Friday, February 17, 2012

Veterans issues

Maj Troy Gilbert died in combat in the Iraq War. A small amount of tissue was found in his plane after it crashed. His body was carried off by assailants who would use it a year later in a propaganda video. His family was informed that any search for him was off, that the small amount of tissue discovered in the plane meant that he wasn't classified as found. [See last week's "The fallen and burn pits" and "If it was your son, your brother, your husband, your Dad" if you're new to this topic.] The Gilbert family (his parents, his sister and his wife -- among others) had waited and been patient. Informed that there would be no search for their loved one, they did something very smart this month, they took the issue public, shocking the nation in the process, a nation that only the month before had heard US President Barack Obama, in his State of the Union address, pontificate about how the military leaves no comrade behind. The family went public ahead of their February 24th DoD meeting.

The Pentagon wants to defuse a public relations nightmare before that meeting takes place. Luis Martinez (ABC News) reports:

An Air Force official said Thursday that Air Force Secretary Michael Donley agreed with the family that the search for the rest of Gilbert's remains should resume.
According to the official, Donley sent a letter to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy requesting an "exception to policy" so that the Defense Prisoner of War/Missing Personnel Office (DPMO) could "assume a proactive pursuit of Major Gilbert's remains and to bring the fullest possible accounting of his remains."
Donley's request must still be approved by the Under Secretary.

And approving a request doesn't necessarily mean that serious efforts will be made as many families from previous wars can attest. The reality is the American government did nothing for years. [Major Gilbert died in 2006.] There's a strong chance that when the media runs with "DoD wants to help," DoD goes back to ignoring the issue. What is known is that, in the summer of 2009, the White House made a deal with a group that had kidnapped and killed American soldiers, agreed to release the ringleader, his brother and various high ranking members from US-controlled prisons in Iraq. Of course, the White House did that to get four British corpses turned over. (And only got three until this month.) So the White House can act . . . when British interests are at stake at least.

There actually needs to be a Congressional hearing into what was done to the Gilbert family to ensure that it doesn't happen to another American family. His body has been known to be missing and known to have been taken by fighters in Iraq. That's been known since 2006. There should have been many efforts to find the body but instead he was classified as "found" based upon the small amount of tissue recovered from the plane.

Meanwhile Matthew M. Burke (Stars and Stripes) reports on the only MIA from the current Iraq War, Staff Sgt Ahmed Altaie:

The Iraqi-born reservist from Michigan was abducted more than five years ago in Baghdad after breaking the rules and sneaking outside the wire to meet his Iraqi wife.
In the days after he went missing, 3,000 coalition soldiers conducted more than 50 raids to find their comrade. At least one soldier was killed; others were wounded.
As the trail turned cold, Altaie's family and friends grew frustrated by what they say is the U.S. government’s lack of effort to find him.
"They won't talk about it," Altaie's ex-wife and self-described best friend, Linda Racey, said from Michigan recently. "They feel he's not worth looking for. They're not doing anything."

Burke and Stars and Stripes need to review his opening sentence which undercounts the number of US service members killed in the Iraq War by nearly seventy. In other news Sanjay Talwani (Montana's Independent Record) reports on Iraq War veteran Sgt Ryan Ranalli's efforts to get "a veterans center in Helana" and shared his own experience:

He's received treatment for PTSD, all involving veterans centers, except in Helena. The veterans centers do not replace the VA, but fill needs the VA cannot, Ranalli said. It's a place, he said, where veterans don’t have to worry about saying something wrong.
Just about all the counselors are veterans, and many of them have seen combat.

Iraq War veteran Troy Yocum has walked over 7000 miles across the United States to raise money and awareness for veterans and their families. Now another Iraq War veterans is embarking on a hike for awareness in Canada. Jorge Barrera (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network) reports Iraq War veteran Leo Baskatawang will be "walking from Vancouver to Ottawa to call out the federal government over its refusal to deal with First Nations issue."

Monday there will be no Iraq snapshot unless news out of Iraq dictates a need for it. And it would have to be huge news because people want the day off. (Community sites will post if there's a snapshot, otherwise all but Mike are planning not to post that day.) Kat plans a review for this weekend here. You did not miss "I Hate The War." I didn't do it.

It was a mood issue and a time/blah issue. Rebecca's daughter is my goddaughter and I try to grab her anytime I'm near Rebecca. (DC qualifies as near.) So I had her most of yesterday and last night. At dinner, she didn't eat her vegetables so I told her she could have a story when she was ready for bedtime but we weren't playing if she wasn't eating her vegetables. (That was Rebecca's rule due to a heavy sugar Valentine's Day.) So after the roundtable I did my columns for the gina & krista round-robin and Polly's Brew and planned to 'consider' doing an "I Hate The War." But Rebecca's daughter got Wally to microwave some frozen vegetables and she ate those. So we could play. She wanted to play Barbies but hadn't packed any so we ran to the drug store on Dupont Circle and got Barbies there. Then we played until half-hour passed midnight. At which point, I put her to bed and then worked on my schedule for today.

And avoided the computer. Mood issue? In part I'm sure it's not having a day off -- I don't stick with things this long. But it's also what would have been written about. I didn't mind writing about Syria -- though I think that can be better dealt with at Third -- which was popping up in e-mails to the public account. This site's stance is the US military does not belong in Syria. If Syria has issues to take care of, that's for the people of Syria. War is not the answer. It didn't bring peace to Iraq, it didn't bring peace to Libya. The US needs to learn to mind its own business. And I can go on about that at length. It doesn't bother me and I'm not at a loss for words. But I also had e-mails about veterans parades including one from someone who assumed by the wording that's been up here that I had done something regarding local parades due to a statement or two here. I had. And reading the e-mail, realized I might need to do a disclosure. And this is why I didn't want to do "I Hate The War" and had a headache. I've given seed money to three friends (Iraq War veterans) to work on parades (two in California, one in Georgia). I did that because they are friends and because I'm more than fine with communities organizing parades if they feel their area needs one. (A national parade brings up issues of Congress de-funding the parade some time ago, of the Great Recession we're in and all the cuts that federal programs are facing, the Pentagon's desire to hold off on any parade until 2014, and much more.) But I gave that money to friends and did so with the hope of being anonymous. I haven't rallied support for those three efforts here. If they come to fruition and are covered by the press they stand a chance of being noted here the way the St. Louis one was (they also stand a chance of not being noted if there's violence in Iraq that day or something else that we focus on). But I'm not going to make a point to disclose that stuff, that sort of defeats the point of giving anomously. And I'm really irritated that I have to write about it now and that's what made me not want to write last night. (Barbies were so much more fun. Although actually I played with Raquel and Ryan while Rebecca's daughter played three Barbies and Ken.)

The following community sites -- plus and Susan's On The Edge -- updated last night and this morning:

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and as we noted yesterday, when Senator Murray speaks about veterans issues -- including employment and she speaking to potential employers -- that's important and news worthy. Olga Khazan (Washington Post) reports on the speech here. We'll again note this from Senator Murray's office.

Contact: Murray Press Office
Thursday, February 16, 2012
(202) 224-2834

Murray Delivers Keynote Address on Private-Public Partnerships to Help Hire Veterans

Murray tells business leaders and veterans "we stand at a cross roads" moment in hiring and transition efforts

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray delivered the following speech on efforts to improve veterans employment through public-private partnerships. Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, delivered the remarks in front of a gathering of national business leaders and veterans seeking employment.
The event, which was sponsored by GE and included members of the National Chamber of Commerce, included a workshop for veterans seeking employment.

Senator Murray is the author and sponsor of the
VOW to Hire Heroes Act which was signed into law last November and provides a comprehensive approach to improving veterans hiring.

Senator Murray's full remarks follow:

"Thank you Jean for that kind introduction. I also want to thank GE for putting this wonderful, and critically important, event together. And for the tremendous commitment that they have reaffirmed today to hire our nation's returning veterans.

"You know, this gathering today of business leaders, the Chamber of Commerce, veterans in need of work, and Congressional leaders could not come at a more pivotal moment for our nation's veterans. As Secretary Shinseki no doubt discussed, we are facing a tremendous influx of veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with new and unique needs, and I want to commend him for putting out a budget on Monday that reflects that reality.

"But while the needs are often new with more women veterans, more complex medical devices and technology, and more understanding of the invisible wounds of war. The moment is not.

"Today, we stand at a cross roads our nation has stood at before.

"We are at the end of a conflict that was bruising, but one that also reaffirmed the courage and strength of our service members. We are at a point where we as a nation have to come together to really examine what every single one of us can, and has, been doing to aid those who were asked to make the sacrifices.

"It's a moment that in the past we as a nation have responded to well -- such as in the era that built the greatest generation. And one where we as a nation have stumbled -- as in the aftermath of Vietnam when far too many veterans slipped through the cracks.

"But it's those moments that must our guide our work today.

"I can certainly say that they guide my own work as Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. And that's because those pivotal moments played such an important role in my own life.

"As many of you may know, my father was a World War II veteran who was one of the first to storm the beaches of Okinawa. I can remember as a little kid the reverence those in my little town of Bothell, Washington had for his service.

"The way he was treated -- not just by neighbors and community members -- but also by the federal government -- that provided him with a GI bill. And that was there with worker training programs for my mom many years later when he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and could no longer work. And that helped him and his fellow veterans prosper.

"But my experience with those returning from war was much different decades later when as a college senior I volunteered at the psychiatric ward of the Seattle VA at a time when veterans were coming home with the invisible wounds of war which they didn't yet call PTSD.

"I can remember the faces of the veterans, many of whom were even younger than me, who were being told they were shell shocked. I can also remember -- like many of you -- the lack of answers during that period. The feeling that we were not a nation firmly at the back of those who had served. The feeling that as a nation we were quickly turning the page on that war -- and those who fought it.

"Those moments have taught us.

"And one of the most important things they have taught us is how critically important it is for us to partner with the common purpose of supporting our veterans between the private and public sector. And nowhere is that more true than in the effort to find our veterans good, stable employment.

"Now I know that finding work today is a problem our veterans face along with nearly 13 million other Americans....but for our veterans many of the barriers to employment are unique. That's because for those who have worn our nation's uniform -- and particularly for those young veterans who have spent the last decade being shuttled back and forth to war zones half a world away:

"The road home isn't always smooth, the red tape is often long, and the transition from the battlefield to the work place is never easy.

"Too often our veterans are being left behind by their peers who didn't make the same sacrifices -- who spent their early careers in internships or apprenticeships. Too often our veterans don't
realize that their time in the military provided them with similar skills both tangible and
intangible that give them tremendous value in the workplace. And too often they are discouraged by a job market that is unfamiliar to them after their service.

"But as all those here today who know the character and experiences of our veterans understand, this shouldn't be the case. Our veterans have the leadership ability, discipline, and technical skills to not only find work, but to excel in the workforce of the 21st century.

"But despite that being the case -- the statistics have continued to paint a grim picture. According to the Department of Labor, young veterans between the ages of 18 and 24 have an unemployment rate that is over 20%. That is one in five 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.

"And so the question becomes: How could this be?

"How could these young men and women who have performed so admirably, who know how to lead and know how to get a job done be struggling so mightily?

"Well over the last few years, that's the question that I set out to answer in preparing my bill to overhaul veterans employment efforts on the federal level. And it's a question that I knew I had to get answered first-hand from those veterans struggling to find work like the veterans with us today.

"So I spent a longtime crisscrossing my home state, which as many of you know has a tremendous number of young veterans -- and I visited worker retraining programs, VA facilities, and more than a few veterans' halls. And in discussion after discussion -- I heard from veterans about the roadblocks they face.

"What I heard was heartbreaking and frustrating.

"I heard from veterans who said they no longer write that they're a veteran on their resume because of the stigma they believe employers attach to the invisible wounds of war. I heard from medics who returned home from treating battlefield wounds and couldn't get certifications to be an EMT or to drive an ambulance. I spoke with veterans who said that many employers had trouble understanding the vernacular they used to describe their experiences in an interview or on a resume. I talked to veterans who told me that the military spent incalculable hours getting them the skills to do their job in the field, but little time teaching them how to translate those skills into the workplace.

"The problems were sometimes complicated and sometimes simple. Most importantly though, they were preventable.

"But strangely, when I relayed the concerns of my home state's unemployed veterans to some back here in the other Washington for solutions, none came.

"What did become clear is that for too long we have invested billions of dollars in training our young men and women with skills to protect our nation -- only to ignore them once they leave the military. For too long, at the end of their career we patted our veterans on the back for their service and then pushed them out into the job market alone.

"So in May of last year, I introduced a bipartisan veterans employment bill that takes the challenges I heard and translates them into solutions to ease the transition from the battlefield to the working world.

"For the very first time, my bill required broad job skills training for every service member as they leave the military as part of the military's Transition Assistance Program. It allowed service members to begin the federal employment process prior to separation in order to facilitate a truly seamless transition from the military to jobs in government. And it required the Department of Labor to take a hard look at what military skills and training should be translatable into the civilian sector in order to make it simpler for our veterans to get the licenses and certifications they need.

"All of these are real, substantial steps to put our veterans to work.

"And late this year they were combined with a tax credit for employers that hire veterans and help to train older veterans for in-demand jobs in the VOW to Hire Heroes Act. And I'm so pleased to note that late last year I joined with Secretary Shinseki -- right next to President Obama when he signed my bill into law.

"But while that bill is a critical first step -- it should only be that: a first step. The next step is why I'm here today -- to help continue or work of building partnerships with you -- the business leaders who know our military community better than anyone.

"Now, I do have to mention, you are already ahead of the curve. The Chamber of Commerce, working with companies like GE on the Hiring our Heroes initiative, has lead the way on veterans hiring. But we all know that more can be done by businesses large and small across the country.

"We can better utilize our workforce training system to get veterans the skills they need to fill the jobs that are open in their areas. We can build upon the relationships we have across the country with community colleges and universities.

"But in the here and now, we also need to spread the word on what all businesses can do to help. So, as I do whenever I'm given the opportunity to stand in front of so many big wigs that make the hiring decisions, I need to make my pitch.

"And I don't want to just encourage you to hire veterans -- because I know many of you are already doing that -- I also want to pass along the things that are working to sustain veterans hiring so that you can pass it along.

"First, please help to get the word out to companies to educate their human resources teams about the importance of hiring veterans and how skills learned in the military translate to the work a company does. I can't tell you how often I hear from veterans who tell me that the terms they use in interviews and in resumes fail to get through to interviewers.

"Second, please help companies provide job training and resources for transitioning service members. This is something I've seen done at large organizations like Amazon and Microsoft but also at smaller companies in conjunction with local colleges. In fact, the most successful of these programs capitalize on skills developed during military service and on the job training.

"Third, let business leaders know how important it is to publicize job openings with Veterans Service Organizations and at local military bases to help connect veterans with jobs;

"Fourth, develop an internal veterans group within your company to mentor recently discharged veterans,

"And finally, if you can, please reach out to local community colleges and universities to help develop a pipeline of the many, many veterans that are using GI bill benefits to gain employment in your particular area.

"If we can spread the message on just a few of these steps, I'm confident that we will be able to continue to build on the success you all have had in hiring veterans.

"But there's one other -- even more important thing you can help get the word out on. And that's the often difficult issue of the invisible wounds of war some potential employees face.

"As I mentioned earlier, I have heard repeatedly from veterans that they do not put their military service on resumes because they fear it stigmatizes them. They fear that those who have not served see them all as damaged, or unstable.

"We must understand what mental health challenges are, and what they are not.

"As we seek to employ more veterans, we need future bosses and coworkers to understand that issues like PTSD or depression are natural responses to some of the most stressful events a person can experience. We need them to understand that these illnesses do not afflict every veteran.

"And most importantly, we need them to understand that for those who are affected by these illnesses they can get help, they can get better, and they can get back into their lives.

"I know GE is doing good work in this area. But we need to let businesses know that if they have a veteran who is facing some challenges, please, do the right thing and encourage him or her get help and get back to their lives.

"They need to know it is okay to reach out. Help them take advantage of the excellent mental health care that I know Secretary Shinseki and VA are capable of providing.

"The veteran will be better, and they will be an even stronger member of your team.

"You know, our veterans don't ask for a lot. Often times they come home and don't even acknowledge their own sacrifices.

"My own father never talked about his time fighting.

"In fact, I never saw his Purple Heart, or knew that he had a wallet with shrapnel in it, or a diary that detailed his time in combat until after he had died and my family gathered to sort through his belongings.

"But our veterans shouldn't have to ask. We should know to provide for them.

"When my father's generation came home from the war -- they came home to opportunity. My father came home to a community that supported him. He came home to college, then to a job. A job that gave him pride. A job that helped him start a family. And one that ultimately led to me starting my own.

"That's the legacy of opportunity we have to live up to for today's veterans. And it's one that we can only deliver on if we work together.

"You know, it's no secret that here in Washington D.C. we are sharply divided on any number of economic and political issues facing average Americans right now.

"But this is one issue we are rarely divided on. It unites even the most unlikely partners, even Speaker [of the House John] Boehner and I, because we realize that:

"We have all made a promise to those who have signed up to serve. And we all need to keep it because so much is on the line. Because we are once again at that defining moment in how we treat our veterans. And the truth is that we stand perilously close to repeating some of the same mistakes of the past.

"But we don't have to. There is a sea of good will in this country. Non-profits, community leaders, and companies like GE who don't just talk about helping -- who actually roll up their sleeves and do it.

"Let's continue to take advantage of that support. Let's work together to ensure that we don't repeat the mistakes of the past. Let's make sure that at this crossroads for our nation's veterans we come together as a nation to help them down the path of opportunity.

"Thank you for inviting me to join you today. I look forward to continuing this work together will all of you."


Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

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