Thursday, December 31, 2009

The ongoing betrayal of veterans

When specialist Larry Roberta of the Oregon Army National Guard went to Iraq in 2003, he expected sandstorms, physical hardship, perhaps even combat. What he didn't expect was the orange dust he encountered, all over the place, at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant, near Basra in southern Iraq.
"You could taste stuff in the air," Roberta recalled. "It had a really strange metallic taste."
Roberta's unit and other Army National Guard units were at the plant during the spring and summer of 2003, in the months after the U.S. invasion that March. Their mission was to provide security for workers repairing the plant. It supplied water to Iraqi oil fields, and was an important part of the U.S. mission to get Iraq's oil flowing again. The workers were repairing the plant for defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR). Roberta and other Guardsmen and former KBR employees told NBC News that the orange dust was throughout the plant and the grounds, and sometimes would permeate the air during when the desert winds blew.
"It blew up in my face and on my chicken patty and my mouth and stuff like that," Roberta said. "I didn't really think a whole lot of it other than it tasted really bad and made me throw up and burned."

The above is from Rich Gardella and Lisa Myers report (link has text and video) for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams. Larry Roberta and others were exposed to sodium dichromate. They were exposed to it due to KBR. The report doesn't note it but when KBR honchos visited, they wore protective gear. US service members and contractors were exposed to the cancer causing substance because KBR wanted to play it on the cheap. And now KBR wants to play dumb. While some are dead (David Moore died last month) and others are sick or sick and dying. There's no excuse for it and there was never an excuse for it.

But it happened. And it happened during three years of Democratic Party grandstanding. From 2003 to 2006, it was bad and evil KBR that the Dems are going to take on. Dick Cheney-connected KBR will be held accountable. In November 2006, American voters were asked to give one house of Congress to the Democratic Party. 'Give us one house,' claimed Dem leadership (including Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers), 'and we'll have subpeona power and be able to launch investigation and demand accountability.' The American voters didn't give the Democratic Party one house in the 2006 mid-term elections, they gave the Democrats control of both houses of Congress.

The report notes the work of the Senator Byron Dorgan and the Democratic Policy Committee he chairs and he and the other senators on the committee deserve to be noted. But this isn't a committee with the powers of a Congressional committee. And it's really sad that none of the standing Congressional commitees -- in a Democratically controlled Congress -- has seen fit to use their subpeona power to ensure accountability and justice for the veterans whose backs the same Democratic Party grandstanded on to get back in power.

They got more than they asked for and that happened again in the 2008 election when they were given even more seats in both houses of Congress and the White House. They just keep getting but what are the veterans getting and what are the American voters getting?

Senator Evan Bayh is a member of the DPC. He's proposed a bill that would create a federal registry for veterans exposed to chemicals while serving overseas. Such a registry would allow veterans to bypass a lot of the nonsense and red tape to receiving treatment that, for examples, veterans exposed to Agent Orange during Vietnam, had to experience for decades. He proposed it, it should be an easy bill to pass. But it's buried in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. It's buried there and has been since October.

That's not a bill about gay service members. Supposedly addressing equality has to be done slowly so equality for service members has to wait. I don't buy that argument but if you do, fine. Explain why the federal registry has to wait?

Who's objecting to creating a registry that would allow veterans to get the help they need? David Moore offered testimony to Congress, David Moore spoke out on this issue. Bayh noted his work and his passing. When the news of Moore's death was reported, the Senate should have immediately passed Bayh's bill. But there was no pressure on it from leadership and they're content to let the committee bury it. (Bayh and Dorgan don't serve on the Senate VA Committee.)

We shouldn't be too surprised by the refusal to address KBR's actions. The leadership also promised to end the Iraq War . . . if they were given control of one house in 2006. Couldn't impeach Bush, but they'd end the war. They were given control of two houses, last year they were also given control of the White House. If you haven't noticed: US forces are still in Iraq.

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