Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Homeless, unemployment and other veterans issues

While U.S. officials hail the coming elections as a sign that Iraq is becoming a stable democracy, many Iraqis like Hussein are ambivalent at best about their country's second national election. Security is elusive, electricity still winks out frequently and politicians are held in the lowest repute, seen as obsessed with perks while ignoring people's needs.
"We still have a bad security situation and bad services. I am afraid that the situation would be even worse after the coming election," [Bayda ] Hussein said. "Those who come to power care only about filling their pockets with money and (then) leave the country."
Although they agreed on holding the elections, the politicians left a demographic dispute over the tense Kirkuk region unresolved, a source of unease in the months ahead.

The above is from Warren P. Strobel and Laith Hammoudi's "Now that parliament approved elections, Iraqis are ambivalent" (McClatchy Newspapers) and it's not at all surprising because this sentiment has been documented for weeks now. Nouri's posturing is not the only reason that's been given in other reports; however, it is one of the often cited ones. Speaking of thug Nouri, yesterday's snapshot noted the 'independent' judiciary (or 'judiciary') in Iraq siding with Nouri and against the press. If you thought this would be a big story for news outlets today, you were wrong. One person who does note it is Chris Floyd (Empire Burlesque):

What exactly did the Guardian do to merit this judgment -- which, perhaps not incidentally, directs them to put more than $100,000 in Nouri al-Maliki's pocket? Something which, admittedly, is quite shocking in our day: reporting.
The Guardian's Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, who has contributed a remarkable series of stories from the frontlines and backrooms of the Iraqi cauldron, interviewed three members of the Iraqi national intelligence service "who claimed that the prime minister was beginning to run Iraqi affairs with an authoritarian hand."
And for this "revelation" -- which is akin to claiming that the sun rises in the east, or that the Pope served with the Nazis -- the Guardian was hauled into an Iraqi court for defamation. After a number of expert witnesses demolished the case on legal grounds, a new five-member panel of government toadies weighed in to argue that "Iraqi publishing law did not allow foreigners to publish articles critical of the prime minister or president, or to interfere in Iraqi internal affairs." To which the Guardian laconically appended this little fact: "The advice appeared to overlook the fact that Abdul-Ahad is an Iraqi citizen."

And again, the truth telling article that so enraged Nouri is Ghaith Abdul-Ahad's "Six years after Saddam Hussein, Nouri al-Maliki tightens his grip on Iraq" (April 30, 2009).

Today is Veterans Day. On NPR's The Diane Rehm Show, guest host Susan Page (USA Today) is joined for the first hour (10:00 am EST is when the program beings broadcasting on most NPR stations and streaming online) by Asst Sec of VA Tammy Duckworth (also an Iraq War veteran), the Washington Post's David Finkel and photographer Peter van Agtmal (2nd Tour Hope I Don't Die). For the second hour, Page is joined by Stars and Stripes Leo Shane, Jericho Project's Tori Lyon, Survivor Corps' Scott Quilty, Yellow Ribbon America's Brad White and Sun Valley Adaptive Sports' Tom Iselin. [Added: The Diane Rehm Show archives its broadcasts and around noon or one p.m. EST, the day's program is usually archived at the show's website.]

This week two US soldiers were announced dead from a helicopter crash. Gregg K. Kakesako (Honolulu Star-Bulletin) reports Earl R. Scott and Matthew C. Heffelfinger were with the Schofield Barracks:

Nick Bradley, a friend of Scott's, told a Florida newspaper that the Army told the aviator's family that the Kiowa crashed as it was landing after a routine mission.
Scott's father -- Earl Scott Jr. -- told the Jacksonville Times-Union that his son dreamed of being a pilot. He studied aviation in community college in Jacksonville before enlisting in March 2006, then was assigned to Schofield Barracks in 2008.

Adam Aasen (Jacksnoville Times-Union) quotes Earl Scott Jr. saying of his son, "He loved the freedom of it; being ablle to fly where he wanted to. I know he was doing what he wanted to do and I know he was proud to serve his country."

KTVB adds of Heffelfinger:

He served as an OH-58D pilot, and his military awards and decorations include: Army Commendation Medal, Air Medal – 2nd Award, National Defense Service Medal, Iraqi Campaign Medal with two Campaign Stars, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Combat Action Badge, Army Aviator Badge and Parachutist Badge.

Meanwhile Lisa Chen (ABC News) reports that a third of the homeless population currently is made up of veterans: "Assistant Secretary of Housing Mercedes Marquez says that since February, HUD has funded over 136 programs that specifically target programs, and a partner program between HUD and the VA started in FY08, called the HUD-VASH [Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program] is funded at $75 million annually and serves over 20,000 homeless vets, including many who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan." Susan Campbell (Hartford Courant) also covers the issue:

The Department of Veterans Affairs says there are roughly 131,000 homeless veterans in the U.S. About 5,000 of those are in Connecticut, says the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans. Overall, homeless veterans make up about a quarter of the homeless population.
Yes, there are female homeless vets out there. The staff at the Hartford homeless shelter South Park Inn just helped one. The woman served two tours in Iraq, and came home with serious post-traumatic stress disorder. She was sleeping on her mother's couch with her 4-year-old.
"And what's coming?" asks Brian Baker, the tireless assistant director at South Park. How are we going to help the veterans churned out by our current wars? South Park has 10 beds set aside for veterans, and already, those beds are always full. The Hartford shelter's veterans' drop-in center, which opened a year and a half ago, has had 500 visits.

Adrian Florido (Voices of San Diego) also notes what's in store, "The numbers, experts who serve homeless veterans said, are still small. But they said the homeless count is accelerating as more veterans are discharged from active duty and as struggling veterans from the wars' earlier years have had time to succumb to mental and substance abuse problems and fall through the safety nets designed to assist them. Current numbers do not represent the full magnitude of the coming problem, they say."

Homeless veterans were the topic of a Senate hearing yesterday (Senator Robert Menendez chaired) and we'll cover that today in the snapshot. It was held when the Guardian news came in (the 'justice' of attacking press freedom) and also because it made more sense to include it on Veterans Day. But a note on last minute things: A number of things that people would like noted are not getting noted because there just isn't time. I had sworn we were dropping down to no more than 50 K and that lasted for about two weeks about six months ago. (50 K on the snapshots.) If you're thing is not being worked in, I'm sorry. Is it Iraq related? If so, I will try but two friends are upset that they're not being worked in (and neither was Iraq related) and I've got stuff I'd love to note myself that's not getting included. So, Kat's phrase, it is what it is. Judy Peet (New Jersey Real-Time News -- link is text and video) reports on Iraq War veteran Visnu Gonzalez is one veteran who is not homeless and has a new home built by Homes for Our Troops.

Gonzalez, now 27, was shot by a sniper on April 21, 2004, while he was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. The bullet severed his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed from the chest down.
In any other war, Gonzalez would have died. His survival was due in large part to three veterans who sat behind his wheelchair today as he was presented with a free, brand new home in Bergen County that is not only barrier free, but the most energy efficient in New Jersey, according to state officials.

Homeless is only one of the problems many veterans are facing today. Another problem is employment. Ben Montgomery (St. Petersburg Times) reports Iraq War veteran Casey Hengstebeck has been attempting to find a job since returning from Iraq in February with no luck and that the unemployment rate for veterans "who have served since September 2001" has risen 11.6%. Like many people in the US -- veterans and non-veterans, Casey Hengstebeck has another issue accompanying his unemployment: His benefits are about to run out. Christian Knierim (who found employment only by starting his own company) shares his struggles in the paid and non-paid workforce at New America Media:

So here was this kid, a recent graduate from a fancy college, telling me, "Thanks for your interest in volunteering with us, but we don’t have any volunteer roles that fit your experience at this time."
"Wait ... what?" I quickly shot back. "Wait a minute. I thought I just clearly related to you how my skills and experience would be a great match for these projects . . . and you still think my skills aren't a match? Is there something I'm missing here?"
I would never have expected someone with my life experience and skills to be rejected for a volunteer position at a non-profit. I mean, doesn't "volunteer" mean you work for free? Who turns down free stuff, especially if it's work? Would you turn down someone if they offered to wash your car for free?

Those veterans attempting to cope with employment, housing and other issues are facing a care giving system which is overloaded. Steve Lopez (Los Angeles Times) explains:

At the VA in West Los Angeles and satellite locales, psychiatrists handle caseloads of as many as 400 to 500 patients at a time, said Jonathan Sherin, associate chief of psychiatry and mental health. And the numbers are growing.
"Clinicians talk about being overloaded a lot," Sherin said, and they're naturally fearful about missing a sign that a patient is a threat to himself or others.
There's a culture among soldiers of bucking up and holding back, if they seek help at all, which raises the stakes for doctors. Sherin said doctors ask if there's any sleeplessness, mood changes, irritability, substance abuse, domestic problems or a feeling of hopelessness. An experienced clinician can often detect that a soldier is hiding something, Sherin said, but that takes time, and sometimes there isn't enough of it.

Traverse City's Record-Eagle editorializes on the "invisible wounds" today: "As the nation celebrates Veterans Day today, thousands of U.S. soldiers who have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan since the 9/11 terrorist attacks are still dealing with TBI, or traumatic brain injury, which has been called the 'signature injury' of both wars and an 'invisible wound'." Detroit News reports that, on the verge of going to trial, the US government is settling a law suit against the VA -- paying $218,500 to the family of 24-year-old Iraq War veteran Randen Harvey who "died of an overdose in 2006".

Results from a new AP-GfK poll have been released today and they find an 8% increase in disapproval of Barack Obama's 'handling' of the Iraq War -- from 37% in October to 45% today. The Afghanistan War found Barack's disapproval ratings rising from 41% to 48% in the same period. AP notes that the "majority of Americans oppose both wars" and Barack campaigned on bringing the troops home from Iraq -- he had no qualifiers in those speeches -- so that 8% increase may be from the realization that the Iraq War has not ended.

Yesterday morning's first entry included this:

Meanwhile in the US, Christen Gowan (Albany Times Union) reports that Iraq War veteran James Maher died over the weekend: "Police in Batavia, in Genesee County, provided no details about the circumstances of the death of James Maher, 27, who was at a clinic seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, his obituary in today's Times Union said." The paper's obituary references "a fall" and notes that he suffered from PTSD and that his survivors include Janet and Michael Maher (parents) and brother Michael Maher, sister Stephany Maher and his dog Puggles and the "funeral Mass will be celebrated on Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Assumption-St. Paul North Main St. Church, Mechanicville."

Scott DeSmit (Batavia News) reports that the finding is he died of a fall on Saturday and he also notes that his survivors include a stepfather Tony Amoroso (which means I should have billed Janet as "Janet Amoroso" yesterday -- apologies for my error). The Albany Times Union adds, "Maher was a patient at the VA Healthcare System Medical Center in Batavia, undergoing treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, according to his obituary in Tuesday's Times Union."

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