Bush Signs Government Transparency Bill
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: December 31, 2007
Filed at 7:47 p.m. ET
CRAWFORD, Texas (AP) -- President Bush on Monday signed a bill aimed at giving the public and the media greater access to information about what the government is doing.
The new law toughens the Freedom of Information Act, the first such makeover to the signature public-access law in a decade. It amounts to a congressional pushback against the Bush administration's movement to greater secrecy since the terrorist attacks of 2001.
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Call me disbelieving but when does this law take effect? Jan 2009 This has been the most secretive government since WW2 when we were actually in a world war, but Congress was involved in it. FDR did not do it like this administration has. I will believe the administration as soon as the RNC turns over the missing 5 million e mails from Rove and others, the visitor logs to the White House, the President has been proclaiming are Presidential papers, like the American public has no right to who he and his administration are meeting with, who exactly is paying for that house, us, or him? What does the signing statement say? We know there has to be a hey wait a minute that does not apply to me in here somewhere. The last 7 years have taught us that.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Published: December 31, 2007
There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.
It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001.
The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.
Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.
In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.
We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.
Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.
The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.
Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.
In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.
The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.
These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.
We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.
31st, 2007 5:38 am
As a disabled Army veteran I fully support the tone and words of this editorial, I am ashamed of what our country has become, in the past 6 years. An incompetent lying Attorney General who thought his priority was to the President and not the law. Who let a twenty something blonde hire "politcally right" lawyers regardless of their competence for the Justice Department. The Army has been turned into a political arm of the President and General Petraues became the "front man" for President Bush's war, to buy President Bush more time. We have a President who is not trusted by a majority of Americans, most of us suspect and feel crimes against humanity and quite possibly crimes that could see him and many other high government officials charged with war crimes. An administration that has no respect for Congress or the people of the United States, they have forgotten who works for who. The American people do not work for George Bush nor Dick Cheney, they work for us, but up until now there is no one with a backbone to hold them accountable, why?
— SSG Mike, Columbia SC
Sunday, December 30, 2007
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — In 1950, this cotton market town in northern Alabama lost a bid for a military aviation project that would have revived its mothballed arsenal. The consolation prize was dubious: 118 German rocket scientists who had surrendered to the Americans during World War II, led by a man — a crackpot, evidently — who claimed humans could visit the moon.
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Josh Anderson for The New York Times
Konrad Dannenberg, 95, is one of the original German scientists who helped turn Huntsville into Rocket City.
The New York Times
Before rockets, Huntsville was better known for cotton.
Ultimately those German immigrants made history, launching the first American satellite, Explorer I, into orbit in January 1958 and putting astronauts on the moon in 1969. The crackpot, Wernher von Braun, was celebrated as a visionary.
Far less attention, though, has been given to the space program’s permanent transformation of Huntsville, now a city of 170,000 with one of the country’s highest concentrations of scientists and engineers. The area is full of high-tech giants like Siemens, LG and Boeing, and a new biotech center.
Rocket scientists, propulsion experts and military contractors have given the area per capita income levels above the national average and well above the rest of the state.
Huntsville residents regard their city as an oasis, as un-Alabaman as Alabama can be. But they acknowledge that the state’s backwater reputation is a hindrance to recruiting. Local boosters are hoping to use the 50th anniversary of Explorer I on Jan. 31 as a way to promote Huntsville as Rocket City, unveiling a new pavilion, housing a 363-foot Saturn V rocket, at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, a museum and popular tourist attraction.
Even the Germans, who had spent five years cloistered on an Army base near El Paso, knew beforehand of Alabama’s spotty “résumé,” as Konrad Dannenberg, who at 95 is one of the last surviving members of the original von Braun team, put it last week.
“We knew that the people here run around without shoes,” Dr. Dannenberg said, in a tone of deadpan gravity. “They make their money moonshining and that’s what they drink for breakfast, and supper. And so we, in a way, were a little bit disappointed that it was really not that bad.”
The residents were wary of the Germans as well. They knew that most of them had been members of the Nazi Party and that they had built the V-2 rocket for Hitler. But the charismatic von Braun accepted virtually every speaking invitation, winning over Rotarians and peanut farmers.
And the Germans tried hard to assimilate. Von Braun insisted that the scientists speak English if there was so much as a single American, even a janitor, within earshot, said Ernst Stuhlinger, 94, another surviving member of the team. Dr. Stuhlinger was one of many who settled on Monte Sano, the mountain overlooking the town, which reminded the Germans of home.
“People said, ‘If you had just been at war with these people, how can you be so accepting of them?’ ” recalled Loretta Spencer, the 70-year-old mayor of Huntsville, offering a visitor a homemade pecan cookie. “But I think we were just in awe.”
In school, the German children’s diligence posed a challenge. “I remember working real hard in physics class to beat Axel Roth, who later worked for NASA,” Ms. Spencer said. “I beat him by a point on the final exam, and I was really tickled by it.”
The Germans also needed thousands of Americans to staff the missile program. Many who answered the call were “rocket boys” like Homer H. Hickam Jr., author of the memoir by that name, who scavenged together his first rockets in a West Virginia mining town and now lives here. Others were young men from cotton-picking families who went to school on the G.I. Bill.
By the time Explorer I was launched, the residents of Huntsville had so thoroughly adopted the Germans that there was an impromptu celebration. Charles E. Wilson, the former secretary of defense whose severe curtailment of the Germans’ work was blamed by some as having allowed the Soviet Union to beat America to space with Sputnik, was burned in effigy.
And by the mid-1960s, von Braun had so mastered the local culture that when he wanted voters to approve a bond issue for the Space and Rocket Center, he persuaded Bear Bryant, the revered University of Alabama football coach, and Shug Jordan, the rival Auburn coach, to make a television commercial supporting the project.
Rocketry permeated Huntsville, where windows shook and dishes cracked each time the powerful propulsion engines were tested. Children built rockets powered by zinc powder and sulfur, and the mad-scientist-in-the-basement tradition still has a hold. Tim Pickens, a rocket designer who helped a private manned spacecraft win the $10 million X Prize in 2004, attached a 200-pound-thrust engine to a bicycle in his garage here.
City officials trying to capitalize on this kind of ingenuity are irritated that prominent scholars have chosen this moment to scrutinize the von Braun team’s Nazi ties.
A new biography by Michael J. Neufeld portrays von Braun as a man who made a Faustian bargain. Diane McWhorter, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and Birmingham native, is at work on a book on the space race that compares Nazi ideology to contemporaneous white supremacy in the South.
Most Huntsvillians concluded long ago that the Germans had been coerced into joining the party. And, though skeptical of claims that the scientists were thoroughly apolitical, Ms. McWhorter says Southerners might easily understand that membership in an organization is not necessarily the best indicator of sentiment.
“There were members of the White Citizens Council in the South who were probably less racist than people who weren’t members,” she said.
Residents point to the symphony and the Huntsville branch of the University of Alabama, both nurtured into being by the Germans, and say their enlightened views contributed to the fact that the town had the first integrated elementary school in the state. Dr. Von Braun himself was threatened by the Ku Klux Klan for hiring blacks, said Bob Ward, a Huntsville newsman and von Braun biographer.
Besides, Huntsville is a forward-looking place. The Nazi question “just doesn’t come up,” said Loren Traylor, a Chamber of Commerce vice president. “That was then, this is now.”
The question should come up and not be written off as that was then and this is now, many people died at Penumundee, where the V2 rockets were built by Werner Von Braun and "his team". They were brought in under false papers in a CIA program call "Operation Paperclip" against President Trumans orders, along with about 2000 other Nazis who had their records cleaned up in order to come into the United States after WW2. Among these men were doctors who worked at the death camps who went on to do experiments with human researchers at Edgewood Arsenal, Fort Detrick, saying that was then and we should just forget about it, is wrong.
All we did was bring them from Germany to help build our technology base after the war, basically it was a race to get them out of Europe before the Russians could kidnap them and take them into Russia. In fact many of these Paperclip scientists should have been prosecuted at Nuremberg. People turned their backs back then for the nations "greater good" kind of like we are doing today about "water boarding" detaining people at Gitmo based on "secret evidence", the more people forget the past the more abuses of the past will be repeated, why? Remember and stop them from doing it again, time does not heal all wounds.
This is a man who wanted the Times prosecuted for revealing Bush Administration secrets, now he wants to take the money from these "traitors"? Forgive me while I go throw up, at least Time Magazine had enough sense to let this man go, he has been wrong on every call of the Iraq war since it began. He gives the Bush Administration a free pass on torture, spying on Americans, Gitmo etc, where will he stand when the War Crimes trials are ever held? People should be charged for violations of American law, let alone international law, we are a nation that used to be respected for our committment to law, and now we are an embarassment to our ancestors.
I think the NY Times is quickly trying to make themselves irrelevant to most Americans, very few people admit to being Republican anymore, more claim to be independents now than just 4 years ago, that is what President Bush and V.P. Cheney and Karl Rove have done to modern conservatism, they are snuffing it out and making Billy Krystol also irrelevent. What a waste of money.
Clinton makes promise on Gulf War SyndromeJENNIFER JACOBS • REGISTER STAFF WRITER • December 29, 2007http://www.desmoinesregister.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071229/NEWS/71229020After a Desert Storm veteran asked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton what she’d do about the war-related health issues that have been “swept under the carpet,” she made a campaign promise - twice.“I promise you that among my priorities will be trying to get to the bottom of this,” Clinton said during a question-and-answer session at her campaign rally in the town of Clinton today.The candidate said when she was first lady, she did an investigation after veterans or their wives approached her about unexplainable ailments.The reasons why military members got sick is still unknown – people have looked at the anthrax vaccines, the pesticides that were used in sleeping and eating areas, and depleted uranium residue from the soldiers’ weapons, she said.“One thing we did accomplish is that we forced the VA to recognize the Gulf War Syndrome," Clinton said. "Couldn’t give you the specifics, but because of the work I did, we did get to the point where you will be recognized as having some combination of ailments.But now we’ve to figure out what’s really causing it and I promise you I will do my best to get that done.”Sphere: Related Content
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VOICE OF THE SUNDAY Mirror: Nuke scandal brought home
Gordon Brown doesn't have to rely on reports from campaigners to understand the scandal over the British nuclear test veterans. He can ask his wife Sarah.
The man she grew up calling "grandpa" - her grandfather by her mother's second marriage - died from a rare form of cancer after witnessing a test in the South Pacific.
Squadron Leader Stephen Pooley flew through the mushroom cloud to collect fallout samples. Yet when he died in 1996 from myelodysplastic syndrome, the Ministry of Defence lied to his inquest and said there was "no proof" that he had been anywhere near the explosion.
Such a shocking story will come as little surprise to anyone who has followed the scandal of the nuclear test vets, though that does not diminish the outrage at each new case.
But Squadron Leader Pooley's story brings the shameful treatment of thousands of servicemen right to the door of the current prime minister.
It is time for Mr Brown to immediately order decent treatment for the dwindling number of veterans who remain alive - and the relatives of those who have died.
Rivals tap voter anger in appeal to Iowans
By George E. Condon Jr.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
December 30, 2007
INDEPENDENCE, Iowa – Wearing worn blue denim overalls and leaning on his cane, Merritt McCardle personifies “Iowa nice” when he talks about his grandchildren and his days in the Navy in San Diego.
Advertisement But when the conversation turns to either Washington or the price of prescription drugs, McCardle, 74, a retired tool maker, flashes the anger that has transformed both the Democratic and Republican races for president only days before the crucial Iowa caucuses.
“Sure it makes you angry,” he said. “Look who wrote the medical bill in Congress – the drug companies. There is just no doubt that lobbyists have too much power. We've got to do something.”
For McCardle, a heart transplant patient who takes more than 50 pills a day and relies on the Department of Veterans Affairs for his care, doing something means supporting the campaign of Democrat John Edwards. On this day, that meant driving through a snowstorm to listen to the former North Carolina senator make his pitch at Bill's Pizza & Smoke House.
What McCardle saw was a candidate distinctly different from the sunny optimist who finished a strong second in the 2004 caucuses. In his place is a fiery populist who mocks the other candidates for wanting to negotiate with the drug and insurance companies and who hopes to tap into a palpable anger among the electorate here.
It is an anger that keeps Edwards in the race against better-funded rivals, Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and Barack Obama of Illinois, as the Iowa caucuses approach Thursday.
“Enough is enough,” Edwards proclaimed in his pitch to about 60 people. “It is time for some truth-telling.”
Heads nodded when he insisted that “corporate greed is absolutely destroying the middle class and jobs in this country.” They nodded again when, without naming Obama or Clinton, Edwards dismissed their promises to invite the drug and insurance companies to the table when hammering out universal health care insurance.
He said it was a “fantasy” to think those companies would voluntarily give up any power.
“You can't nice these people to death. You can't flatter them to death,” he said.
You just have to fight them, Edwards said.
Pollster John Zogby said there is “a huge amount of anger” among voters. “Tapping into this anger is the principal reason” for Edwards' resurgence in the polls, Zogby said.
A similar dynamic is taking place in the Republican race in Iowa. Two hundred miles away, voters nodded in approval when former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee railed against the political establishment.
In West Des Moines, Huckabee was introduced by former South Carolina Gov. David Beasley as a candidate for those who are “fed up with what's going on in Washington” and as “not the same-old, same-old.”
In his speech, Huckabee appealed to Iowans who are “completely bummed out” by the system. He told voters that supporting his candidacy is the best way to “confound the political ruling class in this country.”
Pointedly, Huckabee makes no distinction between the Republicans and the Democrats in that ruling class. It is a measure of the Republican president's unpopularity that Huckabee has lost no noticeable support among GOP voters with his much-publicized attack on what he called the “arrogant bunker mentality” of President Bush's foreign policy.
Huckabee's rise in the polls has been steady and coincides with his ability to tap into voter discontent – even to the point of alarming many party conservatives. The Club for Growth, which espouses fiscal conservatism, has stepped up its attacks on Huckabee, decrying his “mix of lefty populism and class-warfare rhetoric that one would expect to hear from the likes of John Edwards or Hillary Clinton.”
Undeterred, Huckabee simply dismissed the group as the “Club for Greed.”
The rhetorical attacks on the political elites by Huckabee and Edwards are not surprising given the mood of the electorate. But they still have come as a surprise to some longtime friends of Edwards who rarely saw that side of him when he was in the Senate.
“I am surprised at just how angry John has become,” said Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, another presidential candidate. “This is not the same John Edwards I once knew.”
Voters don't seem surprised. Even those who support other candidates said they understand the anger.
“I'm mad, the Democrats are mad, a lot of the Republicans are mad,” said John Burns, 51, a Des Moines lawyer who supports Obama.
Burns said his Republican father is angry at the way Bush took the country into Iraq even though he supports the war.
Obama and Clinton have their own populist appeals but suggest they take a more constructive approach than Edwards. Change, Obama said, “won't just come from more anger at Washington.”
David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, said it is “bewildering” that Edwards thinks you can have health care reform without involving the insurance companies.
“Our predicate is you can be strong and you can be resolute, but you've got to have dialogue,” Axelrod said.
He added: “Anger is not enough. Do you see a deficit of anger in Washington? I don't think that's what we're lacking here.”
But Axelrod acknowledged that Iowans are angry right now.
“There is anger at the inability of Washington to solve problems,” he said. “There is anger at the dysfunctionality of government in Washington.”
This is in a state that has made “Iowa nice” part of the political lexicon, because voters here like to project warmth and civility – and often expect candidates to do the same.
According to a Zogby Poll, almost 80 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa said they are angry at the political system, with that anger extending to the Democratic Congress, as well as the Republican president. The number was only slightly lower for Republicans, with 67 percent saying they are angry.
Although voters were discontented in other elections, numbers this high have not been seen since 1980, when anger at President Carter bubbled over.
There are some differences between Republican anger and Democratic anger, said Zogby, who found that Republicans in Iowa are more worked up over illegal immigration than are Democrats there. But Iowa voters of both parties are increasingly upset over the effects of free trade, which many believe has moved jobs overseas.
Iowans are “in a nasty frame of mind,” Zogby said, with “a huge amount of anger on both sides.”
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Understatement of the year (runner-up): Recording the condition of a patient who had died 12 days earlier, a nurse at the Salisbury Veterans Administration hospital gave this description: "Stable."
By CHRIS ADAMS
WASHINGTON — Sen. Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, took officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs to an auditorium at the Montana State University-College of Technology campus in Great Falls last summer to talk about the best way to provide health care to veterans in the region's vast rural areas.
The director of the VA region that includes Montana, Colorado, Utah and Wyoming detailed all that the agency was doing to provide for veterans' health needs — physical and mental.
"Comprehensive mental-health care is one of the top priorities for Network 19," Glen Grippen said, referring to the multi-state Rocky Mountain region. He said that mental health staff had been added recently, specifically for treating post-traumatic stress disorder.
Each medical center now has a suicide prevention coordinator, he said, and the VA's medical centers "actively collaborate with state National Guard and Reserve components to ensure that no returning soldier slips through the cracks."
An examination of VA data and documents, however, tells a different story. Internal documents that McClatchy Newspapers obtained show that, far from being a national leader, the Rocky Mountain region is in the bottom half of the nation's 21 regions in the VA's own scorecard of performance, which takes into account whether veterans are receiving regular mental-health treatment and how efficiently the region is spending its money and using its resources.
On a couple of important measures, Network 19 was dead last. For example, in a measurement of the effectiveness of treatment — in which researchers charted patients' mental status scores before and after treatment — the region ranked last, according to the documents, which were from fiscal 2006 and were made available under the Freedom of Information Act.
That was for a range of mental health treatment. On the more specific measurement of treating post-traumatic stress disorder, the Rocky Mountain region was last in the number of specialized PTSD treatment programs it offered, and 16th of 19 ranked regions in program effectiveness, based on the fiscal 2006 records.
The situation in Montana — which has sent more of its sons and daughters, per capita, to fight America's wars than any other state — is even more dismal:
The Montana VA hospital started a specialized PTSD treatment program only recently, though soldiers have been returning from Iraq and Afghanistan for more than four years, and experts have long urged that every VA hospital have such units.
Out of 139 VA hospitals nationwide, the hospital at Helena and its related clinics ranked 123rd in the proportion of their budget that goes toward specialized mental health treatment.
While the average veteran receiving specialized mental health treatment in the VA system got 11 visits a year, those who used the Helena hospital and its affiliated clinics got an average of 4.2 visits. That's dead last among all VA hospitals in the U.S., according to 2006 data.
Veterans waited longer to gain access to the Montana system for mental-health care. While the VA aims to get veterans who are new to the system in to see doctors within 30 days of their requested dates, that happened only 53 percent of the time in 2006 in the Montana hospital system. On that ranking, the Montana system was third to last.
In a statement to McClatchy last week, the VA said its Rocky Mountain region "showed substantial improvements in the delivery of mental health care" over the past three years and that the VA hospital in Montana had beefed up its staff and supplemented its services with contracts with regional mental-health centers. Those encounters, the VA said, weren't reflected in McClatchy's analysis.
In addition, the Montana VA is establishing new strategies to provide for veterans in rural areas, including telephone consultations.
"Much of the need for mental health care is met by providers at clinics, and by contracting or fee-basing to community providers," the VA said in its statement. "The strategy is to distribute these key resources to enhance statewide access to mental health care rather than clustering them" at the Helena hospital.
HELENA — Chris Dana came home from the war in Iraq in 2005 and slipped into a mental abyss so quietly that neither his family nor the Montana Army National Guard noticed.
He returned to his former life — a job at a Target store, nights in a trailer across the road from his father's house.
When he started to isolate himself, missing family events and football games, his father urged him to seek counseling. When the National Guard called his father to say that he'd missed weekend duty, Gary Dana pushed his son to get in touch with his unit.
"I can't go back," Chris Dana responded. "I can't do it."
Things went downhill from there. He blew though all his money, and last March, he shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. He was 23 years old.
As Gary Dana was collecting his dead son's belongings, he found a letter indicating that the National Guard was discharging his son under what are known as other-than-honorable conditions. The move was because of his skipping drills, which his family said was brought on by the mental strain of his service in Iraq.
The letter was in the trash, near a Wal-Mart receipt for .22-caliber rifle shells.
All across America, veterans like Chris Dana are slipping through the cracks, left to languish by their military units and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA's ability to provide adequate care for veterans with mental ailments has come under increasing scrutiny, and the agency says it's scrambling to boost its resources to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, prevent suicides and help veterans cope. It's added more mental health counselors and started more suicide prevention programs.
But the experience in Montana, which by some measures does more than any other state to support America's wars, shows how far the military and the VA have to go.
"The federal government does a remarkable job of converting a citizen to a warrior," said Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. "I think they have an equal responsibility converting a warrior back to a citizen.
"I can't imagine that it's only Montana that's experiencing this. Our men and women are part of this country, and we have common experiences. It's not as though the water we drink and the air we breathe in Montana make our experience completely different than everywhere else."
McClatchy Newspapers analyzed a host of VA databases and records, and found that mental health treatment across the country remains wildly uneven. While mentally ill veterans in some parts of the country are well-tended, those in other places — especially Montana — are falling by the wayside.
The data and records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, included all 3 million VA disability claims in the nation and 77 million medical appointments in the agency's health system in fiscal 2006.
At a U.S. Senate committee hearing last summer in Great Falls, a top VA official touted the success of the department's mental health operations in the region that includes Montana. But the agency's records indicate that it ranks below most other regions in measures of access and success.
In fact, Montana veterans trail far behind their peers around the country on the two main VA functions:
— By several measures, the agency provides less specialized mental-health care in Montana than it does in most other states. Veterans seeking to enter the mental health system at Montana's only VA hospital had longer waits and received fewer visits than veterans did at almost any other VA hospital in the country.
— Recent veterans in Montana with mental ailments receive far lower payments, on average, from the VA disability system than veterans in almost any other state do.
Adam Olivas of Laurel had his post-traumatic stress disorder payment cut this month.
Olivas had been regular Army and had come home from Iraq with a Purple Heart, shrapnel in his left side, ringing in his ears, back problems and the nightmares, hair-trigger responses and survivor's guilt that are hallmarks of PTSD.
Since Olivas left the military, his life has been a blur of sleepless nights, drowsy days, nightmares, flashbacks, constant fatigue, spotty memory, counseling sessions and medication. He goes to work, goes home and rarely sees other people.
"I married Adam right before he went to basic training," said his wife, Shannon. "The only reason I am married to this man is because I know who he was before he went to Iraq."
His PTSD was rated a 50 in the VA's complicated system, and with his other injuries he was entitled to a monthly disability check for $1,567. Earlier this year, however, the Montana VA benefits office sent Olivas a letter proposing to drop his PTSD rating from 50 to 30. It would cost him $2,600 a year.
PTSD is rated at zero, 10, 30, 50, 70 or 100, and the VA office in Montana, the McClatchy analysis found, is less likely to rate recent war veterans 50 or above than any other office is. The McClatchy analysis zeroed in on veterans who've left military service recently and most likely had combat experience in Iraq or Afghanistan.
The lower rating was a slap in the face to both Adam and Shannon Olivas, who said that the past four years had been "absolutely horrific."
Adam Olivas, who works in hospital security, and his wife, a schoolteacher, drove three hours to Helena to appeal the decision, assisted by experts from two veterans groups. A representative from the American Legion said that Olivas' PTSD rating probably should go up, not down.
But the Montana VA office said that Olivas' symptoms weren't severe enough to warrant a 50 and that he'd gotten it only because of a quirk in the rating rules. The Montana office dropped the rating after it was allowed to do so.
Olivas doesn't know how he'll handle the cut in income.
"I can't afford to pay for the gas to go to all these meetings and counselings and all this stuff," he said. "Which probably isn't going to be the best thing for me."
More than 2,500 members of the Montana Air National Guard and Montana Army National Guard are among the 10,000 men and women from the state who've served in Iraq and Afghanistan or elsewhere in the war on terrorism, according to Department of Defense numbers.
"When they were called to active duty, they were running a business, driving a truck, working at a mill, teaching school," Schweitzer said. "When they returned from being a soldier, they didn't go back to a military base. ... They don't have people they can talk to. They are 300 miles away from their detachment, and everybody where they work didn't experience what they've gone through.
"In fact, nobody where they work experienced what they've gone through. Their family doesn't understand it well."
Montana has more veterans per capita than any other state, and they return from war to a vast expanse with few hospitals and miles between the ones that do exist. The VA has only one hospital in the state, Helena's Fort Harrison.
Chris Dana's suicide roiled Montana, which set up a task force to determine how a Guardsman had slipped through the cracks. It concluded that the Montana National Guard was following the national standard program, designed by the Department of Defense, to catch mental health issues as soldiers return from war.
But the task force also found that the national program is "deficient" because it doesn't provide the vision or the resources necessary to pinpoint veterans' mental heath problems.
Among other things, the task force said, the standard demobilization process is "ineffective for identifying mental health issues," and coming-home briefings include such a blizzard of paperwork that things get lost in the shuffle. It noted that veterans are reluctant to disclose their mental health problems and that counseling is lacking and uncoordinated in many parts of the state.
Guard members themselves — more than 40 percent in a survey the task force conducted — said they didn't think they were getting sufficient information about the health benefits and services available to them.
The Montana Guard is working to beef up its demobilization process significantly, hoping to keep better tabs on its soldiers as they return to their small towns and their businesses, farms, schools and families.
Another great article by Chris AdamsSphere: Related Content
Homeless veterans rally in Iowa
Rally spotlights plight of homeless veterans
By JACQUELINE LEE • REGISTER STAFF WRITER • December 30, 2007
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On any given winter night in Iowa, as many as 1,000 homeless veterans don't have a place to sleep. And there are just 56 beds available for homeless veterans in the state.
"It is an outrage that there are now about 3,000 of our valiant troops who served their country in Iraq and Afghanistan and are now homeless on the streets of our nation," said Maj. Brian Hampton, an Army veteran of the Vietnam War who is president of the Circle of Friends for American Veterans.
The Circle of Friends held a rally Saturday at the Holiday Inn Downtown in Des Moines to draw attention to the plight of homeless veterans. The group hopes that the presidential candidates in Iowa this weekend take note.
"We're putting heat on politicians that homeless veterans deserve the most support," Hampton said. "The homeless veterans don't have clout with members of Congress."
Another Vietnam veteran, Jim Underwood, who was a security guard at the presidential retreat at Camp David in Maryland in the late 1970s, said an alcohol and drug problem dogged him for 25 years. He lived in more than 10 places during that time.
"I think a lot of veterans don't actually know what's out there for them," Underwood said, referring to benefits and treatment.
Underwood said he was treated for depression at the Veterans Medical Center in Knoxville. He now lives at the 180 Degrees transitional facility on Cottage Grove Avenue in Des Moines, which is a combination shelter and treatment and education center.
Reporter Jacqueline Lee can be reached at 515-284-8065 or email@example.com
TRICARE'S FEE BOOST MAY BE DELAYED -- With an election
looming and wars under way, Congress may be loathe to
raise fees for veterans. Hike may come in a year or two.
For more information about TRICARE, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here...
Story here... http://www.heraldnet.
Tricare's fee boost may be delayed
With an election looming and wars under way, Congress may be loathe to raise fees for veterans.
By Tom Philpott
The Defense Department's top health official believes that "within the next year or two" Tricare fees, co-pays and deductibles will "begin to gradually go up" for military retirees.
But Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, also says he has a lot of sympathy with the argument of older retirees that they served during times when military pay was low and lifetime health care was promised if they served at least 20 years.
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Dr. Gail Wilensky, co-chairwoman of the Task Force on the Future of Military Health Care which has endorsed higher Tricare fees for retirees, believes Congress will be receptive if fee increases are part of a broader effort to make military health more efficient.
"But how much they choose to do next year, in an election year when we're in a war period, and how much they might do the year after, is a more difficult question," Wilensky said after a day briefing key lawmakers and Capitol Hill staff on task force recommendations.
With the U.S. military still fighting two protracted wars, with Congress showing a strong bias toward re-election over fiscal discipline, prospects appear slim that military retirees will face higher Tricare fees anytime soon.
This month the House-Senate conference report on the 2008 defense authorization bill, which has blocked Tricare fee increases for a second consecutive year, said Defense officials have "options to constrain the growth of health care spending in ways that do not disadvantage" military retirees.
Political winds, it seems, continue to guard the wallets of millions of military beneficiaries. The task force proposes that retirees under 65 and their families face a four-year phase-in of higher fees and co-payments under Tricare Prime, the managed care option. It calls for higher deductibles under Tricare Standard, the fee-for-service option.
Retirees age 65 used Tricare for Life, wrap-around insurance to Medicare. They would begin paying a new annual enrollment fee of $120, under the task force plan. Most fees would be adjusted annually based on the rise in the cost of civilian-purchased care for Tricare users. Drug co-pays would be raised to encourage use of mail order rather than the outlets of base pharmacies and the Tricare retail network.
Casscells told a small group of reporters Dec. 13 that he believes military retirees will see the start of a gradual rise in out-of-pocket medical costs over the next few years. Casscells said more health care dollars need to be shifted into maintaining and staffing base hospitals and clinics. "Even take a flagship like National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda," he said. "They are not as full (of patients) as they need to be to maintain excellence. Patients have choice now and they tend too often to go into the private sector."
Unless the pattern is reversed, he said, "we won't have the numbers of patients needed to justify a neurosurgical trauma specialist or a radiologist or a pediatric endocrinologist. … We have to maintain those skills."
Casscells noted that Congress continues to block fee increases for retirees. He blamed that, in part, on the design of earlier proposals calling for steep and quick increases.
"The staff in my office said, 'Well, the civilian sector, they're doing this too. Co-pays are going up. Deductibles are going up.' The veterans said, 'Well, that's not my problem. We had a deal with you. And furthermore, when I signed up, the pay was really lousy so we didn't get well taken care of on the front end. And now we want to hold you to your original bargain.'"
Casscells said he understands the argument made by service associations on behalf of older retirees that they served when pay was low and lifetime access to health care was a promised benefit.
"So I do think we need to be as generous as we can afford to be -- without taking away from the health care we offer to serve in theater."
After briefing lawmakers, task force co-chairwoman Wilensky said Congress takes seriously recommendations to slow health cost growth. But lawmakers want higher fees considered only as part of a broader effort to make the health system more efficient.
Larry Scott --
For more about GIs (and veterans) and gambling, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here...
Story here... http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=51301
Lawmaker looking for an end to on-base gambling
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
WASHINGTON — New legislation would ban slot machines and video gaming devices from all U.S. military installations, effectively shutting down overseas military gambling.
Rep. Lincoln Davis, D-Tenn., calls the measure a way to protect troops from a dangerous and addictive pastime. State lottery ticket sales and charitable events would be exempt from the ban, but the rows of slot machines at many overseas bases would be removed.
“It’s offensive. The military is taking $150 million from soldiers’ wallets … and then denying them treatment for an illness they helped create,” he said. “Our young officers are being invited to gamble on bases, and it brings about financial and psychological problems.”
But Defense officials disputed that, saying the services do offer help for gambling addicts and the games represent another recreational opportunity for overseas troops and their families.
“Slot machines are not viewed as a stand-alone recreational program, but as another opportunity in the context of the recreational activities where they are collocated,” said Defense spokesman Lt. Col. Les’ Melnyk. “The gaming machine program provides a controlled alternative to unmonitored host-nation gambling venues.”
According to Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation documents, revenue from all overseas military slots totaled more than $120 million in fiscal 2006, nearly $94 million from Army machines alone.
Army Recreation Machine Program officials operated 3,275 gaming machines in 137 locations worldwide. Pentagon officials did not respond to requests for figures on gaming machines run by the other services overseas.
Video poker and similar gambling machines are not permitted at stateside military bases.
Profits from the slots are returned to service MWR activities, and defense officials say that payouts from the military machines are higher than most typical U.S. casinos.
But Davis, who opposes gambling on moral grounds, said the real issue is the potential for addiction caused by the games.
Department of Defense health behavior studies in the 1990s and in 2002 all found between 5 percent and 9 percent of military personnel had experienced a gambling-related problem in their lifetime, and about 2 percent fit the classification for pathological gambling problems.
That’s higher than the national average of just under 1 percent, according to John Kindt, a University of Illinois business professor who has studied gambling in the military.
“These troops, they’re Type A personalities,” he said. “They’re naturally drawn to risk and adventure, and that’s the group most vulnerable to gambling problems.”
Both he and Davis criticized the military’s assistance programs as too small, but Melnyk said officials are “committed to ensuring that the program is well managed and responsive to our customers.”
No hearings have been set on the legislation. Davis said he is working with contacts in the Senate to introduce companion legislation to his bill next month.
Larry Scott --
By Joel AchenbachSphere: Related Content
Sunday, December 30, 2007; Page B01
Forty years ago, this country entered what would turn out to be the most politically charged, disorienting, violent and tragic year in modern American history. The year we're now heading into has some surface similarities to 1968: a protracted and wrenching war in Asia, an unpopular president, a wide-open presidential campaign and raw-nerve controversies over civil rights (with gays and immigrants this time) and geopolitics (featuring jihadists instead of communists). The murder of Benazir Bhutto in Pakistan is another awful reminder of 1968, when two American heroes, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, lost their lives to assassins.
History repeating itself: It's a tidy premise. In fact, it's irresistible -- and wrong, but wrong in interesting ways that shed light on both years. Sure, elements of '68 persist in the world and in America today (because folly is durable), but the difference between 2008 and 1968 is the difference between needing psychotherapy and requiring a brain transplant.
In 1968, the country came close to political disintegration. Authority wasn't merely questioned; it literally lost control. The Tet Offensive in late January 1968 shocked those who had assumed we were winning the Vietnam War. President Lyndon B. Johnson essentially quit his job on live television. Days later, the apostle of nonviolent resistance was gunned down in Memphis. The cities burned.
Just like today, millions of people vehemently opposed the war, but for many of them it was a highly personal matter: The military announced in early 1968 that it would draft 300,000 more troops. Americans were dying in Vietnam by the dozens and even the hundreds every week. Countless young people lost all confidence in the ordered, officially sanctioned version of reality.
My Washington Post colleague David Maraniss, a college freshman in 1968 (he wrote a book, "They Marched Into Sunlight," about events on campus and in Vietnam in the fall of 1967), recalls: "There was a mood that anything was possible, good or bad, that life was changing by the week, that something a week or a month ago seemed old all of a sudden. You didn't know what was going to happen. It was kind of dizzying and exhilarating and tragic -- all of those things at once."
The big question is not why 2008 has so many echoes of 1968, but why the two years are so different.
No draft, obviously. And technology may have supplanted politics as the dominant agent of change. Information runs riot, not protesters. The news cycle spins so much faster; for every action there is an instant reaction. The odd result is not a world where things are out of control, but one in which issues get quickly categorized, organized, bureaucratized and, if necessary, outsourced. Everything is more precisely measured and calibrated. There's an expert for every problem -- just ask Google.
On the campaign trail, you will occasionally feel an aftershock of the '60s. Sen. John McCain is still tweaking Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for earmarking $1 million for that "hippie museum" at the site of the Woodstock festival, which took place while he was a POW in Hanoi. A demonstrator at the Iowa straw poll a few months back carried a sign saying, "Defeat Hillary Clinton and Jane Fonda." Sen. Barack Obama, trying to cruise a high road, declares that we shouldn't re-fight the battles of the 1960s.
This may be the most unpredictable political year since 1968, when President Johnson, stunned by rising antiwar sentiment and Sen. Eugene McCarthy's strong showing in the New Hampshire primary, announced that he wouldn't seek another term. Robert F. Kennedy jumped into the race. Long viewed as a ruthless operator and Cold Warrior, Bobby had transformed himself into a liberal, inciting frenzied adulation -- rock-star stuff -- as he took his campaign into impoverished rural towns and inner-city ghettoes.
Where is the spirit of that Kennedy campaign? Certainly with Obama, who's so often described as Kennedyesque. But you can also find it in the candidacy of John Edwards.
A week before Christmas, Edwards stopped in Keene, a small city in a valley in the southwest corner of New Hampshire -- prime turf for liberals, leftists, artists, organic farmers, college professors. Edwards brought Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne as his warm-up act. They sounded terrific, the lyrics saturated in idealism.
Things like hunger, greed and hatred One way or another, gonna be eradicated
Out came Edwards, and he was on fire. The former senator talked about ending the war in Iraq and taking power away from big corporations. He said 35 million Americans last year went hungry. He talked about the uninsured Americans who must take their sick kids to the emergency room in the middle of the night and beg for treatment. He talked about a man who spent 50 years with a cleft palate, unable to talk, without money or insurance to pay for an operation that would finally let him speak. "In America," he said. His rhetoric could easily have come from Kennedy or King in early 1968. He predicted that he will ride a wave of popular sentiment that will shock the mainstream. He was, in essence, describing what in the '60s would have been known as The Movement.
Therein lies his challenge: Can a candidate inspire a popular movement in a society that over the last 40 years has cubbyholed itself into self-selected social groups and generally been co-opted by consumerism?
The polls indicate massive antiwar sentiment in America, but if 500,000 people descended on the Mall anytime recently to protest what's happening in Iraq, I missed it. The only way people would riot in this country is if you announced that Best Buy just got in a new shipment of Wiis. There are only about three or four people in America who still talk about The Revolution, and they all live in treehouses.
The feverish rhetoric and verbal mayhem of the blogosphere is deceptive: America on the whole isn't as political as it was in 1968. In Iowa, many citizens told me they have no intention of going to the caucuses. Why not? It's simply not something they do. What they don't articulate is the obvious fact: They just don't care.
Todd Gitlin, a Movement veteran and the author of "The Sixties," says 1968 still stands apart.
"You have one president who's disgraced by a war and cuts short what had been one of the brilliant political careers of the century, you have the Democratic Party cracking up, you have two major assassinations, you have a growing number of American students who think they're on the brink of, or on their way to, a revolution. You have a political secession of the white South amidst a civil rights revolution," Gitlin told me. "You have millions of people thinking the end of history is at hand."
You can see that side of 1968 in the face of Bobby Kennedy in a framed photo in Frank Mankiewicz's living room.
Mankiewicz served as Kennedy's press secretary for those thrilling, chaotic, ultimately tragic 85 days from March to June of 1968. The black-and-white photo shows RFK conferring with Mankiewicz on April 4; they're aboard a plane flying from Muncie, Ind., to Indianapolis, where Kennedy is scheduled to go into the black part of town and give a speech about race and poverty. But Kennedy's forehead is furrowed, his whole face heavy with the weight of horrible news: Martin Luther King has been shot in Memphis.
They got to Indianapolis and motorcaded toward the event, but the police peeled away because they didn't want to go into the black neighborhoods. Mankiewicz had thrown together a speech, but by the time he reached the stage, Kennedy was already speaking, extemporaneously. To gasps, he told his listeners that King had been killed. He said he understood their pain, because he too had lost a family member to violence. Then he quoted his favorite poet, Aeschylus, by heart: "Even in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God."
Mankiewicz still has the yellow sheet of paper with the notes he jotted down for Kennedy's last speech, at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles on the night of June 4. Kennedy, celebrating his victory in the California primary, extemporized once again.
"I think we can end the divisions within the United States," Kennedy told his supporters. "[W]e can work together in the last analysis . . . We are a great country, an unselfish country and a compassionate country."
Minutes later, Mankiewicz was helping Ethel Kennedy off the stage when he heard what at first he thought might be firecrackers.
He rushed to Kennedy's side. He heard him say one word: "Noooooooo."
Charles Kaiser's book "1968 in America" quotes a young college student who despaired after RFK's murder: "It really was like the last straw -- that there was no longer reason to hope for anything; that the world was now just totally off its rocker, and that evil was ascendant."
Evil may have been ascendant, but ultimately, it could not vanquish the dream of King and Kennedy. People do, in fact, prefer to work together. And so it is that, 40 years later, the world is so much smaller, so highly networked. No one in 1968 had heard of the Internet or the cellphone or nanotechnology. Or the Human Genome Project. Or the "Information Age."
Today's America looks rich and fat and comfortable compared with the 1968 version. In fact, many of our chief challenges come from the consequences of our economic successes: transferring carbon from Earth to the atmosphere, income inequality, suburban sprawl.
At the moment, no one can tell who the presidential nominees will be. What's also uncertain is how much the identity of the next president will matter, at least compared with other cultural and technological vectors. Truly revolutionary change seems more likely to come from physics than from politics.
Of course, we can't predict anything about the future with confidence, except that it will surprise us. It's highly probable that 2048 will be radically different from 2008. History replays certain notes, but it shouldn't be slandered as circular. The world is just more interesting than that.
Joel Achenbach is a Washington Post staff writer and blogs at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.
"You have to have a leader who is strong and commanding and convincing enough . . . to deal with the unexpected," he said. "There is a better than 50 percent chance that sometime in the first year or 18 months of the next presidency, something will happen that is not being discussed in this campaign. President Bush never talked about Osama bin Laden and didn't foresee Hurricane Katrina. And if you're not ready for that, then everything else you do can be undermined. You need a president that you trust to deal with something that we will not discuss in this campaign. . . . And I think, on this score, she's the best of all."Sphere: Related Content
After trying out various themes and rationales for her campaign, Hillary Clinton has settled in the final week before the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary on the experience plank, arguing that she is the only one of the front-running Democratic candidates prepared to lead from the first day in office, a claim her rivals have challenged by questioning the value of her tenure as first lady. Clinton advisers noted privately this week that the experience argument was bolstered by the assassination of former Pakistani prime minister Benazir Bhutto and the threat of wider unrest in that country. Clinton pressed the point during a stop in Eldridge, Iowa, telling reporters: "I'm not asking you to take me on faith. I'm not asking you to take a leap of faith."
But the campaign has apparently decided that the person best able to make this case in the bluntest terms is the former president. "Who better to explain what it takes to be president than the last two-term president the Democrats have had since FDR?" said Mark Penn, chief strategist for the Clinton campaign.
Bill Clinton has been edging closer in recent weeks to arguing that the country would be taking a chance if voters nominated someone with less experience in Washington, a dig at her main rivals, former senator John Edwards of North Carolina and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois. Speaking in Plymouth, N.H., last week, he said that his wife would be best suited to handle the challenges of terrorism, climate change and income inequality. He hinted that if these challenges were not met, the world, or at least American democracy, might be in peril in the coming decades.
"How we meet those challenges will determine whether our grandchildren will even be here 50 years from now at a meeting like this listening to the next generation's presidential candidates," Clinton said in Plymouth. He did not elaborate on what he meant by the prospect of the audience members' grandchildren not being there in 50 years.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
Why Pakistan Matters
Category: News and Politics
Why Pakistan Matters so Much
You may have heard recently that the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, was assassinated on December 27th after eight years of self-imposed exile from the country. Bhutto's assassination has garnered a lot of media coverage and stimulated a great deal of international discussion. You may be wondering why.
What you need to know about Pakistan:
1. Pakistan borders Afghanistan.
2. Pakistan is home to known Islamic extremists, including members of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. It is even believed that Osama bin Laden is living somewhere among these self-ruling tribal areas.
3. Pakistan is estimated to have anywhere from 24 to 48 nuclear warheads but claims to have 80 to 120.
4. There is a great deal of social and political unrest in Pakistan. Despite international condemnation, President Musharraf imposed emergency law from Nov. 3 to Dec. 15, 2007, and postponed national elections. 2007 in Pakistan has been a year of riots, protests, and violence.
5. The U.S. was relying on Bhutto's return to Pakistan (as she was in self-imposed exile for eight years) and the projected success of her party (and her) in the upcoming election to help stabilize Pakistan.
6. Although he chose to be an "ally" to the U.S. after 9/11, he has been greatly criticized for not removing the terrorist groups operating in Pakistan.
7. Pakistan is one of four countries in the world that did not sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
8. Pakistan and India have a relationship similar to the Soviet-US Cold War era relationship, except their hatred is more deep-seated, long-standing, and contentious. In fact, since their independence from Great Britian in 1947, they have fought three separate wars against each other.
9. India is believed to have 30 to 35 nuclear warheads (and is one of the other countries that refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty).
Our concerns, as a nation, are two-fold. First, we want to prevent the nuclear warheads in Pakistan from falling into the hands of terrorists, such as al-Qaeda. Second, we want to avoid the use of nuclear weapons between India and Pakistan, which could quickly escalate into a global nuclear disaster.
This page has links for the more information on every point above.
Right now, we don't have the resource to protect the weapons or the current government if there is an uprising. This is a very scary development.
Saturday, December 29, 2007
President Bush vetos Defense Bill to protect Iraq from former American POWs lawsuits for pain and suffering that awarded them close to a billion dollars and the Bush administration had previously had the courts dismiss
Bush Vetoes U.S. Defense Measure Over Iraqi Lawsuits (Update1)
By Lorraine Woellert and Roger Runningen
Dec. 28 (Bloomberg) -- President George W. Bush vetoed a measure giving pay increases to U.S. troops because of a provision he said would expose the Iraqi government to lawsuits for crimes committed under Saddam Hussein.
The provision ``would imperil billions of dollars of Iraqi assets at a crucial juncture in that nation's reconstruction efforts'' and undermine U.S. foreign policy and commercial interests, Bush said in a veto message to Congress.
While the White House had objected to an earlier version of the bill, the veto decision was made now because ``its full impact on Iraq and on our relationship with Iraq has become apparent only in recent days,'' Bush said. He said he wanted to ``fix this flawed provision'' quickly when Congress returns.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada condemned Bush's decision to block the $696 billion defense policy measure. The Democratic leaders noted that the bill includes ``urgent national security priorities,'' a 3.5 percent pay raise for U.S. troops and improved veterans' health care.
``It is unfortunate that the president will not sign this critical legislation,'' they said in a statement.
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said 3 percent of the 3.5 percent military pay increase is already authorized and will take effect Jan. 1. When Congress passes a new defense measure, he said, Bush will seek to make the remainder of the increase retroactive to Jan. 1.
Separate Spending Measure
The measure authorizes $189.4 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan but doesn't provide the funds until they are approved in a separate money bill.
Bush used a so-called pocket veto, which occurs when a president fails to sign a bill within the 10 days allotted by the Constitution. Congress must be in adjournment in order for a pocket veto to take effect.
The White House said the defense measure would amend the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act that governs how foreign countries can be sued in U.S. courts.
The change, drafted by Democratic Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, would make it easier for American victims to sue countries that support terrorists by making it easier to freeze their assets. Victims could sue for big punitive damages and for pain and suffering, including retroactively for cases that have been dismissed by the courts.
Not Targeting Iraq
Lautenberg said today the provision isn't aimed specifically at Iraq and noted that Iran has been targeted in lawsuits, including one seeking damages for the 1983 bombing of U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 servicemen.
``My language allows American victims of terror to hold perpetrators accountable, pure and simple,'' he said.
The measure ``would imperil Iraqi assets held in the United States, including reconstruction and central bank funds,'' Stanzel said. ``The new democratic government of Iraq, during this crucial period of reconstruction, cannot afford to have its funds entangled in such lawsuits.''
The White House estimated that between $20 billion to $30 billion in Iraq assets could be at stake along with funds held by U.S. companies in joint ventures with the Iraqi government.
Stanzel said Bush wants to negotiate a change ``as soon as possible'' when Congress returns in January. ``We don't want to change anything else in the bill other than this provision,'' he said.
Bush's veto could be overridden judging by Congress's overwhelming approval of the defense measure this month. The Senate voted 90-3 and the House 370-49 to pass the bill.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin of Michigan said today he is dismayed that administration officials waited until now to raise their concerns.
``I am deeply disappointed that our troops and veterans may have to pay for their mistake and for the confusion and uncertainty caused by their snafu,'' Levin said.
It is the first veto of a defense authorization bill in 12 years, according to Senate statistics. President Bill Clinton vetoed a defense policy bill in December 1995 and it was sustained in the House a month later.
To contact the reporter on this story: Lorraine Woellert in Crawford, Texas at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Chris Adams of McClatchy News on VA & PTSD treatment nationwide
Mental health treatment provided to veterans varies widely
By CHRIS ADAMS
HELENA, Mont. | Chris Dana came home from the war in Iraq in 2005 and slipped into a mental abyss so quietly that neither his family nor the Montana Army National Guard noticed.
He returned to his former life: a job at a Target store, nights in a mobile home across the road from his father’s house.
When he started to isolate himself, missing family events and football games, his father urged him to get counseling. When the National Guard called his father to say that he had missed weekend duty, Gary Dana pushed his son to get in touch with his unit.
“I can’t go back. I can’t do it,” Chris Dana responded.
Things went downhill from there. He blew though all his money, and then on March 4 he shot himself in the head with a .22-caliber rifle. He was 23 years old.
As Gary Dana was collecting his dead son’s belongings, he found a letter indicating that the National Guard was discharging his son under what are known as other-than-honorable conditions. The move was due to his skipping drills, which his family said was brought on by the mental strain of his service in Iraq.
The letter was in the trash, near a Wal-Mart receipt for .22-caliber rifle shells.
All across America, veterans such as Chris Dana are slipping through the cracks.
The ability of the Department of Veterans Affairs to care for veterans with mental ailments has come under increasing scrutiny. The agency says it is scrambling to boost its resources to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, prevent suicides and help veterans cope. It has added mental health counselors and suicide-prevention programs.
But the experience in Montana, which by some measures does more than any other state to support America’s wars, shows how far the military and the VA have to go.
“The federal government does a remarkable job of converting a citizen to a warrior,” said Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. “I think they have an equal responsibility converting a warrior back to a citizen.
“I can’t imagine that it’s only Montana that’s experiencing this,” Schweitzer added. “Our men and women are part of this country, and we have common experiences. It’s not as though the water we drink and the air we breathe in Montana make our experience completely different than everywhere else.”
McClatchy Newspapers analyzed a host of VA databases and records, and found that mental health treatment across the country remains wildly uneven. While mentally ill veterans in some parts of the country are well tended, those in other places — especially Montana — are falling by the wayside.
The records, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, included all 3 million VA disability claims in the nation and 77 million medical appointments in the agency’s health system in fiscal 2006.
At a U.S. Senate committee hearing last summer in Great Falls, Mont., a top VA official touted the success of the department’s mental health operations in the region that includes Montana. But the agency’s records indicate that it ranks below most other regions in measures of access and success.
In fact, Montana veterans trail far behind their peers around the country on the two main VA functions:
•By several measures, the agency provides less specialized mental health care in Montana than in most other states. Veterans seeking to enter the mental health system at Montana’s only VA hospital had longer waits and received fewer visits than veterans did at almost any other VA hospital in the country.
•Recent veterans in Montana with mental ailments receive far lower payments, on average, from the VA disability system than veterans in almost any other state.
“When they were called to active duty, they were running a business, driving a truck, working at a mill, teaching school,” Schweitzer said. “When they returned from being a soldier, they didn’t go back to a military base. … They don’t have people they can talk to. They are 300 miles away from their detachment, and everybody where they work didn’t experience what they’ve gone through.
“In fact, nobody where they work experienced what they’ve gone through. Their family doesn’t understand it well.”
To reach Chris Adams, send e-mail to email@example.com.
I am a big fan of Chris Adams work on veterans, he has been in the lead long before Anne Hull abd Dana Priest ever wrote about Walter Reed, he has been writing on the lack of healthcare and the extreme problems with the claims processing that many veterans have experienced I first became aware of his work in March 2005. He has earned my SALUTE
Waco Tribune OPED on Medicare fix based on VA Healthcare model
Editorial: Need to cut Medicare costs
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Not only is Social Security under threat because it is underfunded and Congress refuses to act, it also is threatened by Medicare.
Social Security’s funding problems are big. Medicare’s funding problems are significantly bigger.
Medicare’s problems threaten to overwhelm the entire federal budget if Congress fails to act.
What’s worse, the separate Social Security and Medicare programs are actually intertwined.
Seniors who receive Medicare must pay monthly premiums that are deducted from their monthly Social Security checks.
Due to the runaway health care costs, Medicare premiums increase each year above the cost of living adjustments added to Social Security.
Financial writer Scott Burns recently reported that economist Alicia Munnell calculated the out-of-pocket expenditures to cover Medicare “premiums, deductibles and co-pays for parts B and D of Medicare will gobble 29 percent of the average Social Security benefit check this year.”
Scott reported that another calculation “indicates that a worker who is 30 today can expect premiums, deductibles and co-pays for parts B and D of Medicare to absorb about 50 percent of his initial Social Security benefit.”
Without congressional action, out-of-pocket Medicare costs will exceed Social Security benefits for today’s newborns. At that point, Medicare will have eliminated Social Security.
Congress needs to rein in Medicare costs by ensuring that the program stops paying higher than necessary costs for drugs, products, supplies and services. Government auditors estimate fraud in the Medicare program adds up to billions of dollars annually. The Government Accountability Office lists Medicare as a “high-risk” program due to fraud and excessive costs.
The Department of Veterans Affairs provides a good model for Medicare reform. It controls costs by using its purchasing power to negotiate lower prices for drugs, equipment and supplies. It cuts costs and boosts efficiency by utilizing electronic health records. It offers veterans programs that promote health to prevent costly illnesses and diseases.
Congress needs to make Medicare a high priority concern.
Friday, December 28, 2007
Veterans of "secret/classified experiments need help now
On December 17, 2007, I was invited to meet with President Clinton due to my participation in the Steering Committee for Military & Veterans for Hillary. I received the e mail on Sunday telling me when and where to be. It was not a campaign stop, rather he wanted to meet with and thank a group of homeless veterans that were in a VA sponsored program at the Alston Wilkes Society trying to get their lives back together. Some how I fell thru the cracks at the meeting,
I arrived at the building at 3:30 and parked in the handicap spot right in front of the building, there were more police cars there than people it seemed. My wife and I went in the front door and they helped us get me and my walker down the stairs to the basement area where the meeting was to take place. I talked with some of the vets that lived there, and we were told the President was running about an hour late, so we grabbed some coffee and went to the smoking area and spent time telling war stories. Over the next half hour some well dressed people, other members of the Steering Committee a few of them introduced themselves to my wife and I.
The veterans and I spent a lot of the time discussing filing claims with the Veterans Administration Regional Office (VARO) and the problems that are inherent in the process. Normally veterans need to select a Service Officer from one of the many accredited service organizations, like the Disabled American Veterans (DAV), The American Legion (AL) The Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) these are just a few.
There are many more out there that can and do handle claims, the one thing they all have in common, is over worked Service Officers, they do not have time to track down each piece of evidence a veteran will need to get a "win" on their claim award, so the veteran needs to spend time tracking down the papers needed to justify the favorable rating. The best advocate for a compensation claim is the veterans themselves, it is their claim. The Service Officers (SO) are juggling hundreds of open claims at any given time. Your file is not the most important thing to them, as it is to you. The VA measures time in months and years, in the meantime many veterans end up losing their cars, their homes and their families, due to financial problems.
As if the stress from the medical problems are not enough, add some months with no pay checks into the mix, and you have a disaster developing. Veterans waiting on VA Compensation claims to be adjudicated have led to more than one divorce.
About 4:30 the Director of the center asked all the people from the steering committee to go back upstairs as the police were bringing the police dogs thru doing the bomb search, also they wanted the "political types" separated from the veterans that the President was coming to meet and Thank them for their service to the nation.
I tried explaining I was supposed to be with the "political types" and the Director told me not to worry about it, I was a disabled veteran and he wanted me to stay with the vets and meet President Clinton with them. I quickly learned why, the President spent 3-5 minutes speaking with each of us, there was a lot of laughter and plenty of pictures.
I asked him to autograph my book about the Edgewood experiments written by DR James Ketchum, Chemical Warfare: Secrets Almost Forgotten that I had purchased from Dr. Ketchum and he had signed it.
I just thought it was appropriate for the President that had finally acknowledged the immoral experiments and had publicly apologized for them should also autograph it. The apology can be viewed here" title="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTiONdJJRcw">here">http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTiONdJJRcw">here it is about 30 seconds
“She’s the best I ever saw at making people know she can make them better off than they were previously,” the former president said. In Columbia, he met with homeless veterans at the Alston Wilkes Society where he listened to the stories of several Vietnam veterans and toured the facility. Hillary Clinton, by most polls, is in a tight race for her party’s nomination in South Carolina, Iowa and New Hampshire, the critical early voting states. Bill Clinton is being dispatched in those states to help Hillary Clinton maintain shrinking leads that once looked insurmountable. Bill Clinton, introduced at one stop as the most popular and powerful Democrat in America, wooed voters here.“Nobody knows what’s going to happen in any election,” Bill Clinton told about 100 people at Orangeburg Technical College. “But I tell you this, if she does (win), you're going to be glad you were a part of it.
Most of my regular readers know my wife is Republican (hey no marriage is perfect) but after meeting with Bill Clinton and watching him interact with me, and his offer to help with the Veterans Administration, followed up by his aide giving me his business card with an e mail address to contact them with the evidence and how they can help. She was very impressed, with him, which is to say a lot. She evens admitted as how she might even have to vote for Hillary, she feels if Hillary is even half the person Bill is then the nation will be far better off than in the hands of another republican.
President Clinton's aide gave us a business card with an e mail address for contacting the former President about the situation I find myself in. It has now been more than 12 years since the President made the public apology for the Cold War experiments that happened long before he took office, but could have only happened with his predecessors approval, the highest levels of the government had to approve the funding for many of these expensive programs, and all of them were classified at the highest levels, many unknown outside the National Security Council level, other than by the people working the projects.
To me it is amazing the people that were in government while these experiments were being conducted, some of them on the NSC, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Cheney and at the least did not object to human experimentation, if they did not fully support it. They now find themselves in a position to help correct some of the mistakes of the past and help the people or the military veterans involved in these "classified programs" such as the Nuclear tests, the biological tests at Fort Detrick, the chemical weapons and drug experiments conducted at Edgewood Arsenal, the Operation 112/SHAD experiments of the 60s and early 70s.
They can have the Secretary of the Veterans Administration designate these men into a Category 6 level of eligibility for medical care, regardless of their present income levels, for treatment of all their medical problems. Many of the experiments these veterans were exposed to decades ago, have no tests available to see if there any direct links to the exposures then to medical issues now. The government should give these men the benefit of the doubt and since they were used in these immoral experiments, the government should keep the "Promise" and take care of them medically now. The VA Secretary has the power to make this happen.
I indicated this in my communication to President Clinton:
Mr. President, the other veterans I am in contact with are like me, no one expects the government to tell all the details of the experiments, yes a lot of the data is still classified we understand that, we do not understand why they refuse to address the environmental issues, what happened to the benefit of the doubt? At the very least all the veterans used in the experiments, SHAD, Edgewood, Nuclear and Fort Detricks Operation Whitecoat should be given a level 6 ID Card for the VA so they can obtain medical care from the VA, regardless of their income levels.
Their are many widows of the volunteers that have never been told their husbands were used in the experiments due to National Security acts we could not tell our parents, our spouses, doctor's, anyone about the experiments, We all signed the agreements and we were promised 25 years in Leavenworth if we violated them. In the September 2006 notification letters from the VA/DOD informing us that we had been identified as test subjects we were reminded by the Pentagon that we could still not discuss the experiments and the national security agreements we signed. Congress has investigated this CBS news did a 60 minutes piece on it in Jan 1991 while I was gone to Desert Storm. The experiments are not secret anymore and the Pentagon is idiotic in trying to "put that genie back into the bottle now".
The last health study did because you forced DOD to do it based on the Sarin exposures at Kamisayah Iraq in March 1991 used the Edgewood veterans as the study group after all we were the only men the nation had that had been exposed to Sarin by the Edgewood doctors, they found that 40% of the men were dead on FY 2000, 2098 men could not be found using IRS VA and SS databases, men aged 45-65 are paying taxes, drawing benefits either from the VA or SS, they don;t just disappear.
The report also showed that 54% of the 4022 survivors are disabled yet, the report never explained what the cause of the disabilities were. The report also ignored a 1994 National Institute of Health report on sarin exposures showing known medical problems Toxicity of the Organophosphate Chemical Warfare Agents GA, GB, and VX: Implic I feel it is because it would open the VA to claims from more than 100,000 veterans to heart problems, lung problems etc very expensive for 100,000 veterans to be service connected at 100%, I feel the IOM and DOD are doing all they can to ignore evidence that shows the Gulf War veterans might be sick from exposures to Sarin after all. There was also mustard agents at Kamisayah as well.
Mr President, I thank you for spending that few minutes with me in Columbia and giving me your card to contact you. We both know the VA Secretary has the ability to fix these things on his authority, the VA Secretary has enormous power granted by the President. I wish I had never raised my hand in 1974, I regret that the US did these experiments to it's own citizens and it's soldiers. My step father was in the Air Force and flew on a plane crew doing data gathering over the Nevada test site, he ended up having three kinds of cancer that is on the list of the RECA act, he died before the RECA was enacted. He never filed for Service connection from the VA because back then they would have taken away his retirement check and he did not want the problems.
Mr. President my family has served in the Army going back to my great great great great grand father who served at Valley Forge in 1776 from Barre, Mass. My Grandfather served in the Cal 4th Volunteers in the Civil War and my father served in D Troop 7th Calvary in 1914-1916 at Douglas Arizona. If the VA quits helping veterans who will volunteer in the future, I have a 16 year old son, and I am not sure I want him to serve in the Army, he should.
He would be the first Bailey male that didn't in over 225 years, but look at this mess I am in, and look how the VA is treating the Iraq war veterans, it's shameful.
I am on the Steering Committee for Military and veterans for Hillary because I believe in your wife, and General Wes Clark, I was hoping he would run honestly. I have known General Clark since NTC in the 80s when he was a Colonel and I was in the 6/31st. He was at NTC when the 48th Brigade went there in 1991 and he was a one star. Many of us Clark supporters are hoping he is the VP choice. If not I am sure he will be an asset in the future Clinton Administration.
Mr. President I hope you can help my family, and possibly the other "test vets" they at least deserve medical care from this nation at the very least.
It has been more than 32 years since the human experimentation was stopped in 1975, isn't it about time the federal government, especially the Department of Defense and the Veterans Administration stopped denying responsibility for the veterans and their families that were harmed by these experiments, the benefit of the doubt was designed for just these type of situations. There are no tests now that confirm exposure to hazardous substances months or years later, let alone decades. These men should have never been used in these hazardous experiments, and now in their later years the government does have an obligation to them and their families.
VA disputes IG's findings on appointments
VA, House Subcommittees Spar Over Outpatient Waiting Times
By Stephen Spotswood
WASHINGTON—Three months after a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Inspector General’s (IG) audit showed that the agency is overstating success on decreasing waiting times for outpatients seeking an appointment, VA is still not agreeing with the findings, contending the IG’s methodologies were flawed. However, at a hearing on Capitol Hill in December, legislators seemed convinced of the report’s validity, and VA officials did admit that its patient scheduling process was still evolving and that the process needed evaluating.
VA policy requires that all veterans requiring care for service-connected disabilities be scheduled for outpatient care within 30 days of desired appointment dates—the date requested by the patient or the physician. All other veterans are required to be scheduled within 120 days of the requested date.
VA had reported that 96 per cent of all veterans seeking primary care and 95 per cent of veterans seeking specialty care were seen within 30 days of their desired dates. The IG audit released in September shows those percentages to be much lower. The audit found that only 75 per cent of veterans seeking care had been seen within 30 days of the desired date.
Some of the discrepancies were due to VA schedulers, who waited inordinate amounts of time before scheduling an appointment—in one case as long as seven months for a follow-up appointment—and what IG described as the disregard for the desired appointment date listed in the physician’s notes. Also, there was disagreement between the IG and VA about how to define "new" patients. The IG auditors argued that a patient already in the VA system who visits a specialty clinic should not be considered a new patient just because he or she had not visited that particular clinic before.
VA officials disagreed and called the report a worst-case scenario that did not take into account such things as patients’ preference for later appointment dates and delays on the patients’ part in scheduling follow-up appointments.
A similar IG report released in 2005 found many of the same problems, including some accounts of schedulers reporting having been instructed to falsify their entries into the electronic waiting list to make wait times seem shorter. VA officials did not disagree with the findings of the 2005 report. IG made several recommendations to VA to shore up its scheduling procedures, such as ensuring that facility managers require schedulers to create appointments following established procedures, monitoring the scheduler’s use of correct procedures, and requiring annual scheduler training on the electronic waiting list. According to IG, while some of those recommendations from 2005 have been taken, some have not, allowing the same problems to continue through today.
At a joint hearing of the House VA Subcommittee on Health and the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, legislators expressed frustration at the continued problems with getting patients who need care before a VA caregiver.
"The VA has discounted the IG’s report because it disagrees with how wait times were calculated. This is unacceptable," declared Rep. Harry Mitchell (D., Ariz.), chairman of the health subcommittee. "I’m not willing to walk away from this audit over a disagreement about methodology. This is a real problem that we must look into. When our veterans encounter long waiting times, their conditions go undiagnosed and serious disease goes untreated."
"Furthermore," he said, "until we have a clearer picture about waiting times, the VA can’t improve the situation because we can’t identify problem facilities or effectively allocate resources."
Belinda Finn, IG’s Assistant Inspector General for Auditing, said that she did not understand why VA was resisting the IG’s newest findings.
"VA disagreed with our findings and said that patient preferences caused the discrepancies," Finn explained. "We find it contradictory that VA agreed with our 2005 report, but disagreed with our 2007 audit. We used the same methodology and saw a continuation of the same problems."
She added, "In 2006 and 2007, VA reported high performance on affecting appointments within 30 days. [They continued reporting this] even after we reported that the scheduling system includes inaccurate or incomplete data."
Asked what VA could do to improve its procedures, Finn said, "We made recommendations in both of our reports that VA should provide oversight of the schedulers, monitor what the schedulers do, and provide quality assurance of the data in the scheduling system. They agreed with the recommendations in 2005, but we found that they had not [fixed the problem and IG made the same recommendations in its 2007 report]."
Some legislators were worried about the reporting in 2005 in which schedulers were being directed to enter inaccurate information.
According to Larry Reinkemeyer, director of the Kansas City Audit Operations Division of the VA IG, that question was not asked in the 2007 audit; however, 7 per cent of those schedulers surveyed in the 2005 report said that they had been directed to intentionally circumvent procedure.
"So, in 2005, we did have some evidence that schedulers were directed to schedule in a particular way to affect waiting times [data]," Reinkemeyer said.
Rep. Zachary Space (D., Ohio) wondered if it is possible that bonuses for VA medical center directors were at least in part calculated on wait times that were not accurate. Controversy arose last year when legislators questioned why some VA officials were receiving bonuses as high as $30,000 when there were so many problems in the VA system, including long appointment waiting times.
"We know that waiting times are part of the performance standards for directors," Finn said. "It’s one of many factors. But we don’t have much information today on how that’s factored into a particular bonus."
Asked if there is evidence in the 2005 report that waiting times were intentionally fabricated to lower national waiting time rates, Finn said, "We know that some of the practices that schedulers have told us about would serve to understate wait times. Whether that was a widespread practice or not, [we don’t know]."
Reinkemeyer said that at least two of the common procedures by schedulers recorded in 2005 that lower documented wait times—whether intentionally or not—still exist today.
The first procedure, he said, "Is taking longer than allowed before putting [a patient] on the electronic waiting list." If a patient is not scheduled for an appointment within seven days, that patient goes on the electronic wait list.
"By holding on to those referrals for more than seven days and not put them on the wait list, that serves to understate the wait list," Reinkemeyer said.
"The second procedure is a common practice for a scheduler to find out what the first available appointment [is] and use that as the desired date of care, which effectively reduces the wait to 0," he explained.
Testifying before the joint subcommittees, Dr. Gerald Cross, VA’s Deputy Under Secretary for Health, continued to refute the calculations in the IG report.
"VA has several concerns about the OIG’s audit methodology that was used in the 2007 report," Dr. Cross said. "There was a difference in our analysis [of wait times] and our review of the IG report of 2007, and there were significant differences that we found."
Dr. Cross did not elaborate on why the same IG methodology did not concern VA when it reviewed the 2005 IG report.
Dr. Cross also argued that VA is still in the process of implementing recommendations made by IG in 2005, including comprehensive training of anyone using VA’s scheduling system, including physicians who like to schedule their own patient appointments. To date, VA has trained 40,000 people to use the scheduling system, and plans to revise the training annually and retrain its employees annually.
"VA is proactively taking steps to review the total scheduling process," Dr. Cross said. "To this end, VA has contracted with an independent third party to conduct an evaluation of VA’s scheduling practices and waiting time metrics. The contractor is beginning the pilot program phase of its assessment, and VA anticipates receiving the final report in spring of 2008." VA is also in the process of developing a new scheduling software package, as well as developing short-term software solutions for its current scheduling package, which Dr. Cross called "antiquated software."
However, that new software package will not be up and running until 2011.
Impact Of Delay On The Front Lines Of Care
To help understand the front-line picture of what dealing with VA scheduling procedures is like, the legislators heard from Mary Jones, a county veterans service officer in Licking County, Ohio. Jones has helped veterans find their way through VA bureaucracy for 12 years, and testified that, no matter whether you believe the VA’s data or the IG’s audit, the waiting times are long and frustrating.
"My concern with outpatient waiting times is our inability to get veterans into an appointment in a timely manner," Jones said. "Their appointments are scheduled so far out—often two to three months—that their condition worsens and they are left angry and frustrated at a system that is supposed to be in place to care [for them]."
One example she gave is of a veteran recently discharged, who was promised dental care within 90 days of discharge. VA scheduled his appointment for almost the full 90 days later, but when he arrived at the dental clinic he was told that appointment needed to be cancelled.
"They did not have any appointments available within the 90-day period he was entitled to dental care, and therefore he was not seen."
Another rising concern is getting care for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when their benefits claim is still being processed.
"Usually, when we file a claim, we have a veteran who has a diagnosis for a condition, but PTSD is different," Jones contended. "Most veterans can get into the VA to see a social worker and can get assigned to group counseling fairly quickly. Most can see a psychiatrist within three to four months for an initial exam, but within the 12 to 18 months that a service-connected claim takes to adjudicate, the veteran is still left without a diagnosis for PTSD because the wait times prohibit the doctor from seeing the patient often enough to provide a definitive diagnosis of any mental health."
Because no diagnosis exists, the Veterans Benefits Administration must deny the claim for service connection, Jones said, adding that seeing private psychologists is a financial burden for most veterans.
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R., Fla.), whose proposed bill, H.R. 92, the "Veterans Timely Access To Health Care Act," would require VA to reimburse veterans for care at non-VA facilities if VA is unable to furnish the patient with an appointment within 90 days, asked Jones whether such a measure would be a good or bad idea from her point of view.
"I have to say that it’s encouraging to think we’re looking outside of the box," Jones said. "For me, the possibility to use outside physicians might be a good idea. These are outside physicians who would treat veterans eventually, anyway, [and they] might get some training on treating [veterans] right now. Most don’t even ask [their patients], ‘Are you a veteran?’"
Rep. Brown-Waite stressed that she was not seeking to privatize any part of VA care with her legislation, but argued, "Care not rendered in an expeditious manner is not quality care."
The bill is still awaiting action in the House VA Committee.
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