Wednesday, June 6, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri claims "foreign interference" and a conspiracy, Bradley Manning's attorney states they are not getting the evidence needed (or required by law), Brett McGurk makes on outlandish statement to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the Committee doesn't even bat an eye.
"Today the Senate Foreign Relations Committee meets to consider the President's nominees to serve as ambassadors to the following countries: Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Maldives and Tajikistan," explained Senator Bob Casey this morning. Casey was acting Committee Chair for the hearing. Susan Marsh Elliott has been nominated for the Tajikistan post and Jeanne Sison's for the Srik Lanka and Maldives posts. They are not our focus. Brett McGurk is nominated to be the US Ambassador to Iraq and that is our focus. For those late to the party who may have checked out on Iraq sometime ago, Casey offered a strong overview.
Chair Bob Casey: In Iraq, of course, the picture is mixed. Nearly six months after the redeployment of US troops from the country, we know that political and ethnic divisions remain sharp as Iraq recovers from years and years of war. The current government took months to establish in 2010. And a high degree of mistrust still exists among key political factions. Iraqis and Americans have sacrificed greatly, mightily to support the Democratic process in Iraq. At this point in time, we should continue to support the political reconciliation among key players in the country as they work to further deepen the Democratic process. This unsettled political environment exists within a very precarious
security situation where extremist groups are still capable of an have launched significant attacks in the country. Just last week, six bomb blasts across Baghdad killed at least 17 people -- mostly in Shia neighborhoods. On Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least 26 people in Baghdad and wounded more than 190 in an attack on the government run -- the government run body that manages Shi'ite religious and cultural sites.
Why did we have the hearing? He's "eminently capable" of doing the job, Casey rushed to assure in his opening remarks. Then why are you wasting tax payer money? Why waste our money holding a hearing when you've already decreed the nominee "eminently capable"? Not to mention wasting everyone's time?
It was a garbage hearing. Trash. That's all it was. I could ridicule Casey but instead will just note that aside from refusing to question the witness seriously, he did an okay job filling in for Kerry. Only okay? When the opposite side has time left and wants just a minute more, no words should be required. Just wavie them through. This is the Senate. Especially when it's the other side because it's so easy to look petty when interacting with the other side. His strengths? He's a very religious person and follows religious news so he brings a perspective to foreign relations that's often unique. He will -- and did in this hearing -- know certain details of foreign violence that the mainstream press has ignored. I wish he'd bothered to hold a hard hitting hearing. I wish he'd asked how have we arrived at Barack Obama's third nominee for US Ambassador to Iraq in four years?
The refusal to ask that sort of question goes a long way towards explaining how the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has failed repeatedly in the last four years when it came to vetting nominees.
In his opening remarks, Brett McGurk began with his time in Iraq back in 2004 with John Negroponte. Listening to him list his part in one Iraqi failure after another, it was difficult not to remember Peter Van Buren's observations last March:
McGurk is 38 years old and has never done any job other than help fuck up Iraq on behalf of the United States. Dude only graduated in 1999. Despite essentially doing nothing but Iraq stuff his entire adult life, McGurk has also avoided learning any Arabic. You'd kind of think that maybe that wouldn't be the resume for the next guy in charge of cleaning up some of his own mistakes, like maybe you'd want someone who had some… depth or experience or broad knowledge or understanding of something other than failure in that God-forsaken country. Normally when you are a hand maiden to failure you don't get promoted, but then again, this is the State Department. This is almost as good as Harriet Miers.
We'll note McGurk's claims of what he will do if confirmed.
Brett McGurk: In the defense and security area, if confirmed, I look forward to working with our Office of Security Cooperation and CENTCOM to ensure that we are doing everything possible to deepen our military-defense partnership in Iraq. In the diplomatic area, if confirmed, I look forward to working with our ambassadors in regional capitols -- most of whom I've worked with and admired for many years -- to ensure close coordination of US policies in Iraq and throughout the region. In the political area, Iraq is scheduled to hold elections -- provincial elections in 2013 and national [he means parliamenatry] elections in 2014. If confirmed, it will be a central focus of our mission to work in coordination with the UN to ensure that these elections are held freely and on time. Energy and economics are now among the foremost priorities. If confirmed it will be among my highest priorities to connect US businesses with emerging opportunities in Iraq and to refocus Iraqi leaders on the urgent necessity of diversifying their economy and grappling with national hydrocarbons legislation. As the US pursues its interest in Iraq, we must never lose sight of our values including promotion of human rights, women and protection of vulnerable minorities. This is an ambitious agenda but it should nor require an unsustainable resource base. If confirmed, I pledge to work with the Congress to establish a democratic presence in Iraq. That is secure, strategic, effective and sustainable.
Back to the questioning.
Chair Bob Casey: I wanted to ask you about leadership which is a central concern in any confirmation process but maybe especially so for the position that you've been nominated for. There will be those who say -- and I want to have you respond to this -- you have based upon your record, broad experience in Iraq. several time periods in which you've served as you've been called back for services under, as I indicated, two administrations. But they will also say that you haven't had the leadership position that would lend itself to to the kind of substantial experience that will prepare yourself for such a position. And I want you to answer that question because I think it's an important one in terms of demonstrating in this confirmation process, your ability to lead not just an embassy but an embassy and a mission of this size and consequence.
Brett McGurk: Thank you, Senator and thank you for allowing me to address that. I'd like to do that in three ways. First, leadership of the embassy starts at home: At the embassy. As you noted in your opening statements, I've served with all five of our prior ambassadors to Iraq and I've seen every permentation of the embassy from the very beginning to where it is today. Throughout that, uh, process, I have learned and seen and been involved with what it takes to lead in Iraq. And to lead in Iraq, you need a really fingertip understanding of the operational tempo in Iraq, of what it's like day-to-day, of knowing when something is a crisis and when it's not, managing morale and keeping people focused on the goals. It also takes a team. And if I'm fortunate enough to be confirmed, I'd be inheriting a team of extraordinary talent and depth at the embassy. I've been fortunate to have worked with every member of the country team in Iraq. Uh, one of whom happens to be sitting to my left, Ambassador Sissen. That team encorporates individuals from across the government, just a whole government approach from Commerce to Transportation to Treasury to State to the Defense Community to the Intelligence Community. I've been gratified to learn that key members of that team have volunteered to stay on for another year and, if I'm confirmed, would serve with me. As Ambassador, the buck would stop with me. And as I think I said in the opening statement, I have a very clear visison -- in coordination with the President and the Secretary -- of where we need to take this mission. But I would be working with a very strong team.
He then goes on to list various people he's worked with. However, the question was about his ability to supervise and the answer was about everything but supervision. Near the end of all that he says "finally" and begins talking about "my relationship with the Iraqi people." He stated he was called back "over the years due to my unique relationship with the Iraqis. I have worked with these indiviuals since I first got to Iraq in January 2004."
Iraq's changed a bit since then. And is McGurk able to see them for who they are now? More importantly, is an occupation agent -- which is what McGurk would have been seen as -- really the one to make the diplomatic face for the US in Iraq?
No one asked that important question.
Brett McGurk: Leadership also in this context, you have to look at inter-agency experience because you're looking at a whole government approach. As a senior director for President Bush in the NSC particularly at one of the most intense periods of the war from the time of planning and implementing the surge and through the end of his administration. I was at point for organizing a whole of government effort for implement the surge.
That's where he should have been asked about his failure.
Forget your take on the surge and just look at what happened. (Some are pro-surge, some are anti- -- set that aside.) We know what Gen David Petraeus did. He was the top US commander in Iraq. He receives much praise for the surge.
Bush ordered the surge. Petraeus executed it. That's not me saying, "Don't give Petreaus any praise!" That's noting what Petraeus' role was. I don't believe the surge did anything lasting. I don't believe it resulted in success. That's not my criticism of Petraeus. Petraeus was ordered to execute it and did. His efforts are his efforts and though I'm anti-surge I see nothing to fault him on with regards to the execution of it. He did what he was ordered to do with the surge and did it excellently.
2007 wasn't that long ago for some people. For others it was a lifetime ago or even, if you're young enough, pre-history. So let's go back and explain what was going on. In the November 2006 mid-terms, the Democrats campaign of "give us one house of Congress and we'll end the war" resulted in their winning control of the House of Representatives and the Senate. This alarmed the White House (among the reasons Donald Rumsfeld was replaced as Secretary of Defense). Not surprising, Republicans are usually alarmed by Democrats and vice versa. So you had Bush occupying the White House and fearful that the Democrats were going to keep their campaign promise. What a naive Bully Boy Bush.
But Democrats were saying that the same thing was being done over and over. US House Rep Gary Ackerman (who truly was against the Iraq War) was among those making that statement. And they wanted to know why more money needed to be spent. There was no progress. The White House came up with benchmarks in early 2007 (and Nouri al-Maliki signed off on them as Iraq's prime minister). Iraq would meet these benchmarks and that would be progress! They never did. And Democrats in Congress stopped caring as soon as Barack Obama was sworn in. Doubt it? US House Rep Lloyd Doggett, when's the last time you expressed public concern over the amount of money going to Iraq with the benchmarks not being met? 2008 when Bush was in the White House.
In Iraq in 2007, the ethnic cleansing from the year before was continuing. Shi'ites were purging Sunnis, Sunnis were purging Shi'ites. It was more Shi'ites than Sunnis and that's true not only because there were more Shi'ites in the country but also because Sunnis made up a huge portion of the refugee population created in this time period. Iraq was spinning out of control. In addition to the benchmarks, in January 2007, Bush proposed the surge. Here he is explaining it (January 10, 2007) to the American people:
The elections of 2005 were a stunning achievement. We thought that these elections would bring the Iraqis together - and that as we trained Iraqi security forces, we could accomplish our mission with fewer American troops.
But in 2006, the opposite happened. The violence in Iraq - particularly in Baghdad - overwhelmed the political gains the Iraqis had made. Al Qaeda terrorists and Sunni insurgents recognized the mortal danger that Iraq's elections posed for their cause. And they responded with outrageous acts of murder aimed at innocent Iraqis.
They blew up one of the holiest shrines in Shia Islam - the Golden Mosque of Samarra - in a calculated effort to provoke Iraq's Shia population to retaliate. Their strategy worked. Radical Shia elements, some supported by Iran, formed death squads. And the result was a vicious cycle of sectarian violence that continues today.
The situation in Iraq is unacceptable to the American people - and it is unacceptable to me. Our troops in Iraq have fought bravely. They have done everything we have asked them to do. Where mistakes have been made, the responsibility rests with me.
It is clear that we need to change our strategy in Iraq. So my national security team, military commanders, and diplomats conducted a comprehensive review. We consulted members of Congress from both parties, our allies abroad, and distinguished outside experts. We benefited from the thoughtful recommendations of the Iraq Study Group - a bipartisan panel led by former Secretary of State James Baker and former Congressman Lee Hamilton. In our discussions, we all agreed that there is no magic formula for success in Iraq. And one message came through loud and clear: Failure in Iraq would be a disaster for the United States.
[. . .]
Our past efforts to secure Baghdad failed for two principal reasons: There were not enough Iraqi and American troops to secure neighborhoods that had been cleared of terrorists and insurgents, and there were too many restrictions on the troops we did have. Our military commanders reviewed the new Iraqi plan to ensure that it addressed these mistakes. They report that it does. They also report that this plan can work.
Now, let me explain the main elements of this effort. The Iraqi government will appoint a military commander and two deputy commanders for their capital. The Iraqi government will deploy Iraqi army and national police brigades across Baghdad's nine districts. When these forces are fully deployed, there will be 18 Iraqi army and national police brigades committed to this effort, along with local police. These Iraqi forces will operate from local police stations; conducting patrols and setting up checkpoints and going door-to-door to gain the trust of Baghdad residents.
This is a strong commitment. But for it to succeed, our commanders say the Iraqis will need our help. So America will change our strategy to help the Iraqis carry out their campaign to put down sectarian violence and bring security to the people of Baghdad. This will require increasing American force levels. So I've committed more than 20,000 additional American troops to Iraq.
[. . .]
This new strategy will not yield an immediate end to suicide bombings, assassinations, or IED attacks. Our enemies in Iraq will make every effort to ensure that our television screens are filled with images of death and suffering. Yet, over time, we can expect to see Iraqi troops chasing down murderers, fewer brazen acts of terror, and growing trust and cooperation from Baghdad's residents. When this happens, daily life will improve, Iraqis will gain confidence in their leaders, and the government will have the breathing space it needs to make progress in other critical areas. Most of Iraq's Sunni and Shia want to live together in peace. And reducing the violence in Baghdad will help make reconciliation possible.
An even shorter version of the speech can be summed up as:
Americans are weary of the war. Iraq needs to show progress. To give the politicians "the breathing space" to move forward, we are sending more US soldiers into Iraq to address the security situation.
Brett McGurk bragged about his role overseeing the surge to the Senate committee which was either too stupid or too cowed to point out the obvious: "Brett McGurk, you, sir, are no David Petraeus."
Petraeus' role is very clear. And he executed the surge and did so in a manner that should have resulted in an excellent rating for him. For Petraeus.
And that's the only part of the surge that can be rated as "successful."
The surge was a failure. Not a military failure. Petraeus and those following his orders did their job very well. But the surge wasn't just about more military on the ground. That was the military aspect. The political aspect -- which McGurk was supposed to be working on -- was passing the hydrocarbons law, achieving reconciliation among Iraqis (end of the anti-Ba'athism implemented under Paul Bremer), etc. That was a failure.
None of it happened. And not only did it not happen under the surge, Nouri's just appointed new members to the Justice and Accountability Commission -- that's de-Ba'athification commission. That was supposed to be done away with during the surge. None of it happened.
That's basic and many people can say that straight forward. (An idiot couldn't say it straight forward to Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News. Think I mean Sarah Palin? No, the first stammering can't answer the question interview was with Barack.) The US military did their part. That's all that happened. And it wasn't Petraeus job to get the political ball moving. That was the job of people like Brett McGurk.
It's amazing that he wants to claim credit for basically being the point person on the surge when the only part that succeeded succeeded because of Gen Petraeus and those service members under him. McGurk had nothing to do with that. Talk about a glory hog.
And how shameful that the Committee let that pass. The whoring for this administration out of Congress is becoming a national embarrassment. You either start working for the country or start campaigning under a street lamp -- preferably a red street lamp. If you're tired of whoring how about you start addressing the needs of the United States? If the US needs an ambassador to Iraq, then they need a qualified one. Your refusal to ask hard questions did not make it appear that you were the least bit interested in McGurk's qualifications or, more to the point, his lack of them.
And don't for a moment think that the Republicans did a better job. Senator James Risch began his lecture praising McGurk's "expertise" and saying no one could question it. Really? There are a lot of people questioning just that? His experience is non-stop failure.
To Ranking Member Richard Lugar, McGurk would assert, "Quite frankly, our presence is too large." This moments after stating he was involved in every bit of planning and discussions for the drawndown.
The American presence is too large in Baghdad post drawdown?
Well, I guess after two years, you can judge that . . . What's that? It hasn't been two years? That's right. It wasn't even six months before Tim Arango began reporting ("U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police") the State Dept was exploring scaling back the presence -- and he was wrongly slammed for that reporting by the State Dept. If I was involved in every bit of planning for the post-drawndown phase and, less than six months later, the Department was belatedly realizing the planning had all been wrong, I would expect people to question me on that. I certainly wouldn't think I could get away with citing my involvement in poor planning as a plus and reason to consider me for a post as ambassador.
But the Senators didn't object, didn't question. When Tim Arango was reporting on this consdieration, he was noting that over $50 million had already been spent on his program in Iraq since the start of the year. It's a damn shame that the US Senators weren't at all concerned about that wasted money. They had a witness before them bragging about all he'd done in the planning and the planning is a failure. You'd think the gas bags would have had a question or two.
Brett McGurk: In my last assignments in Iraq, I participated in almost every internal conversation -- both inter-agency and in Baghdad -- about how not only to plan the transition after our troops were withdrawing but also uhm, uh-uh, how to get the size down. Uh, quite frankly, our presence in Iraq right now, uh, is too large.
Welcome to our Zombie Senate. Here you will find glassy-eyed senators who stumble through a few words but mainly stare off into space as a witness self-incriminates.
I myself could care less what two adults agree to do, married or not, but State has disciplined its own Foreign Service Officers for extra marital affairs, and cautions against using official email for too-personal correspondence. Always want to keep an eye on double-standards so they don't negatively influence morale among the troops.
I do care what McGurk did. He concealed the relationship from Ryan Crocker who was his superior and the US Ambassador to Iraq. When I objected yesterday I didn't see how someone who did that could then be US Ambassador to Iraq. I was unaware that McGurk was married (he got married in 2006). As Peter Van Buren notes, that is considered a no-no. So he didn't just waste time in a war zone pursuing a bootie call, he also did so while married.
There are two comments currently at Van Buren's post. I agree with both of them but I want to echo the second one. The State Dept has gone after Peter. They have targeted him for being a whistle blower. But they think the best the US can offer for a post as ambassador is someone who violated their own policies in 2008 while in Iraq. (That's not the only time in Iraq that McGurk violated the policies. Had I known he was married yesterday I wouldn't have stated that he had many affairs while in Iraq. But I've already stated that so we will note, pursuit of affairs was not limited to Gina Chon.) And they know this. And yet they want to go after Peter?
The State Dept should take their little comedy act on the road.
MaybeUSA Today's Jim Michaels could be their opening act? "Six months after the last U.S. combat troops left, an Iraq free of Saddam Hussein and overseen by a democratically elected government midwifed by the United States is standing on its own despite ever-present dangers from within and outside its borders." Good for Michaels for not falling into the press trap of claiming all US troops left. You still have some acting to guard the embassy and consulates, you still have special ops and you still have others. And it does matter to those whose loved ones are the ones still stationed in Iraq (that's not even counting the ones stationed around it). So good for him there.
But democratically elected government?
If you say the "government of Iraq" to most people in the US, their image is Nouri al-Maliki. He wasn't democratically elected. His political slate (State of Law) came in second to Iraqiya (headed by Ayad Allawi). Nouri's only prime minister today because he pouted and threw a temper tantrum for eight months (Political Stalemate I) and had the White House and Iranian government in Tehran both backing him. The US pushed through the Erbil Agreement. That's what gave him a second term. And when he got what he wanted from the agreement that he signed off on, he refused to follow the Erbil Agreement, he refused to honor the concessions he had promised and put into writing. And that is the ongoing Political Stalemate II, generally refered to as "the political crisis."
The political crisis has led to a call for
Al Mada notes that 176 signatures have been collected to call for a vote of no-confidence. The Media Line observes, "That leaves Maliki with a motley assortment of backers: his own State of Law coalition, which commands less than a third of the seats in parliament; Tehran; and Washington. Yet, followers of Iraq's murky and ever-shifting politics say, Maliki isn't a goner yet." Of course not, it's never easy to get rid of cockroaches, Wile E. Coyote or rodents. Al Mada notes State of Law continues to insist that the White House won't allow Nouri to be removed from his post and that US Vice President Joe Biden will be visiting soon.
That a visit from Joe Biden is seen as the saving grace for Nouri goes to how estranged the White House is from the longterm US allies in the KRG. Nouri al-Maliki used to hate Senator Joe. Couldn't stand him. Because Joe was among those telling the truth publicly that Nouri was nothing but a petty thug.
Now the KRG feels they can't trust the White House (they're right) and Thug Nouri feels he can. You have to wonder what and who the administration won't sell out before Barack leaves the White House?
Al Mada reports that the Sadr bloc states that they are under intense pressure from Iran's Shi'ite government to back down in the call for a no confidence vote against Nouri (Shi'ite). As AFP noted this afternoon, Nouri's response was to declare that "foreign influence" was behind Iraq's problems. As usual, he tossed around terms like "conspiracy" and played the persecuted drama queen.
You don't have to ignore sectarian conflict and you shouldn't. The truth is the truth. But you also shouldn't mischaracterize to pimp the lie of sectarian conflict among government officisls. There is unity in the government against Nouir.
Alsumaria notes that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani went ahead and forwarded the signatures forthe no-confidence vote and that Talabani is insisting that he didn't sign on himself.
If Nouri wanted to stop a vote, all he would have to do -- Moqtada has stated this publicly -- is implement the Erbil Agreement he agreed to in November 2010. He's refused to. All this time. And he's harmed Iraq in the process. There are no heads of the security ministries because Nouri's refused to nominate any. Grasp that. Grasp there is no Minister of Defense. Because of Nouri. Violence is up in Iraq and this comes and that hasn't forced Nouri to nominate. His 'antics' have hurt Iraq in the international business community as well. Daniel J. Graeber (OilPrice.com) observed last night:
On Monday, a suicide bomber in Iraq detonated his car bomb outside the Baghdad offices of a government-backed Shiite group, leaving at least 190 people wounded and 26 people dead. The attack was said to bear the hallmarks of al-Qaida, suggesting sectarian warfare is far from over in Iraq. The attack comes as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faces enduring challenges to his administration. That's hardly the investment climate envisioned for a post-Saddam Iraq. As if to emphasize that point, international oil companies showed little interest in Iraq's latest oil and natural gas auction.
Turning to the US. When Michael Ratner isn't in the courtroom for the Bradley Manning pre-court martial hearings, you can count on him to Retweet coverage from people who were.
Bradley Manning's court-martial is scheduled to begin September 21st. Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released US military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea and has neither affirmed that he is the leaker nor denied it.
Dominating the first of what is expected to be a three-day pre-trial hearing was Manning's civilian attorney, David Coombs, arguing that the prosecution is withholding key materials needed to build a solid defense.
On the other side of the aisle, Army Maj. Ashden Fein, the lead prosecutor, called the defense's 'unreasonable' request for documents, many of which he said were irrelevant to the case, a ploy to slow down the proceedings. He insisted, however, that the government is going "above and beyond" its legal obligations and is turning over the materials as quickly as possible.
CNN reports, "Among the charges requested to be dropped against Manning are eight specifications of unauthorized transmission under the Espionage Act and two charges of exceeding authorized access, according to a Military District of Washington legal spokesman who is not authorized to use his name." David Usborne (Indpendent) notes "Bradley, Not seen since his last hearing in April, Pte Manning looked thin and fragile seated between members of his defence team inside the military courtroom at the base, which is about 30 minutes north of Washington DC. He has been in custody since his arrest in May 2010 on suspicion of passing diplomatic cables and military logs from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to the anti-secrecy website founded by Julian Assange."
US Senator Patty Murray Chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
VETERANS:Murray, Kohl, Tester, Wyden Call on Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Investigate Companies Marketing Inappropriate Financial Products and Services to Veterans
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, June 6
Senators: Companies are taking advantage of elderly veterans and their family members
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee joined with Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Ron Wyden (D-OR) in calling on Director Richard Cordray of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, to investigate and take enforcement action against companies that may be inappropriately marketing and selling financial services and products to elderly veterans. They also called upon Director Cordray to alert veterans to the practices of companies that are taking advantage of elderly veterans.
"We believe the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
and specifically the Office for Older Americans and the Office of Servicemember Affairs are in a unique position to assist us in educating elderly veterans and family members and stopping improper practices that may be occurring," the Senators write in
the letter. "For this reason, we request that you investigate these practices to determine the feasibility of enforcement actions within CFPB's authority. We also request that you assist us in gathering information related to these companies and practices and the
impact they are having on our nation's veterans. Finally, we ask
that you work with us to better educate veterans, their families and veteran advocates about VA's pension program and the practices of certain companies."
The full text of the letter follows:
June 6, 2012
The Honorable Richard Cordray
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
1801 L Street, NW
Washington, DC 20036
Dear Mr. Cordray:
For many elderly veterans and their families, understanding, planning,
and paying for long-term care has become a tremendous challenge.
The Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) pension program, which
provides monthly benefits to eligible low-income wartime veterans and
surviving spouses, can help in meeting basic financial needs. Pension recipients
may also be eligible for additional aid if they require assistance with
activities of daily living. For eligible veterans and survivors, these
benefits may allow them to receive necessary quality care in their own homes, assisted living facilities or nursing homes.
Over the past several months, our offices have received a number of complaints from veterans and their family members about companies
that may be inappropriately marketing and selling financial services and products to elderly veterans. We are deeply troubled because such practices may adversely impact eligibility for both VA and other Federal benefits, such as Medicaid. Often these financial services and products may involve substantial fees and may not be properly suited for elderly veterans. Further, some of these companies fail to offer accurate advice
on other available benefits, often to the detriment of the veteran
We have also encountered companies that grant veterans deferred payments on assisted living facility costs for either a certain time period or until receipt of VA pension benefits. However, because of the method by which VA computes pension eligibility, such practices may in fact
negatively impact a veteran's eligibility for pension benefits. The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs has provided assistance to a number of veterans who found themselves facing eviction from assisted living facilities at the end of the deferral period because VA had not completed adjudication of their claim or they were ultimately found ineligible for pension benefits.
We believe the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
and specifically the Office for Older Americans and the Office of Servicemember Affairs are in a unique position to assist us in educating elderly veterans and family members and stopping improper practices
that may be occurring. For this reason, we request that you investigate these practices to determine the feasibility of enforcement actions
within CFPB's authority. We also request that you assist us in gathering information related to these companies and practices and the impact
they are havingon our nation's veterans. Finally, we ask that you work
to better educate veterans, their families and veteran advocates about
VA's pension program and the practices of certain companies.
The Committee on Veterans' Affairs and the Special Committee on Aging will continue to review these issues and work to ensure eligible veterans
and survivors receive the benefits they have earned. We appreciate your attention to this request and look forward to your participation in serving