Tuesday, June 01, 2010

LAT thinks the VA just wants to help

"You fight for your country, then come home and have to fight against your own country for the benefits you were promised," said Hunt, 28, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan as a Marine Corps sniper.
It took Hunt, who lives in Brentwood, 10 months to receive VA disability payments for his injuries after the agency misplaced his paperwork.
The VA, which still relies on a mostly paper-based system for disability claims, is overwhelmed by a flood of wounded veterans from the long Afghan and Iraq wars. That's in addition to the Vietnam War, Korean War and even World War II veterans.

The above is from David Zucchino's "Veterans Affairs wants to be an advocate, not an enemy" (Los Angeles Times) and I thought headlines were supposed to deal in facts? Zucchino did not write the headline. But the headline writer doesn't know what the hell s/he is talking about. From the staffing of help phone lines through the execution of programs, nothing the VA has done in the last years has demonstrated that leadership desires anything more than to be a stumbling block. Outside of LA, they may have heard of the Congressional committee tours of VA facilities and all that Congress has found lacking -- or maybe they just have more common sense? Regardless, the Billingham Herald runs Zucchino's article under the more accurate headline "Veterans battling bureaucracy to get medical benefits." On American Public Media's Marketplace yesterday (link has text and audio), Bob Mommn spoke with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Tim Embree about the Post-9/11 GI Bill and modifications that are needed:

Moon: One of the issues that I've heard discussed is online courses or distance learning isn't covered under the current law. Why is that important?

Embree: Well, what it is is we have a lot of folks that maybe come home and are dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or recovering from a traumatic brain injury or live in a rural area, and they're trying to attend these non-traditional colleges, online, through correspondence, because a lot of times they can't get to the brick-and-mortar schools. So we want to make sure that their tuition is covered, and also they have a living stipend. Because we know how tough it is where if you're taking a class online -- and the reason for that is because maybe it is tough for you to get out of the house -- we want to be able to make it so these folks can pay their rent or pay their mortgage.

Moon: What about troops returning from service who don't want to go to a four-year college?

Embree: That's a big one. If you actually look at the original GI Bill, over 70 percent of folks in the original GI Bill went to vocational schools, on-the-job training programs, and apprenticeships programs. And that was one of the things that we're really trying to push to be part of the Post-9/11 GI Bill. In fact, Senator Akaka just the other day dropped the comprehensive upgrade package that we had been working with his office as well as Senator Webb's office and a few other folks on. And this is one of the things that it points out is making sure that folks can go to vocational schools, can go to on-the-job training, can do that apprenticeship. Because these are the folks that are opening up your mechanic shops, and your repair shops. These are the EMTs and folks like that. So it's a really important thing.

Moon: Well perhaps this day more than most -- setting aside the GI Bill -- this is a good day to talk about the problems that exist for troops when they reenter the workforce. Can you give us a hint on some of those?

Embree: It's rough. It's really rough. Last year's average for Iraq and Afghanistan-era veterans was 14.7 percent. Just this past month, it's still at about 13.1 percent unemployment for... Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. You know, it's tough for these guys. You got the military, it speaks one language, and the civilian world, it speaks another. So you have folks that are coming back and may leave the military, may spend some time hanging out with their friends, maybe spend some time sleeping in their mom's basement. And then they get to a world where, you know, they don't know how to translate their skills.

Yesterday was Memorial Day. For All Things Considered (NPR -- link has text and audio), Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reported from Iraq:

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: At 9 a.m. at Forward Operating Base Union in Baghdad's Green Zone, a few dozen soldiers came together to mark Memorial Day. The flag was raised and then lowered to half-mast in honor of America's fallen. Everyone observed a moment of silence. Iraq has faded from the headlines. The U.S. mission is winding down. By summer's end, if all goes according to plan, the U.S. force will be cut in half. But for many here, including Major General Michael Barbero, who has spent a total of 36 months serving in Iraq, the memories of those who have died here live on.

Major General MICHAEL BARBERO (Commander, Multi-National Security Transition Command): Stories of sacrifice are often highlighted in our society for only a short period of time. Over time, the power of their example fades. The strength of their sacrifice diminishes and the nobility of their service is forgotten. And this is why Memorial Day is so important, for on Memorial Day, as a nation, we pause to honor and celebrate our veterans and to remember.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Thirty-seven-year-old Major Leticia Bryant(ph) was also in attendance. This is her first tour. She says she wants her friends and family back home to remember what this day is really about.

Major LETICIA BRYANT: I posted on my Facebook account. I was like, you know, before you guys head off for your long weekend or fire up those grills, you know, just take a moment to think about those families that won't be with their loved ones because, you know, they've laid down their lives for you to have these, you know, these freedoms. And so you got to remember that. So I posted that on my site.

Hannah Allam (McClatchy Newspapers) reports from Camp Victory in Iraq on Memorial Day reflections of service members. Meanwhile CBS News' David Martin (link has text and video) used Memorial Day to highlight Iraq and Afghanistan service members who have lost limbs:

David Martin: May was a cruel month. The number of service men and women who have lost an arm or a leg since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began went over 1,000, many of them more than one. They come here to the physical therapy room at Walter Reed. And you lost both legs?

Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: I lost both legs, yes, sir.

David Martin: Above the knee?

Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: Both are above the knee, yes, sir.

David Martin: So that makes it tough.

Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: It does -- but, you know, you gotta' -- you gotta' keep going.

David Martin: Marine Sgt. Maj Raymond Mackey stepped on a mine in Afghanistan last December 23rd. His goal is to be walking again by next December 23rd.

Sgt Maj Raymond Mackey: I have just got my legs, my C-legs, my computer legs, I'm learning how to put them on and how to fire it to where the knee comes forward and everything like that.

The following community sites updated since yesterday morning:

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Heck Of A Job" went up Sunday.
We'll close with this from international law and human rights expert Francis A. Boyle's "International Law And Israel's War On Gaza" (Atlantic Free Press):

When the Oslo Document was originally presented by the Israeli government to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations in the Fall of 1992, it was rejected by the Delegation because it obviously constituted a bantustan. This document carried out Menachem Begin's disingenuous misinterpretation of the Camp David Accords--expressly rejected by U.S. President Jimmy Carter--that all they called for was autonomy for the people and not for the land too.
Soon thereafter, unbeknownst to the Delegation and to almost everyone else, the Israeli government opened up a secret channel of negotiations in Norway. There the Israeli government re-presented the document that had already been rejected by the Palestinian Delegation in Washington, D.C. It was this document, with very minor modifications, that was later signed at the White House on 13 September 1993.
Before the signing ceremony, I commented to a high-level official of the Palestine Liberation Organization: "This document is like a straight-jacket. It will be very difficult to negotiate your way out of it." This PLO official agreed with my assessment and responded: "Yes, you are right. It will depend upon our negotiating skill."
Of course I have great respect for Palestinian negotiators. They have done the best they can negotiating in good faith with the Israeli government that has been invariably backed up by the United States. But there has never been any good faith on the part of the Israeli government either before, during or after Oslo. Ditto for the United States.
Even if Oslo had succeeded, it would have resulted in the imposition of a bantustan upon the Palestinian People. But Oslo has run its course! Therefore, it is my purpose here today to chart a NEW DIRECTION for the Palestinian People to consider.

The e-mail address for this site is common_ills@yahoo.com.