The second panel had one section that stood out to me. As a general rule, when witnesses say they have all the help they need, you better be wary. And you better note the exchange on your calander.
Congress woman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin asked the VA's Mark Bologna, "Are you confident that you have the resources to meet the need?"
Bologna: We have not projected it out 10, 15 years. We just look to the next 2 or 3 years. We can certainly continue to look. We believe that the increases is due in large part to the work of Congress over the last couple of years in changing the program and making it available essentially and useful to many more people. We do anticipate that we're going to continue to see -- again, we improved nearly 1300 grants in the last fiscal year. We expect that we'll exceed that this coming year. We do have -- in terms of the staffing -- we believe we have more than enough staffing today. I guess I shouldn't say "more than enough" but we have enough staffing.
Mark Bologna's full title is "Director of Loan Guarantee Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs." Offered additional help and shot it down. Remember that when the next scandal breaks.
Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Friday, November 20, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US Defense Dept announces a death in Iraq, the 'intended' January elections remain murky, a War Hawk is denied a title, another War Hawk refuses to meet with the parent of a child kidnapped in Iraq, Congress explores the wounded, and more.
Today the Defense Department issued a release noting "the death of a sailor who was supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian M. Patton, 37, of Freeport, Ill., died Nov. 19 in Kuwait in a non-combat accident." M-NF missed announcing the death (DoD is only supposed to identify the fallen) and the announcement brings to
4363 the number of US service members killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war.
"According to the Defense Manpower Data Center, at the Department of Defense, approximately 35,000 service members have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan," explained US House Rep Stephanie Herseth Sandlin yesterday afternoon. She was opening the House Veterans Affairs' Subcommittee on Economic Development's hearing entitled Adaptive Housing Grants. What are Adaptive Housing Grants? The VA explains: "Veterans or servicemembers who have specific service-connected disabilities may be entitled to a grant from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for the purpose of constructing an adapted home or modifying an existing home to meet their adaptive needs. The goals of the Specially Adapted Housing (SAH) Grant Program is to provide a barrier-free living environment that affords the veterans or servicemembers a level of independent living he or she may not normally enjoy."
The first panel was composed of Disabled American Veterans' John L. Wilson, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Richard Daley, Blinded Veterans Association's Thomas Zampieri and Homes For Our Troops' John S. Gonsalves. From Daley's opening statement, we'll note this section:
The $63,700 currently available using the Specially Adapted Housing grant is a significant help for a veteran to make the needed modifications to their existing home or newly purchased previously owned home. Since it is difficult to find an existing home that can be made totally accessible, some veterans choose to design a new house incorporating accessibility into the plans. Often financial considerations or a convenient living location near family members may preclude designing a new home. In those situations the often monumental task of making the existing structure accessible must be considered. Guidance and information to make modifications for accessibility can be found in the VA's newly issued VA pamphlet 26-13, Handbook for Design: Specially Adapted Housing for Wheelchair Users, which was also reviewed by PVA's Architecture Department before its publication.
Many existing homes can be modified to improve access for a wheelchair user and enhance the function of the home. Some basic alterations would include creating an accessible entrance to the home including an accessible route to the entrance door, a level platform that is large enough for maneuvering during door operation, and enlarging entrance doorways. One bathroom would need complete renovation including plumbing arrangements if an accessible roll-in shower is required. The movement of an existing wall may be necessary for a person in a wheelchair to use each fixture of the bathroom, allow room for door operation and general circulation in the bathroom. Similar construction alterations would be required for the kitchen to be accessible and usable, and perhaps alterations to the master bedroom. The current grant amount of $63,700 in many situations would not pay for the entire project of making a home accessible for a wheelchair user. Since the house must be made accessible for the veteran, they would have no other option than to pay for remaining construction costs from personal savings, arrange a loan from a bank, or borrow needed funds from family members. We have been told that more often, than not, this is the situation the veteran faces.
That provides a general overview of some needs shared by many disabled veterans. We'll now zero in on an example of one person's needs in particular.
Thomas Zampieri: I had an OIF blinded service member that sent me an e-mail about the special housing grant program which I included in my [prepared] testimony because it sort of explains some of the frustration. While he was happy that he got the $10,000 grant in 2007, I actually had to spend $27,000 to do the adapted housing changes that he needed to provide room and space for his computer, the monitors, the scanners, the printers and the magnifiers in order for him to complete his college degree. All of this was great VA adaptive technology that was provided to him as a blind veteran but you have to have a place in order to store it and a way for that equipment to be connected. A lot of the blind veterans have unique, uh, requirements in regards to lighting and electrical work and the current amounts don't cover that.
Today Kerry Feltner (The New Hampshire) reports on Nathan Webster's campus lecture "Can't Give This War Away: Three Iraqi Summers of Change and Conflict." Webster is a photo journalist. Feltner spoke with people who attended the lecture. Gretchen Forbes declared, "It's really unusual to get a first-hand report of the war. You'd think by now it would be our duty to have major news organizations over there to write about the war . . . that really surprises me. I feel like it's the media's responsibility." Betty Nordgren declared, "I'm always interested in hearing about the war and the images were great to see, but I think that the news organizations are in trouble if they don't start covering this war more thoroughly." Both women are correct and it's also true that the least covered in any war are the ones with visible wounds. It's apparently too tempting to look away. That's true of the challenged and disabled population in general but especially true of those members of that population whose wounds derive from a war or military conflict. We'll note the following exchange from the hearing.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: One of the concerns, I know that, Dr. Zampieri, you have in terms of the updated version -- Well, maybe not a concern. But maybe you could elaborate for us. With the updated version of the handbook, is that helpful for visually impaired veterans. What further provisions would your organizations like to see in-in the handbook?
Thomas Zampieri: Yeah, the handbook is helpful. A lot of the modifications in regards to lighting and additional electrical outlets and all those things. And then the --
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: You had mentioned that in your oral statement. That you would like to see those types of adaptions added.
Thomas Zampieri: Right.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: So maybe a comprehensive list of what would be available --
Thomas Zampieri: Okay.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Is that?
Thomas Zampieri: Right. And the voice activated types of devices are also, you know, he [John Gonsalves] had mentioned. Especially for blind veterans who now days live alone. All those things add to safety and other things.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: And then, Mr. Gonsalves, you had expressed concerns that I think that in terms of some requirements in the grants -- that there are injuries that require some sort of adaptions or its sort of mandatory but to have some additional flexibility in the grants would be helpful.
John Gonsalves: Right.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Is that correct?
John Gonsalves: Yes, and I think some of that may have been taken I hadn't seen the new VA pamphlet. I-I hadn't seen it before the testimony but one of the things that Homes For Our Troops does now -- and you can kind of tell from one of the pictures that we have here -- we have a soldier who actually, before his house is being built -- this is under the Fully Functioning Kitchens For Mobility. We qualify what kind of adaptations are going to happen in a house based on injury. And I guess it would sort of work the way VA rates disability percentage. We -- At the time a service member gets qualified for SAH, we have enough information at that time. And what Homes For Our Troops has done is we have an adaptation check list. We only have five sets of home plans that we build. And the home, the footprint is always the same. The windows are always the same. The floor plan is always the same. But there's an adaptation check list based on what the soldier needs and that's why I provided some photos in here. It really gives you an idea. Obviously a quadriplegic would need a lifting care system where somebody that has the mobility of their upper arms probably doesn't need it. And I think at the time of being qualified for SAH, basically all of the technology is there. We've built for, I think, every type of injury out there from amputees who are blind to different levels of spinal cord injuries. So we know what's available to put in a home and it would be really great to be out in the front once they qualify. A whole checklist be put together.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: I think that that's very helpful and you have some ideas and recommendations that would be helpful and would like you to share those with us, with the VA. I think that with addition to what they've done to update their pamphlet, to have someone who's undertaken the mission that you've undertaken doing this work on the ground would be beneficial in creating those types of checklists. I would also think that it would be somewhat beneficial based on the work that you've done in having these checklists for the different types of injuries that the veteran may have suffered from and how to construct a home suitable to his or her needs as it relates to the overall cost of that. And I know that you agree in addition to TRA that the specially adapted housing grant be increased and again that's sort of the historical analysis that you're providing specific in Exhibit One for that grant. What do you -- do you have a ballpark figure? I mean, knowing again that if we adjust ed it to inflation, it would be up to $170,000. But based on the work you've done and the relative cost of doing that, do you have a ballpark figure?
John Gonsalves: Yes. On average, uhm, we've averaged $343,00 for the cost of building a new home.
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Okay. So that's even greater than the average new home price.
John Gonsalves: Right. But these are 100% fully adapted homes --
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: Yes.
John Gonsalves: -- which they do cost a little more to build. You need a little extra square footage compared to what the average home that the census bureau uses.
[. . .]
Chair Stephanie Herseth Sandlin: One last question. Mr -- Dr. Zampiri. Can you explain the difference in changing the Specially Adaptive Housing Grant from 5 - 200 to 20 - 200 with regard to visual impairment?
Thoomas Zampieri: Yes. In fact, thank you very much. I was afraid someone didn't notice that. And also I appreciate that Congressman [John] Boozman [Ranking Member] just coincidentally showed up at the right time [laughter from Zampieri and Boozman]. I'm legally blind. I can't drive. A lot of jobs I can't do. My vision is worse than 20/200. And I don't qualify for anything under this program because the requirement is 5/200 which is really just you can't tell if there's a light on. There's no light/dark perception for lack of a better way to describe it. If somebody has 5/200 and they waive their hand in front of your face and you don't see it, you're quote-quote, 'meet this requirement, "totally blind." Our concern is -- and this is growing thing -- a lot of the Traumatic Brain Injured service members who have significant functional impairments, who need extra lighting and all these other things get zip. When I was in Houston and I was first service-connected for my blindness, for example, because of the 20/200 vision, they said no. So I went and I ended up spending not a whole lot but almost $7,000 to do the modifications to my house in Houston because, you know. And so the total number of service members coming back that would be 5/200 is fairly low. In fact, the Navy says there's less than 20 in the last 8 years out at Bethesda. But there are 140 that are enrolled in the VA with this 20/200 and are told "nope" and -- So it's a frustrating thing. And I realize of course that the magic problem is that if you change this section and you open it up to 20/200 as the definition of blindness then of course, you know, the automatic reaction is "Uh-oh. You're going to expand the costs of the program." And-and, I'm always suspicious of that. It's sort of like a few years ago, a couple of years ago when you did the TRA legislation. I'm sure people initially reacted by saying this is going to cost millions and millions and you're going to have all sorts of veterans applying for this. And the experience that I have is it usually isn't that way. People don't apply automatically. But I think Mr. Boozman may have some thoughts about this problem of the vision complications.
Ranking Member John Boozman: I appreciate you bringing that up and you make such an important comment -- that probably the VA's the only entity in the world that uses that standard versus the 20/200 standard. As an optometrist, I helped start -- in fact I started the School For The Blind's low vision program in Little Rock. And I would say probably about 90% of the kids in there did not -- would not meet the -- did you say 5/200 was the standard? Yeah, I mean, that's the standard I'm familiar with because nobody uses it. But I would say that if you looked at all the kids in blind schools or schools for the impaired, the vast majority, the vast-vast majority, there's no way that they would meet a 5/200. Most people, and lay people don't understand this but, most people that-that are blind have a lot of usable vision that can be worked with. And it truly does, you know, going in and setting up a kitchen or setting up a house so that a person can easily pour a cup of coffee -- you know, do things, that we just take for granted. Somebody might really struggle with that that did not meet this definition of vision which is so stringent in the VA so I think you make a great point.
Thursday's snapshot noted the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia which Kat covered Thursday night. Wednesday's snapshot covered the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing and Kat covered that Wednesday night.
Remember the two women in New Hampshire noting the lack of Iraq coverage in the media? On NPR today, The Diane Rehm Show didn't have time for Iraq but it did have time for Nadia Bilbassy to laugh condescendingly at an e-mailer (Tom from Jacksonville, Florida) caller and presumably all Americans before she went on to declare what American tax payer money should be spent on. Nadia scored a double: She managed to (a) be insulting and (b) also pimp opinion passed off as fact. It was not attractive. And it was cute the way she worked every answer back to her own community and issues -- a fact not revealed on the broadcast. I wonder if the Basques in Spain will next be brought on to lobby for an hour without NPR revealing who they are? Her remarks did not approach journalism. But, hey, she got to be rude and insulting and isn't that what NPR is all about? Strangely, Diane's show last week (with a guest host) told people the vote was on track in Iraq. That's now up in the air so you'd think they would have felt the need to do an update. But possibly when one guest keeps talking about 'her people' (but forgetting to inform the listeners of that) there's very little time for anything else.
Let's turn to the issue of the elections. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) reported this afternoon that "the country's top election official said that even if lawmakers resolved all their differences, it would be impossible to hold elections in January" and quoted Independent High Electoral Commission's Faraj al-Haydari stating, "We have already stopped all our work." Arraf reminds that both the "IHEC and the United Nations officials have said they need at least 60 days to prepare a credible election."
This morning, the New York Times editorialized on the election issues noting:
The Constitution requires the election by the end of January. Election officials had said that the law needed to be done by Oct. 15 to allow enough time to prepare for the voting. Even though Iraq's Parliament overshot that deadline when it approved compromise legislation, the election was expected to take place between Jan. 18 and Jan. 23.
But the Presidency Council (composed of the president, a Kurd, and two vice presidents, a Sunni and a Shiite) has the final say. And Mr. Hashimi chose to exercise his veto power and put in doubt Iraq's second national election, a critical test of whether democracy can endure as the United States withdraws its troops.
The editorial board thinks the Constitution matters . . . sometimes. Sometimes Iraq's Constitution doesn't matter. It appears the editorial board is concerned with the Constitution only when what they want doesn't happen. Refuse to conduct a national census? The editorial board's okay with that. Refuse to resolve the Kirkuk issue (as the Constitution mandated be done by 2007)? The editorial board's okay with that. It's a funny sort of semi-devotion to the Constitution but then the New York Times is a funny sort of news outlet. Sami Moubayed covers the developments in Iraq at Asia Times notes the argument that the Iraqi refugees will be underrepresented in the Parliament (true even if there wasn't an effort to expand the number of seats and to hand the bulk to Shi'ites). Mouybayad explains, "Frantically [Nouri al-] Maliki responded. On Thursday evening, the Constitutional Court (over which Maliki has plenty of influence) overruled Hashemi's veto, calling it 'unconstitutional'." Let's jump to what's happening and then come back to the 'unconstitutional' assertion. Waleed Ibrahim, Suadad al-Salhy, Aseel Kami, David Alexander, Deepa Babington, Samia Nakhoul and Todd Eastham (Reuters) report, "Instead of addressing Hashemi's demand that the law give more seats to Iraqi refugees and minorities, lawmakers squabbled over whether the veto was legal. They scheduled a session Saturday in which they would vote on whether to reject Hashemi's veto and send the law back for approval by the three-person presidency council without changes, said the speaker of parliament, Ayad al-Samarai." Now back to the "unconstitutional" claim. The reporters go on to address the claims Baha al-Araji was making (see yesterday's snapshot) about the veto being "unconstitutional" and how this is "political wrangling" and MP Saleh al-Mutlaq states, "To my knowledge, the federal court did not say the veto is not constitutional. They are trying to create a real political crisis."
Turning to the daily violence. First, a correction. McClatchy was included in yesterday's daily violence and that was Wednesday's daily violence. Not Thursdays. It will not be counted in the weekly total at Third. McClatchy didn't do a violence report on Thursday or, thus far, on Friday. Apparently, there were other things to do. Reuters noted the following violence today a Mosul roadside bombing today which injured a police officer, a Mosul stabbing of "an Egyptian" last night and another civilian shot dead in Mosul last night as well as a Thursday Baghdad bombing which left nine people injured.
Moving to Europe where noted War Hawk Tony Blair was delivered some, for him, bad news. As Middle East Online reports, "Former British premier Tony Blair took a blow after being rejected as EU president, mainly due to his stained repuation after supporting and taking part in the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003." There is no joy in the killing fields tonight, Poodle Tony has struck out. Blair is the former British prime minister. His roll dog Gordon Brown is the current one. Leicester Mercury reports Brown is refusing to meet with the father of Peter Moore who was kidnapped along with 4 other British citizens in Iraq back in May 2007. The other four are all dead or thought by the government to be dead. Only Peter Moore is assumed to be alive at this point. But Brown has refused to meet with him and the reason given is that the "designated next of kin" is not Graeme Moore. Though some are shocked by Brown's decision, it should be remembered that Gordon is himself a War Hawk and, as such, may not be able to fake compassion very well and just attempting to do so may wear Gordon Brown out. In which case, he needs to limit the occassions on which he fakes sympathy in public.
Yesterday (or last night, for those not on the West Coast), KPFA's Flashpoints Radio spoke with Stephen Funk, Eddie Falcon, Clare Baird and Courage to Resist's Sarah Lazar. Nora Barrows-Freidman was speaking with them about the efforts of Iraq and Afghanistan war resisters to work with Israeli refuseniks. Stephen Funk wrote about this project earlier this month. Stephen is the first known Iraq War resister who self-checked out starting on February 9, 2003 and went public April 1st announcing that he would not deploy. We've noted Stephen Funk here before and will again, but he went public before this site started so we'll note his story in the following excerpt.
Nora Barrows-Freidman: We are now joined on the phone by Stephen Funk. He was one of the earliest who refused to serve in the occupation of Iraq. And, Stephen, thank you so much for being with us again on Flashpoints.
Stephen Funk: Thanks for having me.
Nora Barrows-Freidman: Tell us a little bit about your own history of refusing military service and then what can you say about this international push to dismantle militarism and the specific relationship between the United States and its expanding policies of entrenched occupations in the Middle East and Israel's ongoing and long suffering project of occupation and colonialism? What are the similarities that-that you're seeing there on the ground in Palestine, Israel? And what about the solidarity and the meetings you've been having with Israeli refuseniks?
Stephen Funk: I guess, with my own story, I joined the military after 9-11. I voluntarily enlisted in the Marine Corps. I came from a background of activism. I grew up in Seattle, organized for the WTO and I moved to LA and protested against the Democratic National Committee in 2000 and I also spent two months in the Philippines when their president was being impeached -- that was at the same time George W. Bush was being inaugurated for the first time and I was hoping that the same kind of thing could happen in the United States that was happening in the Philipines. But despite that background, I enlisted. I feel -- maybe as an activist, I thought I could be a more reasonable person in Afghanistan and not be like a racist, hot head which is what I thought a lot of people joining at the time -- there was a lot of a fear going on and lot of people joining at the time were very reactionary about 9-11 and, you know that was -- that was where I was coming from. But when I went to the Marine Corps, I went to the violent training and I had to shout "Kill! Kill! Kill!" all the time and, you know, I also had to deal with being queer in the military. And I realize that I didn't want to be violent and I did not want to participate in any war -- especially the Iraq War for political reasons. But then, that I couldn't aim a gun at anybody and pull the trigger and that, ultimately, that is what I would be doing if I stayed in the marines. I had the option -- because I was gay, I had the option to get out under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And everybody knew I was gay, everybody thought I was gay. It wouldn't have been difficult. But my issue wasn't that I was being oppressed it was that I was being asked to oppress others. And I felt that it would be more honest to get out under conscientious objection. So I started work on that. I went back to San Francisco and participated in the shut down before the war began and kept on protesting and was speaking out anonymously. But then there wasn't very -- despite all of the rallies that were happening every weekend, despite, you know, all of the worldwide mobilizations and all of the people that were in the streets, the media wasn't paying attention to anybody. And I believe the difference between 2003 and the war began, it was as if everybody in the United States agreed with it -- despite the fact that I was living in San Francisco and clearly people were not happy that the war was happening. So I guess I just talked to people and I decided that I would become a public war resister. And I was the first person to do it. And, you know, the next several months, traveling the country -- I was based in New Orleans -- and I traveled the country. I was eventually sent to jail. That was the long story.
Eddie Falcon is a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War and he writes about the current project that he and others are working on here.
TV notes, NOW on PBS debuts its latest episode Friday on most PBS stations and this one examines:
The Pentagon estimates that as many as one in five American soldiers are
coming home from war zones with traumatic brain injuries, many of which
require round-the-clock attention. But lost in the reports of these
returning soldiers are the stories of family members who often sacrifice
everything to care for them. On Friday, November 20 at 8:30 pm (check
local listings), NOW reveals how little has been done to help these
family caregivers, and reports on dedicated efforts to support them.
Washington Week also begins airing on many PBS stations tonight (and throughout the weekend, check local listings) and joining Gwen around the roundtable are John Dickerson (CBS News, Slate), Doyle McManus (Los Angeles Times), David Sanger (New York Times) and Karen Tumulty (Time magazine). Meanwhile Bonnie Erbe will sit down with Avis Jones-Deweever, Page Gardner, and Tara Setmayer 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:
The Cost of Dying
Morley Safer gets the first broadcast look at how "Titanic" director James Cameron created his $400 million 3D fantasy "Avatar." | Watch Video
60 Minutes, Sunday, Nov. 22, at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
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