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Audit of VBA’s Efforts to Effectively Obtain Veterans’ Service Treatment Records

September 2, 2014 Comments off

Audit of VBA’s Efforts to Effectively Obtain Veterans’ Service Treatment Records (PDF)
Source: U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Inspector General

This audit was Congressionally required by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014. The Act directed the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Office of Inspector General (OIG), in coordination with the Department of Defense (DoD) OIG, to examine the processes and procedures for transmitting service treatment records (STRs) and personnel records from DoD to VA. We focused our efforts on the Veterans Benefits Administration’s (VBA) processes and timeliness of requesting paper STRs and providing them to VA Regional Office (VARO) staff that need the records to make decisions on veterans’ disability compensation claims. We also assessed initial timeliness of receiving electronic STRs from DoD, which is a process that began in January 2014.

We determined that DoD is not timely in providing VBA electronic STRs. From January 1 through June 3, 2014, VBA submitted 7,278 STR requests to DoD for veterans who submitted claims and separated from military service on or after January 1, 2014. Of those, DoD only completed 2,111 requests (29 percent) and 5,167 requests (71 percent) were pending. Of the 2,111 completed STR requests, 377 requests (18 percent) were received by VBA within 45 calendar days of the veterans’ separation from military service. This occurred because DoD reported experiencing challenges and delays implementing the process of transmitting electronic STRs to VBA.

Based on a review of 400 statistically selected original disability compensation claims completed during calendar year 2013, we identified delays within VBA’s processes. Delays occurred with VARO staff establishing claims, requesting STRs, and receiving requested STRs. Overall, we attributed a total of about 131 days to these actions. Delays occurred primarily because of VBA’s focus on eliminating the disability claims backlog. As a result of these delays, DoD and VBA need to improve timeliness of their current STR processes in order for VBA to achieve its timeliness goal of processing all claims within 125 days.

We made recommendations to the Under Secretary for Benefits to improve VBA’s processes of requesting and providing STRs to VARO staff. The Under Secretary for Benefits concurred with our recommendations and provided an acceptable action plan. We will follow up on the implementation of the corrective actions.

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Information and Communication Technologies to Promote Social and Psychological Well-Being in the Air Force

September 1, 2014 Comments off

Information and Communication Technologies to Promote Social and Psychological Well-Being in the Air Force
Source: RAND Corporation

This report presents the findings from a pioneering exploratory survey of 3,479 active-duty, guard, and reserve Airmen on their use of information and communication technology (ICT), the association between ICT use and social and psychological well-being, and the potential for Air Force mental-health professionals to use ICT to meet the needs of Airmen. The survey data were weighted to ensure that the analytic sample would be representative of the gender, age group, rank (officer, enlisted), and affiliation (active, guard, reserve) composition of the U.S. Air Force. Rates of ICT usage by Airmen are presented, along with Airmen’s perceptions of the relationship between social support and ICT use, their attitudes about seeking and receiving health information via technology, and the differences in ICT use, social support, and psychological well-being among different groups of Airmen. Finally, recommendations are presented on ways the Air Force can leverage ICT to promote the social and psychological well-being of Airmen.

Spillover from the Conflict in Syria: An Assessment of the Factors that Aid and Impede the Spread of Violence

August 29, 2014 Comments off

Spillover from the Conflict in Syria: An Assessment of the Factors that Aid and Impede the Spread of Violence
Source: RAND Corporation

All roads lead to Damascus and then back out again, but in different directions. The financial and military aid flowing into Syria from patrons and neighbors is intended to determine the outcome of the conflict between a loose confederation of rebel factions and the regime in Damascus. Instead, this outside support has the potential to perpetuate the existing civil war and to ignite larger regional hostilities between Sunni and Shia areas that could reshape the political geography of the Middle East. This report examines the main factors that are likely to contribute to or impede the spread of violence from civil war and insurgency in Syria, and then examines how they apply to Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan.

Transgender Service: The Next Social Domino for the Army

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Transgender Service: The Next Social Domino for the Army (PDF)
Source: Military Law Review

“Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (DADT) was repealed on September 20, 2011. As a result, lesbian, gay, and bisexual servicemembers can now serve openly and are no longer subject to administrative separation based on homosexual acts, homosexual statements, marriage, or attempts to marry a person of the same biological sex. The lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community championed this historic change. However, a growing, well-funded, organized minority argues that the repeal of DADT was not enough.

The repeal of DADT did not change the prohibition of service for transgender personnel; their service is currently prevented by regulation. In the Army, Army Regulation (AR) 40-501, Standards of Medical Fitness , prohibits servicemembers from serving in the military if they have “a history of, or current manifestations . . . of transsexualism, gender identity disorder to include major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex or a current attempt to change sex . . . .” The medical diagnoses that prevent transgender servicemembers from serving in the military have a close re lationship to the diagnosis criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). The most recent edition, the DSM-5, contains revisions to the diagnoses of those who are not conten t with their assigned gender or who identify with the opposite gender. These changes more accurately define the diagnosis, reduce the stigma associated with transgender terminology, and remove the diagnosis from being grouped with sexual dysfunctions. In part, based on these changes, the military’s perception of transgender individuals is also changing.

DoD — Small Business and Strategic Sourcing: Lessons from Past Research and Current Data

August 28, 2014 Comments off

Small Business and Strategic Sourcing: Lessons from Past Research and Current Data
Source: RAND Corporation

The Department of Defense (DoD) may face challenges as it attempts to maintain its goal of spending about 23 percent of its prime-contract dollars for goods and services with small businesses and at the same time apply strategic-sourcing practices to reduce total costs and improve performance in ways that will not conflict with small-business goals while making DoD purchasing more effective and efficient. Strategic sourcing practices, for example, recommend consolidation of the supply base to reduce total costs, which can lead to fewer, larger, longer-term contracts with fewer and, often, larger suppliers.

Precipitating Circumstances of Suicide among Active Duty U.S. Army Personnel Versus U.S. Civilians, 2005–2010

August 27, 2014 Comments off

Precipitating Circumstances of Suicide among Active Duty U.S. Army Personnel Versus U.S. Civilians, 2005–2010
Source: Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior

To help understand suicide among soldiers, we compared suicide events between active duty U.S. Army versus civilian decedents to identify differences and inform military prevention efforts. We linked 141 Army suicide records from 2005 to 2010 to National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) data. We described the decedents’ military background and compared their precipitators of death captured in NVDRS to those of demographically matched civilian suicide decedents. Both groups commonly had mental health and intimate partner precipitating circumstances, but soldier decedents less commonly disclosed suicide intent.

Consult, Command, Control, Contract: Adding a Fourth “C” to NATO’s Cyber Security

August 26, 2014 Comments off

Consult, Command, Control, Contract: Adding a Fourth “C” to NATO’s Cyber Security
Source: Centre for International Governance Innovation

The lines between civilian and military are increasingly blurred, creating ambiguity under international law when private contractors engage in offensive cyber-security operations on behalf of states. These private security companies (PSCs) are being contracted for cyber security to engage in offensive cyber operations, but states should not contract PSCs for offensive cyber operations. The next instalment of the 2014 Jr. Fellows Policy Briefs recognizes the benefits of cyber-security contracting and maintains that a transparent distinction should be established between PSCs and state militaries, whereby private actors would only be involved in defensive and supportive operations. The authors address the North Atlantic Treaty Organization to implement a contracting protocol that delineates appropriate classifications for the tasks and personnel required for private cyber-security contracts. They conclude that establishing an oversight organization and submitting a proposal to the International Law Commission to consider the roles of private security actors would create greater transparency and accountability for contracting.

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