Friday, July 23, 2010

Veterans issues

Suicide stalks the United States military as much as enemies do on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, according to the latest grim data. Last year, 347 military personnel were killed in the two wars, while at least 381 warriors took their own lives. The double-edged tragedy was brought home in recent Congressional hearings that laid bare how much must be done to reach and comfort battle-weary soldiers near the edge of their resources.

That's the opening of New York Times' "The War Away From the Battlefields" and last week the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations held a hearing on veterans suicideds and heard from the mother of Iraq War veteran Coleman Bean who, after serving two tours in Iraq, took his own life September 6, 2008.

Linda Bean: I think what -- There are families like mine who have experienced the home coming of a much loved child who is now out of harm's way and you are so grateful that they are back with you that you may overlook the fact that they are drinking too much or that they are irritated or that they insist upon being isolated. And you're not empowered as a mother or a sister or a wife to go to the VA and say, "My veteran is in trouble." I don't even know that I would have known how to do that. I think in the way that Mr. Cintron described we need to make sure that people know there are places to go before you hit the suicide hotline. There are veterans who are not -- who may, in the end, be alone in a room with a gun to their heads but the day before would not describe themselves to you as suicidal. So I -- I guess I would go back to my very strong feeling that as part of that, in addition to the messaging, we need to make sure that there are community based programs that are easily accessible. And we need to make sure that the information the VA has is geared to family and friends in a friendly and accessible way, made easily available so people can find it. And that the VA is willing to say, "Look, if you won't come here, it's okay. We'll help you find help somewhere else."

AnnMarie Costella (Queens Chronicle) reports, "Nearly 8,000 veterans in New York State suffer from PTSD, more than 7,000 suffer from traumatic brain injury and more than 4,000 have both, according to data compiled by the RAND Corporation. The group also estimates that 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from PTSD, 19 percent suffer from TBI and 7 percent have both." From last week's hearing, we'll note this exchange:

US House Rep John Hall: It's been obvious to many of us that when a person joins the military, they should also be automatically enrolled in the VA. And that members of the armed forces and their families should have access to their information and education about assimilating back into civilian life, into their communities before, during and after deployment. One of the problems as I see it here is that the Veterans Affairs Committee has one piece of jurisdiction and the Armed Services Committee has another one, on the executive side, there is one piece and the VA has another piece and there's not that overlap and seamless transition that we've talked about in so many ways -- not just medical records but health follow up. So perhaps, Ms. Bean, you could talk a little bit about what kind of information or resources were available to you and to your son before he took his life? What kind of outreach was there? You've told us a little bit about what you'd like to see available but was there any of substance?

Linda Bean: We have -- we have a strong VA system in New Jersey. When Coleman came home from his second tour of duty, the VA services were certainly available to him. Mental health care is at a premium and it's difficult to get an appointment in a timely fashion. I don't know when or how Coleman called the VA to seek mental health assistance. That's something that we learned only after Coleman had died. I didn't know -- this is a gap in my own understanding as much as anything else -- I didn't know what else was available. I didn't go looking for something else to be available and it wasn't until Coleman had died that I learned that there were many other programs that could have been available. I keep going back to the idea that, you know, our local newspaper run Little League box scores, we run the Butterball turkey hotline at Thanksgiving, we put out notices about bowling leagues. I think our local newspapers and radio stations could run a little box of resources. If you're a vet, if you're a soldier, if you're a family, you can go to these places for help. And that list could include the VA hospital and the vet centers. But it needs to go beyond that to include civilian resources, localized civilian resources. I'm not sure I'm answering the question.

US House Rep John Hall: No, that's helpful. Thank you. Mr. Cintron, would you discuss the kind of prevention that might help a veteran from reaching the point where they take their own life? We've heard about how Coleman and other veterans have -- have no exhibited or used the word suicide and then not exhibit those tendencies until it was too late. So what kind of outreach would you suggest could reach a veteran before they get to that point?

Warrant Officer Melvin Cintron: I think there are a few outreach efforts that can be done. But the first step would have to be to have the people to reach out to and that can reach out to the folks. And they have to have some minimal training. Not a lot. All it takes, often times, like I said, I've encountered many veterans and they start talking to me and share their experience. And it's like, "Wow, you don't the weight that was on me." And it just lingers with them. And al they wanted to do was get it out at least once with someone that can understand -- not to judge, but just listen to them. That? That's what needed. Those outreaches, I think, you know when you get with some of the groups that are available to us, if there's a combined effort with the groups, find the synergy with them and with the government organization so that we all own part of the solution and it's not just a VA solution, not just a DoD solution, not just the solution of any individual program. It is a combined solution we all own part of it. So the outreach would be retraining and identifying personnel who are willing to take the call -- at any [time]. Anybody -- I give my phone to friends and veterans that I need and I say, "Hey, if you ever have an issue, call." And I have actually received calls in the middle of the night. I was just thinking about this. And we talked through and we're done. But having that outreach -- the ability to call somebody -- doesn't have to be somebody that they know but it has to be somebody that knows what it is that they're going through.

US House Rep John Hall: Thank you. I know I'm over my time. But I would just mention that this committee has -- the full Veterans Affairs Committee on the House side has voted to give funding not just for PSA, as Ranking Member Roe mentioned, but for paid advertising. And IAVA who will hear from shortly partnered with the Ad Council in one effort to put together an ad that was more powerful than the average PSA -- Public Service Announcement -- shown in the middle of the night because that's when the time's the cheapest and the TV station will give it up to do there public service whereas what we really need is advertising during the Superbowl, during American Idol, during the highest rated shows, during prime time where the half-hours -- I mean, the thirty-second spot costs the most money. But we're willing to do that to advertise "Be All That You Can Be" [Army recruitment ad], or "The Few, The Proud, The Marines" -- you know, the lightening bolt coming down onto the sword. And if we want to recruit and attract people to go into the armed services and to go fight for our country, we'll spend the money for prime time advertising but when it comes time to help them find the resources that they need to stay healthy after they come home, we want to do it on the cheap. And just do it at 3:00 a.m. in the morning on a PSA. And I think that needs to change, something we in Congress should fund so that the outreach is just as strong afterwards as it is before they were recruited.

That was covered in Wednesday's "Iraq snapshot" last week and you can also see the following for more coverage of that hearing and another veterans hearing that day: "It's about respect and self-respect," "Dr. Robert Jesse," "House Veterans Affairs suicide hearing," and "Senate Veterans Affairs Committee."

In New Mexico today, a women's veterans conference is taking place:

(FARMINGTON, NM)—All women veterans, retirees and active-duty military personnel are invited to attend a free women veteran’s conference in Farmington on July 23rd, from 10am to 7pm at the Henderson Fine Arts Center on the campus of San Juan College.

The Four Corners Women Veterans Conference is presented by the New Mexico Department of Veterans’ Services. Among the topics to be discusses are Military Sexual Trauma—along with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Homelessness—two issues which according to the VA have higher incidences in women veterans than their male counterparts.

While the conference will offer guidance on these issues unique to women veterans, attendees will also learn about the various state and federal veterans’ benefits available to all veterans--making it a “must go” for all women veterans in the area, said NMDVS Cabinet Secretary John M. Garcia.

“Women veterans have earned the right to the same benefits that are available to male veterans,” said Secretary Garcia. “I strongly urge all women veterans and military personnel in the Four Corners area to come find out what’s available to them—because they’ve earned these benefits, too.”

In addition to NMDVS Secretary Garcia, also scheduled to attend and speak are Dr. Betty Moseley-Brown, the Associate Director of the Center for Women Veterans of the U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA), Victoria Bruner, the Associate Director for Clinical Education for the Deployment Health Clinical Center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and NMDVS Farmington Veterans’ Service Officer Charlotte Atso—who will also be available to register anyone who hasn’t filed for their benefits.

The movie Lioness will also be screened at the conference. This 90-minute documentary focuses on the first female foot soldiers in to engage in combat action--a group of female mechanics, supply clerks and engineers who ended up fighting alongside male Marine in some of the bloodiest initial counterinsurgency battles of the Iraq war.

One of those women featured in the movie--U.S. Army Major Anastasia Breslow—is also scheduled to attend, speak about her experience and answer questions.

For more information about the Four Corners Women Veterans’ Conference, call (505) 327-2861.

That starts this morning and goes on until 7:00 p.m. Sorry for the late heads up but it was only passed on via the public account this morning. It's also noted that there will be a women veterans' conference September 25th in Las Cruces. We'll do a much earlier heads up on that one. Staying in the public e-mail account, today kicks off a National Weekend of Remembrance to remember the fallen.

Honoring Service and Sacrifice

Families United is honored to invite our country's Gold Star Families—families who have lost a loved one in service to our country—to the 2010 Weekend of Remembrance in Washington, D.C. on July 23-24, 2010.

Gold Star Families from across the country will attend the 2010 National Weekend of Remembrance. See the weekend's events.

Become a sponsor and honor our nation's fallen and their families.

We're looking for volunteers to help at the 2010 Weekend of Remembrance. Sign-up now to volunteer!

You're Invited to the 2010 American Heroes Festival at Six Flags America!

Saturday, July 24th 2010 | 10:30am-9:00pm | The American Heroes Festival is a day full of live music, exciting rides, and family fun that honors the lives of our nation’s military Heroes and their families.

Learn more or Get your tickets today!

Today Gregg Zoroya (USA Today) reports that there has been a 64% increase in mental disorders with the Army ranks for the time period of 2005 through 2009 resulting in 1,22,4 medical discharges last year. Meanwhile CBS and AP report on Lt Dan Choi's discharge:

As founding member of Knights Out, an organization for openly gay, lesbisan, bisexual, and transgender West Point alumni and their supporters, Choi advocates allowing openly gay people to serve in the military.
"After 11 years since beginning my journey at West Point and after 17 months of serving openly as an infantry officer this is both an infuriating and painful announcement," Choi said in a written statement Friday. "But my service continues. To all those veterans who have endured similar trials and injustices or prematurely ended their military service because of the unjust policy: our fight has only begun."

And you can hear Lt Dan Choi speaking to PRI's The Takeaway today by clicking here.

We'll close with the Senate Democratic Policy Committee's "Senate Democrats Are On Your Side: Fighting The GOP Job-Killing Agenda:"

When President Obama took office last year, millions of American families and the nation as a whole were facing an economic catastrophe brought on by years of failed Republican fiscal policies. That is why Democrats continue fighting to create American jobs, strengthen our economy, and stand up for the middle class.

In contrast, Republicans are pushing a job-killing agenda that includes opposition to tax cuts for small businesses, opposition to clean energy jobs, and protection for tax loopholes exploited by multinational corporations. The following bills in the 111th Congress are just a few examples of the pro-jobs proposals that Republicans have tried to kill.

Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act

Senate Republicans largely opposed creating a new payroll tax exemption for businesses that hire American workers, a fully paid-for proposal designed to boost private-sector job growth. [HR 2847, PL 111-147; Roll Call Votes 25 and 55]

At the time of passage, the job-creating payroll tax exemption, which was designed to apply if the hired worker had been unemployed for two months, was projected to result in 300,000 new jobs. [Speaker Pelosi; The Hill] On July 12, 2010, the Treasury Department reported that from February 2010 to May 2010, businesses hired an estimated 4.5 million new workers who had been unemployed for eight weeks or longer, making those businesses eligible to receive a projected $8.5 billion in HIRE Act tax exemptions and credits. [Treasury, 7/12/10]

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

Senate Republicans opposed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act) throughout the legislative process. [HR 1, PL 111-5; Roll Call Votes 61 and 64] According to a Congressional Budget Office report in May 2010, the positive change in employment attributable to the Recovery Act over the 4 year period from 2009-2012 is estimated to be 2.9 million to 7.7 million jobs. From 2009 through this year alone, the positive change in employment is an estimated 1.8 million to 4.4 million jobs. [CBO, Table 1] On July 14, 2010, the Council of Economic Advisers announced that the Recovery Act is already responsible for 2.5 to 3.6 million – or about 3 million – jobs. [CEA, 7/14/10]

American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act of 2010

Republicans tried to kill the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act (HR 4213) throughout this year. [Roll Call Votes 47, 48, 194, 200, 204] Senate Republicans’ rejection of the bicameral Senate-House compromise on the bill in June 2010 was particularly egregious because the various provisions of this larger legislation would have helped save or create well over a million critically needed jobs in the near term. [Economic Policy Institute, 5/25/10 and direct communications in July 2010; Roll Call Vote 190]

It should also be noted that by opposing the American Jobs and Closing Tax Loopholes Act, Senate Republicans opposed ending tax loophole giveaways to multinational corporations that encourage American jobs to be moved offshore. In addition, the bill would have significantly scaled back a tax planning method exploited by wealthy investment fund managers to pay taxes on their compensation at lower rates taxes than other services providers, like teachers and firefighters. [S.Amdt.4369 and S.Amdt.4386; Roll Call Votes 194 and 200]

Unemployment Insurance Extension

Senate Republicans’ job-killing agenda has had an especially harsh impact on out-of-work Americans who depend on unemployment insurance as a lifeline. [Roll Call Votes 47, 48, 194, 200, 204, 209] On June 30, July 20, and July 21, when the Senate voted on the most recent version of an Unemployment Insurance extension bill (S.Amdt.4425 to HR 4213), the GOP again tried to filibuster this crucial legislation at the expense of Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Despite the Republicans’ obstructionism, Senate Democrats finally secured passage of this bill on July 21, 2010. [Roll Call Vote 215]

According to EPI, that version of the unemployment benefits bill would have created 530,000 new payroll jobs and additional work-hours for current workers, for a total of 785,000 full-time equivalent positions in the near term. Assistance to the unemployed is spent quickly on necessities, such as rent, groceries, and other basic needs, increasing economic activity and saving and creating jobs throughout the economy. [EPI, 7/15/10 and direct communications in July 2010]

Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act

Senate Republicans fought to kill the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, landmark legislation that ensures quality affordable health coverage for all Americans. [HR 3590, PL 111-148; Roll Call Votes 353, 395, 396] According to a January 2010 study from Harvard University and University of Southern California economists, health reform could create savings that will allow employers to create 250,000 to 400,000 new jobs a year, or 2.5 to 4 million jobs over the next decade. [Center for American Progress; PIRG; White House]

Surface Transportation Extension and Highway Trust Fund Transfer

Independent of the Council of Economic Advisers’ numbers of the positive jobs impact of the Recovery Act, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) estimated that this legislation created or sustained 316,000 direct, on-project transportation jobs across the country. [AASHTO, 2/9/10; estimate update provided by AASHTO on 7/20/10]

Republican opposition to the HIRE Act (HR 2847, PL 111-147) jeopardized an extension of the nation’s existing surface transportation law through the end of the year and replenishment of the Highway Trust Fund (HTF). The replenishment of the HTF was especially important: the Department of Transportation estimated at the time that the HTF was due to run short of funds in June 2010 and would be unable to fully meet its obligations by August. Without a solvent HTF, the federal government would not have been able to fully reimburse states for work completed on federal highway and transit projects through the end of this year.

In terms of job creation, AASHTO projected that if an extension had not been approved and the surface transportation programs had been forced to shut down at the end of February for the rest of this year, it would have resulted in the loss of approximately one million jobs. [DPC] [Congressional Record, 3/2/10, Chart on Page S916; Roll Call Votes 25 and 55]

Cash for Clunkers

The initial $1 billion appropriation for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Act (CARS) program, commonly known as the “Cash for Clunkers” program, received an overwhelming response from consumers and auto dealerships. The response was so strong that within the first week of the programs, the Obama Administration notified Congress that the initial appropriation would soon be exhausted.

When Congress allocated $2 billion from previously appropriated funds to ensure the program further boosted auto sales and promoted higher vehicle fuel economy, Senate Republicans largely opposed the legislation (H.R. 3435) [DPC] [HR 3435; Roll Call Vote 270]

In December 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported to Congress that the CARS program created or saved an estimated 60,000 jobs. [NHTSA] Across the entire automotive supply chain, cash for clunkers could generate or maintain hundreds of thousands of jobs. [Center for American Progress]

Small Business Jobs and Credit Act

Senate Republicans opposed the Small Business Jobs and Credit Act of 2010 (HR 5297), legislation that will enable America ’s small businesses to secure the capital they need to grow and create jobs. According to the Independent Community Bankers of America, the fiscally responsible lending facility and the small business tax cuts in this legislation could create half a million jobs over the next two years. [ICBA, 7/21/10] To the dismay of the small business community, most of the Senate Republican conference voted against even proceeding to the bill on June 29, 2010 and continue to oppose this pro-jobs legislation today. [Roll Call Vote 202]

DPC Fact Sheet | Senate Democrats Are On Your Side: Fighting The GOP Job-Killing Agenda

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