I'll be noting a little of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing from yesterday today. I didn't note it yesterday (when it took place) because I was noting the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. C.I. has the excuse of space (only so much K for the snapshot). I've got the excuse of, "Me? Lazy me? You want me to cover two hearings in one day? Uh-uh. I'll spread it out to two days as it should be."
This is the press release the committee put out:
PANEL AGREES ON NEED TO REFORM VETERANS' DISABILITY SYSTEM
Chairman Akaka encouraged by Administration's willingness to admit shortcomings; witnesses suggest solutions to claims processing challenges
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Witnesses testifying before the U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs agreed today on the need to reform the veterans’ disability compensation system. Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-HI) heard from representatives of the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Defense, Disabled American Veterans, and a law professor to discuss disability claims processing. The Government Accountability Office presented previously unpublished findings on claims processing from an ongoing review of disability compensation.
“The consensus is growing that the veterans’ disability compensation system needs to be broadly transformed. Representatives from the veterans’ community, academia, and government are coming forward with specific ideas. I am encouraged by the Administration’s willingness to advocate for change, and I will be working with VA officials and others to develop a broad compensation reform proposal,” said Akaka.
Today’s hearing is the latest in a series on veterans’ disability compensation. Records of earlier hearings are available at http://veterans.senate.gov, and the full written opening statements and written testimony for today’s hearing are available here.
The GAO’s report is available at: http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d09910t.pdf
The hearing was a reley race. At the start, Senator Daniel Akaka, the Chair, chaired the meeting. The second panel began with Senator Patty Murray chairing. Then she handed the gavel to Senator Sherrod Brown and let him chair when she had to leave. Had the hearing gone on any longer, I worried someone might hand me the gavel! (That was a joke.)
We have Ohio community members and I hear from them. Sherrod Brown is their senator so I'm going to focus on him for my post which means the second panel where Michael P. Allen (Steston University College of Law), Daniel Bertoni (GAO) and John WIlson (Disabled American Veterans)
He wanted to know where the bottleneck was? Why are there so many VA claims backed up? Why are there 406,000 claims pending?
Michael Allen really ticked me off throughout the hearing, to be honest. I didn't like his presentation or style. So I wasn't at all surprised that the first words out of his mouth in replying were to laying the blame on the veteran. After that, he blamed the judicial process. He's an idiot.
The judicial process is appeals. Claims are not appeals. Claims are you filing for your benefits. If you disagree with what the VA proposes to offer you, you file an appeal and go through the appeals process. Sherrod Brown referenced the 406,000 and that's the number of claims pending currently. Admiral Dunne of the VA gave that figure on the first panel. And stated that he didn't have the figure for appeals.
So Michael Allen, yet again, didn't know what he was talking about.
Daniel Bertoni said it wasn't just one thing, he couldn't pin point it down to that. He pointed to problems with program designs that cause issues and he felt the two biggest things were the medical records and the service connection. Those are the problems. Insufficient records and
the battle the military creates for veterans to establish service connection (that's especially a problem for women, by the way, but it's a problem for all veterans).
Wilson also went to the appeals. The issue was the claims bottleneck. Wilson wanted to blame the veteran -- they duplicate their admissions, "they don't understand the process," blah-blah-blah.
That's really how Wilson and Allen played it. I'd think they'd worry about how they present themselves and I'd also wonder why the veterans were stupid? If they don't know the process well, why didn't the military train them in it?
How are they supposed to know the confusing process to begin with? There's no VA training.
But Wilson and Allen wanted to blame the veteran. They really made me want to puke. I found them both to be priss-pots deeply infatuated with themselves and had to wonder who would break the news to them that they weren't all that?
Bertoni was the only one worth listening to and the only one who didn't seem to have a desire to play Bash The Veteran.
Allen even declared that the appeals court wasn't a problem for appeals. It was, you know this is coming, the veteran's fault. "This is not something the veterans want to hear," began Allen speaking the truth for once in his life, "but I think at the appelate level the claims are being adjudicated at the right speed."
Bertoni disputed Allen's assertion that appeals are adjudicated on the right time line, "I think that's probably too long, I don't know what the number would be."
Let me add that Richard Burr, a Republican Senator, put the blame back where it goes, on the VA, after Brown's round of questioning. I was grateful for that. It's really funny that it's the VA's backlog but, according to Wilson and Allen, the backlog is the veterans' fault. I order a malt at McDonalds and get a soda, that's not my mistake.
It's too bad so many on the panel were against veterans. At a hearing conducted by the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Bertonia truly was the only one worth listening to on the second panel. The others were practicing "tough love," but we're talking about two men in love with themselves so, as Cher once sang, "You wouldn't know love if it knocked down your door, You wouldn't know it now, You never knew it before, If it landed in your hands from the heavens above, you wouldn't know love, No, you wouldn't know love."
Staying with music, The NewsHour featured Elvis Costello yesterday and if you click here you can stream the video of Jeffrey Brown's interview. He has a new album, Secret, Profane & Sugarcane, which is described as country and bluegrass (I haven't heard the album yet). At the link, you have the option of what played last night on PBS or of getting the extended video. So Elvis fans should check it out. (That's not endorsing their decision to refuse to devote a segment to the assault on Camp Ashraf, by the way. I'm only noting Elvis Costello. Not endorsing The Newshour.)
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, July 30, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the assault on Camp Ashraf continues, the inquiry into the Iraq War begins in England, a US military colonel in Iraq advises that the US needs to remove all forces by August 2010, a Senate committee hears testimony stating the federal circuit should be removed from the VA appeals process, and more.
Yesterday's snapshot included quoting Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) report, "The Iraqis will be unable to handle their own air defense after all American troops withdraw from the country by the end of 2011, the top commander of American forces in Iraq said Tuesday. . . . Asked if the Iraqis would be in a position to fly their own defensive air patrols at the end of 2011, when a United States agreement with Iraq calls for all American troops to be out of the country, General Odierno replied, 'Right now, no'." And then noting, "If you don't realize what a shock Bumiller's article is and how much it needs to be buried for some, note how heavily an AP story about Gates declaring maybe some US troops may leave earlier. Some. May. Some. News gets in the cycle, better dump a bunch of fluff. " Bumiller was one of the few to cover that but the fluff made it everywhere. Surprising when you consider, as Katie Couric noted on yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, that there are 130,000 US forces in Iraq, "10,000 are scheduled to be withdrawn by the end of this year. According to Gates, 5,000 more could be home for the holidays." Of the 'news,' Thomas E. Ricks (Foreign Policy) notes, "Obama has broken a campaign promise to take a brigade a month (I think he was right to do this, but that's neither here nor there.) Right now, we have about as many troops in Iraq as on average over the last six years." Instead of actually writing about the assault on Camp Ashraf, Ricks strings together a small number of words with a link to Juan Cole.
Juan Cole's post that went up early, early Thursday morning -- this morning -- demonstrates both all that's wrong with the Iraq 'coverage' and all that's wrong with I'm-for-the-war-I'm-against-it-I'm-for-it-again Juan (and don't bother disputing that, I'm not Steve Rendall, I can nail it to the wall because I actually do the work). At his laughably named "Informed Comment," he had to do an update to a post written this morning, an update that says "The Iraqi government is now acknowledging that 7 MEK members were killed in the assault on Camp Ashraf." Prior to that Juan can't tell you anything about deaths. Not even a "one side claims . . . and the other claims . . ." But Juan's just discoved, late today, that the Iraqi government said 7 were killed. Juan just discovered that. Late today. Informed Comment? From yesterday's snapshot, "Alsumaria quotes an unnamed Iraqi security source stating '200 Iranian residents and 50 Iraqi security forces [were] wounded' and that Nouri ordered the assault. [. . .] Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reveals Iraq's Interior Ministry is admitting to 7 deaths -- MEK is stating they have lost 11 members." So 'professor' Juan, at "Informed" Comment, decides to weigh in this morning and doesn't even know the basics -- and a death total would be among the basics. Informed, my ass.
"What happens when the US abandons some good friends?" Katie Couric asked that at the start of yesterday's CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, The footage of the assault was shown. Footage. What other network newscast made time for this story? And while you're checking that, step on over to PBS and find out if The NewsHour made time for the story. (Answer: No.) Footage of the assault. Footage and violence supposedly drive TV news so what's the excuse for the silence from others on Camp Ashraf? From the segment on Camp Ashraf (link has text and video):
Katie Couric: When the US began turning over security to the Iraqis, it stopped protecting some valuable allies, thousands of Iranian exiles. And their camp outside Baghdad is now under attack. For two days, Iraqi police have been beating the residents. No food or doctors have been allowed in. All with the approval of Iran's government. Here's chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan.
Lara Logan: It started peacefully but quickly turned violent. Iraqi police using wooden sticks against these unarmed civilians. These people are Iranians living inside Iraq, members of an Iranian opposition group known as the MEK. It was the MEK that provided the US with intelligence on Iran's nuclear program.
Ali Safavi (Nationcal Council of Resistance of Iran): Were it not for the MEK, the world would not be in a position to find out about Iran's nuclear weapons program and the mullahs may have had the bomb.
Lara Logan: The MEK have lived in this camp, known as Camp Ashraf, for decades. The Iranian government wants them expelled and accuses them of being involved in the recent unrest in Iran. Since the US invasion, the camp's roughly 3,000 residents have been living under US protection. That ended in January when the Iraqis took control under the security agreement. Now the US appears to have washed their hands of the people of Ashraf. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (speaking at the State Dept): It is a matter now for the government of Iraq to resolve. Lara Logan: Images captured by the inside Ashraf showed the dead and wounded. Residents told CBS News at least 11 people were killed, hundreds wounded and thirty arrested. The number's impossible to verify because the Iraqi government has sealed off the camp. The attack was seen as the latest sign American influence in Iraq is waning as Iranian influence rises. Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his government increasingly pro-Iranian. Kenneth Katzman: The Iranians would have to cross the border to get at them directly because Camp Ashraf is clearly over the border. But they have an obviously willing ally in Prime Minister Malik, willing to do their bidding.
Lara Logan: The Iranian government praised the Iraqi governement action against MEK saying they're cleaning the country of terrorists.
This morning, AFP reported that while Iraq says everything is under 'control' and a police station is set up, Iraq's refused to allow reporters to enter the camp. Not noted in the report, they're also rebuffing requests from human rights organizations and charities. But today in a US State Dept briefing, spokesperson Ian Kelly asserted the US military now had access.
Ian Kelly: Embassy officials met yesterday with representatives of the government of Iraq. We wanted to stress the importance to the government of Iraq, the importance of Iraq fulfilling its commitment to the US government to treat the camp residents humanely. And we also proposed permitting an assessment of injuries and possible deaths, an assessment by US forces. The government of Iraq did agree to allow US forces to provide medical assistance to those who were injured in Camp Ashraf. And there is, right now, a US medical team there performing this assistance. We're providing medical care and treatment, medical supplies and assessing any kind of follow-on treatment or support that these residents might require. And regarding other issues regarding Camp Ashraf, we'd refer you, of course, to the government of Iraq.
UPI notes, "Statements by members of the PMOI blame Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for the assault on the Ashraf residents. The PMOI claims several hundred residents were severely wounded, with at least 12 people dead." An Iraqi security official (unnamed) tells AFP that 11 MEK have died -- seven on Tuesday and two on each day since. Sebastien Malo (The Daily Star) reports that tensions remain high and that the assault continues -- the most recent "clashes occurred on Thursday morning according to [MEK spokesperson Shariar] Kia." Kia refuted rumors that the MEK has weapons noting that Camp Ashraf has been inspected repeatedly and he noted that residents had begun a hunger strike. The weapons charge is ridiculous and it needs to be noted that the Iraqi government is trying to circulate false rumors that MEK have shot one another to garner sympathy from the world. Yes, Nouri is just that stupid and sick. This is the thug the US installed. Oliver August (Times of London) observes the Iraqi government's "brazen actions show that the balance of power in Baghdad has shifted in ways unthinkable when President Bush was in office, or even a few weeks ago." Robin Corbett (Guardian) points out:
The violent attack on the residents of Ashraf City was a clear indication of the Iranian regime's growing influence in Iraq and the coalition's failure to uphold international law.
In scenes reminiscent of those seen on the streets of Iran: unarmed civilians were attacked with batons, chains, hot-water cannons, rocks, armoured personnel carriers and machine guns. In video footage released by the residents, civilians inside the camp are brutally beaten, while bodies of the dead victims show gunshot wounds as the cause of numerous deaths.
The underlying message of the attack, which is still continuing, is the incredible influence that the Iranian regime now holds. However far it has infiltrated Iraq and caused violence there since the 2003 invasion, it seems that the regime now has a willing partner in Nouri al-Maliki to do its bidding in eliminating the main Iranian opposition group, the People's Mujahideen Organisation of Iran (PMOI), which is based in Ashraf.
PMOI members there are "protected persons" under the Fourth Geneva Convention, but the attitude of the US administration and UK government has been far from forceful. To look on as civilians are killed and wounded is nothing but shameful.
Sonic grenades are said to be used by the Iraqis, ones made by Defense Techonology in Casper, Wyoming. I believe this is exactly what now Vice President Joe Bidenwarned about in an April 2008 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing back when he was a senator and chair of that committee. We'll come back to that. The National Council of Resistance of Iran released the following statement today:NCRI - The Iranian Resistance's Leader, Mr. Massoud Rajavi, released a statement broadcast yesterday by the Simaye Azadi (Iran National Television), with regards to the brutal assault of Iraqi forces against Camp Ashraf residents in Iraq. Mr. Rajavi said: Through his agents in Iraq, the regime's Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, took revenge for the Iranian people's uprising from Ashraf, which is the strategic nucleus of the struggle for freedom. He wishfully thinks that by targeting Ashraf the uprising would cease; But, the water that has already gone over the dam can't be forced back into the regime's channel and save the disintegrating religious regime. Mr. Rajavi urged all Iranians across the world to rush to support the hunger strike and demands of Ashraf residents, which are: 1. The leaving of Iraqi forces from Ashraf; 2. Protection of Ashraf to be assumed by US forces, who have disarmed and signed agreements with every single one of Ashraf residents about protecting them until the determination of their final status; 3. Presence of lawyers and international human rights organizations in Ashraf, which has been banned for the past 7 months; 4. Presence of a representative of the UN Security Council or Secretary General in Ashraf for talks about the determination of the final status of Ashraf residents; 5. Compliance of the Iraqi government with the April 24, 2009 resolution of the European Parliament on the humanitarian situation of Ashraf residents; 6. Prosecution and punishment of parties who ordered or perpetrated the brutal attacks and massacre in Camp Ashraf by an international tribunal for crimes against humanity.
At Thomas Rick's post linked to earlier, the New York Times' Bill Keller leaves a link promoting an article at the outlet he's executive-editor of. Are times really that tough? Will Keller next be forced to stand in the center of Times Square crying, "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!"? If so, it would probably be preferable to Bill's attempts to flaunt his 'education.' Translation, his Diogense reference may impress the same people who thought Diane Chambers (Cheers character) was educated. Those of us who studied philosophy in grad school? We're aware that he doesn't grasp the name he dropped (even if we're generous and apply to it either Digoenes -- Laertius or Sinope). We're also aware it was pretty stupid not to have indicated which one he was speaking of but that it was pretty pretentious to drop to begin with.
So what had Bill Keller flaunting his poor education? Michael R. Gordon's report on a memo written by Col Timothy R. Reese ("adviser to the Iraqi military's Baghdad command") which states:
As the old saying goes, "Guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days. Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose. [. . . ] The massive partnering efforts of U.S. combat forces with I.S.F. [Iraqi Security Forces] isn't yielding benefits commensurate with the effort and is now generating its own opposition. We should declare our intentions to withdraw all U.S. military forces from Iraq by August 2010. This would not be a strategic paradigm shift, but an acceleration of existing U.S. plans by some 15 months.
Because the US military is now becoming sitting ducks. Barack "stupidly" made the decision to continue the illegal war. And each day, thug Nouri takes a piss on the US military. Pressed and aware his puppet masters are watching, he'll say, "Oh, we shouldn't have prevented the US miltiary from responding to an attack on them." But it happens again. (It has happened more than once already.) They're sitting ducks and, we'll repeat, when a Somolia event happens, Barack's going to finally learn the meaning of outrage. It won't be pretty. The illegal war is unjust and needs to end for that reason alone. But it's equally true that Barack's actions (actually, his inaction, Bully Boy Bush was better at playing bully and keeping Nouri in line, Barack fawns over Nouri) are endangering the US miltiary. They need to be out of Iraq immediately. Col Reese is not a crackpot, nor is he alone in his assessment within the US military. Many in the brass are making comments that they may start taking public. The US military, at present, are sitting ducks. And the military brass blames the ineffective actions of Barack for that. (Some also think that Barack fell into the trap the previous administration set for him. Either way, it's due to his own ignorance.)
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad roadside bombing which wounded eighteen people, a Qaem city suicide car bombing which claimed 3 lives and left twenty injured. Reuters notes the Qaim bombing death toll has risen to 4 and a bombing of the Reform and Development Movement's offices in Baquba which resulted in the deaths of 6 men and 1 woman who were attending a meeting at the time.
Mohammed Al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 2 traffic police officers shot dead in Mosul.
In England, an inquiry is being conducted into the Iraq War and commenced this morning. No report is expected to be released prior to their national elections. Even so, as Rebecca's pointed out, Gordon Brown's taking a hit on this (deserved). Carole Walker reports on the inquiry for BBC (link has video and text) and we'll note her opening for recap:The official end of the British military mission in April of this year, cleared the way for this inquiry. Its aim is to learn the lessons of the conflict which claimed the lives of 179 British service men and women. When Gordon Brown announced the inquiry last month, he said evidence would be heard in private to protect national security. But after numerous protests, the man appointed to head the inquiry, Sir John Chilcot, said he believed that as much as possible should be held in public. Now some want the scope of his inquiry to be extended.Francis Elliott and Sam Coates (Times of London) explain, "Tony Blair was today confirmed as one of the witnesses who will appear before Britain's long awaited inquiry into the Iraq war as it was launched with a promise to level criticism where necessary. The former prime minister is likely to be joined by Gordon Brown among those called to give evidence." Deborah Summers, Andrew Sparrow and Haroon Siddique (Guardian) quote Chilcott, "The inquiry is not a court of law, and nobody is on trial. But I want to make something absolutely clear -- the committee will not shy away from making criticism. If we find that mistakes were made, that there were issues which could have been dealt with better, we will say so frankly."
Yesterday's snapshot offered some coverage of the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled Meeting the Needs of Injured Veterans in the Military Paralympic Program. Kat offered more last night at her site, focusing on US House Rep Ann Kirkpatrick's questioning of the second panel. The snapshot was long (too long) and had to be edited which meant losing some details of that hearing and all details of another hearing which we'll cover today, the US Senate's Committe on Veterans Affairs hearing entitled the Review of Veterans Disability Compensation: Forging a Path Forward. I had copies of Senator Daniel Akaka's opening statement and Richard Burr's -- Akaka's the Chair, Burr's the Ranking Member but I was only present for the second panel where Michael P. Allen (Steston University College of Law), Daniel Bertoni (GAO) and John WIlson (Disabled American Veterans) testified (via a friend, Congressional staffer, we'll briefly note one section from the first panel).
In his prepared opening statement, Chair Akaka noted, "My goal is to ensure that claims are adjudicated accurately and in a timely fashion. Everyone involved realizes that there is no quick fix to solving all the problems with disability claims, but the Committee, teaming with the Administration and those who work with veterans, intends to do all it can to improve this situation. To bring optimal change to a process as complicated and important as this, we must be deliverative, focused, and open to input from all who are involved in this process. It is in that spirit that we have held previous hearings, and it is the backdrop for this hearing as well." Ranking Member Burr's prepared remarks included, "It takes more than five months on average for VA to make an initial decision on a claim for veterans' benefits and, if the veteran decides to appeal, the delays can go on for years. In fact, Professor Allen noted in a recent article that the average time from when a veteran files a claim with VA until getting a decision by the Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims is between five and seven years! I think a process that takes that long is indefensible. Our veterans and their families deserve better."
On the first panel, Senator Jon Tester asked the VA's Patrick Dunn for some hard numbers. Tester noted, the VA had 406,000 pending claims and wondered how that compared to one year age and Dunn responded that it was about 25,000 to 30,000. Tester wanted to know at what point a claim gets a red flag and the VA works on addressing it? At 365 days, Dunne said, the claim is referred to a team known as the VA Tiger Team. This is not when appeals make the claim reach 365 days. This is before any appeal is made. Point being, there are claims being filed by veterans that the VA is not getting and veterans are waiting over a year. How many, Tester wanted to know? About 11,000 was the number Dunne provided.
And as outrageous as that number is, grasp that all the numbers are climbing each month, the number of claims pending. Tester asked about more employees being added but Dunne didn't want to go for that and claimed more employees would mean more administrative duties -- Dunne, in effect, said the VA doesn't need more employees. In one year, these numbers will be higher. "We haven't hit break even yet, we're still going the wrong direction," Tester stated. In one year's time, no one better play surprised when the number have risen yet again.
Senator Patty Murray introduced the second panel and took over the chair duties. Michael Allen, in his prepared statement, provided an overview of the process, "A veteran wishing to receive a benefit to which she believes she is entitled begins the process by submitting an application with one of the VA's regional offices (RO). If the veteran is satisfied with the benefits awarded, the process is at an end. However, there are a number of reasons why the veteran may be dissatisfied with the RO's decision. When the veteran is dissatisfied with the RO's decision, she has the option to pursue an appeal within the Department by filing a 'Notice of Disagreement' (NOD) with the RO. The NOD triggers the RO's obliagation to prepare a 'Statement of the Case' (SOC) setting for the bases of the decision being challenged. If the veteran wishes to pursue her appeal after receiving the SOC, she must file VA-Form 9 with the RO indicating her desire that the appeal be considered by the Board of Veterans' Appeals ('Board')." That provides a strong overview of the process (which continues into the courts). Having submitted his prepared remarks, Allen wisely used his opening remarks to speak to the committee, not read from his written remarks. His verbal remarks can be boiled down to his advocacy for "a working group to study the system. What changes can be made in the process from beginning to end including judicial review?"
Tester reviewed the number on the first panel for claims filed, not appeals (Dunne told Tester he didn't have numbers on the appeals but would get back to him with them). The GAO's Daniel Bertoni stated on the second panel that the VA is taking 96 days more to resolve appeals than it did in 2003 and he stated this had to do with workload. (Remember, Dunne rejected the idea that the VA needs more employees to handle caseloads.) Bertoni presented those figures while reading aloud from his prepared remarks. He ran out of time and never got to this section, "We have reported that an infusion of a large number of staff has the potential to improve VA's capacity. However, quickly absorbing these staff will likely pose human capital challenges for VA, such as how to train and deploy them. The additional staff has helped VA process more claims and appeals overall, but as VA has acknowledged, it has also reduced individual staff productivity. . . . According to VA, this decline in productivity is attributable primarily to new staff who have not yet become fully proficient at processing claims and to the loss of experienced staff due to retirements. VA expects its productivity to decline further before it improves, in part because of the challenges of training and integrating new staff."
We'll note this exchange where one witness (and only one) advocated for cuttng the federal court out of the review process.
Senator Patty Murray: Mr. Bertoni, let me begin with you. You testified that the VA has not collected date to evaluate the impact of using the resource centers to redistribute work load. We've heard that mentioned by several of our colleagues this morning concerning that. Can you tell us what measurement you would recommend the VA use to evaluate the effectiveness of these center?
Daniel Bertoni: I think critical to any process -- any of these processes-- timeliness, accuracy and consistency. I-I think it behoves any manager as opposed to going out talking to the troops trying to discuss issues on sight -- that's all important and good but I-I think there's no substitute to the data -- to help management make good date driven decisions. So if you have a resource center and there is indications -- and you do the analysis -- and indications of problems in certain areas, you can take, make remedial interventions. To date, I don't believe that is occuring. I think even most very recently, I don't believe there were any quality assurance reviews being conducted. That would be first and foremost very critical. What type of quality assurance reviews are being done? What is the MI data showing? And what do you do with that data going forward to make the interventions that need to be done?
Senator Patty Murray: Okay, thank you very much for that. Mr. Allen, you talked about the current structure for judicial review of veterans benefits and it has two appellate levels of the veterans court and federal circuit that you indicate increased delays and can be duplicative. You raised the option of removing the federal circuit from the structure of the veterans benefits determination process one way of perahps delaying or reducing some of the delays in this system. Didn't sound like you were 100% committed to that. Can you tell us why you sort of lean towards the federal circuit?
Michael Allen: Sure, Senator, let me start out by saying that it seemed to me that when Congress created the Veterans Corps, one of the things it was trying to do was to create an independent body to review these issues outside of the VA and that that body would be the expert in that area of the law. But since this was a new process, it provided for this second layer of review at the federal circuit. Now I should say that the level of review at the federal circuit is not plenary, is not total. The federal it doesn't have jurisdiction to review any matter of fact or quite oddly any application of law to fact. It, in theory, should only review pure questions of law. Now it made perfect sense to structure the system, at least in my view, at the time like that. Today I think that on balance it's not worth having the federal circuit involved anymore. I don't say that lightly because that is a major change And what it goes to is that what are the competing values that one wants? Because if the value that was absolutely top on the list was making sure that the maximum number of judges' eyes looked at a case, figuring that would reduce over all inaccuracy in decision, well then it might make sense to have this two level court. To use a silly analogy if you're absolute 100% number one value in a day in making sure that your pants don't fall down wearing belt and suspenders makes perfect sense. It is not irrational because that is your value. But I think that for the federal circuit employment here it is not having the maximum number of eyes looking at a case because over time having that second layer review has increased delay and I am not sure -- I'm sure myself, that it has not increased the quality of veterans law sufficiently to justify its continued place in the system.
Senator Patty Murray: Okay Colonel Wilson have you given any thought to a proposal to remove the federal circuit from the veterans benefits determination process and what that would mean?
John Wilson: No ma'am, I have not but would be glad to respond later.
Senator Patty Murray: If you could respond to the committee, I'd appreciate it. Mr. Bertoni, do you have any input on that?
Daniel Bertoni: I would say we have not looked into that or given any considerations there but I would say the would be a range of stakeholders that you would have to bring in to get --
Senator Patty Murray: That's why you suggested the commission, right?
Daniel Bertoni: Yes.
Michael Allen: Yes, that's right senator.
Senator Patty Murray: Alirght. Senator Burr?
Senator Richard Burr: Mr. Allen, you're right. It is a major shift. But I think we're all challegned to look at it in a different context and I was serious months ago when I suggested to the service organizations, let's start with the blank sheet of paper and come in and tell you how you would design it in the 21st century. To the credit of DAV they took on the task and I'm appreciative of that. You're right when you mention the word commission. What little bit of hair I have on the back of my neck did stand up. So let me ask, what additional information do you believe a commission would find that we don't have readily available to us today?
Michael Allen: I thought of two ways to respond to that. The first and most direct is I don't know what additional information the commission would have that you don't and I don't mean to refer back to [former] Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld but there are things that we know we don't know out there. But more importantly, Senator, I think --
Senator Richard Burr: And that was sort of the basis of why you had the creation of the VA appellate process and the federal court. We didn't know what we were going to run into.
Michael Allen: Absolutely and second, though Senator, I think that the key, because I think that this has been the key over time as various veterans benefits issues have been discussed, is it reaches a tipping point when enough of the relevant constitutincies come together on an idea. And I don't know whether something can truly be successful if it's in fact deemed to be imposed.
Senator Richard Burr: How long do you think a commission would need to do -- need to take to accomplish the work that you perceive a commission should -- should attempt to
Michael Allen: Part of it would be how broadly the commission should be structured. In-in-in my perfect world, I would say that it should actually be a commission that looks at the claims processing from cradle to grave because the situation we have now, some have described it as a spider web, and that's not quite right, I think, because it is an older spider web -- the administrative process -- on which a new spider web has been grafted and anything you do to one part is going to effect another. And I think now that we have a system that we have seen if it starts at the beginning and looks at the end because things that are done at claims processing on the administrative level are going to make a difference in the judicial review arena as well and vice versa so if the process were from beginning to end, I think, this could probably be done -- with commitment -- in-in six months.
Lastly, for those wondering about the KRG elections. Some outlets are reporting things. These are a prelimnary count, not an official one and the KRG has made no announcement regarding the elections yet -- not even the most basic assumption that the current president, Masoud Barzani, was re-elected as president. We'll wait for the official results or until the KRG issues their statement, which ever comes first. The KRG does note the following from the US Embassy in Iraq on the elections:
The US Embassy in Baghdad congratulates the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for coming out to vote in large numbers for the regional presidential and parliamentary elections, thus demonstrating their commitment to the democratic process. Representatives from the US Mission in Iraq closely followed the elections at polling stations throughout the Kurdistan Region. The Embassy commends the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and its staff for efficiently organizing and conducting the elections. We call upon all citizens to remain patient as election results are tabulated and certified, and as IHEC reviews complaints that have been filed.
And they note this statement from UK MP Dave Anderson (Labour Party):
I am glad to hear that initial reports from the elections in the Kurdistan Region indicate a large turnout, especially among women voters, and which the UN says took place in an orderly environment, notably free of violence. We congratulate the Iraqi Kurds on this and look forward to working with the President, Government and all parties in Parliament to cement links between Iraqi Kurdistan and the UK. As our recent fact finding delegation reported there are great opportunities for increased trade investment and a host of cultural sporting social and other exchanges.
At present, that's all that's known about Saturday's elections.
the cbs evening news with katie courickatie couric
bbc newscarole walkerfrancis elliottsam coatesthe times of londondeborah summersandrew sparrowharoon siddique
thomas e. ricks
the new york timesmichael r. gordon