Tuesday, March 14, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Moqtada orders no protests during the summit, Iraqi youth continue to be targeted, the State Dept and White House continue to be silent, the Senate hears about homeless veterans, and more.
Sandra Strickland: In January 1990, I process out of the Army and received an Honorable Discharge. With the skills and training that I acquired from the Army, I set out to live the American dream and become a business owner. Life happened along the way and in nOvember 2002 I met and married my husband. We talked about opening up an auto repair shop together, but about 4 months after we were married, he was called back to active duty to assist in training the soldiers who were being sent to Iraq and Afghanistan, and was stationed at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina while I stayed at our home in Stafford, Virginia. In 2006, my spouse was released from active duty and when he returned home, we opened up our auto repair shop in January 2007. Our marriage suffered because of the separation, among other things, and we continued to grow apart and eventually talked about divorce. Two days before Christmas of 2010, when my spouse picked up our children from school and preparatory academy, he made a verbal threat to the academy director that he was going to kill me and the kids. That was the day I took my kids and left -- and ended up living in a domestic violence shelter with my two younger children in two (ages 6 and 4 at time). At the time I was working as a temp on a Government contract so I managed to save enough money to move me and my children into a 1 bedrom with den apartment in February 2011. Everything was going great until I wakled into work on Monday, April 25, 2011 and was told that the contract that I was working on was ending and Friday, April 29, 2011 would be my last day. I became unemployed on April 29, 2011 and, despite being a veteran, going on countless interviews and submitting countless resumes and having a wealth of administrative experience, I remained unemployed until September 2011. Although I received unemployment compensation for a brief time, my fanances became depleted and the eviction notices started coming. Also during this time, I was dealing with custody issues for my children. Although the court awarded joint custody to me and my spouse, I was awarded temporary physical custody until such time as we went to court for the final custody hearing. That hearing took place and although we both maintained joint custody, the judge reversed the order and awarded physical custody to my spouse because he still had the marital home that our children grew up in which was in their best interest to stay there and because my apartment was out of their current school district, it would not be in their best interest to transition them to a new school for the upcoming school term. Not only was I in shock by the decision, I felt as though I was being victimized because I chose to take my children and leave an unhealthy environment -- regardless of the fact that we were homeless. Not only did I lose physical custody of my children, I eventually ended up losing my apartment because I couldn't afford to pay the rent, due to the lack of funds from being unemployed and not having a full time job. So now, I am homeless and have been reduced to a "every other weekend" mother because my children no longer live with me every day.
Sandra Strickland was testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee at today's hearing on homeless veterans. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee. During her opening remarks, she explained, "In 2009, Secretary Shinseki laid out the bold goal of ending homelessness among veterans in five years. As we reach the halfway point, today's hearing will examine the progress made to date, as well as the challenges and opportunities moving forward -- particularly the challenges that homeless women veterans face. As many in the room know, VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development recently announced that the number of homeless veterans dropped by 12% -- to a little more than 67,000. VA and HUD deserve to be commended for the signficant progress they have made. But despite this progress, challenges remain."
The number of homelss earlier in the decade was said by the VA to have been 275,000 and now the VA states it has been reduced to 67,494 veterans. While the overall veterans homeless population has been reduced, there has been an increase in the number of homeless women veterans. They once made up 2% of the homeless population but that has increased to 6% by the VA's current numbers.
The VA's Deupty Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations Linda Halliday offered anecodtal evidence as to why that number might be increasing as she discussed the results of a recent audit:
31% of the 26 providers reviewed did not adequately address the safety, security and privacy risks of veterans, especially female veterans. GPD prgoram medical facility staff allowed providers to house female veterans in male-only approved fcailities and multi-gender facilities for which security and privacy risks had not been assessed and mitigated. For example, we identified the following risks: bedrooms and bathrooms without sufficient locks, halls and stairs without sufficient lighting and female and male residents on the same floor without access restrictions. In addition, some providers housed female veterans in female-only facilities that had inadequate security measures -- such as inadequate monitoring and not restricting access to non-residents. We discovered serious female veteran safety, security and privacy issues at one site that required immediate VHA management attention. Two homeless femal veterans were housed in a male-only approved provider facility. The two female residents shared a bathroom with male residents without an adequate lock and had sleeping rooms on the same floor as male residents witout adequate barriers restricting access to the female rooms. We found that since fiscal year 2002, VA's GPD program staff had placed 22 homeless females in this male-only approved facility without adequately addressing the safety, security and privacy needs of the female veterans.
Strickland and Halliday were part of the first panel to appear before the Committee. That panel also included Rev. Scott Rogers (Executive Director of the Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministry), Vietnam Veternas of America's Marsh Four who chairs the National Women Veterans Committee, National Coaltion for HOmeless Veterans' John Driscoll. We'll note this exchange.
Chair Patty Murray: You contacted the VA and asked for help. Obviously, they just said to you nothing. Right? They just said nothing. You got no response?
Sandra Strickland: No. No, to me, their basic concern was my mental health. Because I had shared with them everything that was going on with me and their first question to me was, "Are you mentally stable?"
Chair Patty Murray: So you weren't assigned a case manager or referred for employment or training services or anything?
Sandra Strickland: No.
Chair Patty Murray: What do you think they should have said when you first called?
Sandra Strickland: What do you need? Not what I wanted or what they wanted for me but what I needed. And if they weren't able to provide the resources themselves, provide resources that I could reach out too. I wasn't even given that. They just told me they could give me a list of shelters. I could do that myself. But I mean, are they -- I just felt that there should be some type of partnership. If they're not able to assist or provide the assistance then there should be partners that they work with that they could refer a veteran too so that they're not just left when they hang up the phone feeling hopeless because that's how I felt.
Chair Patty Murray: Yeah. Ms. Halliday, your testimony was really eye opening, I think. Telling someone that they're going to be some place sleeping without a lock on the door, bathrooms that don't have locks. Insufficient lighting. Ms. Strickland, what would that type of environment have meant to you?
Sandra Strickland: An unsafe environment?
Chair Patty Murray: Yes.
Sandra Strickland: I would have stayed in my car. It's -- It's different when you have children, you know? I mean, of course I think of my safety but I think of my children as well. There aren't -- There are programs but it's not enough for women with children. Yes, I could have gone to other shelters but I wouldn't be able to take my children with me. And then, a female? Just from being a woman, you want to be able to feel that when you go to a transitional home or shelter that you do have adequate safety.
Chair Patty Murray: Basic. Ms. Four, Reverend Rogers, what would that have meant for the women who live in your facilities?
Marsh Four: Let me just say we do have, that's the agency, a 30 bed transitional program exclusively for women veterans. And, uhm, I believe in some cases the women do come there because it is a place that they know is safe, that they know is secured. We take great attention to that and I think one of the situations that exists is that there are so few of these programs in the community that are exclusive to women veterans, that are designed for them, to address their tremendous needs. That is one of the shortfalls also.
Chair Patty Murray: Reverend Rogers, what is the importance for basic security and things like that in your clients?
Rev. Scott Rogers: It is absolutely paramount. We really feel like it took almost two years for us to earn that trust and making sure that we could commit the amount of resources that were needed. That's why I asked you'll to consider some kind of a challenge grant. The community wants to respond but because of the numbers of women and their children are low, even though we have them housed separately and they're able to have their own room and facilities, it's at a much greater cost. With a little bit of extra help from this Committee and from Congress, we can provide not only that safety and security but that can also address the professional needs around sexual trauma, having a well trained staff, being really able to train our volunteers. I've got women who want to mentor other women but don't always understand the levels and complexities of that trauma. We would like to be able to have the funding and the support and we believe we can get it matched by the community with some leadership here because we don't, again, believe in the entitlement system but we do want to help you create the incentives but with the funding to overcome the smaller numbers but dealing with more complex issues.
Chair Patty Murray: And both of the VA's Inspector General and GAO really made it clear that the VA has to improve their services for homeless women veterans. But reports that were issued by two organizations and oversight by my staff have found really disincentives for homeless women veterans to seek VA's housing programs -- including no minimum standards for gender specific safety and limitations in available housing options for homeless veterans, especially with children. So my question to all of you is what would you do -- What would you direct the VA to do today to serve homeless women veterans? Ms. Strickland, if you had the opportunity to say to the VA, "Do this," what would it be?
Sandra Stickland: Provide adequate programs that can deal with the unique needs of female veterans.
Sandra Strickland: Yes. And then resources to help us get back on our feet, to help us become self-sufficient, so that we don't become --
Chair Patty Murray: Chronic homeless?
Sandra Strickland: Correct.
Chair Patty Murray: Ms. Four?
Marsha Four: One I think would be that certainly the issue of the security really impacts their ability to focus on the programs that they have to work in. I think it's very important that the VA truly does some oversight of what they have in order to remold and work with some of the opportunities they have in front of them. I think that the addition of some extra funding through the special needs grants for those programs that want to do the work with women veterans -- it can be quite costly because the staff that's needed and the support that that grant allowed for assistance to the families who took care of the children while the women were attending to some very specific and some very important work to go into the mental health filed, I think that's another important place. And also to really make an evaluation of how many military sexual trauma specific residential treatment programs there are in this country and the fact that, if they are a far distance, how do they expect the homeless women to get into those programs and travel there.
Chair Patty Murray: Reverend Rogers?
Rev. Scott Rogers: First, I want to say thank you, Ms. Strickland for your courage and I'm sorry for your experience. We-we simply ask the VA to be right there with us. And what we say and what Charles George VA Medical Center does is they train their staff. There staff is with us as much as three and four days a week in our facility working with both our women and our men. But they're also there saying they're going to be the advocate, the ombudsman right alongside us as a faith-based and other community based providers. I think it's when they exhibit and put in place men and women, professionals, with that same passion that it really makes the difference because nobody can understimate the power of saying, "Welcome home, veteran."
Chair Patty Murray: Ms. Halliday, final comment?
Linda Halliday: We'd like to say that we'd like to see the VA transition away from the reliance of providing these services in multi-gender facilities. We'd like to see incentives put in place for special needs to ensure that female veterans needs are met, just as it was said before. And I think you would also have to possibly explore using contracts outside of the grant and per diem program to fit the unique needs of female veterans especially when they don't represent a large number and it would be smaller and get better economical solutions
Michelangelo Signorile: What has the US State Dept done? And certainly, in light of [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton's strong statements about countries around the world -- she gave a speech in Geneva speaking out about the brutality [against] gay people and said the US would be, you know, pulling funding even in some cases for countries, foreign aid would be in jeopardy, that were pushing an anti-gay agenda. Is the US State Dept just trying to look the other way?
Ali Hili: They have been looking the other way and it's a shame on the international world community that this genocide is happening under the eyes of the world and the gay community in particular. No one is doing anything to help support their brothers and sisters inside Iraq and this is on the conscious -- this is on the conscious of everyone who's been responsible to post it.
Michelangelo Signorile: What do you think people listening right now should be doing? Americans listening. Should they be putting pressure on the State Dept and Hillary Clinton?
Ali Hili: Of course. People should stand up. Stand up against this. this administration in Iraq, this establishment of killing that has been prosecuting sexual minorities, minorities and groups like even the Emos. Nobody ever did anything to stop these killings, these atrocities. The media is going to pick up on it for a period of time and then it's going to slow down and disappear. But those victims who are living there in fear, who's going to help them who's going to support them?
Michaelangelo Signorile: Has there been any official statement from the State Dept or Hillary Clinton?
Ali Hili: No. Nothing. Nothing. We haven't heard anything.
And no statment again today. Victoria Nuland handled the State Dept briefing. She came out joking ("Only the early birds here today!") and did everything but called for someone to bump up the lights as she asked, "So, what's on your minds?" Tomorrow, Victoria does the Tarzan yell.
Who is going to stand up for the Iraqi youth? The State Dept? The White House? Anybody? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
While the so-called adults in government cut class, the tragedy continues for Iraqi youths. Peter Graff (Reuters) reports the way some Iraqi youths are dealing with the targeting:
Hafidh Jamal, 19, who works in a shoe store in the upscale Karrada neighbourhood, said he used to dress in black with his hair long in the back, but he fled his home in Sadr City this week and cut his hair. Two friends were killed for dressing in the emo style, he said. "Let them kill me. They killed my close friends," he told Reuters. "I support emo. I love this phenomenon."
The OWFI documents some of the crimes here (be aware this link leads to a graphic image) and says the current wave of killings began on February 6th. Gays have always been persecuted in Iraq, but two things happened after the 2003 invasion of the country which led to the wave of anti gay killings in 2009 and now again.
Ali Hussein (Al Mada) notes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi's condemnation of the killing of Iraqi youths for being or thought to be Emo and Hussein notes that the targeting brings back memories of the Saddam Hussein regime when innocent people were behead and tossed into the garbage. Al Rafidayn quotes Speaker Osama al-Nujaifi stating that the liquadation of youths on the pretext of reforming Iraqi society is about embracing violence and terror and that they killers are in violation of the law. Another Al Mada article notes that while Nujaifi has spoken out against the killing, the Ministry of the Interior has remained silent except to deny that any targeting is taking place. MP Chuan Mohammed Taha serves on the Security and Defense Committee and notes that that governmental indifference to these killings is a new form of terrorism and that the Ministry of the Interior is a participant in the killings if only due to the fact that they know about the murders and they hide them from the public. Taha also declares that Emo is the expression of a personality and the law guarantees Iraqis the right to freely express their opinions. Abe Greenwald (Commentary) offers his thoughts on the subject:
In a Contentions post, I noted that the initiative allowed Obama to shirk America's unique role in actually securing human rights around the world, while earning praise from identity-politics activists. The administration's failure (and disinclination) to maintain an American presence in Iraq after 2012 meant that anti-gay barbarians such as al-Qaeda and Iranian proxies would stay behind and prey upon Iraq's homosexuals without fear of American influence. If Obama really wanted to protect gay rights from history's most vicious anti-gay forces, I wrote, he'd keep America in Iraq (and Afghanistan) instead of issuing memos and giving speeches. And if the progressives singing his praises really felt that gay rights were human rights they'd have been more inclined to support George W. Bush's freedom agenda and less eager to cut and run in our wars abroad. How tragic to have been proven so right so soon.
So even Commentary -- a right-wing periodical -- can weigh in publicly but elected and appointed officials in the US all have a case of Vegas throat?
Last night, Turkey launched another wave of air strikes on northern Iraq. Reuters notes Turkish Col Hussein Tamr states the assault -- supposedly targeting the PKK -- lasted over "an hour." Yesterday David Petraeus, the Director of the CIA, was visiting Turkey and speaking with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. RTT reports that they discussed "escalating sectarian strife in Iraq." Press TV tries to cover it and opens with: The director of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), David Petraeus, has expressed concerns about the possible trial of Iraqi Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi on charges of involvement in terrorist activities.
Al Sabaah reports that three "followers" of Tareq al-Hashemi were sentenced in Dhi Qar's Criminal court for possession of prohibited weapons and conspiracy terrorism charges. Al Rafidayn reports the three were sentenced to life imprisonment.
Meanwhile Baghdad prepares to go on lockdown. March 29th the Arab Summit is scheduled to be held in the capital and Al Sabaah reports that the Baghdad Operations Command has declared approximately 100,000 security officers will provide protection during the summit. In addition, Chen Zhi (Xinhua) reports that starting March 26th, Baghdad International Airport will be shut down. Mu Xuequan (Xinhua) notes that Moqtada al-Sadr has issued a statement announcing protests will not take place during the summit. So much for free expression in Iraq and, if any violate the edict of Moqtada, which of his deadly militias will he use for slaughter? Dar Addustour notes that the Cabinet has agreed to foot the bill for the Summit which, according to Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Dabbagh, will cost $100 billion dinars. That would be $86,073,447.54 in US dollars. As so many Iraqis remain unemployed and in poverty, it will be interesting to see how the costs play out among the people.
Nouri is stalling on the national conference to address Iraq's political crisis and his latest stalling attempt is insisting that it take place after the Arab summit. Al Rafidayn notes that Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi and KRG President Massoud Barzani are both calling for the conference to take place this month before the Arab Summit (scheduled to kick off March 29th). Al Mada adds that after all the prep meetings for the national conference (there have been at least five), it was decided Monday to create a small committee that would set the agendy and that this committee is scheduled to meet today. For those who've forgotten, those prep meetings? They were also supposed to determine the agenda.