<![CDATA[Army Times]]>https://www.armytimes.comFri, 14 Jul 2023 04:20:31 +0000en1hourly1<![CDATA[Pentagon policies debate, Joint Chiefs confirmation on tap this week]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/07/10/pentagon-policies-debate-joint-chiefs-confirmation-on-tap-this-week/https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/07/10/pentagon-policies-debate-joint-chiefs-confirmation-on-tap-this-week/Mon, 10 Jul 2023 14:00:00 +0000While House lawmakers will spend the week debating new policies for the military, senators will question the man who will be charged with carrying out those changes.

The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a nomination hearing for Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr., President Joe Biden’s pick to be the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Brown is expected to face tough questioning from Republican members, but his biggest obstacle will be Alabama Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville, who has a hold on more than 200 Defense Department nominees over the military’s abortion access policy.

A few hours after that hearing, the House Rules Committee will set the parameters for floor debate expected to begin this week on the annual defense authorization bill, which contains hundreds of policy changes for the Pentagon in the coming year. More than 1,500 amendments were submitted by lawmakers for the draft bill in recent weeks, but only a small fraction of those are expected to be considered.

Democrats in the chamber are expected to push back against GOP efforts to limit abortion access, transgender medical care limits and other social issues included in the measure. But Republicans are expected to use the measure to reinforce their campaign priorities ahead of negotiations with the Democratic-controlled Senate later this summer.

Both sides hope to have a final product for lawmakers to consider by early fall. Whether Brown can be confirmed in the same timeline is unclear.

Tuesday, July 11

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
The committee will consider the nomination of Air Force Gen. Charles Q. Brown Jr. to serve as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Wednesday, July 12

Senate Armed Services — 9:30 a.m. — G-50 Dirksen
The committee will consider the nomination of Gen. Randy George to serve as Chief of Staff of the Army.

House Veterans' Affairs — 2 p.m. — 360 Cannon
Pending legislation
The committee will consider several pending bills.

Senate Select Intelligence — 2:30 p.m. — 216 Hart
The committee will consider the nomination of Lt. Gen. Timothy Haugh to be the Director of the National Security Agency and Michael Casey to be the Director of the National Counterintelligence and Security Center.

Senate Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m. — 418 Russell
Pending legislation
The committee will consider several pending bills.

Thursday, July 13

Senate Commerce — 10 a.m. — 253 Russell
Coast Guard Budget
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan will testify on the fiscal 2024 budget request for her service.

Senate Foreign Relations — 10:30 a.m. — Capitol S-116
Pending Business
The committee will consider several pending bills and pieces of legislation.

Evan Vucci
<![CDATA[Army retiree powerfully impacts veterans and his community]]>https://www.armytimes.com/smr/smoy/2023/07/09/army-retiree-powerfully-impacts-veterans-and-his-community/https://www.armytimes.com/smr/smoy/2023/07/09/army-retiree-powerfully-impacts-veterans-and-his-community/Sun, 09 Jul 2023 13:30:09 +0000Becoming the owner of a basketball franchise was never part of Lindsey Streeter’s post-military career goals. But it fit in nicely with his game plan for life.

“I like to make big-splash plays, I like to try to do things that will be impactful,” said Streeter, who served 31 years in the Army. “And I like to involve others so that I can turn around and give the credit to the whole team, share the glory of whatever comes.

For this veteran, owning a basketball team is about more than filling a stadium. “It’s about making the community believe it’s their actual team, and they’re part of the effort too,” he said.

Streeter, the recipient of the 2023 Veteran of the Year Award from Military Times, was already an all-star in the community outreach game before his latest professional sports venture.

Since 2016, he has handled veterans programs for Bank of America, and currently acts as the company’s Senior Vice President of Global Military Affairs. The role has given him a major platform as a voice for hiring and supporting veterans in the workforce, and using military experience to improve the corporate world. He also serves as Georgia’s ambassador for the U.S. Army Reserve, lobbying on service member quality of life issues.

When his wife, Mary Ann, passed away in 2020, he took over leadership of her nonprofit, Quad E, which provides preventive health care options to vulnerable individuals. On Sundays, he serves as a deacon at his local church.

And last year, Streeter became owner of the Savannah Hurricanes of the Triple Threat Basketball League, not to live out unfulfilled athletic dreams but because he saw an opportunity to use the platform to help out in the Georgia community he now calls home.

Lindsey Streeter is the owner of the Savannah Hurricanes of the Triple Threat Basketball League. (Courtesy of Lindsey Streeter via Facebook)

Along with the normal tasks of promoting an upstart sports league, Streeter has put extra emphasis on youth outreach programs across Savannah, with training camps and school visits a staple of the team’s schedule.

“All the different jobs and roles feel like a lot, but it’s really just one agenda,” Streeter said in a phone interview conducted from his car in-between a charity appearance and a corporate meeting. “We’re looking at building partnerships, we’re looking at ways we can help the community as a whole. And we stay focused on those goals.

“And because I’m getting after so much purpose, it really doesn’t feel like it’s extra work. The energy is there because the passion fuels that, and getting to see the impact of the work just keeps me going.”

Service and citizenship have always been a part of Streeter’s life, even before he joined the military. He remembers as a young child in Washington, D.C., growing up in a poor family but still taking part in charity efforts for local institutions. He said his mother instilled the idea of giving back to the community, even when they had little of their own to spare.

In the Army, Streeter served several stints as a recruiter before taking over as a battalion command sergeant major and later as commandant of the Non-Commissioned Officers Academy. In all the jobs, he was reminded of the responsibility he had to help build up young soldiers and grow them into future leaders.

“I have a personal mission statement that says I’m going to use my time, my talents and my resources to impact others in a meaningful way,” he said. “And it says that my reputation precedes me, and so I’ve got to live my life in a purposeful manner that keeps me focused on that.”

When Streeter left the service in 2016, he wanted to continue those connections to the community and the military. The new civilian job with Bank of America gave him both.

“I have a personal mission statement that says I’m going to use my time, my talents and my resources to impact others in a meaningful way,” Lindsey Streeter said. (Courtesy of Lindsey Streeter via Facebook)

“They asked me to ensure that the veteran culture there was right,” he said. “Our goal was not just to make the company veteran-friendly, but veteran-ready. And through our changes and example, we’ve been able to affect other organizations and help shape their culture by giving them things to emulate.”

Those veteran hiring efforts have even extended to the basketball team: The Hurricanes’ coach and general manager are also retired non-commissioned officers.

Streeter said he is conscious that for many individuals in the groups he works with — especially the young basketball players whose whole lives have revolved around sports — he is often the first or most prominent veteran they have known. He says that puts even more pressure on him to make sure he is reflecting that personal pledge of service and integrity.

“I don’t typically lead with my veteran status when folks in the community meet me, but I think it becomes apparent once they hear me talk and start running the show,” he said. “So, I’m always keeping in mind that I am an ambassador for the community. And I want to give credit to the Army for what they did for me, to help me become who I am today.”

Streeter was named CEO of the year for the Triple Threat Basketball League this season, and his Savannah Hurricanes made the playoffs. But he says the biggest wins so far have been the wide-eyes of the local kids he’s watched interacting with team members, and the community partners who said they’re looking forward to future work with the franchise.

“To the onlooker, the team is filling up a gym and they’re playing good basketball,” he said. “They care about winning on the court. But I care about winning in the community.”

See all Military Times’ 2023 Service Members of the Year honorees.

<![CDATA[Better data collaboration essential for vets, Bush Institute says]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/07/07/better-data-collaboration-essential-for-vets-bush-institute-says/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/07/07/better-data-collaboration-essential-for-vets-bush-institute-says/Fri, 07 Jul 2023 19:00:00 +0000Balancing privacy concerns with the opportunity to improve outcomes and more effectively target resources by using data is a key component of helping the veteran community, according to the George W. Bush Institute.

In a series of articles, Military Times is examining each of these four recommendations from the institute:

· The administration should refine a national veterans strategy.

· The DoD should leverage veteran and military family communities to sustain an all-volunteer force.

· The DoD should invest further in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for the 21st century.

· The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration should focus on advancing data collaboration.

“There are privacy concerns, but there are also opportunities to more effectively target resources by using data,” said Col. Matthew F. Amidon, former director of veterans and military families at the institute.

The fourth recommendation, a call to increase focus on advancing data collaboration, is exciting because it can allow underserved populations to receive targeted services, Amidon said. The all-volunteer force is more diverse than ever, with 15 percent of active duty service members being women and 16 percent being African American, according to data from Rand.

With more data on how to assist these groups, Amidon said it will better allow for more tailored resources while serving, and also upon transitioning back to civilian life.

The Bush Institute’s recommendation includes proposing a Congressional mandate to capture consistent data – specifically, finding better ways to measure the economic health of veterans.

Gary J. Kunich, a public affairs specialist with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, said his office collects data through surveys, key engagements, databases, focus and working groups and web and digital media to help serve their veterans. They also work closely with other agencies and have policies in place to help advance racial equity and support, as well as the Deborah Sampson Act, a task force for women veterans.

“We are always seeking ways to ensure we deliver the best care and access to benefit all veterans, but also have taken critical steps in doing so for underserved veteran populations,” Kunich said.

A more complete data set can also provide more details on which veteran populations have the greatest need, especially when it comes to economics. Amidon said one example is tailoring data to analyze not just if a veteran is employed, but if they are making enough money to support themselves and their family in the area they live.

Ross Dickman, COO for Hire Heroes USA, a veteran employment nonprofit that has helped more than 75,000 veterans and spouses find jobs, said many veterans are underemployed. Being able to have data to show what constitutes meaningful employment is necessary, Dickman said.

“I applaud (the Bush Institute’s) policy paper,” Dickman said. “We know things need to be improved and modified so we can meet the needs of today’s veterans.”

Amidon said connecting the VA/DoD Identity Repository (VADIR) database and payroll information – and linking that with geographic data from the Social Security Administration – could provide that kind of detail.

“Certain subpopulations are underearning,” Amidon said. “And there’s an enormous array of resources available, but how do you target them? That’s what we are seeking here.”

Kunich said the VA has minority veteran program coordinators in each state’s regional office and can “triage” the needs and routes to provide more tailored post-service experiences.

“Data is used to improve the veteran experience, understand local catchment areas and gaps in care and access, and develop sound outreach to every veteran population,” Kunich said. “We also have an Internal Data Governance Working Group that provides input and suggestions to best use this information.”

Amidon said veterans are a large group and have a diverse array of talents. Ensuring the best outcomes for veterans is good for business and community – and, of course, the vets themselves.

“The Bush Institute is out here to influence change,” Amidon said.

George W. Bush Institute
<![CDATA[VA plans new cancer research center with Stanford medical experts]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/30/va-plans-new-cancer-research-center-with-stanford-medical-experts/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/30/va-plans-new-cancer-research-center-with-stanford-medical-experts/Fri, 30 Jun 2023 18:46:02 +0000Veterans Affairs officials unveiled preliminary plans to build a new cutting-edge cancer care and research center in California with Stanford University as part of new public-private partnership efforts approved as part of sweeping toxic exposure legislation approved last summer.

Construction is still years away, but VA officials touted the announcement as a sign of what the future of department health care could be: groundbreaking research that benefits not only veterans suffering from the wounds of war, but also the country as a whole.

“This will allow us to partner with every powerhouse academic center in the country, if we do this right,” said Dr. Shereef Elnahal, VA Under Secretary of Health, during a press event at the Stanford Medicine campus on Friday. “For research, training, and care delivery, it’s all one bucket of cancer care that veterans deserve.”

According to VA statistics, more than 50,000 new cancer cases are reported to department registries annually. Elnahal said because of other health issues related to military service, veterans often face worse health outcomes from those diagnoses than patients without any military background.

Deadline looms for vets to get retroactive toxic exposure benefits

Stanford officials said they conduct about 1,000 new clinical trials with cancer patients annually. The goal of the new joint center would be to bring those efforts together with existing VA research projects, and use the combined resources to speed up results and expand workloads.

“This center will provide our entire community, both veterans and non-veterans, access to cancer care that’s informed by the best possible science and research,” said David Entwistle, president and CEO of Stanford Health Care. “And what’s more, we’ll be able to serve as a beacon of hope for millions of patients and their families who will receive that difficult diagnosis.”

Details of construction timing, project costs and facility staffing still need to be worked out between federal officials and university leaders. Elnahal acknowledged the work is still in its very early stages, but said he hopes to open the doors to the new center in the next five years.

Friday’s partnership was made possible through the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act) signed into law last August. That measure is best known for a massive expansion of disability benefits for veterans who suffered toxic exposure injuries during their time in service, including 12 types of cancer linked to prolonged inhalation of burn pit smoke in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But the legislation also included new authorities for VA leaders to work with private institutions on research and medical care. Department officials said the Stanford project will serve as a model for more partnerships to come.

“My message to veterans is this: know that we are doing this in service of making medical care even better and more accessible to you over time,” Elnahal said.

VA officials are spending the next month conducting a public awareness campaign on the PACT Act in an effort to get more veterans to sign up for medical care and benefits. More than 660,000 veterans have applied for benefits in the last 11 months, and the department has paid out more than $1.4 billion to eligible recipients so far.

<![CDATA[Lawmakers eye ending affirmative action at military academies ]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/06/30/lawmakers-eye-ending-affirmative-action-at-military-academies/https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/06/30/lawmakers-eye-ending-affirmative-action-at-military-academies/Fri, 30 Jun 2023 17:15:00 +0000Thursday’s Supreme Court decision which ended the use of affirmative action in college admissions contained a carve out for military service academies, but a key Senate Republican wants to eliminate it there too.

Shortly after the ruling was announced, Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member Roger Wicker, R-Miss., took to social media to praise the court’s ruling and his aim to “further prohibit our military service academies from engaging in race-based affirmative action.”

Earlier in June, Wicker introduced his Military Merit, Fairness, and Equality Act, which would “prohibit the Department of Defense from prioritizing the demographic characteristics of service members above individual merit and demonstrated performance.” Although the military academies are not specifically mentioned in the legislation, it would cover all defense-affiliated institutions.

In connection with the high court’s 6-3 ruling on affirmative action this week, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that none of the military academies were part of the case before the justices, and therefore the decision does not address how race-based admission systems may impact “the potentially distinct interests that military academies may present.”

Service academies exempt from Supreme Court affirmative action ruling

Wicker, who plans to offer his legislation as an amendment to the annual defense authorization bill during floor debate in July, said the move is needed to bring “fairness” back to the armed forces and refocus military leaders on lethality, readiness and other relevant force priorities.

On Friday, Rep. Tom Tiffany, R-Wisc., introduced similar language as an amendment to the House draft of the annual authorization bill, banning the Defense Department from “granting preferential treatment to any person or group based in whole or in part on race.”

Senate Democratic leaders have already pushed back against those proposals, calling them political interference in the military’s efforts to ensure that the fighting force represents the demographics of the country at large.

Numerous Democrats also sharply criticized the Supreme Court’s Thursday ruling, and called the exception for military academies perplexing.

“So military academies can use race-conscious admissions policies because it’s fine to explicitly and intentionally send our Black and brown kids off to die, but not explicitly and intentionally give them access to education?” Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y., wrote in a social media post following the Supreme Court ruling.

Rep. Jason Crow, D-Colo. and an Army veteran, echoed that sentiment, calling the decision “outright grotesque” because of the military carve out.

Last year, as part of the case pending before the Supreme Court, 35 former top military leaders filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing that affirmative action was necessary for national security, both in the academies and for Reserve Officer Training Corps students at private universities.

The Republican measures face a difficult legislative path ahead. Wicker’s language is unlikely to advance in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Tiffany’s measure could see more success in the Republican-controlled House, but would still have to survive negotiations with Senate leaders before becoming law.

Both chambers are expected to resume debate on the authorization bills — which include hundreds of policy changes and budget priorities for the military — when they return from their current break on July 10.

Bryan Woolston
<![CDATA[Bush Institute announces veteran leadership program’s 2023 class]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/30/bush-institute-announces-veteran-leadership-programs-2023-class/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/30/bush-institute-announces-veteran-leadership-programs-2023-class/Fri, 30 Jun 2023 15:00:00 +0000Training leaders to help transitioning servicemembers and their families is the mission – and building a community of life-long support is the powerful offshoot of the George W. Bush Institute’s Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program.

The 2023 class was recently announced, including 34 civilians, veterans and active military, all focused on supporting veterans and their families.

“We started this program to train leaders who will help solve transition-related issues that military families face,” said Eva Chiang, managing director of leadership and programming for the institute. “It is a way to inspire people.”

This is the fifth cohort to go through the program, and they’ll gather in July to hear from leaders such as U.S. Navy Captain and NASA Astronaut Chris Cassidy, the eighth United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald, retired United States Air Force General Alfred Flowers, and Bush Institute Senior Fellow Dr. Deborah Birx.

The five-month program includes sessions at the Bush Center and a session in Washington, D.C., Chiang said. Applicants were chosen based on an application and review process, she said, and each one has a personal leadership project they will continue to develop as part of the process.

After they leave the program in November 2023, Chiang said they join a network of 170 alums, who work on improving veteran outcomes – and can rely on each other for continued support and inspiration.

“It was a really amazing experience,” said Eric Goralnick, a civilian military advisor at the Gillian Reny Stepping Strong Center for Trauma Innovation and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Harvard Medical School.

He was in the previous cohort in 2022, working on a project to build a civilian/military initiative at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital for veterans interested in health care careers.

As the participants work through the program, they continue to hone their personal leadership projects, Chiang said. And then, when the program is over, they have a network to continue collaborating and helping one another – a network that will continue to grow.

“And that’s really important, because they can call on one another,” she said. “These are mission-oriented folks who are tightly connected.”

The personal leadership projects range from large scale global projects to boots-on-the-ground intensely local work, Chiang said.

The program is funded through donations and is free for participants.

Goralnick, a U.S. Naval Academy graduate who served before going to medical school, said of the 200,000 veterans who leave service each year, about 10,000 have experience as allied health care professionals. His effort is focused on helping those veterans transition into health care careers.

“Going through this program really helped me shape a vision and it helped me develop an action plan to bring my vision to life,” he said. “And it gave me the time and space to meet with colleagues who share similar interests and are working through similar challenges.

“It’s like having a phone-a-friend connection for life.”

Blas Villalobos, who was also in last year’s class, agreed. His project is focused on providing low- or no-cost mental health treatment to veterans. The cohort was able to help him exceed his goals, including holding a fundraising concert in October 2022.

“I had a 3-year goal when I started,” said Villalobos, a former U.S. Marine. “But we made it happen sooner.”

He said the networking component was key, allowing him to expand his network and support his mission.

“It’s really incredible,” said Villalobos, who is the CEO of Centerstone’s Military Services. “I can only see this growing. The collective power of this group is amazing and I know it will continue.”

The 2023 class of the Stand-To Veteran Leadership Program includes:

· Quiana Abner, Program Manager of Onward to Opportunity in the Texas Region, D’Aniello Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF), San Antonio, Texas

· Kellie Artis, Director of Communications, Virtual Veterans Communities, Fayetteville, North Carolina

· Jennifer Barnhill, Freelance Journalist and Lead Researcher, Military.com and Partners in PROMISE, Pacific Grove, California

· Bobby Ehrig, Executive Director, Citizens for Progress, Bulverde, Texas

· Pete Faerber, Founder and President, The Warriors’ Lawyer, Lithia, Florida

· Victoria Harvey, Deputy Director, Hiring Our Heroes, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, Kapolei, Hawaii

· Marnie Holder, Veteran Services Program Officer, National Veterans Memorial and Museum, Columbus, Ohio

· Desiree Holley, Director of Operations, Operation Healing Forces, Brandon, Florida

· Seth Kastle, Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies and Director of Military Program Innovation, Fort Hays State University, WaKeeney, Kansas

· Jermaine King, Chief, Public Protection and Safety (Senior Enlisted Leader), United States Air Force, Edwards Air Force Base, California

· Stan Kurtz, Programs Director of Office of Veterans Business Development, U.S. Small Business Administration, Dumfries, Virginia

· Michael Logan, Senior Director for Veteran and Military Affairs, The University of Texas at San Antonio, San Antonio, Texas

· Mollie Marti, Chief Executive Officer, Worldmaker International, Mount Vernon, Iowa

· Selene Martin, Corporate Responsibility Director, USAA, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas

· Jessica Lynn McNulty, Commander, United States Navy, Clifton, Virginia

· Josh Michael, Clinical Sales Associate, Intuitive Surgical, Argyle, Texas

· Michelle Mills, Senior Recruiter, Amazon, Tucson, Arizona

· Rachel Moyal-Smith, Senior Clinical Implementation Specialist, Ariadne Labs, Slingerlands, New York

· Reggie Ordonez, Chief Operations Officer, Bunker Labs, White House, Tennessee

· Jennifer Pluta, Director of Veteran Career Services, Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, Syracuse University, Brewerton, New York

· Taheesha Quarells, Director of Troops to Teachers, Department of Defense Military to Civilian Transition Office, Pensacola, Florida

· Kris Rick, Veterans Employment and Training Services - Training and Partnership Lead, U.S. Department of Labor, Oakton, Virginia

· Curtez Riggs, Director of Military Events, Recurrent Ventures, Live Oak, Texas

· DeLisa Duncan Russell, Group Chief Executive Officer, Promises Behavioral Health, Spring, Texas

· Gilbert Saguid, Founder, Veterans Franchise Group, San Diego, California

· Abi Scott, Chief, Enlisted Force Development, U.S. Space Force, Fort Belvoir, Virginia

· Jackson Smith, Executive Director, Bastion Community of Resilience, New Orleans, Louisiana

· Sarah Streyder, Executive Director, Secure Families Initiative, Alexandria, Virginia

· Cappy Surette, Senior Manager, External Communications for Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, The Walt Disney Company, Windermere, Florida

· Chi Szeto, Management Analyst, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Torrance, California

· Eric Templeton, Cybersecurity Business Development Manager, Cisco, Garner, North Carolina

· Susan Thaxton, Chief Strategy Officer, The Mission Continues, Annapolis, Maryland

· Tracy Threatt, Counselor, Central Piedmont Community College, Concord, North Carolina

· Olivia Valerio, Military Bridges Program Project Manager, H-E-B, San Antonio, Texas

George W. Bush Institute
<![CDATA[White House $3.1 billion homeless program includes help for vets]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/29/white-house-unveils-new-support-programs-for-homeless-vets/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/29/white-house-unveils-new-support-programs-for-homeless-vets/Thu, 29 Jun 2023 09:00:00 +0000White House officials are pairing new legal support and job training programs for veterans with a $3.1 billion investment in general community support grants in an effort to further reduce the number of veterans facing homelessness.

Administration officials unveiled the plans on Thursday, calling them “the single largest investment in communities’ homelessness response systems in history.” The move comes as Veterans Affairs officials said they are on pace with their goal of permanently housing 38,000 at-risk veterans this year.

“Homelessness is a challenge we face as a nation, but importantly it is also a solvable one,” said White House Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden in a press conference on the new initiatives.

According to the latest federal estimates, about 33,000 veterans across the country lack reliable, permanent housing on any given day. That figure is down about 11% since 2020 and down about 55% since 2010.

Advocates struggle to help homeless vets as COVID support disappears

Despite the progress, however, veterans advocates have warned that the expiration of a host of pandemic-era support programs and grants threatens support systems for vulnerable veterans. Officials from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans said some non-profits have seen their federal grants slashed by tens of thousands of dollars, potentially hurting their outreach efforts.

The $3.1 billion boost to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Continuum of Care program could help offset some of those losses. The program awards funds to community groups and local governments to help provide support to families facing the threat of homelessness.

Federal officials said the new money will not be earmarked solely for veterans support efforts, but that participants will be directed to “coordinate with local Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Centers to ensure these funds are effectively supporting veterans and their families.”

Two other new programs will be aimed directly at helping veterans, however. A new $11.5 million Legal Services for Veterans grant program will give individuals help with fighting eviction orders, gaining access to financial support programs, and provisioning similar legal assistance.

“Legal support can be the difference between becoming homeless in the first instance or having a safe, stable house,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough.”With this, we move ever closer to that goal.”

VA aims to help 38,000+ homeless veterans again this year

The Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service also plans to launch a new $58 million grant program to connect homeless veterans with job opportunities. That money will include training programs for in-demand industries and outreach to community employers to connect them with would-be veteran workers.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials will also work with HUD leaders on a series of “boot camps” on veterans homelessness throughout the fall, officials said. The sessions will bring together staffers to talk about best practices in reaching and helping veterans, and finding ways to better coordinate cooperation of numerous federal agencies in focusing on helping homeless veterans.

Tanden called the success in reducing the number of homeless veterans over the last decade a model for other government support efforts, but also said that more still needs to be done.

Congressional appropriators in the House and Senate have already preliminary backed plans for a 16% boost in homelessness assistance funding in the budget for fiscal 2024, which begins on Oct. 1. However, because of ongoing partisan fights on a host of budget issues, it’s unclear when that money may be available to VA planners.

Jae C. Hong
<![CDATA[Bush Institute recommends TAP revamp]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/28/bush-institute-recommends-tap-revamp/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/28/bush-institute-recommends-tap-revamp/Wed, 28 Jun 2023 19:52:58 +0000Meeting the needs of transitioning service members – and their spouses – is a big job, and it generally starts with the Department of Defense Transition Assistance Program (TAP).

Consistently evaluating and improving TAP – especially to meet the needs of minorities, women and younger, enlisted service members – is critical to improving post-service outcomes, according to a series of policy recommendations issued in January by the George W. Bush Institute.

“Outcomes for those groups aren’t as good as we’d like them to be,” said Col. Matthew F. Amidon, former director of veterans and military families at the institute.

In a series of articles, Military Times is examining each of the Institute’s four recommendations:

· The administration should refine a national veterans strategy.

· The DoD should leverage veteran and military family communities to sustain an all-volunteer force.

· The DoD should invest further in the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) for the 21st century.

· The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration should focus on advancing data collaboration.

Currently, TAP offers a common level of support to about 200,000 service members a year at 200 locations around the world, said Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, a Department of Defense spokesperson. She said the program tailors support to each service member’s individual transition plan and it is successful and continuously evolving.

“Commanders fully support TAP and are committed to ensuring a successful military-to-civilian transition for their Service members,” Schwegman said. “DoD’s historic level of service and support to service members is better and more comprehensive than at any point in our nation’s history.”

Research has shown that veterans are undervalued – and often underpaid – in the civilian workforce – despite their training, ability to work with and for a team and strong work ethic, it can be a struggle for transitioning service members and spouses to find meaningful, lucrative employment. The Veterans Metrics Initiative from Penn State has indicated that more than 60 percent of veterans are underemployed or unemployed – which in the current job market, is a large untapped pool of talented and driven individuals.

Amidon said TAP does a great job, but it isn’t a monolith. Some bases and stations do a better job than others and those with robust relationships with civilian employers and those that support sub-populations like younger, enlisted service members, women and communities of color tend to have better success rates.

“We don’t throw darts at TAP,” he said. “They’ve made great strides.”

And Ross Dickman, COO for Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit that has helped service members and spouses transition to the civilian workforce since 2005, said his organization has collected data showing a more personalized approach increases positive outcomes.

His organization surveys the veterans and spouses they serve for 36 months after job placement, asking questions about how well they are doing at their jobs and in their communities. That information is used to keep improving their program – filling in gaps and bridging barriers.

“We have some really unique insights,” Dickman said. “Any modification to TAP needs to address some of the gaps and barriers that are in transition assistance outcomes. Generally, we’d love to see a continued emphasis on understanding the career support based on need, client demographics and more. There are different needs based on location, the type of experience while in the military, gender, race – it all factors in and TAP can’t always fit with all of these unique needs.”

Any further investment in TAP, Dickman and Amidon said, needs to address these known gaps and work to address a more personalized approach. Dickman said Hire Heroes USA’s success is due to its one-on-one approach, with each client receiving personalized service to help them find employment that that fits their skills – and helps the service member meet their financial needs and goals as well.

Schwegman said TAP is currently evaluating and steering modifications to collaborate with its current six agency partners (the Departments of Veterans Affairs, Labor, Education, Homeland Security, Small Business Administration, and the Office of Personnel Management). This collaboration has led to programs for women; wounded, ill or injured service members and their caregivers and a host of other targeted programs.

And in the future, the DoD will continue to focus on the 13 congressionally mandated demographic and transition factors: Rank, term of service, gender, component status (i.e. active duty, Guard or Reserve), disability, character of discharge, health, military occupation specialty, intentions after transition, education, prior employment, post-transition employment/education enrollment/vocational enrollment, and other Departmental factors deemed appropriate.

“DoD TAP is successful because it is postured to continuously evolve to meet the demands of the transitioning service members,” she said.

Rachel Everett
<![CDATA[Deadline looms for vets to get retroactive toxic exposure benefits]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/27/deadline-looms-for-vets-to-get-retroactive-toxic-exposure-benefits/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/27/deadline-looms-for-vets-to-get-retroactive-toxic-exposure-benefits/Tue, 27 Jun 2023 17:00:00 +0000Veterans Affairs officials plan a public awareness blitz over the next five weeks to get as many individuals as possible to sign up for new military toxic exposure benefits ahead of an August deadline for retroactive payouts.

The Summer VetFest is part of a year-old, $11.4 million effort connected to the Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics Act (better known as the PACT Act), sweeping benefits legislation approved by lawmakers last summer. As many as one in five veterans living in America today could receive new health care or disability payouts as a result of the measure.

The PACT ACT provides presumptive benefit status for 12 types of cancer and 12 other respiratory illnesses linked to burn pit exposure in the Gulf War, the War in Afghanistan and the War in Iraq; hypertension and monoclonal gammopathy of undetermined significance (MGUS) for veterans who served in Vietnam; and radiation-related illnesses for veterans who served in several new locations in the 1960s and early 1970s.

“There are millions of veterans and survivors across America who are eligible for new health care and benefits, and we will not rest until every one of them gets what they’ve earned,” VA Secretary Denis McDonough said in a statement. “That’s what this Summer VetFest is all about: educating veterans, their families, and survivors — and encouraging them to apply today.”

Biden signs burn pit exposure health bill into law

Since the PACT Act was signed into law on Aug. 10, 2022, more than 660,000 veterans have applied for benefits, and the department has paid out more than $1.4 billion.

Under federal law, veterans who apply for the PACT Act payouts within a year of the bill signing are potentially eligible for retroactive benefits back to that date. But veterans who enroll after Aug. 9, 2023, will only receive payouts back to their date of filing.

Veteran Affairs officials said that’s the impetus for the July outreach push. By filing ahead of the Aug. 9 deadline instead of after it, veterans who are awarded toxic exposure disability benefits could get tens of thousands of dollars more in payouts.

Department staff have held similar outreach efforts throughout the past 12 months, including a “PACT Act Week of Action” in December, when VA hosted dozens of local information events across the nation.

Along with new online ads and public service announcements, the new outreach push will include events in all 50 states (plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico) where veterans can apply for PACT Act-related benefits, enroll in VA health care, get screened for toxic exposures injuries, or learn more about VA services.

Veterans or their family members can also get information about PACT Act benefits by visiting the department’s web site or by calling 1-800-MYVA411 (1-800-698-2411).

<![CDATA[VA’s opioid treatment program is failing veterans, IG reports ]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/26/vas-opioid-treatment-program-is-failing-veterans-ig-reports/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/26/vas-opioid-treatment-program-is-failing-veterans-ig-reports/Mon, 26 Jun 2023 22:12:54 +0000Healthcare providers at the Department of Veterans of Affairs have consistently failed to identify and support service members suffering from opioid dependence as they transition out of the military, investigators have revealed.

The VA Office of Inspector General report, published Wednesday, found that VA officials routinely missed — or struggled to check — prior opioid use disorder (OUD) diagnoses when developing treatment plans for troops leaving the service. These oversights, investigators warned, risked endangering the health and lives of veterans.

Researchers find that intersecting and reinforcing traumas — such as homelessness, alienation or post-traumatic disorder — make former service members especially vulnerable to opiate dependence or addiction and its most dangerous effects. Veterans are twice as likely to die from an accidental overdose as nonveterans. Overall, drug overdose mortality among veterans soared 53% between 2010 and 2019. As of 2020, opioids were responsible for three-quarters of drug overdose deaths in the US.

Fentanyl deaths among troops more than doubled from 2017 to 2021

Investigators conducted a yearlong review of 1,783 VA patients discharged from the military between Oct. 1, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2019, with an OUD diagnosis in their Department of Defense medical files. They found that 421 of those patients had a formal OUD diagnosis in their VA medical record.

They split the remaining 1,362 patients into two categories: those without an official OUD diagnosis in their VA data (Group 1), and, within that group, those who lacked an opioid use diagnosis and died — of any cause — between their discharge and July 4, 2021 (Group 2).

Investigators discovered that only 19% of the 1,362 OUD-afflicted veterans from Group 1 had opioid dependence flagged during their initial screening with the Veterans Health Administration. Just over half of the 45 patients in Group 2 had OUD listed on the VHA “problem list,” an electronic database used to identify pressing health concerns. About 20 of the Group 2 patients passed away from opioid-related deaths. No patients from Group 1 had OUD conditions on their “problem list.”

It was not clear whether veterans in Group 2 had more severe dependence or addiction problems when they left the military.

The investigators even found that VHA doctors prescribed opioid medications to a small number of patients (3 percent in Group 1) with OUD complications.

“VHA policy requires VHA facilities make treatment services available to patients with substance use disorders,” the report noted. “The OIG found VHA providers offered substance-use-disorder treatment or medication-assisted treatment to 80 percent of patients with an identified DoD OUD diagnosis in Patient Group 2 who died from an opioid-related overdose.”

Mistaken opiate prescriptions are not the only adverse impact of a missed diagnosis. Veterans can also miss out on life-saving substance abuse treatment if VHA officials don’t know about their condition.

“OUD diagnoses not identified in the progress notes or problem lists could result in future providers not offering OUD treatment to patients,” the report noted.

Only 35% of surveyed patients who suffered opioid-related deaths were offered or provided the life-saving drug naloxone before their passing.

“A lack of provider knowledge of an established OUD diagnosis may have contributed to naloxone not being provided to some patients,” the report states.

The VA partnered with the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security in 2018 to launch a “joint action plan” designed to provide “seamless access to mental health treatment and suicide prevention resources for transitioning uniformed service members in the year following discharge, separation or retirement.” The plan detailed special “selective” initiatives to support subgroups of veterans who might be especially prone to suicidal tendencies, including those suffering from substance abuse.

The holes in the plan’s opioid support pipeline stemmed from unclear expectations and faulty databases, according to the report. More than half of the VHA providers surveyed by investigators didn’t think they were supposed to check DoD records before accepting former service members for treatment. A similar proportion struggled to navigate an electronic health database linking DoD and VA medical records. Some 45% of providers never received training in the system (which has a 106-page training manual); 56% said they couldn’t find the DoD information they needed in the program.

“VA remains committed to ensuring service members transitioning back to civilian life [get] the very best care our nation can provide,” VA spolesman Terrance Hayes told Military Times. “We are implementing new strategies, to include improving our information systems to identify service members diagnosed with opioid use disorder in the Department of Defense.”

The VA is looking to strengthen existing clinical programs, such as the provision of lifesaving, evidence-based medications for opioid use disorder, Hayes said, and will continue to expand access to its opioid education and naloxone distribution programs.

Staff Sgt. Alex Montes
<![CDATA[Defense bill targets religious freedom group for its advocacy work]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/06/26/defense-bill-targets-religious-freedom-group-for-its-advocacy-work/https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/06/26/defense-bill-targets-religious-freedom-group-for-its-advocacy-work/Mon, 26 Jun 2023 20:35:00 +0000Military members and staff would be barred from interacting with a well-known advocacy group that has frequently sparred with Christian organizations under an amendment inserted into the House draft of the annual defense authorization bill last week.

Defense officials and troops would be barred from communicating with the Military Religious Freedom Foundation or from making “any decision as a result of any claim, objection, or protest made by MRFF without the authority of the Secretary of Defense,” per language offered by Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and adopted with unanimous, bipartisan support by the members of the House Armed Services Committee, according to documents supplied by the committee.

The group’s founder called the legislative language an unconstitutional attack on their efforts and troops’ rights, and vowed to fight the move as the measure winds through Congress.

“If they don’t like what we do at MRFF on behalf of our 84,000-plus military and veteran clients, they can take a number, pack a picnic lunch and stand in line with the rest of those fundamentalist Christian extremist bastards who constitute our enemies,” said Mikey Weinstein, president and founder of the group.

Pentagon unveils new religious liberty policies after pressure from conservative lawmakers

A senior committee staffer familiar with the crafting of the memo but not authorized to speak to the press said the actions of the group have raised concerns among lawmakers for years, and the language is designed to ensure that military staffers don’t overreact to the group’s demands without following proper review procedures.

In March, the group boasted that they convinced leaders at an Austin, Texas, Veteran Affairs clinic to remove a prominently displayed cross from a public lobby “in under 90 minutes.” MRFF officials said the display improperly sent the message “that our military is a Christian military and only Christian veterans matter.”

The non-profit has pushed similar efforts in the past, often riling conservative Christian groups. In February, after MRFF officials convinced Merchant Marine Academy leaders to move a painting titled “Christ on the Water” from a public space to a chapel, the move was attacked by Republican lawmakers and outside Christian groups as overreach.

Weinstein said getting singled out in the legislation amounts to a “badge of honor” for his work.

“If the fundamentalist Christian nationalists who are behind this are trying to execute us through legislation, we’ll take that as validation of the positive effect that we’re having for our clients and for the Constitution,” he said. “And they can go fuck themselves.”

Turner’s office declined to comment and House Democratic committee leaders did not immediately respond to requests for comment ahead of publication. The defense bill is expected to go through numerous changes over the next few months before becoming law. House Republicans are expected to add more amendments on issues of abortion access and transgender rights when the measure comes up for full chamber debate next month.

GOP lawmakers target diversity training, COVID rules in defense bill

The Senate Armed Services Committee’s draft of the authorization bill does not include any similar restrictions on communications or response to MRFF requests.

In contrast to the House Armed Services Committee’s legislation, the measure proposed by the Democratic-led Senate committee contains only a few controversial social issues, although Republicans could attempt to add more through amendments during floor debate next month.

A final draft of the legislation is expected to be negotiated later this summer, with an eye towards passage of a final draft sometime this fall. The authorization bill has been passed by Congress for 62 consecutive years, making it one of the most reliable legislative vehicles on Capitol Hill annually.

<![CDATA[Supreme Court to rule on whether vets should get more GI Bill benefits]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/26/supreme-court-to-rule-on-whether-vets-should-get-more-gi-bill-benefits/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/26/supreme-court-to-rule-on-whether-vets-should-get-more-gi-bill-benefits/Mon, 26 Jun 2023 16:30:00 +0000The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up an ongoing veterans education benefits case which could dramatically rewrite federal benefits rules and give additional tuition money to potentially millions of veterans.

And if the nation’s highest court upholds the decisions of lower federal courts, the ruling could finally end the eight-year-old legal fight, forcing Veterans Affairs leaders to start paying out the money in coming college semesters.

The case — Rudsill vs. McDonough — has been closely watched by advocates for years because of its potential wide-ranging impact on veterans seeking college degrees. Monday’s decision to take up the case means that lawyers for the plaintiff and the federal government will argue their cases before the Supreme Court sometime this fall, with a final decision expected sometime in spring 2024.

One vet’s GI Bill fight could win benefits for millions of other students

In a joint statement, Troutman Pepper partner Misha Tseytlin and associate Timothy McHugh — who have handled the case in recent years — called the high court’s decision a welcome chance at finally resolving the case.

“Should we prevail, approximately 1.7 million post-9/11 veterans will be eligible to receive additional educational benefits totaling billions of dollars,” they said. “This would be transformative for millions of veterans, their families, and their communities.”

VA officials have declined all comment on the ongoing case, but pledged to work with veterans to help them handle any complications with their education benefits.

The case centers on how the Department of Veterans Affairs has awarded education support through its Post-9/11 GI Bill program and the Montgomery GI Bill program. Under the first, eligible veterans receive 36 months of tuition payouts, housing stipends and other financial assistance. The Post-9/11 GI Bill is used by the vast majority of veterans attending schools today.

The Montgomery GI Bill program was the predecessor to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and is being phased out by the department. It offers far less money, but still can provide several thousands of dollars annually to veterans for tuition costs if they paid into the program at the start of their military service.

Currently, VA officials make students give up eligibility for the Montgomery GI Bill program when they register to begin using the Post-9/11 GI Bill. That means that once their education benefits from that program are exhausted, they cannot receive more tuition support from the other program.

Jim Rudisill, the Army veteran at the center of the court case, was wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq in 2005 and used his Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits shortly thereafter. But he wanted to tap into his unused Montgomery GI Bill benefits to attend Yale Divinity School, as part of the process to become an Army chaplain, and sued when VA officials denied that move.

Veterans Affairs officials have argued in court that using both benefits amounts to double-dipping on government benefits, which is prohibited under federal statute. But courts have ruled against them in recent years, saying that the education programs are separate, even if all the money comes from the same source, the VA budget.

GI Bill fix for vets enrolled in defunct schools heads to White House

Under separate existing federal statute, all government higher education payouts are capped at 48 months. So, if the Supreme Court rules against VA’s interpretation of how the programs must be administered, veterans who use up their post-9/11 GI Bill program might still get 12 more months of money for school.

That won’t matter for most veterans who received degrees and moved onto civilian careers over the last decade. But for individuals who fell a few semesters short of getting a degree, the court ruling could open the door to new financial support to finish their education goals.

Unlike the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which can be transferred to spouses and children under certain circumstances, the Montgomery GI Bill cannot be passed to another family member. So veterans looking for additional help to pay family bills won’t benefit from a potential favorable ruling.

No date has yet been set for when the Supreme Court arguments on the case will be scheduled. The Court is expected to end its current term in the next few weeks.

Patrick Semansky
<![CDATA[Lawmakers push to make it easier to discipline, fire VA workers]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/23/lawmakers-push-to-make-it-easier-to-discipline-fire-va-workers/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/23/lawmakers-push-to-make-it-easier-to-discipline-fire-va-workers/Fri, 23 Jun 2023 16:00:00 +0000U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs leaders would be able to demote and fire problematic workers more quickly under new accountability rules proposed by a group of lawmakers on Friday.

The move comes in response to federal rulings against previous attempts to streamline disciplinary actions against VA staff, and in response to concerns from department leadership about using already approved authorities for those personnel decisions. Supporters say the move is needed to ensure that poor-performing workers aren’t hurting customer service and staff morale.

“While the VA employs some of the finest men and women, it only takes a few bad employees to disrupt the culture and service at the VA, which negatively impacts veterans,” Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Jerry Moran, R-Kansas, said in a statement announcing the new legislation.

“Veterans are best served when VA leaders have the ability to swiftly take action to remove bad employees in order to maintain a healthy workplace and, more importantly, provide quality services for our veterans.”

Lawmakers demand VA fire substandard staff faster

The measure — dubbed the Restore Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability Act — has backing from Moran, Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla.. House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Mike Bost, R-Ill., has introduced companion legislation in his chamber.

“In order to best serve veterans, the VA Secretary must have the authority to quickly and fairly remove, demote, or suspend bad employees who are undermining the quality of services that our veterans have earned,” Bost said in a statement. “As it stands today, the VA secretary’s hands are tied, and failing employees continue to be employed at VA.”

In March, VA Secretary Denis McDonough announced that he would stop using disciplinary authorities approved by Congress in 2017 because of numerous legal challenges to the measures. Those powers were approved after a push from Republican lawmakers to find ways to more quickly deal with employees accused of malfeasance, ineptness or, in extreme cases, criminal activity.

But McDonough insisted that the 2017 law “wasn’t really helping us manage our workforce as much as it was getting us in front of federal judges and other administrative bodies” to settle personnel disputes. Rulings in recent months from the Federal Labor Relations Authority and the Merit Systems Protection Board have muted much of their effectiveness, he said.

VA officials have insisted since then that other existing authorities allow for proper management and punishment of department staff.

Lawmakers behind Friday’s legislation disagree. The new legislation would make multiple changes to federal employment rules regarding VA workers, including matching disciplinary rules for VA managers and supervisors with the process in place for Senior Executive Service staff and installing new expedited removal, demotion or suspension authority for all categories of VA employees.

The legislation would also get rid of the requirement that supervisors put an employee performance improvement plan in place before any disciplinary action.

The measure already has the backing of a wide range of veterans groups, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Concerned Veterans of America. However, whether that support will be enough to move the legislation ahead remains unclear.

While Bost can move the measure through his Republican-controlled committee without Democratic support, finding momentum in the Senate is more difficult. Union leaders have voiced concerns about cutting back on employee appeals rights in the past, and are likely to lobby Democratic leaders in the Senate to move carefully on the new suggestions.

<![CDATA[Spending plan for vets programs gets Senate support, but fights loom]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/22/spending-plan-for-vets-programs-gets-senate-support-but-fights-loom/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/22/spending-plan-for-vets-programs-gets-senate-support-but-fights-loom/Thu, 22 Jun 2023 18:49:29 +0000Senate appropriators on Thursday advanced plans for $320 billion in Veterans Affairs spending in fiscal 2024, setting up a showdown with their House counterparts — not on budget levels, but on social issue fights attached to veterans programming plans.

The measure, adopted by a bipartisan, unanimous vote in the Senate Appropriations Committee, includes a roughly 6% increase in funding for VA operations next fiscal year.

That hike matches the level outlined in the debt limit deal negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders last month, as well as the spending outline from the House Appropriations Committee passed earlier this month. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the measure provides veterans with “the support we owe them and the support they need.”

The measure includes $16.2 billion for mental health care (up 17% from fiscal 2023 levels), $3.1 billion for homelessness prevention efforts (up 16%) and $1.3 billion for women’s health initiatives (up 50%).

GOP budget bill would ban abortions, transgender services at VA

What the Senate measure doesn’t include is language regarding abortion services at VA facilities or restrictions on transgender medical care.

Those issues and others were inserted into the House version of the budget bill last week, over the objections of House Democrats. Republican leaders of the House committee said the moves are needed to rein in political posturing by department leaders.

Language in the House budget bill would ban VA from providing abortion services — something they have been doing since last fall — as well as medical care for transgender veterans. VA has promised to provide gender confirmation surgery in the future but has not conducted any operations as of yet. Medical staff do provide hormone therapy and other transgender-specific care.

None of those social issue fights were included in the Senate draft, adopted by the full committee after only a few minutes of debate. Murray said she hopes to move the VA and other budget bills “in an orderly and timely way” to ensure federal programs don’t face the threat of a possible partial shutdown this fall.

Since the spending totals in the House and Senate drafts largely match, the biggest obstacle to completing the VA appropriations work appears to be finding ways to reconcile the controversial limits on department services preferred by House Republicans.

Both measures are expected to be voted on by their respective chambers in the coming weeks, then head to inter-chamber negotiations for the rest of the summer. In past years, the VA budget has typically been one of the earliest spending bills finished because of bipartisan support for veterans care and benefits.

<![CDATA[Measure to boost pay for some injured vets moves ahead ]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/21/measure-to-boost-pay-for-some-injured-vets-moves-ahead/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/21/measure-to-boost-pay-for-some-injured-vets-moves-ahead/Wed, 21 Jun 2023 16:09:57 +0000Tens of thousands of wounded service members could see their disability payouts significantly boosted under a measure advanced by a key congressional committee on Wednesday.

The measure — known as the Major Richard Star Act — still faces a long legislative path ahead. But for veterans advocates who have been pushing for the reforms for years, Wednesday’s action represents a significant step forward in addressing what they say is an injustice for troops who have already sacrificed so much on behalf of their country.

The bill passed out of the House Armed Services Committee by a unanimous voice vote, despite concerns from some conservative lawmakers about the costs of the measure and the lack of budget offsets included in the legislation for now.

Fixing disability and retirement pay is Congress’ next big vets issue

Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said he plans to “work with leadership and the Veterans Affairs committee to see if an offset can be found for this bill” in coming weeks. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the plan will cost roughly $9.75 billion over the next 10 years.

But he backed moving the legislation ahead because under current rules, “veterans are unfairly forced to forfeit a portion of the benefits they rightly earned.”

Since 2004, veterans who have a disability rating of at least 50% have received their full military retirement pay and disability benefits, a combined total that can amount to several thousand dollars each month.

But veterans who have a disability rating of less than 50% are subject to dollar-for-dollar offsets under federal rules. That can mean a loss of several hundred dollars a month for some individuals who depend on those stipends to supplement their family income.

Officials from Wounded Warrior Project have estimated that as many as 50,000 medical retirees nationwide are hurt by the current policy. Most of those veterans were forced out of the service early by a significant injury and may have limited job options in the civilian business sector as a result.

The Richard Star Act — named for an Army veteran who died in 2021 of cancer related to burn pit exposure in Iraq and Afghanistan — would allow all combat-wounded veterans medically discharged before serving 20 years to receive both retirement and disability pay, without any reductions. Veterans must be eligible for Combat-Related Special Compensation to qualify.

While Wednesday’s action in the House committee was quick and straightforward, the next steps for the legislation are less clear. The Senate has introduced but not moved on the measure. The earliest that action could come on the bill in the House is July, but it will be competing for time with high-profile appropriations issues and the annual defense authorization bill.

Ken Scar
<![CDATA[Lawmakers float grant program to get service dogs to struggling vets]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/21/lawmakers-float-grant-program-to-get-service-dogs-to-struggling-vets/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/21/lawmakers-float-grant-program-to-get-service-dogs-to-struggling-vets/Wed, 21 Jun 2023 16:00:00 +0000Lawmakers on Wednesday unveiled a new proposal to use community grants to pair service dogs with struggling veterans, in the hopes the companionship will help solve a host of transition difficulties.

The bipartisan Service Dogs Assisting Veterans (SAVES) Act comes two years after Congress approved similar legislation that advocates say proved too limited to connect canines and veterans. The new legislation would set aside $10 million annually for nonprofit groups who have trained the dogs and handlers to work with veterans seeking their services.

“This bill will allow more veterans who are struggling with the invisible wounds of war to receive service dogs that could ultimately save their lives,” Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee and one of the sponsors of the measure, said in a statement. “We must repay the debt to the men and women who served our country.”

Service dog helps ease Army veteran’s anxiety

Under the plan — which still must survive Senate and House debate before becoming law — the Department of Veterans Affairs would administer the new program, which echoes past service dog efforts managed through the Department of Defense.

Groups who are accredited to train and work with service dogs could apply for grants to cover the costs of preparing the canines, preparing the veterans, and providing ongoing support to both after they are matched.

Past research from the Department of Veterans Affairs has shown that service dogs can help reduce the frequency and severity of PTSD symptoms among veterans. In 2021, lawmakers approved plans for a five-year pilot program to provide canine training to veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in an effort to provide alternative treatments for individuals suffering from that condition.

But advocacy groups say the rules governing that legislation were severely limiting, and thus far have linked only a small number of veterans and dogs. The new proposal looks to push the idea further, using existing infrastructure in the community to help push the efforts ahead.

“Service dogs have a proven track record of providing life-saving assistance to veterans,” said Carl Cricco, CEO of the nonprofit K9s For Warriors. ”The SAVES Act will ultimately put more service dogs in the hands of veterans in critical need, allowing them to regain their independence and reintegrate into civilian life.”

While the past programs were only open to veterans with PTSD, the new proposal would make eligible veterans with any disabilities recognized by VA, potentially opening the program up to thousands of additional individuals.

Committee hearings on the measure are expected next month. Along with Tillis, Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.; and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. have signed onto the measure.

Airman 1st Class Audrey Chappell
<![CDATA[Ford announces five-year commitment to Team Rubicon partnership]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/20/ford-announces-five-year-commitment-to-team-rubicon-partnership/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/20/ford-announces-five-year-commitment-to-team-rubicon-partnership/Tue, 20 Jun 2023 18:08:40 +0000As wildfires rage in California and Canada, and hurricane season is about to kick into gear, the veteran-led Team Rubicon humanitarian organization is always monitoring the possibility of natural disasters with the intensity of The Weather Channel.

Since Team Rubicon was founded by veterans after a massive Haiti earthquake in 2010, the organization has launched 1,100 disaster recovery operations and grown to more than 160,000 volunteers. This kind of volunteer movement doesn’t happen with the help of philanthropic commitments, such as the one Ford Motor Company committed to Team Rubicon on Tuesday.

Ford has been a believer in Team Rubicon’s mission since 2016. It extends its relationship through Team Rubicon Powered by Ford, a five-year, $5.8 million commitment that includes vehicles, philanthropic investment and employee volunteerism, as Ford employees can receive paid time off to join Team Rubicon’s veterans on the front lines of disaster recovery.

“It’s a demonstration of trust,” said Team Rubicon CEO Art delaCruz, a retired U.S. Navy officer. “You can imagine, for an organization that relies on people donating and investing in our vision, a five-year partnership is substantial. The philanthropic investment allows us to get people in the field to help people on their worst day. And then this additional enabler, which is a real special combination of vehicles that allows us to drive forward in a manner to innovate in a disaster space.”

The donation of 17 vehicles for Team Rubicon’s relief efforts includes 10 Ford F-150 PowerBoost hybrid trucks, three F-150 Lightning trucks, two F-Series Super Duty trucks and two Ford Bronco SUVs.

The vehicles will help Team Rubicon’s recovery efforts in areas where power is out or limited, giving crews the ability to power vital equipment like generators, chainsaws or safety lights and also equip trucks with refrigerators to keep food and beverages cold for team members and help any storm victims who need assistance keeping their own food from spoiling.

“What’s unique about these new trucks is the power that they can bring,” delaCruz said. “These hybrid trucks essentially have the ability to drive a generator via the vehicle. And you have energy storage via batteries so you can tap into the battery and also tap into energy from the generators when needed.”

Before this most recent commitment, the Ford Fund had donated $1.5 million to Team Rubicon. The monetary portion of Tuesday’s announcement allows Team Rubicon to allocate funds to areas such as training, transportation to disaster zones, or purchasing additional relief equipment.

“This is a very sizable partnership, the type of thing that makes major disaster responses possible,” delaCruz said. “And probably more importantly, it allows the little recoveries to happen.”

The contributions come at a perfect time for Team Rubicon, which has already responded to 70 operations this year. Eight of those events are considered billion-dollar disasters, which have increased at a rate of 400 percent since 1980, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. In 1980, billion-dollar events occurred every 82 days according to NOAA. Now they’re happening every 18 days.

“The reality is weather-related disasters in the U.S. are becoming more frequent and more severe,” said Bill Ford, Ford Motor Company’s executive chair. “That is why we are significantly expanding our relationship with Team Rubicon, donating a fleet of vehicles and deploying volunteers where they are needed most.”

Photo courtesy of Ford
<![CDATA[After two years, still no timeline for transgender surgeries at VA]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/20/after-two-years-still-no-timeline-for-transgender-surgeries-at-va/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/20/after-two-years-still-no-timeline-for-transgender-surgeries-at-va/Tue, 20 Jun 2023 16:40:00 +0000Two years after Veterans Affairs leaders announced they would make “life saving” surgery options for transgender veterans available through department medical centers for the first time, no such operations have been performed, and VA officials admit there is no timeline for when they might begin.

The delay comes as a national debate has erupted over both the surgeries and transgender rights. Instead of alleviating some of the stress associated with that, Veterans Affairs officials are adding to the anxiety by failing to follow through with its promise, advocates say.

“The frustration level is extremely high,” said Cassandra Williamson, executive director of Transgender and Diverse Veterans of America. “This is impacting veterans’ mental health and well-being, and postponing some medically necessary procedures. We’re losing faith in VA in a big way.”

On June 19, 2021, Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis McDonough publicly vowed to start offering gender confirmation procedures through department facilities for the first time. Officials at the time drew praise from LGBTQ activists for the move, even as department officials warned that the rulemaking process could drag on for months.

VA to offer gender surgery to transgender vets for the first time

Now, those months have turned into years. In the meantime, at least 20 states have placed limits on gender confirmation surgeries, largely aimed at minors. Florida Governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis recently compared the operations to “mutilation.”

In a statement, VA press secretary Terrence Hayes said department leaders are still committed to providing the surgery options to transgender veterans, and insisted that the larger political debate over transgender rights has not slowed down the rulemaking work.

But he also said there is no timeline for when the first surgeries may be scheduled. Officials are “moving ahead methodically because we want this important change in policy to be implemented in a manner that has been thoroughly considered” and “meets VA’s rigorous standards for quality health care.”

Past estimates from the National Center for Transgender Equality and other advocacy groups put the number of transgender veterans in America today between 130,000 and 150,000. VA officials have estimated that around 4,000 veterans nationwide may be interested in gender confirmation surgeries, also known as gender reassignment surgeries.

Conservative groups have disputed both the estimates of transgender veterans and the need for VA to provide the surgery options, especially in states where it may run afoul of local laws.

Although gender confirmation surgeries are not yet available through VA, the department does offer hormone therapies and other transgender-specific medical options.

But advocates say that isn’t enough, and question the reasons behind the delay.

Transgender vets call for more protections from Congress, VA

In late March, 157 outside groups — including Minority Veterans of America, Student Veterans of America and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America — sent a letter to McDonough calling the continued delay over transgender surgery availability “not just an equity issue, but also a safety issue.” They said that offering the operations could help cut down on depression and suicide rates among transgender veterans.

Lindsay Church, executive director and founder of Minority Veterans of America, called the lack of progress on the issue disheartening.

“When they announced this plan, they said it would save lives,” Church said. “So where is the action now that trans people’s lives are on the line?”

Church, who identifies as non-binary, was given breast implants years ago as part of reconstructive surgery from medical complications that arose during their time in the Navy. Earlier this year, during a medical appointment with VA, Church found out those implants had ruptured, causing a series of new health problems.

“I couldn’t take them out earlier, because that falls under the transgender surgery options,” Church said. “So the government can give you breast implants to affirm the gender they think you are, but they won’t help you with other options unless it’s a medical emergency.”

Williamson, a Navy and Marine Corps veteran, said she has heard similar stories from other transgender veterans. “We’re hearing that having these surgery options would have helped greatly, but for now, these veterans are still waiting.”

House Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranking member Mark Takano, D-Calif., said he is “concerned about the two-year delay” regarding the surgeries and hopes for resolution on the issue soon.

However, he said he still has faith that McDonough and his administration is committed to “providing much-needed healthcare to transgender veterans” in the near future.

Veterans Affairs health care websites promise that transgender veterans who reach out to the department will “receive affirming care and services to achieve optimal health and well-being.” But for now, the list of services still excludes gender confirming surgeries.

“I just keep telling our folks to keep fighting, to stay on this,” Williamson said. “We understand the regulatory process does take time. But we didn’t expect it to be this long.”

<![CDATA[Stepping into civilian shoes: What to keep in mind while transitioning]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/20/stepping-into-civilian-shoes-what-to-keep-in-mind-while-transitioning/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/20/stepping-into-civilian-shoes-what-to-keep-in-mind-while-transitioning/Tue, 20 Jun 2023 15:21:21 +0000Veterans are quickly becoming a bigger part of the American population. We now make up slightly more than 10 percent of the U.S. population but there are many, many more civilians. Depending on the very careful, well-thought out decision I know you made on where to live, you may not ever see another vet. So along with all the other things you need to know about getting out of the military, now we need you to learn how to not be in the military anymore. You’re in for some culture shock.

A lot of civilians do not show up to things on time. They sure as hell don’t show up 15 minutes early to everything. They also eat their food at a normal pace. And there are so, so many slow walkers out there. But they don’t have the same ingrained training you do. Does that make you better than they are? Absolutely not, and you can’t let that get to you. Civilian life can be stressful enough without adding to it unnecessary and stupid irritants.

There are so many ways to confront the stress of everyday life. Your new civilian job is highly unlikely to give you the same time to PT as you had in the military, but working out is a great way to burn off the stress of walking behind an entire school of people who don’t seem to have anywhere they need to be anytime soon. The internet is full of ways to lead a low-stress life. You can find out what juice cleanse Gwyneth Paltrow is using this week or you can try some yoga with pro-wrestler Diamond Dallas Page. The point is that you do something.

The Marine Corps Community has five mindfulness steps you might find interesting, because no one knows a stress-free life like the United States Marine Corps.

1. Don’t give negative thoughts more than 5 or 10 minutes of attention.

2. Focus on the positive. This could be a new job, a good book or a great hike you’ve enjoyed recently.

3. Change your activities. This could be as simple as moving from one room in the house to another. When you find yourself starting to think negatively, start washing the dishes or put a load of laundry in the washing machine. The idea is to remove yourself from the location where your negative thoughts occurred.

4. Go for a walk. Nature walks are really great at defusing heightened reactions from a memory of your past.

5. Talk to someone. Sometimes simply sharing your worries with another person can help you feel better. A trusted friend can provide support and help you focus on the present.

Those are just suggestions. A little trial and error and a little experimentation will help you find out what’s right for you. Just remember that drugs and alcohol aren’t the answer. They will eventually just become a problem in their own right while compounding the rest of your problems. The world has enough homeless, addicted, alcoholic veterans to take care of and we don’t need one more. That being said, be sure to look out for your brothers and sisters while you’re at it.

It’s great to identify as a veteran but since most vets leave the service at a very young age, it’s important to remember that your life is really just beginning. The military is not the only thing you’re gonna do with your life. It’s not even the best thing that you’ll ever do. To ensure you make it, you need to know that money will be tight for a while.

There’s nothing wrong with buying a Grunt Style shirt to go with your new Propper pants and backpack, but rein in your spending. You or your spouse might face periods of unemployment. Not having many of the base services you became accustomed to will strain your budget. And you may need a brand new wardrobe for your new life. Unplanned expenses come up all the time, but if you have a budget, you will survive.

There are a lot of budget styles out there to look at. Tailor one to your life. But the simplest budget is the 50-20-30 budget: put 50 percent of your paycheck toward expenses, 20 percent toward your savings, and then you can blow the last 30 percent on whatever you want – because you still need to have fun in life.

That’s all civilian life is: meeting your needs, managing your expectations, and setting your own priorities. Only now the Armed Forces of the United States isn’t meeting, managing, or setting any of that for you. So feel good about buying that scooter, going to Coachella, or ordering $20 of avocado toast, which is what I assume the kids are all about these days.

Justin Connaher
<![CDATA[$100M pledge to vets group is money ‘owed’ to them, Newmark says]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/20/100m-pledge-to-vets-group-is-money-owed-to-them-benefactor-says/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/20/100m-pledge-to-vets-group-is-money-owed-to-them-benefactor-says/Tue, 20 Jun 2023 09:00:00 +0000Why would a self-described tech nerd with no personal connection to the armed forces give away $100 million to organizations focused on veterans and military families?

“Because I owe them,” said Craig Newmark, the founder of Craigslist turned philanthropist and veterans advocate. “I’ve realized that some people are going to risk themselves, maybe taking a bullet overseas to protect me … There are a lot of issues in the military community that I barely understand. But on a gut level, I know we owe vets and their families a lot.”

Newmark, who stepped down as CEO of his namesake web site more than 20 years ago, has spent most of the last eight years focused on charity work, launching the Craig Newmark Philanthropies to distribute some of his personal wealth.

The latest $100 million pledge is actually a continuation of recent efforts focused on military groups. About $42 million of the money has already been given away, including $10 million each to Blue Star Families and the Bob Woodruff Foundation. The rest of the money will be awarded over the next three years.

Military families crave stability and more time together, survey finds

In announcing “a big number,” as Newmark deemed it during a sit-down with Military Times, he hopes to spur not only new research and outreach among established military supporters but also to draw public attention to those efforts, some of which have fallen out of the public eye since the end of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It’s hard to ask someone to do their best to serve their country if they’re worried about their family back home or if they’re worried that they may be abandoned as a vet,” he said. “So people in industry, and also one-percenters everywhere, probably could pony up some cash to help out.”

Newmark’s foundation said the money will be directed towards “contributing to solutions for the most pressing challenges facing veterans and military families,” a list that includes mental health problems, food insecurity, employment challenges and loneliness.

The beneficiaries of the donations say the money provides unexpected opportunities for growth and outreach. Blue Star Families, for example, will see their operating budget almost double thanks to the new money. Officials hope to use it to further research on the struggles of military families and open more chapters to connect spouses with each other.

“This is really transformational for us,” said Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families. “When you’re a non-profit, you don’t get investors and … you don’t grow like a for-profit. You have to grow incrementally. But with a big infusion like this, you can leap to the next level, and that is exciting.”

Newmark has an emeritus seat on Blue Star Families’ board of directors, but describes his role as mostly listening and “getting out of the way” while advocates work towards solutions. He believes most Americans support helping military members and their families, but don’t know what that means or how to do it.

“We need to learn what we already know: that we owe vets and their families,” he said. “They’ve done the job we asked, they’ve made great sacrifices. It feels right to do something about it.”

Information on how groups can apply for the new grants are available through Newmark’s foundation website.

Slaven Vlasic
<![CDATA[Defense bill work ramps up, but Senate keeps debate out of public view]]>https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/06/19/defense-bill-work-ramps-up-but-senate-keeps-debate-out-of-public-view/https://www.armytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2023/06/19/defense-bill-work-ramps-up-but-senate-keeps-debate-out-of-public-view/Mon, 19 Jun 2023 00:00:00 +0000Both the House and Senate Armed Service committees will mark up their annual defense authorization bill drafts this week, but the public will only get to see one of them do their work.

That’s because Senate lawmakers have opted to continue their tradition of conducting the high-stakes defense policy work behind closed doors. All of the subcommittee work — except for the personnel subcommittee, which will hold a public hearing on Wednesday — and the full committee debate is closed to the public, shutting off insight into where senators stand on the debates that will shape the Defense Department for years to come.

In contrast, the House Armed Services Committee will hold an open markup of its draft bill on Wednesday. The work is expected to last more than 14 hours. In the last 11 years, the marathon event has only finished before midnight twice.

The public debate includes hours of discussion over spending priorities, personnel requirements and policy changes. Senate lawmakers have said the open debate prompts posturing and inhibits frank discussions. House lawmakers insist the work should be done in a matter where all Americans can observe and learn about the issues.

By the end of the week, both committees are expected to have their separate versions of the legislation ready to head to their respective chamber floors for votes. After that, House and Senate leaders will spend the next few months negotiating a compromise bill, with the goal of sending the measure to the White House sometime this fall.

Tuesday, June 20

House Veterans' Affairs — 3 p.m. — 360 Cannon
VA Financial Management
Department officials will testify on financial management changes and how they impact service to veterans.

Wednesday, June 21

House Armed Services — 10 a.m. — 2118 Rayburn
NDAA markup
The full committee will mark up its draft of the annual national defense authorization bill.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — Visitors Center H210
Pending Legislation
The committee will consider several pending bills.

House Homeland Security — 10 a.m. — 310 Cannon
Latin America
Outside experts will testify on U.S. policy towards Latin America.

Senate Foreign Relations — 10 a.m. — 419 Dirksen
Pending Legislation
The committee will consider several pending bills.

Senate Armed Services — 10:30 a.m. — 106 Dirksen
Personnel Defense Budget
The personnel subcommittee will mark up its section of the annual defense authorization bill in public.

House Veterans' Affairs — 10:30 a.m. — 360 Cannon
Pending Legislation
The subcommittee on health will consider several pending bills.

Senate Foreign Relations — 2 p.m. — 419 Dirksen
Pending Nominations
The committee will consider several pending nominations.

Senate Veterans' Affairs — 3:30 p.m. — 418 Russell
Veteran Care
Department officials will testify on current operations of the Office of Integrated Veteran Care.

Thursday, June 22

House Veterans' Affairs — 10 a.m. — 360 Cannon
Member Day
House members will offer their ideas for veteran program reforms.

House Foreign Affairs — 10 a.m. — Visitors Center H210
State Department officials will testify on the fiscal 2023 foreign operations budget request for Africa programs.

House Homeland Security — 10 a.m. — 310 Cannon
Cybersecurity Talent Pipeline
Outside experts will testify on demand for cybersecurity jobs in the near future and the available talent pool in the United States.

House Appropriations — 10 a.m. — 2359 Rayburn
Defense budget
Committee members will mark up their draft of the fiscal 2024 spending plan for the Department of Defense.

Senate Appropriations — 10:30 a.m. — 106 Dirksen
Veterans Affairs budget
Committee members will mark up their draft of the fiscal 2024 spending plan for Veterans Affairs and military construction.

House Foreign Affairs — 11 a.m. — 2200 Rayburn
Worldwide Anti-Semitism
Outside experts will testify on growing threats of anti-Semitism worldwide.

House Foreign Affairs — 1 p.m. — Visitors Center H210
Europe and NATO
State Department officials will testify on U.S. policies towards Europe and NATO.

House Oversight — 1 p.m. — 2154 Rayburn
Homeland Security Technology
Outside experts will discuss available technology advances for homeland security operations.

Chip Somodevilla
<![CDATA[How to support your spouse during your shift to civilian life]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/16/how-to-support-your-spouse-during-your-shift-to-civilian-life/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/16/how-to-support-your-spouse-during-your-shift-to-civilian-life/Fri, 16 Jun 2023 17:27:23 +0000Guess what, your spouse and family are transitioning to new lives just like you are. Gone are the days where Uncle Sam dropped a bag of money on your homes on the 1st and 15th of every month. With this in mind, your husband or wife will likely need the same separation help you’re trying to get, except they aren’t forced to take a TAP class as part of their separation outprocessing checklist – but that doesn’t mean the options aren’t available. It just means you haven’t looked for them.

So the next time your spouse makes you mad, go sign them up for one of these spouse transition courses your base 100 percent definitely has available. In the Marine Corps, they’re called STARS, Spouse Transition and Readiness Seminars, and they’re three hours long. Remind your spouse it’s full of good information they need for the coming years and then go watch the latest Avengers movie without them. Treat yourself.

After he or she has all the information they need, they will likely feel as overwhelmed as you did when first presented with it all. Maybe it will be a good idea to help them plan their transition as any number of people are working to help you plan yours. Without telling your spouse you’re as overwhelmed as they are, sit down in a relaxing environment and have a frank discussion about their goals. Maybe stop at the local Red Lobster (treat yourself) and find out what they want to do when you no longer attached to the military lifestyle.

They might want to go back to school or start their own business if they haven’t already. Maybe they want to live closer to their family and not yours. Maybe they’ll question the entire premise of your marriage, considering you didn’t know they were already an HerbaLife partner and has been for years, that they wants a brick and mortar store in St. Louis, and how dare you watch Endgame, they can smell the popcorn on your clothes. It’s about time you started thinking of someone else for a change.

After you and your spouse make up for your blatant lack of cinematic consideration, get copies of their medical and dental records, update all your legal documents, and prepare financially for the new life you’re building for yourselves, all that’s left will be taking care of your children, if you have them. Luckily all you need to worry about is child care while you’re at school or work because the good folks at Sesame Street have this covered.

The bottom line is your spouse needs all the same information you do. Your family will soon be the only unit of which you are still a member, so whether you’re the commander or just the director of operations, be sure you disseminate necessary information accordingly so he or she can be as prepared as you’re trying to be.

Besides, everything goes better with a partner. There are a lot of people doing this on their own.

<![CDATA[All Veterans Affairs police to get body cameras by the end of 2023 ]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/16/all-veterans-affairs-police-to-get-body-cameras-by-the-end-of-2023/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/16/all-veterans-affairs-police-to-get-body-cameras-by-the-end-of-2023/Fri, 16 Jun 2023 16:30:00 +0000By the end of 2023, all Veterans Affairs police officers will be required to wear body cameras and use dashboard cameras on their vehicles in an effort to provide transparency in their interactions with the public, department leaders announced on Friday.

The move will affect roughly 4,700 VA officers serving at department medical centers, cemeteries and offices.

Lawmakers have pushed for the body cameras in the past, both as an accountability measure for officers and an educational tool for ways VA staff can better respond to mental health crises and other emergencies. The new regulations will bring the force in line with legislation passed by Congress late last year and federal law enforcement practices mandated by President Joe Biden a few months earlier.

VA officers have been involved in multiple violent incidents in recent years, including a case in Milwaukee in 2020 when a man armed with a shotgun was shot and killed by police as he attempted to enter a department hospital, and another months earlier when a veteran seeking medical care in Dallas was gunned down by officers after he brandished a knife.

The cameras are programmed to automatically record video and audio whenever an officer draws a firearm or activates the emergency lights in a police vehicle. Under rules set by VA, police will also manually turn on the cameras when conducting investigations and during enforcement encounters.

However, VA leaders said they will work to ensure that the new policies do not affect “the privacy of those we serve or VA employees.” Footage from cameras will only be used for police investigations and court proceedings, or other limited purposes allowed under federal law.

“Unless there is a clear and compelling need for a recording, no video will be recorded in locations where a reasonable expectation of personal privacy exists,” VA officials said in a statement on the announcement.

Department officials said the recordings will be used to “document statements, observations, behaviors, and other evidence” and to “deter unprofessional, illegal, and inappropriate behaviors by both VA Police and the public.”

In a message to department staff on Friday, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said he believes the move “will help build trust, demonstrate transparency, support officers, and strengthen our commitment to de-escalation and avoiding use of force.”

Veterans Health Administration Senior Security Officer Troy Brown echoed that sentiment in a separate statement, asserting that the new cameras will help improve both safety and accountability for department officers.

The first officers to receive the new cameras will be those in VA’s Desert Pacific Healthcare Network in California, starting June 20. Other locations will receive cameras as training is completed.

VA officials said that part of that training will include ensuring that police do not violate Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act rules, which prohibit the release of some personal medical information.

Loza Gutierrez, Luis H.
<![CDATA[A new home base: How to choose a post-military destination]]>https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/14/a-new-home-base-how-to-choose-a-post-military-destination/https://www.armytimes.com/education-transition/2023/06/14/a-new-home-base-how-to-choose-a-post-military-destination/Wed, 14 Jun 2023 19:03:52 +0000You’ve heard a lot of talk – from me and from other people, no doubt – about what you’re going to do when you get out of the service. Just as important as what you’re gonna do is where in the world you’re gonna do it. If you’re lucky, this location will be determined by your school or your job and you won’t have to think any more thoughts about it.

And then, you might. So where would you go if you had the world to choose from?

Every year, reputable sources publish a list of the best places for veterans to live, and they aren’t wrong. They take into account everything vets need and are accustomed to having, which includes VA medical services, quality of life for people entering the civilian world, and even support from other veterans. The list might not surprise you, as places in Virginia, Maryland, and Texas rank very high on the list, while Colorado Springs sits at the top.

Let’s go back to your new degree program or new job choosing the place you live when you leave the military. Is the location of the school something you took into account? Did you consider the local area if you have a family? What about the new job – it’s great to work for a federal agency, but chances are good living in the District of Columbia might be out of your price range. Are you ready for that daily commute? How will you get to work or class? How will your family meet those same needs? These are all important considerations as you transition into the next phase of your life.

This decision doesn’t necessarily have to change the rest of your life. After all, if you get another big job or you graduate and take a big job, you’ll end up moving again anyway. The whole idea is to have a support system in place and make your transition to civilian life a simple as possible. So let’s be real for a moment: it’s gonna be difficult. No one ever got out of the military without a single hiccup or regret. You can follow every one of these suggestions, completely stick to the timeline we gave you, or the one the transition office gave you, or the one anyone gave you because you received so many, and things are still going to happen.

But being able to get to school while your spouse heads off to work doesn’t need to be one of those issues. Finding a doctor for yourself or your kids doesn’t need to be one of those issues. And finding a place you feel at home shouldn’t be one either.

So if you’re a big city person, just do the research. You’ll have no problem finding schools for everyone who needs one, along with jobs, food, and fun. You’ll probably even find multiple VA facilities to serve your needs and finish your VA disability examination. In a small town, you might have more difficulty checking every box but it’s not impossible. Do the research and figure out what’s right for you and yours.

When you know where you really want to go and find a new home there, be sure to update your home of record with the MPF. When you leave the military, you will get one free shipment of household goods to that home of record as a final send-off from America’s greatest fighting force. Be sure it’s all going to a place you really want to meet it.

Airman 1st Class David Phaff
<![CDATA[GOP budget bill would ban abortions, transgender services at VA]]>https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/13/gop-budget-bill-would-ban-abortions-transgender-services-at-va/https://www.armytimes.com/veterans/2023/06/13/gop-budget-bill-would-ban-abortions-transgender-services-at-va/Tue, 13 Jun 2023 17:54:44 +0000Abortion procedures, transgender surgeries and LGBTQ Pride flags would all be banned at Veterans Affairs medical centers under a budget bill adopted by House Republicans on Tuesday.

The spending plan — which advanced on a party-line vote out of the House Appropriations Committee — also calls for a record $320 billion in veterans program spending next fiscal year, matching the White House’s funding request released earlier this year.

The more than 6% increase in new spending was not enough, however, to offset Democratic concerns about limiting department outreach efforts to women and minority groups, objections that are likely to be repeated when the measure reaches the Democratic-controlled Senate later this summer.

“This committee is wasting its time,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., ranking member of the committee’s panel on veterans issues. “It should be focused on issues that face the veterans community every day: ending veteran suicide, decreasing the claims backlogs, ensuring the VA can attract and retain clinicians. But we are instead focusing on non-issues to bow down to the demands of the far right wing of the Republican Party.”

VA to provide abortions in cases of rape, danger to veteran’s health

Republican leaders of the committee said the moves are needed to rein in political posturing and overreach by VA officials in recent years.

“These are issues that should be handled by Congress, not the executive branch,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, chairman of the committee’s panel on veterans programs.

VA officials announced last September — in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the long-standing Roe v Wade ruling which legalized abortions nationwide — that they would offer abortion access to veterans and eligible dependents “in cases that endanger the life or health of an individual.”

That included performing abortions at some VA facilities in states where the procedure is outlawed. VA attorneys have maintained the move does not violate criminal statutes because department facilities are on federal land.

In the eight months since the new rule was announced, VA physicians performed fewer than 40 abortions, according to department officials. Still, the decision to provide any abortion assistance drew widespread condemnation from congressional conservatives, who have accused VA leaders of violating numerous federal laws with the move.

Under language adopted in the budget bill, all abortions at VA medical centers would be halted, except in cases of rape, incest or life-threatening complications.

VA officials announced two years ago that they would offer gender confirmation surgeries, also known as gender reassignment surgeries, for the first time in an effort to provide better health care to transgender veterans.

The National Center for Transgender Equality estimates there are roughly 134,000 transgender veterans in America today, and another 15,000 transgender individuals serving in the armed forces. VA officials have estimated that around 4,000 veterans nationwide may be interested in gender confirmation surgeries.

However, none have been performed so far. VA Secretary Denis McDonough has repeatedly said he is reviewing the issue but made no final decision on when the operations may start.

Under the GOP-passed plan, that would never happen. The bill calls for not only preventing gender confirmation surgeries but also “hormone therapies for the purposes of gender affirming care,” scaling back current offerings for transgender veterans.

Pride flags at VA campuses irk Republican lawmakers

The controversy over Pride flags at VA facilities is a more recent one. Since the start of national Pride month on June 1, multiple Republican lawmakers have objected to the rainbow LGBTQ flag being displayed outside numerous VA facilities, calling it a political statement. VA leaders have said they have allowed such displays (below the American flag) for the last few years.

The budget bill would prevent any flags except the U.S. flag, state and local government flags, the VA flag, the flags of the military services, or the POW/MIA flag from being displayed on VA land.

The bans overshadowed other Democratic concerns about the budget bill that were mostly focused on concerns about other domestic spending.

GOP leaders have hinted at similar fights over abortion and transgender issues in other budget bills in coming weeks. Conversely, Senate Democratic appropriators have vowed not to back such provisions in their budget bills, putting the future of the veterans budget bill in doubt.

Lawmakers have until the start of the new fiscal year — Oct. 1 — to pass new government funding bills or a current funding extension. Without either move, lawmakers would trigger a partial government shutdown.

Charles Dharapak