AFP's Prashant Rao Tweets today:
On the 10th anniversary of the Iraq invasion, follow
@AFP's Baghdad bureau: @aleeharissi, @wgdunlop, @GDecamme, @ammar_afp + @AlNasirBellah
@AFP has put out a multitude of angles on the 10th anniversary since the Iraq invasion. See them all here: http://www.bit.ly/AFPIraqWar
On the 10th anniversary of the start of the illegal war, Thom Hartman (Truthout) remembers the media lies in the lead up to the Iraq War and zooms in one attempt at the media shaming voices opposed to the Iraq War:
In March of 2003, prior to the invasion of Iraq, O'Reilly interviewed actress and political activist Janeane Garofalo, about her opposition towards going to war with Iraq.
O'Reilly asked Garofalo if she would apologize to President Bush if she was wrong, and if it turned out that the United States went into Iraq, was met with jubilant America-loving crowds of Iraqis, and in fact found "all kinds of bad, bad stuff."
Garofalo responded that she would gladly go to the White House, get on her knees, and apologize to Bush if she were wrong, but added that she didn't think she would be.
Guess what. She was right. And O'Reilly, as usual, was wrong.
Our soldiers were not met by throngs of Iraqis who loved America. And we certainly didn't find "all kinds of bad, bad stuff."
So the real question here is, ten years after being so wrong, why hasn't Bill O'Reilly apologized to Garofalo, and to the American public, for misleading us so badly?
And it was demonize Janeane and, as we noted this morning, the Dixie Chicks, and everyone who spoke out. When your actions or proposed actions can't be defended, it's really important to shut down debate before people can catch on. As a result, a lot of people who history demonstrates were right suffered in real time. Call it The Curse of the Cassandras. Eugene Kane (OnMilwaukee.com) explains:
A Milwaukee schoolteacher who was opposed to the Iraq invasion remembered being called unpatriotic and much harsher names whenever she participated in local protests against the war.
"After all this time later, I bet nobody apologizes for being so wrong," she told me this week.
Nope, they really don't. For example, Charles P. Pierce (Esquire) catches real-time war cheerleader Ezra Klein attempting today to pin his cheerleading on his think-tank betters. In Greek mythology, Cassandra had the gift of prophecy. For failing to do as Apollo wanted (be tied to him as his lover), Cassandra was cursed to see the future but to have no one believe her. The modern day Cassandras appear to be cursed with a refusal to give them credit for being right. But it didn't take psychic powers to stand up against the Iraq War. As Constantine von Hoffman (CIO) observes:
These men [Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Powell] are the chief criminals here, but let’s not forget that they received a lot of help. Of the 550 members of Congress only 156 voted against the war, and seven of those were Republicans with an enlarged sense of integrity. All the rest will tell you they voted in favor because they were lied to.
[. . .]
Anyone who uses this excuse leaves only two possible explanations for their behavior: Either they are idiots or they are lying.
If they were lied to, then where's the prosecution. Former US House Rep Elizabeth Holtzman (The Nation) notes that the statute of limitations will soon expire on the illegal war:
Together with others in his administration, he made many misstatements to Congress about the Iraq War. In one noteworthy example, just before the invasion, he notified Congress that the invasion met conditions it had set for an attack, including that it was aimed at persons or nations that “planned” or “aided” the 9/11 attacks. But neither Saddam Hussein nor Iraq planned or aided the attacks of 9/11. The five-year statute of limitations for defrauding the US started running the day President Bush left office, because the Iraq War was undertaken not just to remove Saddam Hussein and install a new government but also, as the former president explained, to secure “victory” and create a “stable” Iraq, an effort that lasted through the end of Bush’s second term. That means the statue of limitations will expire on January 20, 2014.
Since no prosecutions can be brought after the statutes run out, unless investigations are started soon, any crimes that did occur will go unprosecuted and unpunished, deeply entrenching the principle of impunity for top officials. This would be shameful for our country and strike at the heart of the rule of law
After carefully reviewing the facts and law, a fair-minded prosecutor may decide that no prosecution of President Bush and his team is justified. As a former prosecutor, I know that there is a big difference between an apparent violation of a statute and a prosecutable case. I also know, however, that the failure to investigate apparent violations of law because of the high position of those involved undermines our democracy. There cannot be two standards of justice in America, one for the powerful and another for the rest of us.
Holtzman's correct. And those who are members of Congress who maintain they were lied to should be the ones demanding an investigation into whether are not there is the basis for prosecution. If they're not demanding it, it makes it hard to believe their assertion that they were lied to. If they were lied to, these lies resulted in deaths, destruction, grieving families forever torn, people left maimed and injured, babies born with defects and so much more. In 2004, Juan Gonzalez (New York Daily News) reported:
IN EARLY SEPTEMBER 2003, Army National Guard Spec. Gerard Darren Matthew was sent home from Iraq, stricken by a sudden illness. One side of Matthew's face would swell up each morning. He had constant migraine headaches, blurred vision, blackouts and a burning sensation whenever he urinated. The Army transferred him to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for further tests, but doctors there could not explain what was wrong. Shortly after his return, his wife, Janice, became pregnant. On June 29, she gave birth to a baby girl, Victoria Claudette. The baby was missing three fingers and most of her right hand. Matthew and his wife believe Victoria's shocking deformity has something to do with her father's illness and the war - especially since there is no history of birth defects in either of their families. They have seen photos of Iraqi babies born with deformities that are eerily similar. In June, Matthew contacted the Daily News and asked us to arrange independent laboratory screening for his urine. This was after The News had reported that four of seven soldiers from another National Guard unit, the 442nd Military Police, had tested positive for depleted uranium (DU). The independent test of Matthew's urine found him positive for DU - low-level radioactive waste produced in nuclear plants during the enrichment of natural uranium. Because it is twice as heavy as lead, DU has been used by the Pentagon since the Persian Gulf War in certain types of "tank-buster" shells, as well as for armor-plating in Abrams tanks. Exposure to radioactivity has been associated in some studies with birth defects in the children of exposed parents. "My husband went to Iraq to fight for his country," Janice Matthew said. "I feel the Army should take responsibility for what's happened. Dahr Jamail's most recent report on birth defects in Iraq for Al Jazeera explains:
Today in Fallujah, residents are reporting to Al Jazeera that many families are too scared to have children, as an alarming number of women are experiencing consecutive miscarriages and deaths with critically deformed and ill newborns. Dr Samira Alani, a pediatric specialist at Fallujah General Hospital, has taken a personal interest in investigating an explosion of congenital abnormalities that have mushroomed in the wake of the US sieges since 2005.
“We have all kinds of defects now, ranging from congenital heart disease to severe physical abnormalities, both in numbers you cannot imagine,” Alani told Al Jazeera at her office in the hospital last year, while showing countless photos of shocking birth defects.
Alani also co-authored a study in 2010 that showed the rate of heart defects in Fallujah to be 13 times the rate found in Europe. And, for birth defects involving the nervous system, the rate was calculated to be 33 times that found in Europe for the same number of births.
As of December 21, 2011, Alani, who has worked at the hospital since 1997, told Al Jazeera she had personally logged 677 cases of birth defects since October 2009. Just eight days later, when Al Jazeera visited the city on December 29, that number had already risen to 699.
If I were a member of Congress and I saw the birth defects Juan Gonzalez, Dahr Jamail and others have documented in the children of US service members or the vast number of children born with birth defects in Falluja and Basra and I was saying "I was lied to!," I think I'd be calling for an investigation. What's to fear? Today CBN -- the Christian Broadcasting Network -- reports, "A recent CNN poll shows 59 percent believe it was 'dumb' to send U.S. troops into Iraq. That's up eight points from the pullout in December 2011." So, if you were lied to, you should want an investigation. And if you're lying about being lied to, you'd just do nothing even now.
Brian M. Downing (World Tribune) notes that the Iraq War has resulted in closer ties between the governments of Iraq and Iran. Trudy Rubin (Sacramento Bee) also notes that today. They are not wrong. Making that observation isn't wrong. But wrong is assuming that this is an indictment of the war by itself. For example, Phyllis Bennis, Laura Flanders, Judith LeBlanc, the ridiculous Leslie Cagan, Bill Fletcher and a host of others sign off on an open letter which includes, "Leaving behind a pro-US, anti-Iranian government in Baghdad. Hardly, Prime Minister al-Maliki is barely on speaking terms with anyone in Washington." Is the italicized sentence (their italics) supposed to be a quote? From who? Here's a better quote that those signing the letter damn sure should have been familiar with:
"We've understood very clearly that Iraq, especially the Shia population of Iraq, is both a source of danger and opportunity to the Iranians. I think it's more danger than it is opportunity. But the danger itself is incentive for them to try to intervene because the last thing they want to see, which I think is a real possibility, is an independent source of authority for the Shia religion emerging in a country that is democratic and pro-Western."
Who is that? Paul Wolfowitz. From the then-Secretary of Defense's interview with Vanity Fair's Sam Tannenhaus. You may remember that interview. If you do, you may remember that the White House insisted Wolfowtiz had been misquoted by Vanity Fair on another issue. So you may be tempted -- I don't see why -- to assume that quote above is incorrect as well. Problem with that conclusion would be that I'm not quoting from Vanity Fair. The Defense Dept posted a transcript of the interview in an attempt to combat what they swore were distortions. I'm quoting from the Defense Dept transcript. Wolfowitz, in the official DoD transcript, is explaining that the war plan includes linking Iran and Iraq with the hopes that this will cause conflict. And it does and it is. Iraqi politicians regularly have to make pilgrimages to Iran to meet with their leaders -- even the Kurds have done that in the last months. And each visit results in an outcry from the Iraqi people about how they are not a Shi'ite satellite. In Iran, there are protests against various alleged acts by Turkey or Saudi Arabia in Iraq. The two countries are linked, forever rushing back and forth attempting to fix some new issue. And that's before you get to the still not firmly drawn physical border between Iraq and Iran. The two sides are not in agreement regarding their country's boundaries.
Yes, Iran and Iraq are closer. That's a valid observation. If you're alarmed by this, maybe you should have been paying attention in real time because regardless of what was told to the American people, it was public knowledge that the plan was to hook Iraq and Iran together and friction was part of that plan. Then-President Jimmy Carter and his administration saw it as a 'good' dragging the USSR into Afghanistan. This was a similar manipulation but a lower level of conflict.
Wolfowitz's statements are important because they go to Iraq being a puppet. This isn't creating an independent state. This is creating a vacuum that will suck your enemy in.
The Iraq War was never about "liberation" or creating "democracy." It was about manipulation. Robert Scheer (Truthdig) points out:
Just weeks ago, a devastating documentary produced by The Guardian newspaper and the BBC provided all the evidence needed for any decent person to demand trials for the perpetrators of an extensive system of Iraqi torture centers, operated and financed by the U.S. government. It was part of a policy of stoking a genocidal war of Shiite extremists against Sunnis that was directed by U.S. government veterans of similar efforts in Latin America and elsewhere. As the lead on The Guardian story put it:
“The Pentagon sent a US veteran of the ‘dirty wars’ in Central America to oversee sectarian police commando units in Iraq that set up secret detention and torture centres to get information from insurgents. These units conducted some of the worst acts of torture during the US occupation and accelerated the country’s descent into full-scale civil war.”This effort, conducted with the full knowledge of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. David Petraeus, utilized the most violent Shiite militias including the savage Badr Brigade to wreak vengeance on their Sunni opponents.
The BBC/Guardian investigation exposed our propensity for moral turpitude, with no thanks to the Obama administration, which brazenly closed the door to any serious investigation of the war crimes of the Bush era, and much credit to Pfc. Bradley Manning and his WikiLeaks trove.
He's referring to BBC Arabic and the Guardian's James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq which you can stream online. (If you can't stream or if you need closed captioning so the stream will not help you, Ava and I covered the documentary March 10th with "TV: The War Crimes Documentary.") This week's Law and Disorder Radio, an hour long program that airs Monday mornings at 9:00 a.m. EST on WBAI and around the country throughout the week, hosted by attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights), the topic of counter-insurgency was addressed with journalist Patrick Farrelly who was part of the BBC Arabic and the Guardian newspaper investigative team behind the recent documentary entitled James Steele: America's Mystery Man In Iraq.
Patrick Farrelly: So we jump to 2004, the Bush administration needs a force on the ground.
Michael Ratner: The war is about a year old at this point.
Patrick Farrelly: The war is about a year old. They turn to [David] Petraeus and Petraeus brings in Steele and Col James Coffman and they introduce him to this paramilitary force, special police commandos that's very, very small at the time --
Michael Ratner: It's Iraqi?
Patrick Farrelly: It's Iraqi run by a guy who had been involved in a plot to overthrow Saddam so we then end up in a situation where he introduces them to these guys. Petreaus is really impressed with these people and that's when the spigot is turned on, hundreds of millions of dollars flow into this new force which hits the ground and it is advised by Steele and by Coffman. It is a re-run of [El] Salvador. And they go from being a few hundred strong into being, you know, a force that grew to 17,000 to 18,000 men -- most of whom would be drawn from the Shia militias like the Badr Brigades and the Mahdi Army who were very, very anxious to get revenge on Sunnis. These people were basically put in uniform, armed and equipped by the US government and essentially let loose.
Michael Smith: A counter-insurgency force, right?
Patrick Farrelly: A classic counter-insurgency force.
Michael Ratner: And what did they do? Tell us about what they do because the headlines on these articles are "US Implicated In Iraqi Police Torture" -- Petraeus knew about it, Rumsfeld knew about it and it goes up the chain of command.
Patrick Farrelly: Well with Col James Steele who -- as I said the thing about Salvador, with the US military it's seen as a huge counter-insurgency success so therefore he was the guy on the ground, he's a sort of a legend in that area. So with him in charge, they put together this force. This force then sets up a whole chain of interrogation centers throughout northern Iraq, based in mainly Sunni areas because what the United States needs really badly is intelligence. They need to know who the insurgents are and where they can get them. And that's Steele's expertise -- having these guys on the ground, they go, they go after them, so they draw in thousands of people, they basically torture them for information. And it's Steele's job to collate that information so that they can then hand it over to the US military, the US military can then go after the insurgents 'informed' for the first time as to what they were dealing with. So for the United States, in 2004 and 2005, and Petraeus admits this himself, they were the real cutting edge in terms of going after the insurgents. They were the first time the United States could actually make an impression on them but thousands of people were tortured in the process.
Heidi Boghosian: Now Steele and Coffman were very close and were actually in the detention centers, right? So they couldn't say that they didn't know what was going on.
Patrick Farrelly: Both of them were there. The thing about it is in terms of chain of command, you've got James Steele who actually has no military standing whatsoever. He is a retired colonel. One of the reasons he's retired is because his career came askew in the late 80s when he was involved in the Iran-Contra Affair and was found by a Congressional Committee to have lied.
We'll cover at least one more part of that very important interview in a snapshot this week. It was never about 'liberation' or 'democracy.' That's why Bully Boy Bush installed Nouri al-Maliki, that's why Barack Obama had The Erbil Agreement created to give Nouri a second term after the Iraqi voters said no. What happened then set the stage for all that follows. Trudy Rubin (Sacremento Bee) observes, "Despite elections, Iraq still has a government that arrests and tortures political opponents and runs a secret police state." And she's correct. But it can also be worded, "In spite of election results, Iraq still has a government that arrests and tortures political opponents and runs a secret police state." Because the 2010 election results translated, under the Iraqi Constitution, as someone other than Nouri al-Maliki and his State of Law gets first crack at being prime minister-designate and forming a government. That was supposed to happen weeks after the March 2010 elections. Instead, second place Nouri refused to allow it to happen, refused to leave the post of prime minister, refused to step down. For eight months and then the White House rescued Nouri by proposing an extra-constitutional contract -- The Erbil Agreement -- that would find the political leaders signing off on Nouri having a second term and Nouri agreeing to various things. Various things? They don't matter. He never followed through. He used The Erbil Agreement to get the second term, then he trashed the agreement. And the torture the US taught is still used today, the secret prisons still exist (Human Rights Watch yesterday: "The abuses US officials allegedly authorized in the early years of the war in Iraq, and their tacit or direct complicity in Iraqi abuses throughout the occupation, are all partly responsible for the entrenchment of weak and corrupt institutions in Iraq, Human Rights Watch said." ) and, yes, US forces still go on counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency missions with Iraqi troops but let's all pretend not to know that.
Seumas Milne (Guardian) had an important column yesterday that we'll grab this from:
As the Guardian reported this month, US forces led by General Petraeus himself were directly involved not only in overseeing torture centres, but also in sponsoring an El Salvador-style dirty war of sectarian death squads (known as "police commando units") to undermine the resistance.One outcome is the authoritarian Shia elite-dominated state run by Nouri al-Maliki today. His Sunni vice-president until last year, Tariq al-Hashimi – forced to leave the country and sentenced to death in absentia for allegedly ordering killings – was one of those who in his own words "collaborated" with the occupation, encouraging former resistance leaders to join Petraeus's "awakening councils", and now bitterly regrets it. "If I knew the result would be like this, I would never have done it," he told me at the weekend. "I made a grave mistake."
Dahr Jamail reported for Al Jazeera about the torture taking place in Iraq. Today he discussed the findings with Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- link is text, audio and video):
Other types of techniques being used—and again, all of this comes back to the types of workings of Colonel James Steele, where as people are being—men are being threatened. And I interviewed several Iraqis who said this, that when they were detained, they said, "Look, they threatened me that if I didn’t talk and give them the information they wanted or give them some names that would help them acquire the information that they wanted," that their sisters, their mothers, their wives would be brought in and raped repeatedly in front of them. So, of course people would just start giving them anything that they thought they wanted to hear.
But the types of torture is ongoing. It’s rampant. It’s one of the driving factors as to why we’re seeing massive Friday protests now, well into the three month, across Al Anbar province and the Adhamiyah district of Baghdad, where Sunnis are demanding a halt for the detentions, a halt of the so-called Article 4, which is the legislation passed and being used in the Iraqi government that—basically where they took a page out of the Bush playbook of giving them carte blanche to arrest anybody for any reasons under the guise of terrorism charges, of suspected terrorism, and then they can be held indefinitely. I spoke with people both at Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about this, and they said one of the problems now is, it’s the detentions and the being held secretly is so rampant now by the Iraqi security forces that there isn’t really even a need for secret prisons anymore. Remember a ways back, we had—it all came out that there were secret Maliki prisons. Well, now, today in Iraq, they’re referring—they’re being referred to by a lot of Iraqis as "secret prisoners," because people are being detained, their families aren’t—there’s no law requiring that the families be notified, nobody knows where these people are. They can be held in any prison anywhere in broad daylight, because no name is being registered anywhere. So, literally, we have untold numbers of people being detained, being treated horrifically.
And as people in Fallujah have told me, they said, "Look, we think that the Maliki regime tactics are even worse than the Americans," because when the Americans—when they detain people, there was at least hope that they would eventually be released, and likelihood that they would. Under Maliki, that hope is gone; there’s not a hope. The Fallujahns also referred to as the Americans therefore being at least somewhat more merciful than the tactics being employed by the Maliki regime, because people are being detained and not being heard from again, except in one instance, I interviewed the mother of a young man. He was 17 years old when he was detained. He was held for a year and a half. They never could find him, until she received a phone call from him saying, "Look, I’ve been a prisoner in these prisons, and I’m getting one last phone call to say goodbye to you, because tomorrow I’m going to be executed."
This is what the US government has been supporting. Saddam Hussein was overthrown by the US government, yes. He was also set up by the US government. They do the same today with Nouri al-Maliki.
In a column for Global Post, Human Rights Watch's Erin Evers reports:
Over the last several weeks in Baghdad, I’ve spoken with more than 30 women who are in detention or were recently released, along with lawyers and families of detainees, researching allegations of torture in Iraqi detention facilities.
People told me over and over about random arrests, torture during interrogation and prolonged detention in unofficial facilities. They said corruption was rife among Interior Ministry officials, that there was collusion between officials and judges, and that trials lacked the most basic due process protections.
Detainees repeatedly told me the government uses the broad provisions of Article 4 to detain people without arrest warrants in detention centers overseen by security forces that answer to the Interior and Defense Ministries, or directly to the Prime Minister’s Office.
I asked officials I met about promises to release detainees and about the broader problems with the criminal justice system. By the government’s own admission, some detainees have been held illegally for months -- even years.
There is little evidence, though, that the government is carrying out the pledged reforms, or that the reforms target illegal arrests, coerced interrogations and arbitrary detentions.
Provincial elections are supposed to take place April 20th. Today another Iraqiya candidate has been assassinated. Alsumaria reports Ahmed Jihad Halbusi was shot dead in Falluja. In addition Alsumaria notes Sheikh Theroa Shammaria was shot dead in Mosul.
National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baghdad car bombing has claimed 2 lives and left five more people injured, an Anbar sticky bombing has claimed the life of 1 Anbar police officer, a former military officer was shot dead in Mosul, a sticky bombing outside Tikrit killed 1 man and left "his wife and their two children wounded."
As the political crisis continues, All Iraq News notes Moqtqada al-Sadr is planning a press conference. Ayad Allawi is the leader of Iraqiya, the political slate that came in first in the 2010 elections, besting Nouri's State of Law. All Iraq News reports Allawi is in Turkey currently and quotes him stating, "Maliki run the country alone without a guide as determined by Erbil Agreement. The current situation is a result for ignoring the former agreements in addition to the continuous tension in the neighboring countries especially Syria. The State of Law Coalition headed by Maliki violated the constitution by preventing the IS from practicing its democratic right after winning the elections in 2010. The exclusion process after the elections of 2010 led to dividing Iraq and forming sectarian blocs." And Allawi is correct.
The US brokered The Erbil Agreement. They did that because Barack wanted Nouri to have a second term. Voters had said no. The Constitution was clear on the process. To get around the Constitution, as Nouri entered the eight month of refusing to step down as prime minister, the US told the other political parties to do what was right for Iraq, to be the bigger person, blah, blah, blah. Let Nouri have a second term and you'll get various things in exchange. This was all written up and signed off on by all the leaders of the political blocs -- including Nouri -- and the White House said (lied) that the contract had the full support of the US government behind it. Nouri used the contract to get that second term and then he trashed the contract. Refused to live up to it. Though Iraqiya, the Kurds and Moqtada have been publicly calling for the contract to be honored since the summer of 2011, the US government has had little to say. And the White House wonders why political blocs don't trust them at all?
Yesterday, Iraq was slammed with violence. Patrick Cockburn (Belfast Telegraph) notes the death toll from the Baghdad bombings rose to 57. All Iraq News counts 25 car bombings in Baghdad yesterday and 280 people injured or killed. In all of Iraq yesterday, Margaret Griffis (Antiwar.com) counts 98 dead and 240 injured. Nouri attempted to use the violence for his own goals. From yesterday's snapshot:
In other news of Nouri's aggression, Zhu Ningzhu (Xinhua) reports, "The Iraqi cabinet on Tuesday decided to postpone the provincial elections in the Sunni provinces of Anbar and Nineveh for a maximum period of six months due to deterioration in security across the country, an Iraqi official television reported." AFP reports it too. Neither notes reality.
First reality, look at the above and explain why Baghdad Province would have elections? I'm sorry if Nouri's excuse is too much violence, Baghdad's pretty violent. This isn't about violence, this is about punishing the protesters.
Second, the Cabinet did not vote. Alsumaria reports Moqtada al-Sadr has already announced his opposition to cancelling the votes and says that it is not permissable and compares the injustice to the founding of a second tyrant and dictator. Looks like Nouri's going to have to lose the "Little Saddam" moniker and just be "New Saddam." NINA adds that the vote was taken in a session that the Kurds and Iraqiya weren't present at.
Today, Ayad al-Tamimi and Nevzat Hmedin (Al Mada) report the Governor of Nineveh, Atheel al-Nujaifi, has come up with an even better point, it is less violence in the province than it was in 2009 when the last provincial elections were held -- but amid that violence, the province still managed to vote. United Nations Secretrary-General Ban Ki-Moon has a Special Envoy in Iraq, Martin Kobler. The UN quotes Kobler declaring today, "There is no democracy without elections. The citizens of these provinces are looking forward to these elections with great hope. They should not be disappointed." Alsumaria reports that Iraqiya MP Nahida Daini said that postponing the elections for the reasons given would be caving into violence.
Today in the United States, there was a Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. If there's room in a snapshot tomorrow or Friday, we'll cover it. For now, we'll note this from Senator Patty Murray's office:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Murray Reiterates Mental Health Challenges Facing Veterans
"Over the coming year, VA has its work cut out for it."
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, expressed concern for the mental health challenges that lie ahead for veterans during a hearing entitled, “VA Mental Health Care: Ensuring Timely Access to High-Quality Care.”
“Over the coming year, VA has its work cut out for it,” said Senator Murray. “This includes continuing to work towards implementing the Mental Health ACCESS Act, meeting the goals of hiring 1,600 new mental health care professionals, continuing to bring down wait times and improving access to care, and partnering with community providers to ensure that veterans have access to the care they need.”
In February, the Department of Veterans Affairs released a comprehensive report on veterans who die by suicide. The report indicates that the percentage of veterans who die by suicide has decreased slightly since 1999, while the estimated total number of Veterans who have died by suicide has increased to over 8,000 a year.
Senator Murray’s Mental Health ACCESS Act was signed into law by President Obama as part of the National Defense Authorization Act. The ACCESS Act creates a comprehensive, standardized suicide prevention program; expands eligibility for Department of Veterans Affairs mental health services to family members; strengthens oversight of DoD Mental Health Care and the Integrated Disability Evaluation System (IDES); improves training and education for our health care providers; creates more peer-to-peer counseling opportunities; and requires VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services. Making mental health a top priority during her time as Chairman, Senator Murray crafted the amendment after a major study by the RAND Corporation showed that there are serious gaps and a lack of consistency in military services’ suicide prevention programs.
Senator Murray’s full remarks:
“Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, I really appreciate you holding this hearing. Providing timely access to high-quality care is extremely important for our veterans, servicemembers, and their families.
“I appreciate the witnesses coming to testify before us to help further the conversation that this Committee has been having for the past several years.
“I know it is not always easy to do, and we appreciate your courage in coming here so that we can learn from you.
“VA and Congress have made important strides towards addressing the invisible wounds of war. But we still have a lot to do.
“VA’s recent report on suicides among the nation’s veterans is very troubling. And I am quite concerned that my home state of Washington appears to have a very high percentage of the known veteran suicides.
“Over the coming year, VA has its work cut out for it. This includes continuing to work towards implementing the Mental Health ACCESS Act, meeting the goals of hiring 1,600 new mental health care professionals, continuing to bring down wait times and improving access to care, and partnering with community providers to ensure that veterans have access to the care they need.
“Army, and all of DoD, also have significant challenges ahead. Just a few of these challenges are reforming the IDES process and the diagnosis of mental health conditions, addressing the problems with developing and integrated electronic health record, and ending the unacceptably high rates of military sexual trauma.
“I look forward to continuing to work with VA, the Pentagon, and my colleagues on this Committee towards meeting these goals.”
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Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
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