Thursday, May 22, 2008

Veterans 'benefits'

Department of Veterans Affairs officials said Wednesday that they oppose much of a Senate bill to improve care for female veterans even as the number of women seeking VA medical services is expected to double within the next five years.
A top VA official admitted during a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing that the agency may not be prepared for the anticipated influx of women veterans.
"We recognize there may well be gaps in services for women veterans, especially given the VA designed its clinics and services based on data when women comprised a much smaller percentage of those serving in the armed forces," said Gerald Cross, the VA's principal deputy undersecretary for health.
But Cross said the VA opposed many sections of the bill by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., including new studies of the physical and mental health problems women veterans faced and how the department was dealing with them. Cross said they would overlap with existing studies underway and would cost millions of dollars that could better be spent on providing health care services.
The VA also opposed sections that would require mental health workers be given special training on how to care for female victims of military sexual trauma and post traumatic stress disorder, to require additional staff to deal with women veterans and to provide day care for veterans seeking VA care.

The above is from Les Blumenthal's "VA opposes much of bill to improve care for women veterans" (McClatchy Newspapers) and let's be really clear here because the article isn't as hard hitting as it could be, the VA opposes pretty much everything. The VA doesn't want to spend a dime. This is a pattern that's been true of the last seven years with wars fought on the cheap and easy lip service about "value" and "appreciation" while budgets were cut by the White House. When Congress has given the VA additional money (and Congress, since 2007, has been happy to give the VA any money they cited was needed to assist veterans), that hasn't fixed a thing because the management of the VA (appointed leadership) is so inept and corrupt that the only 'work' they appear to do is figuring out how to shortchange even more veterans, how to deny even more care and how to cover it up.

In March of 2005, NPR aired a report noting that 35 women had died serving in Iraq and 261 had been wounded. That was three years ago. The VA is not doing a poor (forget good) job of serving all veterans. Female veterans face additional hurdles because the system has not adapted to the changes and is antiquated using models and studies that repeatedly exclude females from the sample. While the VA is doing a poor job across the board, it is especially out of date with regards to female veterans having never included in the sample.

Related in terms of the wars, Patty Murray's office notes at the senator's website, "Gates to Murray on $35 Billion Tanker Contract: 'I'm No Expert'" (and link has audio):

Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) questioned Defense Secretary Robert Gates on many of her concerns over the Pentagon's short-sighted decision to give a $35 billion air tanker refueling contract to Airbus - a foreign-owned and subsidized company with an unproven product. At today's hearing, Secretary Gates was able to provide few answers and little perspective on why his agency made this decision that could weaken the U.S. aerospace industry, threaten national security, mean significant cost overruns, and result in a less safe plane for our warfighters.
"Secretary Gates is known in Congress as a straight shooter," Murray said following today's hearing. "However, today he conspicuously avoided answering the many glaring questions surrounding this contract decision. His testimony today will only raise more questions and red flags for Congress, our country's aerospace workers, and the many Americans who believe this is no time to outsource a $35 billion military contract."
During today's hearing Murray frequently discussed the role Congress will play in this contract decision. The Department of Defense (DOD) has maintained that cost, technology and capability were the only factors they considered in awarding the contract. Murray questioned how those factors were considered, but also discussed the additional considerations that she and her colleagues will look at.
"In Congress we have a lot wider purview," Murray said. "We have the duty to do what DOD can't do. We have to look at unfair competition, we have to look at companies using illegal means to break into the U.S. defense and commercial market, we have to look at long term nation security implications, and we have to look at how this affects our industrial base and capability."
Senator Murray has continually sought answers from Pentagon officials in Senate hearings since the Pentagon announced their decision in February. However, officials from the Pentagon's own Comptroller, to top National Guard and Reserve commanders, to top Defense construction officials have been unable to answer Murray's many concerns.
Today's hearing was of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee on which Murray sits.

Back to veterans, Barbara Barrett files "Republican senators revise their version of veterans education bill" (McClatchy Newspapers):

Republican Sens. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina cribbed a few details Wednesday from a Democratic colleague for their version of the GI Bill, which helps pay for college for military veterans.

[. . .]

But in a news conference Wednesday, Burr and Graham said their bill would better help retention in the military. It allows military members to transfer half their college benefits to a spouse or child after six years, and 100 percent of the benefits after 12 years.
"I am not going to sit on the sidelines and under feel-good politics create a program that will hurt America's ability to retain its force," Graham said. "Now is not the time to put a benefit on the table that incentivizes people to leave the military."

Is that surprising? (There's no question that it's news.) No, not at all. And if the press bothered to cover hearings, maybe it wouldn't be a surprise to some? The May 7th Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs is discussed at length in the May 8th snapshot. The article above talks about 'transferbility' supported by Lindsey Graham. The snapshot noted:

A big debate during the hearing was between Senators Jim Webb and Lindsey Graham. Graham wanted "tranferability" for veterans meaning that a veteran could transfer benefits to his or her spouse or family member. Graham appeared to be attempting to derail Webb's bill with his comments and Webb noted it was a false issue on the part of the Defense Department. They have the power, under the law, to implement a pilot program to explore that and have for many years. Only the Army, in 2006, attempted to do so. Out of 17,000 service members, only 300 elected to transfer the benefits. Webb did not see this as a pressing issue and stressed that if the DoD did or does, they already have the power to implement pilot programs. He spoke of all the years his father spent in night school -- graduating college when Jim Webb was a high school senior -- and how transferability might have been a concern to him were it available but something to keep in mind is that the government needs to be very careful when you take a benefit away. Webb noted that no one in the government is skilled to look into family dynamics. Which might be (or might not be), him making the point that a service member might, for instance, transfer their education benefits to a spouse and marriages can break up. What happens then? And (this is me) carrying this even further, if education benefits could be transferred, what's to prevent them from being dubbed community property in any divorce settlement?
The VA is for it and may be for it simply because if the benefit is transferred to a spouse or child then the service member loses it. This could effect retention because some might transfer their benefit in good faith and full knowledge only to have circumstances change five to ten years later, want to leave the US military but, having given away their education benefits, decide that they would stay put. There's really no reason to be bringing up the issue (as Graham and the VA were) other than to stall Webb's bill (or kill it). Webb's bill is not dependent upon that issue being resolved and does not mention that issue.
For a government agency that's opposed to a bill (as the VA is to Webb's), stating
"Senator, I don't want to speak any futher on this issue because it really is something that the Department of Defense needs to address" really doesn't cut it. If you're opposed to it, you need to be clear what your opposition to it is. If you can't be, you should probably stay silent. As Webb noted repeatedly, if DoD decides transferbility is an issue, they have "available in the law" the right to implement a pilot program to determine whether this is a pressing issue to veterans. Except for one pilot program carried out by the Army, no one has elected to do so.
Webb's bill largely seems to upset the VA (by their remarks and not by my speculation) is the issue of payments. Currently, VA witnesses testified, they cut two checks: full-time training or part-time training. There was whining on the part of the VA that there would be a new system covering tuition, a living stipend and a book stipend.
Webb asked if his bill (S22) getting objections from the VA only on the transferability aspect means that they approve of all the other aspects? The VA witnesses couldn't answer that clearly but, pressed by Webb, said "If we could rank the concerns, that would probably be right at the top." Webb's bill has 56 co-sponsors and that includes Senators Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Evan Bayh, Joe Biden, Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snow, John Warner, Harry Reid. 288 members of the House are supporting it -- including Reps Tammy Baldwin, Don Young, Shelley Berkley, Corrine Brown, Lynn Woolsey, Rush Holt, Sheila Jackson Lee, Peter DeFazio, Ellen Tauscher, Henry Waxman and Maxine Waters. Webb offers a (PDF format warning) overview of the bill here. Last month Florida's The Ledger published an editorial advocating for the passage of Webb's bill entitled "Pass Better G.I. Bill." The editorial notes that presumed GOP presidential nominee John McCain is opposed to the bill.

At the end of the article, Barrett notes "Webb on Tuesday offered a free-standing amendment including transferability in his bill, but only as a two-year pilot program for certain military members re-enlisting in the service." Webb didn't need to do that and if the hearing had gotten coverage, people would know that the Pentagon already had the power to do any pilot program, Congress gave them that power and they refused it except for one 2006 program. It's a diversioin, not a real issue. The objection is about the cost and about giving veterans what they deserve. Those opposing Webb's bill can dress it up any way they want, but that's the reality. They don't want to give veterans what the government has promised.

Charlie notes Amanda Gardner's "Some Iraq War Vets Suffer Breathing Problems" (Washington Post):

U.S. soldiers exposed to a blazing sulfur mine fire near Mosul, Iraq, in 2003 returned home with a debilitating breathing disorder that affects the small airways of the lung.
But doctors were only able to diagnose the condition, bronchiolitis, with a lung biopsy. Conventional, non-invasive tests weren't able to reliably identify the problem, said the authors of a study expected to be presented Wednesday at the American Thoracic Society's International Conference, in Toronto.
"In my view, if someone returns from service in Iraq and is short of breath, and we don't have an explanation, this needs to be considered," said Dr. Robert Miller, senior author of the study and assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tenn. "The other thing is that routine screening probably is ineffective in this case."

Nikki notes Howard Wolfson's "HUBdate: Celebrating in the Bluegrass State" (

Previewing Today: Hillary hosts "Solutions for America" events in south Florida where she emphasizes the need to count every vote.
Leading the Popular Vote: According to ABC News, Hillary's Kentucky victory keeps her ahead in the popular vote. She now leads Sen. Obama 17,387,254 to 17,188,969 when Florida and Michigan are included in the count.
Read more.
Celebrating in the Bluegrass State: Last night, Hillary told supporters in Kentucky: "Tonight we've achieved an important victory. It is not just Kentucky bluegrass that is music to my ears. It is the sound of your overwhelming vote of confidence even in the face of some pretty tough odds. Some have said your votes didn't matter, that this campaign was over, that allowing everyone to vote and every vote to count would somehow be a mistake. But that didn't stop you. You've never given up on me because you know I’ll never give up on you."
Read more and more.
$22 Million: In April, Hillary raised over $22 million from supporters across the country, making it the second best fundraising month ever for the campaign. Campaign Chairman Terry McAulliffe said, "Senator Clinton’s game-changing victories last month turned the tide for the campaign and resulted in an outpouring of grassroots support."
Read more.
Superdelegate Watch: Ohio automatic delegate Craig Bashein of Hunting Valley announced his support for Hillary Clinton today….Massachusetts Attorney General and Automatic Delegate Martha Coakley endorsed Hillary yesterday: "Mrs. Clinton’s energy, stamina, and resolve have changed the course of history for women seeking office, including the presidency, and I dare say, have changed the course of history of Presidential politics in the United States."
Read more and more.
Looking Forward to SD, MT, and PR: Campaign Political Director Guy Cecil said, "We have thousands of volunteers in South Dakota, Montana, and Puerto Rico who are making calls and knocking on doors to get the vote out. The people they are talking to want to participate and be heard."
Read more.
"Florida and Michigan Deserve to Be Heard" The campaign has urged supporters to send messages to the DNC urging them to count the votes of Florida and Michigan: "Millions of people in Florida and Michigan went to the polls to make their voices heard in the Democratic Presidential primary. They deserve to have their votes count. Sign Hillary's petition before the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee meets to show your support for seating Florida and Michigan delegates."
Sign here.
Cuban Independence Day: Yesterday, Hillary joined with Cuban Americans in celebration of Cuban Independence Day. Hillary said, "After nearly 50 years of one-man rule, the new leadership in Cuba faces a choice - continue with the failed policies of the past that have stifled democratic freedoms and stunted economic growth - or take an historic step to bring Cuba into the community of democratic nations."
Read more.
On Tap: This Friday, Hillary travels to South Dakota.

The e-mail address for this site is