Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, November 19, 2014.  Chaos and violence continue, the US Democratic Party in the House yet again spits on a veteran, despite objections from veterans groups Nancy Pelosi moves to make Corrine Brown Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, this is how The Nancy Pelosi story begins its final chapter, as it does she's called out by Jon Stewart,  US senators explore the suicide rate among veterans, and much more.

Senator Bernie Sanders declared this morning, ". . . it's a very difficult hearing because what we are going to be touching on today is what happens to the men and women who come home from war, who have served us with great courage and what happens to them when they return to civilian life."

He is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and they were talking about issues like military suicide.

But let's use Sanders' words as a starting point -- and let's note that Senate Democrats actually do work to improve the lives of veterans.  The same cannot be said for the Democratic leadership in the House.

How bad are things there?

Last week, US House Rep Nancy Pelosi was in the news for denying US House Rep Tammy Duckworth the right to vote by proxy on party positions in the House:

Tammy Duckworth is not only a member of Congress, she's also a veteran of the Iraq War.  Nancy Pelosi chose to 'honor' veterans this week by announcing that a veteran who lost both legs in combat would not be allowed to vote by proxy on the issue of who would hold what office -- for example, who would be the next Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Duckworth is at home in Illinois.  Why doesn't she just fly to DC?
CBS News notes Duckworth "was told by doctor that it was unsafe for her to fly at this stage in her pregnancy."

Last night on Comedy Central Jon Stewart was rightly mocking the disgraceful US House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in a segment of The Daily Show entitled "Petty Woman" which ended with Jon observing, "And that's how the precedent was set that a woman leader can be every bit as craven as her political male counterparts.  Let me say this, You go, girl.  Seriously, you should go."

Erik Wemple (Washington Post) explains:

His takedown of Pelosi’s denial of a pregnant woman’s vote in House Democratic elections proceeds in merciless fashion. Availing himself of Pelosi’s trail of accomplishments over the years, he documented how she has established herself on key issues that bear on the Duckworth situation. For instance: The National Partnership for Women and Families, noted Stewart, celebrated Pelosi’s advocacy for “working women.” Also highlighted by Stewart: Pelosi said at an event for the Voting Rights Act, “The right to vote must be the cornerstone of our democracy.”
Stewart: “You’re a recognized champion of working women and voting rights.”
From there, the rip was easy: “You rejected, you’re suppressing the vote of a minority pregnant woman who is a wounded war veteran. She is everything you supposedly stand for stuffed into one individual. She is a Democratic demographic tur-Duckworth,” said the host.

Jaime Fuller (Washington Post) notes:

She denied Rep. Tammy Duckworth's request to cast a proxy vote in the Democratic leadership elections. Duckworth was advised by her doctor not to fly to Washington in her eighth month of pregnancy. Duckworth (D-Ill.) also is a double-amputee Iraq War veteran, or, as Stewart put it, a Democratic demographic Turduckworth. The reason for denying the proxy vote? Pelosi said it would set a precedent ... and Duckworth happened to be supporting someone other than Pelosi's chosen candidate for a committee position.

Poor Nancy, it's week two and it's not going away.

Even worse for Nance, it's now her.

This is her to America.

It's as though she tripped at a party and knocked a table over and now every time she waivers a little when she walks, people will giggle.

It's the New Nancy.  Somewhere lower on the evolution scale than Billy Carter or Dan Quayle.

Not a good position to be in when over a third of Democratic members of the House want you gone.

Not a good position to be in when Dems are gearing up for the 2016 elections and can't afford to have a leader be a laughingstock.

And now she has an image as a person who trashes veterans.

Senator Sanders today puzzled about "what happens to the men and women who come home from war, who have served us with great courage and what happens to them when they return to civilian life."

What does happen to them?

Last week, Nancy Pelosi made clear that they will not receive fair treatment, that the work environment will not change to meet their medical needs.

Today, she demonstrated something else:  Their experience means nothing.

Maybe you know of Senator Patty Murray's work on veterans employment?  The Hire A Hero campaign and other programs she's steered and implemented.

Murray and others have worked very hard to stress that veterans have important skills they can offer employers.  In the House, US House Rep Gerry Connolly has stressed the skills veterans have and the need for these skills to be translated into the civilian workforce.

Nancy Pelosi doesn't believe veterans have any skills or insight.

Which is why she used an arcane rule to force US House Rep Tim Walz out of seeking the Ranking Member post on the House Veterans Affairs Committee in favor of Pelosi pet Corrine Brown.

Native-born Corrine Brown struggles with the English language, attacks veterans in hearings (when she shows up for the Veterans Affairs Committee hearings), attacks witnesses, attacks the Office of the Inspector General and so much more.

This is not a new development.

Dona moderated a "Congress and Veterans" roundtable May 13, 2012 about a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing the previous week that we had covered in the community:

Kat, Wally, Ava and C.I. attended the hearing.   Kat reported on it with  "Congress Member Gone Wild" and C.I. reported on it with "Iraq snapshot," "Iraq snapshot," "Congress is supposed to provide oversight"  and "Iraq snapshot." 

From the roundtable:

Dona: Thank you, Kat.  That perfectly set up a point I wanted to get to with Ava.  Kat and C.I. reported on US House Rep. Corrine Brown.  Ava, what was your take?

Ava: Brown's an embarrassment.  I can't believe the crap she pulled.  She didn't give a damn about the veterans and made excuses for the VA and lied and misled.  She's an embarrassment, I hope to hell her sorry ass is voted out of Congress.

Dona: She attacked a witness, what was that about?

Ava: Another reason her sorry ass needs to be pulled out of Congress.  The second panel was people who worked outside of the government including Dr. Nicole Sawyer who is a psychologist.  Corrine Brown wanted to show that her bad wigs weren't the trashiest things about her.  She went off on Dr. Sawyer because Chair Miller asked about the comments Shinskeki made.  Corrine Brown cut off the doctor started screaming her head and acting like a crazy woman when usually she just sounds like an uneducated one.

Dona: What set her off?

Ava: The reality was that Shinseki was being critiqued and she wasn't going to have that.  She lied and stated it wasn't fair for the doctor to critique Shinseki.  But, in the first round, when Shinseki was asked about Dr. Sawyer's written remarks, Shinseki offered a critique and Corrine Browne didn't say one damn word.

Dona:  Wally, your take?

Wally: The same as Ava's.  I'll pick up where she left off.  So Corrine Brown cuts off the witness who is answering Miller's questions --

Dona: Brown doesn't even have the floor.  She just barged in while the witness was speaking?

Wally: Correct.  And then after she has her rant, Jeff Miller, the Chair, sort of gives this look like, "Now that the crazy lady is done . . ."  He goes back to asking Dr. Sawyer a question.  Dr. Sawyer is sort of stunned and she replies to Miller's question, starts to, and tries to explain she wasn't trying to offend anyone when Brown cuts her off again and starts screaming her head off about how Miller needs to tell the witness to address her remarks to the Chair.  And it was just embarrassing.  I'm from Florida, Corrine Brown is the Congressional joke of our state.

Dona: So, let's --

Ava: Sorry.  It's not over, Dona.  Miller is attempting to calm down Crazy Corrine.  The hearing's at a complete standstill.  And the crazy woman is insulting Dr. Sawyer, stating she won't listen to Dr. Sawyer because Dr. Sawyer isn't a "doctor."  She calls the woman an "educator."  As an insult.  Miller notes that remark's not going to please educators and Brown doesn't care.  She was just so rude.  If you'd been in that hearing, you would have been shocked that a member of Congress would act the way she did.

Dona: Okay, thanks for that.  C.I., is this typical Corrine Brown?

C.I.: Since January 2009, it has been.  She makes excuses for the VA and rushes to excuse Eric Shinseki's many problems.  I remember an October 15, 2009 hearing on the VA's inability to get checks to veterans -- the GI Bill checks -- for the fall semester and how Corrine Brown was offering excuses for the VA in that hearing too.  That's just one example.  She's disgraced herself.  I have no use for her.

Dona: Kat, closing thoughts?

Kat: The hearing's not going to accomplish anything, the Committe's not going to, until everyone can agree that the veterans are the most important thing.  Corrine Brown was not serving veterans, she's usually not.  When a Republican is in office, there's the pretense that she's tough and will ask questions to protect the veterans.  But when a Democrat's in office, she reveals she's just a partisan and doesn't give a damn about veterans.

And that was 2012.  It's only gotten worse.

The Concerned Veterans of America issued the following open letter today:

Open Letter to Leader Pelosi Regarding Representative Corrine Brown

Dear Leader Pelosi,
I am writing you on behalf of Concerned Veterans for America (CVA) to ask that you reconsider your decision to support Representative Corrine Brown (D-FL) for the position of Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC). Representative Brown in her public statements has consistently minimized and dismissed the deep cultural and structural problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) despite the overwhelming evidence that the VA is failing in its core mission to deliver health care and benefits to our nation’s veterans in a timely manner. Representative Brown even claimed at one point that there were no problems with the VA in Florida, in spite of the fact that the Gainesville VA Hospital that serves veterans in her district had some of the worst wait times in the nation. Clearly, Representative Brown is detached from the reality of delayed and denied health care that veterans around the country face, including many of those in her own congressional district.
Despite the recent VA scandal and comprehensive VA reform bill, hundreds of thousands of veterans are still waiting more than a month for healthcare appointments and hundreds of thousands more are waiting over a year for disability benefits. Additionally, the VA has been slow to fire and discipline employees who are found to have engaged in misconduct and has left in place senior leaders who helped create the toxic culture within the VA. It is therefore essential that the House VA Committee has a Ranking Member who is committed to working to reform and fix the VA and not someone like Representative Brown who is an apologist for the status quo.
CVA highly recommends that the House Democrat leadership considers appointing a reform-minded Democrat to serve as Ranking Member of the House VA Committee. Democrats like Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), Rep. David Scott (D-GA), and Rep. Tim Walz (D-MN) have all shown a willingness to question the status quo at the VA and support reforms that begin to address the structural and cultural issues within the VA. While CVA does not agree with them on everything, we consider these individuals far better candidates for the position of Ranking Member than Representative Brown and they should be taken into consideration when determining who will serve in leadership positions for the minority on the House VA committee.
For the health and well-being of our nation’s veterans, it is absolutely essential that Congress continue to hold the VA accountable for its misconduct and failures. Placing strong, reform-minded leaders on the House VA Committee is essential to accomplishing that mission.
Pete Hegseth
CEO, Concerned Veterans for America
Army Veteran of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay  

Concerned Veterans for America is a non-partisan, non-profit, 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for policies that will preserve the freedom and liberty we and our families so proudly fought and sacrificed to defend.

Corrine's lousy behavior is known by few (her ethical problems have been covered only slightly better).  She's been helped by the fact that very few reporters attend these hearings and those who do often 'report' using the written statements submitted for the record.  They generally miss Corrine Brown's antics.

Veterans groups don't have that luxury.

And they know they can't trust her.

Which is why a number of them publicly backed Walz.  Jacqueline Klimas (Washington Times) notes,  "Mr. Walz’s bid for the ranking member’s post had the backing of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, the National Guard Association of the United States, and the current ranking member, Rep. Michael Michaud, Maine Democrat.

Corrine Brown isn't qualified to work the counter at Jack In The Box, let alone to be the Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Again, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bernie Sanders declared this morning, ". . . it's a very difficult hearing because what we are going to be touching on today is what happens to the men and women who come home from war, who have served us with great courage and what happens to them when they return to civilian life."

What does happen to them?

Too often, they don't get the jobs they deserve, the jobs they're experts at.

I don't believe veterans are asking for special treatment, they just want their skills to be recognized.  That's valid.  If you have a degree in something -- veteran or not -- and that goes to a job opening, you expect that degree to count for something.  If you have a work history in a certain field, you expect that to count for something if you're applying for a job in the same or a related field.

These are basic beliefs that most Americans support.

So let's be really clear that it's not just that Corrine Brown is unqualified, it's also that Tim Walz is qualified.


That's the number of years he served in the Army National Guard.

24 years.

And that doesn't count for anything with Nancy Pelosi.

She didn't want him to have the job so the fact that he was more than qualified, had the background and was a veteran, didn't matter at all to her.

When the Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives acts that way, it makes all the harder for veterans throughout America to get hired.

24 years of service and Nancy doesn't think he's qualified to be the Democratic head of the Committee.

If Democrats in Congress aren't going to hire veterans, they need to stop giving lip service pretending others need to.

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America Paul Rieckhoff Tweeted today:

Pressure does work.

Pressure should be placed on Pelosi.

Pressure already is being placed on her from Dems in Congress.

Nancy's made the whole party look like a hypocrite.

The good news is Nancy realizes she went too far.

She thinks a few good words about Walz will end it.

It won't.

But she's sent out spokespeople to assure everyone that Walz will be on the Committee and she values his work.

No, she doesn't.

If she valued his work -- or his experience -- she wouldn't have prevented him from running for the post.

If she valued veterans, she wouldn't be pushing Corrine Brown for the post.

Nancy is now the member of Congress who hates veterans.

She was desperately hanging on to her leadership role and now she's just ensured that these will be her last two years.

She's now harming the Democratic Party.  And high ranking members in both houses are saying she's going to have to go.

Congratulations, Nancy, you've managed to do what your foes have been unable to do.  She's destroyed herself.  She is now toxic in a way she never was before.  "San Francisco Democrat" doesn't terrify most Americans.  But about 30% would oppose her because of that label.

Now that she's established herself as the biggest Congressional obstacle for veterans, life's about to get a lot lonelier.

She is a text book study in how power corrupts.  The Nancy first elected to Congress, even the Nancy of 2002, would never have made the decision to deny Tammy Duckworth a proxy vote or to prevent Tim Walz from running to be the Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

But that Nancy still had ethics.

By 2006, they were gone.  She spent the first years as House Majority Leader threatening US House Rep John Conyers, bullying him, to prevent him from exploring impeachment against Bully Boy Bush.

From there, it was a long slide into hypocrisy.

And when she had no ethics left, when she had nothing left to stand for, the only thing that mattered to her was holding onto power.

That desire, that corruption, is how The Nancy Pelosi Story ends.

From disgraceful to courageous . . .

Chair Bernie Sanders:  We have two very, very brave women who are with us.  And I cannot express to you my respect enough for their courage because both of these women -- Susan Selke Valerie Pallotta -- have experienced tragedies that are nightmarish for what they've gone through. But what they have chosen to do is to come forward and give us their best ideas in terms of how we can prevent the tragedies that they have experienced from happening to other families.  And we so much appreciate their courage and their willingness to come forward.

He was speaking at this morning's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing.

Susan Selke's son Clay Hunt and Valerie Pallotta's son Joshua Pallotta were not given the help they needed after they returned to the United States and both men felt there was no hope left and took their own lives.

Clay was deployed in both the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War and he suffered from Post Traumatic Stress.  We say PTS, not the other more popular term.  This is a condition developed in combat zones and under intense pressure which is in fact a coping skill -- a heightened awareness -- that becomes a hindrance in civilian life if treatment or coping methods are not introduced to assist the veteran in recognizing and handling moments which trigger this learned condition.  You can see it as a super power that can be an aid and a benefit -- like Superman's X-ray vision.  But if Superman can't turn off the X-ray vision, then he needs assistance in learning how to.  The stigma needs to be removed from this condition to (a) let veterans know this is a condition, it's not a sickness, it's not a weakness and (b) to encourage them to explore treatments or methods to manage this condition or even skill.

Clay attempted to get assistance from the VA.  But even when he was finally rated 100% on PTS, his mother noted today, the VA just wanted to drug him, "He received counseling only as far as a brief discussion regarding whether the medication he was prescribed was working or not.  If it was not, he would be given a new medication. Clay used to say, 'I'm a guinea pig for drugs.  They'll put me on one thing, I'll have side effects, and then they put me on something else'."

And then Clay moved to a different state.  Which meant a new VA and suddenly a refusal to prescribe medication.  Though he moved in 2010, it would be March of 2011 when he "was finally able to see a psychiatrist."  That's the lengthy delay -- the one US House Rep Corrine Brown has denied and blamed on veterans -- in action.

"We cannot have someone call to get an appointment and be told that they can get one in five weeks when they have a problem," Senator Patty Murray stressed to the VA's Dr. Harold Kudler.

Senator John Boozman noted that 22 veterans a day commit suicide in the United States.  Clay Hunt  and Joshua Pallotta are examples of two veterans who did not receive the needed help and assistance they had been promised.

Valerie Pallotta explained two police officers came to her home at 3:37 a.m., September 23, 2014 and how she hoped they were there with the bad news that her son had been arrested but they were instead there to tell her that her son Joshua was dead.  The suicide has left her and her husband in a constant state of grief:

Our minds are at the funeral home, crying on our son's body as it lays cold.  We are kissing him and hugging him and trying to wake ourselves up from this awful, horrible nightmare.  Our minds are at the Veterans Cemetery in Randolph, Vermont -- the place our son was laid to rest, a place we haven't yet been able to visit.  Our minds are in Afghanistan wishing we could have been there to protect him, to shelter him from the pain he endured for years 
The two women made up the second panel.  The first panel was the VA's Dr. Harold Kudler (Chief Consultant for Mental Health Service), Dr. Caitlin Thompson (Deputy Director, Suicide Prevention) and Dr. Dean Krahn (Deputy Director in the Office of Mental Health Operations).  We'll note this exchange from the first panel.

Senator Patty Murray: I wanted to ask you, we are seeing the suicide rate of middle-aged veterans who use the VA decrease -- you mentioned that.  But [the suicide rate for] female veterans who use the VA has increased by 31%.  What is happening?

Caitlin Thompson: Yeah, thank you so much for asking that, Senator. We are as concerned as you are and trying to better understand that, why that is.  Why the rates of -- rates of suicide among women are increasing as well as that youngest male population.  One thing that I just also want to say is that we also know that veterans use firearms more than non-veterans during -- when they are feeling suicidal.  And we know that women veterans are using firearms at an increased rate than non -- than non-women veterans.  And we know that, uhm, firearms in fact -- If you use a firearm when you're suicidal, there's a 90% chance that you will die.  If you use prescriptions, medications, which is what most women non-veterans tend to use, there's a 3 to 4% chance that you will die because there's that opportunity to reach them before they die --

Senator Patty Murray:  I --

Caitlin Thompson (Con't): -- and so -- I'm sorry, go ahead.

Senator Patty Murray:  I appreciate that response but I think we also have to look at if the VA is meeting women's specific needs --

Caitlin Thompson: Absolutely.

Senator Patty Murray (Con't):  -- and why are they increasing dramatically?  Are the programs not effective? Are they not feeling that they should ask about it?  Is it something else?  This is really concerning to me and it's something I'll be following very closely as well. 

The suicide rate of women veterans has gotten a bit of attention from the press, not that much.  (Probably homeless women veterans are the only group of women veterans that the press has focused serious attention on.)

We're not done with this hearing.

We will cover it tomorrow (hopefully) and Friday (for sure).  But the whole point of covering these hearings is holding them accountable -- the VA officials, the Congress, etc.  And we have followed US House Rep Corrine Brown's repugnant behavior for years now so we do need to weigh in -- and do so at length -- when she is on the verge of being named Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

Equally true, I think people should hold their own accountable.  We mock the (former) Australian blogger who blogged daily trashing Bully Boy Bush but never could blog about Australia's Prime Minister John Howard who also sent troops into Iraq.  Nancy Pelosi is my Congressional rep.  It's my duty to hold her accountable.

Back to today's hearing,  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Finance Committee and the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  Her office issued the following today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                      CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, November 19, 2014                                                        (202) 224-2834

VETERANS—MENTAL HEALTH: Murray Concerned That VA and Local Communities Unprepared to Help Veterans in Crisis
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, attended a hearing to examine mental health and suicide among veterans. According to recent data, suicide rates have continued to increase among female veterans who use VA care and among male veterans ages 18-24 who use VA, the rate has skyrocketed to 79 per 100,000.
“There is no issue as pressing as providing quality, timely mental health care and suicide prevention programs to our nation’s heroes. The problem is familiar to all of us, but the solutions still seem elusive,” Senator Murray said at the hearing. “Just one suicide, just one veteran in crisis, or just one family struggling to make it through is just one too much.”
Senator Murray’s full remarks as prepared:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing today. There is no issue as pressing as providing quality, timely mental health care and suicide prevention programs to our nation’s heroes. The problem is familiar to all of us, but the solutions still seem elusive.
“Twenty-two veterans per day die by suicide. Rates have continued to increase among female veterans who use VA care. Among male veterans age 18 to 24 who use VA, the rate has skyrocketed to 79 per 100,000. And finally, according to VA’s access data, wait times for new mental health patients are virtually unchanged -- at 36 days -- over the five months that VA has provided this data.
“Mr. Chairman, I am very concerned about whether VA and local communities are prepared with the resources, policies, and training to help veterans in serious crisis. When our men and women in uniform have the courage to come forward and ask for help, VA must be there with not only high quality and timely care, but also the right type of care to best meet the veteran’s needs. We must demand progress on each of these areas.
“Mr. Chairman, a few months ago we passed a VA reform bill to help veterans get into care.  It included a temporary authority to improve access to community providers for veterans having trouble accessing VA care.  However, a recent report by the RAND Corporation raises serious concerns about whether private sector providers are ready to give high quality care to veterans. It suggests we need to do more to expand use of evidence-based treatments - and much more to help providers understand the unique needs and culture of servicemembers and veterans. The reform bill also included critically needed funds to build and strengthen the VA for the long-term. 
“But there will be more needs going forward. VA must start planning and requesting the necessary resources now, so it will be prepared to meet the growing demand for mental health care far into the future. There is clearly much, much more work to be done. 
“Just one suicide, just one veteran in crisis, or just one family struggling to make it through is just one too much. So I want to take a moment to thank Mrs. Selke, Mrs. Pallotta and Mr. and Mrs. Vanata for being here today. It’s incredibly difficult to talk about these issues. We admire your courage and your strength for being willing to share your stories with us.
“Thank you, and your family, for your service and sacrifice to our nation.
“Mr. Chairman, I hope as we head into a new Congress that stories like theirs will continue to be told as we work together to fulfill the promises we have made to those who have served. Thank you.”
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

In Iraq, the Kurds should have learned a hard lesson today.  I don't think their leadership did.  We'll cover it tomorrow.

Margaret Griffis ( reports, "A rare bombing took place in the Kurdistan capital of Arbil today. Islamic State militants are suspected to be behind it. At least 114 people were killed there and elsewhere. Another 53 were wounded."