Friday, October 16, 2009
Post-9/11 GI Bill
As C.I. points out in the snapshot (citing a friend who's a veterans' advocate), they never asked the important question. Wednesday, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki reveals that the VA knew -- from at least as soon as he began as VA Secretary -- that the VA could not successfully implement the new GI Bill. But they didn't tell Congress.
They never bothered to.
The question to ask is: Were you told not to inform Congress.
And Thursday afternoon was when they should have.
They had a witness who'd told them there were no problems and he was completely wrong.
He was wrong and he'd misled them before.
So where was the pressure?
I think the veterans who were screwed over this semester deserve an answer to that question and I think all the tax payers deserve an answer to that question as well.
Why was the witness not pressed on why he hadn't notified Congress?
He really needed to be pressed, on the record, and asked why he didn't inform Congress.
So those are my thoughts. Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, October 16, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, US House Rep Harry Mitchell asks a VA rep "How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today?," an attack on a Sunni mosque results in multiple deaths, bridge attacks are also back, Moqtada al-Sadr performs a miracle by turning 250,000 people into 1.5 million, and more.
Yesterday the House Committee on Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity met to address the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin called the hearing to order and noted that US House Reps Vic Snyder and Harry Mitchell were joining the committee (she asked for the Subcommittee's consent, which was given) and then explained, "Today we seek to administer our oversight jurisdiction on the VA's implementation efforts of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. I expect that this hearing will provide the VA the opportunity to update us on recent actions taken to address delays in distribution of education benefits and its plan moving forward to ensure the same mistakes do not occur in the future."
In his opening remarks, the VA's Keith M. Wilson stated that the VA was unable to find an outside contractor due to a low number of bids so the computer issues were handled in-house by VA's IT. He declared, "Post-911 GI Bill claims currently require manual processing using four separate IT systems that do not interface to each other. When an application or enrollment certification is received, the documents are captured into The Image Management System (TIMS). The documents are routed electronically to a claims examiner for processing. The claims examiner reviews the documents in TIMS and determines the student's eligibility, entitlement and benefit rate using the Front End Tool [FET]. The FET is used to calculate and store student information to support the Post-9/11 GI Bill claims adjudication process. However, the FET has limited capability for processing the multiple scenarios encountered in determining eligibility and entitlement under the new program." If that was an attempt at an explanation for the delay or even just a whine, the Pity Party's already seated and he needs to join others at the VA table -- the VA designed the system and if it doesn't work (so far it hasn't worked well) that falls back on the VA.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin The issue of outreach prior to the fall semester starting starting, we have repeatedly heard from veterans believing that their housing allowance would be issued to them at the beginning of the month or that this would be paid "upfront." What is creating this disconnect?
Keith M. Wilson: We've heard that as well. First let me clarify in terms of how it is paid. The monthly housing benefit is paid in the same manner as VA education benefits are paid under the same existing program -programs in that it is paid in arrays at the end of the month following the month of attendance. There -- and quite honestly this is speculation -- the tuition payment is paid to the school at the beginning of the year, the housing allowance -- I'm sorry the book and stipend allowance is paid to the student at the beginning of the semester. I think it would be logical for some individuals to make a connection between the manner in which those payments were made and the manner in which they would presume that the housing allowance would be paid.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin Before recognizing other members and we'll have another round of questions for everybody, yesterday at our full committee meeting when Secretary [Eric] Shinseki was testifying, we heard from several members that were proposing legislative fixes to make your job easier in the future because as you described it in your written testimony, your oral testimony today, I know you're laying the groundwork for your long-term IT solution but you're dealing with legacy systems and we had the recession effecting states and their decisions, and so some factors and some variables which, in a perfect world, we would have liked to have anticipated all of them and had you prepare for every possible scenario. But we do know that, uh, many members are interested in streamlining the administration of all the education benefits. I don't know if you're prepared to say which legislative fixes you'd endorse today or if you're starting to give those thoughts but any suggestions?
Keith M. Wilson: We are giving that a lot of thought. Clearly there are issues that have been discussed that conceptually are very appealing. Paying housing allowances in advance has been talked about as a possibility. Delinking the tuition payment with the schools with the need to get the housing payment out as quickly as possible to students, etc. The -- and I would -- I would agree that those are appealing from a conceptual perspective. The challenge I believe will be making sure that any legislative fixes are immediately implementable, taking into account the-the issues that you rightly brought up considering the legacy systems that we have in place, the limitations in our short term initiative that we are currently essentially locked into process claims. One thing we absolutely don't want to do is make the situation worse.
No, Wilson did not take accountability. Setting aside Wednesday's testimony to Congress when Shinseki revealed that the VA always knew the system wasn't ready -- which Wilson apparently thought he could ignore, if there are problems with schools or veterans for this new program, who does that fall back on? It's a new program. VA has a million and one excuses for their 'computer' problems. What's the excuse for any misunderstandings? The VA has a budget they are supposed to be spending to get the word out.
And what about when the VA gave out the wrong information? That was pursued at one point in the hearing.
US House Rep Harry Teague: You know we've had a problem with some contradictory information coming out. You know when the checks didn't go out the first of the month, well then we issued the letter that they would be cut on Friday the second. And then there was also some letters sent out that if, like in places like New Mexico, it's 320 miles to the only hospital and the only facility in the state that they would be going to some of the larger universities around and handing the checks out. That didn't happen. At the same time, they got a website up where they could go to but we didn't get that information to people. So I was just wondering if we're streamlining our communications within our office there so that we don't continually jerk the veterans around and have some of them misinformed.
Keith Wilson: I understand your concerns, Congressman. And we-we have, I believe, we have a better process in place to make sure that we are communicating more effectively on that. The issues that we are dealing with was trying to get -- make sure we had something out the gate and-and informed our student population prior to 10-1 [October 1st] -- around the 10-1 time frame. The 10-1 was important because most folks were at that point where they were due their first housing allowance payments. .We thought it was important to get something up as soon as possible. We were dealing -- and continued to deal -- at the time of that press release, with some technical issues concerning how we get to the other locations beyond our 57 regional offices. We very early on wanted a desire to spread this out as much as possible. We felt that the most effective way of doing this was leveraging technology. Taking into account that we've got technology students at thousands of locations across the country. We felt the most effective way of uh getting those folk that weren't within distance of a regional office was to allow technology and so that was the driver for our decision on the follow up --
US House Rep Harry Teague: Yes and I agree with that and I think that the webpage is working good. It's just that during that week prior to that, when I was at New Mexico State University, they were expecting someone to be there with the checks and then, on Friday when there's not, that's when we find out about the webpage.
Keith Wilson: I understand.
US House Rep Harry Teague: Another thing I don't know, I guess it's a misunderstanding on their part and I guess I was wondering where the information came from that so many of the veterans thought that they were going to be paid in advance both for tuition and housing?
Keith Wilson: I-I-I uh -- The advance payment issue has been troubling. We have had, in our outreach material, going back to the winter period -- early spring, winter period, information providing the student experience. In other words, what would the student experience. We have worked very hard to make individuals understand when they will be paid. The example that we used was for the individual who would be having their first day of class toward the end of August, come September 1st, they were only eligible for a partial housing allowance for those couple of days of attendance in September followed by the first full housing allowance paid October 1st. For whatever reason, and again, I would be speculating that didn't seem to be fully understood. Largely it did because most of our current participants are transferees from the Montgomery GI Bill and this past benefit is paid in the same manner but we didn't get that word out to everybody and there were pockets of communication and we need to continue to work hard on that issue.
US House Rep Harry Teague: You know, and you brought up another thing there with the transferring from the Montgomery GI Bill to the Post-9/11 GI Bill and sometimes before they understand the full benefits of both programs, people have committed the Post-9/11 GI Bill and then found out that it really didn't have as many benefits for them individually as the Montgomery GI Bill but they can't switch back. Is there anything that we can do there where they can reconsider if -- through oversight on their part or misinformation -- they want to go back to the Montgomery Bill?
Keith Wilson: The structure of the Post-9/11 GI Bill calls for an irrevocable decision so currently that's a statutory requirement -- is an individual has to revoke, there's no mechanism in the statute allow -- that would allow a person to unrevoke the irrevocable election. Our-our mechanism by which we have been educating people on that is making sure that they can understand the an -- the questions that need to be answered. The answers to the questions themselves are going to be unique to each individual person. You're absolutely right for raising this concern. Individuals do have to be well armed, they have to know what questions to ask and our efforts have been designed towards ensuring they can answer those questions.
A friend who is an Iraq War veteran and a veterans' advocate was at yesterday's hearing and wanted it pointed out how the VA is taking no accountability for all of this. He points out what a huge, huge amount of information is required for all of this -- for deciding to go with the Montgomery GI Bill or the Post-9/11 GI Bill just for starters. At this site, we repeatedly referred to the VFW which offered advocates by phone who would explain what was going on and that's because the VFW is going to know what's going on, is going to have explored every facet. And people who called the VFW got information they could use -- the VFW provided that service at no charge -- in determining which plan would be best for them and details of each. But why does the VFW have to do that? It's great that they did. Praise to them for it. They did a wonderful job. But this is the VA's program. This is a government program run by a government department. It shouldn't require a veterans service organization -- which is what the VFW is -- to help veterans sort through the maze.
That was the VA's responsibility, not the VFW's. (And to be clear, the friend I'm speaking is a member of the VFW but his advocacy is not with/for the VFW. It would be fine if it were and if it it were, I would identify him as such.) The VA did not live up to its obligations. A new program is run by the VA. Guess whose job it is to explain that program? The VA's. No one else has that obligation. Many veterans service organizations took it upon themselves to assist their members and that's wonderful. But that's the bonus, that's the added detail. The VA is not supposed to count on or rely on veterans service organizations to do their job.
The VA did not do their job and this is why there is confusion now. The VA has put the blame off on colleges, it's pushed the blame off on individuals. It is a VA program. The VA is responsible for administering it and administering it properly. Now anyone can put a program in place and have it fall apart. That's, in fact, what the VA did. But their role also includes "administering it properly" and that is what they did not do and what they have not taken accountability for. Once Congress made the program law, it was in the VA's court and they were responsible. Having made it a law, the Congress repeatedly asked the VA what they could do to help? Did they need more employees? Did they need more money? What did they need? And the VA led the Congress to believe -- as they led the veterans and as they led the American people to believe -- that there was no problem. But Wednesday, truth emerged when Eric Shinseki informed Congress that the VA always knew there would be a problem, that he had hired an outside consultant who had backed up internal opinions that it wasn't manageable. And until Wednesday, the VA never informed Congress of this problem.
Last night, Rebecca noted a press release from US House Rep Glen Nye's office about additional questions Nye has submitted to Shinseki since the hearing:
If internal estimates showed that there would be delays in processing tuition payments, why did the Department of Veterans Affairs not seek additional resources or support prior to the start of the academic year?
Nye has additional points and other strong statements but that question above is the main one and it needs to be answered.
US House Rep Harry Mitchell grasps that. Let's jump into his exchange from yesterday. He began by noting that the VA had not yet given out Fiscal Year 2009 bonuses and he strongly suggested that before any "plush bonuses" were handed out, the VA think long and hard about the veterans struggling to receive the benefits that they have earned.
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, this is not your first appearance before this subcommittee. You have appeared before it several times since the GI Bill was signed into law to keep the committee members apprised of the VA's efforts to implement the GI Bill. And you offered assurances that the VA would be ready by August 1st. You even brought in a detailed timeline to show us how the VA would be ready by August 1st. In February, [John] Adler of this Committee asked if the VA needed more tools to accomplish the goal of program implementation and you responded by stating, "This legislation itself came with funding. This funding at this point has adequately provided us with what we need for implementing payments on August 1, 2009." If this legislation provided you with what you needed then why did you go to the VA -- or then where did you and the VA go wrong in meeting the implementation goal? So I'd like to ask two questions. How are we supposed to believe the assurances you're offering today? And, two, knowing how interested Congress is in implementing the GI Bill, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you let us know? Why did we have to first hear about it from veterans and read about it in the Army Times?
Keith Wilson: You rightly call us out in terms of not providing timely service to all veterans. We acknowledge that and uh are working as hard as humanly possible uh to make sure that we are meeting those goals. Uh the timeline that we provided to the subcommittee uh I believe was largely met uh in terms of our ability to generate payments on the date that we were required to deliver the first checks -- first payments did go out August 3rd. Uh there were a couple of significant challenges uh that we had not anticipated. One was uh the volume of work created by the increase in applications for eligibility determinations that did not translate into student population dropping off other programs. But we had significantly more work in our existing programs than we would have expected to have to maintain going into the fall enrollment. One of the other primary challenges that we have responded to is uh when we began our ability to use the tools that were developed uh to implement the program in the short term. Uh May 1st is when we began using those tools and it was very clear to us from the get-go that even accounting for our understanding that they weren't perfect, we underestimated the complexity and the labor-intensive nature of what needed to be done. We responded by hiring 230 additional people to account for that.
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: And I read all of that in your testimony. My point is, once you knew you were running into problems, why didn't you come back to us? We heard it first by veterans and through the Army Times that you were having problems.
Keith Wilson: [Heavy, audible sigh] It has been our desire from the get-go to make sure that the subcommittee has been informed all along. If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that. We provided information that we had at each of the hearings and we have had a long standing mechanism by which we have provided updates to staff on a regular basis. Uh we did notify the Subcommittee at the time of the hiring of the 230 additional people.
Mitchell was obviously not impressed with the response. They had to break to take votes. But everyone should grasp how offensive Wilson's answer is: "If we did not meet those expectations, then we need to be held accountable for that." If? Veterans were in danger of losing their homes, some of those veterans were parents, some were single-parents. They were not getting their checks will into October (and some still haven't gotten their checks). Did Congress hear that and say, "Sure, fine, you do whatever you want." No. Congress would not have taken that attitude and Congress was not informed. There is no "if." Congress was not informed of the problems and Democrat or Republican, every member of the Veterans Affairs Committee -- in Committee meetings and Subcommittee meetings throughout 2008 -- has asked the VA (a) do they need any other resources and (b) please come to us immediately if you have any problems.
There is no "if." The VA did not meet expectations. I'll go further. They lied -- and that includes Wilson -- to the Congress. Repeatedly. Shinseki testified on Wednesday that when he stepped into his role as VA Secretary at the start of this year, he knew. He was told that the VA could not meet the expectations. He then went and hired an outside consultant to determine whether or not that was true. The consultant determined the same thing. Shinseki: "And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take." When did the VA share the problem with the Congress? Never.
That's what US Rep Mitchell was getting at in his testimony -- how the Congress had to learn about the problems from veterans and the Army Times. That's ridiculous. As he pointed out, they had multiple hearings, they made requests and the VA never indicated any problems in testimony or in one-on-one discussions.
The VA's failure is an issue. It's an issue that many veterans are still living with as they wait for education benefit checks to arrive. But the issue Congress needs to resolve is why they were misled. If that's not resolved, what is the point?
US House Rep Harry Mitchell: Mr. Wilson, I believe that no veteran, and I'm talking as a former school teacher who values education very, very much, I don't believe any veteran should fall behind even a semester because of the VA's inability to meet the goals that we've set out for them. And I'd like to know what the VA's doing to ensure that future payments will not be delayed? As well as, what assurances can you offer that these measures will work?
Keith Wilson: Everything that we're putting into place right now is designed to ensure that we go into the spring semester fully loaded with what we need to have on board. We will take every step that we need to to make sure that veterans have access to payment. If that means that we have to keep an advance payment mechanism some -- some sort in process, we will do that. But our goal is to make sure that those mechanisms are not needed, that we have this issue resolved prior to the spring semester and we move forward. The Secretary has been very clear that any delay in payment is unacceptable. Everybody in VA agrees wholeheartedly with that. On a personal level, I can say first hand, I know exactly what these students are going through.
Liar. He went to college. On a GI Bill. That doesn't mean he knows what the veteran students are going through today. A program was in place for him and it administered the checks in a timely manner. For him to try to use his 'personal experience' should have resulted in someone on the Subcommittee coming back with, "Well if you know what it's like, why did you and others mislead the Veterans Affairs Committee instead of coming to us and asking for help as we repeatedly requested you to do?"
Stephanie Herseth asked if he needed additional staff at the call center for educational benefits. She also underscored that "we need to be made aware of the problems immediately if there's any complications that arise" and "if you start anticipating problems or start experiencing problems" then let the Committee know. US House Rep John Adler also touched on this repeatedly such as asking Wilson "are there any other tools you need from Congress" and reminding him that "we would like to hear from you as needs arise, before the crisis arise" and "tell us what you need from us."
But here's the thing, these statements? Made throughout 2008. And we know how that didn't work out. There needs to be accountability. There was none. And it was really cheap and dishonest for this man who has worked at the VA since 1989 to pretend he understood what it was like for the veterans who worried (and some still do) that they will be homeless because their education checks have not arrived. Translation: The hearing accomplished nothing. The friend I spoke of earlier stated he felt the Subcommittee made Wilson squirm but he didn't feel that anything else was accomplished: "There was no effort to track down where the accountability was or where the breakdown came in. Even the most basic question was not asked: 'Were you ordered not to tell the Congress that there were problems coming up, problems that the department knew were coming?'"
Yesterday's snapshot noted the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Subcommittee On Health hearing and Kat offered her impressions of it last night. The exchange between Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud and Gary Baker should have included ". . ." after Baker's first lengthy excerpt and before Micahud's next question. My apologies for the error which was most likely my fault when dictating -- I probably wasn't clear. I apologize and claim that error as my own.
Today violence continued in Iraq. Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports on a Tal Afar suicide bombing, "Checkpoint security opened fire upon four gunmen in a sedan who refused to stop for searching near al Taqwa Mosque in the town of Tel Afar west of Mosul, Friday. At last the car stopped and three of the four men ran away, while the fourth ran into the mosque just as Friday prayers ended, and shot and killed the imam and a judge who was sitting with him." Issa reveals the man attempted to leave the mosque but was prevented and then set off his bomb. BBC News adds, "The explosion was triggered as people gathered for the main congregational prayers of the week." Timothy Williams and Sa'ad al-Izzi (New York Times) quote Akram Haseeb stating, "I was sitting in the back rows in the mosque when one of the worshipers in the front stood up and loudly interrupted the iman while he was preaching." Al Jazeera quotes eye witness Sahir Jalal on the bomber standing up in the mosque, "Then he took out a small rifle from under his jacket and start to shoot." Jamal al-Badrani, Jack Kimball and Michael Christie (Reuters) quote Qassim Ahmed who was wounded in the attack, "I came to the mosque late and when I went to enter, I heard shooting. Seconds later, a big explosion happened." Sun Yunlong (Xinhua) adds, "Abdul A'al, the mayor of the town told Xinhua that the attacker shot dead Abdul-Sattar Abdul-Hussein, the imam of the mosque and another person believed to be a judge in the town before blowing himself and causing the destruction." Nada Bakri (Washington Post) offers this context, "Tal Afar, 260 miles north of Baghdad and near the Syrian border, has long been the target of suicide attackers and car bombers, but Friday's attack marked one of the few times that a Sunni mosque there was attacked. Security officials said they believe the mosque was targeted because its preacher, Abdel Satar Hassan, who was among the dead, was a staunch critic of al-Qaeda." Timothy Williams and Sa-ad al-Izzi state 15 are dead from the assault and one-hundred more injured. Turning to other violence . . .
Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reports "a pontoon bridge in Ameriyah" was blown up leaving the "area which is now completely isolated." Those who remember the 2006 bridge bombings and the violence that followed, should take into account that this could be step-one of a multi-violence attack that follows. Reuters notes a Mosul suicide car bombing which claimed the life of the car driver and 1 Iraqi soldier. Dropping back to yesterday, Reuters notes a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer and left four more injured
Still dropping back to yesterday, Reuters notes Mosul police attacked an ambulance "killing one civilian inside and wounding two others including a paramedic".
On NPR's The Diane Rehm Show today, second hour, Iraq was noted by Diane and the panel of James Kitfield (National Journal), Hisham Melhem (Al-Arabiya TV and An-Nahar) and Nancy A. Youssef (McClatchy).
Diane Rehm: Alright, let's turn to Iraq and the reputed death toll. James Ki , Iraq's Human Rights Ministry said more than 85,000 Iraqis were killed from 2004 to 2008. We really have no idea about the total loss of humanity there.
James Kitfield: No, we don't. And we know it was a very violent war. And it was not only a violent war that we were fighting trying to attack Sunni insurgent groups that were trying to destabilize that government but it devolved almost into an entire civil war, 2006, 2007, where Shi'ite death squads were killing Sunnis and Sunnis were responding with suicide bombings against Shi'ite mosques. You know it really was an awful bloodshed --
Diane Rehm: Judges, lawyers, everybody was being targeted.
James Kitfield: I remember being on the street with a unit there and you would go and there would be piles of bodies every morning lying on the side of the road. It was disgusting.
Diane Rehm: And now you've got a total of how many American troops, Nancy?
Nancy A. Youssef: In Iraq now? It's 120,000 [she stops at one-hundred-and twenty-thou] --
Diane Rehm: Killed.
Nancy A. Youssef: Oh, killed. We're at 4200 for the total.
Diane Rehm: No, a little bit more.
Diane Rehm: 4300, something like that.
Nancy A. Youssef: 4300. For the total span of the war. What I thought was interesting with the 85,000, in my mind, it's the minimum because as James was describing at the height of the war, and I was there for it, the group was basing it on documents. People with death certificates and reports to the morgue and sort of official tracks. At the height of the war people were not going through that. If someone was killed, they buried their dead and then moved out.
Diane Rehm: So we don't know.
Nancy A. Youssef: We will never know. We will never know. And so it's this first effort to try to quantify that number which has been uhm, uhm, almost impossible to get. To me what's important is anecdotally, you talk to any Iraqi and they have had a friend a family member killed and that's the real effect of the Iraq War, they've all felt it.
Diane Rehm: What about these parliamentary elections coming up? Is there a chance they could be postponed?
James Kitfield: The chance just got better this week. They missed a Thursday deadline yesterday to uh vote on --
Hisham Melhem: Now it's Monday.
James Kitfield: Now it's Monday and we'll see if they keep pushing it off.
Diane Rehm: The deadline is Monday.
James Kitfield: Yeah they pushed the deadline back but there's major concern amongst the Americans there that if these elections don't happen in January, we can't pull out on the schedule we plan on next year which is very ambitious, we're going down from 120,000 troops in January to just 50,000 troops by the end of August. That is a very ambitious schedule. And oh by the way the troops that Obama's going to need if he does surge 40,000 to Afghanistan are going to be coming out of Iraq or being replaced by units scheduled to go to Iraq. So that needs to go smoothly.
As a note requested by an NPR friend, last Friday, when Susan Paige guest hosted, Iraq was dealt with in the second hour. They had some e-mails complaining that it wasn't featured. I said I'd note it here and also pointed out we quoted from it in last week's snapshot. (Most likely, people had turned off before the final two minutes of the program when Iraq was raised.) I am noting: Today the panel appeared to get lost in fantasies of go-get-Osama. They were a blood thirsty group and one (James Kitfield) got a little peevish when Diane corrected him of those US drones attacks in Pakistan, they do kill civilians. He dismissed the concern and the whole panel seemed to run on the fumes of the dead and a desire for more dead. The panel was living in a fantasy world of Where Is Osama and We Must Get Osama. (They are all so convinced that he is the biggest issue and that he's in Pakistan that you wanted someone to give the three guests a map and let them put their Xs on the exact spot Osama was at.)
On the election issue, let's first note a primary. Jenan Hussein and Mohammad al Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report on the primary that took place today for Moqtada al-Sadr supporters. They explain it's an effort to restore luster to the al-Sadr brand and that "there were few safeguards against double voting, and the party claimed far more votes [1.5 million] than the number it had registered [250,000] a few days earlier." They also note that women voted in large numbers "at some polling stations where entire families" went to vote. al-Sadr is thought to be attempting to improve his standing ahead of the 'intended' January elections. Oliver August (Times of London) notes the draft election law is still in a state of limbo and that, "The deadlock on election law concerns whether ballot papers should list only the competing parties or also include candidates' names. Some prominent MPs fear that having their names on display will harm their chances of re-election."
David DeGraw has a new piece entitled "If You're Not Outraged, You're Not Paying Attention" on how the game is distraction and both of the two major political parties are playing it. Meanwhile Page Gardner, Women's Voices, Women Vote, informs:
I wanted to take a moment to share with you some exciting information. The Center for American Progress (CAP), in partnership with Maria Shriver, has broken new ground with the publication of "The Shriver Report: A Woman's Nation Changes Everything." The report takes a hard look at how women's changing roles are affecting our major societal institutions, from government and businesses to our faith communities, and examines how our society is responding to one of the greatest social transformations of our time. I wrote an essay for the report, "Single in a Married-Centered World," exploring the unique challenges facing unmarried women in these times. You can read my essay here and the entire report here at CAP's website. In conjunction with the report, I also sat down for an interview with Heather Boushey, a CAP senior economist and co-editor of the report, to discuss how unmarried women are faring in the economy and the workplace. You can see the video of the interview here at WVWV's website. The kind of monumental change the Shriver Report says government and business need to make to adapt to the realities of the modern American family requires an informed, engaged citizenry willing to stand up and demand it. At WVWV, we are finding ways to both engage and inform women on issues that matter most in their lives. Theirs is an important voice to be heard in the national conversation about modernizing public policies and business practices to better meet their circumstances. I encourage you to read this important report. I am honored to be in such esteemed company as an essay contributor. Please read my essay and view the short video conversation about how unmarried women are affecting and being affected by this social transformation.
Meanwhile, Tom Hayden composes his most useful piece in two years, "Will We Stay 50 Years In Afghanistan?" (link goes to CBS News' reposting) which is a contribution for the section on the war on the native people counter-insurgency:The counterinsurgency doctrine is promoted as being "population-centric" as opposed to "enemy-centric," leading some to think it means a combination of Peace Corps-style development and community-based policing. Indeed, counterinsurgency differs sharply from "kinetic" war, which is based on conventional use of combat troops and bombardment. This is why Kilcullen disapproved of the ground invasion of Iraq and is critical of the current use of Predator strikes from the air, which alienate the very civilian populations whose hearts and minds must be won. The central flaw in Kilcullen's model is his belief in the "accidental guerrilla" syndrome. Drawing partly on a public-health analogy, he defines Al Qaeda as a dangerous virus that grows into a contagion when its Muslim hosts face foreign intervention. The real enemy, he thinks, is the global network of hard-core Al Qaeda revolutionaries who want to bring down the West, overthrow Arab regimes and restore a centuries-old Islamic caliphate. Like Obama, Kilcullen hopes to "disrupt, dismantle, and eventually defeat al Qaeda" without provoking the contagion of resistance from the broader Muslim world. The "accidental guerrillas" who fight us, he writes, do so not because they hate the West and seek our overthrow but because we have invaded their space to deal with a small extremist element that has manipulated and exploited local grievances to gain power in their societies. They fight us not because they seek our destruction but because they believe we seek theirs. But of course, these accidental guerrillas are no accident at all. They inevitably and predictably emerge as a nationalist force against foreign invaders. Their resistance to imperialism stretches back far before Al Qaeda. In fact, Al Qaeda was born with US resources, as a byproduct of resistance to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and earlier oppression of hundreds of Islamic radicals in Egyptian prisons. Kilcullen would like to believe that the "accidental guerrilla" syndrome can be avoided by a surgical counterinsurgency combined with Western liberal reform, as opposed to a ham-fisted, knock-down-the-doors combat approach. But he admits that imposing law and order American-style in Afghanistan is a "temporary" form of neocolonialism that will produce violent popular resistance. The strategic dilemma is created when this neocolonialism fosters a corrupt regime of warlords, drug lords and landlords, as it has in Kabul. The first priority of Kilcullen's counterinsurgency doctrine is "a political strategy that builds government effectiveness and legitimacy while marginalizing insurgents, winning over their sympathizers, and coopting local allies." Obama's recent surge in Afghanistan, whose purpose was to protect Afghanistan's presidential election process, had the opposite result: sending Americans to fight for an unpopular Kabul machine that committed fraud on a massive scale.
TV notes. NOW on PBS begins airing tonight on most PBS stations and examines the expected nursing shortage that looms in the near future. On Bill Moyers Journal, Bill Moyers sits down with Maurice Sendak. Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Melinda Henneberger, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Tara Setmayer and Genevieve Wood to discuss the week's events on PBS' To The Contrary. Check local listings, on many stations, it begins airing tonight. And turning to broadcast TV, Sunday CBS' 60 Minutes offers:
H1N1 Scott Pelley reports on the H1N1 flu - which is increasingly targeting young, healthy people - and how the government plans to fight the flu pandemic.
The Kanzius Machine John Kanzius fought his leukemia head on, inventing a machine that may someday offer effective treatment for cancers without the debilitating side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. Lesley Stahl reports. Watch Video
Drew Barrymore The remarkable former child star, actress and now director is profiled by CNN's Anderson Cooper.
60 Minutes, this Sunday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
iraqreutersjamal al-badranijack kimballmichael christie
mcclatchy newspaperssahar issa
mohammed al dulaimy
the washington postnada bakrixinhuatimothy williamsthe new york times
nprthe diane rehm show
the times of londonoliver august
Thursday, October 15, 2009
House VA's Subcommittee on Health
Why is that?
Gary M. Baker. Did he need a glass of water today or does he always whistle on various letters? Not just "s"s mind you. And so loud. I turned to Wally and whispered, "I feel like I'm hung over." No, I wasn't hung over but he gave me such a headache.
I wondered throughout his appearance before the panel whether he was trying to Condi Rice? You know, play beat the clock? Toss out a ton of words and just try to run the clock down?
A simple question would result in a lengthy response that, if you paid attention, never really answered the simple question.
Before he appears next, maybe the VA could sit him down and train him how to answer a simple question?
Or maybe that was the trick he was told to pull, run the clock down?
I found nothing of value in his testimony or in the testimony of Kay L. Daly from the GAO's office. I heard her yacking on about the 2008 report and I've heard about that report in meetings already. Did she have an update?
No. So why was she before the subcommittee?
I really don't get it.
The American Legion sent Denise Williams to the hearing (for the first panel) and I thought that was a good move. So often, these veterans groups -- unless they're a women's veterans group -- always send males. Just the fact that Williams was a woman helped her stand out. She was also African-American and that helped as well. And should help with the Legion's image which I think we can all agree has an inclination to be White male. I enjoyed her testimony and hope she's a witness at another VA hearing in the near future.
Glen Nye. He handled chair responsibilites throughout the first panel. Michael Michaud is the Chair but he wasn't able to join the hearing until the second panel. I though Nye did a good job and I was completely unfamiliar with him. So I went to his website and am going to share his bio:
Congressman Glenn Nye represents Virginia’s 2nd District, which includes the communities of Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore. A fifth-generation resident of the district, Nye is a former Foreign Service officer who spent more than ten years overseas, volunteering to serve in conflict zones around the world including Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Assigned to the reconstruction effort in Kosovo in 2001, Nye received the State Department’s Superior Honor Award for organizing the rescue of 26 American citizens who were being held behind insurgent lines, and for negotiating the release of an American hostage.
Nye was next assigned to the US Embassy in Singapore, where he helped to negotiate intellectual property agreements that protected American businesses and entrepreneurs.
Less than a year later, in 2002, Nye signed up to go to Afghanistan with the US Agency for International Development (USAID). He spent more than a year as part of the State Department's team responsible for managing the Afghan Constitutional Convention and assisting with the Presidential election. After returning home, Nye continued his work supporting democracy in the Middle East, working to organize absentee balloting for Iraqis living in the United States, and later, managing a USAID community development program in the West Bank and Gaza.
In 2007, Nye again volunteered to return to a war zone, this time in Iraq. He spent nearly a year working as an advisor for a USAID program tasked with combating the insurgency by creating jobs and stabilizing neighborhoods. In the end, the effort was able to create employment for tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Glenn Nye was sworn in as the new Representative from Virginia's 2nd District on January 6th, 2009. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee in addition to serving as the Chairman of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Contracting and Technology.
Interesting bio and you could probably come up with seventy strong questions to ask him based just on that; however, I wouldn't ask about the bio.
"Do your parents have skin like you?"
That would be my question.
It's got to be inherited. I don't think you could get that skin if you spent a full year at the Clinique counter. He has really nice skin, complexion and tone.
I may or may not note the other hearing today when I blog tomorrow. I may want a break from it all. Or I may just be filling like: Don't pin me down!!!!
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, October 15, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the VA appears before Congress about their billing problems, the governments of Turkey and Iraq enter into a series of agreements, charges against Syria continue to be floated by Iraqi government officials, Blackwater does a pre-trial in private, and more.
Today's hearing will focus on the inappropriate billing practices of the VA where veterans receive a bill for the wrong amount or get a bill that they should not have received in the first place," explained US House Rep Glen Nye bringing the House Veterans Affairs Committee's Subcommittee On Health hearing to order. "Unfortunately inappropriate billing effects both service-connected veterans and non-service connected veterans. For example, a veteran with a service-related spinal cord injury may be billed for the treatment of a urinary tract infection. Now the urinary tract infection may clearly be linked to and the result of the service-connected injury; however, veterans are still receiving bills for the treatment of such secondary conditions. As a result, these veterans may be forced to seek a time consuming and burdensome re-adjudication of their claim indicating the original service-connected ratings. It is my understanding that one of the reasons for inappropriate billing of secondary conditions is that the VA cannot store more than six service-connected conditions in their IT system. It is also my understanding that the VA is taking steps to correct the deficiency but the problem has not been fully resolved and our veterans continue to receive inaccurate bills. Non-service-connected veterans also encounter over-billing and inappropriate charges for co-payments. One issue that I've been made aware of repeatedly is that some non-service connected veterans receive multiple bills for a single medical treatment or health care visit."
Nye was bringing the hearing to order in place of Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud. The hearing was divided into three panels. The first panel was composed of Adrian Atizado (Disabled American Veterans), Fred Cowell (Paralyzed Veterans of America) and Denise A. Williams (American Legion). The second panel was the GAO's Kay L. Daly. Panel three was composed of the VA's Dr. Gary M. Baker with the VA's Stephanie Mardon and Kristin Cunningham.
US House Rep Henry E. Brown is the Ranking Member on the Subcommittee. We'll note this from his opening remarks:
It is the solemn mission -- mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs and the federal government to care for the men and women in uniform who sustain injuries and illnesses as a result of their service to our nation; therefore, I find it deeply troubling to hear about veterans being inappropriately billed for co-payments for medical care and the medication to treat service-connected conditions. A similar issue arose earlier this year when the Obama administration was considering a plan to bill veterans private insurance for service-connected care. Fortunately, this ill-conceived proposal never saw the light of day given the fierce opposition of members from both sides of the aisle and the veterans' service organizations. As I said then, "This flies in the face of our moral obligation as a grateful nation to care for those wounded heroes."
On the first panel, Cowell noted the maze veterans go through when attempting to use the phone to address a billing issue. He noted the differing problems facing service-connected veterans and non-service connected veterans with billing errors, "Service-connected veterans are faced with a scenario where they, or their insurance company, may be billed for treatment of a service-connected condition. Meanwhile non-service connected disabled veterans are usually billed multiple times for the same treatment episode or have difficulty getting their insurance companies to pay for treatment provided by the VA." Paralyzed Veterans of America surveyed 4,000 of their members and 449 responded. Of that 449, 30% told of being "either billed directly by the VA for care that they receive or have tehir insurance companies billed for their care." From there, 22% reported their insurance companies were wrongly billed for the care or "treatment of a service-connected condtion," 17% stated they themselves were "billed directly for treatment of a service-connected condition" and 9% stated they were billed multiple times "for the same treatment episode."
Along with citing PVA's survey, Cowell shared that he himself faces these problems, "But almost every billing statement I receive has several charges that are incorrect. For several years, I simply paid these charges because I did not realize they were eroneus. For at least the past three years, I now work with my visiting nurse to review my bills for incorrect charges. She then corrects the social worker on my team and they work with the DC business office to remove incorrect charges. This is a monthly process because somehow the problem cannot be fixed on a local level and these errors continue to happen. This means that important, front-line health care workers are spending their valuable time on correcting billing issues rather than caring for veterans."
Like PVA, DVA conducted their own survey. Atizado explained that 402 members responded. 62% of respondents stated their insurance companies were "billed for their care at the VA," 43% stated they "receive bills for their care from the VA, 55% stated "that their insurance companies are being billed for treatment from VA of a service-connected condtion," and 43% stated that they were "billed for treatment at the VA for a service-connected condtion." He observed, "What is most troubling is the perception these veterans carry about the VA being indiscriminating in their billing and collections and VA being unresponsive when veterans bring their concerns to the local facility for corrective action."
Denise Williams noted the American Legion's long committment to veterans:
Denise Williams: A very notable instance where this was evident was in March 2009 when past national commander David Rehbein met with President Obama and learned that the administration planned to move forward on a proposal to charge veterans with private insurance for the treatment of service-connected injuries and illnesses at VA facilities. Under the proposed change, VA would bill the veterans' private insurance company for treatment of their service-connected disabilities. After fierce opposition from the American Legion and other veterans' service organizations, the administration dropped their plan to bill private insurance companies for treatment of service-connected medical conditions.
US House Rep Glen Nye observed, "First of all I'd just like to I want to say I appreciate Mr. Brown, the Rankig Member's comments, when he mentioned something that a number of our panelists also mentioned about the notion that the administration was kicking around earlier in the year about potentially charging veterans' private-insurance for service-connected injuries. And I want to say I was also proud to be part of that bi-partisan effort to raise the issue quickly -- along with our VSOs -- to the White House and fortunately we were able to resolve that and get that taken off the table early."
In her written opening remarks (but not in the opening remarks she delivered), Williams also noted the American Legion haa recently documented ten cases "where VA erroneaously billed service-connected veterans' private insurances for their service-connected medical care. In one case, a veteran passed away in the Tampa VA Medical Center, November 27, 2009. He was 100% service-conected for several conditions, and was also a military retiree enrolled in TRICARE for Life."
Nye asked the panel the typical amount of time their members state it takes to resolve the billing issues.
Fred Cowell: In my personal experience, I generally receive a VA billing statement three or four months from the actual date of treatment. At that point, I have to go through the bill match it -- I have learned over time to match it to a home calendar that I keep so I can track actual visit dates from my home calendars. If I notice more than one billing in that particular month, generally I get a single visit in a month from my home care nurse. Sometimes I'm bill as often as three or four times in that month for that single service. I then have to wait for the following visit which is the following month to talk with her about the issue. She checks her calendar, verifies that there is erroneous billing going on and then she goes back to the DC hospital and contacts the social worker on that team who then reviews the chart and they go up to the business office. So sometimes it can take six to eight months to get a correction for a billing error. And most months, there's more than one billing error on my -- on my statement. And we're hearing the same thing from veterans across the country, PVA members, that it takes six to eight months if they even know that there's a billing error to get it corrected.
US House Rep Glen Nye: Did you say that most months there's a billing error on your statements?
Fred Cowell: That's correct.
US House Rep Glen Nye: Alright, thank you. Mr. Atizado?
Adrian Atizado: Thank you for that question. The veterans that I ended up calling from our survey who said -- who said it was -- that it was okay for us to contact them, the reasons -- or the time runs the gamut from having it corrected within a few weeks to not being corrected at all -- to being corrected for one bill and having a recurring bill, I should say recurring inappropriate bill happen the following treatment episode or the following month. So I can certainly tell you that there's no consistency in the corrective actions. There just isn't. Some veterans have given up, some veterans will pay and some veterans will hold themselves in debt and end up having an offset put on either their compensation or their pension despite the fact that that's an inappropriate bill.
US House Rep Glen Nye: Okay, thank you. Ms. Williams?
Denise Williams: Mr. Chairman, I believe it varies based on the case. But those ten cases that we compiled in April, one of our assistant directors did follow up with the veterans and I believe there were some cases that were not resolved. And this was last week. I must say that our executive director did meet with our VA liason last week and I believe that they are working on resolving those cases so it does vary. We don't have an exact time for when they're resolved but there's still some cases out there that has not been rectified.
Kay L. Daly read her lengthy prepared remarks about . . . a 2008 GAO study. I have no idea why the members were polite and sat through that. That study's been gone over before and, check the calendar, it's 2009 -- almost 2010 (and it is fiscal year 2010). When asked questions, she repeatedly stated something was beyond her scope or she did not know but would get back to the committee. Apparently dusting off a year-old GAO report already discussed at length with Congress was all the time she had for homework and preparation. Not surprisingly, the committee didn't keep her around for long and moved on to the third panel.
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: I appreciate what VA is trying to do to solve this problem; however, as you heard from the first panel, there seems to be a disconnect when you're looking at billing for service-connected disability. That's a big concern I have because, at the beginning of the year, we heard through the grapevine that this adminstration was going to go after third party collections for service-connected disability. So I'm wondering whether or not there is someone in the VA who believes that is still a good policy? And, even though they're not supposed to, that they're doing it? Unfortunately what I think happens sometimes is the veterans who -- there will be veterans who fight it, then there will be veterans who will not fight it and will actually pay and that's the big concern that I have. And I know that the GAO made seven recommendations on how the VA could correct this. Has the VA adopted all seven of those seven recommendations?
Gary Baker: Yes, Mr. Chairman, VA has provided information to GAO. As we mentioned, a meeting was held earlier last week. But we had provided written response some time ago indicating our actions on all seven activities. And we have incorporated their recommendations into our policies and practices, issued new handbooks, new policy guidelines and training and follow-up. If I might address the service-connected issue, it has never been VA's authority to bill for service-connected conditions. While I understand that there was earlier this year some discussion of changing that practice, that was never communicated to our field facilities and providers as a change in policy. And our information systems, as I indicated earlier, automatically exempt service-connected veterans who are [. . .] service-connected from co-pay billing for inpatient and outpatient care and other exemptions as they relate to eligibility. And our providers received no change of instructions in exempting veterans for treatment of their service-connected conditions. In terms of the concerns that were addressed by the first panel, in terms of billing for service-connected conditions, I wouldn't sit here and say that VA is perfect in its billing practices. Certainly there are times when we make errors. And we stand ready and willing to correct those errors. And if there are instances where we're not being timely in terms of follow-up on that, we certainly want to hear about that so that we can improve not only on individual situations but if we have a systemic problem we're more than happy to address that.
Subcommittee Chair Michael Michaud: Do you view improper billing as a problem or do you feel it's just an isolated case from what you heard from the first panel?
Gary Baker: In terms of improper billing? I think VA billed almost 16 million -- or 13 million co-pay bills last year total. I think there's a possibility that VA makes errors in making co-pay bills or in the millions of third-party bills that we make. I don't believe that we have a large-scale, systemic problem in terms of identification of service-connected conditions. But it is related to the frontline provider who delivers service identifying that the care is related or not related to the veterans service-connected condition. We recognize that there can occassionally be errors made in that situation and that there are interpretation issues that can arise [. . .]
"A plan was written, very quickly put together, uh, very short timelines," declared VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to the US House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as to why the VA had screwed up the payments for veterans attempting to pursue higher education. "I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take."
Shinseki admits, for the first damn time, that he knew the Post-9/11 GI Bill would not be ready and had even hired an outside consultant to weigh in. But he never got around to telling Congress until after -- AFTER -- veterans were suffering. And Congress never got around to be offended on behalf of veterans or on behalf of themselves.
US House Rep Corinne Brown was called out in yesterday's snapshot and deserved to be called out a lot worse. Last night, a veteran and veterans' advocate at yesterday hearing shared how disgusted he was with her remarks and asked that I add that Brown spoke as if the GI Bill was "for ex-cons. She spoke about us like we were uneducated felons who'd committed capital murder and should be saying, 'Thank you, VA, for taking pity on our criminal asses'." And he's exactly right. Brown's statements were appalling clueless and shamefully offensive. If you looked around while she was speaking, you could see the veterans and veterans families present just recoil as Brown spoke. She was also of the opinion that Shinseki was doing something wonderful and good and noble.
What world does she live in? Is she not a member of Congress? Senator Jim Webb championed the Post-9/11 GI Bill, as did others but he was a leader. Congress passed it, it became a law. The Secretary of any department following the law is not a gift and it's a damn shame Corrine Brown thought it was. A congressional aide pointed that out today, to give credit where it's due.
After Shinseki volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, the Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew. That never happened. The entire hearing was treated like a joke with jokes at the start of it. (See Kat's "House Committee on Veterans Affairs" from last night.)
Today Stephanie Herseth Sandlin chaired a Subcommitte hearing on the GI Bill. She and others did a strong job and we'll go over that hearing tomorrow but listening to her and and US House Rep John Adler have to remind the VA that they are supposed to keep Congress informed of any problems -- real or potential -- that may arise or do arise and watching VA's witnesses nod along as if they'd done that was just unbelievable. We'll cover the hearing tomorrow. In part because I'm not in the mood to go into it right now and in part because a friend who was at the hearing wants to share a few thoughts before I write it up.
Today Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister, arrived in Baghdad. The Pakistan Times notes that he met with Nouri al-Maliki whose spokesperson, Ali al-Dabbagh, declared that "about 50 agreements" between Turkey and Iraq "will be signed" during the visit. Pinar Aydinli, Thomas Grove, Ibon Villelabeitia and William Hardy (Reuters) note that chief among the expected agreements is one that would allow for the transporation of "Iraqi natural gas to Europe via Turkey". Hurriyet Daily News adds, "The two nations will also discuss cooperation against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party of PKK, Prime Minister Erdogan said. He urged European countries to do more to combat drug smuggling by the PKK." Today's Zaman hails the meeting as "a giant step forward to boost ties" and notes agreements also cover "sharing water" before adding, "Erdogan's visit to Iraq came just days after Turkey and another southern neighbor, Syria, signed deals to create a similar mechanism of cooperation and formally abolish visa requirements on Tuesday. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who was one of the nine ministers accompanying Erdogan on his Baghdad visit, walked across the border with his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Moallem, in a symbolic move underling the growing cooperation between their countries after signing the agreement to end the visa requirements and create a Turkey-Syria High-Level Strategic Cooperation Council." This comes as Alsumaira reports that Hosheyar Zebari, Foreign Minister of Iraq, announced today that talks between Iraq and Syria "to solve the security crisis have been halted" and found Zebari again declaring that the United Nations is launching an envoy mission/investigation into the bombings of Black Wednesday/ Bloody Wednesday/ Gory Wednesday. AFP quotes Zebari claiming, "What we agreed in New York, with the UN Secretary General, is the nomination of a UN employee who will make an assessment on foreign intervention in Iraq, and will also investigate the causes and consequences of the crimes of August 19." AFP notes the UN has thus far refused to confirm or deny Zebari's assertion. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) quotes Zebari declaring the meetings between Syria and Iraq ended: "After four meetings the government realized that these meetings are pointless and they have not produced any . . . tangible results or any movement." She adds any "investigation into foreign interference in Iraq would also include Iran and other neighbors but the Iraqi government has focused on the suicide truck bombs which Iraq has blamed on Baath Party extremists living in Syria." Strangely for someone claiming that an investigation would take place, Zebari also declared that if there is no special envoy, then his country would take the matter to the UN Security Council. Gina Chon (Wall St. Journal) notes that Zebari was originally advocating for an international court and the United Nations did not sign off that.
Meanwhile AFP reports that Iraq's Parliament announced yesterday the draft election law was being "delayed until next week" with claims that it will be addressed on Monday. UPI and Official Wire report the law will be addressed Saturday. However, Alsumaria reports it will be Monday and reports on the draft law amdendments:According to the amendments, the number of lawmakers would become 311. Elections would be carried out following the province considered as one electoral district. Seats would be proportionate to the number of inhabitants according to ratio cards' statistics. The pending issue of the open list brought up several views. The first view: Candidacy would follow the open list system. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to one of the candidates on the list or to an individual candidate. The second view: Candidacy would follow the open list system with a maximum of three candidates who should not exceed the double number of seats allocated for the electoral district. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to one of the candidates on the list or to an individual candidate. The third view: Candidacy would follow the open list system with a maximum of three candidates who should not exceed the double number of seats allocated for the electoral district. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to at least three candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reports, "Parliament is now expecting to vote on the election law this Sunday, but that may again be delayed. If Iraq does not carry out elections by January, it will raise serious questions about the government's legitimacy."
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) report a Baghdad roadside bombing which claimed the life of 1 person and left three more wounded, a Kirkuk roadside bombing which injured four police officers, a Mosul bicycle bombing injured three people and, dropping back to last night, a Toz Khurmatu sticky bombing which claimed the life of 1 "Kurdish security member" and left his wife and their two children wounded. Reuters notes 2 Mosul roadside bombing which resulted in the death of 1 police officer (four people left injured) and the other injured one person. Lin Zhi (Xinhua) notes a Saadiyah roadside bombing which left an Iraqi officer and an Iraqi soldier injured, a Baladruz roadside bombing that left three Iraqi soldiers injured "when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle" and a Baquba bombing near a home which injured two people.
Reuters notes 1 journalist was injured in a Ramadi attack yesterday.
Turning to the US, September 16, 2007, Blackwater shot up Baghdad. The death toll was at least 14. The press reaction was to undercount and to make jokes. No, Gwen Ifill, it is not and never will be forgotten. Pretrial hearings are taking place in DC; however, the press has been blocked from attending. Del Quentin Wilber (Washington Post) reports US District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina has shut the press and the public out of the pre-trial hearings and the judge asserts he is doing so to guarantee a fair trial:In a letter Tuesday, The Post asked Urbina to reconsider. Post attorney James McLaughlin said the court should have put the proceedings on the open docket and given the public an earlier chance to challenge the basis for the closure of the hearing. He said concerns about the impact of pretrial publicity were "highly speculative" unless supported by factual findings in open court. Urbina denied The Post's request. He said the rights of the five guards to a fair trial outweighed the public's interest in attending the proceedings. He said he was concerned about how news accounts of the statements might affect witnesses, some as far away as Baghdad.
Meanwhile Eric Watkins (Oil & Gas Journal) reports that the Parliament did manage to push through the legislation necessary to get 100 British soldiers back in Iraq to "protect its vital southern oil export terminals." They did that yesterday and Watkins doesn't find the offense in it. Foreign troops in Iraq are supposedly there for 'safety' but Watkins has just revealed British troops are being brought back in to protect the oil. Nouri sure is lucky he doesn't have to foot that bill too, isn't he? British soldiers? Less lucky. Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) covers the Iraq inquiry in England. So British troops can be used to protect Iraqi oil -- their lives are judged that unimportant by the UK and corporations. In the US? Adam Lichtenheld and Ron Moore's "No Contractor Left Behind Part IV: Congress's Powerless Probe" (DC Bureau):
After a flurry of Pentagon contracting scandals involving KBR went unaddressed by Republican lawmakers under the Bush administration, Democrats ran on promises of "real and serious" oversight in their successful 2006 campaign to win back Congress.But American soldiers poisoned by KBR in Iraq six years ago have found weak refuge on Capitol Hill. Democratic leaders have left the Qarmat Ali probe to a lone senator, Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and a largely powerless Congressional panel, the Democratic Policy Committee (DPC). Having traditionally operated as a partisan support forum, the DPC lacks the capabilities to ensure accountability for the sick veterans of Qarmat Ali -- who have struggled to afford costly medical treatments while the company that endangered them continues to reap millions of dollars in windfall profits. It was Sen. Dorgan, the DPC's chairman, who first uncovered the Qarmat Ali incident and brought it to Congress last year. Since then, the Senate committee charged with direct oversight of the U.S. military -- the powerful and highly influential Armed Services Committee -- has largely stayed silent. When DCBureau called Armed Services chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), spokesman Bryan Thomas declined comment."I've tried to do as much as I can with the limited capacity I have," Dorgan said. "It just begs for investigation."
The Democratic Policy Committee issued the following:(WASHINGTON , D.C. ) --- The U.S. Army is ramping up its response to the exposure of U.S. troops in Iraq to the deadly chemical sodium dichromate, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Friday. He said it has also doubled the Army estimate of the number of U.S. troops who may have been exposed to the cancer-causing chemical from 347 to more than 1,164. Department of Veterans Affairs is also stepping up its effort to respond to the exposures to better monitor and treat exposed soldiers."These are significant breakthroughs," Dorgan said Friday. "Lives will be saved because of these actions."As Chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), Dorgan chaired hearings on the exposure, and the Army's response in June 2008 and August 2009. Multiple failures by the contractor, KBR, were revealed at the 2008 hearing. The hearing in August focused on the Army's response to the exposure and its failure to adequately monitor, test, and notify soldiers who may have been exposed of the health risks they may now face. Dorgan has been pushing the Army, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch a more vigorous effort to reach, warn, monitor and treat soldiers who may have been exposed to the chemical at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in 2003. Dorgan released a letter Friday from Army Secretary Pete Geren who said the Army is now working to track down and notify all 1,164 exposed soldiers to alert them to the health risk they now face. Geren told Dorgan the Army is now working more closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that VA health professionals know to be looking for sodium dichromate exposure symptoms and how to treat them. Dorgan also released a letter from Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki informing him that the VA is stepping up its response to the exposure. Shinseki wrote that the VA is now offering veterans who were at the site free medical monitoring and treatment. Previously, soldiers exhibiting symptoms consistent with sodium dichromate had to prove their conditions were service connected. That burden of proof, which the VA has lifted,often delayed or prevented treatment for illnesses for which prompt and urgent treatment often means the difference between life and death.National Guard troops from West Virginia , Oregon , South Carolina , Indiana and members of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division were among those at the Qarmat Ali site who were exposed to the deadly chemical.
the christian science monitorjane arraf
del quentin wilberthe washington post
the wall street journalgina chon
mcclatchy newspaperslaith hammoudi
the new statesmanmedhi hasanalsumariadc bureauadam lichtenheldbyron moore
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
House Committee on Veterans Affairs
I'm not talking about Shinseki himself here, I'm just talking about the position.
So imagine my surprise when Republican House Rep Steve Buyer (who I have had praise for before) repeatedly called Secretary Shineseki "General." And to make sure everyone got it, Buyer went into this long song and dance about how he respected generals more.
Excuse me? Shinseki has a cabinet post. He is now a civilian working in a civilian government. For that reason alone, he should be called Secretary.
But for Buyer, that's not good enough. For Buyer, there's some effete about being a department secretary.
It was very insulting.
There was a move to call someone -- I think Michael Hayden -- by his military ranking after he was given a civilian post. I will never agree with him on most things, but I did respect him for correcting people who called him "general" by telling them to call him "Director." He was no longer in the military, he had the position of Director of National Intelligence, a civilian position, and he was as proud of his current position as he was of his past and sensible enough to grasp that the US wasn't a junta and "Director" was a highly honorable title.
Again, I will never agree with Hayden on most things, but I was happy when he did that and I was proud of him for doing it. And I'm still proud of him for doing that.
Eric Shinseki is the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. That's a wonderful position to have and one with many resposibilities.
Steven Buyer may not think so but that's reality.
And his insistence on saying "General Shinseki" over and over reminded me of when Jaqueline Onassis was married and some referred to her as "Jackie Kennedy" still. As if her current marriage was less and they wanted to telegraph how little they respected it.
I'm not a Republican and Buyer fans can kid themselves that's why I'm slamming him. But truth is, I have offered praise for Buyer before (and hopefully will again) but I'm not going to praise that nonsense today where he repeatedly rushed to imply that Secretary of a Department was no big deal and something anyone could do.
Shinseki is now the Secretary of a department, a Cabinet level post. Show some respect for the office and for a civilian government.
Buyer had to open with praise for Committee Chair Bob Filner. That's not a bad thing. I like him, he does a good job running a hearing. But long after Bob Filner had joked back, "You want me to have a heart attack right now?" Buyer was still joshing around. The hearing had started. And when the joshing was finally ditched, it was time for Buyer to insult secretaries of departments. (He does grasp that, right? He doesn't think Shinseki's at the VA all day waiting for someone to buzz him to rush over and take dictation, does he?)
Equally true is that it's not up to Buyer to decide what title to give people. Their title is their current post. If they have no current post and you want to use their former post, fine. But while they hold a post, that is their title with no exceptions.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Violence continued in Iraq today and some tried to mask it. Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports an attack mortars, gunfire and grenades on one Baghdad neighbourhood today was, according to the Defense Ministry's spokesmodel Mohammed al Askari, was "a normal one that could happen in any country." Right. I believe just yesterday, downtown Dulith was shelled with mortars, suffered gunfire and grenades. Hammoudi quotes cosmetic shop owner Maitham Abu Zahra stating, "I was in my shop when I heard the sound of the explosion. It was very loud sound followed by white smoke (that) covered market." Nada Bakri (Washington Post) notes 8 dead and nine injured, "A checkpoint was a few miles away, and many residents said they believed soldiers there had allowed the assailants to pass unhindered." Timothy Williams and Anwar J. Ali (New York Times) add 7 of the sodliers "assigned to the market" have been arrested.
NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reports that as Iraqi children return to school, "[m]any of Iraq's schools lack electricity and running water, but they will be getting something new this year: a history book that reflects the enormous changes the country has been through and includes historical events that were once forbidden topics." Quil leaves out what Xinhua and others have been reporting since school started: Overcrowding, lack of desks, lack of supplies, etc. A modern history book? How about a modern school?
FOR JUSTICE FOR IRAQ:
LEGAL CASE FILED AGAINST
FOUR US PRESIDENTS
AND FOUR UK PRIME MINISTERS
FOR WAR CRIMES, CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY
AND GENOCIDE IN IRAQ
For immediate release
[Spanish] - [Arabic]
Date: 7 October 2009
MADRID: Today the Spanish Senate, acting to confirm a decision already taken under pressure from powerful governments accused of grave crimes, will limit Spain's laws of universal jurisdiction. Yesterday, ahead of the change of law, a legal case was filed at the Audiencia Nacional against four United States presidents and four United Kingdom prime ministers for commissioning, condoning and/or perpetuating multiple war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Iraq.
This case, naming George H W Bush, William J Clinton, George W Bush, Barack H Obama, Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Anthony Blair and Gordon Brown, is brought by Iraqis and others who stand in solidarity with the Iraqi people and in defence of their rights and international law.
Iraq: 19 years of intended destruction
The intended destruction -- or genocide -- of Iraq as a state and nation has been ongoing for 19 years, combining the imposition of the most draconian sanctions regime ever designed and that led to 1.5 million Iraqi deaths, including 500,000 children, with a war of aggression that led to the violent deaths of over one million more.
Destroying Iraq included the purposeful targeting of its water and sanitation system, attacking the health of the civilian population. Since 1990, thousands of tons of depleted uranium have been dropped on Iraq, leading in some places to a 600 per cent rise in cancer and leukaemia cases, especially among children. In both the first Gulf War and "Shock and Awe" in 2003, an air campaign that openly threatened "total destruction", waves of disproportionate bombing made no distinction between military and civilian targets, with schools, hospitals, mosques, churches, shelters, residential areas, and historical sites all destroyed.
Destroying Iraq included promoting, funding and organizing sectarian and ethnic groups bent on dividing Iraq into three or more sectarian or ethnic entities, backed by armed militias that would terrorize the Iraqi people. Since 2003, some 4.7 million Iraqis -- one fifth of the population -- have been forcibly displaced. Under occupation, kidnappings, killings, extortion and mutilation became endemic, targeting men, women and even children and the elderly.
Destroying Iraq included purposefully dismantling the state by refusing to stop or stem or by instigating mass looting, and by engaging in ideological persecution, entailing "manhunting", extrajudicial assassinations, mass imprisonment and torture, of Baathists, the entire educated class of the state apparatus, religious and linguistic minorities and Arab Sunnis, resulting in the total collapse of all public services and other economic functions and promoting civil strife and systematic corruption.
In parallel, Iraq's rich heritage and unique cultural and archaeological patrimony has been wantonly destroyed.
In order to render Iraq dependent on US and UK strategic designs, successive US and UK governments have attempted to partition Iraq and to establish by military force a pro-occupation Iraqi government and political system. They have promoted and engaged in the massive plunder of Iraqi natural resources, attempting to privatize this property and wealth of the Iraqi nation.
Humanity at stake
This is but the barest summary of the horrors Iraq has endured, based on lies that nobody but cowed governments and complicit media believed. In 2003, millions worldwide were mobilized in opposition to US/UK plans. In going ahead, the US and UK launched an illegal war of aggression. Accountability has not been established.
The persons named in this case have each played a key role in Iraq's intended destruction. They instigated, supported, condoned, rationalized, executed and/or perpetuated or excused this destruction based on lies and narrow strategic and economic interests, and against the will of their own people. Allowing those responsible to escape accountability means such actions could be repeated elsewhere.
It is imperative now to establish accountability for US and UK war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Iraq because:
Every Iraqi victim deserves justice.
Everyone responsible should be accountable.
We are before immoral and unlawful acts, contrary to the basis on which the international order of state sovereignty and peace and security rests. Whereas the official international justice system is closed before the suffering of those that imperialism makes a target, through this case we try to open a channel whereby the conscience of humanity can express its solidarity with justice for victims of imperial crimes.
Ad Hoc Committee For Justice For Iraq
Hana Al Bayaty, Executive Committee, BRussells Tribunal
+34 657 52 70 77 or +20 10 027 7964 (English and French) email@example.com
Dr Ian Douglas, Executive Committee, BRussells Tribunal, coordinator, International Initiative to Prosecute US Genocide in Iraq
+20 12 167 1660 (English) iandouglas@USgenocide.org
Amanda Nuredin, +34 657 52 70 77 (Spanish) firstname.lastname@example.org
Abdul Ilah Albayaty, Executive Committee, BRussells Tribunal
+33 471 461 197 (Arabic) email@example.com
Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today introduced legislation to recognize the marriage of fallen U.S. Marine Sgt. Michael Ferschke and his Japanese wife who were married by proxy while Sgt. Ferschke was deployed in Iraq. The Ferschkes' marriage is formally recognized by the military but not the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- leaving the immigration status of Mrs. Ferschke in jeopardy.
Michael Ferschke and Hotaru Nakama were married by telephone on July 10, 2008, three months after the couple learned they were having a child. Sgt. Ferschke was killed in combat one month later. The couple's marriage is not recognized by DHS because it was never consummated as dictated by an outdated 1952 immigration law passed during the Korean War.
Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee joined Senator Webb in cosponsoring the legislation.
"Every now and then, there comes an issue that tells us a lot about who we are, and how we live up to our promised, great and small," said Senator Webb today in a speech on the Senate floor. "And particularly the promises we make to those who step forward and place their lives on the line in order to carry out the policies that we create."
Senator Webb's bill would allow Mrs. Hotaru Ferschke, who is currently here under a tourist visa, permanent residency in the U.S., a right granted to all military widows. Mrs. Ferschke and their 8-month-old son, Michael "Mikey" Ferschke III, are currently staying at the Tennessee home of Sgt. Ferschke's parents surrounded by photos and memories of the father Mikey will never meet.
The targeted legislation will have no impact on broader immigration policies. It will allow immigration authorities to recognize the Ferschkes' lawful marriage and, according to Senator Webb: "right a wrong for a Marine's family who paid the ultimate sacrifice for his country."
Death, rather than nation building -- that is what the US army has brought to Iraq and is bringing to Afghanistan according to former US army sergeant and anti-war activist Matthis Chiroux. He shared his views with RT.
For some, Matthis Chiroux is a hero. Others label him a US traitor. The 25-year-old is an army sergeant-turned-war-resistor, and one of roughly 8,000 US soldiers who have reportedly deserted the army since 2003.
He accuses the US military of having become a corrupt institution built upon spreading death as a response to nations' problems by means of conducting illegal wars.
"One hundred per cent, Afghanistan war is absolutely an illegal war under the same conventions that Iraq was an illegal war," Chiroux says.
"They are virtually the same thing," he continues. "They are both experiments in going in, smashing the country and trying to rebuild it in our own image as a trading partner. They are both about resources. They are both defined as illegal wars of aggression by the UN Charter -- that's something people don't understand."
Speaking of President Obama's decision to deploy even more troops in Afghanistan, the activist has said that "more troops in an illegal war aren't going to somehow make it inherently right or even winnable."