Monday, April 16, 2012

Veterans issues: Lack of treatment, unfair employment practices, parades and more

Mark Brunswick (Minneapolis Star Tribune) reports on the delays and shortages in VA health care and focuses on Iraq War veteran Blake Uddin who clearly needed help and attempted to receive care at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs hospital but was given an examine and then told he didn't need to be admitted despite the fact that he admitted he was hearing voices:

Four days later, with the voices now telling him, "Run ... run ... they're coming," he stole a car, crashed it and spent desperate minutes rushing across four lanes of morning rush-hour traffic. Footage from an overhead traffic camera shows him stepping in front of a semi-truck slowing to keep from striking him. Then he is hit by a van and thrown 50 feet into a ditch.
A psychologist who later examined him said Uddin was experiencing "an acute, significant, psychotic break." The psychologist took the unusual step of criticizing the VA for not admitting him or giving him medication and called the VA's lack of action "perplexing."

You have to wonder how many VA scandals it takes before lengthy Congressional hearings are held? There was the 9/11 GI Bill on education and the fact that the incoming VA Secretary was told in January 2009 that the program would not be ready for fall of 2010 but 'forgot' to tell Congress and veterans were without checks and funding and had to borrow or go homeless. (Or some had to skip Christmas for their kids.) And when it comes out in an open hearing after the scandal that it was known before hand, when Secretary Eric Shinseki testifies that it was known before hand that the program would not be ready that fall, everyone shrugs and goes about their business. Was a time when such an action and admission would have resulted in a week of Congressional hearings. Among the many scandals, there's the one with the ongoing investigation. A group of service members and veterans with PTSD were re-diagnosed at Madigan Army Hospital, 'found' not having PTSD but, once that scandal emerged with the charge that the re-diagnoses was to save money, a number were re-tested and it turned out that a high percentage did have PTSD. Again, there was a time when this would be a major scandal with Congress outraged, at least a week of hearings and more.

Over the weekend, there was a welcome home parade for veterans in Melbourne, Florida. Scott Gunnerson (Florida Today) reports "thousands" turned out as approximately "6540 members of the military and veterans from Brevard County" and approximately "140 from Patrick Air Force Base and other troops" took part in the downtown march and "Every veteran got an appreciation gift, which included tickets to Walt Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando, according to Chris Filiberto, an event organizer." Seacoast Online reports that Portsmouth, New Hampshire will hold a welcome home parade July 9th with medica corrdinator Peter Somssich providing some details:

Bands, musicians, volunteers and financial support will be needed, he said, adding that since the city is co-sponsoring the parade, any donations made to the City of Portsmouth will be tax-deductible. For details, call Somssich at 436-5221 or (978) 750-1633, or e-mail
Other members of the parade steering committee are: Josh Denton, president/coordinator for veterans groups and services, 553-1810,; Martin Cameron, vice president/coordinator for community groups/individual registration, 431-7977,; and Harold Whitehouse, outreach coordinator/coordinator for bands and entertainment, 436-8485.

Mackenzie Carpenter and Molly Born (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) report on veterans seeking employment in the bad economy:

For nearly four years, Eric Seitz, 30, moved from site to site in the Marine Corps as a infantry radio and satellite communications operator in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since he returned here in January 2011, he's been taking courses at Community College of Allegheny County Boyce campus, and has put out more than 50 resumes and applications for entry-level jobs since fall.
He turned down his single offer -- a graveyard shift emergency call center operator position -- for more time with his 23-year-old fiancee, Kayla Anselmi, who picked up a second job in September to support them. It puts a strain on their relationship at times. They're getting married next year.

The unemployment rate for veterans of today's wars flucuates and has been a little below 10% briefly this year but is currently 12%. Regardless of the rate, it has been significantly higher than that of the non-veteran population. Equally true, the rate of unemployment among young female veterans has been higher than that for their male counterparts.

Earlier this month, the US Justice Dept announced charges against a Home Depot in Arizona asserting that they had violated the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (see "Home Depot fires people for being deployed?"). The law firm of Boyle, Autry & Murphy have filed suit against the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections over their treatment of the firm's client Iraq War veteran Bryan Kubic:

Master Sgt. Bryan N. Kubic fought for his country for 23 years, but now is forced to battle his state government. With the help of Attorney Devon M. Jacob, Kubic is seeking civil relief after being harassed, criminally charged and wrongfully terminated from his employment by individuals at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections (DOC).

The disturbing story began in 2010, when Tammy Ferguson became the DOC's chief of security. Ferguson continually harassed military personnel - including Kubic - about current and past requests for military leave. As a result, Kubic requested a transfer to a prior position he held at the DOC Training Academy.

Upon seeing the request to transfer, Ferguson called Kubic a "coward" and denied his request. She scolded him, saying that the "U.S. military does not trump the DOC." Kubic - who was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge while serving in Iraq - continued following DOC protocol for military leave requests, and Ferguson escalated her harassment by launching a criminal investigation into Kubic's military leave use history. Knowing he was in the right, Kubic waived his Miranda rights and voluntarily submitted to an interrogation by DOC investigator Stephen Allen.

Kubic provided evidence demonstrating that he was either on military duty or at Veterans Affairs (VA) medical appointments during his times of leave. Regardless, Allen brought criminal charges against Kubic for theft by deception and receiving stolen property, and Ferguson suspended Kubic's employment.

At a preliminary hearing on the charges, investigator Allen admitted that he had no evidence to establish that Kubic was not performing military duty during the times in question. Both charges were eventually dismissed and this story should have ended. Sadly, it did not.

Ferguson continued an extrajudicial campaign aiming to terminate Kubic's employment with the DOC. Kubic battled the disciplinary charges, providing the DOC with evidence convincingly demonstrating his military service on the dates in question and his compliance with DOC military leave directives.

In spite of the evidence clearly showing Kubic's proper and legal use of military leave, Ferguson terminated Kubic's employment. Perhaps Ferguson believed she had won the final battle of her personal power struggle over the DOC employees' ability to serve in the military. Regardless of Ferguson's motives, Kubic wants to see justice prevail, so that military personnel can freely work at the DOC without suffering unlawful discrimination.

"When you serve your country, you don't expect to be treated differently than anyone else," Kubic told CBS 21 news.

Kubic has teamed with Attorney Jacob of Boyle, Autry & Murphy to bring a federal civil rights lawsuit against Ferguson, Allen and one other DOC employee responsible for the charges unfairly leveled against him. The case, Kubic v. Allen, et al., is pending in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

The decorated war veteran - who is not suing the DOC itself - hopes to see Ferguson terminated for her abhorrent behavior. Kubic, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his military service, is also seeking financial compensation for the psychological and financial harm caused by the criminal charges and the unlawful termination of his employment.

Kubic's disturbing story demonstrates the importance of the American civil justice system: Without the power of a civil lawsuit, Ferguson would have dealt the final, damaging blow to Kubic's reputation and livelihood.

With his day in court, Bryan Kubic will have an opportunity to clear his name and ensure that justice is achieved. Kubic has suffered irreparable harm to his reputation - something that money can't fix - but he believes that when he prevails in federal court it will help to guarantee that military personnel receive the equal treatment and respect that they deserve.

And on the topic of Pennsylvania, we're back to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. We noted a story above, it's one of a series of veterans articles they're reporting in partnership with Public Source's Coming Home Pa:


PG Coverage

Returning veterans find themselves fighting for jobs

Reservist status emerges as possible problem in job hunt

Veterans' transition program falls short

Web resources for veterans, employers

PublicSource Coverage

Returning vets face 'new normal' of invisible wounds, isolation, joblessness

Schedule of weeklong coverage by PublicSource and other partners


PG Coverage

License trumps military skills

Shale industry welcomes military skills

Confidence isn't vet's only tool needed for job search

Planning not preparation enough for post-military life

Bonnie reminds that Isaiah's The World Today Just Nuts "Spring Break Columbia: War On Women Edition" went up last night and Kat's "Kat's Korner: Bonnie's got another classic" went
up Sunday morning. On this week's Law and Disorder Radio -- a weekly hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), topics explored include Mumia Abu-Jamal, the Cuban Five, extradition and they have a great discussion with attorney and professor Natsu Taylor Saito who has written Meeting the Enemy: American Exceptionalism and International Law.

In the US, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. The Committee notes:
Committee on Veterans' Affairs
United States Senate
112th Congress, Second Session
Hearing Schedule
Update: April 12, 2012

Saturday, April 21, 2012
10:30 am MST
2465 Grant Road
Billings, Montana
Field Hearing: Improving Access to Quality Health Care for Rural Veterans

Wednesday, April 25, 2012
10 am EST
Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 138
VA Mental Health Care: Evaluating Access and Accessing Care

Matthew T. Lawrence
Chief Clerk/System Administrator
Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs

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michael s. smith
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michael ratner