Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Congress is supposed to provide oversight

This morning, Jamie Reno (Daily Beast) reports:

The plaintiffs in the case of Veterans for Common Sense v. Eric K. Shinseki thought they had a sure winner on their hands. Filed by veterans’ rights groups in 2007 against the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the lawsuit, which demanded that the department fix its mental-health-care system, seemed to have public sentiment, the law, and the truth on its side.
But on Monday a federal appeals court in California voted 10-1 to dismiss the case, ruling that only Congress or the president has the authority to direct changes on how veterans are treated.

And that's why the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees are so important and why, when they fail to do their jobs, it is news.  Five e-mails came in lamenting 'poor' Corrine Brown, US House Rep called out in yesterday's snapshot for her outrageous behavior.  Four want to recite her 'accomplishments.'  It's 2012, why are you only able to cite what she did when Bush was occupying the White House?  Oh, right, that's because she's turned into a War Hawk and doesn't care about the civil liberties of Americans now that Bush is gone and . . . Her voting record in the last years is appalling.  But that really doesn't matter.

What matters is she's not doing her job and her behavior was highly inappropriate.

What especially matters is that she verbally attacked a citizen.  One of the five wants to insist that I didn't go into Steve Buyer's outburst the way I did Corrine Brown's. Another wants to insist that I dismissed Buyer's comments with "two brief sentences" when I covered it.  I don't know what that second person's reading.  We've noted, in passing, Buyer's reactions in many snapshots and maybe that's what he's looking at that has "two brief sentences."  But when I reported on Buyer's storming out of the hearing and all the rest, that was the September 15, 2010 snapshot and not only do we open with it, the intro paragraph ("Chaos and violence continue . . .") even notes "US House Rep Steve Buyer storms out of a Congressional hearing after exploding at witnesses."

First off, Buyer's 'opponent' was a journalist for a partisan weekly journal.  That the two would be in conflict was hardly surprising.   Second off, we're talking about a journalist at a weekly opinion journal, meaning, if he felt bothered by the exchange, he had a forum he could use to sound off.  Third, he wasn't upset.  He was shocked for a few seconds and then found the whole thing amusing -- chuckling out loud.  Fourth, Buyer was not seeking re-election in 2008.  The year (and his term) was almost up.  Fifth, Buyer made his statements when it was his turn to speak.  He was Ranking Member.  He did not attempt to talk over the witness.  He did not cut the witness off.  He made clear that he felt the witness was a partisan.  He said what he said once and then stormed out of the hearing (slamming the door behind him). 

Corrine Brown had a freak-fest over a doctor's testimony.  She was already in the land of outrageous when she attacked the integrity of the Office of the Inspector General.  Her remarks were insulting to the work of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the work done by the Chair Patty Murray.  (The IG report resulted from a request Murray made when it was clear that the numbers VA witnesses were providing to Congress were in conflict with what veterans were telling the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.)  She hopped on her soapbox for an impassioned lecture that was factually wrong.  (Regarding the VA's referral system.)  And all of this took place before the afternoon.  The hearing started Tuesday morning.  Due to votes, it was still ongoing at 3:00 in the afternoon.  In fact, the second panel was offering testimony then.

Dr. Nicole L. Sawyer was not offering partisan testimony.  She was speaking of veterans needs and treatment issues.  She was speaking of concepts of treatments and this is what enraged Corrine Brown who was already on edge. 

She attacked the woman. She was yelling, she was attacking the woman's profession -- attacking all psychologists and insisting that they are not qualified to be witnesses.  Buyer had a public, personal beef with a journalist over an article in a partisan journal.  He did not make his remarks an attack on all journalists, etc. 

Secondly, Corrine Browne was more than happy to listen to psychologists from the VA.  Or maybe she was too stupid to know who was offering testimony?

There was nothing partisan in what the doctor was saying.  She was responding to Chair Jeff Miller's questions and Brown attacked her for it.  Interupted the witness testimony to attack her.  When Miller tried to smooth things over and move on, Brown attacked the woman again as soon as she began to testify.  Brown did not have the floor.

This was appalling behavior and it was apparently motivated by Brown's desire to insist the VA was wonderful and great and there were no problems.  There were her ridiculous remarks that treatment was not about getting well, it was about having X appointments and that's all that the Congress (the body she belongs to) was willing to pay for. 

When Buyers stormed out, the post-hearing reaction was an amused, "What just happened?"  When this hearing ended, the reaction was very different.  Corrine Brown offended at least three veterans in attendance with her remarks about treatment (one I spoke to right after the hearing, two I spoke to last night).

Her job is not to provide cover for the VA.  She sits on the House Veterans Affairs Committee because she's supposed to be an advocate for veterans.  Her behavior was rude, she declared a war on science, she insulted large portions of people in her attacks on the doctor and she never seemed to grasp that screaming her head off when she didn't even have the floor made her look flat out nuts no matter why she was screaming. 

Read Reno's article and grasp how important the role of Congress is with regards to the VA.  There's no excuse for Brown's performance in the entire hearing.  And we didn't cover all the theatrics in the snapshot.  We didn't cover when other members thought she was storming out, for example.  I didn't note the looks other members (including Democrats -- she's a Democrat) were giving her when she was attacking the Office of the Inspector General.  There was so much more that took place in that hearing just around her that we didn't have room for.  Her behavior was outrageous and inappropriate throughout.  Not just the part emphasized in yesterday's snapshot.  For more on the topic, you can refer to Kat's "Congress Member Gone Wild."  And here's the release the House Veterans Affairs Committee issued on the hearing:

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Today, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs called upon VA to explain how mental health services have devolved into a lack of accessibility and care for veterans in need as exposed in an April VAOIG Report.
The IG found that VA’s measurement data for mental healthcare is “not accurate or reliable,” that the measures have “no real value,” and that on average more than 50 percent of veterans who request a mental health evaluation wait an average of 50 days as opposed to VA’s reported 14 days. Just prior to the release of the VAOIG Report, VA announced that it was in the process of hiring 1,900 additional mental health clinicians and support staff to address understaffing in VA’s mental health network. It is estimated that VA would need more than 1,500 additional staff to fill the current vacancies in the system.
“A veteran who comes to VA for help should never, under any circumstance, have to wait almost two months to receive the evaluation they have asked for and begin the treatment they need. There is no excuse for this and no one has taken responsibility,” stated Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. “It appears that VA’s response in this instance is yet another example of a federal bureaucracy providing a quick-fix, cookie-cutter solution to a very serious, multifaceted problem.”
In response to questions posed by the Committee, Secretary Shinseki stated that VA has been in a “react cycle,” and there is a need to formulate a “clear standard for the future.” The Secretary stated further that VA needs “better coordination” between services and there is “more to be done. We need as many tools as we can get and find a balance that is both efficient and cost-effective.”
There was bipartisan consensus among Committee Members that VA should provide veterans with more community resources for care. “Rather than wait for VA to fix the current problems, veterans should be given the choice to find care elsewhere, preferably in our communities,” stated Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle, chairwoman of the Subcommittee on Health.
“I would like to see from VA, the priority that has been placed on veteran homelessness, mirrored in mental health care for our veterans,” Miller said. “The metric we should be using is simple: Are veterans getting care and are they getting better? Mental health access is, in many cases, a question of life and death. That is the most important outcome.”

The following community sites -- plus Adam Kokesh, World Can't Wait, CSPAN and --  updated last night and this morning:

The e-mail address for this site is