ScoutReport – May 1, 2020
Well, it’s been a long month in New York. I continue to help with the administration of NewYork-Presybterian Ryan F. Larkin Field Hospital at Columbia University’s Baker Field. I am working with a staff made up of mostly special operations veterans, serving recovering COVID-19 patients. To say it’s been inspiring and humbling would be quite a bit of an understatement — both from my experience here and with the team at ScoutComms who have taken my additional work in stride and continued to move our mission and clients’ efforts forward. I am proud to be part of both organizations and appreciate our wonderful clients who have reached out to offer their support for this mission. Meanwhile, the issues surrounding our military and veterans continue with examinations of the myths surrounding the motivations of those who serve and a deep dive look at how the Marine’s continue to struggle with separating men and women in the training of new recruits. Keep safe out there, and as much as I’d love to see you in New York, let’s not meet here for a while! – Fred
Studies tackle who joins the military and why, but their findings aren’t what many assume
Over the long years of the Global War on Terror there have been a number of studies discussing the motivations of those who join the service, as well as examinations of the so-called ‘civil-military divide’ and the myths surrounding service. This latest set is actually new and interesting in that they didn’t just look at the larger populations attitudes towards service, but the motivations of actual service members, their families’ perspectives and attitudes on the political spectrum. In a nutshell, they found pretty much everyone is getting it wrong – for the most part, largely due to the filters of their own beliefs missing the mark of what drives one to put on the uniform and serve. Meghann catches us up on a couple of recent reports that found conservatives and service members’ families think patriotism and selfless service drives joining the military. Liberal-leaning Americans believe it’s mostly socio-economic opportunity drawing from the underprivileged of the nation. Reports have found that the reasoning is somewhere in the middle, with most joining for the opportunities — including education benefits and pay — while also drawing from families of those that have already served in an increasingly ‘family business.’ While other studies have shown these results, the myths around service continue to persist, but the truths remain the same. A shrinking minority of Americans actually serve in uniform and they are coming increasingly from the same families. This is why we often say in this newsletter that family issues for today’s service members, like healthcare, housing and shrinking benefits, aren’t just bad for those in uniform. These issues will become increasingly impactful to future recruiting, as the pool that is providing the majority of new recruits shrinks with memories of poor treatment at the hands of the services. These studies should be clarion calls for those who seek to understand the military and also for those who currently lead them as warnings of future challenges. In the end, we are fortunate to continue finding brave young Americans willing to step in the uniform of our nation. – Fred Wellman, CEO and Founder of ScoutComms
VA hiring skyrockets during pandemic as 2,000 staffers test positive for COVID-19
Staffing shortages and an inability to efficiently and effectively fill tens of thousands of vacant positions have plagued the Department of Veterans Affairs for a very long time. You don’t have to look very deep to uncover stories of VA’s ill-functioning HR system. However, in reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, VA has seen a welcome jump in hiring over the past month. This article reports that from March 29 to April 11, the Department hired 3,183 new staff members, calling this a “surge” that will continue in the coming weeks. The push came as more than 2,000 VHA employees tested positive for COVID-19, and at least 20 have died. Having spent significant time with my partner over the past several years while he has been an inpatient in various VA spinal cord injury units across the country, we have become intimately aware of how frontline nursing shortages negatively impact units and the patients they serve. I’m happy to hear about the necessary surge in hiring, but I can’t help but feel an heir of frustration while writing this piece. Again, this is another instance where it took a full-blown global crisis to force the powers inside the institution into “GO” mode. The policy changes, signature waivers, tech upgrades, etc. that have taken place to make this hiring surge a reality need to continue post-crisis, whenever that may be. Increased numbers of essential employees means that VHA can continue to provide patients with the high-quality medical care they deserve. We cannot let this quality of care be derailed any longer by staffing shortages driven by what appears to now be a solvable problem. As mentioned in last week’s ScoutReport, the U.S. military transitions thousands of service members a year, from various healthcare-related fields, who are unable to put their valuable skills to practice in the civilian sector due to a lack of skills translation and a lack of a validated civilian credential. There is a lot of room here for VHA to benefit if we can figure out effective pathways to move these folks swiftly from the military into healthcare-related careers with VHA. – Kiersten Downs, PhD, Research Director at ScoutComms
VA Didn’t Publicly Acknowledge Shortages, Top Officials Say
Recent comments by top VA officials indicate that the department was “slow to publicly disclose the extent of mask shortages” it faced as it was inundated with an “onslaught” of COVID-19 cases. While Secretary Robert Wilkie assured the public and its employees that the department “faced no problems and wasn’t rationing equipment”–though the department reportedly “issued guidance to hospitals to conserve equipment”–the VA’s supply chain was “upended” at the end of March. This forced the nation’s largest healthcare system to compete for essential medical gear on the open market, which Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) characterized as “the Wild West.” Dr. Richard Stone, the head of the VA’s healthcare system, said of the department’s efforts to secure resources, “it’s sort of like McDonald’s showing up at your local Costco. I’m not sure that the nation realizes how big we are and how much we really consume.” While Dr. Stone reportedly directed VA employees to swap out used masks, an internal VA memo “told some employees that they won’t get masks and that front-line COVID-19 workers will get one a day” and VA doctors are reporting dangerously long wait times to swap out used personal protective equipment. Members of both chambers of Congress have sent letters to the VA requesting information on PPE shortages, as well as discrepancies between the department’s internal and public messaging.
Navy Recommends Reinstatement of USS Roosevelt Commander; Defense Chief Won’t Sign Off
Defense Secretary Mark Esper announced that he wouldn’t approve a Navy recommendation to reinstate the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, regardless of a recent Navy investigation which concluded that Capt. Brett Crozier should be reinstated. Crozier was fired in early April after writing a memo “pleading for help to combat the [Roosevelt’s] coronavirus outbreak,” which is the largest virus outbreak in the U.S. Armed Forces. While Navy officials have stated that health and safety of American sailors remain its top priority, some sailors commented that Crozier’s firing “suggested that the Navy cared more about protecting its leadership than the health of its sailors.” Reportedly, Crozier’s reinstatement would be “popular” among many sailors who supported his decision to draw attention to his ship’s outbreak; House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said in a statement, “Captain Crozier [had] the full support of his crew…During this time of crisis, Captain Crozier is exactly what our Sailors need: a leader who inspires confidence.”
The Marine Corps Battles for Its Identity, Over Women in Boot Camp
Recent attempts by members of Congress to force the Marine Corps to end its gender-segregated training practices have highlighted deeply-entrenched ideas of gender roles in the military branch. In 2019, Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) wrote a provision of the National Defense Authorization Act intended to ensure that the Marine Corps would be required to “integrate recruit training down to the platoon level,” but the legislation’s vague wording allowed leeway for the Corps to interpret the directive in a way that left the status quo’s gender segregation unchanged. Currently, female recruits can only train at Parris Island, and platoons are segregated based on gender with little interaction between male and female platoons. Erin Kirk-Cuomo, a former Marine sergeant, noted that “Marine leaders have an antiquated view of gender” that’s not shared by the branch’s predominantly young service members. It’s been suggested that this view fosters an environment where female Marines face sexual harassment and assault at higher rates than any other branch of the U.S. military. Gen. Robert Neller expressed Marine officials’ views on gender integration–and potentially the future of Marine recruit training–very succinctly when he commented on discussions over platoon integration, “We’ve been successful making Marines, so why should we change?”
IRS sets new May 5 deadline to get info from veterans who missed coronavirus checks
After some confusing announcements from the Treasury department, officials announced that they will extend the deadline to register for dependent payouts until May 5. This is in large consideration for disabled veterans who receive Department of Veterans Affairs payouts, but don’t file tax returns because they don’t earn enough annual income.
Supporting veterans during the pandemic
“While the pandemic itself may be unprecedented, those that support the military veteran community are familiar with stepping up to provide immediate and long-term support plans.” In this opinion piece, Vets4Warriors’ Director Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Mark Graham discusses communities coming together in this time of physical distance. While we may not be in close proximity to one another, communication remains extremely important. Vets4Warriors, a 24/7 peer support network, remains available to the veteran and military-connected community. Now more than ever, it is important to remember that you are not alone. Reach a peer by calling 855.838.8255 or by visiting www.vets4warriors.com.
More than a quarter of military families have less than $500 in emergency funds survey finds
Last week, results of the recent Military Family Support Programming Survey were announced. According to the study, over a quarter of military families have less than $500 in emergency savings or don’t have any emergency savings in place. This comes as Children of Fallen Patriots released their findings on the impact of COVID-19 on Fallen Patriots scholars and families. While 46 percent of respondents shared they lost their full-time or part-time jobs, almost 70 percent reported their schools had yet to offer any form of financial relief for things like room and board. Read the full Children of Fallen Patriots report here.
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!
Military Times and ScoutComms Partner on Annual ‘Best for Vets’ Ranking Surveys
We are thrilled to partner with Military Times on the annual ‘Best for Vets’ Employers and Colleges rankings. ScoutInsight, our data analytics and market research team, will provide the research and survey analysis behind the annual surveys in a multi-year effort. The Best for Vets: Employers 2020 Survey is open now! We’re urging every company, nonprofit and government agency to take the survey, learn from it and find out where they stand as a supporter of this important community. Learn more here.
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 and military community member to talk to, we recommend our client Vets4Warriors – a free, 24/7 peer-to-peer support network: