Thursday, May 17, 2012


Iraq War veteran Spc Dominick J. Liguori died Friday.  Bob Kalinowski (Times-Tribune) reports he died of sarcoidosis, "Family members say Spc. Liguori developed the disease from exposure to open-air burn pits while serving in Iraq, and the ailment slowly scarred and destroyed his lungs."  Denise Hook says of her 31-year-old nephew, "They did scans of his lungs.  You could see on the scans that most of his lungs were destroyed.  You'll see a lot more in the future.  You really will."  She also states, "Since he was little, he wore camouflage for Halloween every year.  He painted his wagon camouflage.  He painted his little trucks camouflage.  He hid in the trees with camouflage.  All he ever dreamt about was being in the military.  That was his lifelong dream.  I think if God could have made him better, he would have rejoined."

Burn pits have resulted in many service members and contractors being exposed to chemicals and toxins that have seriously harmed their bodies. Back when Democrats made more of an effort for veterans, it looked like the issue might be addressed.  Instead, burnpits are still being used in Afghanistan.  After all the work of now former-Senator Byron Dorgan and others, the burn pits are still being used.  Dorgan was Chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee and they held many hearings on this very serious issue.  Click here to go to the hearing archives page.  As a result of those hearings, there was a push for a burnpit registry, similar to the Agent Orange registry (finally) created for the veterans of Vietnam.    October 21, 2009, then-Senator Evan Bayh appeared before the US Senate Veterans Affairs Committee explaining the bill for a registry he was sponsoring, advocating for it.

I am here today to testify about a tragedy that took place in 2003 on the outskirts of Basra in Iraq. I am here on behalf of Lt Col James Gentry and the brave men and women who served under his command in the First Battalion, 152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard. I spoke with Lt Col Gentry by phone just this last week. Unfortunately, he is at home with his wife, Luanne, waging a vliant fight against terminal cancer. The Lt Col was a healthy man when he left for Iraq. Today, he is fighting for his life. Tragically, many of his men are facing their own bleak prognosis as a result of their exposure to sodium dichromate, one of the most lethal carcinogens in existence. The chemical is used as an anti-corrosive for pipes. It was strewn all over the water treatment facility guarded by the 152nd Infantry. More than 600 soldiers from Indiana, Oregon, West Virginia and South Carolina were exposed. One Indiana Guardsman has already died from lung disease and the Army has classified it as a service-related death. Dozens of the others have come forward with a range of serious-respiratory symptoms. [. . .] Mr. Chairman, today I would like to tell this Committee about S1779. It is legislation that I have written to ensure that we provide full and timely medical care to soldiers exposed to hazardous chemicals during wartime military service like those on the outskirts of Basra. The Health Care for Veterans Exposed to Chemical Hazards Act of 2009 is bipartisan legislation that has already been co-sponsored by Senators Lugar, Dorgan, Rockefeller, Byrd, Wyden and Merkley. With a CBO score of just $10 million, it is a bill with a modest cost but a critical objective: To enusre that we do right by America's soldiers exposed to toxic chemicals while defending our country. This bill is modeled after similar legislation that Congress approved in 1978 following the Agent Orange exposure in the Vietnam conflict.

And that should have been the start of something.  Instead, Senator Jim Webb managed to keep the burnpit bill from leaving the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Why?

Because Jim Webb may be a veteran -- one with a cushy government pension and health care that go beyond military benefits -- but he really doesn't care about them.  That's why he had to announce he wasn't seeking re-election.  Veterans in Virginia can't stand him.

September 23, 2010, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki appeared before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to respond to questions about his decision to expand the  pool of recognized victims of Agent Orange.  Read the report on that hearing (use the link).  It was an embarrassment.  As I noted, we never got a Senate hearing about the VA's failure to deliver the Post-9/11 GI Bill checks in a timely fashion but we got a hearing where Webb could play cheap and Tester could paint veterans as some sort of 'welfare chislers.'  From that day's snapshot:

Tester being convinced that 'bad' veterans are hidden away somewhere who  "pounds a couple of packs of cigarettes a day and a like amount of alcohol" to get extra monies from the government claiming heart disease.  I'm not really sure what "a like amount of alcohol" is to a "couple of packs of cigarettes" -- one is liquid.  Is Tester that stupid, really?  And could he next hop on a scale since we're paying his medical bills as well since he serves in the US Congress and since, when he was in profile returning to his seat, he so closely resembled William Conrad.  What are you pounding, Tester?  And why are we paying for it?  If you want to talk risk factors on veterans and claim that its your playground to do so because of tax payer monies, let me repeat, we the tax payers pay for your health care Jon Tester -- for the rest of your life.  Maybe it's time we started imposing penalties on Congressional members with "risk factors"?  Especially those who know they can't win an argument against Agent Orange exposure so they try to create this little side dialogue that's both meaningless and insulting.
There were many members of the Committee that were geniunely concerned about veterans in that hearing -- members from the Republican Party, the Democratic Party and Socialist Bernie Sanders.  But Webb and Tester were bound and determined that the 'wrong people' were getting money.

Let's point out that Barack Obama loves to give a false history of Vietnam and claim that the American people abandoned veterans.  (In his more 'creative' moments, he says much worse than that.)  The American people did no such thing and you have to be a real piece of work to make claim like that in public.  The government turned its back on veterans.  And you saw that with Jim Webb continuing to fight efforts -- in 2010, continuing to fight efforts -- to give the veterans exposed to Agent Orange the benefits they needed.  But grasp that Barack is forever claiming "never again' and blah blah blah.  The victims of Agent Orange were not officially recognized by the US government until almost two decades after the end of the war.   It was 1991 when Congress finally passed the act that created the Agent Orange registry.

For those too young to remember, prior to 1991, the US government offered one lie and one cover up after another to deny the veterans effected by Agent Orange the care they needed.  Many died as a result.

And Barack wants to grand stand (on a false 'history' of Vietnam) and claim "never again" but his administration has done nothing to create a burnpit registry, not one damn thing.  The next time he gives another one of his ass-backwards speeches on Vietnam, the public would do well to remember that the burnpit issue is the equivalent of Vietnam's Agent Orange issue (and in both cases, the native populations were left to live in the chemical dump the US government created) and that Mr. "Never Again" can't even mention "burnpit."  He won't mention it.  He won't lead on it.  But damned if he doesn't think he deserves veterans'  votes.

Currently, US House Rep Todd Akin is proposing a burnpit registry in the House.  If Barack wants to earn veterans votes or to stop his empty grand standing and actually have an accomplishment to his name, he could throw some public support being Akin's bill. 

People are dying.  It's as outrageous as when the government was denying the effects of Agent Orange.  And there's no excuse for it.

 Iraq War veteran Leroy Torres and his wife Rosie Torres have continued to battle on behalf of veterans exposed to burn pits -- which includes Leroy Torres -- and they have contiuned to educate the nation on the issue. The Torres have a website entitled BURNPITS 360. They are also on Facebook.  Last month, she was interviewed by Rachel Cole (KRIS -- link is text and video):

His wife, Rosie, has been battling for years with Congress to get legislation passed that will recognize a connection with toxic exposure for soldiers and their poor health conditions. "To sum it up, at 39-years-old, he's lost both his careers that he's worked very hard for because of his health. Toxic exposure is something that it slowly takes over one organ at a time." Rosie said.
According to Rosie, her husband is in stable but she says others aren't so lucky. "There's several soldiers awaiting lung transplants and others on full liters of oxygen constantly." She said.

Today Bob Kalinowski reports:

U.S. Army Spc. Dominick Liguori, 31, who completed a yearlong tour of duty in Iraq in 2009, died Friday after suffering from a disease that damaged his lungs the past three years, his family said.
Hundreds of other military veterans have claimed respiratory problems linked to the burn pits, prompting U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Missouri, to propose a bill to investigate the issue and create a database of potential victims to determine if there is a link.
"We have received numerous reports from individuals who have the same concerns," Akin's spokesman Steve Taylor said Wednesday. "There seems to be a certain degree of consistency among the complaints."

So today's veterans will have to wait until 16 years from now to get burnpit registry?  Is that how it's going to work? Again, Barack could provide leadership on this issue.  If he wanted to.

Yesterday's snapshot included coverage of yesterday's House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health hearing.  Quickly in reply to e-mails.  1) I stated we could revisit the hearing in a later snapshot.  I have no problem doing that.  The e-mails indicate we need to because there's a large amount of "I hadn't heard about the VA's proposal."  I hadn't either until yesterday's hearing but just assumed I'd missed it.  Not the first time that's happened.  Judging by the e-mails, a lot of veterans also learned from the hearing about the proposal to make it more complicated for veterans to receive prosthetics.

We'll again quote Iraq War veteran Jonathan Pruden on what VA's proposing.

Jonathan Pruden:  Under the change, only a contracting officer could procure a prosthetic item costing more than $3,000.  This policy would effect essential items including most limbs like mine and wheel chairs.  It would require the use of a system designed for bulk procurement purchases that involves manually processing over three hundred -- that's 300 -- individual steps to develop a purchase order.  This system may be great for buying cinder blocks and light bulbs but it is certainly not appropriate for providing timely and appropriate medical care.  Equally troubling, this change offers no promise of improving service to the warrior.  Instead, it would mean greater delays. The change could realize modest savings but at what cost?  A warrior needing a new leg or wheel chair should not have to wait longer than is absolutely necessary.  I know warriors who have stayed home from our events, stay home from school, from work, can't play ball with their kids or live in chronic pain while they wait for a new prosthesis.   I know first hand what it's like to not be able to put my son into the crib while I'm waiting for a new prosthetic, to live in chronic pain and to have my daughter ask my wife once again, "Why can't Daddy come and walk with us?"   With VA moving ahead on changing procurement practices, wounded warriors need this Committee's help.  A prosthetic limb is not a mass produced widget. Prosthetics are specialized, medical equipment that should be prescribed by a clinician and promptly delivered to the veteran.  We urge this Committee to direct VA to stop implementation of this change in prosthetic procurement.

Due to the large amount of e-mails on the hearing, we'll return to it in today's snapshot, that's a promise.  2) Memorial Day's coming up a few people note -- some veterans, some not.  Are we going to promote any giving?  No.

The economy's still awful.  And it's not my place to tell you what to do with your money.  In yesterday's snapshot, we covered the second panel which was "  Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem, American Orthotic & Prosthetic Association's Michael Oros, Paralyzed Veterans of America's Alethea Predeoux and Southeast Wounded Warrior Project's Jonathan Pruden."  When we cover a hearing and there are advocate organizations present, I do try to include links to them.  Any organization from yesterday's hearing would appreciate a donation, any organization from any hearing we've covered where someone with the organization spoke and it registered with you is someone you could consider donating too.  If you have the money to spare and I know many don't.

Second, I am friendly with several organizations and people with them.  If I promoted X and not T, then T would feel slighted and wonder what they did?  (And most likely all they did was run into me not focusing or thinking clearly so I forgot to include them.)

They'd also run into the time issue.  At the end of last week, a friend with the VFW asked if I would note something.  I said sure but that it might take a few days if they wanted it noted during the week.  They were fine with that, so here it is today:

 On Monday, three representatives of the Center for American Progress attacked the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. in an opinion editorial published in Politico. Entitled “VFW, Allies Mislead On Pay, Benefits,” they criticized the VFW for opposing Pentagon budget-reduction plans that would reduce military pay increase percentages, civilianize the retirement system, and shift more TRICARE health program costs onto military dependents and retirees. VFW National Commander Richard L. DeNoyer responded to the attack in a 300-word letter to editor that was published in today’s issue of Politico. Below is the expanded version.  
By Richard L. DeNoyer 
Monday’s opinion editorial by Lawrence Korb, Alex Rothman and Max Hoffman would have readers believe that the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States is misleading America into believing that the Pentagon’s proposals to reform military compensation, retirement and healthcare are bad for the nation.  
As the national commander of America’s oldest and largest combat veterans’ organization, I can guarantee that nothing the VFW says about protecting military pay and benefits is misleading. The Defense Department’s “budget first, people second” proposals are bad for America because they threaten the continued viability of the all-volunteer force. It takes people to fight and win our nation’s wars — to put boots on the ground as well as to operate our ships, planes and tanks. The VFW makes no apologies for wanting to protect those military programs that attract and retain our best and brightest in uniform.  
The authors would have you believe that proposed military pay raises between .5 and 1.7 percent over the next five years will help rebalance the budget, yet they make no mention of the effect a resurging economy will have on recruiting and retention, much less the still volatile and unpredictable world that awaits our military of 2015 and beyond. They and others seem to have forgotten the huge recruiting and retention bonuses the military services had to offer just seven short years ago.  
It is the constitutional responsibility of Congress to raise, support, and make rules for the regulation of our armed forces. And while DOD input is crucial for informed decisions, Congress must not be rushed into any “up or down” decision, similar to Base Realignment and Closure Commission votes, that could put a professionally-led, all-volunteer force at risk.  
Based on earlier trial balloons, DOD wants a new military retirement system that would resemble more participatory, 401(k)-type civilian programs, with the delayed receipt of retirement benefits until almost age 60. Since less than 10 percent of the force stays 20 years or more — not 17 percent as reported by the authors — a civilianized military retirement system will hurt retention because a 401(k)-style retirement plan can be earned virtually anywhere, and in professions far safer than serving in the military.  
Congress needs to carefully review and determine the potential impacts of such proposals on the force, because the immediate receipt of retirement pay and inexpensive healthcare for life for the retiree and spouse are the only two incentives the Pentagon offers to entice someone to first donate 20 or more years of their youth to the nation.  
Our entire nation faces a health cost crisis, but change advocates want all military dependents and retirees to shoulder more TRICARE health program costs. They cite national averages and what federal civilian employees pay in an attempt to justify plans to more than quadruple TRICARE premiums for some retirees. They call military healthcare and the retirement system “too generous,” with some even referring to these earned benefits as something far more insulting — “entitlements.”  
The authors would also have you believe that the Pentagon’s proposals are reasonable and fair, and should be supported by groups like the VFW, the Military Officers Association of America, and other veteran and military service organizations. They even wrote that “Reforming the system of military compensation is necessary — and should be supported by all Americans.”  
Yet the authors failed to present the whole picture in their argument. They focus on the overall monetary cost, but not the human cost that first requires decades of faithful service just to qualify — the multiple moves and hazardous deployments; children constantly uprooted from schools and spouses from any semblance of careers; zero home equity; potential age discrimination when applying for post-military employment; and now, being relegated to the expense ledger by the very department that was supposed to have your back.  
Only 1.9 million of America’s 22.2 million veterans are military retirees. Their ranks include former military service chiefs and commanders, and exponentially more from the enlisted ranks — the rank and file who also help to define a professionally led, all-volunteer force. But during this budget debate, nobody seems to care about the people side of the equation; they only want to compare military pay, healthcare and retirement programs with civilians who choose not to serve.
Putting the budget ahead of the troops is going to signal an end to the all-volunteer force, which for 39 years and more than a decade of continuous war has served our nation extremely well. That is not a misleading statement; it is a dire warning, and we urge Congress to focus on the difference. 

I haven't followed that issue so I have no intelligent or even faux intelligent remark to make on it.  I am happy to note their statement. 

The following community sites -- plus The Diane Rehm Show, Adam Kokesh, Iraq Veterans Against the War,, CSPAN, the House Veterans Affairs Committee (we'll note that in the next entry), Jody Watley and Susan's On The Edge -- updated last night and this morning:

The Diane Rehm Show will be covered by Ruth (it's the topic she's been covering for weeks now -- Edwards trial).  In addition to the above, Blogger/Blogspot is STILL NOT READING Trina's site.  Her posts this week are:

Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Committee issued the following yesterday:
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Senator Murray's Statement on Sweeping Army-Wide Review of Behavioral Health Evaluations and Diagnoses
Investigations Will Review Mental Health Diagnoses Since 2001
(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, released the following statement after the Army announced that they will begin a comprehensive, Army-wide review of soldier behavioral health diagnoses and evaluations since 2001.  This major announcement comes after Senator Murray spurred an investigation into inconsistencies in diagnoses at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in her home state of Washington.  The Army has since returned PTSD diagnoses to over 100 servicemembers that sought treatment there.  Murray has repeatedly pushed Army leadership to investigate whether problems similar to those at Madigan were being seen at Army bases across the country.
For more information on the Army's announcement visit:
"The Army clearly realizes they have a nationwide, systematic problem on their hands. I credit them with taking action, but it will be essential that this vast and truly historic review is done the right way.  That means continued engagement from Army leadership at the highest levels, prompt attention to the problems of servicemembers identified during the review, and not only the identification of problems but quick action to implement and enforce solutions.
"This comprehensive review is born out of a review I helped initiate in my home state that has already returned PTSD diagnoses to over 100 servicemembers since the beginning of this year.  That review has been successful because the Army identified and reached out to affected servicemembers and veterans, conducted reevaluations using the appropriate tools and best practices, and was made a priority by top military leaders.  This nationwide review must be given the same attention from leadership in order to succeed.
"But the bottom line is that the Army needs to fix the inconsistencies we have seen in diagnosing the invisible wounds of war.  Out of this review, the Army needs to provide a uniform mental health policy so that service members are given the care they need.
"This is an issue that affects every aspect of the lives of those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Without proper mental health treatment we will continue [to] see see servicemembers struggle to readust to family life, contine to self-medicate, and in far too many cases, take their own lives.
"Servicemembers, veterans, and their families should never have to wade through an unending bureaucratic process to get proper access to care. The Army has an extrordinary opportunity to go back, correct the mistakes of the past, and ensure that they are not repeated."
Matt McAlvanah
Communications Director
U.S. Senator Patty Murray
202-224-2834 - press office
202--224-0228 - direct

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