Saturday, October 24, 2015

Iraq snapshot

Saturday, October 24, 2015.  Chaos and violence continue, Russia allegedly gets an invitation, sex addict Brett McGurk gets a promotion, Barack courts charges of playing the weasel (no, he's not Brett's latest conquest), Congress hears about veterans academic needs, and much more.

Ryan Kaufman:  I served in the U.S. Army from 2000-2003. I was deployed with the First Brigade Combat Team in October 2001 to Kuwait and Afghanistan as a Signal Support Systems Specialist. Upon my return, the proper procedures were not in place to catch what I was dealing with. At 19-years-old, I came home and was afraid of the dark; couldn’t sleep; and had a hard time eating. If the task was not mission critical, I could not find the motivation within myself to complete the task. Two months after I returned home, I caused an accident, almost killing myself and a friend. I was charged with driving under the influence. Everyone, including myself, thought I just had a problem with alcohol. But then I tested positive for marijuana. The Army left me no choice; I was discharged with a General under Honorable Conditions. During this same time period, my mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer of the throat and lungs. She was given six months to live and made it to December 2003. Six months after my discharge, I was homeless. A year prior I was part of the world’s greatest machine, the United States Army. But by December 2003, I found myself walking into a homeless shelter, unable to feed or house myself. I could not comprehend how this had happened. Shortly thereafter, I was granted a couch in a friend’s basement. I wish I had straightened my life out then, but this would not be my last experience with homelessness. In September 2004 I enrolled in college for the first time. My discharge left me without the GI Bill, so I took out Stafford Loans like the rest of the civilian population. I attempted college two more times following this 2004 attempt. I failed out in the first semester each time. Juggling work, relationships, family, and an addiction is not conducive to a learning experience. I would repeat the homeless cycle and enroll in college two more times, in 2008 and 2010. By 2011 I finally found permanent sobriety. After four years of documented VA therapy, and appeal after appeal, I was granted a service connected disability in October 2012. With school constantly on my mind, I immediately applied for the Vocational Rehabilitation/VetSuccess Program, was interviewed, approved, and enrolled in another college, after paying the back balances on my student loans.

August 1, 2009, the Post-9/11 GI Bill went into effect.  This legislation was Congress acknowledging the need for a new GI Bill -- due both to the increase in the veterans population that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were and would be creating and the changing needs since the GI Bill (Serviceman's Readjustment Act of 1944) was created in response to WWII.

We covered Congressional hearings that led to the legislation in the past.  Thursday, the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity explored one aspect, the VetSuccess On Campus program (VSOC).

Chair Brad Wenstrup:  The program is in place to provide veteran service members and their dependents with assistance and counseling as they are using their GI Bill or attending school through Voc Rehab.  VSOC is an additional resource for veterans and service members as they transition from active duty to student life and further assist them as they work towards meaningful employment following their military careers.  Each school with a VSOC program has a Voc Rehab counselor in place to assist students attending that school.

Appearing before the Subcommittee were: Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's Ryan Kaufman (already quoted at the start), Student Veterans of America's William Hubbard, Dr. Lawrence Braue (retired Lt Col, Director of the Office of Veterans Services at the University of South Florida where the first test VSOC was launched in June 2009), the University of Cincinnati's Veterans Programs and Services Manager Terence Harrison and the VA's Jack Kammerer.

As noted, US House Rep Brad Wenstrup is the Subcommittee Chair. US House Rep Mark Takano is the Ranking Member.  He noted some of the issues VSOC can assist with.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Obstacles could include VA benefit issues, questions about where to go for mental health counseling, concerns about financial or legal issues or job market information.  We know from many studies that successful transition from active duty to civilian life requires significant planning and support from the military and the VA.  Transitioning from active duty to campus life can be even more daunting -- especially for first generation college students.  Add the burdens of injury or PTS [Post-Traumatic Stress], and it is not hard to imagine why graduation levels are not as high as we would like them to be  for veterans using their GI Bill benefits. Now this is where the VSOC counselor comes in, however, they are easily accessible on campus so problems are resolved as quickly and as easily as possible.

FYI, the original plan (on Wednesday) for Thursday's snapshot was to highlight this hearing and another VA hearing (this one was in the afternoon, the other started at nine) and note how few press attended and how the dog-and-dog show (Benghazi and Hillary) consumed all the press' attention.  That plan drifted away the minute it was reported Thursday that a US service member had been killed in Iraq.

From Thursday's hearing:

Chair Brad Wenstrup:  Mr. Kaufman, I want to specifically thank you for your service and having the courage to share your incredible story.  It's uplifting and gives us all a lot of hope.  It's clear from your testimony that the Voc Rehab program has really given you opportunities that you need to be successful.  So what do you believe could be done to improve the program and make sure that we have the opportunity to help hundreds, if not thousands, of veterans be successful and have stories like yours -- hopefully, not the first part but the later part?

Ryan Kaufman:  Yes, sir. I thank you for the compliments, Mr. Chairman.  In regards to policy, I would have to defer to any of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America's DC policy team.  But, in my experience, the relationship matters.  So the relationship that I with my VR&E [Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment] counselor matters.  And I live in rural America and geographical lines get redrawn on a regular basis and case loads get switched.  And as a -- as a gentleman who struggles with trust, putting me on a new caseload -- just like with my VHA doctors -- throws me for a loop and now I'm having to remember which person to get a hold of, what's their phone number?  Right when I memorize somebody's phone number, it may change to a new individual.  But opening in particular the VSOC counselors to many more campuses -- especially as Mr. Hubbard said from the SVA -- to campuses that don't have a lot of resources would be very beneficial -- especially in my area -- because we're making an investment in the veteran, we're not making an investment in the particular institution.  And our job is to make sure that the veteran is successful.  Does that answer your question, Mr. Chairman?

Chair Brad Wenstrup:  It does.  It's very helpful.  Because I think one of the things that you touched on is important.  You know, as a physician, I always find it important that once in a while I may be able to pinch hit for somebody in my practice but that's a relationship between you and the patient that really needs to be sustained.  Somebody can cover for you once in a while but to really be successful, you need that time and time again to build that bond.  So that input is very helpful to us and that may be something that we need to make sure that we monitor and that we are providing some consistency for people because you're at a point in your life where a lot of things are very inconsistent -- and, let's face it, when you're in uniform, things are pretty consistent so that's a big shift, when you go from that.  You know, I've said during my deployment, "I hate being away from home."  But it was a simple life except for the fact that people were shooting at me.  And from that stand point, I wore the same clothes every day.  So that's a transition and you need some consistency in your life.

The hearing was poorly attended.  The only press report I've found on it is Joseph Morton's report for the Omaha World-Herald.

We'll note this exchange from the hearing:

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Are you a public university or a private university?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  We are a public university.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  And what's your total student enrollment?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Total student enrollment is 48,000 --

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  So 48,000 --

Dr. Lawrence Braue (Con't):  a little over 48,000.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  How many counselors do you have available?  I mean, just generally, your counselors available to the general student population?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  We have one VSOC counselor on campus.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  One VSOC.  But let's just talk about counseling in general, not counseling that's available to veterans.  I want -- I want the Committee to understand the plight of community colleges and public universities in terms of the availability of counselors generally and the general challenge of retention to students who come to public universities.

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Well we have VA counselor, just the one.  We have other counseling services on the campus that are open to all students.  They're not heavily utilized by our student veterans because they just are not experienced with the issues that our student veterans face.  And our veterans won't go to them.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  I understand that.  But what I'm trying to get at is -- I come from the California community colleges and we have such a shortage of counselors generally.  So one of the requirements has been to have every student take a counseling class, they get a one unit for that class. So that the issues a counselor would deal with can be dealt with "more efficiently." And community colleges, for example, have a general issue with retention.  And so what I'm trying to get at is the general counselor shortage. I come from a public school setting where out of 4,000 persons in a freshman class you might have two counselors assigned.  So basically you have a five-hundred-to-one counseling burden. Right?  So I'm just trying to say I don't believe the counseling function in higher education, higher public education, is much better. Probably even more difficult.  The amount of time a counselor will spend with a regular student.  Now I'm just trying to go through this background in order to shine a little clearer light on what the challenges are when we deal with a veteran who has a much more complex set of issue.  So we already have a challenge in terms of retention in the general student population.  Now we're talking about how we address veterans who have been through -- who carry a lot of other issues with them. So my thought is -- So you're telling me this VSOC counselor also has a VR&E caseload of about 50, you say?

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Yes, sir.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  So is that generally the case, Mr. Kammerer, the VSOC counselors also carry -- the VSOC counselors also have a VR&E function?

Jack Kammerer:  That's a good question, sir.  Thank you for asking.  Of the 79 counselors, I work a regular spreadsheet of their  caseload.  We currently do not have a policy that says VSOC counselors cannot touch a traditional caseload.  As Dr. Brau pointed out, we run the gamut from zero up to what I might call a full caseload.  When I testified to the Committee in July, I said our average caseload was about 139 per counselor.  So for FY15, I think that was accurate.  So Dr. Brau's math was about right in my head when he said if his counselor -- if his VSOC counselor -- had 50 cases, that was about 1/3 of the average caseload. We are looking at a policy to limit the caseload of traditional cases, Mr. Takano, the challenge we have is many of the veterans on campus are Chapter 31 clients. Or some of them.  And we need to serve those veterans on campus with Chapter 31 services -- the traditional range of support that our counselors provide. I use the example, in Los Angeles, of the VSOC counselor that serves three -- We have a cluster of three institutions in Los Angeles.  The challenge is, in Los Angeles, the regional office is on the other side of town from those  institutions.  So if we didn't serve those veterans on campus with the VSOC counselor with their Chapter 31, we would either have to have counselors come from across town from the R.O. to the campus or we would have to ask the veteran to come to the RO which is not a good idea in Los Angeles traffic.  So, in many cases, I spoke to a counselor this week who is visiting for other purposes -- who's a VSOC counselor -- and she carried a caseload of 62 cases and she was comfortable with that in her current situation.  So it is a balancing equation, Mr. Takano, in terms of --

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Well --

Jack Kammerer (Con't): -- serving the veterans.

Ranking Member Mark Takano (Con't):  -- here's -- [to the Chair] if I may? -- Mr. Kaufman, I also want to express how moved I was by your testimony.  And thank you for your courage.  And thank you for your service to our country.  Thank you for continuing to serve our country by being so open about your life and the struggles -- and for being such a success.  You'll be -- You already are a hero, you'll be a bigger hero to show -- No, seriously [in response to Kaufman shaking his head "no"], I have veterans in my community dealing with a number of issues and to see somebody get through that is going to be an enormous inspiration to them.  Now tell me about -- You talk about your relationship with your VR&E.  Because you're getting your education benefits through your VR&E, not through 9/11.  VR&E is a much more generous program if you can qualify for it.  You initially went through taking out loans, you didn't really know about your education benefits.  Was it the VSOC counselor that got you straightened out? Is that what happened?

Ryan Kaufman: So, first of all, Mr.  Takano, thank you for the compliments.  It was -- It was actually, it would have been a Mr. Harrison or a Dr. Braue that pulled me to the side and advised me of VR&E.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Uh-huh.

Ryan Kaufman:  And then a year later we got a vital counselor.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Uh-huh.

Ryan Kaufman: What the vital counselor can provide is VA benefit access sooner -- almost immediate  rather than me attempting to contact my VR&E counselor who may have -- especially in September and in January -- when she may have 150 veterans trying to reach her.  This vital counselor, if I'm having benefit issues, backpayment issues or over payment issues, he has the ability to contact the VBA on my behalf and then relay any news from the VBA.

Ranking Member Mark Takano:  Your story and your challenges are giving me a window into understanding what happens and how people become homeless and how they go through initial mis-steps. I'm concerned about the caseload of VR&E of 50 people to that one VSOC person.  I mean, you have a huge student veteran population. I can imagine that counselor just totally being consumed by those 50 VR&E.  I mean, it's a lot of work.  You hear Mr. Kaufman's story, you see how much time and energy it takes for that trusted person to do their job.  That's just a lot -- 50 cases, 50 people.  I'm not saying all of them will be as intense as Mr. Kaufman but I can imagine that a lot of them are.  So I can't imagine that we don't have a presence on campuses.  That's my thing. Mr., go ahead, Mr. Braue.

Dr. Lawrence Braue:  Thank you, sir.  I completely agree. The -- Having this VetsSuccess counselor on campus is essential.  It's absolutely essential. The caseload -- the Chapter 31 caseload that she has does take away from her ability to meet the needs of other people who might need her services.  And it is -- Chapter 31 cases, it can be intensive.  Especially having her on campus, it makes her more accessible than most VR&E counselors who only come to campus once in a while.  So her being on campus, her caseload, the members, the people that she is managing can walk in two or three times a week to see her which then exacerbates the problem of her not being able to reach other people so she's really spending more time on the Chapter 31s than she would if she were not a VR&E -- if she were a VR&E somewhere else.  So that becomes an issue too. 

From reality to the absurd . . .

CIA contractor Juan Cole has the nerve, the temerity to write a piece pondering what if the US had never invaded Iraq.

This would be the same Juan Cole who was a cheerleader for the illegal war during the lead up to it.

No link to Juan, he's paid by the CIA, he doesn't need the web traffic.

The war Juan Cole was so eager for has claimed millions of lives.

Thursday saw the death of yet another person in Iraq -- this time a US citizen.

  • On the tragic death, we'll note this Tweet:

  • NB: WH says POTUS did not sign off on Spec Ops raid that left US solider dead, says it was Def. Sec. Carter's call

  • That may stand as one of the all time cowardly moments for a commander-in-chief.

    The funeral hasn't even taken place and Barack's put out the spin that, "It's not me! It's Ash Carter!"  Shameful.


    Doesn't matter if it's true or not.  Reality Barack and The Cult of St. Barack has never been able to face: When you hold the position of president, you are responsible.  Even if Ash Cater authorizes the raid/rescue, he serves under you and you are responsible.

    Offering some realities, Gayle Tzemach Lemmon (Defense One) observes:

    Thursday’s events have thrust have into the public spotlight the rather plastic definitions of war and combat in which Americans have been operating now for a while. We may not by name or distinction be a nation at war, and we may not be a nation whose troops are part of full-scale, on-the-ground combat operations. But the men and women serving in those countries are indeed in a war zone and serving their nation in combat. They are at war whether or not we are as a nation.

    [. . .]

    American forces are in combat. Not saying it out loud allows us—and perhaps our leaders in Washington—to feel we are not a nation at war, even if some of us are serving in battle.

    In other news, the US government insisted Russia not be allowed to take part in air strikes over Iraq.  And the response?

    DEBKA File reports, "The Iraqi government is allowing the Russians to use the Al Taqaddum airbase that is also being used by US troops for operations against ISIS. However, Baghdad has yet to mention the Russian presence at the base, located 74 kilometers west of Baghdad." And Middle East Eye reports:

    The Iraqi government authorised Russia to target Islamic State group convoys coming from Syria, a senior Iraqi official said.
    The authorisation for Russia to target IS inside Iraq comes amid security coordination between Iraq, Russia, Iran and Syria.
    Hakem al-Zamli, chief of the Iraqi parliament’s security and defense committee, told Anadolu Agency on Friday that the measure contributed to weakening IS by cutting off its supply routes.

    Click here for the Andolu Ajansi report.

    Friday, the US Defense Dept announced:

    Airstrikes in Iraq
    Attack, fighter, and bomber aircraft conducted 15 airstrikes in Iraq, coordinated with and in support of the Iraqi government:
    -- Near Kisik, a strike destroyed an ISIL fighting position.
    -- Near Makhmur, a strike destroyed two ISIL weapons caches.
    -- Near Mosul, four strikes struck three separate ISIL tactical units, suppressed ISIL mortar fire, and destroyed five ISIL heavy machine guns, five ISIL fighting positions, and an ISIL tactical vehicle.
    -- Near Ramadi, three strikes struck two separate ISIL tactical units, denied ISIL access to terrain, and destroyed seven ISIL fighting positions, four ISIL heavy machine guns, three ISIL mobility obstacles, two ISIL roadside bomb clusters, two ISIL mortar positions, an ISIL building, an ISIL vehicle, an ISIL bomb and an ISIL anti-tank guided missile system.
    -- Near Sinjar, three strikes destroyed 15 ISIL fighting positions and two ISIL command and control nodes.
    -- Near Tal Afar, two strikes struck two separate ISIL bomb-making facilities.

    -- Near Sultan Abdallah, a strike struck an ISIL tactical unit.

    As The Four Tops once pointed out, "It's The Same Old Song."  Patrick Cockburn (Independent) explains:

    The main US-led action after Isis emerged as a powerful force last year has been an air campaign that has carried out 7,000 strikes in Syria and Iraq. But it is clear they have not worked, for inter-linked military and political reasons: guerrilla movements do not present enough targets to be defeated by airpower alone. 

    Finally, the retired general who was an idiot has retired/been forced out of his post as Special Envoy. Idiot?  He was an ambassador now and refused the title preferring to be called "general."  If you don't want the post, don't take it.  Now Brett McGurk will step in as Barack's Special Envoy for Iraq and Syria.  And Brett will get right on the job just as soon as he can pull his dirty dick out of wherever he plugged it last.  (Oh, Gina Chon, you didn't really think he was being faithful, did you?  He cheated on his wife to be with you.  It was fun and exciting, remember?  Now your his wife and it's other women that get to have the fun and excitement of extra-marital affairs with your husband.)