Wednesday, June 3, 2009. Chaos and violence continue, the US Congress hears about the veterans homeless population, Little Debbie explains to America some people want to be homeless -- they want to be, the UN says you don't have to admit them but they can't go back, and more.
"How do we help those who don't want to be helped?" pondered Little Debbie today as she launched into a diatribe against those veterans who, according to her, just want to be homeless. Remember those who mistakenly defend US House Rep Deborah L. Halvorson, you don't know Little Debbie. Every Congressional hearing is a Mary Kay convention for Little Debbie who appears to serve on the House Committee on Veterans Affairs for comic relief purposes only. Little Debbies are snack cakes and we don't start meal with dessert so we'll come back to it.
"I want to thank everyone today, both on the committee and our witnesses, those who are here in our audience, to be here which a lot of people in our country apparently don't want to face and that is the issue of homelessness," declared Committee Chair Bob Finer in his opening remarks (click here for his prepared remarks -- they were not read in the hearing). "And I have decided I guess and many of us here have decided, if people won't look at the homeless in general, maybe they'll look at homeless vets. And depending upon what statistics you use, it's anywhere from between 40 to 50 percent more of the homeless. So if we here and our committee can deal with the issue we'll have dealt with almost half the issue that the local communities won't have to deal with. I know that our Secretary of the VA, Mr. [Eric] Shinseki has, uh -- has, uh, taken on this battle himself also so working together we want to eliminate homeless veterans." That outlined the goals of the hearing. US House Rep Steve Buyer is the Ranking Member on the Republican side. He was not present at the start of the meeting. US House Rep Doug Lamborn filled in and gave his opening remarks -- after requesting that Buyer's prepared remarks be put into the record (here for Buyer's). Lamborn's remarks (which he read, click here) included noting, "Each night approximately 131,000 veterans, the men and women who have served our country are among the nation's homeless. While this number is alarming, we have seen a steady decrease in this number over the past few years, including a decrease of 15 percent from the 2007 estimate and 33 percent lower than 2006."
The hearing was entitled "A National Commitment to End Veterans' Homelessness" and there were four panels. The first panel was composed of the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans' John Driscoll, United States Veterans Initiative's Dwight A. Radcliff Sr., Vietnam Veterans of America's Marsha Four, R.N. (she chairs the Women Veterans Committee of VVA), Manna House's James S. Fann and Veterans Village of San Diego's Phil Landis. The second panel was composed of Illinois Dept of Human Services' Dr. Carol L. Adams, New York City Dept of Homeless Services' Robert V. Hess with Roland Marte who is a veteran from the Bronx. Panel three was Columbia Center for Homelessness Prevention's Carol L. Caton and Brendan O'Flaherty. Panel four was US Dept of Veterans Affairs' George P. Basher and Peter H. Dougherty with Paul E. Smits from the same department and John M. McWilliams from the US Dept of Labor. We'll be focusing on the first panel.
"GPD is the foundation of the VA and community partnership and currently funds approximately 14,000 service beds in non-VA facilities in every state," Driscoll explained. "Under this program veterans receive a multitude of services that include housing, access to health care and dental services, substance abuse and mental health supports, personal and family counseling, education and employment assistance and access to legal aid." Driscoll wants to see the budget increased to $200 million annually. (He would also like to the see GDP system changed.) Radcliff noted that, "US VETS programs have served more than 18,000 homeless veterans with more than sixty-five perecent making successful transitions into permanent housing in the community while achieving self-sufficiency [. . .] and currently operates 727 Grant and Per Diem Transitional Housing beds in five States, making it the largest single recipient of Grant and Per Diem funding."
The number of women veterans who are homeless is rising. Four observed, "There certainly is a question of course on the actual number of homeless veterans -- it's been flucuating dramatically in the last few years. When it was reported at 250,000 level, two percent were considered females. This was rougly about 5,000. Today, even if we use the very low number VA is supplying us with -- 131,000 -- the number, the percentage, of women in that population has risen up to four to five percent, and in some areas, it's larger. So that even a conservative method of determinng this has left the number as high as [6,550]. And the VA actually is reporting that they are seeing that this is as high as eleven percent for the new homeless women veterans. This is a very vulnerable population, high incidents of past sexual trauma, rape and domestic violence. They have been used, abused and raped. They trust no one. Some of these women have sold themselves for money, been sold for sex as children, they have given away their own children. And they are encased in this total humiliation and guilt the rest of their lives." About half of her testimony was reading and about half just speaking to the committee directly. Click here for her prepared remarks. We'll come back to the issue of homeless women veterans in a moment.
US House Rep David Poe introduced Fann, noting they were both from Johnson City, Tennessee and listing some of Fann's accomplishments. He ended by noting the Traveling Wall was in Johnson City. This is the replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in DC with the names of 58,000 dead or missing US service members. There is no fee to view The Traveling Wall and it is open to all -- and there's an opening ceremony at ten tomorrow morning. I'm plugging it because it came up in the hearing and I have a very good friend who works with Rolling Thunder. The Traveling Wall will be exhibited through Sunday night in Johnson City. More information on The Traveling Wall being exhibited in Johnson City can be found in Ted Overbay's report (WJHL, TriCities -- text and video). Fann explained, "Homelessness is not just a problem among middle-age and elderly veterans. Younger veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are now showing up in our homeless shelters. At this time we have more than twenty men on our waiting list in Manna house. Ten of those men are veterans, four fought in Iraq. Mental illness, especially post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuses, have long been seen as the major causes of homelessness among our veterans. While those are certainly factors, they are not the only reasons veterans are left homeless. Affordable housing, medical care, mental health counseling, case management and education/employment assistance to transfer their military jobs into marketable civilian positions need to be expanded in an aggressive outreach program for our veterans." Phil Landis explained, "[Veterans Village of San Diego] has operated the Veteran Only Winter Shelter for the city each year of operation. This year's shelter program ended on April 2, 2009 and over 400, non-duplicated Social Security numbers of veterans were recorded. What does this mean? The issue of homeless veterans is not going away and may in fact be growing."
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: I don't know where to begin. The testimony was fairly stark and I appreciate your honesty. I appreciate your hard work. One of the themes that was recurring was that the per diem needs to be increased and I think every single person on the panel said that much so we'll be looking at how to do that. A couple of things that also stuck out. Mr. Radcliff, you -- I'd like to ask how you advertise your programs and -- and maybe everyone on the panel can answer this -- and how widely known are the programs available to homeless vets? If you go out to a place where you see homeless vets, do they know what's available to them? How widely known is that, how easily can we get to them?
Dwight Radcliff: As you know, they do not typically. In fact one of the dilemmas is that the returning veteran has no idea of this network of service. Marketing is a huge issue. And -- and there's really not a lot of money to pay for marketing. We -- we try to connect with the veteran based upon when there's an active crisis that is happening. Typically, it's a jail or it's a court hearing or it's a substance abuse dilemma or -- we're seeing the veteran during active crisis. Our marketing is very limited. We don't -- we don't -- we're typically -- as I mentioned before -- we're -- we're barely thriving. We're barely surviving. Let alone, not thriving as community based organizations. And we're -- we're used to living there. We're on the edge.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: So how -- how do you get in touch with a veteran that's having a crisis? The police contact you?
Dwight Radcliff: We -- we -- we usually work with government entities to -- to be referred veterans, yes. In this case, we would have veterans who are in crisis, who are in jail -- we're actually doing out reach now where we're seeing those veterans. We're referred -- local VA have homeless centers where veterans are referred to different programs depending on the veterans' needs. We do have a 1-800 number and we try to advertise that through street outreach.
We'll stop there to note Dwight Radcliff never gave the 1-800 number and, point of fact, neither does the website, not even on "Contact Us." If you've got a 1-800 number it should be at the top of your website.
Marsha Four: I think one of the real integral parts of this is there is a connection between the VA and the cities and muncipalities, the government entity under which these programs fall. And that we also as non-profits have a direct connection with those at the city level who are dealing with social services and their address of the homeless. Most social service areas/arenas do not know the benefits and entitlements for veterans. They don't what to do with the veterans and they certainly don't know how the VA works. That's one major thrust that's very important. I also see the VA enhancing the outreach of its programs and grant per diem by communicating with other VAs and other VISNs on what programs are available for homeless. In the case of special needs grants, I'll mention the women's program that the VA actually has an intranet communication with other and all mental health directors and -- uh, all the directors of the mental health and domiciliary programs within the VA so that their homeless outreach team members know of specific specialized programs for veterans who are homeless.
John Driscoll: I'd like to add if I could.
US House Rep Jerry McNerney: Sure.
John Driscoll: When I talk about the VA community organization partnership -- and I've seen this develop over ten years, it's pretty incredible. Ten years ago, there were vet centers who would refer walks ins to community resources that existed at that time. But that number has increased dramatically over the last ten years. The VA vet centers, every VA medical center, has a homeless liason who knows who in their communities provide transitional housing or lesser services. What is missing in my estimation -- because once you've reached out and asked for help there are referral systems that will get them to the organizations that can help them. What's missing in my mind is the person who realizes he's got stressors at work, he doesn't know what to do. And so the idea of public service announcements, we see all these advertisements about join the army and join the marines and so obviously there can be federal dollars spent to put out public announcements and I believe that's what's missing. If I'm marginal and I know I've got stressors but I'm not sure who to turn to it would be nice to see a message saying "No matter what the need, you've earned this right, call this number" and then the VA call center resource takes over and they're putting that together now and I meant to mention it in my testimony. That's a tremendous resource.
Phil Landis: If the chairman will allow?
Committee Chair Bob Finer: Mr. Landis.
Phil Landis: Veterans Village truly has become a community resource -- of course we've been working at this for a very long time. One of our partners and we think in terms of the VA in San Diego as a partner truly with us works with us on a daily basis. The VA represenative from the hospital actually has an office in our facility and is there on a weekly basis. Outreach, outreach, outreach. It really falls to us as the providers of the services to create the avenues within the community. San Diego has created something called the United Veterans Council. United Veterans Council is a group of all of the service providers, all of the veterans organizations within San Diego that meet on a monthly basis. And, of course, our organization outreach is through them as well to the homeless community. If you're a veteran and you live in San Diego and you're homeless or you're about to become homeless, I guarantee you, you know about our organization. And then we are referred -- we have referrals from every concievable avenue in the community to our organization as well.
Leaping ahead to an awkward moment when an obvious question was asked. ("Obvious question" is not meant as an insult to the Republican Congress member who asked it. It should have been asked.)
Doug Lamborn: Now can I assume that all of you have seperate facilities for homeless women veterans?
Dwight Radcliff: We don't necessarily have seperate facitilities but they are encompassed in our -- in our -- in some of our programs. And some -- depending on the stage, you know, transitional or long term housing, often times you'll see women veterans in a co-ed facility. Uh -- uh, early on, when they're going through the treatment process, you probably want to seperate the women veterans. Their -- their needs are unique and the resources are unique. So we do have female veterans programs that are -- that are both at permanent housing and programatically.
Marsha Four: I believe, sir, that there are very few programs in the country that are set up and designed specifically for homeless women veterans that are seperate. One of the problems that we're run into in a mixed gender setting is sort of two-fold. One the women veterans do not have the opportunity to actually be in a seperate group therapy environment because there are many issues that they simply will not divulge in mixed gender populations so those issues are never attended to. The other is that we believe, in a program, you need to focus on yourself and this is the time and place to do your issue, your deal. In a mixed gender setting, let's say, interfering factors. Relationships are one of them. Many of the veterans too come from the streets so there's a lot of street behavior going on. Some of the women -- and men -- but some of the women have participated in prostitution and so there's a difficult setting for any of them to actually focus on themselves without having all these other stressors come into play. So we feel that's an important issue.
April 23rd, the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs which US House Rep John Hall chaired. On the first panel, Disabled American Veterans' John Wilson explained that some veterans were not getting the treatment they needed because their injuries were not being properly rated as combat injuries and they were being forced to dance through hoops in order to prove that the injuries received while serving in a war zone were combat injuries. He testified to the following in that hearing:
The female soldiers who accompany male troops on patrols to conduct house-to-house searches are known as Team Lioness, and have proved to be invaluable. Their presence not only helps calm women and children, but Team Lioness troops are also able to conduct searches of the women, without violating cultural strictures. Against official policy, and at that time without the training given to their male counterparts, and with a firm commitment to serve as needed, these dedicated young women have been drawn onto the frontlines in some of the most violent counterinsurgency battles in Iraq.
Independent Lens, an Emmy award-winning independent film series on PBS, documented their work in a film titled Lioness which profiled five women who saw action in Iraq's Sunni Triangle during 2003 and 2004. As members of the US Army's 1st Engineer Battalion, Shannon Morgan, Rebecca Nava, Kate Pendry Guttormsen, Anastasia Breslow and Ranie Ruthig were sent to Iraq to provide supplies and logistical support to their male colleagues. Not trained for combat duty, the women unexpectedly became involved with fighting in the streets of Ramadi. These women were part of a unit, made up of approsimately 20 women, who went out on combat missions in Iraq. Female soldiers in the Army and Marines continue to perform Lioness work in Iraq and Afghanistan.
I would like to highlight the issues faced by Rebecca Nava as she seeks recognition of her combat experience and subsequent benefits for resulting disabilities. Then US Army Specialist Nava was the Supply Clerk for the 1st Engineering Battalion in Iraq. In conversations with her and as seen in the film Lioness, she recounts several incidents. Two of those incidents are noted in my testimony today.
The first is the roll-over accident of a 5-ton truck that was part of a convoy to Baghdad. In this accident, the driver was attempting to catcuh up with the rest of the convoy but in doing so lost control of the vehicle. The five ton truck swerved off the road and rolled over, killing a Sergeant who was sitting next to her, and severely injuring several others. Specialist Nava was caught in the wreckage. She had to pulled through the fractured windshield of the vehicle. While not severly injured in the accident, she did suffer a permanent spinal injury.
Another incident occurred wherein she was temporarily attached to a Marine unit and her job for this mission was to provide Lioness support for any Iraqi women and children the unit contacted. It was a routine mission patrolling the streets of Ramadi. Before she knew it, the situation erupted into chaos as they came under enemy fire. She had no choice but to fight alongside her male counterparts to suppress the enemy. No one cared that she was a female -- nor did they care that she had a Supply MOS -- their lives were all on the line -- she opened fire. The enemy was taken out. During this fire fight she also made use of her combat lifesaver skills and provided medical aid to several injured personnel.
This and other missions resonate with her to this day. When she filed a claim with the VA, she was confronted with disbelief about her combat role in Iraq as part of Team Lioness. Specialist Nava filed a claim for service connection for hearing loss and tinnitus but was told that she did not qualify because of her logistics career field. Since she does not have a Combat Action Badge, she cannot easily prove that the combat missions occurred which impacted her hearing.
In today's hearing US House Rep Hall declared, "I just want to mention that because approximately 45% of homeless veterans -- in some instances higher from your experiences -- have mental illnesses that I have introduced legislation to try to alleviate the burdens currently placed on veterans trying to gain disability benefits particularly for PTSD and the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs will be marking up this legislation, The Combat PTSD Act HR 952, later on this afternoon, to try to make it automatic that a man or woman who serves in uniform and subsquently at any time after returning home has a diagnosis by a psychiatrist or a doctor that they do in fact have the symptoms that compose a PTSD diagnosis will automatically be eligible not just for treatment, but for compensation and not have to connect it to a particular incident, or a particular attack, or a particular battle or a particular medal. We know that the conflits we are facing today are different than the ones in the past and I think that the VA and the country should be of the attitude that our veterans have done enough and shouldn't have to prove that they're suffering and that they're traumatized."
Now for snack time.
Debbie: During our break, I held several roundtables and one of them I held was not only with veterans' assistance uh not for profits or people that helped but also my area agencies that are for aging and people that helped with homelessness in general and they all want to help. They want -- and some of the problems they see are the veterans that don't want to be helped. They can't get them to come into their places, their shelters, they want to be homeless, they don't trust anybody. How do we help those who don't want to be helped.
"How do we help those who don't want to be helped?" Ah. A question Little Debbie's teachers struggled with -- and never found the answer to. Now Little Debbie is in Congress and wasting everyone's time with myths about homeless veterans wanting to be homeless. "They want to be homeless," she declared. Sounding like a Republican in blame-the-victim mode.
Turning to the topic of Iraqi refugees, this is the United Nations' "Iraq needs continued international engagement -- UN refugee agency" in full:
2 June 2009 -- Although the humanitarian situation in Iraq has been out of the spotlight recently, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR) today cautioned that the situation for the millions of uprooted Iraqis both inside and outside the country remains dire and urged the international community to maintain their support.
"While overall security conditions have improved, they are not yet sustainable enough to have encouraged massive returns of Iraqis," agency spokesperson Ron Redmond said, noting that more than 1.5 million Iraqis are still living in other countries, mostly in Syria and Jordan, with another 2 million internally displaced.
Although some have returned to their homes, many of these returns have neither been safe nor sustainable, he added. "It is UNHCR's opinion that Iraqis should not be forced back, which would be detrimental to the safety of those concerned and would negatively affect the fragile absorption capacity of the country."
The Government of Iraq is torn between many priorities in the political, electoral and national reconciliation areas, and faces many obstacles related to socio-economic issues and requirements for the return and reintegration of the uprooted, according to UNHCR.
Mr. Redmond said authorities must make strides in implementing the national policy on displacement and return; take action on land allocation and property restitution; and launch housing and rehabilitation programmes.
For its part, UNHCR, along with its partners, is still hindered by a shortage of funds and the need for heavy security which impedes its mobility and ability to deliver assistance, he said.
Nevertheless, the agency has expanded its presence to 14 of Iraq's 17 provinces, the spokesperson said, "but these efforts will remain piecemeal if not integrated into a national, Government-led framework aimed at addressing the myriad social and economic challenges that must be overcome."
UNHCR's $299 million appeal for its work in Iraq for 2009 is less than half funded, he said, warning that without an influx of resources, some programmes cannot be implemented.
Outside Iraq, asylum countries are feeling the burden and are increasingly concerned over what they believe could become a protracted refugee situation, Mr. Redmond noted.
"Iraq has experienced waves of mass displacement over the last 40 years that have resulted in deep social dislocation and complex humanitarian problems," he said. "What we are dealing with today is the accumulation of these problems. Bringing stability to such a complex situation is going to take time and requires the collective and continuous engagement of all."
No, it is not safe for Iraqi refugees to return to Iraq. It is NOT SAFE. And it's a real shame some organization (remember who) urged host countries to strip the refugee category from the refugees -- the same organization which now states that it's not safe for refugees to return. Try not to note the inconsistency. PBS' Wide Angle reminds, ". As recently as May, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees revised its refugee guidelines to stop recommending automatic refugee status for Iraqis abroad. But on Tuesday the commissioner said many Iraqis had been forced to return home before it was safe, and he urged the international community to maintain its support." Delinda C. Hanley (Washington Report On Middle East Affairs) focuses on the refugee crisis:
AHLAM MAHMOOD was a member of Baghdad's city council until she was kidnapped in 2005. She was freed on condition that she leave her country, Mahmood told participants at a March 17 seminar at the American University Washington College of Law on the Iraqi refugee crisis. When she left Baghdad, she and her three young children joined more than two million Iraqi refugees who are living in Jordan, Syria and other neighboring countries, and an additional 2.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) within Iraq.
Mahmood fled to Syria, where she and her children lived with 20 other people in a one-bedroom flat. She had no savings and no permission to work. Her oldest son died in Syria, she said, due to poor health care. Mahmood became an activist, helping other Iraqi refugees, until she was arrested in May 2008, imprisoned, and finally, in November, put on a plane to the United States.
Last year some 13,800 Iraqis were resettled in the U.S., and this year's goal is to take 17,000, Barbara Strack of the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services told the conference. Until two years ago the U.S. had no meaningful resettlement program, even for Iraqis whose lives were endangered by working for the U.S. government, contractors or media. Now Homeland Security personnel interview Iraqi applicants in Amman, Damascus, Cairo, Istanbul and Baghdad, Strack said, and begin the careful background screening and fingerprinting process to make sure no "bad actors" try to get into the U.S.
The Iraqi refugee crisis is one receiving little attention. "No one cares whether an Iraqi dies," Yassin Salem tells Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) who reports:
Haditha is an instance, writ small, of that divide. No one disputes that 24 people were killed in this forlorn but picturesque town along a majestic stretch of the Euphrates.
For the U.S. Marines, they were in a town as dangerous as any in Iraq when a devastating roadside bomb killed one of their own along a strip of asphalt bordered by olive trees and pink oleander. In time, they came under fire from insurgents, they said, and followed the rules of engagement in answering a threat. Eight Marines were prosecuted, but since then, charges have been dropped against six. Another was acquitted. The last Marine, Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, still faces charges of voluntary manslaughter.
In Haditha, no one calls it a crime. No one refers to it as a killing. The only word used is "majzara," or "massacre." Nearly every villager seems able to recall even the minute details of what they say were revenge killings by Marines first targeting unarmed men in a car, then men, women and children, including a 1-year-old girl, gathered in three houses.
In Iraq, there are problems with roadside bombs. At McClatchy Newspapers, Jack Dolan and Jenan Hussein cover the landmines. Reporting on the removal of them, "U.S. military officials estimated in 2007 that 15 percent of the charges for improvised explosive devices -- the ubiquitous homemade bombs used to attack American forces -- came from land mines and other unexploded munitions." And in "Iraq halts clearing landmines even as huge toll keeps rising," they explain:
Sadiqa Foroon has lost two brothers, her right foot and 32 sheep to landmines and other explosive remnants of the three wars that have raged through her village since 1980.
Burns from the mine she stepped on contort the right side of her face. "And my horse is missing a hoof," she said with a weary laugh. "So is my donkey."
Still, every morning she trudges back into the sun-scorched scrubland behind her house -- one of the most densely contaminated minefields on the planet, according to international aid organizations -- to collect firewood in order to cook for 12 children, and to harvest whatever scrap metal she thinks she can sell.
Turning to some of today's reported violence . . .
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports a Baghdad bombing claimed 9 lives and left thirty-one injured while a Baghdad roadside bombing left three people injured.
Laith Hammoudi (McClatchy Newspapers) reports 1 police officer shot dead at a checkpoint in Mosul and another injured.
The illegal war has not ended. And US service members continue to deploy to Iraq. Cali Bagby (KVAL -- link has text and video) reports on Louisa Babcock and others with Oregon Army National Guard from the Charlie Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation who are on a 400 day deployment, "The mission: prepare to extract wounded soldiers and others from hot spots in Iraq." The Des Moines Register reports that the Iowa Army National Guard's 294th Area Support Medical Company are sending 75 members "to Iraq for a one-year tour of duty." Tom Gordon (Birmingham News) reports 75 is also the number the Alabama Army National Guard is sending to Iraq in August where they will do "police training."
While the US deploys to Iraq, a small number of Iranians have left. During Saddam Hussein's reign in Iraq, he allowed Iranian rebels, the People's Mujahedeen, to set up camp. There are approximately 3,500 on a northern Iraq base alone. They reportedly seek the overthrow of Iran. Iran has long wanted them out but Iran's wants weren't a real big concern to Hussein. Nouri al-Maliki, of course, has strong ties to Iran. For example, he hid out there when he wanted Saddam overthrown but was too chicken to do that himself so he waited and waited for decades outside Iraq until the US invasion. He went back to Iran over the weekend. Iran's Press TV reported he flew to "Hakim's bedside in Tehran" this weekend because Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is receiving treatments for cancer. al-Hakim, like Nouri, is an Iraqi chicken who ran to exile, stayed in exile for decades and then, after the US invasion, was a 'respected' Iraqi . . . in the eyes of the US. al-Hakim grew up in Najaf and left Iraq in 1980 for Iran. Robin Wright (Washington Post) reported May 19, 2007 that al-Hakim had gone to Houston due to lung cancer: "Vice President Cheney played a role in arranging for Hakim to see U.S. military doctors in Baghdad, who made the original diagnosis, and for the current medical treatment in Houston, the sources said." Back to the People's Mujahedeen, AFP reports the International Committee of the Red Cross has assisted 260 in relocating.
the birmingham news
the new york times
the los angeles times
the washington press