Thursday, October 15, 2009

Shinseki knew GI Bill "simply not executable"

"A plan was written, very quickly put together, uh, very short timelines," declared VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to the US House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as to why the VA had screwed up the payments for veterans attempting to pursue higher education. "I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August. A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place. Uh, to the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment. 'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them. We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the 530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people. So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were short on the assumption of how many people it would take."

Lots of luck finding the above in the 'reports' on yesterday's hearing.

Many veterans are waiting and suffering for payments still but the press likes Shinseki so they cover for him. Greg Lehma (Daily Titan) reports on Iraq War veteran Adam Brzezicki who has had to wait over two months for the VA. Lehma's report includes this:

Carla Ruiz, data control and assistant supervisor of records at the Veterans Services Office at CSUF, said that the campus was not at fault for the extra time it took for veterans to receive their benefits.
"It is my understanding that the processing delay was a result of delays from the Veteran's Administration and not campus related," said Ruiz. "It is also my understanding that this was a 'one time' delay based on this being the first term of eligibility for these benefits."

If the press wants to grab on to the bright side, they're less embarrassing than most of the members of the committee yesterday.

Shinseki admits, for the first damn time, that he knew the Post-9/11 GI Bill would not be ready and had even hired an outside consultant to weigh in. But he never got around to telling Congress until after -- AFTER -- veterans were suffering.

And the reaction?

Oh, cookie, no one was held accountable. Bob Filner, the Chair, spent forever telling Shinseki he needed to get better at PR, that he shouldn't hide his light under a bushel.

He needs to get better at PR?

Why, the Committee was acting as his fan club and Team Shinseki. It was embarrassing and shameful.

US House Rep Corinne Brown was called out in yesterday's snapshot and deserved to be called out a lot worse. Last night, a veteran and veterans' advocate at yesterday hearing shared how disgusted he was with her remarks and asked that I add that Brown spoke as if the GI Bill was "for ex-cons. She spoke about us like we were uneducated felons who'd committed capital murder and should be saying, 'Thank you, VA, for taking pity on our criminal asses'." And he's exactly right. Brown's statements were appallingly clueless and shamefully offensive. If you looked around while she was speaking, you could see the veterans and veterans families present just recoil as Brown spoke.

Did she mean to be so offensive?

No, she didn't but she was so damn eager to press up against Shinseki that he mattered so much more than the veterans the Committee allegedly serves.

What took place yesterday was shameful.

And the Committee better get their act together.

Veterans across the country had to struggle -- and some continue to -- for weeks as they waited for the VA to make good on the payments they were led to believe would start with the fall semester. And the Committee should have focused on that.

After Shinseki volunteered that the VA always, ALWAYS, knew this would happen, the Committee should have exploded with righteous indignation over the fact that (a) this was done to veterans and (b) the VA failed to inform Congress of what they knew.

That never happened.

The entire hearing was treated like a joke with jokes at the start of it. (See Kat's "House Committee on Veterans Affairs" from last night.)

If the House Veterans Affairs Committee believes they assemble to cover for Shinseki, they did a wonderful job. If they're under the impression that they exist to serve veterans than they owe a big apology, A BIG APOLOGY, to veterans for their behavior yesterday.

This afternoon the GI Bill is addressed in a hearing. Let's hope they've finished fawning and plan to get answers and demand accountability. And the only exception to the fawning was US House Rep Debbie Halvorson. She pursued the issue of backlog for VA claims. We focused on education benefits in yesterday's snapshot. If we'd focused on any of the other topics, she would have been noted. But Halvorson, who was not disrespectful, was the only one who seemed aware that when there are huge problems in the VA and you have the VA Secretary before you, you ask the hard questions. She did a fine job. I've called her out before and she's really improved and yesterday was the strongest member on the Committee.

In further efforts to ignore the costs paid by military personnel, AFP reports that Iraq's Parliament announced yesterday the draft election law was being "delayed until next week" with claims that it will be addressed on Monday. UPI and Official Wire report the law will be addressed Saturday. However, Alsumaria reports it will be Monday and reports on the draft law amdendments:

According to the amendments, the number of lawmakers would become 311. Elections would be carried out following the province considered as one electoral district. Seats would be proportionate to the number of inhabitants according to ratio cards’ statistics.
The pending issue of the open list brought up several views.
The first view: Candidacy would follow the open list system. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to one of the candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.
The second view: Candidacy would follow the open list system with a maximum of three candidates who should not exceed the double number of seats allocated for the electoral district. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to one of the candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.
The third view: Candidacy would follow the open list system with a maximum of three candidates who should not exceed the double number of seats allocated for the electoral district. Voters may vote to the whole entity slate, to at least three candidates on the list or to an individual candidate.

NPR's Quil Lawrence (Morning Edition -- link has text and audio) reports, "Parliament is now expecting to vote on the election law this Sunday, but that may again be delayed. If Iraq does not carry out elections by January, it will raise serious questions about the government's legitimacy."
Meanwhile Eric Watkins (Oil & Gas Journal) reports that the Parliament did manage to push through the legislation necessary to get 100 British soldiers back in Iraq to "protect its vital southern oil export terminals." They did that yesterday and Watkins doesn't find the offense in it. Foreign troops in Iraq are supposedly there for 'safety' but Watkins has just revealed British troops are being brought back in to protect the oil. Nouri sure is lucky he doesn't have to foot that bill too, isn't he? British soldiers? Less lucky. Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) covers the Iraq inquiry in England.

So British troops can be used to protect Iraqi oil -- their lives are judged that unimportant by the UK and corporations. In the US? Adam Lichtenheld and Ron Moore's "No Contractor Left Behind Part IV: Congress's Powerless Probe" (DC Bureau):

After a flurry of Pentagon contracting scandals involving KBR went unaddressed by Republican lawmakers under the Bush administration, Democrats ran on promises of "real and serious" oversight in their successful 2006 campaign to win back Congress.
But American soldiers poisoned by KBR in Iraq six years ago have found weak refuge on Capitol Hill. Democratic leaders have left the Qarmat Ali probe to a lone senator, Byron Dorgan (D-ND), and a largely powerless Congressional panel, the
Democratic Policy Committee (DPC). Having traditionally operated as a partisan support forum, the DPC lacks the capabilities to ensure accountability for the sick veterans of Qarmat Ali -- who have struggled to afford costly medical treatments while the company that endangered them continues to reap millions of dollars in windfall profits.
It was Sen. Dorgan, the DPC's chairman, who first uncovered the Qarmat Ali incident and brought it to Congress last year. Since then, the Senate committee charged with direct oversight of the U.S. military -- the powerful and highly influential
Armed Services Committee -- has largely stayed silent. When DCBureau called Armed Services chairman Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), spokesman Bryan Thomas declined comment.
"I’ve tried to do as much as I can with the limited capacity I have," Dorgan said. "It just begs for investigation."

The Democratic Policy Committee issued the following:

(WASHINGTON , D.C. ) --- The U.S. Army is ramping up its response to the exposure of U.S. troops in Iraq to the deadly chemical sodium dichromate, U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) said Friday. He said it has also doubled the Army estimate of the number of U.S. troops who may have been exposed to the cancer-causing chemical from 347 to more than 1,164.
Department of Veterans Affairs is also stepping up its effort to respond to the exposures to better monitor and treat exposed soldiers.
"These are significant breakthroughs," Dorgan said Friday. "Lives will be saved because of these actions."
As Chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC), Dorgan chaired hearings on the exposure, and the Army's response in June 2008 and August 2009. Multiple failures by the contractor, KBR, were revealed at the 2008 hearing. The hearing in August focused on the Army’s response to the exposure and its failure to adequately monitor, test, and notify soldiers who may have been exposed of the health risks they may now face. Dorgan has been pushing the Army, and the Department of Veterans Affairs to launch a more vigorous effort to reach, warn, monitor and treat soldiers who may have been exposed to the chemical at the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility in 2003.
Dorgan released a letter Friday from Army Secretary Pete Geren who said the Army is now working to track down and notify all 1,164 exposed soldiers to alert them to the health risk they now face. Geren told Dorgan the Army is now working more closely with the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that VA health professionals know to be looking for sodium dichromate exposure symptoms and how to treat them.
Dorgan also released a letter from Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA) Eric Shinseki informing him that the VA is stepping up its response to the exposure. Shinseki wrote that the VA is now offering veterans who were at the site free medical monitoring and treatment. Previously, soldiers exhibiting symptoms consistent with sodium dichromate had to prove their conditions were service connected. That burden of proof, which the VA has lifted,often delayed or prevented treatment for illnesses for which prompt and urgent treatment often means the difference between life and death.
National Guard troops from West Virginia , Oregon , South Carolina , Indiana and members of the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division were among those at the Qarmat Ali site who were exposed to the deadly chemical.
Today, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) released the following video as part of its daily video service, a once-a-day e-mail that features highlights of Senate floor remarks, hearings, and press conferences. Additional videos are available on the DPC Video page.

DPC Clips can now be embedded

October 9, 2009

SENATOR DORGAN (D-ND) Department of Defense Finally Taking Action Over Troop Exposure to Sodium Dichromate at Qarmat Ali in Iraq-- Interview on 10/9/09 (01:49). Click here to view or embed this video.

Lastly, Betty and Stan usually highlight Bob Somerby and both did last night. If you haven't read Somerby from yesterday, make a point to. He explains where the 'health care' situation currently is and where it's likely headed.

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adam lichtenheld
byron moore