took a deep dive into cancer rates for veterans based on billing records for the Department of Veterans Affairs and found a significant upswing in a number of cancers among veterans since 2000. There were noticeable spikes in urinary, prostate, liver and blood cancers during the last nearly two decades of war. They found that the rate of cancer treatments for veterans at VA health care centers increased 61% for urinary cancers, which include bladder, kidney and ureter cancers, in that time. The rate of blood cancer treatments — lymphoma, myeloma and leukemia — rose 18% in the same period. Liver and pancreatic cancer treatment rates increased 96% and prostate cancer treatment rates increased 23%. VA disagreed with their methodology and instead offered a count of its internal cancer registry as a more accurate assessment that still showed some significant increases over time. In the end, this reporting adds more fuel to the fire that toxic exposures are causing increasing illnesses among veterans as laid out in our latest ScoutInsight report this week. Unusual cancers are striking more and more veterans at ages that would not have been expected normally. In addition, McClatchy’s team documented unusual clusters of illness like four Naval Aviation commanders who all died of cancer at the China Lake weapons testing facility in California. I know of at least three of my former bosses in Iraq who have all been afflicted with prostate cancer and at least one colleague with leukemia while all in their mid-fifties. There is some hidden good news as both VA and McClatchy see that the cancer spike seems to have topped out in 2009 or 2010 and some cancers have actually fallen in that period as “brain cancer fell 33%, testicular cancers fell 22% and respiratory cancers fell 13%.” What all of this points to is a lot of open questions, especially as you consider that VA doesn’t treat all veterans. They currently have some 6 million enrolled for healthcare out of the over 18 million living veterans so gathering a full count of the increases is hard to find. Anecdotally we are hearing more stories like the ones from my personal circle and over at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) that has stated previously that illness is soon becoming the number one cause of death for family members of the fallen that they assist. More research is clearly needed and that research could lead to millions of more veterans being eligible for service connected health care through the VA and the costs that go with that increase. There are no easy answers, but there is hope among many that the VA is truly in the fight now. As one of the interviewees stated, “I want to live. I trust the VA to help me live.” Let’s hope more veterans get the help they need. -Fred Wellman, Founder and CEO of ScoutComms
Quality of Life is Improving For Many Injured Veterans, But Health Issues Are on The Rise as They Age, Survey Says
Wounded Warrior Project released survey results from their membership poll with responses from 36,000 wounded veterans, of which nearly two thirds are living with a VA disability rating of 80 percent or more. Quality of life measures commonly include those of unemployment and financial wellbeing, which, according to the article, saw positive movement from the previous year. However, results for quality of life with regards to physical and mental health are grim, as challenges discussed ranged from increases in inactivity, poor nutritional practices, obesity, problems with everyday tasks like climbing stairs, leisurely activities and housework. These challenges are compounded by co-morbid conditions like mental health diagnoses and substance abuse. The article ends with a telling quote about the importance of increasing access to wellness programs that can complement disabled veterans medical care. The importance of supporting whole health initiatives must take center stage. A tweet came across my feed yesterday morning that cited a stat from a presentation at the VA HSR&D 2019 research conference taking place this week. It said that over 50% of veterans used CIH services this past year alone, which is more than the general population. In addition, veterans are interested in learning more about CIH. One of my favorite VA programs is the Whole Health initiative. The programming is gaining ground, but many veterans and families still don’t know that it even exists due to ineffective marketing and slow implementation. I see Whole Health and CIH as vital components to the future of VA as these programs take a holistic approach to care going beyond traditional medicalized treatment plans. Pairing veterans with these programs is challenging as many barriers exist to participation in VA and community services. I think part of the solution of connecting veterans and families with valuable services at little to no cost to them, outside of personal effort and commitment, can be found in successful models of community resource facilitation like that being researched and piloted by Dr. Christina Dillahunt and her team in Tampa. Better connecting veterans and families with the resources they need for increased health and wellbeing might help flip the stats released by WWP. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms
Indefinite Enlistment Takes Effect Nov. 18
After a leaked memo, officials confirmed that the Air Force will move to a new “indefinite enlistment” system that will take effect on Nov. 18. In this new system, airmen with at least 12 years of service will “automatically have their enlistments extended to their rank’s high year of tenure mark,” with the option to retire when eligible or separate before. Air Force personnel chief Lt. Gen. Brian Kelly said of the change, “Career airmen are consummate professionals who have demonstrated their commitment to service. They play a crucial role in developing the next generation of airmen. With this adjustment, we’re providing them the associated flexibility to make individualized career decisions.”
Some Guard Troops Deployed To US-Mexico Border Aren’t Earning Federal Benefits
Despite following security homeland commands given by President Donald Trump, some national guard troops that are deployed to the U.S.-Mexico border are not receiving their rightful GI Bill benefits. Representatives sent a letter addressed to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, expressing their concern over these individuals not being compensated with GI Bill benefits. This topic of interest was brought up during last week’s House Committee on Veterans Affairs official hearing, during which it was revealed that the Defense Department is currently reviewing the criteria for benefits for the Guard troops deployed to the southern border. It is difficult for Guard troops to track their benefits, and many of them are not aware of them until after they have already applied. Last Friday, Tennessee Representative David Roe released a statement stating that there is no question that Guard troops should be receiving their rightful benefits, and called for action.
‘Unprecedented’: Republicans Storm Out of Veterans Affairs Hearing During Vote on Women Vets Bill
During a historic vote on women veterans’ care bill on Tuesday, October 29, Republican members stormed out of the hearing. The House Veterans Affairs Committee minority members accused the Democrat majority of silencing the amendments that Republicans were offering, and as a result, shutting down the debate and conversation that could have been had about the Deborah Sampson Act. Feeling that the behavior was inappropriate, Republicans stood and left the hearing. Democrat California Representative Mark Takano stated that “House Republicans just walked out on women veterans by refusing to vote.” Takano also accused Republicans of offering partisan amendments which did not address how women receive health care, stating that they were trying to “hijack the bipartisan bill.” Takano stated that he wants to hold a round table and get the bill passed by December.
VA Office Charged With Protecting Whistleblowers Hurts Them Instead, Investigators Say
A recent report from the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs criticized the department’s whistleblower-protection office as “floundering in its mission” and “alienating to those it was meant to protect.” The report is expected to “raise questions about how seriously VA officials investigate reports of misconduct” given that the office has allegedly failed to properly train staff and conduct “procedurally sound” investigations. VA officials point out recent improvements in department responses to whistleblower complaints, and blame the Obama administration for institutional barriers to holding senior department officials accountable. The report’s recommendations for improvements were backed by the VA and are expected to be implemented before the end of the year.
Why The Military Should Treat Mental Health the Same as Physical Health
The distrust that service members have regarding mental health services is reflected in the Department of Defense Suicide Prevention 2017 annual report that states there were 1,397 non-fatal suicide attempts by active-duty service members, over half of which had seen a health care professional within the previous 90 days. There is ambiguity around the Department of Defense reasoning for mental health treatment to be reported to the chain of command such as “harm to mission,” which may force commanders to make career changing decisions based on limited information provided by the mental health provider. In order to break the stigma surrounding mental health treatment and regain trust, there is a growing need to treat mental health with the “no questions asked” attitude that physical health is treated. “Until a policy and trust are established that allows service members to treat their mental health with the same dignity that physical health is treated, lives will continue to be lost.”
Press Release: VA Secretary Recognizes Winner and Finalists of the Under Secretary for Health Robert L. Jesse Award for Excellence in Innovation
At last week’s Innovation Experience, powered by the Veterans Health Administration’s Innovation Ecosystem, the inaugural Under Secretary for Health Robert L. Jesse Award for Excellence in Innovation was presented by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to Dr. Thomas Osborne, director of the VA National Center for Collaborative Healthcare Innovation and the Chief Medical Informatics Officer at VA Palo Alto Health Care System. There were two award finalists, Dr. Beth Ripley, a senior innovation fellow and radiologist from VA Puget Sound Health Care System, and Kathleen Frisbee, executive director of Connected Health under VHA’s Office of Connected Care.
Got extra Halloween candy? Send it to veterans and troops overseas
Soldiers’ Angels’ Treats for Troops program will happily take those extra treats this Halloween. “Service members love the candy when they’re deployed, they don’t often get access to the candy, and it’s not available usually in the stores they have access to overseas,” explains Amy Palmer, the CEO of Soldiers’ Angels. “So when they’re going out in the field, just to take a pocketful of it, is really appreciated.” Check out where you can donate your candy at soldiersangels.org.
ScoutInsight Spotlight: Toxic Exposure and Military Service – What We Need to Know
This month’s Spotlight piece was inspired by a recent ScoutInsight poll for Warrior Centric Health that examined veterans’ experiences with private sector medical care, and highlighted intersections between military service and health issues. The article examines service members’ exposure to toxic contaminants–including Agent Orange, burn pit debris and contaminated drinking water–and why efforts to mitigate the effects of toxic exposure have failed. A resource list for more information on toxic exposure and military-connected populations is also included.
The Veterans Research Network
ScoutInsight, the market research division of ScoutComms, is building a unique online research community of veterans, service members, military family members and caregivers. Through the Veterans Research Network, you will be able to share your opinions and knowledge with decision-makers running the organizations that impact your lives. We would be honored if you would register to be part of this standing panel for future surveys, polls and focus groups on issues that matter and help shape impactful programs for our community. It’s secure and we will never share your personal data with anyone. Learn more here at VeteransResearchNetwork.com and share it with your eligible friends and family!