Wednesday, May 5, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, the coalition sharing alliance in Iraq holds for one more day, US President Barack Obama signs a historic law; however, Don't Ask, Don't Tell remains unrepealed, let's call out the silent on that issue, and more.
"Much is made how Traumatic Brain Injury is the signature wound of Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts," declared Senator Jon Tester at today's Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing. "By now, many of us know the statistics and the challenges facing the doctors and nurses in the DoD facilities and VA hospitals who have been tasked with treating hundreds of thousands of men and women. These are gut wrenching, life changing challenges and it is critical that the spouses and the parents are a meaningful voice in patient care and treatment. But all too often, I hear about folks who have a loved one that comes into a DoD health system or the VA with serious TBI, the parents and the spouses of these service members then have to wage battle against the bureaucracy when someone that they care about is not getting the treatment that they deserve. I met with a number of folks from Montana who have come through Walter Reed and Bethesda. Most of them are fortunate enough to have a spouse or a parent who has been able to drop everything and fight full time for their soldier or marine. One of the things I've heard frequently was that the individual care from doctors and nurses was outstanding but fighting with the bureaucracy to schedule an appointment with a doctor or have medications changed is nothing short of a full time job. What happens to a soldier or a veteran when he does not have a full time advocate? What happens when a young person from rural Montana is brought to Seattle or Minneapolis with serious TBI? Who's looking out for that young woman or man? This is the area where we need to do better."
The hearing, chaired by Senator Daniel Akaka, heard from two panels, the first was made up of officials -- Dr. Lucille Beck of the VA and Dr. Michael Jaffee of DoD -- and the second by veterans advocates.
Committee Chair Daniel Akaka: Colonel, one Marine who returned from Afghanistan in December 2009 was in a lightly armored vehicle that struck an IED. The incident was fatal for other occupants of the vehicle and amputated the legs of the turret gunner. The marine in question was knocked unconscious. After seeking treatment from his Corpsman, having the incident documented in his medical records and making the proper indication on his PDHA. He has since received no follow up care, he has not been contacted by anyone about his PDHA. He has even sought care from several different medical military sites and has been turned away. Can you comment on what the Department is doing to ensure that service members actually receive the treatment that is outlined in the policy?
Dr. Michael Jaffee: Uh, thank you, Mr. Chairman. There's a couple of ways that we are trying to uhuh increase the penetration and ensure that people get the appropriate treatments. One of which is we are in the process of transitioning our system for evaluations from a subjective volunteer approach --where a service member would have to raise their hand and say that they had a problem in access care -- to one in theater which is more of a mandatory. If you've been involved in an incident associated with the blast, even if you are being stoic and denying that you have symptoms, you would still receive a mandatory evaluation. And the current protocol for that also includes that that gets appropriately documented in theater which can help facilitate further follow up. And your particular case meant ensuring more robust care and follow up in the post-deployment aspects throughout all of the facilities. And one of the things that's very important to the Department of Defense is providing the appropriate education and resources to all of our primary care providers in military health care system, on the system and resources and guidelines that are in place to deal with this very important population. To that end we have been investing a lot of resources in providing appropriate education to all members of our military health care system. This includes having instituted for the past three years annual training events which have trained more than 800 DoD and VA providers to make them aware of these newer developments and guidelines. We've put in a system -- a network of education coordinators throughout the country. We have 14 of these people through the country whose job is to outreach to make sure that they are providing appropriate education and resources to our primary care providers at all of our military facilities.. And we recently were very pleased by the collaboration with our line commanders so that the medical community does not feel like we're doing this alone in the military -- we have the unqualif -- unmitigated support of our line commanders who want to assure that we -- and help us get the appropriate education out to all of our service members and part of that education campaign includes not just education to patients, not just the providers and the family members but actually involves the commanders in the line so that they are aware that one of their service men or women under their command is not getting the appropriate services. They'll have an awareness of the types of resources available and can also assure that they will get the appropriate referrals and treatments. The other aspect that we have is often times when people come back, we have that immediate screening, that post deployment health assessment. But we are aware that some people may not have problems that develop until several months after they return home. To address that challenge, we've implemented the post-deployment re-assessment which occurs 90 to 100 days after they return home. And we have found that that system can sometimes identify individual problems that were not identified initially which also helps expedite getting them transitioned to the appropriate care network.
Senator Daniel Akaka: In the case of this particular case, where this person has claimed that he's been turned away, what alternative does this person have?
Dr. Michael Jaffee: There's a numbe -- we have a network of those regional care coordinators who can certainly reach out and help facilitate getting -- assuring that that individual can get to a facility that can provide the appropriate resources -- be it a federal facility or a local facility within the TriCare network and that's the purpose of that program to try and reach out to individuals like that because the goal is to keep anyone from falling through the cracks.
Committee Chair Daniel Akaka: Thank you. Dr. Beck, as you know Congress recently passed legislation I introduced that would create a comprehensive program of care giver support services. If you could make any changes you wanted, how would you implement this program for veterans with TBI?
Dr. Lucille Beck: Thank you. We at the VA are very pleased that Congress has recognized the significant sacrifices that are made by caregivers and that there is support and legislation for the expansion of veteran services to meet their needs. The additional benefits outlined in the legislation have great value to families and to veterans with Traumatic Brain Injury who require a primary care giver in the home. VA looks forward to working with Congress and other key stakeholders on the implementation of the plan. We think the legislation is comprehensive and will address the needs that our caregivers have.
Senator Akaka was at the White House today for the signing of the legislation he initiated, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Service Act. Along with Akaka and President Barack Obama, others present included Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. Click here for video, here for transcript.
US President Barack Obama: As Michelle and Dr. Biden have reminded us in all their visits to military bases and communities, our obligations must include a national commitment to inspiring military families -- the spouses and children who sacrifice as well. We have a responsibility to veterans like Ted Wade, who joins us here today with his wonderful wife Sarah. We are so proud of both of them. Six years ago, Sergeant Wade was serving in the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq when his Humvee was struck by an IED, an improvised explosive device. He lost much of his right arm and suffered multiple injuries, including severe traumatic brain injury. He was in a coma for more than two months, and doctors said it was doubtful that he would survive. But he did survive -- thanks to the care he received over many months and years, thanks to Ted's indomitable spirit, and thanks to the incredible support from Sarah, who has been at his side during every step of a long and very difficult recovery. As I've said many times, our nation's commitment to our veterans and their families -- to patriots like Ted and Sarah -- is a sacred trust, and upholding that trust is a moral obligation.
Barack used eight pens to sign the legislation (the pens are handed out as keepsakes so he would sign a letter a letter or two and then grab another pen). Senator Akaka's office issued the following today:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) joined President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki, and others at the White House today for the signing of S. 1963, the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act.
This landmark bill authored by Chairman Akaka will establish an unprecedented permanent program to support the caregivers of wounded warriors, improve health care for veterans in rural areas, help VA adapt to the needs of women veterans, and expand supportive services for homeless veterans. S. 1963 passed the House and Senate unanimously last month.
"With his signature, President Obama has taken the last step in what has been a long struggle for wounded warriors, their caregivers, and others who have called for a law to strengthen the partnership between VA and veterans' families. Today belongs to the family caregivers who sacrificed so much with too little support, and never gave up on their wounded loved ones. VA, veterans' families, and disabled veterans will all be better off thanks to this important law. I am also pleased about provisions in the new law to help disabled veterans, women veterans, homeless veterans, those who live in rural and remote areas, and others," said Akaka.
The bill's caregiver support provisions will:
The bill will also provide numerous other improvements for veterans, by:
For an in-depth summary of the bill as passed by Congress, click here: LINK.
CNN Wire notes, "Among other things, the new law expands resources available for veterans' mental health counseling, provides expanded access to hospitals and clinics outside of the traditional Veterans Affairs system and provides stronger transportation and housing assistance for veterans living in rural areas." "The bill will begin a pilot child-care program for veterans receiving intensive medical care and expand support for homeless veterans," adds Scott Wilson (Washington Post). In various ways, the multitude of reports filed all note the same. One exception to the pack is Laura Fitzpatrick (Time magazine) who zooms in on what the bill is supposed to do for female service members:
The bill also authorizes research on the effects of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on women's physical, mental and reproductive health. U.S. soldiers have to carry a lot of heavy gear -- duffel bags, bulletproof vests, thick boots -- through Iraq's dry, 120-degree heat. A reluctance to add to the load by hauling water may lead more female soldiers to become dehydrated in the desert, according to Dr. Samina Iqbal, a member of the VA's national Women Veterans Health Strategic Health Care Group, who notes that some 34% of women return home with genitourinary issues -- reproductive system disorders, urinary tract infections, and the like -- compared to just 8% of men.
The legislation also requires a comprehensive assessment of the unique barriers to care that women face. Veterans' advocates speculate that limited access to childcare and the perception that VA hospitals are geared toward old men are among the reasons that female veterans are less likely than males to use veterans' hospitals, even for such gender-neutral care as colon cancer screenings and flu shots.
The House Committee on Veterans' Affairs issued the following today:
Washington, D.C. -- House Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA) released the following statement in response to President Obama signing S. 1963 into law:
"Today I join the many proud veterans and their families in celebrating the enactment of a new law to provide much needed support for the care network of America's wounded warriors. Our Nation stands together to honor those who sacrifice by ensuring critical support as they recover from combat injuries. The new law creates an unprecedented support program for veteran caregivers that will provide training, financial assistance, and improved respite service. The new law also improves health care services for America's women veterans, expands the mental health services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and expands supportive services for homeless veterans.
"President Obama promised a new direction for veterans -- and once again lived up to that promise by signing a significant bill into law today. Congress will continue to ensure that the cost of war includes the cost of the warrior by listening to veterans and better understanding the concerns of their families, communities, and advocates. Only together as a Nation are we able to show veterans that we appreciate their courageous sacrifice."
Details of the legislation can be found here:
Speaker's bill summary
HVAC Committee release
March 7th Iraq held parliamentary elections. Ayad Allawi's slate emerged the winner with 91 seats, Nouri al-Maliki's slate closely trailed with 89 seats. Nouri's demanded a recount in Baghdad (which is currently ongoing). Yesterday a press conference in Baghdad was held to announce that State of Law (Nouri's party) and the Iraqi National Alliance were forming a coalition. Ernesto Londono (Washington Post) reports:
The agreement was widely seen as tenuous, however, because the factions have not settled on candidates for the premiership or other top jobs -- sticking points that prevented the groups from running together in the March 7 parliamentary elections.
"We formed an alliance to form the biggest bloc in the next parliament," Ali al-Allaq, a leader in Maliki's State of Law coalition, said in an interview. "We agreed to postpone talking about the position of the prime minister until the next phase."
Caroline Alexander and Daniel Williams (Bloomberg News) add, "State of Law insists that al-Maliki should stay on for another four years, though the INA is against this. Former Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, an INA member who was present during the announcement, has been identified as a compromise candidate, as has Jaafar al-Sadr, a cousin of the cleric al- Sadr." Arthur MacMillan (AFP) informs, "There was no immediate reaction from the United States, which in the past week urged Baghdad's politicians to set aside their differences and form a coalition that allows them to get back to the business of running the country." Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) reports that "a small group of clerics led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani" will be the ones deciding any disputes. Andrew England (Financial Times of London) observes, "This would mean the return to a Shia Islamist-dominated government similar to that which took office after the 2005 elections, and would be likely to trigger an angry reaction from Sunni Arabs who overwhelmingly threw their support behind Mr Allawi." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) notice "the religious underpinnings of the new group".
As for the issue of a prime minister? Joman Karadsheh (CNN) reports, "In a statement on its official website, the State of Law Coalition said that the two blocs agreed to merge after negotiating for more than a month but that the issue of selecting a prime minister has been postponed." Hurriyet Daily News and Economic Review reports, "It is widely believed the price of the agreement between Maliki's State of Law bloc and the INA was a commitment that he would not continue in his post." They also note that at yesterday's press conference, the person speaking was Ibrahim Jaafari's spokesperson (Abdul Razzaq al-Kadhami) which may be "a symoblic move that hinted Jaafari could return to power." After the start of the Iraq War, the first prime minister was Ayad Allawi, the second was Ibrahim Jaafari and the third was Nouri al-Maliki. And Allawi's Iraqiya? Alsumaria TV reports the party's spokesperson "Mayssoun Al Damlouji argued that the two coalitions alliance bears within a sectarian connotation." Richard Spencer (Telegraph of London) quotes al-Damlouji stating, "The Iraqiya list and the national project have been targeted and we feel that this merger was designed by regional powers." Ben Lando (Wall Street Journal) reports that despite statements that the new coalition could cause further sectarianism, Iraqiya has stated it would weigh any offers to join the coalition. Iraqiya's Haidar al-Mulla is quoted by Al Jazeera stating, "Iranian finger prints are obvious in the way the alliance was formed and announced." Andrew Lee Butters (Time magazine) quotes Sunni and former MP Azhar al-Samarraee stating, "We are slowly noticing that the sectarian atmosphere is returning in the city [Bagdhad], and this is before a government has even been formed. This means there is legitimate worry that the violence will return if the two alliances [State of Law and Iraqi National Alliance] unite."
And in potentially related news, Aseel Kami, Michael Christie and Mark Heinrich (Reuters) break the news that Abdul-Jalil al-Fehdawi has been shot dead in Baghdad. He had been part of the Council of Iraqi Scholars and was a Sunni Iman. In the attack, three other people were also killed. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) and Mohammed al-Dulaimy (McClatchy Newspapers) report, "A statement issued by the political wing of several insurgent groups blamed the Iraqi government for the assassinations." In other violence, Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured one person and 1 police officer was shot dead in MOsul while two other people were injured.
The coalition may or may not hold. What is known is that nothing is ever as simple in Iraq as the press would like. Proven today by Turkey's continued conflicts with northern Iraq. UPI reports that PKK attacks continue to be launched on Turkey from northern Iraq and that this "is renewing concerns about the sincerity of Kurdish leaders in Iraq". Melik Duvakli (Today's Zaman) reports, "The terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has resumed its violent attacks against security forces every time Turkey has started to consolidate its democracy or normalize relations with the Kurdish administration in northern Iraq."
Not that Iraq only ever has just one problem to deal with. Nizar Latif (UAE's The National Newspaper) reports, "Abu Zarah, a Sadrist and commander in the Mahdi army before it was disbanded, said the military faction had been reformed at Mr al Sadr's request, although with major differences compared with previous incarnations, when it had battled US and Iraqi government troops."
Back to the US military. Yesterday the National Organization for Women (NOW) called for the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell:
The DADT compromise was instituted in 1993, when President Bill Clinton's attempt to lift the ban on gay men and lesbians serving in the military failed. Under the current law, gay service members are still prohibited from being honest about their sexuality and risk discharge if the truth is discovered. As a result, more than 13,500 service members have been fired from the military since 1993.
These unnecessary discharges not only cost military highly qualified personnel but also cost millions in taxpayer dollars. Since its enactment, DADT is estimated to have lost the military between $290 million to more than half a billion dollars. It takes time and money to find and train new personnel -- estimated replacement costs can range between $22,000 to $43,000 per person.
Such measures are wasteful and contradict the views of a majority of the public. A recent Washington Post poll shows that 75 percent of Americans believe that lesbians and gay men should be allowed to openly serve in the military. Fears about troop readiness have also been proven unsubstantiated, since a number of industrialized nations successfully integrated openly gay and lesbian service members in their ranks with little to no effect on unit cohesion.
Using the link allows you to e-mail your reps in Congress. Why the call? Because the work of Lt Dan Choi and others has underscored that there is no movement on this issue despite spin otherwise. Then, at the end of last week, Robert Gates revealed himself. Despite press lies, Gates did not start the year with wonderful statements to Congress about repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- and of the three broadcast networks, only NBC got it right in their evening news. (He sat next to Adm Mike Mullen, Joint Chiefs of Staff and Mullen did speak to the issue and offer his own opinions.) Feminist Wire Daily explains, "US Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent a letter to Congress asking that they not move forward with a repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' (DADT) until the Pentagon completes a review of the policy. The White House also released a statement Friday supporting Secretary Gates' Letter. DADT was instituted by former President Bill Clinton in 1993 and prohibits the military from inquiring about a service member's sexual orientation, but also calls for the discharge of anyone who acknowledges being lesbian or gay. Thus far, the policy has led to the expulsion of about 13,000 troops."
"You might not know this, but all hell broke loose between the gay community and the Obama administration on Friday," notes Jonathan Capehart (Washington Post). "The reaction was swift and angry. And I can't say that I blame folks on the front lines of the repeal effort. President Obama said in his State of the Union address that he wanted to get this thing done 'this year.' During congressional testimony in February, Gates said, 'We have received our orders from the commander in chief and we are moving out accordingly.' But there have been signs of late that Obama might be willing to let that self-imposed deadline slip. Most recently, there has been a push to get an Oval Office assist in putting the elimination of the ban on gay men and lesbians serving openly in the military into the Defense Department's authorization bill. The Gates letter appears to snuff that effort out."
Mike's been noting KPFT's Queer Voices radio program at his site. One of the features of the program is This Way Out's newswrap which is archived in text form here. This week, Sheri Lunn and Michele Pleasant noted:
Queer advocacy groups have recently stepped up their pressure on the Obama administration to fulfill the president's repeated promises to repeal the policy, most recently in his January State of the Union address. there is a particular sense of urgency because Democrats could lose a significant number of seats in both houes of Congress in the November mid-term elections. But the White House distributed a media statement that read, in part, "the implementation of any congressional repeal will be delayed until the DOD study of how best to implement that repeal is completed."
The LGBT military advocacy group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network sharply criticized that statement. "We have the votes in the House and we're close to having the votes in the Senate Armed Services Committee," their statement said. "The commander in chief sounds like he is deferring to his Defense Secretary [and] to a House Chairman [Ike Skelton] who opposes him on repeal. With all due respect to Secretary Gates, it is Congress that determines the legislative schedule, not the Secretary of Defense." Servicemembers United, a group of LGBT veterans, called the Gates letter "significant cause for concern," writing that "Several points in this letter are patently offensive and false."
Washington, D.C. -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi released the following statement in response to a letter sent this afternoon by Admiral Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Defense Secretary Robert Gates concerning the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy:
"We all look forward to the report on the review of the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy by the Defense Department. In the meantime, the Administration should immediately place a moratorium on dismissals under this policy until the review has been completed and Congress has acted."
This is an important issue to this community and I was asked to make a statement by several community members who are gay and lesbian. Here's the position of this community (including me), Jonathan Tasini, CURB YOUR DOG. You know the little piece of ___ at Corrente who thinks s/he can recyle sexist attacks on Hillary and aim them at Kirsten Gillibrand? And shame on Corrente for posting that garbage. Shame on them. It's not only tired and old, it's Maureen Dowd level -- in fact, Maureen compared Hillary to the same movie. But Tasini, you run every time and you never get anywhere. No one in this community trust you, nor will they. You're a joke. You make yourself one by kissing Barack's ass while striking an 'anti-war' pose. Go Dick Cheney yourself. We don't want your announcements anymore. You're attacking Gillibrand who is one of two senators who have led in 2009 and 2010 on repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell. This community knows her work on that issue. Gay or straight, we appreciate her standing up when others refused to do so. (We also appreciate Senator Roland Burris' refusal to be silent on the issue and his strong advocacy.) When you began attacking her last week, we noted you latest "I'm on ___ chekc me out!" And I noted then that you needed to come forward with a position on Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Your website has nothing prominent and the consensus of the community is that you're destroying Gillibrand. No one's telling you to drop out of the race -- we don't do that here -- no one's telling you that you have to fight fair. We are telling you we don't give a damn about you and don't bother us with your 'news' alerts or anything else. Good luck with yet another failed campaign. This community (Gina and Krista polled on it -- full results in Friday's gina & krista round-robin) stands with Gillibrand and any other members of Congress who work to repeal Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Related, I'll be voting for a senator come November. Will I vote for Barbara Boxer? Why should I? Goodness didn't she grand stand with Barack and pretend she's some kind of a leader. Barbara, where have you been on Don't Ask, Don't Tell? I don't need Barack's lies, I need to hear from you. You've done nothing. And that's why California's so sick of you right now. You were re-elected in 2004, and goodness we loved you. But you've done nothing except (co)write those bad, bad books and reveal an ever growing knowledge gap when it comes to Iraq (to put it very mildly). You want to turn out voters in our state? Start leading on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell -- an issue not at your website. Did you not know that? You got Barack standing next to you claiming you're a leader on the issue. Where's the leadership? Nancy Pelosi issued a statement, where is your statement, Barbara?
I'm talking about your Senate website. Where's the leadership? Where's even the tag along? And your campaign website? You think this s**t counts for anything:
Senator Boxer believes that gay men and lesbians should be able to serve their country openly in the military. In 1993, she authored the amendment in the Senate that would have stopped "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" from being written into law, and she continues to support efforts to overturn this discriminatory policy.
Does she? Does she support those efforts? She certainly doesn't lead on them -- Gillibrand and Burris have done more in the last year on this issue than Boxer's done in the last 17. You want votes, Barbara, get off your ass and work for them. My days of voting straight ticket Democrat ended in 2008 and that's true -- look at the polling data -- of a huge number of your former supporters. You want our votes, you better start working on them and you damn well better start showing some leadership on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
Duane Roberts it the Green Party candidate for US Senator in the state of California. The Republican candidate has yet to be determined. Voters can easily for Roberts or the GOP or just not vote at all for that office. Not vote at all? Gee, that would be kind of like Boxer's current 'work' on the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Barbara, if you want people's votes you better start working for them. All the 'house parties' in the world will not deliver your votes no matter how many dollars you raise at them.
And for those late to the party, we focused on the Senate. In the House, you have a ton of leaders. You have US House Reps Susan Davis and Loretta Sanchez, you have Jared Polis and Tammy Baldwin, you have so many and they are the ones providing leadership. In the Senate it has been Senators Gillibrand and Burris since 2009 -- publicly vocal on the issue and pushing it and working it over and over. They deserve credit for their hard work.
the washington post
the associated press
the financial times of london