Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Iraq snapshot

Wednesday, November 15, 2011.  Chaos and violence continue, the most important hearing on the Iraq War this year took place yesterday and we continue to cover it, we also note which outlets got it right and which got it very, very wrong, "enduring" US bases (and that's a US general, not me calling them "enduring") will remain in Iraq, DoD will keep US troops in Iraq (it won't just be the State Dept or just 'guarding' embassies and diplomatic staff), John McCain (and Lindsay Graham and Joe Lieberman) are distorted by the press, the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee -- Senator Patty Murray --  calls for action on the VA's backlog of disability claims, and more.
Charley Keyes (CNN) reports of yesterday's Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, "The Obama administration will withdraw all U.S. military personnel by the end of the year, after negotiations with Iraq broke down last month over leaving behind a small force for training and security. Some 30,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq now, and only a small number of U.S. military will remain behind, attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad." Well golly, I'm confused and would assume I were wrong were it not for the fact that it is impossible for Barack to "withdraw all U.S. military personnel by the end of the year" and also for "a small number of U.S. military will remain behind".  All is all.  Does CNN not grasp that?
Do they also not know how to report on hearings?  The way you do that is you attend the hearing and you report what was said.  Keyes doesn't have a quote does he?  No.  He needs one.  When he's so wrong, he really needs one.  So "all" leave, he says, while he's also saying that small number will remain "attached to the U.S. embassy in Baghdad."  Did Keyes doze off during Senator Susan Collins' questioning?
Senator Susan Collins:  What about the Kurdish region in Iraq? There are concerns that Kirkuk stands out as an unresolved area where there's still a lot of tension with the central government in Baghdad. I understand that only a small DoD contingent will remain there.  And it's my understanding that the State Dept is going back and forth on whether or not it should have a full consulate presence in Kirkuk or maintain a less formal 'diplomatic post'.  If there's no US military presence to act as a buffer between the Kurdish forces and the Iraqi security forces, are you worried that this region of Iraq will become a destabalizing flashpoint?
General Martin Dempsy:  I-I worry about a lot of things, Senator.  And I will include this among the list of things I worry about.  As you know, we put in place, several years ago, joint-check points where there was a member of the Kurdish peshmerga, there was a member of the Iraqi security forces and a US service man or woman and a coordinating center.  And part of our Office of Security Cooperation footprint will include our participation in the coordination center.  We won't be on the check points anymore -- that's true. And so we will have to  rely upon the continuing negotiations between the Kurdish political leaders and their Iraqi -- the government of Iraq.  But this is not, again, a place where we are completely removing ourselves.  But your point is accurate. We won't be on the check points. We have been there as a buffer.  The risk goes up.  But our presence in the coordination center provides a stabilizing influence to get them to find negotiated answers, not violent answers. 
I'm sorry, where in there is the State Dept?  It's not there.  Collins and Dempsey are speaking of US military personnel that will be stationed in Kirkuk in a coordinating center.  And possibly Keyes was snoring when Collins explained she was referring to "a small DoD contingent"?   
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee -- and we'll note some of his remarks tomorrow -- and John McCain is the Ranking Member.  We're focused on the first panel of the hearing, when General Martin Dempsey (Chair of the Joint-Chiefs of Staff) and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta testified. 
We noted another exchange in yesterday's snapshot -- one which refuted the lie that "all" are leaving or that negotiations are "over."  I noted this was one of several exchanges in the hearing on this topic -- maybe Keyes required multiple naps? -- and wrongly thought we didn't need to do flash cards.
Senator Joe Lieberman: Understood. In your own thinking, since you obviously didn't recommend zero troops after January 1st, what do you think now are the greater risks that we face as a result of the fact that we will have no continuing US military presence in Iraq.
General Martin Dempsey: Well some of the things that the -- that the larger military footprint  address will now have to be addressed diplomatically and that is some of the things that have come up here today about the, you know, the protection of the small religious communities and so forth, the Arab-Kurd tensions, if you will.  But I also want to mention this Office of Security Cooperation will help us ensure that the foreign military sales program, the program of record as we call, it that continues to build the institution of Iraqi security forces, will continue to be addressed. So this isn't a divorce. It might feel that way because the way the numbers have -- the way the Iraqi government came to the decision. But the fact is we will be embedded with them as trainers, not only tactically but also at the institutional level.  And I think that's an important way to mitigate the risk that you are talking about.
Senator Joe Lieberman:  Let me, Secretary Panetta, pick up from that point. I've heard from friends in Iraq -- Iraqis -- that Prime Minister Maliki said at one point that he needed to stop the negotiations -- leave aside for one moment the reasons -- but he was prepared to begin negotiations again between two sovereign nations -- the US and Iraq -- about some troops being in Iraq after January 1st.  So that's what I've heard from there. But I want to ask you from the administration point of view. I know that Prime Minister Maliki is coming here in a few weeks to Washington. Is the administration planning to pursue further discussions with the Iraqi government about deploying at least some US forces in Iraq after the end of this year?
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta: Senator, as I pointed out in my testimony, what we seek with Iraq is a normal relationship now and that does involve continuing negotiations with them as to what their needs are.  Uh, and I believe there will be continuing negotations.  We're in negotiations now with regards to the size of the security office that will be there and so there will be -- There aren't zero troops that are going to be there. We'll have, you know, hundreds that will be present by virtue of that office assuming we can work out an agreement there.  But I think that once we've completed the implementation of the security agreement that there will begin a series of negotiations about what exactly are additional areas where we can be of assistance? What level of trainers do they need? What can we do with regards to CT [Counter-Terrorism] operations? What will we do on exercises -- joint-exercises -- that work together?

Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
Secretary Leon Panetta: We -- we have these kind of relationships with other countries in the region and that's what we're going to continue to pursue with Iraq.
Senator Joe Lieberman:  And in fact, just using the term that both of you have used, that would be a normal relationship.  A normal relationship would not exlcude the presence of some American military in Iraq, correct?
Secretary Leon Panetta: That's correct.
Senator Joe Lieberman:  So what I hear you saying, assuming that this question of immunities can be overcome, do you, Mr. Secretary, personally believe that it's in the interests of the US to have some military presence in Iraq as part of an agreement with the Iraqis?
Secretary Leon Panetta: I believe -- I believe there are areas where we can provide important assistance to the Iraqis but again I would stress to you, Senator Lieberman, I know that you have been there that in order for this to happen we've got to be able to have them basically say, 'These are our needs, this is what we want, these are the missions that we want accomplished.'  And then we can assist them in saying we can provide this in order to accomplish those missions.  It's got to be a two-way street.
So, flash cards.
There's that "Office of Security Cooperation" again.  And, no, that's not State Dept, that's DoD.  And in that OSC, according to General Martin Dempsey, "we will be embedded with them as trainers" -- get that? 
Second card, Senator Joe Lieberman noted what he's hearing from Iraqis which appears to be that after January 1st there will be a deal made.  That talk jibes with what I've shared here several times perviously, a friend at the State Dept swears that as soon as Nouri and Barack have both had their victory laps over 'withdrawal,' negotiations begin for more US troops in Iraq.
Third one, Panetta says that the US is currently in negotiations with Iraq ("with regards to the size of the security office that will be there").  Get it?  Negotiations did not end.
Fourth card: Panetta notes that just for that security office -- DoD security office -- there should be "hundreds [of US troops] that will be present" -- that's what's currently being negotiated.
Fifth card: Panetta rejects the notion taht "zero [US] troops" will be in Iraq. Hint, to CNN, that's why you don't report or 'report' that "ALL" US troops are leaving.
Sixth card: Panetta believes negotiations will continue and that Iraq will make requests for additional troops.
Is Panetta right?  CNN can't tell you that.  They're not psychics.  They can report what was said and they can fact check.  If they want to.  And clearly reporting on the hearing wasn't a concern for CNN.
The hearing was yesterday morning.  At Trina's site last night, Ava covered an exchange with "Scott Brown questions Panetta and Dempsey (Ava)," at Rebecca's site, Wally covered economic concers expressed over the use of contractors "The costs (Wally)" and Kat offered a look at various claims about the administration's negotiating goals and what Iraqi leaders supposedly sought with "Who wanted what?"
But Keyes isn't the only bad reporter.  Look at Rachel Martin.  And unlike Keyes, Martin's not paid by a corporation and advertising.  Martin's salary is paid for by tax payers and donors to NPR.  'Reporting' like this should get you fired, "But come December 31st, the remaining 24,000 US troops now in Iraq will be out." No, they won't. As she got to the end of her report, like Keyes, she suddenly noted a few American troops would remain in Iraq.  What about those bases, by the way?
Those US bases in Iraq.  What about them?
Strange Keyes and Martin didn't report on that.  What were they called? Oh, yeah.  "Enduring."  And that was in yesterday's hearing.  By the US general. Let's go to that section.
Senator Kay Hagan:  But I wanted to talk about our Special Operations Forces.  And, as you know, our Special Operations Forces have engaged with their Iraqi counter-parts in counter-terrorism and in training and advising activities.  And what will things look like in Iraq from a Special Operations Forces stand point going forward.  And what type of engagement would our Special Operation Forces have in Iraq?
General Martin Dempsy: Yes, senator the size of the Iraqi operating Special Forces is about 4,500. They're organized into a counter-terrorism section commanded by an Iraqi general by the name of Kanani.  We partnered with him at the head quarters level and will remain so. We're in discussions with Iarq about training -- trainers -- that would stay inside the wire of their places where this counter-terrorism force is located, not go with them on missions but rather train them to continue to go on missions.  And-and as I mentioned earlier, the gap is actually in their ability to kind of identify the network and target it.  We call it the find-fix-finish-asses-and-exploit cycle. They're very capable of fixing and finishing, not so capable as yet in finding, assessing and exploiting so that you continue to keep pressure on a network. But I will tell you, they are extraordinaryly competent individual soldiers. What we've got to do is keep raising the bar with them on their ability to do things at eschelons above tactics.
Senator Kay Hagan: Well with the drawdown taking place in less than two months, what is your outlook for the ability to continue this training process to enable them to continue to do this on their own?
General Martin Dempsey: Well they will be limited. They don't have the airlift to deliver them to the target that we might have been able to provide. They don't have the ISR target to keep persistant surveillance over the top of the target. So they'll be limited to ground movement and they'll be limited to human intelligence and we'll keep -- But part of the Office of Security Cooperation provides the trainers to keep the training to develop those other areas, but we're some time off in reaching that point.
Senator Kay Hagan: We'll, as we continue this drawdown of our military personnel from Iraq, I really remain concerned about their force protection -- the individuals that will be remaining in Iraq.  So what are the remaining challenges for our military personnel in Iraq in terms of managing their vulnerabilities, managing their exposures during the drawdown?
General Martin Dempsey:  Senator, are you talking about getting from 24,000, the existing force now and having it retrograde through Kuwait?
Senator Kay Hagan:  The ones that will remain over there.
General Martin Dempsey: The ones that will remain --
Senator Kay Hagan: Their protection.
General Martin Dempsey: Yes, Senator. Well, they will have -- First and foremost, we've got ten Offices of Security Cooperation in Iraq bases.  And their activities will largely be conducted on these bases because their activities are fundamentally oriented on delivering the foreign military sales.  So F-16s get delivered, there's a team there to help  new equipment training and-and helping Iraq understand how to use them to establish air sovereignty.  Or there's a 141 M1 Tanks right now, generally located at a tank gunnery range in Besmaya, east of Baghdad and the team supporting that training stays on Besmaya so this isn't about us moving around the country very much at all.  This is about our exposure being limited to 10 enduring, if you will, Offices of Security Cooperation base camps.  And doing the job of educating and training and equipping on those ten bases.  Host nation is always responsible for the outer parameter.  We'll have contracted security  on the inner parameter. And these young men and women will always have responsibility for their own self-defense.
Senator Kay Hagan: So we'll have contracted security on the inner-paramenter?
General Martin Dempsey: That's right. 
"The ones that will remain over there."  Again, "all" aren't leaving.  And "the ones that remain over there" will be on the "enduring" (Dempsey's term) bases -- those Offices of Special Coordination bases. Breaking with the pack to do actual reporting is Elisabeth Bumiller (New York Times) reports, "Some United States forces will remain as military trainers on 10 bases in Iraq even after an end-of-year deadline for all American troops to be out of the country, Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Senate committee on Tuesday."  She's reporting on the exchange above.  She speaks with an unnamed "military official" who, frankly, lies to her.  That's fine, she doesn't present the claim as truth, merely as a claim.  "No more than 200" -- on ten bases?  That is what the general testified to.  And it's previously been reported that the number of these 'trainers' would be over half the amount the official insists off the record. And General Dempsey testified that they were in ongoing negotiations to increase the number already agreed to.
Now let's assume unnamed isn't lying?  20 people on 10 bases each?  And security contractors hired to protect them?  That's cost-effective how?  It isn't.  So who's going to launch an investigation into that?  As for the claims about Iraq's counter-terrorism forces, were you puzzled?  You should have been.  It was the second time Dempsey was praising Iraq's counter-terrorism forces for being able to do their job after -- after -- a target was identified.  Actually doing the identification, he had to admit -- to Hagan and earlier to Senator Scott Brown as well -- was a step they just weren't up to.  From Ava's report:
But the big howler was when Brown was asking Dempsey about Iraq's counter-terrorism forces and how proficient they are? Dempsey said about 80% ready to handle what's needed. He wanted to explain his score -- apparently feeling bad that he hadn't given them a 100. He insisted that, when a target is identified, the C-T forces could "lock onto" it. Otherwise, they have a problem.
Counter-Terrorism forces can "lock on" with an identified target?
Who can't?
When you know who the target is, who can't?

General Dempsey's such a generous grader when it comes to Iraqi forces. So the hearing revealed "enduring" US bases in Iraq -- the general's term -- and it revealed that negotiations are taking place right now, and that negotiations will continue (that the US isn't done with the 'trainers' issues), that already trainers are planned to remain in Iraq, and a lot more.
It's rather strange to look at two sites that I think of as right-wing -- both are Libertarian websites.  Maybe I'm misunderstanding them looking, as I do, from the left?  At Lew, Laurence Vance accurately covers what Panetta stated at one point (we'll be pulling that in with another section where Panetta's asked to clarify it), "We have more than 40,000 American troops that remain in the Gulf region. We're not going anywhere."  Vance rightly notes this is no withdrawal.  So good for LRC and Vance.  But at -- where they want to tell you it's fundraising time -- they make no effort to be accurate.  In fairness to John Glaser, maybe he's pulling from bad reporting and wasn't actually at the hearing?  His past reports have been strong and sound.  This hearing was reported on badly.  I think it's most likely that he's relied on bad reporting.
I don't think we have time or space to refute that 'report' today and am not sure if we'll have time for it tomorrow (where I'm already shoving the topics of  Camp Ashraf, Iraqi Christians and drones too).So, briefly, you may hate John McCain.  I've noted I don't care for him.  I've noted I would never vote for him.  But that doesn't give me the right to lie about him.  Intentional or not, the report is 100% wrong.  In the hearing, John McCain ("and otehrs in Congress") did not argue "the administration should have strong-armed their way into a new security agreement in Iraq."  That is 100% incorrect.
What McCain argued, what Senator Lindsey Graham argued, what Senator Joe Lieberman argued, was that a deal should have been made to keep US troops in Iraq and that the deal failed because of the US.  No, they did not argue that the US should have forced Iraq to do anything.  They argued the US failed by refusing to present a number (for troops) and a plan for missions.  "As late as May" -- if one of the three said it once, they all said it multiple times.  What are they basing that on?  Their trips to Iraq.  McCain specifically stated that he came back after one trip (this is in his second round of questioning) and asked the National Security Advisor what the plan was -- as late as May -- and the White House still didn't have a plan to offer.  What McCain stated he was hearing from Iraqis -- including Nouri al-Maliki -- was that the US would not provide a plan.  Graham, Lieberman and McCain all noted repeatedly that they spoke to Nouri, that they spoke to the Kurds, that they spoke to Osama al-Nujaifi (Speaker of Parliament, Iraqiya member and a Sunni).  There was not opposition from these groups, the three stated repeatedly. This was Lindsey Graham's point in his first round of questioning.  He walked it through slowly with Panetta and then noted that he'd gone slowly and done so for a reason, he stated that when you had all of that support (and Panetta agreed on the Sunni issue, the Nouri issue and on the Kurds that they would have -- the Kurds -- gone for as many as 50,000 US troops), how did you fail to make a deal?  McCain felt that the White House didn't want to make a deal and presented that feeling as fact.  Graham agreed with him about the failure and wanted to point out that the whole thing -- Iraq plus Afghanistan -- seemed to be done for votes and that it was interesting that Panetta was willing to talk about and explore the Iraqi political situation but no one wanted to talk about the American one.  From his remarks in the hearing, Lieberman agreed it was a failure but did not form an opinion as to why it failed.
This was their argument, they repeated it over and over.  They never once said, "We can force Iraq to do this!" Or that Iraq should have been forced.  Their argument was that they speak with these politicians (including Nouri) often and that they knew what the Iraqi politicians were open to and that they couldn't believe that with what Iraq was willing to go along with the White House couldn't get a deal.  If they're right about what the Iraqi politicians were willing to go for (I believe them because I've heard similar from the administration), then that was a significant moment and one that history books will review -- as McCain himself noted.  I disagree -- again based on what I've heard from administration friends -- that the White House intended to torpedo the agreement.  But that's my opinion and I could be wrong (and often am). McCain may have hurt his own argument by presenting it so forcefully -- you'll note that the presentation and not the substance is what the 'reporters' focused on.  Had he turned it into a question -- the way Lindsay Graham did -- it might have led to many headlines.  Then again, it's a lazy press.  Most likely they would have just seized upon another trivial moment to run with. (We don't have space for a full transcript.  But some of McCain's remarks on this were included in yesterday's snapshot and Kat's report last night included much more from McCain where he made the argument that the Iraqi leaders wanted US troops but the White House failed when they repeatedly had no plan to present.)
It's interesting that John Glaser goes with the garbage when he should have -- should have -- been leading on that hearing.  Repeating: We learned there were "enduring" bases; we learned that there are "trainers" who will remain; we learned that some US military will remain in Iraq under DoD (not the State Dept); we learned that negotiations continue and that further negotiations are expected.  In addition, we got some numbers on the countries that will most likely be used as a staging platform should, for example, sectarian warfare noticeably return to Iraq. 
Remember we noted Vance ( quoting Panetta stating, "We have more than 40,000 American troops that remain in the Gulf region. We're not going anywhere."  We're going to the second round of Joe Lieberman's questions, when Lieberman brought up Panetta's earlier statement.
Senator Joe Lieberman: My question, Mr. Secretary, is if you could just develop the statement that you made a little earlier, that we will have 40,000 troops in the region, does that include the 24,000 now in Iraq? Or have we made a decision to increase the number based on the failure to have more troops in Iraq after January of next year, have we made a decision to increase the number of the troops in the region outside of Iraq for some of those what-ifs I just talked about?
Secretary Leon Panetta: No, Senator, that did not include Iraq. What we have now is in Kuwait we have almost 29,000; Saudi Arabi we've got 258; Bahrain over 6,000 -- close to 7,000 --
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
Secretary Leon Panetta: UAE about 3,000, Qatar 7,000 if you go through the region and add up all those numbers, that's the 40,000.
Senator Joe Lieberman:  So has there been a decision made to increase that number at all because we were unable to reach an agreement about continuing presence of American troops in Iraq? In other words, keeping them in the region?
General Martin Dempsey: Yeah, I wouldn't describe it as cause-and-effect relationship based on what happened in Iraq but rather our continuing concern with a more assertive Iran and, uh --
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
General Martin Dempsey: -- we are looking at our central command footprint.  You know, Senator, that prior to 2001, we had -- we routinely rotated brigades in and out of Kuwait for training --
Senator Joe Lieberman: Right.
General Martin Dempsey: But also as part of deterrance.  And I think, we haven't negotiated this with Kuwait yet, but it would be my view that we should have some sort of rotational presence -- ground, air, and naval.
Senator Joe Lieberman: Some of those would be combat troops?
General Martin Dempsey:  Absolutely.
Is that what Barack presented to the American people last month?  Not really.  And along with his distortions, there were the press distortions.  It worked kind of like the way he was portrayed (falsely) as the anti-war candidate in the primaries. He distorted a little, the press distorted a little and before you know it, he was being considered for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Last week, Brian Montopoli (CBS News) reported on a CBS poll.  Montopoli concluded, "Three in four Americans support President Obama's decisions to withdraw US troops from Iraq by the end of the year."  Do they?
No, they don't.
Respondents were told, "President Obama recently announced that US troops will come home from Iraq by the end of the year. Should U.S. troops come home?" That's what 77% of the respondents approved of; however, that is not what was discussed in the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, now is it?  40,000 US troops kept in the region?  An unknown number of US troops under the State Dept kept in Iraq and an unknown number of US troops under the Defense Dept kept in Iraq? That's not even getting all the contractors.  If the Americans aren't presented with what's taking place, how can they make an evaluation?
CBS should be ashamed of themselves over this poll.  I find it very interesting that they decided to whore for Barack yet again.  77% approved of a vague 'plan' falsely presented by CBS.  The real headline, from the polling data, should have been "67% of Americans say the Iraq War wasn't worth it." That's 49% of Republicans, 81% of Democrats and 67% of independents.  That's an honest headline.  An honest headline for the 'plan' question?  "CBS News Fails To Explain Plan In Survey And Gets Good Results."  People always respond in polls highly to the vague, that's a known.
Violence continues in Iraq and that's also known.  Reuters notes a Bagdhad roadside bombing left six people injured, a bombing outside targeting a mayor left him injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left thirteen additional people injured, 2 corpses were discovered in Qaiyara (father and son who were kidnapped yesterday), a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 2 lives and left eighteen people injured, and, dropping back to last night for the last two, a Kirkuk roadside bombing left three people injured and a government worker was kidnapped in Kirkuk.
Hossam Acommok (Al Mada) reports on Osama al-Nujaifi's trip to Turkey. The Speaker of Parliament declared that he will also visit Tehran and Riyadh to address regional issues with the hopes of bringing Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey to the table for discussions. While MP Abdul Salam al-Maliki expresses hopes for the visit, he also makes clear that he and State of Law see the trip as "vague" and not promising.

We'll note the topic of oil -- the root of the war -- and the current struggle for control of it in Iraq.  Forbes reported this morning that oil giant Chevron is demonstrating interest in oil exploration in the KRG. This comes on the heels of Exxon's deal with the KRG over the developing the West Qurna oil field last week which outraged the centeral-government out of Baghdad. Chevron would be the second oil giant dealing with the KRG and the Forbes article notes rumors that Italy's Eni may also be in talks with the KRG. Meanwhile Reuters reports that the Baghdad government is attempting to cancel the Exxon contract. Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) quotes the (Iraq) Ministry of Oil's director of contracts, Abdul-Mahdy al-Ameedi, stating, "Exxon has violated the ministry directions and instructions concerning the companies working in Kurdistan. It's a violation of the contract and th e law. As a consequence the oil ministry will take steps to end the contract." 
Due to the lack of coverage on the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, that was our emphasis again today.  And we'll probably make a third of tomorrow's snapshot the hearing as we wrap up on it (tomorrow's emphasis will be on Camp Ashraf, Iraqi Christians and drones -- and I'm surprised those sections of the hearing weren't picked up on).  Things are going on in Iraq, I know.  And we cover some of it in the morning entries.  But this hearing is important and we have to focus on it -- all the more so since so few actually want to take the time to cover it accurately. 
Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and her office notes:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, November 16, 2011 (202) 224-2834

VETERANS: Chairman Murray Urges VA to Take Immediate Steps in Addressing Disability Claims Backlog

(Washington, D.C.) -- Today, Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Patty Murray sent a letter to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary Eric Shinseki about the critical need to improve the efficiency of the claims processing system by eliminating unnecessary tests and procedures that are contributing to the claims backlog at the Department.

"I have heard time and time again from veterans who are frustrated with having to wait months, years and even decades for resolution of their claims and appeals," said Chairman Murray. "I am writing to bring to your attention a practice that may not be medically supported and may be unnecessarily delaying the processing of some claims."
Chairman Murray was alerted to this issue after a number of "errors" were identified at the Seattle Regional Office during an Inspector General review. She shares veterans' frustrations with the disability claims system and continues to take targeted action to address the backlog and to improve the timeliness and accuracy of claims decisions.

The full text of Chairman Murray's letter is below:

The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420

Dear Secretary Shinseki:

The disability claims system is under enormous pressure as the number and complexity of claims continue to increase. I have heard time and time again from veterans who are frustrated with having to wait months, years and even decades for resolution of their claims and appeals. I am writing to bring to your attention a practice that may not be medically supported and may be unnecessarily delaying the processing of some claims. I request that you put an end to this practice, if there is no strong medical basis for it.

This issue was brought to my attention by a number of "errors" identified at the Seattle Regional Office during a recent Inspector General review. In some disability cases, veterans exhibit "overlapping symptoms" meaning they have symptoms that may be attributable to more than one claimed disability. Currently, medical providers are being asked whether they can differentiate what portion of the symptom is caused by each diagnosis and to provide an opinion as to which overlapping symptom is attributable to each disability. In cases where a medical provider fails to address this question, regional offices are required to return examinations to the provider delaying a final decision on the claim. The "errors" identified in Seattle were the result of a failure to return examination reports that did not address this question.

Based on staff discussions with VA physicians, it appears that a medical provider cannot scientifically, with a high degree of certainty, attribute an overlapping symptom to one disability or another. If a provider cannot say with a level of certainty greater than fifty percent that a particular symptom is due to only one of the overlapping symptoms, it calls into question the practice of asking a medical professional to answer this question.

I hope you would agree that if procedures are being used that are not necessary for the proper resolution of the claim they should be eliminated. Returning an examination for failure to address a question that is not supported by medical science delays the final resolution of a claim and unnecessarily contributes to the claims backlog.

I am therefore requesting that you ask the Veterans Health Administration and VA's General Counsel to answer the two questions attached to this letter. Thank you for your service to our nation's veterans and your consideration of this request.


Patty Murray



Meghan Roh

Deputy Press Secretary

Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray



Get Updates from Senator Murray