Friday, November 11, 2011

Veterans Day

Last night, David Martin (CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley -- link has text and video) reported on the Air Force's landfill scandal. Here's a transcript of the first minute of the report.

Scott Pelley: Just when you thought the scandal over mishandled remains of fallen American troops at Dover Air Force Base couldn't get any worse. It did today. David Martin has been reporting on the investigation that led to a career ending letter of reprimand for the commander of the mortuary and tonight David is at the Pentagon with new developments.

David Martin: A landfill is no one's idea of a fitting resting place for a soldier fallen in battle.

Gari-Lynn Smith: No service member, no human being at all, should be placed into a landfill -- no matter if it's a finger nail, a foot or an entire body

David Martin: Yet that is what happened to Gari-Lynn Smith's husband, Sgt 1st Class Scott Smith, who was blown apart by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2006. Without her knowing part of his body was incinerated and disposed of as medical waste in this Virginia landfill. She found out two years after his funeral.

Gari-Lynn Smith: I have honestly no idea what we buried of him because they forbid me to see him in the casket.

Today is Veterans Day and the Pentagon's involved in another scandal. Another scandal that originates on Robert Gates' watch. You have to wonder if all those reporters filing those 'Bobby's just the best and we're going to miss him!' pieces look back now, less than four full months later, and wonder if maybe they should have based their reviews on his actual performance and not that he always returned their calls so quickly? His title was, after all, Secretary of the Defense, not Press Pal.

Reuters notes that at yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen Norton Schwartz was questioned about the latest scandal by Senator Kelly Ayotte. Actually, see yesterday's snapshot, Ayotte was one of two senators raising the issue in the hearing, the other was Senator Claire McCaskill. (Isaiah illustrates a moment of yesterday's hearing in his comic going up after the second entry this morning.)

Denise Goolsby (Desert Sun -- link has text and video) reports that 11 to 20% of veterans of the current Iraq and Afghanistan Wars "report suffering from" PTSD. One Iraq War veteran with PTSD is Justin Weathers. Matthew Renda (Union) reports:

Since his return stateside in 2004, Weathers often is unable to shake habits of vigilance he cultivated to stay alive while fighting in the town of Ramadi, often reported as the site of some of the Iraq war's most fierce fighting.
"If you stopped at a stoplight in Iraq, you were going to get shot at," said Weathers. "There was a lot of chaos; it was just … it was just hectic."
Weathers is currently in therapy in an attempt to manage the nightmarish memories and persistent symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder that have continued since he first received his honorable discharge from the armed services.

There is also what military commanders have called the signature wound of the current wars, TBI -- Traumatic Brain Injury. Sgt Laura Todd is among the many with TBI. Colleen Flaherty (Killeen Daily Herald) reports:

"There was an explosion off the (base) and the concussion blast blew me off my feet," said Todd. She finished her deployment with the rest of 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment. "We just run on pure adrenaline." It was only upon returning home that Todd noticed something was wrong.
"I couldn't figure out which slot the fork went into in the drawer, or I couldn't (remember) how to tie my shoes, things like that," she said.

As with every war, there are also those who lost limbs, those who have had their hearing and/or vision harmed or lost, those who suffered burns and much more. On today's Fresh Air (NPR), Terry Gross will be speaking with journalist David Wood about some of the severely war wounded. Those who served in the war include the fallen and that's those killed while serving and those service members who took their own lives and veterans who took their own lives. Yesterday on The Diane Rehm's Show's first hour, Diane and her guests explored military suicides (link has audio and transcript).

Though returning to life outside of a war zone usually requires readjustment, many service members and veterans are fortunate enough to return with no major physical, mental or emotional wounds. Many veterans are also furthering their education, some utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill. Iraq War veteran Chris Seaman is a college student and he shares his thoughts at the Drury Mirror:

There were crappy times when you realize how much you've got left over there, but overall it was good.
I learned the values of hard work, team work, and leadership.
One thing I'd like for people to know is that not all young enlisted servicemen are loud, MMA gear wearing douchebags, although most are.
We do not get wasted and have a grand ole time in Iraq and Afghanistan like some movies portray.
It really bothers me that a lot of people think we're just getting hammered and running around shooting camel spiders, of which I never saw a single one.

Last night the following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh, New York Times' At War blog, Watching America and -- updated:

Senator Patty Murray is Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:


Thursday, November 10, 2011 (202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Senator Murray’s Landmark Veterans Employment Bill Passes Senate

Two year effort that began with conversations across Washington state with unemployed veterans results in major comprehensive bill to put veterans to work

Murray: “Bill takes a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military.”

“Washington state veterans instrumental in passage.”

(Washington, D.C.) – Today, by a vote of 95-0, the Senate passed landmark legislation authored by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to put America’s veterans back to work. Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, introduced the basis of this comprehensive bill in May of this year after traveling throughout Washington state to talk to veterans, employers, and experts about the barriers veterans face in finding employment. The legislation is designed to help put veterans back to work by providing job skills training as they leave the military and by easing the training and certification process veterans face. The bill comes on the eve of Veterans Day, at a time when nearly one million American veterans are unemployed.

The bill passed today, the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, combines provisions of Senator Murray’s original Hiring Heroes Act of 2011 with a tax credit for employers that hire veterans and job training assistance for veterans from earlier eras.

“This is a huge victory for our veterans who have returned home only to have to fight to find work to support themselves and their families,” said Senator Murray. “Our veterans have the drive, discipline, and self confidence to succeed in any workplace. But for too long at the end of their career we’ve patted them on the back for their service and pushed them out into the job market alone. This bill takes a huge step forward in rethinking the way we treat our men and women in uniform after they leave the military by helping them to translate the skills they learned in the military into careers and by giving employers even more incentive to hire veterans. Veterans across Washington state were instrumental in crafting this bill and deserve tremendous credit today.”

Details of Senator Murray’s bill:


Comprehensive Legislation to End Veteran Unemployment

The Problem – Veteran Unemployment

Approximately 160,000 active duty servicemembers and 110,000 National Guardsmen and reservists transition to civilian life each year. For too long, we’ve patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.

This has led to an unacceptably high unemployment rate among veterans, without regard to their period of service. A recent Department of Labor report states that in 2010, the average unemployment rate among returning veterans was 11.5%. That is one in ten of our nation’s heroes who can’t find a job to support their family, don’t have an income that provides stability, and don’t have work that provides them with the self-esteem and pride that is so critical to their transition home. Currently, there are nearly 1 million unemployed veterans in the United States.

The Solution – “The VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011”

“VOW to Hire Heroes Act” is bipartisan, bicameral, comprehensive legislation that would lower the rate of unemployment among our nation’s veterans. This bill combines provisions of Chairman Murray’s Hiring Heroes Act (S. 951; Report #112-36), Chairman Miller’s Veterans Opportunity to Work Act (H.R. 2433; Report #112-242), and veterans’ tax credits into a comprehensive package that will aggressively attack the unacceptably high rate of veteran’s unemployment by:

· Improving the Transition Assistance Program (TAP): The VOW to Hire Heroes Act will make TAP mandatory for most servicemembers transitioning to civilian status, upgrade career counseling options, and resume writing skills, as well as ensuring the program is tailored for the 21st Century job market.

· Facilitating Seamless Transition: This bill would allow service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs at VA, Homeland Security, or the many other federal agencies in need of our veterans.

· Expanding Education & Training: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides nearly 100,000 unemployed veterans of past eras and wars with up to 1-year of additional Montgomery GI Bill benefits to qualify for jobs in high-demand sectors, from trucking to technology. It also provides disabled veterans up to 1-year of additional Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Benefits.

· Translating Military Skills and Training: This bill will also require the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector, and will work to make it easier to get the licenses and certification our veterans need.

· Veterans Tax Credits: The VOW to Hire Heroes Act provides tax incentives of up to $5,600 for hiring veterans, and up to $9,600 for hiring disabled veterans, if the veteran has been looking for work for six months or longer.


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