Senator Jon Tester: For more than a year we all worked carefully with the VA and the White House to negotiate the text of that bill. We were in regular communication with the VA on how it would interpret and implement that bill, passing it back and forth for technical assistance, ensuring we were all on the same page. Since that time, though, I have grown increasingly concerned with the Department's planned implementation of the new Veterans Community Care Program created in the bill. Mr. Secretary, the VA is moving away from the direction it was headed just six months ago, make no mistake about that. The most dramatic example has to do with the VA designating certain types of care as nearly automatic eligibility for community care. Six months ago, we agreed that, if veterans faced excessive wait times or driving times or distance, to access certain services at a VA's facility, they should be offered referrals to the community. Specifically, we discussed designating access standards for services like routine lab work and x-rays. But we agreed to give the VA the authority to decide exactly which services or categories of care should make veterans automatically eligible to receive care in the community. Now that we've passed the VA Mission Act, VA has decided to head in what I believe is a completely different direction. VA now indicates it plans to designate access standards that apply to each and every type of care a veteran might need. This would essentially outsource all segments of VA healthcare to the community based on arbitrary wait times or geographic standards which we were supposed to be moving away from by ending the [Veterans] Choice Program. And that's despite the fact that several studies -- one as recently as last week -- have indicated the quality of care that the VA is as good as or better than the private sector. Let me say that one more time because it's not said enough: As recently as last week, we received yet another study that indicated that VA care is as good as or better than private sector. To make matters worse, VA officials have offered only vague, verbal descriptions of the various sets of potential access standards under considerations by you, Mr. Wilkie. It also concerns me that each time we've discussed this issue in the last few months, VA officials have given us wildly different estimates of budgetary resources needed to implement this set of access standards you're considering. For example, if the Department chooses to go with the same access standard used by TRICARE PRIME, we've been told it could cost anywhere from one billion for the first year to more than twenty billion over five years. Some of the VA estimates indicate that costs will be less than what we spent on Choice but would make a greater percentage of veterans eligible for community care referrals. That doesn't make sense. So we need to know what you're doing, Mr. Secretary and how much it's going to cost? No conflicting or vague answers, no fuzzy math, no games. The stakes are too high.
The senator was speaking at yesterday's Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. It was a joint hearing -- the House Veterans Affairs Committee and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Tester is the Ranking Member on the Senate Committee and Senator Johnny Isakson is the Chair. On the House, US House Rep Phil Roe is the Chair and US House Rep Mark Takano was Acting Ranking Member.
Appearing before the Committee was VA Secretary Robert Wilkie who was accompanied by VA's Melissa Glynn and Steven Lieberman. Mr. Wilkie has officially been Secretary of the VA for four months (in addition, he was Acting Secretary for two months). During his tenure so far, he noted in the hearing that he had visited ten VA hospitals.
In testimony, Wilkie offered, "VA receives 140 million phone calls a year. Ten million people contact VA online each month. We have 348 contact centers, hundreds of websites, and dozens of databases."
For someone so quick to toss around numbers that no one asked for, Wilkie was strangely unable to provide specific numbers that went to the topic of the hearing: The Mission Act.
It was vague answers, it was fuzzy math, it was a group of VA officials either completely unprepared for the hearing or unwilling to provide the answers needed for Congress to provide the needed oversight.
Possibly, Wilkie felt he'd offered enough honesty with admitting, of the Choice program, "the Department, I will admit was taken advantage of." Of course, those years of Choice were before he became VA Secretary and it's always easy to admit to the failures of those who came before you.
VHA's Steven Lieberman insisted to the Committee that the public, reported administrative costs for the outgoing Choice program were not accurate, that they were much lower. He offered no figures, of course. But those public figures -- take his word for it, mainly because all he did was offer his word, certainly no actual numbers -- they are lower. That prompted this exchange.
Steven Lieberman: We're going to go to a new model [with Mission] which will further decrease the administrative costs.
Ranking Member Jon Tester: Okay and so are you planning on putting overhead caps on those contracts ?
Steven Lieberman: Uh, we are, uh, moving towards a standard that, uh, that is similar to what the community --
Ranking Member Jon Tester: So that's a no? You're not going to put caps in.
Steven Lieberman: We certainly can uh-uh-uh
Ranking Member Jon Tester: No, I'm not advocating for it but what I'm saying is that if somebody has got to put a finger on these costs because, I tell you, we're talking billions of dollars and after the fact, we can't get them back and those are dollars that should be taking care of the veterans. So do we have a plan? Because the truth is the Mission Act we passed with the best of the intentions but the it could be a train wreck too. And I hate to tell you this but it's in your lap, it is in your lap. So when we're talking about too high administration costs, we're talking access standard models that were basically Choice, we could end up with a problem where we're actually cutting benefits for our veterans.
We'll note this from the Chair of the House Veterans Committee.
Chair Phil Roe: A small thing like a contract, a cable contract, you might have signed, or a contract on an apartment, and then your spouse loses their life in service to the country and you not be able to get out of that contract for a year? Now you're going to hopefully be able to do of that. Little things like that that don't seem like big things but, if your the person on the end of that, they are big things. And I've personally seen it and witnessed it with my friends who have had to deal with it. So these are ideas that came from both sides of the aisle and I want to thank all my colleagues for those ideas.
This was about the efforts of both Committees to listen to veterans and to find issues that have not been addressed previously but need to be addressed. Is the VA also listening to veterans? In the hearing Wilkie claimed that he was listening to VSOs but he seemed to believe he was the first to ever listen to, for example, blind veterans. That's inaccurate.
Wilkie claiming to listen to veterans also is hard to believe when there are still problems with the GI Bill being implemented properly.
Senator Patty Murray: [. . .] I do want to mention the current chaos with the GI Bill. It is unacceptable to the veterans without a stipend or an incorrect stipend or a delayed stipend -- especially when they rely on that to pay for rent or food. And it is unacceptable to put veterans at risk by failing to get tuition payments to the universities, as well, on time. These are basic tasks that the VA cannot get wrong, You've had more than a year now to implement the changes in the Forever GI Bill. I've written you two letters, one more than a month ago, one three weeks ago looking for answers on how the VA is going to fix these payment problems, how they're going to address the shortcomings with the GI bill comparison tool and especially in light of the recent collapse of ECE, to explain why the Department of Education has stopped sharing accreditation information with the VA.
Yes, we're back to 2010. The only real change? The VA's big defender for failure to implement the GI Bill correctly, then-US House Rep Corrine Brown, is now in a federal prison since she is a convicted felon.
Also in the hearing, Jon Tester declared, "If we aren't willing to take care of our veterans, we shouldn't be making them." Agreed. If you're sending people to war, you owe them the healthcare you have promised them. And if you can't deliver that, you shouldn't be sending them. I'd further state that you shouldn't be sending them to these made up wars to begin with. And if you don't grasp that the US has -- and has had -- way too many wars, Secretary Wilkie noted in the hearing that Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak has become the 136th national veterans cemetery and that "the first burial took place last month."
Another detail -- that goes to the large number of today's wars -- Secretary Wilkie noted, "For the first time since the fall of Saigon, half of our veterans are actually under the age of sixty-five."
When Ranking Member Tester declared, "If we aren't willing to take care of our veterans, we shouldn't be making them," he was referring to the inability of the Congress to -- so far -- past the Blue Water legislation. Here's the Senate bill.
115th CONGRESS 1st Session S. 422 To amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify presumptions relating to the exposure of certain veterans who served in the vicinity of the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes. _______________________________________________________________________ IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES February 16, 2017 Mrs. Gillibrand (for herself, Mr. Daines, Mr. Tester, Mr. Crapo, Mr. Markey, Ms. Murkowski, Ms. Warren, Mr. Rubio, Mr. Leahy, Ms. Klobuchar, Ms. Heitkamp, Ms. Baldwin, Mr. Schatz, Mr. Whitehouse, Mr. Wyden, Mr. Casey, Mr. Kaine, Ms. Stabenow, Mr. Warner, Mr. Peters, Mr. Menendez, Mr. Portman, Mr. Blunt, and Mr. Rounds) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs _______________________________________________________________________ A BILL To amend title 38, United States Code, to clarify presumptions relating to the exposure of certain veterans who served in the vicinity of the Republic of Vietnam, and for other purposes. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE. This Act may be cited as the "Blue Water Navy Vietnam Veterans Act of 2017". SEC. 2. CLARIFICATION OF PRESUMPTIONS OF EXPOSURE FOR VETERANS WHO SERVED IN VICINITY OF REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM. (a) Compensation.--Subsections (a)(1) and (f) of section 1116 of title 38, United States Code, are amended by inserting "(including the territorial seas of such Republic)" after "served in the Republic of Vietnam"
each place it appears. (b) Health Care.--Section 1710(e)(4) of such title is amended by inserting "(including the territorial seas of such Republic)" after "served on active duty in the Republic of Vietnam". (c) Effective Date.--The amendments made by subsections (a) and (b) shall take effect as of September 25, 1985.
We'll try to cover the hearing some more in tomorrow's snapshot.
Let's digress for a moment. We live in the age of MeToo# and it's interesting to remember the former 'flower child' who never embraced peace -- despite some seeing her as a hippie -- but embraced the sexuality of the so-called sexual revolution -- meaning she didn't just sleep -- as most already know -- with married men. No, she who was married herself, slept with married men who loved five-somes. And, in terms of MeToo# -- and possibly in terms of the accusations she has made against an ex, it should be noted that there were girls involved in these five-somes, some as young as fourteen. "MeToo# for thee but for me" should be her slogan. Just file that way.
On an unrelated note (!), oh, look, it's Mia Farrow!
You mean the same military experts that lied us into Iraq & Libya and currently has us bombing 8 different countries? Trump has so completely ruined Liberals brains that they now publicly cheer on war and military confrontations with Nuclear powers. #TheResistance
Oh, Mia, you've always been so pathetic. You're against abortion and want to outlaw it, but you're always for the killing of foreigners. Strange, didn't people see you as a hippie? Wrongly saw you as that? Oh, and weren't you having a lot of affairs while you were married to Frank Sinatra? How many could you fit in a bed back then? Anyway, Mia never spoke out against the Iraq War (she really didn't protest the Vietnam War either -- or do anything for Civil Rights -- she did get high a lot and sleep with a lot of people so I guess that was her contribution to the sixties). She did spend the '00s repeatedly advocating for Bully Boy Bush to send US troops into Sudan.
I guess, especially in her old age, she's traded the thrill of sex for the thrills her War Lust provides. Since she's a noted War Monger, I'm confused why we should ever listen to Mia Farrow? What standing does she have?
I mean she raised a lot kids -- no judgment on how poorly she did -- but, interesting that this woman who's always screaming for US troops to go here or to stay there, this woman has never had one of her many children (11) join the military. She wants to send your children into battle, just not her own. She's kind of a chicken hawk in that way -- that she doesn't want her kids to do battle, I'm not saying that she's ever been in bed with anyone under age -- certainly not with a girl under the age of consent, certainly not a girl under the age of consent, herself and three other people. As the great Cass Elliot said at Monterey, "Shh, no rumors."
Mia's opposed to peace, she always has been.
She's frightened by the possibility that US President Donald Trump might remove US troops from Syria. She was never bothered that the US government, under Barack Obama, supplied al Qaeda and ISIS with weapons in Syria. She wasn't bothered that those weapons (and those fighters) drifted back into Iraq. She's not bothered by the continuing Iraq War. Or the continuing Afghanistan War -- which may be ending soon. I would love that be true. Thus far it is not.
Elaine covered this possibility in "Was anything accomplished in the Afghanistan War?" and from that:
Did we accomplish anything with the war?
I doubt it. Afghan women are no better off. The Taliban was never vanquished. Maybe UNICAL got that pipeline that they always wanted.
That was the real point of the war. It's why Bill Clinton was in bed with the Taliban, remember? We wanted that pipleine. Gore Vidal repeatedly addressed that whole pursuit. He may have been the only one willing to tell that truth. Sadly, he's a truth teller who is now gone.
If you'll remember, following the 9/11 attacks, we demanded Afghanistan turn over bin Laden. Afghanistan's respone to Secretary of State Colin Powell? Give us some sort of evidence that makes him a suspect. Colin replied, hand him over and then we'll hand over evidence. Yes, it became a pissing contest. On such actions are destructive wars waged.
For that reason, the Afghanistan War.
Do I like the Taliban? Can't stand them. That's really not the issue. There are a lot of people in the world I can't stand.
The war needs to come to an end. Like Iraq, this war is achieving nothing. What is the end goal? What is the desired outcome? Both have gone on for over 15 years. Come on, that's ridiculous. Repeating, they've accomplished nothing, these wars. A lot of people have been killed, a lot of lives destroyed. In the end, all for nothing.
But Mia and other idiots need these wars to go on and on and on some more.
When President Obama prematurely evacuated American forces from a stable Iraq, we got ISIS. President Trump should not make the same mistake in Syria.
That's really not correct.
If you're bothered by the rise of ISIS, the issue is the 2010 election. Iraqis rejected Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister. He was destructive and petty and was already known to have secret prisons and torture cells. They rejected him. When he refused to step down -- for eight months -- US President Barack Obama sided with him, had the US broker a contract (The Erbil Agreement) that gave him a second term -- not the voters, a legal contract did it. He did not keep his part of the contract. He was determined to terrorize the Sunnis. The day the bulk of US troops departed Iraq was followed by him sending tanks to circle the homes of Sunni politicians. This was only part of the increased persecution of Nouri's second term. ISIS rose in Iraq due to Nouri al-Maliki's actions in his second term as prime minister.
ISIS would have risen with US troops on the ground. The issue wasn't US troops, the issue was Nouri al-Maliki's actions. Had the US government backed democracy in 2010, ISIS wouldn't have gotten its foothold. The winner of that election, Ayad Allawi, ran on unity and that's why his Iraqiya resonated with voters -- it was a brand new party but its message made it more popular than Nouri al-Maliki and his established political party.
There are always going to be things that happen in Iraq. Good and bad. The US troops cannot effect that. The best thing would be for the US to leave. Here, we advocated that Barack Obama keep his promise and remove all troops within ten months of being sworn in. It was the mandate that got him elected president. Following it would have given him cover because things are always going to go bad when troops leave. By keeping his word (he didn't), he could argue that he was following the wishes of the American people.
The US has propped up one artificial government after another in Iraq. These are puppet governments, they are not governments of the people. You can do one puppet government after another for the next fifty years. It's not going to matter. History has demonstrated that puppet governments do not stay in place. If US troops leave, there will be turmoil as the Iraqi people try to take control of their country -- as they should.
In other news . . .
A former Blackwater security contractor was found guilty of first-degree murder for his role in the deadly 2007 shooting of dozens of unarmed Iraqis
Eileen Sullivan writes a worthless article for THE NEW YORK TIMES.
I doubt anyone has done better than Eileen.
On Wednesday morning, a jury found Mr. Slatten, 35, guilty of first-degree murder — a charge that carries a mandatory life sentence — for his role in killing one of 14 unarmed Iraqi civilians in the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting. Ten women, two men and two children were killed in the shooting, and 18 others were injured, according to the United States attorney’s office for the District of Columbia. A sentencing date has not been set.
Yes, we've heard that. We heard it in real time. Check the archives.
For 11 years we've heard that.
It's not journalism.
Journalism is reporting the truth and it's still not been reported.
The shooting took place. It was awful. But it was also the US government. Why are we still not being told, eleven years later, who the US official was in that convoy?
That is the part of the story that has not been covered.
Certainly, that US official owes the Iraqi people an apology and the American people have a right to know who Blackwater was escorting and why that official has been allowed to go unnamed all this time. When you want to report that, you might actually be writing a news story.
Some official got 'protected' by Blackwater at the expense of the Iraqi people. He or she needs to offer an apology to the Iraqi people.
The following community sites -- plus Cindy Sheehan and Jody Watley -- updated: