Thursday, February 25, 2010

I Hate The War

As we've often noted, there is a bill, introduced by Evan Bayh, that's bottled up in the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, that's been bottled up since October. The bill would create a registry for those who have been exposed to toxins while in Iraq or Afghanistan, similar to the Agent Orange registry for those who served in Vietnam.

That registry, the Agent Orange one, didn't come about until the 80s. It was hoped that the country had learned something since then. It was hoped that the horror stories of the veterans who couldn't get care for their exposures when they needed it at least drew attention to a serious issue when the country was finally ready to recognize it. And that their suffering and loss made us all a little more aware. Which was being translated as: The current veterans of wars would not have to wait a decade. The Congress would act now, while both wars were still ongoing.

A federal registry would allow veterans to make claims easier and not face the many (and repeated) hurdles of proving their exposure, documenting their presence in which ever theater of war. It would allow those suffering to access health care and do so in a timely manner.

But there's one hitch to Bayh's federal registry: Congress has to pass it for it to work.

Being bottled up in a Senate committee doesn't allow it to accomplish anything. Four months ago and no action on it. (The House has several advocates on this issue who are working on it from their end and Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, has stated she wants the issue to be voted on. In the Senate, the two strongest advocates for veterans and contractors who were chemically exposed are Bayh and Senator Byron Dorgan -- both of whom announced they will not seek re-election in November's vote.)

Already one of the people who appeared before Congress and the Democratic Policy Committee to offer testimony has passed away from illnesses related to his exposure. That was in November. How many more are going to have to pass away before Congress acts? And how does a committee justify bottling up that legislation?

How does Daniel Akaka, chair of the committee, justify doing nothing on this issue for over four months. They did, earlier this month, do a mark up hearing . . . on other bills.

A lot of the exposure can be traced to the actions of KBR. KBR always denies that but if you've been to the hearings, you know better. A large number of veterans and contractors have filed suit against Halliburton and/or its subsidiary KBR.

Jon Murray (Indianapolis Star) reports that Judge Richard Young of the US District Court for the Southern District of Indiaina dismissed the case filed on behalf of 47 members of the Indiana National Guard with the finding that that he lacked jurisdiction due to KBR being based in another state (Texas) and the exposure (he would say "alleged exposure") took place in Iraq. He only ruled on jurisidiction and did not address the merits of the case.

There are at least 22 cases against KBR/Halliburton filed in 22 different district courts across the country. Whether or not the judges in 21 of those will find as Judge Young did isn't known. 21? One of the cases is filed in Texas.

Judge Young's opinion isn't the finding most wanted to receive. But the fact remains, he addressed it. He found that there was no jurisidiction and dismissed it. The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hasn't addressed the issue. They've buried it.

And you'd hope today's ruling would give a push or a nudge to the committee. But nothing else has so no one should hold their breath.

But they should pay attention. We should all watch and see exactly how long it is going to take Congress to address this issue?

It's very much true that anything to do with veterans has a better chance of passing while a war or wars are ongoing. When they end, the nation goes into a slumber of let's-not-talk-about-it unless it was a popular war. (WWII may have been the last popular war in the US.) So an Agent Orange registry not done during Vietnam has to wait until the 80s. How long will veterans facing exposures today have to wait?

It's over, I'm done writing songs about love
There's a war going on
So I'm holding my gun with a strap and a glove
And I'm writing a song about war
And it goes
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Na na na na na na na
I hate the war
Oh oh oh oh
-- "I Hate The War" (written by Greg Goldberg, on The Ballet's Mattachine!)

Last Thursday, ICCC's number of US troops killed in Iraq since the start of the illegal war was 4376. Tonight? 4379.

We were noting the Democratic Policy Committee earlier in this entry and we'll close with this news release:



( WASHINGTON , D.C. ) --- U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), who chaired Senate hearings on electrocutions of soldiers in Iraq resulting from shoddy contracting work by KBR, said Thursday the Army’s decision to deny million of dollars in bonuses to the firm for its 2008 work in Iraq “is the right call, but it is only a first step.”

Dorgan chaired two Senate Democratic Policy Committee (DPC) hearings in 2008 and 2009 on KBR’s shoddy electrical work in Iraq . The hearings revealed widespread problems with KBR’s electrical work there including countless electrical shocks including one that killed Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth, and perhaps others, and injured dozens more on their own bases as they showered and engaged in other routine activities.

Following the hearings, Dorgan and Senator Robert Casey (D-PA) wrote the Army asking that it review KBR’s work and the electrocution death of Staff Sgt. Ryan Maseth. They also asked the Army to re-evaluate the millions of dollars in bonuses it has routinely awarded KBR for supposedly excellent work, even when the Army’s own evidence made clear it was highly questionable.

The Army’s investigation of Maseth’s January 2008 death found that KBR’s work exposed soldiers to “unacceptable risk.” A theatre-wide safety review that resulted from the Dorgan-Casey request -- Task Force SAFE -- also found widespread problems with KBR’s electrical work that exposed soldiers to life threatening risks.

“The decision to deny KBR millions in bonuses for its work in 2008 is welcome news, and is a significant change from the Army’s past practice, but the Army clearly needs go much further,” Dorgan said. “Specifically, it needs to review the $34 million bonus and other bonuses it awarded KBR for shoddy work that may have contributed to other electrocution deaths and other serious electrical shocks.”

Dorgan said the Army’s decision “will send a long overdue message to military contractors that they will be held accountable for their performance. But the Army needs to send that message much more powerfully. Not awarding a bonus for widespread sloppy contracting work that killed soldiers is just the beginning, not the end point, of accountability.”

Dorgan has chaired 21 Senate DPC hearings on waste, fraud and corruption in military contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Evidence at those hearings he said, “has been overwhelming that KBR’s work was shoddy and put the lives of U.S. soldiers at risk. KBR’s electrical workers were often unqualified, poorly trained and poorly supervised. When questions were raised, they simply denied there was a problem and proceeded with the same shoddy business as usual.”

We'll note (unless I forget) that in tomorrow's snapshot as well. I did forget something that should have been noted in today's snapshot and thank you to Mia for e-mailing to remind me. We'll include it tomorrow. The e-mail address for this site is