“The Naval Criminal Investigative Service is seeing an uptick in reports from sailors and Marines who have been duped in a card-cracking scam on social media — in some cases after being promised money as a gesture of gratitude for their military service.“
“The scammers are reaching out to service members through several different ways, NCIS warned.
In some cases, service members are receiving friend requests on Facebook from someone with mutual friends. The scammer then tells the service members they would like to offer them grant money to thank them for their service, or offer them money for their “debt relief.”
Another trend NCIS has witnessed is scammers connecting with service members on social media through either posts or messages, all under the guise of being a debt consolidator or business owner.
Regardless of initial contact, scammers then ask service members to share their bank login information, along with some of the security question prompts that appear on their online bank account.
“Victims have reported that after the money is deposited directly into their accounts, the scammer then asks the victim to send a portion of the money via wire or cash to a third party,” NCIS said in a recent news release.
“Victims then discover that loans have been opened in their name with the same financial institution. Any attempts to further contact the scammer are unsuccessful, leaving the victim to pay off the loan.”
These scams have resulted in “severe financial losses” for service members, NCIS said.
NCIS provided a series of recommendations to sailors, such as halting continued contact with the scammer, alerting their banks or financial institutions to lock accounts, and looking into a credit lock through credit bureaus like Equifax.
Likewise, NCIS recommended sailors inform their commands, the NCIS office, and also law enforcement authorities, and advised against sharing bank login details with anyone.
Although NCIS warned sailors last month to be aware of COVID-19-related schemes, the agency initially said it did not believe these card-cracking scams are connected to the pandemic because there had already been a rise in scams over the past year.
However, NCIS told Military Times it received an image Thursday afternoon of a scam circulating via email targeting Navy Federal Credit Union members that offered to assist them with $800 for COVID-19 relief. The email requested members to validate their Navy Federal customer data in order for the funds to clear.
“We urge the Department of the Navy family to remain vigilant of scams offering promises getting out of debt and making extra money, especially during this challenging time for our nation,” NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston said in an email to Military Times.
Service members have frequently fallen prey to scammers and lost millions of dollars as a result.
According to a December report analyzing data from the Federal Trade Commission and Better Business Bureau, active duty personnel and veterans from the Navy have been tied up in 143,718 scams totaling $62,542,897 since 2012. Those from the Marine Corps have also been involved in 57,204 scams totaling $24,976,528.”
“The purpose of the COVID-19 Disaster Relief Grant is to mitigate the negative effects and economic impact COVID-19 has had on Veterans and their families by providing a one-time financial relief grant in the amount of $1,000.
Applications for the disaster relief grant must be dated no earlier than March 13, 2020. A closing date for the disaster relief grant has yet to be determined and will depend on the length of the peacetime emergency declared by the Governor of the State of Minnesota and the availability of funding.
To qualify for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant, applicants must be:
A Veteran or the surviving spouse (who has not remarried) of a deceased veteran as defined by MN Statute 197.447, and
A Minnesota Resident, and
Have been negatively financial impacted by COVID-19. * Note: Two Veterans married to each other are both authorized to apply for and receive the disaster relief grant.
The purpose of the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant is to provide one-time financial assistance to a Veteran or surviving spouse who needs assistance due to a COVID-19-related event. Any funding awarded from this grant would go directly to a vendor or creditor of the applicant, and no money awarded goes directly to an applicant or an applicant’s family member.
Applications for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant must be dated no earlier than March 13, 2020. A closing date for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant is subject to the length of the peacetime emergency declared by the Governor of the State of Minnesota, and the funding available.
To qualify for the COVID-19 Special Needs Grant, applicants must be:
A Veteran or the surviving spouse (who has not remarried) of a deceased veteran as defined by MN Statute 197.447,
A Minnesota Resident, and
Have been negatively financial impacted by COVID-19. *Note: two Veterans married to each other are only authorized one COVID-19 Special Needs Grant.
The State Soldiers Assistance Program (SSAP) typically provides seven different programs year-round that are not tied to our COVID-19 response. Although they are not specifically intended to assist with our COVID-19 response, SSAP programs may be helpful to any Veteran or dependent who may have been affected by COVID-19.
Special Needs Grant
The purpose of the Special Needs Grant is to provide one-time financial assistance to a Veteran or surviving spouse to assist in their financial crisis and to promote stability and prevent homelessness.
Special Needs Grants are open year round. To qualify for a Special Needs Grant, applicants must be:
Subsistence Assistance provides financial assistance for up to six months to a Veteran or surviving spouse when they are disabled and prevented from working at their usual/normal occupation for at least 30 days, or without a disabling medical condition within one year of the Veterans death.
Subsistence Assistance is available year round, and provides help with:
Shelter associated payments (rent / mortgage / room & board / property taxes / association dues / homeowners’ insurance).
We understand that many County Veterans Service Offices are currently closed or operating at a reduced capacity and that situations around the state are changing daily. If you are in need of assistance with applying for any of our programs and you cannot receive assistance from your County Veterans Service Officer our Field Operations Team has staff standing by and ready to assist you. They can be reached at FO.MDVA@state.mn.us.Permalink: http://mn.gov/mdva/blog/index.jsp?id=1066-425565“
“Nearly 4 million veterans and caregivers who were granted privileges to shop at commissaries and exchanges Jan. 1 can finally enjoy access to online features, a Defense Commissary Agency (DeCA) news release said.“
“However, the new patrons’ access to American Forces Travel (AFT), the official Morale, Welfare and Recreation travel site, is still spotty, according to the latest AFT Facebook post.
Purple Heart recipients, former prisoners of war, veterans with any service-connected disability, and caregivers registered with the VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program became eligible to shop at commissaries, exchanges and MWR facilities beginning Jan. 1.
Since then, these new shoppers have experienced issues, including not being able to bring guests on base and trouble accessing MyCommissary and AFT online portals.
DeCA officials said they had to work with Defense Manpower Data Center (DMDC), which is used to confirm shopping privileges, to let new patrons register their Commissary Rewards cards online to access coupons and to use, as available, the Click2Go curbside service.
“In the event a new shopper is still receiving an error message when trying to create an account, they should check with the [Department of Veterans Affairs] to ensure their information and privileges are correctly entered into the system,” DeCA system engineer Clayton Nobles said in a statement. “For those receiving a new Veterans Health Identification Card (VHIC), there may be a delay between when the veteran receives the card and when the system allows them access. This delay can take up to 30 days.”
Eligible veterans must have a VHIC to access bases for shopping or MWR use.
Customers who had access before Jan. 1, such as retired service members, Medal of Honor recipients and veterans with a service-related disability rating of 100%, are not affected.
Meanwhile, AFT is still updating its customer database of “millions of records.”
“We have sent examples to DMDC and they were able to see why some patrons are having issues,” AFT said on Facebook, the only place it is providing updates on the issue. “We will let you know when that resolve has been made and then ask you to try logging on again. Records are being updated every hour.”
But some veterans are getting tired of waiting.
“No luck today. Last week they said it would be fixed this week,” one Facebook user wrote. “The week before, it was going to be fixed last week. I sent a private message this afternoon and got an automated response to call the DMDC help desk at 1-800-727-3677. That number is for the Commissary. After 35 minutes, someone answered the phone and said they could not help me to get verified.”
“The sad truth is that each time a government contract is awarded to a company falsifying its status as a SDVOSB, other veterans operating legitimate, eligible small businesses are denied opportunities that they’ve earned through their service to our nation.“
It’s up to us to ensure these opportunities are safeguarded for our veterans today and tomorrow. It’s the honorable thing to do.“
“Ensuring that each veteran receives our full respect and support as he or she transitions back to civilian life is one of our duties as a nation.
While the personal sacrifice made by our veterans is impossible to measure and represents a debt that can never fully be repaid, it is vital that Americans do what we can to protect the benefits and services our nation’s veterans have earned.
Extending opportunities to entrepreneurial veterans who have suffered service-related disabilities is one way our nation honors their extraordinary service. The Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (“SDVOSB”) procurement program was established in 2003 as an extension of the federal government’s policy to maximize procurement opportunities for small businesses. The program provides opportunities for SDVOSBs by establishing a goal that at least 3 percent of all federal contracting dollars be awarded to service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses each year.
Three percent of federal contracting dollars may seem like a small amount—but the reality is this program represents billions of dollars in opportunity for our nation’s veterans. Unfortunately, over the years, this program has become a lucrative target for fraud and abuse. In fact, in a sobering December 2019 report from the Government Accountability Office focused on contracting fraud with the Department of Defense, one of the most rampant forms of abuse documented relates to contractors falsely claiming eligibility for contracts set aside for small businesses owned by service-disabled veterans.
Schemes in which well-resourced, large companies either create fraudulent SDVOSBs or manipulate existing SDVOSBs to capture federal set-aside contracts for themselves are on the rise. These schemes are robbing our nation’s veterans of opportunities that they earned through their service. This is why it is critical that we understand the rules involving contracts set aside for SDVOSBs, as well as how to identify SDVOSB fraud.
First, let us look at the rules of SDVOSB procurement. In order to be eligible for a set-aside or sole-source SDVOSB contract with the federal government, a firm must meet four criteria. First, the firm must be a small business. Second, the company must be at least 51-percent owned by one or more service-disabled veterans. Third, a service-disabled veteran must hold the highest position in the company—such as the role of CEO—and be responsible for the day-to-day operation of the firm. And finally, the eligible veterans must have a service-connected disability.
It’s also worth noting that while SDVOSBs can join forces with large companies to bid on government contracts, to qualify for an SDVOSB set-aside opportunity, at least 51 percent of the net profits earned by the joint venture must be distributed to the SDVOSB and the SDVOSB needs to play the lead role as project manager on the project.
Even though these rules should be easy to understand and follow, the lure of securing set-aside government contracts worth billions of dollars is too much for some large business owners to resist, often leading some to commit fraud by creating small businesses to serve as a “pass through” entity to illegally win SDVOSB set-aside contracts. For example, the Virginia-based defense contractor ADS, Inc. and Luke Hillier, ADS’s former Chief Executive Officer, collectively agreed to pay the United States nearly $37 million to settle allegations that they violated the False Claims Act by fraudulently obtaining federal set-aside contracts reserved for small businesses that ADS was ineligible to receive. Specifically, ADS settled allegations that it had established a “pass through” small business named MJL Enterprises led by a former ADS employee who happened to be a service-disabled veteran. The lawsuit further alleged that ADS managed MJL’s day-to-day operations and supplied the necessary logistical services to allow MJL to perform under its SDVOSB set-aside contracts. In turn, MJL brought in more than $70 million in small business set-aside government contracts that ADS otherwise would not have been eligible to receive.
In the case of ADS, the punishment for allegedly using a fraudulent SDVOSB was severe. Hillier’s settlement of $20 million is among the largest secured against an individual in the history of the FCA. In addition to the $20 million settlement announced by the DOJ in August 2019, the firm also paid the U.S. government a settlement of $16 million in 2017 related to the same conduct.
So, what can be done about the issue? The GAO report underscores that the Defense Department should be doing more to verify who actually owns and manages the companies that supply the agency with goods and services. That sounds great, but the reality is the complex system that includes thousands of vendor companies and hundreds of thousands of contracts and subcontracts makes this kind of additional oversight a herculean task.
Another solution is to encourage those with insider knowledge of potential SDVOSB fraud to come forward as whistleblowers. Whistleblowers with direct knowledge about the ownership and management structure of these organizations are uniquely positioned to shine a light on fraudulent schemes that may otherwise never be uncovered.”
“A new collection of studies reveals at the often unseen effects of those wars both at home and abroad ranging from fractured families, strained caregivers, increased cancer rates to mistrust of health workers, demolished infrastructure and military suicides.“
“Impact from the past two decades of U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be seen in dollars spent, lives shattered by injury or trauma and dead service members carried home.
“War and Health” is a collection of ethnographies covering a range of people affected from the wars beginnings, current day and likely long-term future ripples.
In it researchers have found correlations between areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan with higher number of drone strikes are also less likely to accept polio vaccinations and other medical assistance due to mistrust of government aid.
They’ve seen increased rates of behavior incidents and low school performance among children of frequently-deployed military parents.
The reports show waves of Iraqis seeking medical care in Beirut, Lebanon with late-stage cancers because they couldn’t get early screening in Iraq, which previously boasted the leading medical care in the region.
Researchers found military suicides, increased family violence and higher numbers of substance abuse and DUIs even among non-combat service members correlated with faster-paced deployment schedules and training.
While half of all caregivers for veterans are spouses, parents or immediate family, a full one-third of caregivers are friends or neighbors who don’t qualify to receive financial compensation created in recent years to ease the burden that caregivers for vets can face.
Catherine Lutz and Andrea Mazzarino edited the collection as part of their work with the “Costs of War Project,” out of Brown University.
The project collects information on war dead, military and civilian casualties, budget figures and other measures of the costs of the conflicts in the Global War on Terror. The project began in 2011 and recently kicked off a new effort to update past reports and develop new measures by 2021, the 20th anniversary of the start of the wars.
The same project recently released and updated notice on the fiscal costs of the Global War on Terror. The release noted that an estimated $6.4 trillion had been spent between late 2001 and today, a large portion of which has been financed through deficit spending.
But, those numbers can be difficult to nail down, as noted in the report, which quotes Christopher Mann of the Congressional Research Service.
“No government-wide reporting consistently accounts for both DOD and non-DOD war costs,” he said.
Part of the Costs of War Project’s work is to pull together disparate sources to find the tally of the wars.
Their research has found that that a growing cost will be medical care.
One example included 10-year costs estimates for post-9/11 veterans with traumatic brain injuries is expected to cost $2.4 billion from 2020 to 2029.
Mazzarino spoke with Military Times about the nature of the project and what she and its contributors hope it will accomplish.
She and others have participated in media interviews and, through the Costs of War Project, have been in touch with Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-VT and hope to testify before Congress on their findings.
“The whole point of the project is to move beyond the academy to influencing advocacy and public policy,” Mazzarino said.
That’s not an easy task. Data-driven studies such as past reports on increasing servicemember suicides and strains on military families garnered political and public attention, but that took years and resulted in some changes in programs.
What Mazzarino and her colleagues are working with is less black-and-white and more focused on the second- and third-order effects of having a military at war on a daily basis for decades.
But, it may be that what they’re finding will have as much a long-term impact as other major war-related concerns.
“People who were serving when the war started, they’re entering old age soon,” Mazzarino said. “That’s going to come with all kinds of financial burdens to the U.S. government, especially with care for those veterans.”
And overseas, the imprint of decades of combat leave their own kind of toll.
“There are subtle and unexpected ways that the destruction of infrastructure has affected public health,” she said.
The Costs of War Project website has compiled estimates that a many as 480,000 people have died in direct war violence. They estimate far more have died due to “indirect” war violence such as when access to food, water and medical care was restricted or unavailable due to combat.
Their research estimates that more than 244,000 civilians have been killed in connection to the wars and as many as 21 million have been displaced and many are now war refugees, with substandard living conditions away from their native lands.
One harder to measure item is how the estimated $5.9 trillion spent on the wars could have been spent, the report notes. What healthcare, infrastructure or education projects were curtailed, limited or ended as a result in budget priorities to fight the wars instead?
Mazzarino has seen firsthand some of the effects of the wartime military. Her husband serves as a submariner in the Navy. That’s meant more frequent and unexpected deployments that his predecessors faced.
And she’s seen that strain on fellow military families, members and commanders.
Some similar experiences were reflected in a section titled, “It’s Not Okay: War’s Toll on Health Brought Home to Communities and Environments.”
One vignette profiled Dolores, the young wife of an infantry sergeant whose unit had seen a number of murders committed by soldiers back home and increases in domestic violence.
Those experiences had weighed heavily on her husband who returned and completed another Iraq deployment, this time being injured and later diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Six years after he had returned from theater, she had become his main caregiver and had to quit her job to do that work and to advocate for his care.
The section’s authors, Jean Scandlyn and Sarah Hautzinger, wrote that many of the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan they interviewed still saw themselves as deeply entangled in what had happened during their deployments.
“Assessing war’s toll on health requires that we consider the ways we all become entangled in wars seemingly distant, and how war particularly erodes wellness in domestic military communities,” they wrote.”
“Everyone wants the best for the members of our military coming home after years of service, fighting for our country. But so many of these wonderful, courageous and giving people come back and have MAJOR struggles — that often don’t seem to be well-addressed. Just look at the suicide rate! Of the 245,000 veterans who return home every year, at least 20 commit suicide every day. That’s an alarming and heartbreaking statistic that needs to change.
Two people who are working to make this transition between military and civilian life much less stressful and much more successful are Alignable Power Users Julie and CJ Niehoff. They founded and now run an incredible organization called SkillsAfterService.com, and they’re the stars of Casto’s Closeup, Episode 7.
Julie and CJ coach former members of the military on everything from the language that’s used in Corporate America or Entrepreneurial America, to the best ways to present themselves in interviews to demonstrate how their many skills can translate well to different job opportunities. Ultimately, they want to help veterans to find a purpose they can be proud of in their next job — a purpose that helps them to fully embrace this chapter of their lives.
CJ and Julie also show former soldiers how to create their own business and then grow it, if they want to go the entrepreneurial route.
In our video, we dig deep to explore many of the struggles former soldiers experience — and the solutions CJ and Julie have found to help them.
We learn that of the 245,000 soldiers each year that leave the military, a good two-thirds of them are affected by Transition Stress. In fact, this is much more common among veterans than PTSD is, though very few media outlets have reported on Transition Stress. This immense stress can sideline many wonderful, talented veterans, leading to everything from general aimlessness and depression to suicide.
But the good news is that the compassionate, but goal-oriented SkillsAfterService.com programs are designed to help combat Transition Stress and channel the skills and approaches needed to find or create meaningful work in the civilian world.
If you have a friend or loved one who is about to leave the military, or has left already and doesn’t know what to do next, please go to SkillsAfterService.com’s Alignable Profile. Any former member of the military would be in great hands with CJ and Julie.
We hope you enjoy this very topical episode. Please feel free to share it widely.
Also, for any veterans reading this story, please be sure to add our new veteran-owned business tag to your profile.
After the majority of our veterans tag their profiles, all you’ll need to do is press that tag to see who else served in the military. Then you’ll have an instant community to connect with — as business contacts, as well as new friends who share a common bond.
“Veterans suicides rose in 2017 despite concerted efforts in recent years from federal officials and lawmakers to address mental health and emergency intervention services within the military community. “
“Veterans Affairs officials noted in a new analysis released Friday that because of a data delay, their report does not take into effect any new initiatives put in place over the last 22 months. They also emphasized in the report that suicide prevention has become a major public health problem throughout the country, not just in the veterans community.
“Veterans do not live, work, and serve in isolation from the community, the nation, or the world,” the report states. “The issue of suicide in the U.S. also affects the veteran population.”
But the increase in the number of veterans who die by suicide represents another setback for advocates who have worked in recent years to address the problem through public awareness campaigns, easier access to psychological treatment and aggressive messaging against the stigma of seeking mental health care.
More than 6,100 veterans died by suicide in 2017, about 17 individuals per day. That’s up about 2 percent from 2016 and about 6 percent over the previous 12 years.
The shift is even more pronounced considering that the total number of veterans in America is decreasing each year, as older generations of former military personnel age. The total number of veterans in America dropped almost 2 percent from 2016 to 2017 (about 370,000 veterans) and was down almost 18 percent from 2005 to 2017.
Department officials in recent years have quoted the rate of veterans suicides across the country as “20 per day,” reflecting past figures which included active-duty military, guardsmen and reservists who served on active-duty, and National Guard and reserve members who were never federally activated.
Officials said they changed this year’s report to focus solely on veterans to avoid confusion about the population they monitor and directly assist. If the other military and never-activated reservist numbers were included, it would have pushed the suicide rate for the total veteran-connected group to about 21 individuals per day.
Nearly 87 Americans die by suicide each day, according to federal statistics.
Women with prior military service are more than twice as likely to die by suicide as their civilian peers, according to the report. Male veterans are 1.3 times as likely to die by suicide as men who never served.
Almost two-thirds of the suicide deaths among veterans in 2017 were individuals who had no contact with the Veterans Health Administration. VA officials in recent years have focused on public outreach efforts to address that problem, noting limited opportunities to share information on support services with veterans who they don’t interact with regularly.
In a letter accompanying the report, Dr. Richard Stone — executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration — said that suicide “is a national public health problem that disproportionately affects those who served our nation.” He called upon community partners to work with the department on “actionable, manageable steps” to address the problem.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced the formation of a new task force lead by VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to focus on the issue of veteran and military suicide prevention. Among the issues that group of federal officials is considering is how to more quickly compile national suicide data, to provide quicker analysis of how prevention programs are performing.
The task force is expected to issue a formal report early next spring.
Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance. “
“After years of growth, the number of people using the Post-9/11 GI Bill has now fallen substantially for each of the past two fiscal years, federal data indicates.
About 54,000 fewer people used the GI Bill in fiscal 2018 – a 7 percent decline from fiscal 2017, which was itself down about 7 percent from fiscal 2016’s GI Bill enrollment total, according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.“
“Officials from veterans service organizations and some of the schools that enroll the greatest numbers of GI Bill users said they’re not overly concerned about the falling GI Bill usage – at least not yet.
“It’s something that we just ought to watch,” said Keith Hauk, an associate vice president at University of Maryland Global Campus, a public institution formerly called University of Maryland University College.
“It’s a little bit too early, after only two years of watching this unfold, [to say] that it’s time to be alarmed, because I don’t think it is.”
Experts offered several possible explanations for the declining enrollments, including more vets earning degrees, GI Bill rules that could be discouraging vets from using the benefit and the strong national economy.
Meanwhile, public universities continued to account for the majority of GI Bill students. About 54 percent of students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill attended public universities in fiscal 2018, while 24 percent went to private schools and 22 percent to for-profit institutions, data indicates.
“A lot more of the public and the not-for-profit private [schools] are offering distance education now,” said James Schmeling, executive vice president of Student Veterans of America.
John Kamin, an assistant director with the American Legion, agreed and noted that “the idea of a global campus is, at this point, pretty popular” among public and private nonprofit schools. This is likely reducing the proportion of vets attending for-profit schools, which historically offered more distance learning options than public and private universities.
“I think we’re seeing a bellwether for things to come,” Kamin said.
DeVry University, a controversial for-profit school that remains a very popular destination for GI Bill users, said it has been affected by this trend.
“There’s been more competition with other institutions, particularly … nonprofit colleges and universities,” said Barbara Bickett, DeVry’s director of regulatory affairs.
For years, the for-profit University of Phoenix has enrolled more GI Bill users than any other institution – but it has seen plummeting GI Bill enrollment recently. That trend continued in fiscal 2018, when the school shed more than 5,940 Post-9/11 GI Bill students – about 21 percent — dropping to 22,428 such students.
The school declined to answer questions about its falling GI Bill enrollment, instead sending Military Times a statement that read, in part: “University of Phoenix is designed for the non-traditional adult learner and so often fits the needs of military students who want flexibility, career-focused programs and dedicated support.”
If Phoenix’s enrollment losses continue, the school may soon lose its designation as the top destination for Post-9/11 GI Bill users.
The University System of Maryland, thanks primarily to its distance education campus, is nipping at Phoenix’s heels, with 18,429 GI Bill students in fiscal 2018, 4,000 students shy of the top spot.
University of Maryland Global Campus’ Hauk said his school isn’t focused on which institution attracts the most GI Bill users but instead on how to best educate and support its students. Hauk’s school lost about 3 percent of its GI Bill enrollment in fiscal 2018, but he said that appears to be turning around.
“We’re seeing growth so far in this fiscal year, in terms of the number of new student veterans,” he said.
The recent overall drops in GI Bill usage in fiscal 2018, among all universities, mirror a similar trend affecting military tuition assistance, which saw usage rates decline 6 percent from fiscal 2016 to 2017 and then go down another 2.5 percent from fiscal 2017 to 2018.
The 7 percent declines charted in fiscal 2017 and fiscal 2018 for the Post-9/11 GI Bill were calculated by adding all schools’ GI Bill populations and comparing year-on-year changes. This calculation method can sometimes double-count students if they, for example, attend more than one institution during the fiscal year. In previous years, the Veterans Affairs Department provided separate data that avoided such duplication, but VA was unable to do so for fiscal 2018 data by press time. VA also did not respond to interview requests to discuss declining GI Bill usage by press time.
Regardless, the downward trend in Post-9/11 GI Bill usage is clear – and sharp. In addition to the enrollment losses, the amount of money spent of GI Bill benefits decreased by nearly $287 million in fiscal 2018 to about $4.6 billion, a 5.9 percent drop. Officials offered a variety of theories to explain the falling numbers.
“A reduction in beneficiaries may indicate more veterans successfully complete degrees and are moving into the workforce,” said John Aldrich, a vice president at the country’s fourth most popular GI Bill school, American Military University, a for-profit institution also known as American Public Education Inc.
Aldrich said his school has graduated more than 3,000 GI Bill users in each of the past three years.
Another possible explanation that Aldrich offered: Students may be turning away from the GI Bill because it shrinks their housing stipends if they attend school entirely online. The Post-9/11 GI Bill gives online students only half of the national average housing stipend that in-person students receive.
“They really are forced to make a decision between convenience and flexibility, versus maximizing the amount of housing allowance they receive each month,” Aldrich said. “They may just say, you know, the heck with it.”
Meanwhile, Hauk noted that recent improvements to the Post-9/11 GI Bill may actually be resulting in fewer students going to school right now. The Forever GI Bill, signed into law in August 2017, allowed anyone who left the military after January 2013 to use the GI Bill at any point in the future. Previously, all benefits had to be used within 15 years of separation.
“I think it’s only natural to see that usage rates are going to decline” with the removal of that time limit, Hauk said. “They’ve got the rest of their life to use the benefit.”
In addition, Schmeling, of Student Veterans of America, pointed to a common higher education trend: More people go to college to improve their job prospects in bad economies, while fewer go to school when the economy is strong. That may also explain some of the decrease in GI Bill use, he said.
“The economy has continued to improve,” he said. “There is labor demand and veterans are highly skilled, so there might be fewer going to college because they don’t feel they need to.”
“To prevent these tragedies, the veteran community, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense, and leading mental health organizations aggressively target the critical moment of crisis when a person is contemplating the act of suicide.
These critical organizations are lined up in a strong “end zone defense,” providing multiple areas of support for veterans in the midst of a suicidal crisis.
But what about veterans who haven’t reached a crisis point? What if there was a way to provide relief for everyday problems, pain and isolation before these issues snowball into self-destruction?
As a retired major general in the U.S. Army, who has lost a son to suicide, and a son to the war in Iraq, I can attest that the key is to connect with veterans before they reach the point of crisis.
Veterans are often reluctant to speak with anyone who “won’t understand” when they’re dealing with depression or anxiety about life issues. Many feel the pressure to figure it out themselves and “stay tough” and are embarrassed to discuss their problems with finances, relationship issues, housing issues, family dysfunction, or feelings of loneliness and isolation.
The reality is they need a direct connection to someone who has been in their shoes, long before they need a direct intervention. They need a peer.
Everyone needs a support system. Peer support provides veterans that sense of immediate trust, and gives them a confidant they can connect with at any point in their journey.
I joined Vets4Warriors in 2013 to lead a 24/7 peer-support network that serves all veterans as well as the entire military community, from those who just put on a uniform to the caregiver and families of a veteran who has long since stopped wearing a uniform.
Our peers are veterans from every branch and every era, dating back to Vietnam, and 70 percent of our peers are combat veterans. We truly are who we serve.
Since inception, we have had over 325,000 connections with members of the veteran and military community who are dealing with life challenges before they turn into crises. Regardless of the complexity of the issue or how long it takes, our veteran peers continue to follow up, seek out possible avenues, and pursue different options until an answer is found. We go the extra mile. And that is often what veterans need to help put them on a path that does not lead to tragedy.
Peer support is in many ways an upstream tactic in the fight against veteran suicide. Peers identify the issue at hand and can provide support and resources before the problem becomes unbearable.
Yet even with resources like ours available, when it comes to certain demographics of veterans, the rate of suicide is growing.
According to the most recent report on veteran suicide published by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the suicide rate of young veterans, those aged 18 to 34, increased more than 10 percent from 2015 to 2016. The largest number of suicides remain among aging veterans, since the majority of veterans are 55 or older.
Research has found that many suicides are decided impulsively, with less than five minutes between the decision to attempt suicide and the actual attempt. In other words, there is yet a brief moment in time in which we can intercept someone’s fateful decision. This is why it is critical to get upstream and tap into the power of peer support to help veterans grapple with their problems, challenges and even opportunities long before they find themselves in crisis.
Vets4Warriors is a connecting network; we connect with individuals and also connect them to resources, preferably in their communities, and then we remain connected as we follow up with them regularly.
I have seen this type of scenario play out many times with our peer-support network. An active-duty soldier from Fort Bragg struggling at work called Vets4Warriors and described how his marriage and children were suffering as he dealt with his PTSD. After speaking with one of our peers, he agreed to go to behavioral health services on post as well as to speak to the chaplain. During the first follow-up call, he stated that his peer at Vets4Warriors had been a “blessing to him.” The follow-up calls continue.
Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel series “Dirty Jobs,” once said: “We live in the most connected time in the history of the world, yet we’ve never been more disconnected from the things that matter the most.”
It makes a critical difference to immediately connect with someone who has walked the path and knows what you’re going through.
Peer support is vital for saving lives across our nation. We should all seek to always be there for those who hit tough times and struggles, whenever they may happen. Vets4Warriors is available 24/7 and we answer the phone live.
Retired Army Maj. Gen. Mark Graham is director of Vets4Warriors. Veterans experiencing a mental health emergency can contact the Veteran Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and select option 1 for a VA staffer. If you want to speak with a peer, call Vets4Warriors at 1-855-838-8255, visit http://www.Vets4Warriors.com or follow us on social @Vets4Warriors to learn more.”
“VistA is a countrywide decentralized system that has been in place for decades. The lack of interoperability between VistA and the Department of Defense’s health records systems has left veterans hauling boxes of paper records to appointments after separating from the military. For the past two decades, the two departments have been “unable to achieve” improvements, according to a 2018 GAO report.
The new cloud-based EHRM system — operated by Cerner Millennium, the same platform at the heart of the Pentagon’s mover to a modernized EHR, which is also in its initial phases of build-out — will help bridge that digital gap between the DOD and the VA. With the DOD and VA using the same system to host veteran and service member data, the VA hopes for a “seamless” transition for veterans.
“For decades, VA and DoD have been struggling to achieve interoperability and seamlessly share patient records between our health systems — placing an unfair burden on our Veterans and their families,” said VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in a news release.
While the VA says that VistA will start to be phased out in some locations as the Cerner system takes over, the full transition will take a decade, a recent GAO report found. During VistA’s continued use, it will require major upkeep costs, numbers the VA has struggled to keep track of. The VA reported it cost $2.3 billion to maintain VistA between 2015 and 2017, but GAO found that figure was likely less-than reality.”