Starting with the VA scandal. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and serves on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Thursday, May 22, 2014 (202) 224-2834
Murray: “What we need from VA now is decisive action and I think this Committee should be clear to the VA what we expect. The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot be allowed to continue.”
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) continued her push for action at the VA during the Senate Appropriations Committee’s first Full Committee Markup of the year. During consideration of the Military Construction and Veterans’ Affairs Appropriations bill, Murray reiterated her call for decisive, transparent action from the Department of Veterans Affairs to address the deep, system-wide problems when it comes to health care wait times. Murray also expressed support for provisions that would address those wait times and increase accountability through prohibiting the VA from awarding bonuses to VHA senior executives, medical directors, and assistant directors until the Inspector General completes a nation-wide review and the VA provides a plan to implement the recommendations.
The bill also funds Senator Murray’s key priorities for veterans, including mental health and suicide prevention, gender specific care for women veterans, Vet Centers, care for veterans in rural areas, and care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Full Text of Senator Murray’s Remarks:
“I want to thank Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Kirk and their staffs for all their work putting this bill together.
“Like pretty much every American, I believe that when it comes to caring for our nation’s heroes, we cannot accept anything less than excellence.
“The VA and the Department generally offers very high quality health care—but it is really disappointing that the Department has failed to address wait times for that care.
“I was glad to see President Obama weigh in on this issue yesterday, but these recent allegations are not new issues – they are deep, system-wide problems, and they do grow more concerning every day. We should not be waiting to take action.
“The Inspector General and GAO have reported on this problem repeatedly for several years. But many of the recommendations still have not been implemented by the VA.
“The Department has announced it’s going to conduct a nation-wide review of access to care. And there have been some adjustments in personnel. But those are really only first steps.
“There are still far too many unanswered questions about the review, including whether it is taking a serious look at the problem.
“As I told Secretary Shinseki last week, I continue to believe that he does take this seriously and wants to do the right thing. But we really have come to the point where we need to have more than good intentions.
“What we need from VA right now is decisive action and I think this Committee mark should be very clear to the VA what we expect.
“The lack of transparency and the lack of accountability are inexcusable and cannot continue to be allowed.
“Giving bonuses to hospital directors for running a system that places priority on gaming the system and keeping their numbers down rather than providing care to veterans – has to come to an end.
“That is why I am very pleased the Subcommittee’s mark includes a provision to prohibit VA from awarding bonuses to VHA senior executives, medical directors, and assistant directors until the Inspector General completes a nation-wide review and the VA provides a plan to implement the recommendations.
“And I also commend you Mr. Chairman for adding an extra $5 million to the Inspector General to conduct that review.
“We cannot continue to not provide the resources for the care at the local level or for the IG to be able to conduct this very important review.
“So I really want to thank Chairman Johnson and Ranking Member Kirk for including those really important provisions in this bill and addressing wait times and increasing accountability. I think this takes a very important direction, and I appreciate it.
“There are other issues in this bill very important to all of us. I do want to thank the Chairman for his willingness to continue to work with me on providing reproductive health services to our most catastrophically wounded heroes. I wasn’t able to include it in this, but we are going to continue to work on that.
“Madam Chairman, I just think it is extremely important that all of us recognize that this committee is making a strong statement with this bill about the challenges we’ve been hearing at the VA, and I appreciate it.”
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The cooking of the books by the VA? Two lists were kept at some VA medical centers (over 20 are now under investigation). One was the fairy tale list known as the 'real' list and it was entered into the computer system. It showed veterans needing medical attention being able to make appointments within 14 days of calling in for an appointment.
Senator Murray's calling for an end to the bonuses and that is smart because these fairy tale lists allowed VA officials to be rewarded for their 'good' job.
But the reality was there was an off book list. It was kept by hand and it demonstrated that veterans were not receiving timely medical attention. Scott Bronstein, Drew Griffin and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN -- link is text and video) report:
Some veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are being made to wait for months in the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care System despite a national mandate they be given priority access to medical care, a VA doctor told CNN.
Dr. Katherine Mitchell, medical director of the Phoenix VA's post-deployment clinic, outlined the allegations in a report that aired Wednesday night on CNN's "AC 360°."
She accused the Phoenix VA -- up until at least three weeks ago -- of not following a mandate that the highest priority be given to new or injured veterans for scheduling appointments.
Wait lists in Phoenix for veterans injured in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan can be "six months, nine months or longer," Mitchell said.
In the video (from Wednesday's Anderson Cooper 360), Drew Griffin comments on Barack's speech from yesterday.
Drew Griffin: You know, I thought these poor veterans are going to have to wait now even longer to get care while the President studies the issue, Anderson. The fact is veterans across the country have been waiting too long to get doctor's appointments. That is a fact. The other fact is, the VA has known about that. Not only that, the VA has known that its offices out here in the country have been cooking the books to try and hide those numbers. Those are facts which come from numerous government reports. So those are facts that are already out there. In the last several months, six months, on your program, whistle-blowers have come forward and told us, have told us, they have talked to the VA Inspector General reporting that due to delays in care, deaths have occurred as a result. The VA has admitted to 23 deaths due to delays. Now, I just want to tell you, Anderson, who this is harming and why many believe the President's speech today was completely inadequate. Last night, here in Phoenix, I talked to a physician at the VA who runs the post-deployment clinic, Dr. Katherine Mitchell, and I had to ask her twice because I couldn't believe what she was telling me. She told me even recent war vets, vets coming home injured are waiting months to get care.
The Economist weighs in on yesterday's speech noting:
Not for the first time, Mr Obama’s first response seemed oddly detached. He offered tepid support for Eric Shinseki, a former four-star general who serves as his secretary for veterans’ affairs, calling him a great public servant who “cares deeply about veterans”, before noting that, if Mr Shinseki were to conclude that he had let veterans down, “then I’m sure that he is not going to be interested in continuing to serve.” With that out of the way, the president then explained how hard it is to run the VA, an agency that has endured backlogs for decades and now faces an influx of troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as claims from newly-eligible veterans after rules were relaxed for those exposed to Agent Orange in Vietnam or suffering from post-traumatic stress.
This afternoon, Dana Bash informed Jake Tapper (The Lead, CNN) that Shinseki told (bragged to?) reporters today that he has not offered his resignation and insisted, "You guys know me better than that."
Bret Hayworth (Sioux City Journal) reports Iraq War veteran Jim Mower, who is running for Congress, publicly called today for Shinseki to resign:
"I am appalled by the actions of the president and the V.A.," Mowrer said.
Mowrer is a veteran who served in Iraq for 16 months with an Infantry Battalion out of Waterloo, Iowa. He said Obama only reacted after weeks of media outcries about veterans hospitals, so he sees "a rudderless ship approaching disaster."
Mowrer is not worried about any fallout from his criticism of Obama, who is a fellow Democrat.
"I don't care who the president is, it needs to be fixed," he said.
Jim Mower isn't the only Democrat making the call for Shinseki to step down. As noted in yesterday's snapshot, US House Reps John Barrow and David Scott (both Democrats) called yesterday for Shinseki to step down. In addition, Andrew Johnson (conservative National Review -- link is text and video) notes Bob Kerry appeared on Hardball last night and called for Shinseki to step down. (Disclosure, as noted before, I know and like Bob Kerrey.) The Vietnam veteran, former Governor of Nebraska and former US senator told Chris Matthews, "In this case I think there's an urgency for General Shinseki, who is honorable man and served his country honorably, but he needs to step aside."
Mike Lillis (The Hill) notes House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi declared that the scandal "could rise to the level of criminal misconduct" and points out, "She's not alone in suggesting the alleged misconduct might be criminal. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) has urged VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to call in the FBI to investigate."
Moving over to Iraq, the end of May is near and Nouri has been bombing residential neighborhoods in Falluja since January. The civilian dead includes children. Today's shelling has left a man, a woman and a child injured.
A family whose 'crime' was living in their home.
Hamid Shahab (Kitabat) traces the attacks to the decay of American standards which, he argues, were at their height with the leadership of then-President Abe Lincoln and have dropped steadily since then.arriving at the current lack of values which tolerates the attacks on civilians in Falluja despite these attacks being a flagrant violation of human rights and the law and, as this genocide continues, Americans either remain silent or turn a blind eye to the murders.
The assault on Anbar was a political move by Nouri in his attempt to increase support for himself among Shi'ite voters while decreasing the voting of Sunnis who largely oppose him due to his non-stop attacks on the Sunni population.
Al Mada notes that over 500,000 of Anbar's population was displaced due to Nouri's assault on the province. That's a large number which -- along with Nouri's military turning Sunnis away from polling stations in Anbar for half the day on April 30th and refusing to allow voting in Falluja -- may explain the low turnout among Sunni voters. Iraq Times notes the growing charges of fraud in the elections. The new electronic i.d. cards used in this election are part of the fraud charges. Al Mada notes that two million people issued those cards were two million who should not be voting for one obvious reason: They were dead. The voter rolls not only carried the names of 2 million dead people, voting cards for that dead segment were somehow distributed to living people who voted. In addition, Ghazanfar Laibi (Al Mada) reports that although 12 million Iraqis voted in the election you're looking at 11.222 million votes because over 750,000 votes have been invalidated by the so-called 'Independent' High Electoral Commission. The bloc of cleric and movement leader Moqtada al-Sadr is charging that these votes were tossed aside by the Commission to aid in Nouri's 'victory.' The Economist notes:
The result “cannot be described as anything other than a victory” for Mr Maliki, writes Reidar Visser, a Norwegian expert on Iraq. Yet the prime minister is still not certain to hold on to power. With a quarter of the seats, he may need months to forge a new ruling coalition; last time it took nearly ten to do so. He is widely detested across the sectarian spectrum. He has many enemies in his own dominant Shia group, as well as among Sunni Arabs and Kurds.
Alice Fordham (NPR) asks the question, "So why did Maliki do so well at the polls when Iraq is facing so many serious problems?" But she notes none of the charges of irregularities being made and instead relies on things like this:
Kirk Sowell, a risk analyst who studies the country for the newsletter , reckons the answer is threefold: First, Maliki has manipulated media coverage of the bloody chaos in Iraq so that he looks like a strong military leader rather than the man responsible for the mess.
Sometimes, Grace Slick notwithstanding, you don't go ask Alice.
What Fordham can't even note in passing, Salah Nasrawi (Al-Ahram) explores at length and notes:
If proved, the allegations of irregularities and vote-rigging will cast shadows over the legitimacy of the new parliament elected on 30 April and may further worsen the decade-long political ructions and sectarian violence that have been largely blamed on the nation's political class.
Fraud and election theft issues to the side, Mustafa Habib (Niqash) offers an analysis of where things stand which includes:
Most significantly, the Shiite Muslim parties are now divided; previously they were all working together. But over the past few years, the leaders of the popular Sadrist movement, represented by the Ahrar bloc in politics, and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, or ISCI, which is represented by the Muwatin bloc, have expressed their dislike of al-Maliki.
Muqtada al-Sadr, the spiritual leader of the Sadrists, has been overt and harsh in his criticism while Amir al-Hakim of the ISCI has been more guarded. Al-Maliki has previously said that al-Sadr is too young and inexperienced in politics.
The problem for al-Maliki though is that his two former allies are close and apparently they both agree that he should not be given another term in office.
The Sunni Muslim politicians of Iraq are of the same mind. But within the major Sunni Muslim blocs there are some conflicts. For example, the Sunni Muslim parties with the most seats – respectively, Nujaifi and al-Mutlaq – may find it hard to convince Allawi’s group to join them because the latter feels the former betrayed him after the 2010 elections, by leaving to form their own parties, affectively splitting the Sunni Muslim bloc. Additionally al-Mutlaq is considered by many Sunnis to be too close to al-Maliki.
So what will happen next? And how will these various and troubled political groupings choose Iraq’s next Prime Minister?
It’s going to be tough. For one thing, al-Maliki’s State of Law seems to consider their 92 seats enough of a victory to push for al-Maliki’s next term as Prime Minister. There is also talk that all of the anti-al-Maliki parties may get together to ensure that al-Maliki is removed from power – that would mean a cross-sectarian, cross-ethnic coalition united in one desire. And apparently there have been talks between the various players about this possibility, and about the potential to elect a leader from al-Hakim’s Citizen bloc. However it would still be difficult to achieve this because it ignores State of Law’s 92 seats, not to mention what one Iraq expert describes as the “psychological quantum leap” it will require of all of the players.
In 2010, the Iranian government forced Moqtada al-Sadr to support Nouri despite Moqtada's public opposition to Nouri. That may not happen this go round. At Gulf Today, Michael Jansen explains:
While Maliki has the most seats in the assembly and appears to be in a strong position, Tehran may not be prepared to put pressure on Hakim and Sadr to form a coalition with his State of Law faction. Maliki is deeply disliked by the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia which would not look with favour on a second intervention by Tehran currently trying to court their good opinion.
The Saudi invitation to visit Riyadh issued to Iranian foreign minister Mohammed Javid Zarif has offered Tehran a chance to thaw relations between his country and the kingdom and it is unlikely that Iran will want to spoil this opportunity by backing Maliki. There are suggestions that another figure from State of Law could be a compromise candidate.
Marina Ottaway offers an analysis for CNN which includes, "Elated by his victory, al-Maliki is sounding uncompromising, and although he has declared that he is open to work with any political party, he has made it clear that it would be strictly on his own terms. For example, he has told the Kurdish party that they are welcome in a government coalition as long as they accept his interpretation of the constitution, thus renounce their ambition to export oil independently." Apparently while preparing that analysis today, Ottaway missed Sinan Salaheddin's Associated Press report which opens, "Iraq's self-ruled northern Kurdish region on Thursday started exporting crude oil to the international market through the Turkish port of Ceyhan despite objections from the central government in Baghdad, Turkey's energy minister said." On the Kurds, Borzou Daragahi (Financial Times of London) observes:
The various Kurdish parties, with 62 seats, are pressing for maximum gains, offering to lend their support only in exchange for concessions from Baghdad on oil revenues and amid constant disruptive warnings that they will bolt from the union if they do not get their way. “If they don't like us to be with them, they should tell us and we will take another path as well,” Kurdistan’s President Masoud Barzani was recently quoted as saying. "We are going to have a referendum and ask our people. Whatever the people decide.”
Daragahi's analysis includes more than the Kurdish aspect; however, both Daragahi and his former outlet (the Los Angeles Times) distinguished themselves in the early years of the Iraq War with their understanding of and focus on the Kurdish region of Iraq. As for the referendum KRG President Massoud Barzani was speaking of, David Romano (Rudaw) explains:
Since 2003, most of us who closely watch Iraq knew that the threat to call a referendum on independence forms one of the cards up the Iraqi Kurdish sleeve. Any real move towards an Iraqi Kurdish state would need to be preceded by such a referendum, in order to provide the project with legitimacy both at home and abroad. Even just throwing this card down on the table involves significant risks, however, which explains why Kurdish leaders in Erbil remained cautious during the past ten years.
A referendum on Kurdish independence, whether in the form of confederalism or outright secession, would likely awaken forces that would prove difficult to contain or control. I have no doubt that the vast majority of Kurds in southern Kurdistan would vote for independence, that they deserve independence and that they will enjoy the enthusiastic moral support of fellow Kurds in neighboring states if they opt for independnece. Once these long-repressed passions are fully aroused, putting them back in the bottle might prove impossible. So although Iraqi Kurdish leaders may wish to play the referendum card in order to strengthen their negotiating position with Baghdad, they may quickly find themselves unable to step back from the process if they actually place the card on the table.
National Iraqi News Agency reports two police members were injured in a Mosul shooting, Joint Operations Command states they killed 23 suspects in Anbar, Joint Operations Command announced they killed 9 suspects in Falluja, a Mosul home invasion left 1 police member, his brother and another family member dead, Baghdad Operations Command announced they killed 15 suspects in Baghdad, an attack to the north of Tikrit left 1 police officer and his driver dead and three bodyguards injured, army forces say they killed 11 suspects in Ramadi, a battle in Shirqat left 4 rebels dead, security forces say they killed 15 suspects to the east of Ramadi, a Mosul sticky bombing left a bodyguard for Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi injured, an attack on a Ramadi checkpoint left 2 police members dead and two Sahwa and one more police member injured, an Alrashidiyah bombing left 1 police colonel dead, an Ur car bombing left 5 people dead and eighteen more injured, an al-Liqa suicide bomber took her own life and the lives of 6 people while leaving thirty four people injured, a central Baghdad bombing left 4 people dead and thirteen more injured, and security forces say they killed 3 suspects in Abbid Weis. All Iraq News adds 1 Sahwa was shot dead in Tikrit and three more injured. Alsumaria reports that a woman was shot dead in Mosul -- she was a university professor and had run in the parliamentary elections -- her name isn't given. NINA identifies the woman as Dr. Valihah Salih who taught at the Technical Institute and she was a candidate with Tahalof Nineveh. Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) reports, "A suicide bomber blew himself up among pilgrims in western Baghdad's Mansour district, killing 11 other people and wounding others, police said."
Through Wednesday, Iraq Body Count counts 635 violent deaths so far this month.
Lastly, David Bacon's latest book is The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration is Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press). We'll close with this from Bacon's photo essay "WORKERS AREN'T A DISPOSABLE PRODUCT" (New Labor Forum):
Eulogio Solanoa is a Mixteco migrant from Oaxaca, and was a farm worker for many years. After leading strikes and community protests, he went to work as an organizer for the United Farm Workers. Today he lives in Greenfield, California, where he told his story to David Bacon. Thanks to Farmworker Justice for the support for this project of documenting the lives of farm workers.
I've been here in Greenfield since 1992, so that's twenty years. But I'm from a small town called San Jose de las Flores in the Putla district in Oaxaca. My family has ejido land there -- not a lot of land, just what they call a cajon, less than a quarter of an acre. That's about the amount of land everyone has there. We only have enough to live, but not enough to buy a house or car. My father didn't even own any land -- the land we have comes from my mother.
The entire town is an ejido [communities created by Mexico's land reform that hold their land in common], but everyone has their own little piece of land. We don't choose a different plot each year -- whatever piece of land you first got is what you keep. That is what Emiliano Zapata fought for, so that everyone can have their own land. We didn't have that before. But it's not enough land for a family to live, only enough to grow corn and a few beans. It's enough to eat, but not enough to grow crops to sell.
That's why we didn't have clothes and barely enough to eat. When I was fourteen and going to school I still didn't own a pair of shoes. I was barefoot. I really enjoyed going to school, though. My teacher said I was the brightest one in class. But I couldn't continue - I had to go to work with my family.
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