Friday, July 15, 2011


Thank you to C.I. for guest posting here Thursday. I've spent the week in Hawaii and wasn't at Thursday's hearing. When C.I. called and asked if I wanted her to post about the hearing here, I was all for it and loved a night off.

Reading it, I say, "Thank you," of course. I also want to note how sad it is that Senator Richard Burr's father passed away. I asked C.I. about that and Burr lost his mother in 2005. At a certain age, if we're fortunate enough to have and know our parents, we outlive them. That hasn't happened to me yet but I do fear it. And if I think about it -- and I think about it way too much -- it depresses me. So my condolences to Senator Burr on his loss.

And while C.I. covered Richard Burr here, Mike also covered him here.

So what's Hawaii like? Tropical. Fun. It's been a nice break. I really was getting worn down -- I think a number of you noticed. I was planning on just staying home and sleeping most of the day. But when a group was going to C.I.'s place in Hawaii, she suggested I go too, pointing out I'd be able to relax in a new surrounding. And I did. Except to blog, I never got on the computer. I only followed news by reading the Iraq snapshots and doing 30 minutes of surfing before blogging.

It was a much needed break.

And I saw a lot of interesting things, soaked up a lot of sun (and rum-based drinks!) and had a great time.

Closing with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Friday, July 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, peaceful protesters are again arrested, Human Rights Watch expresses concern over a 'speech' proposal in Iraq, and more.
Yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war. Excerpt.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: I want to point out that the rebels never got to the gates of Tripoli. I've looked at some of the reports and some of these news wires which usually use kilometers, the metric system, are using miles now to describe the rebels advances because when you use miles, the distance seems less. Like I see the wording they're playing. And they're using distance to let's say to a city near Tripoli. But anyway, they've not gotten to the gates of Tripoli. They've been claiming other cities have fallen like Sabha and Fezzan or near their environs and the journalists have been taken there. And I actually watch some of these reports from Tripoli because BBC English and BBC Arabic is still here, France's Arabic service is still here. You can watch these things here. And a lot of the journalists making these reports, I happen to see on a daily basis or almost on a daily basis. when I have to go the Rixos Al Nasr which is now the Swiss Inn, it's changed ownership. But this is propaganda, it's war propaganda. And these journalists that are making these reports are either embedded journalists or they're just as bad, the ones in Tripoli that are making these reports. I'd like to point out with regards to Russia, a statement's been made and it originally came from the Russian envoy to Africa, he's now the Russian envoy to Libya. [. . .] And this Russian official is saying Col Gaddafi has a suicide plan for Tripol which is nonsense. He said he met with the Libyan prime minister and Col Gaddafi has a suicide plan. What he's basically disseminating is Washington's propaganda and that's a shame [. . .] There's no suicide plan for Tripoli. Anybody that will come to Tripoli will see that the people here back Col Gaddafi, they back his government and he doesn't need a suicide plan unless they mean that there's going to be a massive bombing here and they want to blame it on Col Gaddafi, which they could do. I would not rule out a massive bombing to try to make Tripoli surrender. And then they'd try to blame the victim. That's what they usually do, the aggressors blame the victim. Reality's turned on its head.
There's another element that Mahdi Nazemroaya might consider. Whether it's Waco or Iraq, claims that the 'crazy' has or will kill their own people have repeatedly been used by the US to justify an aggressive invasion which the government has repeatedly presented as an action they were forced into. Meaning, the talk of a suicide plan may be laying the groundwork for Barack Obama to say, "I know I said we wouldn't have force on the ground, but the Libyan people needed us."
Kevin Pina: And that is the voice of Mahdi Nazemroaya coming to us direct from Tripoli, Libya. You're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. Well indeed they have said that Gaddafi has plans to bomb Tripoli, level it to the ground should the rebels threaten to take over it. It's really good that you clarified that. Now they've also claimed that the rebels have reclaimed Qawalish which after Gaddafi forces had taken it and there's back and forth right now between Libyan rebels and Gaddafi forces. What do you know right know about what's actually going on on the ground militarily around the areas around Tripoli?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: They have not advanced here. I'm letting you know. They're going to take the foreign journalists to see Since I've been here, they've taken them to a couple of places, like I said earlier, they've taken to some of these urband centers that they claim have fallent to let them see with their own eyes and report to the rest of the world: This is not true. This is a full media war, it's a psychological war. And they are doing this to make it look like they're winning. Does anybody remember what they were saying about Baghdad? "The tanks are there. The tanks are there." And it took awhile for the tanks to get there . They got there [finally] but they weren't there. And it's not true. They're just saying -- They're just trying to make false propoganda fake victories were there are a lof of losses. The rebels -- There's a stalemate. In fact, they're being pushed back in a lot of places. And since we're on the subject, today is La Fete Nationale of France, the national day of France which is Bastille Day. Nothing was mentioned about Libya in France. They didn't say anything. In fact, I was told that the parade arrangeements were changed. Today was the national day and they were going to make the military the centerpiece but they made the the fire fighers in France the centerpiece. They expected an easy victory and they didn't get it and now nothing is being mentioned about Libya. They're not mentioning anything about Libya and at the same time, the Secretary General of NATO has said that only one person's died, we haven't killed anyone. There's a blackout now about Libya. They're not mentioning much about Libya. And the speech today that was given in France with Sarkozy and not once was Libyan mentioned. They are not mention Libya and the French news did not mention Libya because they are feeling the heat, . Many people in France are opposing the war and in Europe. And I hope in the United States these numbers are rising against the war. And in Canada.
Mahdi Nazemroaya will be back on Flashpoints Tuesday. Flashpoints airs Monday through Friday from five p.m. to six p.m. PST on KPFA (and other stations) ,
ABC News Radio reports, "An American service member was killed Friday in Iraq, bringing the number of those who have been killed or have died in that country to four for the month of July." This makes for 19 US service members killed in the Iraq War in six weeks, 15 last month, 4 so far this month.
As they continue dying, the governments of Iraq and the US continue to explore keeping the US military in Iraq for many years to come. Alsumaria TV reports, "In a statement to Al Iraqiya, Al Maliki noted that Iraq needs to keep a number of US trainers to train Iraqi Forces on newly purchased air, land and naval weapons. The extension of US Forces term in Iraq necessitates a new agreement that should be voted upon by two thirds of Parliament lawmakers, Al Maliki said noting that this is difficult to be attained." Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) notes:

"Iraq needs the Americans for training on the sea, air and ground and sea weapons," he said in an interview with state- sponsored Iraqiya television. "This does not need the approval of parliament," he said.

Nouri is correct, he does not need the approval of Parliament -- we pointed that out in yesterday's snapshot. In part, he doesn't need it because he's made it precedent that he doesn't need it (by renewing the UN mandate at the end of 2006 without the approval of Parliament -- UN mandate that covered the occupation of Iraq -- and again at the end of 2007). Even if he was legally required to have their approval, Nouri's never concerned himself much with legality which is another reason the Iraqi peoples' voice in the 2010 elections should have been honored (which would have meant that loser Nouri not continue as prime minister). UPI reports that Dawa doesn't want US forces to remain in Iraq and they make a point to note that Dawa is Nouri's political party. It is. And it takes its orders from Nouri. Earlier this year, Dawa was full of talk of how they just might expell Nouri. They had every reason to. And yet they didn't. They have no power and they know it. They bask in the refracted light of whatever power Nouri manages to steal. Dawa just knew that Parliamentary elections would mean their true ascension. But Nouri didn't utilize them. Instead he put together a political slate (State of Law). Everytime Dawa could have stood, they chose to crawl or roll over and expose their belly in submission. To pretend that what a weak political party wants has any bearing on this issue is insane.
Dawa sent Haider al-Abadi out to make a statement. He's the political party's statement. Have we forgotten that Nouri has his own spokesperson? Or that he's designated who can and cannot speak for the government? Hint, Haider al-Abadi didn't make the list. The thing about taking a thug and grooming him into a tyrant is that you feed the ego over and over and there's no sense of connection or debt owed. Dawa waited too late to step forward and all they are now is angry child having a tantrum in a store.
Iraq was oh so briefly spoken of on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today and only because US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had visited. By the way, when Diane can't remember on air (as she couldn't at the start of the hour) the outlet that her frequent guest Nadia Biblassy is with, it's really time for someone to step in and say, "Diane, go out before it gets really embarrassing." That little mini-struggle for recall of a basic fact and one that had been reviewed immediately prior to going on air? It's a sign of things to come.
Diane Rehm: All right. Let's talk about the visit of our new Secretary of Defense, Leon, pardon me, Panetta to Iraq. Tell us about it, Nadia.

Nadia Bilbassy: Well, basically this is the first visit. He's going there to nudge the Iraqi government to come up with a yes or no answer as whether they wanted the U.S. forces to stay in Iraq. As you know, this agreement that signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki will expire in December 31st. And it's called the status of forces agreement, known as SOFA. So basically, he's saying, in a very blunt language, like, you have to tell us. Damn it, as he said. He used very colorful language, in complete opposite of the soft spoken former secretary of defense Robert Gates. And they understand the complexity of the situation. The Iraqi government, lead by Maliki has a coalition, shaky coalition, of the Dawa party, of the Sadrist groups, of the Kurdish nationalists. So it's a group together that they have to decide whether they want to keep U.S. forces or not. Now, on the street, I think, the concept is very unpopular. They, basically, were reinforced what they believed, that the invasion of Iraq was to get hold of Iraq's vast oil revenues and to establish a military base in the heart of the Middle East in Iraq. I will -- my guess will be that they will come up with some kind of agreement by the end of the year. But probably, regardless of how many troops will be left, whether it's 10,000 or 15,000, they still need to protect one of the biggest embassy -- U.S. Embassy's in the world, which is in Baghdad. It has 5,000 personnel, intelligence, civil servants, et cetera. So they will have some kind of forces, but also it's a message to Iran that we're not going to abandon the country. It's not going to be your playing field, it's actually -- the U.S. was going to be -- have some kind of presence in Iran.

Diane Rehm: Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center. Short break, we'll be right back.
And that's all Diane could manage on Iraq. Which is why fewer and fewer military families bother to listen to her show anymore. And, no, she didn't think to note that a US soldier had died today in Iraq. On the subject of Panetta, Al Mada reports rebel rouser Moqtada al-Sadr, has issued another statement, this one directed to US Secretary of Defense and declaring that "we" will turn Iraq into a graveyard for the US. "We"? Moqtada's going to be handling drone attacks from Iran? "We"? It's exactly his inability to stand up and do as he instructs that's eroded so much confidence in Moqtada among his one-time followers.

In 2008, Moqtada's stock was almost this low. Bush, Robert Gates and Condi Rice made a huge mistake in egging on Nouri (who didn't need all that much egging) to go after Sadr's militias. This allowed Moqtada to issue statements --as he always does -- but for the statements to have more meaning than they usually did. Suddenly, in the face of an attack by US and Iraqi forces, his rantings seemed heroic and his stature rose. If the US government wants to fight Moqtada for all eternity, they'll do something stupid like the Bush administration did. If they want to neutralize him, they'll treat him with derision and indifference. If they were really smart, they'd expose a few of the sweetheart deals Moqtada received under the previous admistration (Bush administration). His stock is lower than it's ever been and his credibility can be further undermined. But if they insist upon launching or encouraging Nouri to launch a wave of attacks against his militias, they will allow Moqtada to again become 'voice of the beseiged.'
Besieged describes the Iraqi people. James Denselow (New Statesman) observes:

Yet the shockwaves of the revolutions are being felt in Iraq. Last week, CNN reported Iraqi forces beating and detaining at least seven protestors as hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered on Friday in central Baghdad. Since early February, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations every Friday across Iraq. Maliki, like his embattled western neighbour Assad, has approached the demonstrations with his own variety of carrots and sticks. He cut his $350,000 salary in half, plans to reduce the government to 25 ministerial positions by merging the ministries that perform overlapping functions, and has sought to make a constitutional change to ensure a two-term limit to the office of prime minister. What is more, following the initial protests, the Iraqi government announced that they would be cancelling the planned purchase of 18 US-made F-16 fighter planes, instead allocating the money to improving food rationing for the poor.

The sticks meanwhile include standard acts of violence, as well as drafting legislation that Human Rights Watch believes criminalises free speech and Iraqis' right to demonstrate. The authorities have tried to bar street protests and confine them (unsuccessfully) to football stadiums. Meanwhile, several incidents of the security forces attacking and killing protestors have been reported, including a bloody encounter on the 25th of February where 12 people were killed and over 100 injured.

The US appears largely unconcerned by the spread of protests to Iraq, with its focus on ensuring its strategic posture in the country. This cedes space in the battle for legitimacy being waged, mostly through proxy, by the Iranians. The actions of Muqtada al-Sadr in the face of an extension of the US presence will be particularly scrutinised. His group controls 39 seats in the gridlocked 325-member parliament. Last April, Sadr issued a statement promising that "if the Americans don't leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army". However it is hard to evaluate the cohesiveness of the once-feared Mahdi Army. The Asaib al-Haq and Promised Day Brigade splinter groups are evidence of Sadr's difficulty in maintaining political control. Indeed, in recent weeks, he appears to have backtracked somewhat from bombastic threats against the US, although what exactly he will do remains an unknown.

It's Friday, there are protests going on in Iraq. Revolution of Iraq reports on the demonstrations noting that police cordoned off protesters in Falluja while, in Baghdad, police made a point to search mobile phones "to provoke protesters" and that two protesters were arrested. Protesters were also arrested in Sulaymaniya For
Revolution of Iraq' Rami Hayali filmed the Baghdad protest. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated today in Tahrir Square, including government official, to-be-deported flats owners, unemployed persons and NGO activists. NGO activist told Aswat al-Iraq said that the demonstrators demanded eradication of corruption, unemployment and provision of services." Nouri's crackdown on protesters takes place not only in the streets but also behind closed doors. Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) notes:
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Iraq is also seeking to restrict speech. While the laws enacted when the US was running the country were unusually liberal for the region, Iraqi politicians have steadily whittled them back into a more authoritarian shape since they took control.
[. . .]
Iraq? HRW says it has a copy of a draft law on freedom of expression that gives the government the power to prevent political protests "in the public interest," a restriction so vague and broad that it would give a sitting government a theoretical veto on all protests. "This law will undermine Iraqis' right to demonstrate and express themselves freely," Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork said. "Rather than creating restrictive laws, the government needs to stop attacks on critics by security forces and their proxies."
Not all the attacks come from Nouri. In northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Swrkew Zahd Mahmoud is both a martyr to many and an inspiraction for further struggle. Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) reports on the family of the 16-year-old who was killed by Kurdish police while peacefully protesting.
Qaradaxi became an organizer soon after protests kicked off in mid-February, and through sheer weight of presence tried to quell the violence that finally left 10 dead. Photographs show him in the thick of the street fight, trying to convince Kurdish riot police to stop shooting or throwing stones.
As an overhead fan keeps the 100-plus-degree heat at bay, at home, Qaradaxi pulls out discs with video footage that show Kurdish security forces firing with pistols at crowds on the same day – and in the same place – that Swrkew was killed. His son appears in some frames.
Qaradaxi was beaten at times, and tear-gassed to the point of writhing on the ground and choking. But he still went back to speak in the square at the podium – before security forces burned it in mid-April – to "show people that violence does work for us, to motivate people and give them hope."
Who doesn't get targeted in Nouri's Iraq? Other than Nouri himself, very few. Iraq's LGBT community has been attacked, Iraqi Jews, Iraqi Palestinians, residents of Camp Ashraf, Iraqi women, it's a long, long list. Asia News zooms in on Iraqi Christians:
The year 2010 was the worst year to date for the Christian community in Iraq, it has been revealed by the organization for human rights in Iraq, Hammurabi. Many Christians were forced to leave the country in fear of killings and violence of all kinds. The death toll among Christians over the past seven years, according to Hammurabi exceeds 822 people. 629 of them were murdered for being part of the Christian minority. Others were involved in 126 attacks of various kinds and many others have been victims of military operations undertaken by U.S. and Iraqi forces. 13% of victims are women. Among the Christian victims of 2010 there are 33 children, 25 elderly and 14 religious. In 2010 Hammurabi recorded 92 cases of Christians killed and 47 wounded, 68 in Baghdad, 23 in Mosul and one in Erbil.

The director of Hammurabi, named after the Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest known collections of laws in human history, William Warda, said that constant monitoring and documentation show that all the Christian Churches in Iraq - Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians - have suffered heavy losses in the number of their faithful, all over the country. The decline is particularly strong in Baghdad and Mosul, where Christians are concentrated in greater numbers. Warda said that in one year there were more than 90 Christians killed and 280 wounded, and two churches have been the target of attacks in Baghdad. According to UNICEF, between 2008 and 2010 more than 900 children have been killed in Iraq, and 3200 injured. Children represent the 8 .1% of the victims of attacks in Iraq, where there are an increasing number of attacks against schools and educators.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Kerbala car bombing claimed 5 lives and left fifteen people injured, a Samarra roadside bombing left one Iraqi solider injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing injured a police officer, a Kerbala car bombing which claimed 2 lives and left four more people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left three more people injured and a Mosul sticky bombing wounded two people.
Yesterday's snapshot noted the first panel of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's hearing on mental health, Mike offered an overview of the entire hearing in "The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing," Ava focused on Senator Scott Brown in the first panel with "Scott Brown asks if it is a staffing issue (Ava)" (at Trina's site) and I covered Senator Richard Burr at Kat's site with "Burr: I'd heard it before, I just hadn't heard it from you." because she was in Hawaii and not at the hearing. The Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is Senator Patty Murray and her office issued the following:


Thursday, July 14, 2011 (202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Senator Murray Chairs Hearing on Gaps in Mental Health Care

Murray hears about long waiting lines and red tape from veterans who have attempted suicide, face chronic PTSD and depression

Hearing comes as VA says that 202,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities through March 31, 2011

WATCH hearing now.

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, held a hearing to discuss access to mental health care services, including waiting times and staffing levels, outreach to veterans, the linking of mental health care to primary care, suicide prevention and problems identified by the VA Inspector General in mental health care.

"In the face of thousands of veterans committing suicide every year, and many more struggling to deal with various mental health issues, it is critically important that we do everything we can to make mental health care more accessible, timely, and impactful," said Senator Murray. "Any veteran who needs mental health services must be able to get that care rapidly, and as close to home as possible. Through its suicide hotline, VA has reached many veterans who might have otherwise taken their own lives. Each life saved is a tremendous victory, and we should celebrate those with VA. But we also have to recognize that these are veterans who reached out to VA. We want to hear about how VA is reaching out to veterans, and how easy or hard it is for veterans to access the care they earned through their service to this country."

At the hearing, Senator Murray heard from Daniel Williams, an Iraq veteran who described how an IED explosion during his 2003/2004 deployment to Iraq led to traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) injuries. Williams told the committee how those experiences then led to a suicide attempt in 2004 that was broken up by his wife and local police. He also discussed how his PTSD was received by fellow soldiers, his concerns over the stigma attached to the mental wounds of war, and his frustrations with the mental health care administered by the VA.

The Senator also heard testimony from Andrea Sawyer, wife and caregiver of Loyd Sawyer, who, after being deployed in Iraq, shared similar stories of frustration, including a failed suicide attempt. These two servicemembers, even after attempting their own lives, were met with red tape, wait times for initial appointments at the VA, and additional frustrations in seeking the mental health care they so desperately needed.

The hearing comes on the heels of a number of reports about gaps in mental health care. Two reports released by the IG showed unacceptably high patient wait times and long wait lists and an unacceptable number of veterans who are not contacted by VA between the time they were accepted and the beginning of the program. These reports also revealed that staffing levels for mental health works fell short of VA guidelines.

The GAO also published a recent report on sexual assault complaints in VA mental health units that found many of these assaults were not reported to senior VA officials or the Inspector General. VA clinicians also expressed concern about referring women vets to inpatient mental health units because they didn't think the facilities had adequate safety measures in place to protect these women. And two weeks ago GAO issued a report that found the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury can't adequately account for tens of millions of dollars it spent to improve treatments for the invisible wounds of war.

The full text of witness testimonies can be viewed here.

The full text of Senator Murray's opening statement appears below.

"Welcome to today's hearing to examine how we can close the gaps in mental health care for our nation's veterans. We all know that going to war has a profound impact on those who serve. And after more than eight years of war, in which many of our troops have been called up for deployments again and again, it is very clear that the fighting overseas has taken a tremendous toll that will be with us for years to come.

"More than one-third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have enrolled in VA care have post-traumatic stress disorder. An average of 18 veterans kill themselves every day. In fact, the difficult truth is that somewhere in this country, while we hold this hearing, it is likely that a veteran will take his or her own life.

"Last week, the President reversed a longstanding policy and started writing condolence letters to the family members of servicemembers who commit suicide in combat zones. This decision is one more acknowledgment of the very serious psychological wounds that have been created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an effort to reduce the stigma around the invisible wounds of war. But clearly much more needs to be done.

"In the face of thousands of veterans committing suicide every year, and many more struggling to deal with various mental health issues, it is critically important that we do everything we can to make mental health care more: accessible, timely, and impactful. In fact, according to data VA released yesterday, more than 202,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities through March 31, 2011. This is an increase of 10,000 veterans from the last quarterly report. Any veteran who needs mental health services must be able to get that care rapidly, and as close to home as possible.

"Over the years, VA has made great strides in improving mental health services for veterans. But there are still many gaps.

"As many of you know, just this past May, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that called attention too many of these gaps in mental health care for veterans. And while that ruling has gotten the lion's share of attention, it is one of far too many warning signs.

"Today, we will hear from the Inspector General about ongoing problems with delays in receiving health care for those veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war, like PTSD.

"In one report, published just this week by the IG, several mental health clinics at the Atlanta VA were found to have unacceptably high patient wait times. The report shows that facility managers were aware of long wait lists for mental health care but were slow to respond to the problem. The report also called into question the adequacy of VA's performance measurements for mental health access times across the entire system.

"As the IG noted, the VA only tracks the time it takes for new patients to get their first appointment. This means that since the VA is not tracking the timeliness of second, third, and additional appointments, facilities can artificially inflate their compliance with mental health access times. This is simply unacceptable and must change.

"In another report on veterans in residential mental health care the IG found that an unacceptable number of veterans were not contacted by VA between the time they were accepted and the beginning of the program, and that staffing levels for mental health workers fell short of VA guidelines.

"GAO has also recently published a report on sexual assault complaints in VA mental health units that found many of these assaults were not reported to senior VA officials or the Inspector General. VA clinicians also expressed concern about referring women vets to inpatient mental health units because they didn't think the facilities had adequate safety measures in place to protect these women.

"And just two weeks ago GAO issued a report that found the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury can't adequately account for tens of millions of dollars it spent to improve treatments for the invisible wounds of war.

"Taken together, these reports show very clearly that there is significant work to do to improve mental health care outreach and treatment.

"One way to fill in these gaps, to overcome the stigma associated with mental health care, and to eliminate wait times is to provide primary and mental health care at the same visit.

"In the hearing today, we will hear from Providence Health and Services, which was recently recognized as one of the five most integrated health systems in the country, about how they have integrated mental health services into their medical home.

"I believe we need to look to Providence and those VA programs that work for guidance on making real progress.

"Through its suicide hotline, VA has reached many veterans who might have otherwise taken their own lives. Each life saved is a tremendous victory, and we should celebrate those with VA. But we also have to recognize that these are veterans who reached out to VA.

"We want to hear about how VA is reaching out to veterans, and how easy or hard it is for veterans to access the care they earned through their service to this country. As we will hear today, despite VA's best efforts, veterans continue to experience problems when they reach out to the VA for mental health care.

"I have heard from veterans who have walked in to VA clinics and asked to be seen by a mental health provider, only to be told to call a 1-800 number. I have heard from VA doctors, who have told me VA does not have enough staff to take care of the mental health needs of veterans.

"And I have heard from veterans' families, who have seen first-hand what effects untreated mental illness can have on the family. We are here today to see that this ends. I am looking forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today.

"I hope it helps us to better understand these issues, and to address them so that our veterans can receive the timely, quality care they earned through their service.

"I will now turn to Ranking Member Burr for his opening statement."


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Burr: I'd heard it before, I just hadn't heard it from you.

C.I. filling in for Kat tonight to cover Senator Richard Burr. Burr is the Ranking Member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and one of Kat's favorite members of Congress. As she's noted, she always perks up in any hearing he attends and that's because Burr has a very low threshold for nonsense. There are times where a witness has Kat rolling her eyes and she'll know that if Burr's the next one to speak,the nonsense being spewed (by a government witness) is going to get challenged.

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. In her opening remarks, she outlined the reason for the hearing and then noted that Burr's father, like her own, served in WWII and that their two fathers are among the reasons they both take veterans issues so seriously. She explained that Senator Burr's father, Rev. David Burr, had just passed away Sunday. She thanked him for attending the hearing during a difficult time and offered her condolences. Burr thanked her for that and declared that when someone lives to be 90-years-old, no one can say they were short changed.

I thought there might be a statement up at his online office about his father's passing but there wasn't. (Which also isn't surprising. He's not someone who offers up his personal life very often. Good for him on that.) But I did see a statement on Camp Lejeune and that's one of his big issues. Kat's covered that here repeatedly. So we'll include it for an update. His office issued the following on June 29th:

Burr Bill to Care for Lejeune Vets and Family Members Approved by Veterans’ Affairs Committee

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Today, Senator Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced that a bill he introduced, the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act (S. 277), passed out of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs with bipartisan support.

This legislation, which Senator Burr also introduced in the 111th Congress, would require the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to provide health care to veterans and their family members who have experienced adverse health effects as a result of exposure to well-water contaminated by human carcinogens at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

“We now have another shot at doing the right thing for the thousands of Navy and Marine veterans and their families who were harmed during their service to our country,” Senator Burr said. “While we continue to seek more answers, we can minimize further suffering by allowing Lejeune veterans and their families to receive the care they need and deserve. I am pleased that this bill has cleared the committee, and I hope it will quickly move to the Senate floor for a vote.”

An estimated 750,000 people may have been exposed to probable and known human carcinogens in the base’s water supply between the 1950s and 1980s. To date, this is the largest recorded environmental incident on a domestic Department of Defense installation.

In addition to the Caring for Camp Lejeune Veterans Act, Senator Burr had two other provisions he sponsored that were voted favorably out of committee today as well. One will help VA maximize the use of the limited funding available for construction projects by properly allocating them where they are most needed. The other will allow veterans who file fully-developed disability claims to be compensated for a period up to one year prior to the date the claim was filed, so the veteran will not lose out on any benefits while collecting evidence and can receive a quicker decision from VA.

As Kat noted when it was happening, Burr was savaged by some partisan Democrats for placing a hold on a nomination when the hold was there because this issue was not being dealtwith. Camp Lejeune is in his state, they are his constituents and it is a very serious issue. Those who suffered or are suffering or who have loved one suffering were very lucky to have Burr as an advocate on this issue because he refused to let go of it. And if it doesn't pass, wait and watch because he's not going to give up on this bill.

On cutting through the crap, the VA sent William Schoenhard to do a soft shoe for the Committee today on the second panel. As he turned even the simplest question into a lengthy essay, Chair Patty Murray began interrupting to bring him back to the question.

Then it was time for Burr to ask questions. (As the Ranking Member -- highest member in the minority party -- he gets to ask the second round of questions. First round goes to the Chair.)

He chose to open with this: "Mr. Schoenhard, how do you define timely for a veteran with a gun in his mouth?"

It's an important question. And Iraq War veteran Daniel Williams had explained on the first panel how he just could not get help, how the VA couldn't see him or wouldn't see him until he finally locked himself in the bathroom with a gun in his mouth (his wife called the police). Even after that, it was not, "Let's get you into some intensive therapy where you're going to have group as well as individual sessions daily."

So Burr's question was completely valid but few would have asked it. That's why Kat likes Senator Burr so much, he just doesn't play during these hearings.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Mr. Schoenhard, how do you define timely for a veteran with a gun in his mouth?

William Schoenhard: Instantaneous, sir.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: So is that the directive that comes out of the central office to all individuals at all locations that would come in contact for the first time with a veteran with mental health needs?

And he got a non-answer and then Schoenhard passed off the question to another person. When Burr came back to Schoenhard, he provided the witness with a little information.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: And Mr. Schoenhard, I've got to tell you, your opening statement? I'd heard it before. I just hadn't heard it from you.

And if you'd set through that hearing, you would have been wondering why the Committee is still hearing about the same problems and how, supposedly, now the VA's on it, now the VA knows what to do, now the VA will fix it.

Burr doesn't sugar coat and that's among the reasons he's Kat's favorite senator to catch for any Committee or Subcomittee hearing.

Okay here's the "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, July 14, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Tim Arango reveals that Nouri's made clear he wants the US military to remain in Iraq, the US Congress hears about a veteran with a gun in his mouth having to wait and struggle for mental care (after that incident as well as before it), a caregiver explains she gave up her teaching career when her principal told her she could work on getting her husband better or she could teach but she couldn't do both, and more.

Yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war. Excerpt.

Kevin Pina: Well there is a lot going on in the news. We hear of abuses by the so-called rebels against the population which is finally reaching the press. Italy today unfortunately we hear has also come out again in support of the NATO war although officially they've withdrawn from it and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says that Muammar Gaddafi's days are numbered. Give us an update. What's going on on the ground, Mahdi?

Mahdi Nazemroaya: Well Italy's statement is disheartening personally for me but people here don't see it as -- I don't think they see it as important compared to Italy's withdrawal. In regards to Hillary Clinton's statements, I was aware of that and people here are aware of that too and they just believe that's the USA trying to muscle in and trying to pull this coalition together and to keep the momentum of the war going. In regards to her statement and the Human Rights [Watch] statement, they've been on Libyan TV and I've been watching Libyan TV and they've been talking about the Human Rights Watch report about the rebels and the abuses towards civilians and the infrastructure and that has been on TV all day.

Kevin Pina: Now, of course, Human Rights Watch qualified that report by saying that although you had to remember that the Gaddafi regime was responsible for far more human rights violations.

Mahdi Nazemroaya: There has been fighting on both sides and there have been people caught in the middle of the fighting but what the news here is saying, their TV, it's being broadcast over and over is the angle of Human Rights Watch that talks about the rebels. Now we've got to remember and focus on that almost the entire world and corporate media has been focused on the atrocities that they say that the Libyan government has been committing and most of them are not accurate or true but nobody's really been focusing on what the rebels have been doing such as the reports about child soldiers -- which I was just reading about -- or about Italy and France's involvement in taking children out of Misrata, there been reports -- actually the Social Affairs Minister of Libya, Ibrahim al-Sherif came up, he launched an investigation actually into the disappearance of 52 boys and 53 girls -- a total of 105 orphans from Misrata. And they caught somebody from the rebel side -- a doctor, a medic who said that they were taken to Italy or France. And that reminds me of of what happened in Chad in about 2007 when they tried to take kids out of Chad illegally.

Kevin Pina: And you're listening to Flashpoints on
Pacifica Radio and that is the voice of Mahdi Nazemroaya coming to us directly from Tripoli, on the ground in Libya. We're discussing the situation there as NATO bombs continue to drop and as the international community through NATO rally to try to take down the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. So tell me what would these kids be used for? What are we talking about here? Are we talking about kids that would be taken into slavery, that are kidnapped basically, taken away from their families? What are we talking about here?

Mahdi Nazemroaya: The investigation is ongoing. The individual that they caught from the rebel side? Originally they weren't sure. The witnesses said they were taken on either a Turkish or an Italian or a French ship. But they caught someone from the rebel side who was either a doctor or a medic who says that they were taken to Italy or France for adoption. And these children, they don't know -- they cannot be taken out of here. The Libyan government has demanded that if they're gone, they be returned and there's an investigation. And this is making the news here. This is something that is on the news as well as the Human Rights Watch report.

That's an excerpt. The broadcast covered other wars as well. And it broadcasts live from 5:00 to 6:00 pm, Monday through Friday on KPFA and other stations. There was an Iraqi media report, there was a discussion with Raed Jarrar about the US possibly staying in Iraq and Gareth Porter addressed the Afghanistan War. In an ideal world, we'd have the space to note all of that but we don't have that space.

Daniel Williams: I was deployed to Iraq in '03, was deployed with the 4th infantry division out of Fort Hood, Texas. During that combat deployment, I suffered mental and physical injuries that will forever be part of my life. I was exposed to an improvised explosive device. I injured my body, my brain and my mind. I received a Traumatic Brain Injury, TBI, but I believe that almost as severe as my injury is the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, PTSD, an invisible injury that no one else can see but it haunts my every move. From the moment I got injured until the time that I was honorably discharged, I received very little help from the Army or even acknowledgement of my state. I went to the base clinic at Fort Hood, Texas where I was told that I was having anxiety disorder and readjustment issues but I would need to wait six months before I could get an appointment with a psychiatrist, just an initial appointment to be looked at. In the winter of 2004, after receiving no help or any hope of help, I attempted -- I attempted suicide by putting a 45 caliber pistol in my mouth while I was locked in a bathroom. My wife begged me to let her in but I wouldn't agree. She called the police and when the police arrived, I argued with them. Then they kicked down the drawer and at that time I pulled the trigger. By the grace of God the weapon did not go off. The officer handcuffed me and put me in the seat in the back of his police car. One of the officers attempted to clear the weapon but at that moment the weapon went off. The same round that refused to kill me went off perfectly for him. Thankfully no one was injured. I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the base hospital and remained at in patient for two weeks. At this time I was diagnosed with readjustment issues and anxiety disorder but the physicians also acknowledged that I had PTSD. I was told by the doctors that the treatment record would be kept confidential and it was not. It took me over a year to be able to be put out of the military service because of my mental illness.

Daniel Williams went on to outline problems within the VA which included that health care givers -- doctors -- tasked with helping treat his PTSD were unaware that noises and crowds were, at best, off-putting and, at worst, harmful to his treatment. Another VA doctor thought shock treatment was the way to go with PTSD. When not dealing with those extremes, he had to deal with just the hassles of getting an appointment. He had one appointment, for example, scheduled today. Clearly, he did not make that appointment. When he explained he couldn't make it because he was going to be appearing before the US Congress, he was told, no problem, they can reschedule him for four months from now. That was the earliest they could fit him in, they said.

"Good morning and welcome to today's hearing on how we can close the gaps in mental health care for our nation's veterans," declared Senator Patty Murray today as she brought the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing to order. "We all know that going to war has a profound impact on those who serve. And after more than eight years of war, in which many of our troops have been called up for deployments again and again, it is very clear that the fighting overseas has taken a tremendous toll that will be with us for years to come. More than one-third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have enrolled in VA care have post-traumatic stress disorder. An average of 18 veterans kill themselves every day. In fact the difficult truth is that somewhere in this country, while we hold this hearing, it is likely that a veteran will take his or her own life."

The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee heard from two panels this morning. The first was composed of Iraq War veteran Daniel Williams (who is now with NAMI), caregiver Andrea Sawyer, Dave Underriner (Chief Executive of Providence Health & Services, Oregon Region) and the Assistant Inspector General for Healthcare Inspections for the Office of the Inspector General covering the VA Dr. John Daigh. The second panel was the VA's William Schoenhard.

Andrea Sawyer is married to Iraq War veteran Sgt Loyd Sawyer. He was part of the Army Mortuary Affairs team. While serving with them in Iraq, "he began exhibiting signs of mental distress."

Andrea Sawyer: Upon his return, I tried for eleven months to get him help. Ultimately, I sat in a room with an Army psychiatrist and my husband and watched Loyd pull a knife out of his pocket and describe his plan of slitting his throat. Multiple episodes of hospitalization and intensive treatment followed before he was permanently medically retired from the Army due to severe PTSD and major -- major depression. Loyd immediately enrolled in care at the Richmond polytrauma center. In October 2008, he received a 100% permanent and total disability rating from the VA. Given his urgent need for extensive help, we tried to get him into the PTSD clinic in Richmond. But the first available appointment required a two month wait. When he was finally seen, we were told that the only thing available in the clinic would be a quarterly medication management session and a once-every-six-weeks therapy appointment. Knowing that his depression was spiraling and his PTSD symptoms were worsening, we elected to use his TRICARE. He began treatment with a civilian counselor. He was able to see him once or twice a week. But over the next six months, I became increasingly concerned about the imminent possibility of suicide. Despite getting little help from our local VA, but thanks very much to our Federal Recovery Coordinator, Loyd was able to enroll in an inpatient PTSD program at the VA Medical Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. We had high hopes for this hospitalization but it turned out to be a nightmare. The program delivered on none of its promises. His counselors and doctors there never coordinated with his local VA mental health clinician, his civilian counselor or his Federal Recovery Coordinator. He was placed on medication that made him physically and verbally aggressive despite having been taken off that same medication for the same reason while on active duty. Over the course of this 90 day program, Loyd had fewer than five individual therapy sessions and on returning home promptly discontinued all of his medication which was a step bacward as he had been completely meds compliant for eighteen months leading up to hospitalization. In calling the Richmond PTSD clinic for help, I was told it would be four weeks before they could see him. I tried to have his primary care manager intervene but was told that I and his FRC were wasting the time of his primary care manager. Eventually, again with help from our Federal Recovery Coordinator, I was able to get Loyd an appointment within a week with a VA psychiatrist outside of the PTSD clinic. She suggested that he attend the weekly thearpy group that met with the clinician inside the Richmond PTSD clinic. Feeling rather hopeless, he decided to try the therapy group and actually found great solace in being able to relate with others you were experiencing the same symptoms he was. Unfortunately, four months later, and without consultation of the patients, the medical center staff announced that the VAMC was changing its treatment model and would be disbanding the group by year's end. For those wishing to continue in a group setting, the VA would be turning them over to an untested VA program without a clinician. Despite the veterans petitioning to remain in a VA clinical program, their year long effort has been unsuccessful except to temporarily the clinician. The 40 member group has withered to an average of five to seven because now, as a support group located off the VA campus, veterans cannot take sick leave to attend their meeting. My husband is a veteran with well documented, severe, chronic PTSD who gets treatment at one of VA's major VA polytrauma centers. We have all the advantages that should guarantee him good treatment -- an excellent, caring Federal Recovery Coordinator, the priority associated with a 100% service-connected disability rating, a fabulous OIF case manager and the assistance of a super VSO. If a veteran with all these advantages cannot access timely, consistent, appropriate veteran-centered care in this system dedicated to the care of veterans, what confidence can this Committee have that a newly enrolled veteran who has recently returned from the war zone will have a greater success?

She noted, rightly, that VA "is failing." I have no idea why the White House is coasting. I have no idea how they get away with it. Andrea Sawyer had a set of statistics that you hear over and over, year after year, if you sit through these hearings. One statistic that was new to me was that approximately 20% of veterans who are diagnosed by the VA with PTSD do not get a follow up visit within 12 months of their initial diagnosis. Sawyer called it a veterans mental health care crisis and it's pretty hard to dispute that if you're paying attention to what's actually going on. Excerpt from first panel questioning.

Chair Patty Murray: Thank you very much for your testimony. And, Dr. Daigh, let me start with you. You heard the testimony. The stories that we've heard before the Committee today are not unique. I hear them everywhere I go and Congress has been listening to this. We have responded with the resources, with legislation, new programs. The IG [Inspector General] has provided the oversight. Yet here we are and these stories are still here and they're relevant again today. You mentioned a little bit in your testimony some things you thought, coordination of care, those kinds of things. I heard you talk about Altanta. They needed the clinicians but it's not that they didn't try, you said, it's just that they weren't there. Is that lack of people available to hire, is it lack of resources, is it lack of -- Tell us what we need to be doing in order to make sure that the VA has what it needs or to be telling the VA what it needs to do.

Dr. John Daigh: I think that there -- from my understanding of the situation in Atlanta and looking at the data, there was a tremendous growth in the demand for mental health services over a relatively short period of time. I'm not -- And-and-and some of the assumptions that they made about how they would provide care, their inpatient ward for example, they thought it would be functional and it wasn't. So they had to adjust. And I think they could have made better decisions about how they adjusted. And our report says that we think they could have made better decisions about how they adjusted. But part of the problem is that if you have pre-arranged relationships with universities or private practices or clinics of specialists that you know you need and can easily call on them as opposed to fee basis where you say, "I can't meet your demand, here's a chit, go get care," if you have an organized way, the records are shared, they expect to see patients --

Chair Patty Murray: Which goes to the closed system that I think Mrs. Sawyer was referring to, is that correct?

Dr. John Daigh: I think it was -- I think it was along the lines of what she was saying where she was able to go outside the system and get some help that was [turned head from microphone as he continued talking and was inaudbile]. Okay, sorry.

Chair Patty Murray: Mrs. Sawyer, tell me what your experience was.

Andrea Sawyer: We actually were not able to use the fee-based system in the VA because my husband is medically retired. We have TRICARE and so we just simply chose to exercise the TRICARE benefit. It was not in conjunction with the VA. Even requesting fee based at Richmond, even for physical or mental care is a labor intensive process. It takes months, it's not easy to get done, it's really kind of a broken system. So it's -- Even though there has been a directive that people should be able to use fee-basis care in times of wait, you still have to get it approved and it almost takes, pardon the pun, an act of Congress to get it done.

Chair Patty Murray: Well Mrs. Sawyer, in your testimony, let's talk about that. You just told us time and time again you were fighting everything to get appointments, to get attention. Dr. Daigh mentioned needing a "captain of the team." Did you ever feel like there was a captain of the team?

Andrea Sawyer: Quite honestly, I feel like I'm the captain of the team. I feel that I monitor symptoms, I see the increase in symptoms, the decrease in his quality of life and at that time I activate the chain as it is. I call the FRC, I call the clinic, I call the OIF case manager. I do everything I can. The problem is, with the VA, we have found is time and time again I have gone in and said, "We are seeing this civilian counselor." I've said it to the neuro-psychiatrist, I've said it to the person he was seeing in the PTSD clinic, I've said it to his OIF case manager. It's in his records. And yet again and again, I get comments from the PTSD clinic, "We didn't know he was seeing anyone else." I'm sorry. You can Google it and find that he was seeing someone else. We haven't stayed quiet about it. And we just can't get them -- I hand the number over, I ask them to call his counselor, I am his health care power of attorney. Also there's a flag on his chart, I'm supposed to coordinate his medical information because of the cognitive processing disorder. I constantly say, "Please call his counselor." And they don't.

Chair Patty Murray: This is a full time, 24-7 job for you.

Andrea Sawyer: Yes, ma'am. I gave up my job. In order to keep him alive, that's what I had to do.

Chair Patty Murray: I hear that all the time and it has to have a huge impact on you. Tremendous amount of courage and I think about all the men and women out there who don't have Mrs. Sawyer as the captain of their teams. So I appreciate what you've been doing.

Andrea Sawyer: Thank you.

Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Williams, again, thank you for your service and all of what you're talking about is echoed in many other stories as well. You mentioned getting a hard time to get an appointment. I was curious from you whether any of the mental health care you receive is after hours or on weekends? That's another thing I hear from a lot of people who are trying to have a job, do other things and can't get the care because of lack of after hours or weekend services. Is that something that you've been able to access or see a need for?

Daniel Williams: There needs to be a larger amount of this care, yes. The access -- The only access I have to this is the vet center which is not communicating with the VA actual facility. This is a center where they do after hours counseling, they do marriage counseling. They're really not communicating, to be honest with you. They have no idea what's going on. There needs to be more of it, needs to be more advertised that there is this after hours care that can be used when you have -- You get off at six o'clock? Well have sessions at seven, eight o'clock at night. Uhm, you know, the family members need this care too because the family members have the same or gain the same PTSD or whatever the diagnosis may be as the veteran does. I know as Ms. Sawyer said, she gave up her -- pretty much her life to help her husband. And this is what happens not only to her but I think just about every family. Either the spouse leaves or the spouse stands behind them. And I know if it wasn't for the woman behind me, I would not have any care that I have today because she has given up her job too to take care of me. And there does need to be some more after hours. I know NAMI is partnering with the VA to do Family-Family. Family-Family is a program that helps the service member's family understand why they're doing the things that they're doing, why they're trying to get an adrenaline rush, why they're doing these little quirks that may not make sense to the family.

Chair Patty Murray: This may be a rhetorical question but it seems to me like people like both of you know this system really well, you're families have really borne the burden of this silent disorder of Post Traumatic Stess Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. We have a country that says "We're there for our soldiers" but you alone have borne this. Does the country understand PTSD? Do your neighbors and employers and people in the community know what you're going through or do you feel pretty alone? Either one?

Daniel Williams: To be honest with you, I feel very alone. The only other people that understand is my family. And when I say "my family," I mean my wife and other soldiers or other veterans. They're the only ones that understand the actual pain, the invisible pain I live with every day. And it's very, very hard to try to express to the nation. We get condolences, "thank you for your service" -- we hear that very often. But when was the last time someone actually said, "Alright, we need to make a change in the VA center. You need more services." That's the type thanks that I believe -- I take more to heart action than I do words. Because like I said, it's not only my suffering. I suffer from my Traumatic Brain Injury, my wife has to go through it, my kids have to go through it. So this is a never-ending cycle. My kids will have PTSD because of my actions. And if we could put peers together, family members like Ms. Sawyer and my wife together, more times the support for one another, not only for themselves but for us, it would be a stronger VA system. They've got to start looking at family oriented stuff. It's just the veteran [currently] and half the time the veteran can't even get stuff done. I mean it literally takes my wife getting to the point of getting arrested by the VA police to be able to see my psychiatric doctor because people are sitting on their phones, talking on their cell phones during business hours, telling me to hold on a minute, and I'm having a crisis where I'm fixing to honestly have a breakdown. And it takes people, like these two women, to have that. And not every veteran has that. Not everyone is fortunate enough. And I think that needs to somehow be a mentorship to veterans that don't have the support system.

Chair Patty Murray: Mrs. Sawyer, want to add anything?

Andrea Sawyer: Truly, I don't feel that the community understands. We spend a lot of time at the VA going to the VA is never just "go for an hour for an appointment." It's you go, you sit, you have a nine o'clock appointment and you might get seen by eleven. And then the doctor says, "Oh, we're only running two hours late today. That means we're on time." Then we sit for an hour. Sometimes it's not a good appointment then it takes hours for him to wind down. And get home and the neighbors say, "What do you do all day?" I talk to a lot of other caregivers who are in my situation and I've attempted to mentor some of the other caregivers because I do have a lot of time to deal with caregivers that I've met through Wounded Warrior Project who are at different stages in their recovery. And I've been privileged that they trust me to call and ask: "Okay, we're stuck. What do we do?" We've built our own strong network outside of the VA and that's really what I use to survive. We have a community kind of all to ourselves. We've kind of been ostracized from the community. I left my job teaching. I had great scores, you know for the be-all-to-end-all test at the end of the year that all teachers are judged by whether we say they are or not, great scores. But I had missed a lot of work. It was my fourth year, my tenure year, and it was Loyd's first year after he was retired. We were spending a lot of time at the VA which meant I was spending a lot of time out of the classroom and the principal came to me and told me I had to choose between getting my husband better and teaching. So I left. So, no, the community does not understand.

Chair Patty Murray: Well thank you very much for sharing that with us and, Mr. Williams, I know your wife is sitting directly behind you, we want to thank her for being here as well and all she does for you.

We're going back to Daniel Williams because in his remarks before questioning, he was summarizing his prepared remarks. Like Senator John Kerry, I'm not big on people (mainly government officials) coming in and reading word for word their statements. Beside it being dull, they end up with a false end because the time runs out and they just have to stop or quickly come up with a conclusion in the middle of their statement. Both Daniel Williams and Andrea Sawyer summed up their remarks and did not read their prepared statements. In his oral opening statement (noted above), he noted that his medical conditions and treatment were disclosed to others without his permission. In his written statement, he went into detail on that. I think that's an important issue and understand he had to condense but wanted to include his details on that from the written testimony (prepared remarks):

I was admitted to the psychiatric ward of the base hospital and remained at in patient for two weeks. At this time I was diagnosed with readjustment issues and anxiety disorder but the physicians also acknowledged that I had PTSD. I was told by the doctors that my treatment records would be kept confidential. However, my platoon sergeant was notified and she then proceeded to tell my fellow soldiers which in turn caused much heartache and turmoil for these guys with whom I had gone through war and had shed blood, sweat and tears. They began to look down on me, because in their eyes, I was weak and they thought that I would not be able to do my job, nor could they trust me to go back to war with them if we were called to do so. I think that there needs to be more punishment for non-commissioned officers or any other soldier who has access to soldier's private mental health records and does not keep that information confidential. As in the past and still today, if a soldier has a mental health issue and fellow soldiers learn about it, then confidence is borken and military careers unquestionably are harmed. It took over a year for me to receive my medical evaluation board decision, and during the entire period I felt the effects of almost daily ridicule from members of my unit, a great pressure that affected my PTSD. I felt I let my soldiers down -- that I was of no use to them anymore. I had lost my brotherhood.

No one should have their medical confidientiality violated and it's an important issue so I wanted to include that. At his site, Mike will be covering another aspect of the hearing and Ava will be at Trina's site later tonight ("much later" she says -- we just finished the round-table for the gina & krista round-robin before I started dictating the snapshot) to report on Senator Scott Brown as she usually does. I've got a call in to Kat to see if she wants me to write at her site since she usually covers Ranking Member Richard Burr (Kat's in Hawaii). Tuesday's snapshot covered the first two panels of Monday's House VA Subcommittee on Health hearing and Mike covered the third panel that night with "House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing."

Today Tim Arango (New York Times) reports, "The government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki is privately telling American officials that it wants their army to stay here after this year." In an analysis piece, Arango reviews some possibilities should the US military stay on the ground in Iraq beyond 2011. Arango notes the increase in attacks on US soldiers (which have resulted in at least 17 deaths in six weeks, possibly 18 and which include wounded and attacks in which no one is injured or killed) and sees it as a possible portent, he notes the belief that Shi'ite militias are being armed by "Iran" (an element in Iran or the Iranian government) and that Nouri al-Maliki seems unable/unwilling to take on the militias ("Recently, the Iraqi Army conducted an operation against the militias in the southern part of the country, the Shiite heartland. But the campaign fizzled with no major arrests, and no significant impact on the militant networks."). Arango notes the disparity in the treatment of Sunni insurgents versus Shi'ite insurgents which includes their treatment in the Iraqi 'justice' system. Arango cites 3 members of Moqtada al-Sadr's Promised Day Brigades being caught by the US military attempting to set a roadside bomb. When the three men appeared before the judge, the judge barred testimony from any of the Americans and found the three not guilty. Arango explains that the White House wants an agreement passed by Parliament -- insisting that's the only way US soldiers would have legal protections. This isn't in Aragno's article, this is me speaking, that's incorrect. The UN mandate, for example, previously governed the US military presence in Iraq and it was not passed by Parliament. There are a variety of options that can be legally pursued. I'm not going to list them because it's not my job to assist the White House in VIOLATING THE CONSTITUTION. What the White House is in the process of doing is negotiating a treaty. They know that. And Joe Biden and Barack Obama called it that when the Bush administration negotiated and pushed through the SOFA. Prior to the 2008 November election, Barack and Joe both called the SOFA a violation, both objected to it and both insisted it would have to go to the Senate for a vote. Within days of winning the 2008 election, they stopped objecting and removed their objections from their offiicial campaign site. Arango doesn't deal with the US Congress. That's not a liability or error. He's based in Baghdad. I wouldn't expect his article to address the Congressional issue. But the White House is attempting to push through a new treaty and the plan is to circumvent the Senate -- ignoring the Advice and Consent clause in the Constitution (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2) -- just as the previous administration did. But, to be clear, the assertion by the US government that the Parliament must sign off on the treaty is incorrect as evidenced by the UN mandate. (Nouri renewed it twice after becoming prime minister, both times without the Parliament's approval, both times the Parliaments moaned and griped -- but it didn't make the UN mandate illegal.) Back to Arango who concludes his article on a new treaty extending the US military stay with this paragraph:

To make this palatable to the citizens of Iraq and the United States, the public relations game is to draft language that is politically acceptable yet obscures the reality that American soldiers will continue to face an enemy, will need to defend themselves and will almost certainly continue to die.

On the topic of withdrawal, Al Mada reports today that a component of the Sadr bloc in Parliament is insisting that although Moqtada al-Sadr said he was freezing the Mahdi Army (due to corruption and an inability to trust them, he said), he's not doing that. He's only, they insist, freezing the activities in relation to US troops and that this is not intended to suggest that they support an extended US presence in Iraq. They are collecting signatures, in Parliament, to oppose the extension of the US military presence in Iraq. Al Mada also reports that that Sami al-Sakari al-Mahdi has stated that the Mahdi militia is in disarray and that State of Law agrees with the decision to dissolve the Mahdi militia because "any military action outside the framework of the Iraqi forces is act outside the law." Dar Addustour reports that a "joint security committee" has been created to determine whether or not the US military should stay beyond 2011 and that the committee is led by Nouri al-Maliki and . . . US Gen Lloyd Austin. They state this joint security committee was formed after the meet-up of political blocs at Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's home on Saturday. The Post-Journal editorial board explains plan-B (shoving the military under the State Dept umbrella to keep it in Iraq) and asks some key questions:

Why is this force - one strong enough to defeat the armies of some small countries - needed? To guard U.S. diplomats, [Under Secretary of State Patrick] Kennedy told members of Congress. To get an idea of how much protection the State Department personnel will need in Iraq, consider that the agency requires only about 1,800 security employees for all the rest of its posts throughout the world.
Kennedy admitted to lawmakers the security force will be used for military-type operations under State Department orders.
That doesn't sound much like the U.S. combat role in Iraq ended last fall. Clearly, President Obama has found a way to claim he has kept his pledge to pull troops out of Iraq while not really keeping it.

Today was an important day for Iraq historically and we'll note it via Tweets. The Washington Post's Ed O'Keefe notes:

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Al Jazeera's Rawya Rageh adds that the revolution led to the establishment of the Iraqi republic.
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Rawya Rageh
RawyaRageh Rawya Rageh

The new US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta made a number of gaffes -- unless he's trying to come off as the crazed loose cannon -- on his visit to Iraq. That would include his claim that the Iraq War has a connection to 9-11 other than the lies the Bush White House told to sell it and the way they (falsely) linked the two. (Leon Panetta, who knows better, made the same false link while speaking to US soldiers serving in Iraq.) One thing wasn't a gaffe and NPR's Kelly McEvers Tweeted on it today.
Kelly McEvers
kellymcevers Kelly McEvers

She is correct that, as Panetta spoke, "unilateral" response to attacks would be "force protection." Turning to violence today, Reuters notes 1 man was shot dead in Kirkuk while 2 women were shot dead in Mosul (with "a shop owner standing nearby" left injured). Fang Yang (Xinhua) reports a Sadiyah roadside bombing left six people injured and an al-Abbarh roadside bombing left an "orchard owner and his son" injured.