O'Reilly refuses to meet Homeless vets
O’Reilly Hides from Homeless Veterans
by via Mike Hall, AFL-CIO
Saturday Feb 2nd, 2008 10:17 AM
Saturday, February 2, 2008 : Bill O'Reilly, the bombastic, belligerent bully of Fox News, apparently doesn't have the backbone to meet with a group of folks he claimed really don't exist?homeless veterans. Last week, we told you about O'Reilly's delusional claims that homeless veterans don't exist, even though Bush administration figures show that on any given night, there are about 200,000 former service men and women who are homeless.
O’Reilly Hides from Homeless Veterans
by Mike Hall, Feb 1, 2008
Bill O’Reilly, the bombastic, belligerent bully of Fox News, apparently doesn’t have the backbone to meet with a group of folks he claimed really don’t exist—homeless veterans.
Last week, we told you about O’Reilly’s delusional claims that homeless veterans don’t exist, even though Bush administration figures show that on any given night, there are about 200,000 former service men and women who are homeless. Given the facts, O’Reilly eventually grudgingly admitted there might be some homeless vets, but it wasn’t really much of a problem.
Yesterday in New York City, a group of homeless vets tried to meet with O’Reilly. They wanted to present a petition signed by 17,000 people demanding an apology and an acknowledgment that homelessness is a serious problem among veterans who served our country.
The veterans marched to the Fox News offices where O’Reilly shoots his show. O’Reilly didn’t show up. Instead, a Fox flunky appeared, offering to deliver the petition, because after all, they didn’t have an appointment with his Foxship.
If you click on the link there is a video on the site, I have a question for the Fox news people where do they expect homeless people to watch Fox news most cardboard boxes or bridge underpasses aren't wired for cable and if they were I doubt the men and women would be watching Fox news if they were......
Saturday, February 2, 2008
O'Reilly refuses to meet Homeless vets
First Responders train to spot troubled veterans
By Stephanie Reitz - The Associated Press
Posted : Saturday Feb 2, 2008 14:04:38 EST
HOLYOKE, Mass. — For many returning troops, lifesaving combat instincts can complicate life at home: constant vigilance, agitation in confined places, bolting from loud noises and other behaviors that can be misinterpreted by police.
Concerned that some may wind up in the criminal justice system instead of counseling, some police and other emergency responders are learning how to recognize and cope with unique behaviors of troubled combat veterans.
“Our law enforcement community has really become the safety net. If they can get to the root of what’s happening with these guys, they’ll get helped instead of getting criminalized,” said John Downing, president of Soldier On, a western Massachusetts service organization known until recently as United Veterans of America.
His group and other veterans’ advocates, mental health experts and prosecutors recently launched a training program for police, dispatchers and other emergency workers. Organizers believe it is the first of its kind in the nation, and hope it other regions copy it as more veterans come home from wartime deployments.
Authorities say it is not unusual to meet recently returned combat veterans who are suicidal, take risks such as extreme speeding or become part of domestic disputes. It’s part of a post-combat culture shock that can be isolating and hard to explain, some say.
“I went from seeing such horrific scenes every day to seeing people here getting their morning coffee, going about their business. I’d wonder, ‘Don’t they know what’s going on over there?’” said Jason Harder, a Massachusetts probation officer and Air Force veteran of the Iraq war, Gulf War and 1993 peacekeeping venture in Somalia.
The training program’s organizers say they have no firm statistics on how many troubled combat veterans have clashed with police while readjusting to civilian life. The training is not a response to a spate of such incidents locally, the organizers say, but is intended to help prevent them.
They worry the encounters could increase as more deployments end, and as soldiers — often worried about the stigma of seeking counseling — return to civilian life with a host of unresolved problems.
The training also focused on how to recognize when erratic or defiant behavior stems from untreated trauma, lingering survival instincts or hidden brain injuries.
Some of their behaviors could make no sense to strangers: diving to the ground at the sound of a muffler backfiring could revive memories of being ambushed, while an unintentional jostling by a stranger could reawaken fears of suicide bombers.
“We recognize that when someone’s under stress and in a crisis mode, the last thing you want to do is deal with police. But we don’t know you’re in that mode when we initially meet you,” said David Guilbault, police chief in the 18,000-person town of Greenfield, Mass.
The experts advise police to stick with particular behaviors when meeting troubled veterans. That includes giving them ample space without touching them, unless necessary; recognizing their agitation might stem from flashbacks or a fear of the officer’s weapon; and realizing they are unaware of how strange their anxieties appear to others.
“Once a person has already entered the criminal justice system, we typically don’t know they’re a veteran who has seen combat unless it’s pointed out to us,” said Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, one of the training program’s creators.
“If first responders are educated in what to look for, there can be some early intervention and those veterans can get services they need before we even encounter them,” she said.
Mental health experts say the lessons of Vietnam resonate today. Some veterans of that war attributed their later conflicts with police to post-traumatic stress disorder, a syndrome first recognized by the American Psychiatric Association in 1980.
One year later, a federal government survey of 1,000 combat veterans found that nearly one in four had been arrested after returning home, compared with 17 percent of other Vietnam-era veterans and 14 percent of non-veterans.
Some combat veterans from that era said sounds of helicopters, the smell of rice cooking and other seemingly simple triggers set them off.
“It takes a while for these soldiers to stop seeing everything as maybe life-threatening,” said Darrell Benson, a western Massachusetts veterans’ case manager.
In Lenox last year, officers responding to a medical call found a man who was out of control, making threats and affected by alcohol and pills. They had no idea he had recently returned from a stint in Iraq, said Lenox Police Chief Stephen O’Brien. Once they learned that, they took him to a hospital — rather than arresting and jailing him — and he eventually was referred to the Soldier On program for help.
“We’re in tune to the fact that some people have a difficult time transitioning back into the community,” O’Brien said. “There isn’t a patrolman here who doesn’t have the utmost respect for these veterans.”
Massachusetts State Police Lt. Daniel Kennedy, who participated in the recent training session in Holyoke, said troopers also have to make quick judgments about difficult situations, such as when a person has a firearm.
“What’s different for these combat soldiers is that they’re not putting their gun on the front seat to say, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m tough, I’ve got a gun.’ It could be someone coming back from one of these conflicts who feels they need that weapon because that’s their security,” Kennedy said.
“Some of these people are still in their ‘battle mind’ after being back and forth between Iraq and Afghanistan, then back home,” he said.
Guilbault, the Greenfield police chief, he agrees dealing with combat veterans is unique.
“You can’t treat them the same initially as you’d treat others because they’re very independent. They’ve been through something you don’t know about, and it can be harder to get them to verbalize what’s going on with them,” he said.
That, says one expert, could help explain the scarcity of programs that teach emergency responders how to differentiate combat veterans from other troubled people they encounter.
“How you handle a potentially violent situation is going to be the same regardless of the population, since our officers go into it not knowing what’s gotten the person worked up,” said Audrey Honig, chair of psychological services for the International Association of Chiefs of Police.
“It’s asking a lot of too few officers to be able to quickly differentiate someone who’s an Iraq veteran, or who has bipolar disorder, or who’s schizophrenic, or who’s just having a really bad day,” said Honig, who is also chief psychologist for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
However, she said, specialized training such as the Massachusetts program could help officers refer troubled veterans to the right services — but only after the crisis is calmed with the tried-and-true techniques that officers have been trained to use.
“Good people skills is really going to be the order of the day for dealing with any populations with special problems,” she said.
Some people with a foot in both worlds agree.
Jason Richard, an Army Reserve soldier in Iraq in 2004 and early 2005, said he has occasionally encountered other combat veterans since he returned to his job as a patrol officer for the Granby, Mass., Police Department.
His approach and his advice to fellow officers, he says, is simple. “Just be patient. You don’t get over it easily. You just don’t,” he said.
Senate Dems asking for rebate checks for seniors and disabled vets
U.S. senators vote in the coming week on an economic stimulus plan that is more than $10 billion bigger than a deal backed by President Bush and the House of Representatives. VOA White House Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.
A for sale sign is shown in front of an almost completed new home Charlotte, NC, 30 Jan 2008
Politicians in Washington all agree that the U.S. economy needs help. Higher fuel costs and a declining housing market have hurt consumers and business. Growth in the fourth quarter of last year was just 0.6 percent.
President Bush and bipartisan leaders in the House of Representatives worked out a plan for $146 billion in tax rebates and business incentives, including a $600 refund for many middle-income taxpayers.
But senators want to add more than $10 billion to that plan. They will vote in the coming week on $500 refunds for twice as many taxpayers including wealthier Americans, disabled veterans, and senior citizens not included in the House plan.
Some Senate Democrats also want to extend unemployment benefits, food aid, and home heating assistance.
West Virginia Governor Democrat Joe Manchin used his party's weekly radio address Saturday to commend bipartisan efforts on a timely and temporary economic stimulus. But he also took a swipe at the Bush administration and its handling of the economy.
"But we all know that a temporary fix is just that, temporary," he explained. "Democrats across the country are committed to a more enduring challenge, retaining and creating the good jobs with benefits that our people deserve."
On Friday, the government reported that the U.S. economy lost jobs last month for the first time in more than four years.
President Bush speaks on the state of the economy during an address to employees at Hallmark Card Inc. in Kansas City, Mo., 1 Feb. 2008
President Bush, speaking to business leaders in Kansas City on Friday, said it is time for the Senate to take decisive action on the stimulus package.
"It's very important for the Senate to finish their work quickly, because the sooner we can get money into our consumers' hands the more likely it is that the economy will recover from this period of uncertainty," he said.
First lady Laura Bush delivered the president's Saturday radio address. She spoke about risk factors for heart disease, including smoking, lack of exercise, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, family history, and being overweight. February is American Heart Month
Free Tickets to Super Bowl XLII Given to Injured War Vets
Last Edited: Saturday, 02 Feb 2008, 6:44 PM CST
Created: Saturday, 02 Feb 2008, 3:44 PM CST
The University of Phoenix scored a touchdown with Iraq war veterans, giving eight coveted tickets to Sunday's Super Bowl XLII to a group of wounded service members, MyFOXPhoenix.com reports.
"Being part of it — it’ll be nice," veteran Brent Bretz told MyFOXPhoenix.com.
Bretz has undergone 57 surgeries, and his recovery from his war wounds is still not complete. He returned from Iraq in 2005, as did Robert Bartlett, another ticket recipient, who said he was "pretty surprised" by the gift. "It’s the chance of a lifetime," Bartlett told the TV station.
It all began when Bretz’s mother, Kathy Pearce, met with the university’s Veterans’ Affairs office seeking help with tickets for her group, Heroes to Hometowns, which helps injured vets readjust to life back home.
"If you ask, sometimes you will receive, and I approached them and said, 'Hey, these guys would love to go to the Super Bowl,' and they said, 'What if we give you eight tickets?'" Pearce said in the MyFOXPhoenix.com report.
Patrick Sutliff, who oversees the university’s Veterans’ Affairs office, said the university was more than willing to help secure the tickets, which have a face value of $700 each.
Click here for more on this story from MyFoxPhoenix.com.
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Free Tickets to Super Bowl XLII Given to Injured War Vets
wounded vets go to Super Bowl
British veterans being denied adequate care for PTSD
Iraq veterans are denied help for combat trauma
Mark Townsend, defence correspondent
Sunday February 3, 2008
Hundreds of veterans, including many who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being denied vital help by the government to cope with the psychological fallout of war.
Despite ministerial pledges to improve support for British soldiers suffering mental health problems, veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are still not receiving funding for specialist medical treatment.
Combat Stress, a charity that assists veterans with mental health issues, is dealing with a 27 per cent increase in GP referrals of veterans - 1,200 new cases a year. Half of those reporting psychotic nightmares, depression and suicidal thoughts have not been granted a war pension and are, therefore, not eligible for specialist psychiatric help.
Robert Marsh, Combat Stress spokesman, said the Ministry of Defence was challenging hundreds of cases because of the difficulties in ascertaining whether the veterans' trauma was linked to their experiences of war.
'It can be difficult to convince [the MoD] because so much time has elapsed in many PTSD cases, but that is the nature of these illnesses,' Marsh said. 'We want to treat more unfunded veterans. The challenge is, who will pay for it?'
Although the charity is grateful for the government's 45 per cent funding increase, the number of veterans requiring help has significantly grown - but to qualify for the £245 a day treatment provided by Combat Stress psychiatrists, a veteran must have a war pension.
Last year the MoD announced that veterans would become eligible for fast-track treatment by the NHS, and introduced a national network of military psychiatrists in hospitals.
An MoD spokesman said: 'When a person is diagnosed with PTSD, we have to be certain that it is PTSD and that it is linked to their service. People become depressed for a number of reasons and it takes time to assess each case. If a link is proved, then they will receive a war pension.'
The debate comes as the University of Manchester undertakes a study into how many Iraq war and Afghanistan veterans have killed themselves. It expects to publish the results this spring. Official figures show that at least 23 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans had committed suicide from 2003 to the end of 2006. The number of reservists is not known. Two members of the Territorial Army who had fought in Iraq, Private Dave Forshaw and Private Peter Mahoney, were also known to have killed themselves.
There are fears that the number of suicides could eclipse the 33 British troops killed in the Iraq war itself. Falklands veterans' groups estimate that 300 men had committed suicide from the 1982 conflict compared with the 258 killed in action.
New data indicates that the suicide rate among US soldiers has reached its highest level since records began almost 30 years ago. Last year, 121 active members of the army took their own lives, up 20 per cent on the previous year.
An MoD spokesman said: 'Suicide is not endemic in the armed forces. There has been a clear downward trend over the past 20 years.'
Concern continues over the pressures upon the British armed forces of sustaining operations, particularly in Afghanistan. This week ministers will confirm that 16 Air Assault Brigade will be deployed once again to Helmand province later this year.
A VETERAN WRITES: A BAD MOOD, A SIX-PACK, AND A
TYPEWRITER -- "I weary of seeing veterans analyzed and
diagnosed and explained by people who share nothing with
veterans, by people who, one feels intuitively, would regard
it as a harrowing experience to be alone in a backyard."
Thanks to the River Chief for sending me the following article.
Read it...think about how relevant it is today...then ponder the fact that it was written over 27 years ago.
The article appeared in the December, 1980 edition of Harper's.
It was written by Fred Reed. And, it is published here without his permission because I can't find a way to contact him. Fred...thanks for the great writing...and, rest assured that VA Watchdog readers will lift a couple in your honor when they reach the bottom of the page.
Article here... http://www.fredoneverything.net/FOE_Frame_Magazine.htm
A Veteran Writes
A Bad Mood, A Six-Pack, And A Typewriter
by Fred Reed
Harper's, December, 1980
I begin to weary of the stories about veterans that are now in vogue with the newspapers, the stories that dissect the veteran's psyche as if prying apart a laboratory frog-patronizing stories written by style-section reporters who know all there is to know about chocolate mousse, ladies' fashions, and the wonderful desserts that can be made with simple jello. I weary of seeing veterans analyzed and diagnosed and explained by people who share nothing with veterans, by people who, one feels intuitively, would regard it as a harrowing experience to be alone in a backyard.
Week after week the mousse authorities tell us what is wrong with the veteran. The veteran is badly in need of adjustment, they say-lacks balance, needs fine tuning to whatever it is in society that one should be attuned to. What we have here, all agree, with omniscience and veiled condescension, is a victim: The press loves a victim. The veteran has bad dreams, say the jello writers, is alienated, may be hostile, doesn't socialize well-isn't, to be frank, quite right in the head.
But perhaps it is the veteran's head to be right or wrong in, and maybe it makes a difference what memories are in the head. For the jello writers the war was a moral fable on Channel Four, a struggle hinging on Nixon and Joan Baez and the inequities of this or that. I can't be sure. The veterans seem to have missed the war by having been away in Vietnam at the time and do not understand the combat as it raged in the internecine cocktail parties of Georgetown.
Still, to me Vietnam was not what it was to the jello writers, not a ventilation of pious simplisms, not the latest literary interpretation of the domino theory. It left me memories the fashion writers can't imagine. It was the slums of Truong Minh Ky, where dogs' heads floated in pools of green water and three-inch roaches droned in sweltering back-alley rooms and I was happy. Washington knows nothing of hot, whore-rich, beery Truong Minh Ky. I remember riding the bomb boats up the Mekong to Phnom Penh, with the devilish brown river closing in like a vise and rockets shrieking from the dim jungle to burst against the sandbagged wheelhouse, and crouching below the waterline between the diesel tanks. The mousse authorities do not remember this. I remember the villa on Monivong in Phnom Penh, with Sedlacek, the balding Australian hippie, and Naoki, the crazy freelance combat photographer, and Zoco, the Frenchman, when the night jumped and flickered with the boom of artillery and we listened to Mancini on shortwave and watched Nara dance. Washington's elite do not know Nara. They know much of politicians and of furniture.
If I try to explain what Vietnam meant to me-I haven't for years, and never will again-they grow uneasy at my intensity. "My God," their eyes say, "he sounds as though he liked it over there. Something in the experience clearly snapped an anchoring ligament in his mind and left him with odd cravings, a perverse view of life-nothing dangerous, of course, but...The war did that to them," they say. "War is hell."
Well, yes, they may have something there. When you have seen a peasant mother screaming over several pounds of bright red mush that, thanks to God and a Chicom 107, is no longer precisely herchild, you see that Sherman may have been on to something. When you have eaten fish with Khmer troops in charred Cambodian battlefields, where the heat beats down like a soft rubber truncheon and a wretched stink comes from shallow graves, no particular leap of imagination is necessary to notice that war is no paradise. I cannot say that the jello writers are wrong in their understanding of war. But somehow I don't like hearing pieties about the war from these sleek, wise people who never saw it.
There were, of course, veterans and veterans. Some hated the war, some didn't. Some went around the bend down in IV Corps, where leeches dropped softly down collars like green sausages and death erupted unexpected from the ungodly foliage. To men in the elite groups-the Seals, Special Forces, Recondos, and Lurps who spent years in the Khmer bush, low to the ground where the ants bit hard-the war was a game with stakes high enough to engage their attention. They liked to play.
To many of us there, the war was the best time of our lives, almost the only time. We loved it because in those days we were alive, life was intense, the pungent hours passed fast over the central event of the age and the howling jets appeased the terrible boredom of existence. Psychologists, high priests of the mean, say that boredom is a symptom of maladjustment; maybe, but boredom has been around longer than psychologists have.
The jello writers would say we are mad to remember fondly anything about Nixon's war that Kennedy started. They do not remember the shuddering flight of a helicopter high over glowing green jungle that spread beneath us like a frozen sea. They never made the low runs a foot above treetops along paths that led like rivers through branches clawing at the skids, never peered down into murky clearings and bubbling swamps of sucking snake-ridden muck. They do not remember monsoon mornings in the highlands where dragons of mist twisted in the valleys, coiling lazily on themselves, puffing up and swallowing whole villages in their dank breath. The mousse men do not remember driving before dawn to Red Beach, when the headlights in the blackness caught ghostly shapes, maybe VC, thin yellow men mushroom-headed in the night, bicycling along the alien roads. As nearly as I can tell, jello writers do not remember anything.
Then it was over. The veterans came home. Suddenly the world seemed to stop dead in the water. Suddenly the slant-eyed hookers were gone, and the gunships and the wild drunken nights in places that the jello writers can't imagine. Suddenly the veterans were among soft, proper people who knew nothing of what they had done and what they had seen, and who, truth be told, didn't much like them.
Nor did some of us much like the people at home-though it was not at first a conscious distaste. Men came home with wounds and terrible memories and dead friends to be greeted by that squalling she-ass of Tom Hayden's, to find a country that, having sent them to Viet Nam, now viewed them as criminals for having been there. Slowly, to more men than will admit to it, the thought came: "These are the people I fought for?" And so we lost a country.
We looked around us with new eyes and saw that, in a sense the mousse people could never understand, we had lost even our dignity. I remember a marine corporal at Bethesda Naval Hospital who, while his wounds healed, had to run errands for the nurses, last year's co-eds. "A hell of a bust," he said with the military's sardonic economy of language. "Machine gunner to messenger boy."
It wasn't exactly that we didn't fit. Rather, we saw what there was to fit with-and recoiled. We sought jobs, but found offices where countless bureaucrats shuffled papers at long rows of desks, like battery hens awaiting the laying urge, their bellies billowing over their belts. Some of us joined them but some, in different ways, fled. A gunship pilot of my acquaintance took to the law, and to drink, and spent five years discovering that he really wanted to be in Rhodesia. Others went back into the death-in-the-bushes outfits, where the hard old rules still held. I drifted across Asia, Mexico, Wyoming, hitchhiking and sleeping in ditches until I learned that aberrant behavior, when written about, is literature.
The jello writers were quickly upon us. We were morose, they said, sullen. We acted strangely at parties, sat silently in corners and watched with noncommittal stares. Mentally, said the fashion experts, we hadn't made the trip home.
It didn't occur to them that we just had nothing to say about jello. Desserts mean little to men who have lain in dark rifle pits over Happy Valley in rainy season, watching mortar flares tremble in low-lying clouds that flickered like the face of God, while in the nervous evening safeties clicked off along the wire and amtracs rumbled into alert idles, coughing and waiting.
Once, after the GIs had left Saigon, I came out of a bar on Cach Mang and saw a veteran with a sign on his jacket: VIET NAM: IF YOU HAVEN'T BEEN THERE, SHUT THE FUCK UP. Maybe, just maybe, he had something
This was written the year the AMA or is it the APA added the diagnosis of PTSD to the DSM 111 they didn't have a name for it now I know it was we just didn't like the Jello
C.I.A. IG gets new rules
CIA Sets Changes To IG's Oversight, Adds Ombudsman
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 2, 2008; Page A03
The CIA's inspector general has agreed to tighter controls over its investigative procedures, agency officials revealed yesterday, in what appeared to be an attempt to soften resentments among agency officials over the watchdog's aggressive probes into the legality and effectiveness of the CIA's counterterrorism efforts and detention programs.
The revisions, which include the appointment of a special ombudsman to oversee the IG's work, were disclosed by CIA Director Michael V. Hayden in an e-mail sent to employees, announcing the end of an unusual inquiry into the performance of Inspector General John L. Helgerson, a 36-year CIA veteran and the man chiefly responsible for the spy agency's internal oversight.
The inquiry, begun last year, had raised concern among lawmakers who worried that the CIA was seeking to undermine the independence of Helgerson and his staff of auditors and inspectors. Helgerson angered top officials at the agency after leading aggressive investigations into the CIA's performance before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as well as its use of secret prisons and harsh interrogation methods against suspected terrorists.
Hayden, in the note to employees, praised Helgerson and his staff as being "committed to performing investigations . . . of the highest quality, integrity and timeliness," but said the inspector general had agreed on the need for changes.
"John has chosen to take a number of steps to heighten the efficiency, assure the quality and increase the transparency of the investigation process," Hayden said in the e-mail.
The changes include measures intended to speed up investigations and require the watchdog to keep CIA employees and managers informed about both the process and results of investigations. In addition to appointing an ombudsman, Helgerson also agreed to name a "quality control officer" who would make sure that reports "include all exculpatory and relevant mitigating information," Hayden said.
The agency did not make Helgerson available for comment, but CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano said the inspector general had "concurred with the director's statement and was comfortable with the steps agreed upon."
Helgerson, who joined the CIA in 1971, wrote a report that harshly criticized the agency for failing to anticipate al-Qaeda's attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. That report, parts of which were released last fall under a congressional order, recommended that some CIA officials be held accountable for failing to do more to prevent the attacks. But the agency's then-management decided against sanctions.
Helgerson also drafted a classified report critical of the CIA's interrogation of top al-Qaeda suspects. The report said the use of waterboarding and other aggressive interrogation methods by CIA officers violated the Geneva Conventions' ban on torture.
President Bush’s excesses in the name of fighting terrorism are legion. To avoid accountability, his administration has repeatedly sought early dismissal of lawsuits that might finally expose government misconduct, brandishing flimsy claims that going forward would put national security secrets at risk.
The courts have been far too willing to go along. In cases involving serious allegations of kidnapping, torture and unlawful domestic eavesdropping, judges have blocked plaintiffs from pursuing their claims without taking a hard look at the government’s basis for invoking the so-called state secrets privilege: its insistence that revealing certain documents or other evidence would endanger the nation’s security.
As a result, victims of serious abuse have been denied justice, fundamental rights have been violated and the constitutional system of checks and balances has been grievously undermined.
Congress — which has allowed itself to be bullied on national security issues for far too long — may now be ready to push back. The House and Senate are developing legislation that would give victims fair access to the courts and make it harder for the government to hide illegal or embarrassing conduct behind such unsupported claims.
Last week, Senator Edward Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, and Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, jointly introduced the State Secrets Protection Act. The measure would require judges to examine the actual documents or other evidence for which the state secrets privilege is invoked, rather than relying on government affidavits asserting that the evidence is too sensitive to be publicly disclosed. Senator Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and an important supporter of the reform, has scheduled a hearing on the bill for Feb. 13. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Democrat of New York, expects to introduce a similar measure in the House.
Of course, legitimate secrets need to be protected, and the legislation contains safeguards to ensure that.
To allow cases to go forward, the bill gives judges the authority to order the government to provide unclassified or redacted substitutes. It also gives those making claims against the government a chance to make a preliminary case using evidence that they have gathered on their own.
In October, the Supreme Court passed up an opportunity to rein in the administration’s abuse of state secrets claims and establish new procedures for dealing with potentially sensitive evidence.
The justices declined to take up the case of Khaled el-Masri, an innocent German citizen of Lebanese descent who was kidnapped, detained and tortured in a secret overseas prison as part of the administration’s extraordinary rendition program. Lower federal courts had dismissed Mr. Masri’s civil lawsuit, reflexively bowing to the administration’s claim that proceeding would compromise national security.
Since the Supreme Court has abdicated its responsibility, Congress must now act. Too many laws have been violated, and too many Americans and others have been harmed under a phony claim of national security.
Since I was used in a national security project back in the 70s that much of the data still remains classified today and is making obtaining veterans benefits almost impossible to get due to stonewalling by DOD and the Army and the CIA, I empathize completely with this, yes there is a National security problem there is also the problem of abuse to protect illegal activities, we prosecuted Nazis for using humans in chemical weapons and drug experiments in the years before the Nuremberg Trials, that is why America helped to write the Nuremberg Codes of 1947 so they could "prosecute" the Nazis, yet our nation let the Army/CIA use 7120 enlisted men in the same type experiments and now use the "Feres Doctrine" to stop lawsuits by the men or their families that have been harmed by the long term effects of the exposures.
Friday, February 1, 2008
China pays atomic blast participants -Xinhua
BEIJING, (Reuters) - China has started paying "subsidies" to participants in its past nuclear test explosions as part of a general rise in welfare for former military staff, state media reported.
China exploded its first nuclear test device in 1964 and continued test blasts until 1996, when the government announced a moratorium on the programme based in the far western region of Xinjiang.
But only now has China said that people close to the radioactive explosions have begun receiving subsidies.
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The Minister for Civil Affairs, Li Xueju, said "participants of nuclear tests", military and civilian, had begun receiving the payments from 2007, the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday.
The ministry handles some of China's welfare policies for former soldiers.
China shrouds its atomic weapons programme in secrecy, and it is unclear what prompted the announcement or whether the payments cover medical costs for civilian residents and military personnel possibly affected by the blasts.
But in recent years, retired military personnel have petitioned and sometimes protested, complaining of poor job opportunities and welfare after they have left the People's Liberation Army.
Li said that last year the government allocated about 1 billion yuan ($139 million) to help former soldiers open businesses or receive job training, Xinhua reported.
Mike I am sure that you saw this but, if not take a look. How F**ked is that. A fricken communist country paying its vets. But these mf here don't give a crap about us.
This was an e mail from a fellow Edgewood test vet alerting me to the story about China compensating their population for exposures to nuclear tests that they did not even stop until 1996, America stopped exposures in the early 1960s and have attempted to clean up the Pacific islands where many of the tests took place, but the veterans have fought tooth and nail for compensation from the VA and many are still fighting for service connection for cancers and other medical problems related to radiation.
It's a shame when China can care for it's veterans better than the US does, don't you think?
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 1, 2008
The Bolaños Brothers Endorse Hillary Clinton for President
Rick, Louis, Ben and Bill will travel to New Mexico and Arizona to campaign for Hillary
The Clinton campaign announced today the endorsement of Rick, Louis, Ben and Bill Bolaños, and named them National Co-Chairs of Veterans and Military Retirees for Hillary.
The Bolaños family is the only family in the United States to ever have four brothers serve in Vietnam at the same time. In 1966, Rick Bolaños joined his brothers Louis, Ben, and Bill in volunteering for military service in Vietnam.
“If you want to know what kind of President Hillary will be, just look at what she’s done,” said Rick Bolaños. “Our next President will inherit the most difficult challenges in our nation’s history. And she has the strength and the experience to rebuild America’s role in the world beginning her first day in the White House, he added.
“Senator Clinton has been a champion for our troops. She believes that once our soldiers have fulfilled their obligation to our country, our country must fulfill its obligation to them and their families,” said Louis Bolaños. “As president I know she’ll fight on our behalf to ensure that all the uninsured veterans in this country have access to quality, affordable health care,” he added.
Born in Texas to immigrant parents, the brothers were taught from the beginning the importance of service to their country. Each brother joined a different branch of the Armed Forces: Louis, the Navy; Ben, the Marine Corps; Bill, the Army Green Berets; and Rick, the Army. The Bolaños brothers were cited for their patriotism by President Lyndon Johnson, and in 2004, the Texas Legislature passed a resolution honoring their military service and their valiant heroism.
“I’m honored to have the support of Bolaños brothers,” said Clinton. “With their help, we will continue to bring our message of change across the country,” she added.
GA Committee: Just received confirmation from Senator Feingold's office that H.R. 4986, The FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, did, indeed, include S. 1817 (H.R. 3167), Proper Administration of the Discharge of Members of the Armed Forces for Personality Disorder. S. 1817 was offered as an amendment to both H.R. 1585 and H.R. 4986 by Senator Obama, and it was accepted by unanimous consent. It appeared in both the vetoed H.R. 1585 and the signed H.R. 4986 as Section 597. Therefore it is now law. Note that in Parts (a) (2) (C) and (D), it mandates policies and measures prohibiting discharges for personality disorder and that those "who may have been so separated from the Armed Forces should be provided with expedited review by the applicable board for the correction of military records."
Ron Scott, Chair
SEC. 597. REPORTS ON ADMINISTRATIVE SEPARATIONS OF MEMBERS OF THE ARMED FORCES FOR PERSONALITY DISORDER.
(a) Secretary of Defense Report on Administrative Separations Based on Personality Disorder-
(1) REPORT REQUIRED- Not later than April 1, 2008, the Secretary of Defense shall submit to the Committees on Armed Services of the Senate and the House of Representatives a report on all cases of administrative separation from the Armed Forces of covered members of the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder.
(2) ELEMENTS- The report required by paragraph (1) shall include the following:
(A) A statement of the total number of cases, by Armed Force, in which covered members of the Armed Forces have been separated from the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder, and an identification of the various forms of personality disorder forming the basis for such separations.
(B) A statement of the total number of cases, by Armed Force, in which covered members of the Armed Forces who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since October 2001 have been separated from the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder, and the identification of the various forms of personality disorder forming the basis for such separations.
(C) A summary of the policies, by Armed Force, controlling administrative separations of members of the Armed Forces based on personality disorder, and an evaluation of the adequacy of such policies for ensuring that covered members of the Armed Forces who may be eligible for disability evaluation due to mental health conditions are not separated from the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder.
(D) A discussion of measures being implemented to ensure that members of the Armed Forces who should be evaluated for disability separation or retirement due to mental health conditions are not processed for separation from the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder, and recommendations regarding how members of the Armed Forces who may have been so separated from the Armed Forces should be provided with expedited review by the applicable board for the correction of military records.
(b) Comptroller General Report on Policies on Administrative Separation Based on Personality Disorder-
(1) REPORT REQUIRED- Not later than June 1, 2008, the Comptroller General shall submit to Congress a report evaluating the policies and procedures of the Department of Defense and of the military departments relating to the separation of members of the Armed Forces based on a personality disorder.
(2) ELEMENTS- The report required by paragraph (1) shall--
(A) include an audit of a sampling of cases to determine the validity and clinical efficacy of the policies and procedures referred to in paragraph (1) and the extent, if any, of the divergence between the terms of such policies and procedures and the implementation of such policies and procedures; and
(B) include a determination by the Comptroller General of whether, and to what extent, the policies and procedures referred to in paragraph (1)--
(i) deviate from standard clinical diagnostic practices and current clinical standards; and
(ii) provide adequate safeguards aimed at ensuring that members of the Armed Forces who suffer from mental health conditions (including depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or traumatic brain injury) resulting from service in a combat zone are not separated from the Armed Forces on the basis of a personality disorder.
(3) ALTERNATIVE SUBMISSION METHOD- In lieu of submitting a separate report under this subsection, the Comptroller may include the evaluation, audit and determination required by this subsection as part of the study of mental health services required by section 723 of the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act of 2005 (Public Law 108-375; 118 Stat. 1989).
(c) Covered Member of the Armed Forces Defined- In this section, the term `covered member of the Armed Forces' includes the following:
(1) Any member of a regular component of the Armed Forces who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan since October 2001.
(2) Any member of the Selected Reserve of the Ready Reserve of the Armed Forces who served on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan since October 2001
Thursday, January 31, 2008
A Real Hero
BRITAIN'S "GREAT ESCAPE" PRISONER OF WAR,
JIMMY JAMES, DIES AT 92 -- "I was just a guy
who wanted to get home - I was no hero."
Story here... http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/31/world/eur
Jimmy James, P.O.W. Plotter of Escapes, Is Dead at 92
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Jimmy James, a British flier in World War II obsessed with escape plots during his five years in German captivity, most prominently the breakout portrayed in the movie “The Great Escape,” died Jan. 18 in Shrewsbury, England. Mr. James, who lived in Ludlow, England, was 92.
His death was confirmed to the BBC and The Birmingham Post by Howard Tuck, a military historian who said he had been working on a book with Mr. James.
On the night of June 5, 1940, Flight Lieutenant James, the co-pilot of a Wellington bomber, was on the way to a mission over Germany when his plane was shot down by antiaircraft fire over the occupied Netherlands. He bailed out about 25 miles south of Rotterdam but was captured and taken to the prisoner-of-war camp Stalag Luft I on the Baltic coast of Germany.
Mr. James made at least seven unsuccessful attempts to tunnel out of that camp. Then he was transferred to Stalag Luft III, about 90 miles southeast of Berlin. By the time he was liberated by American troops in Austria in May 1945, a few days before Germany surrendered, he had tried to escape at least 11 times from P.O.W. camps and a concentration camp and had succeeded twice, only to be recaptured.
“I was just a guy who wanted to get home; I was no hero,” The Birmingham Post quoted Mr. James as saying. But his unrelenting will to be free brought him Britain’s Military Cross for gallantry in 1946.
Mr. James was “one of the last great links with a period of history that continues to exert a fierce grip on the popular imagination,” The Independent newspaper said upon his death.
The most storied escape occurred on the night of March 24, 1944, when 76 Allied prisoners, mostly airmen from Britain and the Commonwealth nations, tunneled out of Stalag Luft III. Mr. James and another prisoner had overseen the hiding of soil displaced by the tunnel digging, supervising its placement underneath seats in the camp’s theater, where the captives had put on shows. Mr. James was the 39th man to escape through the tunnel.
Mr. James could sometimes look back with a wry eye. He once told the BBC about a flier who was annoyed over having been shot down when he had London theater tickets for the next night.
“He’d bought a ticket for ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ in London that was on in the West End,” Mr. James said. “And he was bemoaning this fact when he came into the camp. He said, ‘I bought a ticket for this show,’ and I said: ‘Oh, that’s all right old boy, we’re putting it on next week. You can see it here.’ ”
The breakout, as depicted in the 1963 movie starring Steve McQueen, is remembered for what Mr. James once called “rather Hollywood fantasy” — the McQueen character’s short-lived escape on a motorcycle.
But the real escape became a grim affair. Only 3 of the 76 escapees made it to freedom. Fifty of the 73 men who were recaptured were shot on Hitler’s orders.
Mr. James was recaptured at a German railroad station while fleeing toward the Czech border and was eventually transferred to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp. In September 1944, he joined several other prisoners of war in escaping from the camp through a 100-foot tunnel they had dug 10 feet below the surface, using a table knife. He fled north, hoping to board a ship for Sweden, but was recaptured once more and later imprisoned at two other concentration camps before being liberated.
Bertram Arthur James, known as Jimmy since his days in military service, was born in India, the son of a tea merchant. He joined the Royal Air Force in 1939 and remained in the military until the 1950s. He later entered the British diplomatic corps, holding posts on the Continent and in Africa.
He is survived by his wife, Madge.
Mr. James told of his experiences in a 1983 memoir, “Moonless Night.” In 2004, he attended a ceremony at the site of Stalag Luft III, now a part of Poland.
“The huts have been razed to the ground but you can see where we dug, the route of the tunnel, and you can still feel the atmosphere of the camp,” he told the BBC then.
“Having lost 50 comrades, ghosts of the past are inevitably going to rise up. I feel a great loss. I never thought that 60 years ago, when I crawled out of the snow, there would be a ceremony in Poland to commemorate the event.”
This was one of my favorite Steve McQueen movies he ever made, my step father had many friends in the POW camps as he was in the 8th Army Air Corp in 1943 -1944 and made many of the bombing missions over Germany. Dale Jennings retired from the Air Force after more than 20 years of service from WW2 thru 1963 he also took part in the Berlin Airlift when the Russians sealed off the city he passed away in Sep 2000at the age of 92 they were all Hero's even if they all thought they were just doing their duty, all the "hero's" I know feel they were just doing what they were supposed to.
MedWatch - The FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting Program
FDA informed healthcare professionals that the Agency has analyzed reports of suicidality (suicidal behavior or ideation) from placebo-controlled clinical studies of eleven drugs used to treat epilepsy as well as psychiatric disorders, and other conditions. In the FDA's analysis, patients receiving antiepileptic drugs had approximately twice the risk of suicidal behavior or ideation (0.43%) compared to patients receiving placebo (0.22%).
The increased risk of suicidal behavior and suicidal ideation was observed as early as one week after starting the antiepileptic drug and continued through 24 weeks. The results were generally consistent among the eleven drugs. The relative risk for suicidality was higher in patients with epilepsy compared to patients who were given one of the drugs in the class for psychiatric or other conditions.
Healthcare professionals should closely monitor all patients currently taking or starting any antiepileptic drug for notable changes in behavior that could indicate the emergence or worsening of suicidal thoughts or behavior or depression.
The drugs included in the analyses include (some of these drugs are also available in generic form):
Carbamazepine (marketed as Carbatrol, Equetro, Tegretol, Tegretol XR) Felbamate (marketed as Felbatol) Gabapentin (marketed as Neurontin) Lamotrigine (marketed as Lamictal) Levetiracetam (marketed as Keppra) Oxcarbazepine (marketed as Trileptal) Pregabalin (marketed as Lyrica) Tiagabine (marketed as Gabitril) Topiramate (marketed as Topamax) Valproate (marketed as Depakote, Depakote ER, Depakene, Depacon) Zonisamide (marketed as Zonegran)
Although the 11 drugs listed above were the ones included in the analysis, FDA expects that the increased risk of suicidality is shared by all antiepileptic drugs and anticipates that the class labeling changes will be applied broadly.
Read the complete 2008 MedWatch Safety Summary including a link to the Healthcare Professional Sheet regarding this issue at:
National Guard not ready for Domestic threats
Report: Military Unprepared for Domestic Threats
By Ann Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008; 3:16 PM
The U.S. military's reserves and National Guard forces are not prepared to meet catastrophic threats at home and face an "appalling" shortage of forces able to respond to chemical, biological or nuclear strikes on U.S. soil, according to a congressional commission report released today.
The problem is rooted in severe readiness problems in the reserves and National Guard forces, which would be well-suited to respond to domestic crises but suffer from a lack of personnel and training as well as a $48 billion shortage of equipment, the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves said in the report.
"Because the nation has not adequately resourced its forces designated for response to weapons of mass destruction, it does not have sufficient trained, ready forces available. This is an appalling gap that places the nation and its citizens at greater risk," the report said.
National Guard readiness has continued to slide since March, when the commission found that 88 percent of Army National Guard units were rated "not ready," commission Chairman Arnold L. Punaro said.
"We think there is an appalling gap in readiness for homeland defense because it will be the Guard and reserve that have to respond for these things," Punaro said in an interview.
The commission's report concluded that the Pentagon and Congress must act to transform and upgrade the nation's military reserves into an operational force with many of the same capabilities as the active duty forces. The Pentagon also must carry out the same kind of exhaustive contingency planning for domestic attacks and catastrophes that it does for developments overseas, according to the 400-page report, which includes 95 recommendations.
"You shouldn't be dealing with WMD [weapons of mass destruction] scenarios with 52 pickup," said Punaro. "It needs to be part of the deliberative planning process."
The commission criticized steps taken so far by the Defense Department and Congress to create an operational reserve force as "reactive" and "timid," saying there had been no serious debate on a matter vital to national security.
Fully training, equipping and manning the military's reserves to create units that can operate interchangeably with active duty counterparts will require greater funding, Punaro said. But he said the reserves are highly cost effective, today contributing about 44 percent of U.S. military personnel but consuming only about 9 percent of the Pentagon budget.
"It's a food fight over resources going on right now," Punaro said. "DOD can't have it both ways. They can't say they want it, but" only if "we don't have to pay for it."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is receptive to the commission's proposals, and Punaro said he expects a "quick turnaround" on the latest recommendations. He praised Gates as a "bureaucracy buster" who embraced most of the preliminary proposals made by the commission in March.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, nearly 600,000 reservists have served in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan or other countries as part of the anti-terrorism campaign. The use of reservists, measured in man days, rose more than five-fold, according to the report.
Without a strong reserve force, the nation more likely would have to resort to a draft, which would be unfeasible politically and militarily, Punaro said.
Established in 2005, the commission is composed of 12 members, including Punaro, a retired two-star Marine Corps general, and several other former military officers.
VA Increases Travel Reimbursement for Eligible Veterans
Peake: Disabled Veterans Earned Increase
WASHINGTON (January 31, 2008) - Over a million eligible veterans will
see their mileage reimbursement more than double starting tomorrow, for
travel to Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical facilities.
"This increase helps veterans -- especially those living in rural areas
-- offset some of the gasoline costs as they travel to VA's world-class
health care," said Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake.
"Increasing the mileage reimbursement is one more step by VA to help
veterans access the health care they deserve."
The 2008 appropriations act provided funding for VA to increase the
beneficiary travel mileage reimbursement rate from 11 cents per mile to
28.5 cents per mile. The increase goes into effect on Feb. 1.
After little more then a month on the job, Secretary Peake used his
authority to establish the first increase in the mileage reimbursement
in 30 years, fulfilling a pledge he made during his Senate confirmation
hearing last month.
While increasing the payment, VA, as mandated by law, also equally
increased the deductible amounts applied to certain mileage
reimbursements. The new deductibles are $7.77 for a one way trip,
$15.54 for a round trip, with a maximum of $46.62 per calendar month.
However, these deductibles can be waived if they cause a financial
hardship to the veteran.
Brain Screenings for Vets May Be Flawed
By HOPE YEN
The Associated Press
Thursday, January 31, 2008; 6:26 AM
WASHINGTON -- Thousands of Iraq war veterans who could have suffered traumatic brain injury may be getting unnecessary or inadequate health care because Veterans Affairs officials have yet to determine whether their initial screening tests are reliable, investigators say.
A draft report by the Government Accountability Office, obtained this week by The Associated Press, highlights the Bush administration's continuing difficulties in treating traumatic brain injury, a leading problem among soldiers struck by roadside bombs in the Iraq war. It also comes as a provocative military study this week found that symptoms of memory loss and irritability that have been tied to brain injury might be more accurately attributed to post-traumatic stress and depression.
The GAO review of nine VA medical centers found that months after former VA Secretary Jim Nicholson in April promoted new screenings for brain injury and pledged personal responsibility in seeing them through, the department was still struggling to determine how to best gauge the clinical accuracy of its screenings.
In the report, the VA also acknowledged problems with follow-up appointments after veterans initially tested positive under the VA's screening tool. One medical center reported 27 cases in which their doctors failed to notify patients for additional evaluation because of glitches in the computerized program.
The department has since put in place safeguards to help track whether such patients are given follow-up appointments, but it was not immediately clear how many other veterans who might have needed care were missed at dozens of other VA centers around the country, the report said.
Two VA medical centers also acknowledged they did not follow department protocol for up to three months after procedures were established when they failed to use a symptom checklist. The centers said they either did not know the checklist existed or did not have adequate staffing to follow protocol.
"Until VA evaluates the TBI screening tool's validity and reliability, VA providers will continue to use the screening tool without knowing how effective the tool is in identifying which veterans are and are not at risk for having mild TBI," GAO investigators wrote.
Such false results, the investigators said, could result not only in injured veterans failing to receive proper care, but also in VA medical centers facing growing, unmanageable workloads due to high numbers of veterans being unnecessarily referred for follow-up and treatment.
Responding, VA spokeswoman Alison Aikele said that because research is still being formulated on traumatic brain injury, the VA decided to move forward last April with the best screening tool it knew of at the time. In the coming months, Aikele said, the VA planned to contract with outside researchers to test the validity of its screening, but she could not provide a specific date.
A group representing disabled veterans expressed frustration with the continuing problems.
"The Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs are nowhere near where they need to be in screening, evaluating and treating vets from Iraq and Afghanistan with mild or moderate traumatic brain injury," said Dave Autry, spokesman for Disabled American Veterans.
In recent weeks, President Bush has released at the request of Congress $3.7 billion in emergency money for additional case workers and services for injured veterans. A defense bill recently signed by Bush also provides money for research, screening and care for those who might have PTSD or traumatic brain injury, which in its mild form is known as a concussion.
As many as 20 percent of U.S. combat troops who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan are believed to leave with signs of possible brain injury, and as of last August, VA officials said about 61,000 Iraq war veterans who sought VA care had been screened. A study being published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine found that brain injury may be less to blame for soldiers' symptoms than doctors once thought.
Other GAO findings:
_Inconsistent follow-up. Iraq war veterans face greater burdens in keeping appointments because they tend to be younger than other VA patients, with daytime work, school or child-care commitments. Some Iraq veterans also said they were under the impression that VA facilities catered to an elderly population and did not want to treat younger patients.
_Poor rural access. Two medical centers reported no-show rates of 50 percent or greater for Iraq war veterans with possible brain injury, in part because they lived in small towns or farms and would have to drive 100 miles or so to reach a VA facility.
Last April, a presidential task force chaired by Nicholson announced the new VA screenings and other measures in the wake of disclosures of poor outpatient treatment at the Pentagon-run Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Nicholson later submitted his resignation in July, and former Army surgeon general James Peake became the new VA secretary last month. Peake has said he wants to improve collaboration between the Pentagon and VA, which hold joint responsibility in treating veterans.
The nine VA medical facilities reviewed by GAO are in Decatur, Ga.; Augusta, Ga.; Baltimore; Dublin, Ga.; Richmond, Va.; Washington, D.C.; Hines, Ill.; Iron Mountain, Mich.; and Tomah, Wis. They were chosen based on high usage by Iraq war veterans as well as geographical representation.
Iowans lauded for work on PTSD
The governor spoke. So did both United States senators and an Iowa congressman. But it was the tall man with the sad face and deep voice whose words and presence commanded silence Friday afternoon in the rotunda of the Iowa Capitol.
Randy Omvig clutched a sheet of paper as he talked about the national suicide prevention legislation for veterans that bears the name of his son, Joshua.
"We have been asked, if this bill would have been in place for Josh, would it have helped him?" the Grundy Center man said. "Ellen and I believe with the increased awareness of the veterans and their families, with the provisions of this bill in place and working, Josh would have had a better chance for survival."
Spc. Joshua Omvig, 22, killed himself on Dec. 22, 2005, a month after successfully completing an 11-month deployment to Iraq with the U.S. Army Reserve's 339th Military Police Company of Davenport. His family believes he was suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder.
"Unfortunately, the war came (home) with him," Gov. Chet Culver said. "The wounds from that conflict never healed, and in the end, Josh himself became another casualty."
To help prevent similar casualties, President Bush signed the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act in November.
How that law came to pass was largely the result of actions by Iowa's congressional delegation and two grieving parents who thought more could be done to assist troubled veterans.
"Make no mistake," Sen. Tom Harkin told the audience of about 50 lawmakers, military members, mental health workers, politicians and reporters. "This bill would not have passed without the personal engagement of Ellen and Randy Omvig."
Sen. Charles Grassley called their mission another reminder "that one family dedicated to a cause can make a difference."
After their son's suicide, the Omvigs began hearing from other troops, and their families, who had faced a terrible time adjusting to life after Iraq. They approached U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell: Couldn't something be done to help these returning troops?
Boswell, a helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War, said he was moved by the Omvig family's story.
"What more difficult thing could happen to a parent, a mother?" he asked.
The law named for Joshua Omvig directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to offer mental health screening and referrals, at a veteran's request, for counseling and treatment. Among other things, the law requires a 24-hour, toll-free hot line that returning troops can call for mental health counseling.
Harkin announced Friday that he will introduce legislation next week to try to help prevent suicide among active-duty members of the military, too. The U.S. Army reported that 85 soldiers committed suicide last year, the most since 1990, Harkin said.
Boswell said the Joshua Omvig law "will save the lives of thousands of veterans."
Randy Omvig said the law is already working. The national suicide hot line has logged 6,000 calls from veterans in crisis, he said. Of those, 300 needed immediate intervention and 1,300 went on to counseling.
Omvig told the legislators that their work had saved lives. "We continually hear that veterans want to talk to other veterans who know," he said.
As he spoke, 16 members of Joshua's unit, the 339th Military Company, stood nearby, including Michael Duncan, 24, of Oxford Junction. Duncan has Joshua's name tattooed on his chest and back and considered him to be his best friend.
"This will help people," Duncan said. "It'll let soldiers know that they can get help if they need help."
The ceremony concluded when the Iowa lawmakers presented the Omvigs with a copy of the law signed by Bush.
"I don't cry in front of people," said Joshua's sister, Rachel Omvig, 19, who lives in Cedar Falls. "Ever. Except for this."
She disappeared down a hallway, away from the cameras, wiping her eyes.
"She needed a break," Ellen Omvig said softly as she dropped into a chair. Ellen cannot stand for very long. She suffers ailments connected to a long-ago car crash, and the devastation associated with her son's death heightens that.
From November through December, Ellen said, she becomes a hermit, holing up in her Grundy Center home to wait out Joshua's Nov. 18 birthday and the anniversary of his death in December.
She starts having trouble around Halloween and doesn't leave the house much until after Christmas passes. Holiday cards and sympathy cards mingled in the family mailbox.
She said the family receives support from family, friends and church members.
"We don't cry every single day," she said. "I have a few days a month when I don't cry."
Reporter Ken Fuson can be reached at (515) 284-8501 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Porton Down veterans awarded £3m compensation
Laura Smith and agencies
Thursday January 31, 2008
Hundreds of veterans who were subjected to tests at the Porton Down chemical
warfare installation are to be awarded compensation totalling £3m, the
defence minister Derek Twigg announced today.
In a written statement to MPs, Twigg said the sum was "in full and final
settlement" of claims, and was being awarded without an admission of
liability by the Ministry of Defence.
He said: "The government sincerely apologises to those who may have been
affected." The MoD will pay £8,300 to each of the 369 veterans - a total of
just over £3m.
The award was welcomed by representatives of the veterans, who say they were
tricked into taking part in tests at the Wiltshire facility during the Cold
War. Many believed they were helping to find a cure for the common cold.
A group of 369 of the servicemen affected launched legal action against the
MoD in March last year, arguing that tests - including being sent to gas
chambers and being exposed to nerve gas, mustard gas and tear gas - had left
them with health problems ranging from respiratory and skin diseases to
cancer and psychological problems.
Eric Gow, chairman of the Porton Down Veterans' Group, said: "It has been a
long and protracted battle for justice but today makes it all worthwhile.
"I am just so very sorry and angry that many of our comrades had to die
before we reached this point - but I am sure they will be looking down on us
today with some degree of satisfaction."
Ken Earl, spokesperson for the group, said: "I am so pleased that settlement
has at last been reached. It will allow our members to at last have some
degree of closure on this issue."
Lawyers for the veterans said their acceptance of the compensation and the
apology brought to an end the group legal action against the MoD. Mediation
on the settlement began in December last year.
Solicitor Alan Care, who has acted for the veterans since 1994, said: "Today
is the culmination of well over a decade's work to obtain some justice and
recognition for the veterans who have undoubtedly been treated poorly until
now by the Ministry of Defence for so many years.
"Today we see a truly historic apology from the MoD and government who now
'sincerely apologise' to the veterans."
Solicitor Martyn Day said: "Today ends a very sorry chapter in the history
of the Ministry of Defence. The treatment of the veterans was simply
"However, today's settlement and apology will, undoubtedly, go some way to
healing the wounds that this episode caused. It is such a shame it has taken
so long for this point to have been reached."
It is believed that around 12 veterans have died since the current legal
case was launched.
Twigg said Britain owed a "debt" to those who took part in trials at Porton
Down, adding: "The security of the country rested on these trials and the
contribution of those who took part in them."
He added: "The government accepts that there were aspects of the trials
where there may have been shortcomings and, where, in particular, the life
or health of participants may have been put at risk."
Since 1916 more than 25,000 servicemen took part in tests at Porton Down,
where scientists developed chemical weapons and protective equipment. It is
the longest-running programme of chemical warfare tests on humans in the
Use of Computer programs to process VA claims
VA URGED TO USE ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE TO CUT BACKLOG
OF BENEFIT CLAIMS -- "If we can develop computer software such
as TurboTax...then I see no reason why we cannot develop similar
software to automate online filing of VA benefits claims and to
automate a substantial fraction of the processing of these claims."
Story here... http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0108/013008bb1.htm
VA urged to use advanced technology to cut backlog of benefit claims
By Bob Brewin email@example.com
Advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence could help the Veterans Affairs Department reduce a backlog of disability claims that has spiked past 1 million, according to computer experts and veterans advocates.
The Veterans Benefits Administration, which processes the claims, has a backlog of 650,000 pending claims and another 147,000 that are under appeal and working their way through a process that "is paper intensive, complex to understand, difficult to manage and takes years to learn," Rep. John Hall, D-N.Y., chairman of the Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability and Memorial Affairs, said at a Jan. 29 hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.
Training an employee to rate VBA claims can take two to three years and many leave within five years, Hall said. Experienced raters can adjudicate only about three claims a day, spending two to three hours on each claim. He said the VA should consider the use of artificial intelligence technologies, such as automated decision-support tools that can determine disability payments, which would speed up claims processing.
Computer experts who testified at the hearing said technology exists today that can automate the claims process and eliminate the backlog.
"If we can develop computer software such as TurboTax, which guides taxpayers as they fill out complex tax forms online, and which then provides them with instant, computer-based application of complex tax regulations to calculate to the penny the taxes they owe, then I see no reason why we cannot develop similar software to automate online filing of VA benefits claims and to automate a substantial fraction of the processing of these claims," said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the Machine Learning Department at the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.
Mitchell said the VBA needs to emulate health insurers such as Highmark Inc., a Pittsburgh-based company that uses computers to process 90 percent of its claims. The computer system automatically determines payments, Mitchell said, "because it contains a large collection of rules, each one specifying the payment to be made in some very specific case, defined by the details of the patient's policy, treatment and history. The complex policy for determining what payment is due under which condition is encoded in these rules inside the computer."
While the type of claims processed by Highmark are not identical to the kinds of claims processed by the VBA, Mitchell said they are similar enough to "conclude online processing will be of considerable value to the VA."
Hall said other AI techniques that could work for VBA include case-based reasoning systems, which tap into a database of historical data to compare past cases with a current case, and machine learning and data-mining, which could discover patterns in a current claim that indicate more information is needed to process the claim.
The VBA could automate its processes by developing a document naming system for paper documents, which are then electronically scanned into a database to make it easier to retrieve, said Ronald Miller, professor of biomedical informatics at Vanderbilt University..
VBA repeatedly loses paper records submitted by claimants. Robin Cleveland, wife of retired Marine Gunnery Sgt. Tai Cleveland, told the hearing that since November 2005, she has submitted multiple copies of Tai's medical record and was told that the VBA could not find the records and she needed to resubmit them. She said her husband, a paraplegic after injuries incurred in August 2003 during a hand-to-hand training exercise in Kuwait, only started to receive benefit payments this month after Congress intervened.
Dr. Marjie Shahani, senior vice president of operations at QTC Medical Services, which conducts medical examinations on veterans and active duty personnel seeking VBA compensation, said her company has developed an application called the Evidence Organizer, which creates an electronic file for a claim, which can include multiple medical conditions and is accessible at the click of a mouse. Shahani said the organizer cuts the time to rate an individual claim from 3.5 hours to 2.2 hours. The time savings should allow a VBA ratings specialist to review 711 claims compared with the 533 a specialist processes today, he said.
The VBA already has begun to develop technologies to increase the number of claims that specialists can process, said Kim Graves, director of business process integration for the VBA. The agency has a comprehensive strategy to develop the Paperless Delivery of Veterans Benefits initiative, which will employ a variety of enhanced technologies to support end-to-end claims processing, Graves said. In addition to imaging and computable data, it will also incorporate enhanced electronic workflow capabilities, enterprise content and correspondence management services.
Graves said VBA also is considering the use of business-rules-engine software for workflow management, which could improve processors' decision-making.
Stephen Warren, principal deputy assistant secretary for the VA Office of Information and Technology, said the department is preparing a statement of work to engage the services of a lead systems integrator to develop strategy and business requirements for Paperless Delivery of Veterans Benefits, though he did not provide a timeline.
Gary Christopherson, who served as chief information officer for the Veterans Health Administration in 2000 and principal deputy assistant secretary for Health Affairs in the Defense Department, said "using artificial intelligence or electronic decision support tools is nothing new." Government and corporations routinely use those tools, and VBA claims processing is no more difficult than any other application of AI, he said.
Christopherson also called for a radical policy change in how VBA provides benefits. He said that it should presume that a veteran has a valid claim and is entitled to benefits for a period of a year until it completes the processing of that claim, with payment starting in 30 days of the date the claim is filed.
"Today, there is a failure to understand and appreciate the veteran's plight," Christopherson said. "Today's claims processing behavior is more like a castle under siege rather than a home providing compassion, warmth, help and sustenance. That attitude and approach needs to change to a pro-active system, which welcomes veterans seeking help based on 'the duty to assist.' "
Congress reacts to mess at Ft Drum
UPDATE: OFFICIALS WANT PROBE OF ARMY AND VA HELP
FOR INJURED SOLDIERS -- "It is our duty to eliminate
obstacles standing in the way of our disabled service
members and veterans, not to create them."
For the previous story on this issue, click here...
For more about Fort Drum, use the VA Watchdog search engine...click here...
Today's story here... http://www.newsday.com/ne
Officials want probe of Army and VA help for injured soldiers
FORT DRUM, N.Y. -- New York congressional leaders have asked Army Secretary Pete Geren to investigate a report that the Army is blocking Veterans Affairs' officials from helping injured Fort Drum soldiers prepare their disability claims, potentially leading to reduced benefits.
Meanwhile, a national soldiers' advocacy group said it planned to seek an official military Court of Inquiry probe into the situation at the northern New York Army post.
In a letter to Geren, U.S. Sen. Hillary Clinton expressed deep concern and said the allegations "should be taken seriously and investigated thoroughly."
"If these allegations are true they run counter to our nation's pledge made to our men and women in uniform," Clinton wrote Geren. "It is our duty to eliminate obstacles standing in the way of our disabled service members and veterans, not to create them. Our wounded should not have to deal with endless bureaucratic red tape just to receive the basic care entitled to them."
In a story Tuesday, National Public Radio reported that an Army ad-hoc group investigating military disability benefits _ known as a "tiger team" _ had recently told VA officers in Buffalo not to assist Fort Drum soldiers with their disability benefits applications.
Injured soldiers are given a 10-day period to comment on proposed disability rulings before they become final. Those forms help determine what benefits disabled soldiers receive after being discharged.
According to the NPR report, the Army did not want the VA to assist in filling out the forms because Fort Drum soldiers were receiving higher disability ratings with their help _ and thus would receive more money in benefits.
"Once again, we witness a military command which is more concerned with saving money than with providing adequate compensation for injured veterans," said Tod Ensign, an attorney with New York City-based Citizen Soldier.
If a soldier receives a disability rating of less than 30 percent, he or she receives only a lump sum payment instead of a monthly disability payment, Ensign said.
"We are talking about young people, inexperienced, with no knowledge of medical terminology. What's wrong with helping them? These are determinations that could have a bearing on the rest of their life," Ensign said.
Ensign said he was working with a handful of active duty Fort Drum soldiers to file a formal request for an official Court of Inquiry. Such a panel can conduct a service-wide investigation into the Army's policy, he said.
"I can't imagine Fort Drum soldiers are alone in this," he said.
Fort Drum spokesman Ben Abel said post officials had no comment about the NPR report, but added that post officials were not involved in any decision to withhold assistance from soldiers.
Army spokesman Lt. Col. George Wright said the Army has no policy against soldiers receiving outside assistance in preparing their disability applications. However, the "tiger team" thought the VA should not be helping soldiers with their applications and told the Buffalo regional VA office, he said.
The VA said it went along with the request because its officers are not qualified to help with soldiers' disability paperwork.
"We do not train our employees about the intricacies of the military's disability evaluation system. We would feel that it would be inappropriate for VA employees to apply VA standards to a Department of the Army process," the VA said in a release.
Rep. John McHugh, whose district includes Fort Drum and is the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, expressed his concerns about the situation at Fort Drum to Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Eric Schoomaker in a meeting Tuesday.
"The tenor of it certainly is contrary to what we're trying to accomplish," McHugh told The Watertown Daily Times. "We want to see more help for those wounded, not less."
McHugh noted that the Defense Department Authorization Act signed Monday by President Bush included provisions for creating more cooperation between the VA and defense department.
Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, another New York lawmaker on the House Armed Services Committee, also wrote to Geren.
posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
LT Whiteside attempts suicide again, charges are dropped
Soldier Suicides at Record Level
Increase Linked to Long Wars, Lack of Army Resources
Beyond Walter Reed
Army 1st Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside was judged by her superiors to be a model officer. But after suffering a psychiatric breakdown in Iraq, she has found herself facing criminal charges for attempted suicide and endangering the life of another soldier. Her story shows that the Army continues to grapple with soldiers who suffer mental trauma in a combat zone.
By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008; Page A01
Lt. Elizabeth Whiteside, a psychiatric outpatient at Walter Reed Army Medical Center who was waiting for the Army to decide whether to court-martial her for endangering another soldier and turning a gun on herself last year in Iraq, attempted to kill herself Monday evening. In so doing, the 25-year-old Army reservist joined a record number of soldiers who have committed or tried to commit suicide after serving in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Soldier Suicides at Record Level
Beyond Walter Reed
Combating a Surge in Suicides
Thursday, Jan. 31 at 12:30 p.m. ET: National Security and Intelligence
Full Series: Walter Reed and Beyond
Whiteside's Suicide Note
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"I'm very disappointed with the Army," Whiteside wrote in a note before swallowing dozens of antidepressants and other pills. "Hopefully this will help other soldiers." She was taken to the emergency room early Tuesday. Whiteside, who is now in stable physical condition, learned yesterday that the charges against her had been dismissed.
Whiteside's personal tragedy is part of an alarming phenomenon in the Army's ranks: Suicides among active-duty soldiers in 2007 reached their highest level since the Army began keeping such records in 1980, according to a draft internal study obtained by The Washington Post. Last year, 121 soldiers took their own lives, nearly 20 percent more than in 2006.
At the same time, the number of attempted suicides or self-inflicted injuries in the Army has jumped sixfold since the Iraq war began. Last year, about 2,100 soldiers injured themselves or attempted suicide, compared with about 350 in 2002, according to the U.S. Army Medical Command Suicide Prevention Action Plan.
The Army was unprepared for the high number of suicides and cases of post-traumatic stress disorder among its troops, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have continued far longer than anticipated. Many Army posts still do not offer enough individual counseling and some soldiers suffering psychological problems complain that they are stigmatized by commanders. Over the past year, four high-level commissions have recommended reforms and Congress has given the military hundreds of millions of dollars to improve its mental health care, but critics charge that significant progress has not been made.
The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have placed severe stress on the Army, caused in part by repeated and lengthened deployments. Historically, suicide rates tend to decrease when soldiers are in conflicts overseas, but that trend has reversed in recent years. From a suicide rate of 9.8 per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2001 -- the lowest rate on record -- the Army reached an all-time high of 17.5 suicides per 100,000 active-duty soldiers in 2006.
Last year, twice as many soldier suicides occurred in the United States than in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Col. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, the Army's top psychiatrist and author of the study, said that suicides and attempted suicides "are continuing to rise despite a lot of things we're doing now and have been doing." Ritchie added: "We need to improve training and education. We need to improve our capacity to provide behavioral health care."
Ritchie's team conducted more than 200 interviews in the United States and overseas and found that the common factors in suicides and attempted suicides include failed personal relationships; legal, financial or occupational problems; and the frequency and length of overseas deployments. She said the Army must do a better job of making sure that soldiers in distress receive mental health services. "We need to know what to do when we're concerned about one of our fellows."
The study, which the Army's top personnel chief ordered six months ago, acknowledges that the Army still does not know how to adequately assess, monitor and treat soldiers with psychological problems. In fact, it says that "the current Army Suicide Prevention Program was not originally designed for a combat/deployment environment."
Staff Sgt. Gladys Santos, an Army medic who attempted suicide after three tours in Iraq, said the Army urgently needs to hire more psychiatrists and psychologists who have an understanding of war. "They gave me an 800 number to call if I needed help," she said. "When I come to feeling overwhelmed, I don't care about the 800 number. I want a one-on-one talk with a trained psychiatrist who's either been to war or understands war."
Santos, who is being treated at Walter Reed, said the only effective therapy she has received there in the past year have been the one-on-one sessions with her psychiatrist, not the group sessions in which soldiers are told "Don't hit your wife, don't hit your kids" or the other groups where they play bingo or learn how to properly set a table.
Over the past year, the Army has reinvigorated its efforts to understand mental health issues and has instituted new assessment surveys and new online videos and questionnaires to help soldiers recognize problems and become more resilient, Ritchie said. It has also hired more mental health providers. The plan calls for attaching more chaplains to deployed units and assigning "battle buddies" to improve peer support and monitoring.
Increasing suicides raise "real questions about whether you can have an Army this size with multiple deployments," said David Rudd, a former Army psychologist and chairman of the psychology department at Texas Tech University.
On Monday night, as President Bush delivered his State of the Union address and asked Congress to "improve the system of care for our wounded warriors and help them build lives of hope and promise and dignity," Whiteside was dozing off from the effects of her drug overdose. Her case highlights the Army's continuing struggles to remove the stigma surrounding mental illness and to make it easier for soldiers and officers to seek psychological help.
Whiteside, who was the subject of a Washington Post article in December, was a high-achieving University of Virginia graduate, and she earned top scores from her Army raters. But as a medic in charge of a small prison team in Iraq, she was repeatedly harassed by one of her commanders, which disturbed her greatly, according to an Army investigation.
On Jan. 1, 2007, weary from helping to quell riots in the prison after the execution of Saddam Hussein, Whiteside had a mental breakdown, according to an Army sanity board investigation. She pointed a gun at a superior, fired two shots into the ceiling and then turned the weapon on herself, piercing several organs. She has been at Walter Reed ever since.
Whiteside's two immediate commanders brought charges against her, but Maj. Gen. Eric B. Schoomaker, the only physician in her chain of command and then the commander of Walter Reed, recommended that the charges be dropped, citing her "demonstrably severe depression" and "7 years of credible and honorable service."
Her case hinged in part on whether her mental illness prompted her actions, as Walter Reed psychiatrists testified last month, or whether it was "an excuse" for her actions, as her company commander wrote when he proffered the original charges against her in April. Those charges included assault on a superior commissioned officer, aggravated assault, kidnapping, reckless endangerment, wrongful discharge of a firearm, communication of a threat and two attempts of intentional self-injury without intent to avoid service.
An Army hearing officer cited "Army values" and the need to do "what is right, legally and morally" when he recommended last month that Whiteside not face court-martial or other administration punishment, but that she be discharged and receive the medical benefits "she will desperately need for the remainder of her life." Whiteside decided to speak publicly about her case only after a soldier she had befriended at the hospital's psychiatric ward hanged herself after she was discharged without benefits.
But the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, which has ultimate legal jurisdiction over the case, declined for weeks to tell Whiteside whether others in her chain of command have concurred or differed with the hearing officer, said Matthew MacLean, Whiteside's civilian attorney and a former military lawyer.
MacLean and Whiteside's father, Thomas Whiteside, said the uncertainty took its toll on the young officer's mental state. "I've never seen anything like this. It's just so far off the page," said Thomas Whiteside, his voice cracking with emotion. "I told her, 'If you check out of here, you're not going to be able to help other soldiers.' "
Whiteside recently had begun to take prerequisite classes for a nursing degree, and her mental stability seemed to be improving, her father said. Then late last week she told him she was having trouble sleeping, with a possible court-martial weighing on her. On Monday night she asked her father to take her back to her room at Walter Reed so she could study.
She swallowed her pills there. A soldier and his wife, who live next door, came to her room and, after a while, noticed that she was becoming groggy, Thomas Whiteside said. When they returned later and she would not open the door, they called hospital authorities.
Yesterday, after having spent two nights in the intensive care unit, he said, his daughter was transferred to the psychiatric ward.
Whiteside left two notes, one titled "Business," in which her top concern was the fate of her dog. "Appointment for the Vetenarian is in my blue book. Additional paperwork on Chewy is in the closet at the apartment in a folder." On her second note, she penned a postscript: "Sorry to do this to my family + friends. I love you."
Staff writer Anne Hull contributed to this report.
Military homeowners feeling the pinch
By Karen Jowers - Staff writer
Posted : Tuesday Jan 29, 2008 16:23:54 EST
Even if they don’t have risky or costly home loans themselves, many military homeowners are feeling the pinch of the nation’s recent housing crisis — or soon will be.
Housing values and prices are plummeting in many regions of the country (bad for sellers), and lenders are tightening credit standards (bad for many buyers).
As a result, military families with permanent change-of-station orders are squeezed on both fronts.
And for those who got caught up in the hyped-up housing boom and overextended themselves with risky mortgages or cashed in on now-vanished home equity, the market is even scarier.
Three factors are driving the crisis, with the first two essentially creating the third:
* The proliferation in recent years of high-interest “subprime” mortgages. The bulk of these are adjustable-rate mortgages that begin with low “teaser” interest rates, and many borrowers cannot make the higher monthly payments when these loans reset, usually in the third year.
* Adjustable-rate mortgages, which have become popular with homebuyers who do not necessarily have credit problems. These types of loans have a set rate for a certain initial period, after which they can fluctuate up or down. With interest rates rising in recent months, most ARMs have headed upward, in some cases beyond the means of borrowers.
* Problems with foreclosures and defaults on subprime loans and ARMs are depressing housing values and feeding the housing glut — a serious issue for service members who recently bought homes at or near the market’s peak. Many troops receiving reassignment orders these days find that they either can’t sell their homes or can sell only at greatly reduced prices that result in big financial losses.
Subprime mortgages have been the tinder fueling the fire. The Center for Responsible Lending says an estimated 2.2 million families who got subprime loans from 1998 through 2006 either have lost their homes to foreclosure or will in the next few years. And since foreclosures cause property values to drop, nearly 45 million homes not facing foreclosure will decline in value by an estimated $233 billion in the next two years.
Subprime mortgages are higher-cost loans aimed at people with blemished credit histories. On the positive side, they made home ownership possible for some people who couldn’t previously afford it, said Sharon Reuss, spokeswoman for the Center for Responsible Lending. But in the process, lenders made loans without carefully considering a borrower’s ability to repay.
In recent years, the subprime market has been flooded with “exploding” loans that come with initial low “teaser” interest rates but later reset to much higher rates — typically 30 percent to 50 percent higher in the third year. They may continue to adjust every six months.
Reuss said borrowers often were steered to higher-cost adjustable-rate loans even when they could have qualified for a lower interest rate on a regular, fixed-rate loan.
No statistics are available on how many military homeowners have adjustable-rate loans and are having problems.
“It depends on where you are. If you’re in a state experiencing a high foreclosure rate, and you’re in a subprime loan, you could be in trouble,” Reuss said.
But some of the states hit hardest by home foreclosures and mortgage delinquencies, such as Georgia, California, Florida and Ohio, have large military populations. And it’s not just subprime loans that are getting people in trouble.
In Ohio, the Springer family’s home is in foreclosure, like 5.5 percent of all mortgage loans in the state.
In early 2007, Air Force National Guard Tech. Sgt. Timothy Springer and his wife, Teresa, took out a second mortgage for $30,000 at 10.5 percent interest because they had money problems for a variety of reasons related to Timothy deploying, Teresa losing her job because of medical problems and child care issues, along with costly home repairs. Timothy is home now, but will probably deploy again in May.
The lender valued the Springers’ house over the phone at $132,000, without an appraisal, before giving them the $30,000 second mortgage, Teresa Springer said.
A rate of 10.5 percent is on the high side for a home-equity loan; Navy Federal Credit Union, for example, offers equity loans with fixed rates as low as 6.15 percent. But home equity rates are based largely on an applicant’s credit history; those with shaky finances pay more.
Teresa Springer acknowledged that the interest rate was high. “All we did was delay the inevitable,” she said, by putting off a problem that they knew was looming large for them.
The combination of their primary mortgage and new second mortgage propelled the Springers’ monthly payments from $775 to $1,400.
A few months later, when the Springers had no choice but to put their house on the market, real estate agents told them the house was worth just $59,000 — half of what they owe.
So in addition to the house being in foreclosure, Teresa Springer said, “We’re not going to have any option other than bankruptcy.” That’s on top of a previous bankruptcy as a result of medical bills.
Problems related to such “piggyback” second mortgages are also common problems among homeowners in financial distress, Reuss said.
When people such as the Springers can’t make mortgage payments, they put their homes on the market in desperate straits. In a glutted housing market, prices drop. And when foreclosures rise, property values plummet.
A sailor in San Diego who bought a home for $417,000 two years ago using a loan backed by the Veterans Affairs Department now finds that his home is worth $317,000, said Keith Kaufman, personal financial management program manager for the Fleet and Family Support Center for the Navy’s Southwest Region.
That means the sailor is upside down on his loan — he owes more than the house is worth.
“There is no program that protects him from the housing market going down,” Kaufman said. “We’re seeing the first huge readjustment of home values in 50 years here. Even people who did buy with appropriate mortgages are affected.”
Those who can ride out the storm and avoid selling their homes until the market turns around may do OK, he said.
But military members often have no choice about whether and when to move, Kaufman said.
If they’re just squeaking by where they are, and then move to another area with a lower housing allowance rate at the same time their mortgage interest rate is resetting to a higher rate, they will be unable to make their payments while also maintaining a residence at the new duty station, Kaufman said.
Foreclosures negatively affect a person’s credit rating — which can affect service members’ security clearance and harm their careers, he noted.
A consumer credit counselor in Manhattan, Kan., near Fort Riley, is seeing more military personnel asking for help to save their homes because they have homes in other states in areas where the value of homes has dropped dramatically.
“The scary ones have been those in [adjustable-rate] loans who got in thinking they would live in the home a few years, the home would appreciate in value, then they would be relocated and sell the home at a profit before the interest rates ever reset,” said Joscelyn Stephenson, a certified consumer credit counselor for the nonprofit Housing and Credit Counseling Inc.
“Now they can’t get the home sold, and not only could they not afford the house payment after relocating, but now the interest rate has or is scheduled to reset, causing the payments to go up $300 to $500,” she said.
Even people who play it safe are getting caught in the housing-market turbulence. Case in point: the Battles, whose home in Bremerton, Wash., has been on the market since June 4.
The Navy family had a traditional fixed-rate loan, but the sour market has prevented them from selling their home for an adequate price. In early January, after their home had been on the market for seven months, the Battles turned down an offer about $15,000 less than their asking price. They would have had to come up with the difference to pay off their loan.
Their experience has soured them on buying another house, at least until retirement.
“This has scared us,” said Michelle Battle, who has been living with family members in Missouri with their two children after her husband, a Navy chief petty officer, moved to a new duty station at Naval Station Great Lakes, Ill.
They can’t afford to rent or buy a home in Illinois as long as their Washington home is on the market.
The market downturn did not happen gradually, she said. “It happened overnight. This is our first shore duty in eight years, and we’re still not together.”
Mortgage pain can spur gains
The Bush administration is helping some people refinance adjustable-rate loans through a new government-backed mortgage loan, FHASecure. The option will save the average subprime homeowner about $400 a month, or $30,000 over the life of a loan, said Steve O’Halloran, a Department of Housing and Urban Development spokesman.
To qualify for the refinancing program, and include delinquent payments, homeowners must:
* Have an adjustable-rate mortgage that has reset and is not insured by the Federal Housing Administration.
* Have sufficient income to make the mortgage payment.
* Have a history of on-time payments before the loan reset.
The administration has also reached an agreement with major mortgage lenders to freeze interest rates for five years. It applies to homeowners who got adjustable-rate subprime loans between Jan. 1, 2005, and July 31, 2007, and who face a sharp jump in interest rates before July 31, 2010.
Meanwhile, for military members just moving to bases in Georgia — and other areas where the home market is slumping — there is some good news.
“It’s a buyer’s market ... builders are cutting prices, sellers are cutting prices,” said Tracey Burdette, chapter president for the Mortgage Bankers Association of Savannah, Ga., an area that includes Hinesville and Fort Stewart.
It’s much the same in the Bremerton area, where housing prices have dropped by about 20 percent, said Joana Hoover, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Town and Country in Port Orchard, Wash.
“The inventory is extremely high,” she said, and prices are returning to earth after years of soaring increases.
“It had gotten to the point where military couldn’t afford to buy.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development has a wealth of information for homeowners facing foreclosure because they can’t keep up with their mortgage payments. Visit http://www.hud.gov/foreclosure/. Seven basic tips:
1. Don’t ignore the problem.
2. Contact your lender as soon as you realize that you have a problem.
3. Open and respond to all mail from your lender.
4. Know your mortgage rights.
5. Understand foreclosure prevention options.
6. Contact a HUD-approved housing counselor by calling (800) 569-4287.
7. Prioritize your spending.
Source: Department of Housing and Urban Development