ScoutReport – February 14, 2020
Got to say…it wasn’t really too crazy of a week in Washington. I wasn’t anywhere near it, so that helped. Having said that, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to face turmoil after the still unexplained dismissal of DepSec Jim Byrne last week and now the delay of the fielding of the first Electronic Health Records site. Our friends at the Dole Foundation keep finding new ways to help caregivers and there are a bunch of stories on health care for service members, veterans and their families. Check out the whole newsletter this week…share it with your friends and keep up the fight! Oh…Happy Valentine’s Day! (meh) – Fred
New VA effort wants a veteran’s caregiver to be part of the treatment process
Stars and Stripes, Steve Beynon (@StevenBeynon)
We’ve had the privilege to support the Elizabeth Dole Foundation since assisting in their launch in 2012. Senator Dole keeps finding new ways to support the millions of caregivers who take care of our veterans at home. A new initiative called the Campaign for Inclusive Care, backed by the Department of Veterans Affairs, kicked off last week and would allow caregivers to play a bigger role in veterans’ treatments at select VA centers nationwide. The program, “[includes] the caregiver as a true partner” during the “entire care process, including treatment planning with doctors.” A 2009 National Alliance for Caregiving and American Association study reportedly found that a quarter of caregivers experience “difficulty coordinating care with health care providers,” a statistic that the VA hopes to lower with full integration of the program into every VA health center. Lisa Pape, deputy chief officer for patient care services at the VA, said, “We know the veteran in our clinics but we don’t know what’s happening the other 23 hours of the day.…[caregivers] can fill in the pieces and paint the picture that we’re not able to see.” The fact is that for too long one of the most important advocates and experts on a disabled veterans care has been left out of the process and not even allowed in the room for treatments in many cases. The Campaign aims to integrate the important role caregivers play into the care team for ill, wounded and disabled veterans. We are happy to see this important effort get off the ground and look forward to its expansion. Our ScoutInsight team did a great brief on caregiving not long ago and you can check it out here. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms
VA must do more to meet the needs of minority veterans, lawmakers and advocates say
ConnectingVets.com, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)
Racism and practices of segregation have left a lasting stain on the U.S. military. Minority service members are still facing an uphill battle in the ranks, as recent reports and congressional testimony reveal alarming rates of white supremacy taking place in the military, along with continued challenges in addressing gendered discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual assault. Although the VA has taken many steps to make sure that the delivery of health services is “more equitable,” as reported in this story, experts state that minority veterans still face a lag in health outcomes when compared to white veterans. In part, this is due to data collection challenges which the VA is addressing through different data collection measures that will hopefully, over time, fill in existing data gaps. The biggest barrier for VA in supporting minority veterans is “trust” for the institution. Those who stay informed about news surrounding our military-connected community are likely aware of a recent chain of events surrounding a claim of sexual assault that happened at the VA in D.C. involving congressional staffer and Navy veteran Andrea Goldstein. Current VA Secretary Robert Wilkie made a bold statement calling Ms. Goldstein’s allegations, “unsubstantiated.” In a powerful rebuttal, Goldstein shot back with a personal account of how damaging it is to “be called a liar” by a fellow Navy veteran. The story continues to escalate as new reports are uncovering evidence that Wilkie did much more than express his opinion through a poor choice of words. Further investigation is looking into Wilkie’s reported actions to discredit Goldstein by pursuing his own investigation into the House Veterans’ Committee staffer’s military history. It is widespread knowledge that apathy among organizational senior leadership about sexual harassment and assault allows toxic attitudes and behaviors to fester. If VA leadership wants the entire institution to move toward the adoption of truly equitable practices that serve ALL veterans and build the “trust” that research shows is clearly lacking among minority service members when it comes to their perception of the VA, then institutional leadership needs to abandon partisan politicking for unquestionable practices of zero tolerance. This includes disciplinary action against those in powerful positions who retaliate against victims who bravely come forward and report what has happened to them. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms
Veteran groups to Trump: Make VA ‘immediately’ provide benefits for additional Agent Orange-linked diseases
Stars and Stripes, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)
Veterans service groups are pushing for immediate action on providing benefits for diseases linked to Agent Orange, which has killed thousands of veterans. The Department of Veterans Affairs has delayed action on this issue multiple times, which is causing VSOs to call on President Trump, asking him to end the wait on this issue, as people are continuing to suffer and die due to Agent Orange. VSOs wrote a letter to the President on Monday, voicing their concerns and their pleas. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has delayed action multiple times because he and other VA leaders disagreed with scientists’ findings on the linkage of Agent Orange with these deadly diseases. Wilkie stated that he plans to wait until there are at least two more VA studies before making any decisions regarding this issue, which pushes action back until late 2020 at the earliest. VSOs stated that waiting for these two tests will not change the scientific results, and that the VA has been providing misleading information, rather than relying on the scientific data that showcases the danger that Agent Orange emanates.
More than 3 dozen military hospitals to stop treating retirees, families, memo shows
Military.com, Amy Bushatz (@amybushatz)
According to a recent 12-page memo, more than 3 dozen military hospitals will stop treating military retirees and families. In addition to treatment, many pharmacies will also stop providing to retirees and military families. All of these changes are due to an order made by Congress in 2016, where military treatment facilities (MTFs) are now obligated to focus more on active duty troops, supporting those who are currently serving. Originally, MTFs were to continue their support and care for families and retirees, however, with the amount of focus that needs to be given to those actively serving, many facilities are limiting their care. Though the care being provided is now limited for many individuals, users will not be cut from the MTF until they have a civilian provider from their community. The Department wants to make clear that, while they have had a shift in focus, their obligation to the military community has not changed.
The 1971 Sylmar quake is keeping veterans homeless in L.A. in 2020. That may change soon
Los Angeles Times, Sonja Sharp (@sic_sonja)
Plans are underway to repurpose vacant buildings in Los Angeles into permanent housing for the nearly 4,000 homeless veterans in the city. The West L.A. Veterans Collective aims to address the city’s “veteran housing crisis” that started after the 1971 Sylmar earthquake destroyed designated veteran housing; after VA officials evicted almost 1,500 residents of the Sylmar VA’s West L.A. Campus, veterans became “L.A.’s largest homeless demographic.” In 2011 homeless veterans sued the VA over “mismanagement of the land” which sparked plans to create permanent housing for veterans on the campus. Now, “experts [are] cautiously optimistic” that the plans could provide real solutions to the housing crisis. Kathryn Monet, chief executive officer of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, said, “Affordable housing is a huge deal and there’s not a lot of it, particularly for veterans. We’re pleased to see that the VA is starting to prioritize that.” For more information on veteran homelessness, check out ScoutInsight’s compilation of background statistics hereand an analysis of the issue here.
VA Secretary Looked for Dirt on a House Staffer Who Reported Sexual Assault in a VA Hospital, Complaint Says
ProPublica, Isaac Arnsdorf (@iarnsdorf)
In September, Andrea Goldstein, Navy reserve intelligence officer and a senior policy adviser for the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee’s Women Veterans Task Force, reported she was sexually assaulted at the VA medical center in Washington. Following this report, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie was said to have sought damaging information about Goldstein, according to an anonymous complaint to the House committee Goldstein works for. The complaint states that Wilkie repeatedly shared information he had gathered about Goldstein with his senior staff and others for multiple months. In response to these allegations, spokeswoman Jenni Geurink said, “We have been contacted about possible actions taken within VA which may have utilized government time and resources to attempt to tarnish a member of our staff’s character, discredit her and spread false information about her past in retaliation for her reporting of a sexual assault at VA,” and that “This ordeal has been draining and unfair to Ms. Goldstein.” Regarding Wilkie, Goldstein wrote, “He used coded language, but the words still stung. The Secretary of the second largest federal agency knew how his words would resonate. He was implying that a fellow Navy veteran was a liar. He was implying that I was a liar.”
Judge orders U.S. to end visa delays for Afghans, Iraqis who worked for U.S. forces
The Washington Post, Spencer S. Hsu (@hsu_spencer)
U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of Washington, D.C. recently granted class-action status to all applicants whose visa requests have been pending for more than nine months, thus ordering the Trump administration to end visa processing delays for thousands of Afghan and Iraqi nationals who worked for U.S. forces since 2001-2003. This act gives the government 30 days to propose a plan to end backlogs that have prevented many from entering the U.S. for more than four years while facing persecution and death threats. The lawsuit was brought by five anonymous Afghan or Iraqi citizens represented by the International Refugee Assistance Project, revealing that nearly all applicants for Special Immigrant Visas face what Chutkan called “life-threatening delays.” Attorney Rebecca Curwin with the law firm that joined the refugee assistance project as class counsel said, “This decision is an essential step toward keeping our promises to the thousands of Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives for the United States.”
VA delays launch of $16 billion electronic health record system
ConnectingVets, Abbie Bennett (@AbbieRBennett)
The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced a delay of the $16 billion dollar electronic health record (EHR) overhaul, which is intended to handle universal health records from the moment a person enters the Armed Services, allowing them to have a single EHR that follows them their entire lives, even as they transition out of service. This is not the first time the VA has had to push back the start day of the proposed ten-year timeline and in the absence of a new start date, lawmakers are making it clear they expect transparency as the system develops further.
Inspiring military family reunions actually hurt our soldiers
The Washington Post, David Kieran (@DavidKieran2)
Recent research on the impact of military deployments shows that “the reality-TV-style reunion” between soldiers and their families perpetuates “feel-good media coverage” that obscures how “psychologically trying” deployments are for military families. Efforts to study soldier readjustment has been hailed as a “significant step forward for the military,” with studies finding that when “soldiers began to return to the mundane activities of everyday life…some began to experience symptoms” of mental health issues that weren’t visible when they were screened immediately after returning home. While the Department of Defense has rolled out initiatives like the Battlemind program designed to help soldiers readjust to life after deployment, the way that social media coverage decides that “soldiers are happily reunited with their loved ones and that the moment of danger has passed…[shields us] from the long-term effects of a nation’s embrace of perpetual war and…the challenges it might produce for those who endure it.”
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. Visit VeteransResearchNetwork.com to learn more and share with your eligible friends and family!
The material in this issue of the ScoutReport may contain difficult discussions about mental health and suicide. If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of harming themselves or someone else, please contact:
Veterans Crisis Line:1‑800‑273‑8255 x1
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
National Domestic Violence Hotline:1-800-799-7233
If you or someone you know is struggling with challenges in life and need a fellow veteran or military community member to talk to, we recommend our client Vets4Warriors – a free, 24/7 peer-to-peer support network: