Administration Says Particulars May Trump Geneva Protections
By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 27, 2008; Page A11
The Geneva Conventions' ban on "outrages against personal dignity" does not automatically apply to terrorism suspects in the custody of U.S. intelligence agencies, the Justice Department has suggested to Congress in recent letters that lay out the Bush administration's interpretation of the international treaty.
Lawyers for the department, offering insight into the legal basis for the CIA's controversial interrogation program, reasserted in the letters the Bush administration's long-held view that it has considerable leeway in deciding how the conventions' rules apply to the harsh questioning of combatants in the war on terrorism.
While the United States is legally bound by the conventions' Common Article 3 and its requirement to treat detainees humanely, the definition of humane treatment can vary, depending on the detainee's identity and the importance of the information he possesses, a Justice Department official wrote last September and this March to a Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee.
"Some prohibitions . . . such as the prohibition on 'outrages against personal dignity,' do invite the consideration of the circumstances surrounding the action," Brian A. Benczkowski, the principal deputy assistant attorney general, asserted in one of the letters.
Benczkowski's letters were provided to The Washington Post by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who asked the Justice Department to explain the legal foundation for President Bush's executive order last year authorizing the CIA's continued interrogation of terrorism suspects. The existence of the letters was first reported last night by the New York Times.
A spokeswoman for Wyden said the administration's suggestion that the Geneva Conventions could be selectively applied was "stunning."
"The Geneva Convention in most cases is the only shield that Americans have when they are captured overseas," the spokeswoman, Jennifer Hoelzer, said in a phone interview. "And for the president to say that it is acceptable to interpret Geneva on a sliding scale means that he thinks that it is acceptable for other countries to do the same. Senator Wyden -- and I believe any other reasonable individual -- finds that argument appalling."
The Justice letters allow that certain acts by interrogators -- sexual mutilation, for example -- would be unlawful under any circumstance. But when judging whether a specific interrogation practice would violate the conventions' ban on degrading treatment, the government can weigh "the identity and information possessed by a detainee," Benczkowski wrote.
He suggested that a suspect with information about a future attack could be subjected to harsher treatment, noting that a violation would occur only if the interrogator's conduct "shocks the conscience" because it is out of proportion to "the government interest involved."
Moreover, to fit the definition of an "outrage upon personal dignity," an action must be deliberate, involving an "intent to humiliate and degrade," Benczkowski wrote.
The CIA declined to comment on the memo. However, agency spokesman Mark Mansfield said the CIA's detainee program "has been and continues to be in full compliance with the laws of our country."
"The program has disrupted terrorist plots and has saved lives," Mansfield said.
There is NO rational decision for breaking the Geneva Conventions, I don't care what VP Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld and President George Bush has decided, their idiot lawyers writing an opinion that is contrary to international law does NOT give them a free get out of jail card. AG Gonzalez will be remembered as the worst AG in American history, and John Yoo's legal opinions are about as useful as toilet paper, these opinions are only as good as the legal system supporting them, and quite frankly as a nation we expect more from our leadership, Jack bauer intelligence gathering is not something I support and as a veteran I am ashamed of this administration, they have lied about so much so often there is nothing I would take their "word" at any longer, people should go to jail, and Congress is failing the public right now for not investigating the break down in "law and order" in the White House. The President is not "above the law" I don't care how many "signing statements" he signs, Dick Cheney is not always right.
Saturday, April 26, 2008
Administration Says Particulars May Trump Geneva Protections
How McCain Lost in Pennsylvania
IT’S a nightmare. It’s the Bataan Death March. It’s mutually assured Armageddon. “Both of them are already losing the general to John McCain,” declared a Newsweek columnist last month, predicting that the election “may already be over” by the time the Democrats anoint a nominee.
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Not so fast. If we’ve learned any new rule in the 2008 campaign, it’s this: Once our news culture sets a story in stone, chances are it will crumble. But first it must be recycled louder and louder 24/7, as if sheer repetition will transmute conventional wisdom into reality.
When the Pennsylvania returns rained down Tuesday night, the narrative became clear fast. The Democrats’ exit polls spelled disaster: Some 25 percent of the primary voters said they would defect to Mr. McCain or not vote at all if Barack Obama were the nominee. How could the party possibly survive this bitter, perhaps race-based civil war?
But as the doomsday alarm grew shrill, few noticed that on this same day in Pennsylvania, 27 percent of Republican primary voters didn’t just tell pollsters they would defect from their party’s standard-bearer; they went to the polls, gas prices be damned, to vote against Mr. McCain. Though ignored by every channel I surfed, there actually was a G.O.P. primary on Tuesday, open only to registered Republicans. And while it was superfluous in determining that party’s nominee, 220,000 Pennsylvania Republicans (out of their total turnout of 807,000) were moved to cast ballots for Mike Huckabee or, more numerously, Ron Paul. That’s more voters than the margin (215,000) that separated Hillary Clinton and Mr. Obama.
Those antiwar Paul voters are all potential defectors to the Democrats in November. Mr. Huckabee’s religious conservatives, who rejected Mr. McCain throughout the primary season, might also bolt or stay home. Given that the Democratic ticket beat Bush-Cheney in Pennsylvania by 205,000 votes in 2000 and 144,000 votes in 2004, these are 220,000 voters the G.O.P. can ill-afford to lose. Especially since there are now a million more registered Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania. (These figures don’t even include independents, who couldn’t vote in either primary on Tuesday and have been migrating toward the Democrats since 2006.)
For such a bitterly divided party, the Democrats hardly show signs of clinical depression. The last debate, however dumb, had the most viewers of any so far. The rise in turnout and new voters is all on the Democratic side. Even before its deathbed transfusion of new donations, the Clinton campaign trounced the McCain campaign in fund-raising by 2.5 to 1. (The Obama-McCain ratio is 3 to 1.)
On Tuesday, a Democrat won the first round of a special Congressional election in Mississippi, even though the national G.O.P. outspent the Democrats by more than double and President Bush carried this previously safe Republican district by 25 percentage points in 2004. A Gallup poll last week found Mr. Bush’s national disapproval rating the worst (69 percent) for any president in Gallup’s entire 70-year history. For all his (and Mr. McCain’s) persistent sightings of “victory” in Iraq, the percentage of Americans calling the war a mistake (63) also set a new record.
“I’m thrilled to be anywhere with high ratings,” Mr. Bush joked on Monday night, when he popped up like Waldo on the NBC game show “Deal or No Deal” to root for an Army captain who was a contestant. But it turns out that not even cash giveaways to veterans can induce Americans to set eyes on this president. “Deal or No Deal” drew an audience 19 percent below its season average. The best deal for Mr. McCain would be for Mr. Bush to disappear into the witness protection program.
But surely, it could be argued, the mud in the Democratic race will be as much a drag on that party’s eventual nominee as the incumbent president is on the G.O.P. ticket. The counterargument, advanced by Mrs. Clinton in justifying her “kitchen sink” attacks on Mr. Obama, is that the Democrats are better off being tested now by raising all the issues the Republicans will. It’s a fair point. The Wright, Rezko, Ayers, “bittergate” and flag-pin firestorms will all be revived by the opposition come fall. Voters should indeed see how Mr. Obama deals with them, just as Democrats also need to gauge how the flash points of race and gender will play out in the crunch.
The flaw in Mrs. Clinton’s refrain is her claim that she, unlike her challenger, has already been so fully vetted that her candidacy can offer no more unpleasant surprises. “I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years,” she says. Perhaps the delusion that she has a get-out-of-scandal-free card comes from her unexpected endorsement from Richard Mellon Scaife, the nutty Pittsburgh newspaper publisher who once spent a fortune trying to implicate the Clintons in the “murder” of Vince Foster. Or perhaps she thinks Fox News will call off the dogs now that her campaign chairman, Terry McAuliffe, is appearing in network promos endorsing its “fair and balanced” shtick.
But the incessant praise for Mrs. Clinton’s resilience as a candidate by Karl Rove, Pat Buchanan and William Bennett reveals just how eager they are to take her on. The dealings of the Bill Clinton post-presidency, barely alluded to by Mr. Obama in his own halting bouts of negative campaigning, have simply been put on hold while the Democrats slug it out. Close observers of The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and Fox News can already read Rupert Murdoch’s tea leaves, and not just those from China. “Clinton Foundation Secrets” was the title of The Journal’s lead editorial on Friday profiling a rogues’ gallery of shady donors.
Mrs. Clinton’s supporters would argue that she’s so battle-tested she could fend it all off. She’s unlikely to get the chance. For all the nail-biting suspense being ginned up, the probable denouement remains unchanged. When the primary juggernaut finally ends — following picturesque day trips to Puerto Rico and Guam — the superdelegates will likely succumb to the math of Mr. Obama’s virtually insurmountable pledged-delegate total.
There’s also a way that two super-superdelegates, the duo on the Democrats’ last winning ticket, could trigger a faster finale. Bill Clinton could do so by undermining his wife once more with another ill-timed, red-faced eruption. Al Gore could possibly do so with a well-timed endorsement before his party gets mired in yet another Florida recount.
There’s only one way this can end badly, no matter how long it lasts. That would be if the loser, whoever it is, turns sore and fails to rally his or her troops around the winner. It’s all about “the way the loser loses,” as the Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, who is neutral in the race, likes to say. While the Clintons are capable of such kamikaze narcissism, their selfish desire to preserve their own political future, if not the party’s, may be a powerful check on those impulses.
On the way to the finish line, the prolonged primary race, far from destroying the Democratic candidates, may do more insidious damage to the Republican nominee, lulling his campaign into an unjustified complacency. The Democrats should “take their time — don’t rush,” the McCain aide Mark Salter joked last week. Yet his candidate, as the conservative blogger Ross Douthat pointed out, keeps bumping up against a 45 percent ceiling in the polls even now, when the Democrats are ostensibly in ruins.
Mr. McCain is not only burdened with the most despised president in his own 71-year lifetime, but he’s getting none of the seasoning that he, no less than the Democrats, needs to compete in the fall. Age is as much an issue as race and gender in this campaign. Mr. McCain will have to prove not merely that he can keep to the physical rigors of his schedule and fend off investigations of his ties to lobbyists and developers. He also must show he can think and speak fluently about the domestic issues that are gripping the country. Picture him debating either Democrat about health care, the mortgage crisis, stagnant middle-class wages, rice rationing at Costco. It’s not pretty.
Last week found Mr. McCain visiting economically stricken and “forgotten” communities (forgotten by Republicans, that is) in what his campaign bills as the “It’s Time for Action Tour.” It kicked off in Selma, Ala., a predominantly black town where he confirmed his maverick image by drawing an almost exclusively white audience.
The “action” the candidate outlined in the text of his speeches may strike many voters as running the gamut from inaction to inertia. Mr. McCain vowed that he would not “roll out a long list of policy initiatives.” (He can’t, given his long list of tax cuts.) He said he would not bring back lost jobs, lost wages or lost houses. But, as The Birmingham News reported, this stand against government bailouts for struggling Americans didn’t prevent his campaign from helping itself to free labor underwritten by taxpayers: inmates from a local jail were recruited to set up tables and chairs for a private fund-raiser.
The Democrats’ unending brawl may be supplying prime time with a goodly share of melodrama right now, but there will be laughter aplenty once the Republican campaign that’s not ready for prime time emerges from the wings.
St. Paul soldier's blended family shattered by horrors of war
Specialist Jake Fairbanks, with daughter Kayla. He had complained to his wife that he was missing all of Kayla’s “firsts” and that he couldn’t believe how fast she was growing up.
By NICK COLEMAN, Star Tribune
Last update: April 26, 2008 - 10:34 PM
Dwan and Jake Fairbanks
Dwan Fairbanks was at her supervisor's job at the Best Buy store in Clarksville, Tenn., near the sprawling Fort Campbell Army base when her cell phone rang. Her husband, Jake, was in Iraq, in the middle of his second combat deployment. Her four children were at home, enjoying a day off from school.
It was Fairbanks' 9-year-old daughter, Katelin, calling. Two soldiers in "Army greens," the uniform worn on official occasions, had come to the door. Obeying their mother's instructions for when they were home alone, the kids did not answer the door. The soldiers went away.
They would be back.
Dwan and Jacob Fairbanks were both from St. Paul's East Side. Jake graduated from Johnson High School in 2004. Dwan went to Harding. They met after Jake joined the Army and was assigned to the 320th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Fort Campbell, which straddles the Kentucky-Tennessee border.
"He was my strength in everything I was weak at," Dwan says. "We just connected. I was a single mom, and I was happy with the way things were for me. But he swept me off my feet."
Dwan, 28, was six years older than Jake and already had three children -- Alexander, who is 11, Katelin and David, 5. The blended family bonded tightly, and quickly.
They married in August 2005, before he deployed to Iraq the first time. Dwan got pregnant when Jake came home on a brief R&R visit a few months later, and the couple's daughter, Kayla, was born after Jake returned from the war zone.
Kayla, 17 months old now, seemed always to be in Jake's arms. He called her "Tati Baby" ("tati" was her word for pacifier). But being a father can change the emotional equation for a soldier. After Jake got word that his unit was being redeployed to Iraq, for 15 months this time, a feeling of dread came over him.
"Dwannie, what if I don't come back this time?" he would ask his wife.
About 225 soldiers from Fort Campbell, home of the 101st Airborne -- the Screaming Eagles-- have died in Iraq, including some of Jake's friends.
Jacob Fairbanks would be the 4,027th American to die. On April 9, the Army says, he died of "non-combat" injuries. His death is under investigation by the Army, but news organizations have reported Jake's death as a self-inflicted gunshot. As many as one in five returning Iraq veterans are suffering from post-traumatic stress, and suicide rates among members of the military have soared. Dwan Fairbanks says she is convinced such "accusations" of suicide, as she calls them, are not true in her husband's case.
The couple had made too many plans for something like that to happen.
At Fort Campbell, a child is supposed to be at least 12 years old in order to baby-sit younger siblings. Because Alex is only 11, Dwan wondered whether the soldiers at her home might mean she was in trouble for ignoring the rule. She told Katelin to keep the door locked.
Maybe it was nothing.
But Dwan was worried. Jake was on medication for depression and anxiety, and to help him sleep.
"He was so full of life before he went to Iraq the first time," Dwan says. "But after he came back, he couldn't sleep. He was up all hours. He'd start talking about how uneasy he was, but I didn't want him to. I would say, 'Don't talk like that, Jake. You're coming home!'"
Strains of separation
When Jake went back to Iraq, they tried to stay connected via Internet chats. Jake missed Kayla's first birthday, but in February, he came home for another brief R&R visit. He and Dwan went away for a few days, to the Smoky Mountains. But the war was with them.
"It was hard on him to know he'd be home such a short time, and then he'd have to go back," Dwan says.
Married 2 1/2 years, they had been together, at home, one year.
On April 9, Dwan and Jake talked on the computer. Her video camera didn't work, meaning she could see Jake on her screen but he couldn't see her or the kids. His microphone was out of order, so they couldn't hear his voice. Dwan fed the kids, returning at intervals to exchange instant messages with Jake.
Jake told Dwan that he knew what he was going to get her for her birthday. They talked about taking the family to Disney World. She told him that the baby was fussy and wanted more cheese slices. Jake hadn't known that his daughter even liked cheese.
He complained that he was missing all of Kayla's "firsts," and that he couldn't believe how fast she was growing up. Later that night, he died in Baghdad.
The soldiers in dress uniforms were back and Katelin was back on the telephone, asking her mom what to do. Dwan had Katelin put one of the soldiers on the phone. "Is it OK?" Dwan asked. "No, ma'am," a soldier told her.
When Dwan arrived home, the soldiers and a chaplain were waiting. She was crying as she came inside the house.
"Are they going to take us away?" Katelin asked.
"No, honey, they're not going to take you away. Daddy died."
Dwan was in disbelief, and shock.
"After seeing how Jake was, I understand the depression, and the pressure that soldiers are under," she says. "But Jake and I were making plans. I just that day sent him photos of Kayla and he was asking me to send him a CARE package. ... There was nothing that made me question anything."
Jake's "story of love and devotion to others ... appears to have an unhappy ending," his pastor, the Rev. Mike Wallman, said at Jake's funeral at Hayden Heights Baptist Church in St. Paul. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Rep. Betty McCollum attended the April 18 funeral, along with an honor guard from the Leech Lake Indian Reservation where Jake, an Ojibwe, was an enrolled tribal member.
"Soldiers give so much," Wallman said, enduring "long separations from family that take a toll on a soldier's sense of self. ... Only soldiers understand how the terrors of war and the horrors of the battlefield affect the soul for a lifetime."
No mention was made of the circumstances of Jake's death.
Jake was buried at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. Dwan put pictures of the kids, and of their wedding, in Jake's coffin, along with a replacement wedding ring she bought for Jake after he lost his ring in Iraq.
Dwan Fairbanks can stay in her home on post at Fort Campbell for a year.
She does not know what she will do after that.
Nick Coleman • firstname.lastname@example.org
PTSD is a problem here at home and in Iraq and Adghanistan, the military owes these soldiers the best care possible, not just what they can get when they can get it, the Chain of Command has a responsibility to look after these men while they are deployed, they should have these men and women referred to mental health and chaplains when they see the start of mental anguish, not wait until after a suicide attempt, a NCO or an Officer should be able to tell when one of their soldiers is "depressed" it IS noticeable. This is a national disgrace. I am a disabled veteran with PTSD.
Sexual assaults against women in military must be addressed
U.S. REP. Jane Harman Special to the Los Angeles Times
Sunday, April 27, 2008
The stories are shocking in their simplicity and brutality
n A female military recruit is pinned down at knife point and raped repeatedly in her own barracks. Her attackers hide their faces, but she identifies them by their uniforms; they are her fellow soldiers.
n During a routine gynecological exam, a female soldier is attacked and raped by her military physician.
n A young female soldier, still adapting to life in a war zone, is raped by her commanding officer. Afraid for her standing in her unit, she feels she has nowhere to turn.
These are true stories and, sadly, not isolated incidents. Women serving in the U.S. military are more likely to be raped by a fellow soldier than killed by enemy fire in Iraq.
The scope of the problem was brought into acute focus during a visit to the West Los Angeles VA Healthcare Center, where I met with female veterans and their doctors.
My jaw dropped when the doctors told me that 41 percent of female veterans seen at the clinic say they were victims of sexual assault while in the military, and 29 percent report being raped during their military service. They spoke of their continued terror, feelings of helplessness and the downward spirals many of their lives have since taken.
Numbers reported by the Department of Defense show a sickening pattern. In 2006, 2,947 sexual assaults were reported - 73 percent more than in 2004. The DOD's newest report, released in March, indicates that 2,688 reports were made in 2007, but a recent shift from calendar-year reporting to fiscal-year reporting makes comparisons with data from previous years much more difficult.
The Defense Department has made some efforts to manage this epidemic - most notably in 2005, after the media received anonymous e-mail messages about sexual assaults at the U.S. Air Force Academy. The media scrutiny and congressional attention that followed led the DOD to create the Sexual Assault and Response Office. Since its inception, the office has initiated education and training programs, which have improved the reporting of cases of rapes and other sexual assaults. But more must be done to prevent attacks and to increase accountability.
At the heart of this crisis is an apparent inability or unwillingness to prosecute rapists in the ranks.
According to DOD statistics, only 181 out of 2,212 subjects investigated for sexual assault in 2007 - including 1,259 reports of rape - were referred to courts-martial, the equivalent of a criminal prosecution in the military.
Another 218 were handled via nonpunitive administrative action or discharge, and 201 subjects were disciplined through nonjudicial punishment, which means they might have been confined to quarters, assigned extra duty or received a similar slap on the wrist.
In nearly half of the cases investigated, the chain of command took no action; more than a third of the time it was because of insufficient evidence.
This is in stark contrast to the civilian trend of prosecuting sexual assault. In California, for example, 44 percent of reported rapes result in arrests, and 64 percent of those who are arrested are prosecuted, according to the California Department of Justice.
The DOD must close this gap and remove the obstacles to effective investigation and prosecution. Failure to do so produces two harmful consequences: It deters victims from reporting, and it fails to deter offenders. The absence of rigorous prosecution perpetuates a culture tolerant of sexual assault - an attitude that says boys will be boys.
I have raised the issue with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. Although I believe that he is concerned, thus far, the military's response has been underwhelming - and the apparent lack of urgency is inexcusable.
Congress is not doing much better. Although these sexual assault statistics are readily available, our oversight has failed to come to grips with the magnitude of the crisis. The abhorrent and graphic nature of the reports may make people uncomfortable, but that is no excuse for inaction.
Congressional hearings are urgently needed to highlight the failure of existing policies. Most of our servicewomen and men are patriotic, courageous and hardworking people who embody the best of what it means to be an American. The failure to address military sexual assault runs counter to those ideals and shames us all.
Rep. Jane Harman, a Democrat from Los Angeles, chairs the House Homeland Security subcommittee on intelligence.
This is leadership from a powerful voice on Capitol Hill and across this nation, I SALUTE her for using her leadership position to advocate for veterans. Sexual assaults especially in the military harm the entire militry force, by making fewer quality educated women from deciding to enlist in the all volunteer force. If the military does not take tese sexual assualts seriously our national security could be put at risk.
ETV to highlight S.C. homelessness
Beginning today and running through Saturday, ETV will air a week-long series of television programs focusing on homelessness in the Palmetto State. Understanding that homelessness is not a seasonal condition, the series, "Give Me Shelter," features local specials, documentaries and in-studio forums on the issue of homelessness and includes resources available for aid.
A study conducted by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty states that approximately 3.5 million people, 1.35 million of them children, are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. And in a recent one-day count by the S.C. Coalition for the Homeless, there were 5,430 adults and 1,329 children for a total of 6,759 homeless in the state.
The "Give Me Shelter" lineup includes:
11:30 a.m. - "Piedmont Politics" examines the issue of homelessness in the Rock Hill area.
3 p.m. - "Connections," with host P.A. Bennett tracks down the back stories of some of the homeless in the Midlands to determine the contributing factors that led to their homelessness.
6 p.m. - "Lowcountry in Focus" looks at the plight of homeless veterans in the Lowcountry, including visits to organizations in the area that offer aid and shelter.
7 p.m. - "A Community Responds" is a profile of one Upstate community's response to the growing problem of homelessness and highlights existing programs and resources. This broadcast also examines how they work together, providing essential programs, building affordable housing and collaborating with other resources in the Upstate.
At 7 p.m. ETV presents the 2006 Southern Lens film Lost & Found, which chronicles ETV filmmaker Betsy Newman's search for her sister who had gone missing in 1974. The quest began in 1999 when Newman saw a picture in the New York Times of a San Francisco panhandler who bore a striking resemblance to her sister. This stirring documentary features updated information about Angela Flores, the woman who was thought to be Newman's long-lost sibling. Viewers will see how this emotional kinship has endured for the last 10 years and the impact it has had on each woman. Additionally, the program explores the critical link between social issues such as homelessness and mental illness.
7 p.m. - "No Place to Call Home" examines the dilemma of homeless women and the impact of homelessness on families and children.
8 p.m. - "Down But Not Out" is a gritty, all-access documentary that travels among the homeless of the Midlands to give viewers a look at their lives from their perspectives.
7 p.m. - "ETV Forum on Homelessness," hosted by executive producer Beryl Dakers, is a roundtable discussion of the scope of the homeless problem, which includes a look at how different communities are dealing with this issue and the resources available.
7 p.m. - "State House Week," hosted by Libby Wallace, investigates homelessness in South Carolina from a legislative perspective.
7:30 p.m. - "The Big Picture: Homelessness" takes a look at the issue of NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) in Columbia as the city explores building a permanent homeless shelter. The program also discusses how communities can work together to come up with a solution to help the homeless.
7 p.m. - "In Our Schools: Educating Without a Home" features guests from the South Carolina Department of Education and school district personnel as they discuss programs to assist homeless students and their families.
7 p.m. - "Who Among Us" - Through candid interviews and striking photography, this 30-minute Southern Lens documentary delves into the daily lives of people who find themselves living in homeless shelters in the Charleston area.
IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERANS, MEMBERS OF CONGRESS RALLY FOR 21st CENTURY GI BILL
Apr 26, 2008 (Congressional Documents and Publications/ContentWorks via COMTEX) -- -- April 25, 2008
Contact: Charlie Keller (202) 226-3017
IRAQ & AFGHANISTAN WAR VETERANS,
MEMBERS OF CONGRESS
RALLY FOR 21st CENTURY GI BILL
**Press Event: Tuesday, April 29 at 12pm, U.S. Capitol, West Front**
Call for Immediate Legislative Action on
The "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act" (S.22/ H.R. 5740)
(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - U.S. Representative Ginny Brown-Waite (FL-05) will join more than one hundred veterans of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan from across the country on Capitol Hill Tuesday to advocate for a "21st Century GI Bill" for our newest generation of veterans.
Rep. Brown-Waite is the lead Republican co-sponsor of the "Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act" (S.22/ H.R. 5740), introduced by Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and John Warner (R-VA) in the Senate and by Reps. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL) and Peter King (R-NY) in the House. The legislation boasts strong bi-partisan and bi-cameral support with 57 cosponsors in the Senate, 234 cosponsors in the House and the endorsements of the nation's leading veterans' organizations.
S.22/ H.R. 5740 is designed to offer the brave men and women who have served honorably since September 11, 2001 a level of educational benefits on par with those provided to veterans of the World War II era. The legislation will give our returning troops the tools to succeed after military service, strengthen our economy in the face of increasing global competition, and make military service more attractive as we work to rebuild our military.
Who: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), lead Senate cosponsor
Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), lead Senate cosponsor
Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), lead Senate cosponsor
Sen. John Warner (R-VA), lead Senate cosponsor
Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman
Rep. Harry Mitchell (D-AZ), lead House cosponsor
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL), lead House cosponsor
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), lead House cosponsor
Rep. Peter King (R-NY), lead House cosponsor
Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA), House Veterans Affairs' Committee Chairman (Tentative)
Student veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war
Matthew Boulay, Director of Campaign for a New GI Bill
Dr. Clifford Stanley, retired USMC Major General & CEO, Scholarship America
Pete McCloskey, former U.S. Rep. and Korean War veteran
Paul Rieckhoff, Executive Director, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America
Derek Blumke, president, Student Veterans of America
Bob Balaban, Master of Ceremonies, actor & director
When: Tuesday, April 29, 2008, 12:00PM
Where: U.S. Capitol, West Front
(In front of the fountain, facing the Washington Monument)
Rain Location: Rayburn Room, H-207 U.S. Capitol Building
For more information about the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, please visit: http://webb.senate.gov/pdf/factsheetgis222008.pdf
Please RSVP to Webb's press office at: email@example.com or 202-228-5258.
Official defends VA's mental health effort
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, April 25, 2008
The Department of Veterans Affairs' top health official, testifying in a lawsuit by veterans' groups that accuse the VA of inept mental health care, cautioned Thursday against overstating the problem of mental illness among returning troops and said most patients are satisfied with their treatment.
"We monitor outcomes and satisfaction of our patients, and they report very high numbers," Michael Kussman, the department's undersecretary for health, told a federal judge in San Francisco. "We have all kinds of performance standards that show that we meet the expectations of our patients."
He testified on the fourth day of trial in a suit by two advocacy groups that say the VA has improperly delayed or denied care and benefits to veterans suffering mental trauma after service in Afghanistan or Iraq.
The groups say the department is partly to blame for a steadily rising suicide rate - 18 suicides a day for veterans of all wars, according to a VA official, and a rate between three and seven times that of the general population, according to a suicide expert who testified Tuesday.
The plaintiffs' lawyer asked Kussman about a speech in 2006 by Frances Murphy, then one of his top deputies, who said the number of veterans seeking care for behavioral conditions was rapidly increasing and that some VA facilities did not provide mental health care or had long waiting lists. Murphy's job was eliminated shortly afterward.
Kussman said 35 percent of troops who are screened by the VA after returning from Afghanistan or Iraq show symptoms of possible depression or other mental conditions. But he said the problem shouldn't be exaggerated.
"The number of patients who have adjustment reactions to the experience that they have in Afghanistan or Iraq is very important, but we don't believe that's mental illness," Kussman said. "It would be unfair and inappropriate to stigmatize people with a mental health diagnosis when they are having what most people believe are normal reactions to abnormal situations."
He disputed Murphy's assertion that the VA didn't offer mental health care at some facilities. Murphy was hardworking and competent, he said, but Kussman did not object to a "management decision" to eliminate her position. Kussman also said he had offered Murphy early retirement, which she accepted, as a benefit and not a punishment.
Plaintiffs' lawyer Arturo Gonzalez tried to pursue the issue of Murphy's removal, but U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, presiding over the nonjury trial, said it had little relevance to whether the VA now offered adequate mental health care.
The plaintiffs - Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth - want Conti to order prompt treatment for suicidal veterans, and to expand legal rights and require faster decisions for those appealing the VA's denials of health care benefits. The average appeal now takes almost four years to resolve, according to VA records.
Kussman, a former Army physician who retired as a brigadier general in 2000 and went to work for the VA, has held his current position since 2006. He worked on the department's strategic plan for mental health care, which was issued in 2004 with timetables that the plaintiffs have cited as evidence of foot-dragging.
Kussman was asked Thursday why the suicide-prevention component of the 2004 plan was not scheduled to be implemented until this year. He said he didn't remember.
He disputed some of the criticism of VA mental health care in a May 2007 report by the department's inspector general. One of its findings was that 70 percent of VA facilities had no system for tracking veterans at risk of suicide. Kussman said the department had a tracking system, though it hadn't yet been fully implemented at the time of the report.
The report also found that when veterans came to VA facilities with symptoms of depression, almost one-fourth were not referred for treatment for two to four weeks, and another 5 percent were referred in four to eight weeks.
"They weren't going without treatment," Kussman said, adding that anyone with symptoms showing a need for urgent care "would have been seen right away."
Gonzalez, the plaintiffs' lawyer, asked him how he knew that.
"That's what doctors do," Kussman replied.
The trial resumes Monday.
Official defends VA's mental health effort
Undersecretary of Health Reinforces Stigma of Mental Illness
Undersecretary of Health Reinforces Stigma of Mental Illness
by John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
You’ve got to scratch your head when one of the government’s chief advocates for health care in the Veterans Administration just reinforces the old stigmas associated with mental health concerns. Testifying before a federal judge in San Francisco, Michael Kussman said:
“The number of patients who have adjustment reactions to the experience that they have in Afghanistan or Iraq is very important, but we don’t believe that’s mental illness,” Kussman said. “It would be unfair and inappropriate to stigmatize people with a mental health diagnosis when they are having what most people believe are normal reactions to abnormal situations.”
Well, golly gee Dr. Kussman, are you saying that traumatic reaction to wartime situations isn’t a mental illness? Because posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) surely has existed in one form or another since all wars have ever been fought. Is PTSD simply an “adjustment reaction” (whatever that is)? Or are you saying that an adjustment disorder isn’t a real, diagnosable mental disorder? Because, if you are, you’d be wrong on that account as well.
Or, perhaps worse of all, are you suggesting that because mental disorders remain stigmatized within our society today — especially within the military — we therefore shouldn’t seek to properly diagnose and treat soldiers with real and often serious mental health problems? As the undersecretary of health for the VA, you don’t exactly help reduce the stigma with beliefs like this. One of your jobs is to help reduce the stigma of all health and mental health concerns through education and information. Instead you’re only reinforcing the stigma by suggesting people with mental health disorders are somehow damaged or treated unfairly. And if that’s the case, Mr. Undersecretary, I suggest you work to change the system you head that allows veterans to be treated unfairly because of such a diagnosis.
Having a depressive, traumatic or anxious reaction to combat is actually not a normal reaction (even if some of us believe it should be). And sadly, war and combat fighting is not an “abnormal situation” for a soldier — it is exactly what is expected of them (and what they signed up for).
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need soldiers. But in a perfect world, we would definitely take care of those who fought for us. That especially means not minimizing the effects of wartime, nor reinforcing the stigma of mental illness — a condition that returns with so many of our military men and women who have seen combat.
Read the full article: Official defends VA’s mental health effort...here...
posted by Larry Scott
Founder and Editor
VA Watchdog dot Org
Friday, April 25, 2008
Iraq War Is Everyone Else's Fault, Feith Explains
By Dana Milbank
Friday, April 25, 2008; Page A03
Mistakes were made. But not by him.
Doug Feith, the No. 3 man at the Pentagon before, during and after the invasion of Iraq, has come in for his share of blame for the failures there -- in large part because he led the Pentagon policy shop that badly misstated the case for war and bungled the planning for the aftermath. Gen. Tommy Franks called him "the dumbest [bad word] guy on the planet." George Tenet of the CIA called his work on Iraq "total crap." And Jay Garner, once the American administrator in Iraq, deduced that Feith is "incredibly dangerous" and, "He's a smart guy whose electrons aren't connected."
Now Feith, whatever the state of his electrons, is showing just how dangerous he can be. He's written a book designed to settle the score with his many opponents in the administration, and in a book-launch event last night at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, he pointed his finger every which way but inward.
He argued that former secretary of state Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, were the ones who failed to challenge the logic of going to war -- not him. He suggested that Powell, Armitage, Franks, former Iraq viceroy Jerry Bremer and even Feith's old boss, Donald Rumsfeld, should be blamed for the postwar chaos in Iraq -- not him. He blamed then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for the way she operated ("fundamental differences were essentially papered over rather than resolved"). He accused the CIA of "improper" and unprofessional behavior. And he implicitly blamed President Bush for not cracking down on insubordinate behavior at the State Department.
Yet at the same time, Feith told the CSIS crowd that he disapproved of the "snide and shallow self-justification typical in memoirs of former officials," or what Feith cleverly called the " 'I-was-surrounded-by-idiots' school of memoir writing." Feith pointed out that he supported his account with 140 pages of notes and documents. And yet, in his hour-long panel discussion, Feith seemed to be of the impression that he had, in fact, been surrounded by idiots.
There was, for example, the question of the campaign waged by Feith and his section of the Pentagon against the CIA when the agency argued that there was no evidence of al-Qaeda having ties to Saddam Hussein. "The CIA and the intelligence community should not be shading intelligence," Feith lectured. But the self-justification missed the obvious point: The CIA was correct.
As he has promoted his book this month, Feith has continued to say things that suggest an ongoing electron disconnect. On "60 Minutes," he made the straight-faced claim that "I don't think we needed to" make weapons of mass destruction part of the case for war with Iraq.
And he assigns blame freely. Disbanding of the Iraqi army? He blames that on Bremer and Rumsfeld. "The first time I heard the idea, it came from Ambassador Bremer when he was on his way to Baghdad. I didn't sign off one way or the other."
His main regret, he told National Public Radio, was that Rumsfeld and Franks did not take seriously his wise and prescient memo warning about the need to preserve law and order in Iraq. He should have "pushed harder to get it onto General Franks's radar screen, to get it onto Secretary Rumsfeld's radar screen," he said.
Pointing so many fingers in so many directions, a man is bound to get confused -- as happened when Steve Kroft asked him on "60 Minutes" about his claim that the lack of troops contributed to looting in Baghdad. "I don't believe I raised the troop-level issue in that connection," Feith replied. Then Kroft presented him with the passage. "That's a fair point," Feith amended.
The title of Feith's book, "War and Decision," is printed across a blood-red cover. At last night's forum, moderator Ray DuBois of the CSIS pointed out that Feith, admirably, is donating all proceeds from the book to a foundation he's creating to help veterans and their families. Of course, money is not the object in this book; the 54-year-old son of a Holocaust survivor is eager to rebuild a reputation that continues to suffer for his role in starting the war. After his appointment to the Georgetown foreign-service school caused a ruckus among the faculty, the school decided not to renew his spot.
CSIS's Fred Ikle, one of the panelists, admired Feith's ability to point out, "honestly and delicately," that "this was not Rumsfeld's finest hour," and he praised the author's "subtle disclosure of the chronic insubordination in our government." But there was nothing subtle about Feith's blame-casting.
"The most serious analysis of the downside and risks of war was produced in the Pentagon by Rumsfeld and his top advisers, not by Colin Powell, Rich Armitage, George Tenet or other officials who are reputed to have been the voices of caution," Feith argued.
Then there was the "plan for political transition in post-Saddam Iraq" -- the lack of which caused the American occupation to unravel. "It was a plan that my office drafted, Powell and Armitage tried to delay, President Bush approved, Jay Garner began to implement and L. Paul Bremer buried."
It must have been very difficult being Doug Feith: correct all the time, and surrounded by idiots.
Washingtonpost.com producer Emily Freifeld contributed to this column.
There are not enough words in my vocabulary to cover what I think of this man, his boss Donald Rumsfeld, VP Cheney and President George Bush, they took the finest military force in the world and destroyed the ground forces (Army and Marines) it will take a decade or longer to rebuild our own forces. This war will probably go down in American history as the dumbest mistake ever made by this nation and that says a lot given Vietnam. The President thinks time will show him to be another Harry Truman a man ahead of his time and with vision, I think history will show him to be a worst President than even Herbert Hoover.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Sphere: Related Content
Keith Olberman and Paul Reickoff discuss DR Katz and the suicide problem with the VA and the Army
April 24: Did the Veterans Affairs top mental health official treat the high number of veterans committing suicide as a PR problem instead of a serious health issue? Paul Rieckhoff, executive director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, joins “Countdown with Keith Olbermann.”
GI Bill bombs with new vets
by Patrice Poltzer
Apr 24, 2008
GI Bill History WASHINGTON -- If you serve time in the military, then your education is paid for right? Well, sort of.
"I feel like I'm telling them there's no tooth fairy," said Patrick
Campbell, who served as a medic in the Iraq war and now lobbies on
behalf of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. "The GI Bill doesn't pay for a fraction of what my school is."
Campbell is part of a larger movement to get Congress to pass a new GI
Bill that would fully fund a veteran's higher education. Currently, the GI Bill only pays a maximum of $39,000 which doesn't cover the average costs of a four-year public school in the U.S., according to the College Board.
Campbell said only a small percentage of veterans get the maximum
amount. Veterans must also pay into the system first, as much as
$1,800 , before receiving any money. This rule alone makes it
difficult for some veterans to even access their GI money.
"Of the 17 guys that I served with, only two went back to school,"
said Campbell. "And the reason is because of the GI Bill."
Campbell said the guys he knew had to take a second job just to make
ends meet and pay for their school.
In the past the government sent full tuition payments directly to the college. Now
vets are allocated a monthly check, which amounts to far less
than the cost of tuition, forcing many veterans to take out loans or second jobs.
"I will graduate with the average $19,000 or $20,000 worth of debt,"
said Alex Cornell du Houx, who served in Iraq for the U.S Marine
Reserves. And he considers himself one of the luckier ones.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., introduced a new 21st Century GI Bill that would change the structure of the benefits to resemble the original 1944 version. That GI Bill is credited with fostering growth of the middle class and creating a legacy of future leaders including three presidents and 14 Nobel Prize winners. Webb and co-sponsor Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb. are pushing hard to get this bill
passed before the end of the year.
"These men and women didn't ask to go to war, said Hagel. "They are
doing what their country is asking them to do."
Hagel said the current GI Bill is not sufficient. A Vietnam vet himself, Hagel used the GI Bill to get his education funded and feels today's new generation of veterans should have the same opportunities.
"Why should we penalize these young men and women for spending years
of service to their country," Hagel said. "We didn't do that to the
Korean vets or the World War II vets."
Currently the bill has strong bipartisan support and Hagel is
confident that the bill can be passed this year.
There is a great news video at the web site please go watch it thank you
Hillary Clinton reaches out to moderates in N.C.
(Raleigh) News & Observer
MCTDemocratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses a crowd at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thursday, April 24, 2008. (Corey Lowenstein/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT)
Slideshow: Clinton back in N.C.
Wright ad will run, repeats N.C. GOP
N.C. excited to choose between Clinton, Obama
FAYETTEVILLE --Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton returned to North Carolina today, reaching out to more moderate Democratic voters with a display of military brass, mentions of her Methodism, and promises to end the Iraq war “responsibly.”
Hoping to build on her victory in Pennsylvania, Clinton sought to connect with the traditional values of rural working class people. She was accompanied by eight retired generals as she stumped around the state courting voters living near military bases and mountains. “I know I am starting off behind,” Clinton said, alluding to polls showing her rival Sen. Barack Obama with a double digit lead in the state. “But I'm still going to work as hard as I can to reach as many voters as I can. I have been very specific in this campaign. The problems demand solutions, not speeches.” She received the loudest applause from the 1,500 people in a gym at Methodist College when she chided Obama for turning down a debate proposed by the state Democratic Party that would have been held in Raleigh on Sunday.
“I have said I will debate any time anywhere,” Clinton said.”I think you deserve your own debate. It's been a long time since you have been part of a contested Democratic primary.” (Actually, Clinton initially turned down a North Carolina debate that Obama had agreed to because it was on a Jewish holiday.)
Clinton's first post-Pennsylvania stop in the state underscored her strategy of courting more moderate, rural and blue collar voters – the same formula that allowed her to win in Pennsylvania and Ohio.
Today she campaigned in Fayetteville, the home of the Army's Fort Bragg, and in Asheville. Friday she will will be in Jacksonville, near the Camp LeJeune marine corps base.
She also met privately with members of the N.C. Troopers Association today. And she announced the formation of a veterans “caravan” that will travel around the state on her behalf.
Her husband, former President Bill Clinton, also has concentrated his campaigning in small town North Carolina. During her speech she mentioned her own Methodist faith, and twice referred to God in an anecdote about Shelton's recovery from a serious injury several years ago. She scored points with Valerie Quick, the 46-year old owner of a small computer business in Fayetteville and the wife of a disabled veteran.
“The Clintons did a very good job of taking care of the working man,” said Quick. As for Obama: “I don't think he has enough experience. He doesn't have enough years behind him.”
Clinton touted her experience as a senator for eight years and as First Lady in the White House for another eight years.
“We need a commander-in-chief who is ready on day one to keep our country safe,” said Clinton, who spoke under a banner that read: “SOLUTIONS FOR A STRONG MILITARY.”
She said she understood the precarious nature of the war in Iraq, and how it would not be easy to bring American troops home “responsibly.” But she also said that after giving Iraqis their freedom it was time for them to make their own decisions.
Hugh Shelton, the former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff under the Clintons and a North Carolina native, introduced Clinton.
“She is the only candidate with a responsible plan for bringing our troops home with honor,” Shelton said.
Clinton promised to end the so-called “stop loss” policy of keeping troops in the military beyond their contractual time, enact a new “GI bill of rights” to pay for veterans to go to college and help with housing and starting a business, and improve funding and services in the Veterans Administration, which she said had been neglected during the Bush administration.
The Obama campaign announced the creation of a North Carolina Veterans for Obama effort today.
“As a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Obama has one of the strongest track records of fighting for veterans and their families,” said Paul Bucha, a Medal of Honor winner, in a statement.
firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 829-4532
FACTBOX: Clinton's plans for strengthening military
(Reuters) - Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton campaigned in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Thursday where she outlined her plans to strengthen the U.S. military.
Here are some of her proposals.
- She said she would start bringing troops home from Iraq within 60 days of taking office, but would keep a small counterterrorism force there.
- She would allow U.S. military personnel one month at home for every month served in combat to avoid burnout. She also promises to end the "stop loss" policy, which forces enlisted troops to stay in the military beyond their regular tour of duty.
- She has proposed increased benefits for veterans, including low-interest home loans, increased tuition assistance and improved medical care, and expanded job programs for veterans. They also would be able to buy foreclosed homes owned by the government at half price.
(compiled by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Xavier Briand)
WWII vet shoots himself outside Greenville VA clinic, deputies say
By Paul Alongi • STAFF WRITER • April 24, 2008
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An 89-year-old World War II veteran died of a gunshot wound to the head after employees of a Greenville veteran’s clinic found him lying in the parking lot, said Greenville County sheriff’s Lt. Shea Smith.
Investigators believe Grover Chapman shot himself about 12:30 p.m. near the back door of the U.S. Veterans’ Outpatient Clinic on Augusta Road, Smith said.
Smith said he didn’t know whether Chapman had any interaction with staff before the shooting. He wouldn’t say whether Chapman left a suicide note.
Chapman was taken to Greenville Memorial Hospital, where he died, Smith said.
He was the only injury reported, he said. Smith said he didn’t know Chapman’s address or what branch of the service he was in.
Linda Lou said she was inside the building when doctors and nurses started running and somebody said "code blue." Lou said she never heard a shot.
"I thought somebody had a heart attack," she said.
Chapman, a patient at the clinic, showed up without an appointment today, Smith said. He was found in possession of a firearm, Smith said.
"At this point, we have not made a determination as to why he came there to do it," Smith said.
Investigators had an area around the ambulance entrance blocked off with crime tape, while patients continued to go in and out of the front doors.
Danny Bailey, a Vietnam veteran from Greenville, said no one was saying much about what happened when he arrived for his appointment shortly before 1 p.m. It wasn’t until he asked that he found out, he said.
"Employees were really upset," Bailey said.
Priscilla Creamer, a spokeswoman for the clinic, said she didn’t believe the incident would interrupt the appointment schedule. She declined to say anything about what happened.
"It was a very unfortunate incident and we feel very badly for the family involved," Creamer said.
I don't know if we will ever learn why he chose the VA clinic to do this, at 89 I am sure he had other health issues, my step father was a WW2 Army Air Corp veteran he flew with the 8th AF out of England bombing Germany in 1942 and 1943 He was in the same squadron as the Memphis Belle, he knew those men, he also knew many men that died, and many who ended up in German POW camps. He tried to watch the movie version when it came on HBO years ago, when the flak started his face truend white and he tore the arms off his big easy chair and stood up and walked out of the room and never said a word again, he loved the Tuskeegee Airman he credited them with his living thru WW2, and that is saying a lot for a 90 year old white guy from Missouri, tell me he didn't have PTSD, many of them did, many of them still do and they have hidden it for so many years, they don't know how to deal with it now. I hope he's in a happier place now.
House Democrats May Add Unemployment Aid to War Bill
By ANDREW TAYLOR
The Associated Press
Thursday, April 24, 2008; 5:01 PM
WASHINGTON -- House Democratic leaders plan to add extended unemployment benefits and new education funding for veterans to President Bush's war funding bill while dropping lots of other party priorities.
Facing a veto threat, Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi don't want to try to add billions of dollars for roads, bridges and other ideas such as heating subsidies for the poor and increases in food stamp benefits.
Democratic aides say Pelosi's plan is tentative and had not been widely shopped to rank and file lawmakers. Pelosi said Thursday that she had yet to brief her colleagues.
The still-emerging plan is a sign that Democrats want to avoid loading up the war funding bill and losing a veto and public relations clash with the president, who insists lawmakers keep his bill free of add-ons.
Senate Democrats have not signed off on the plan, and leaders in that chamber are working to tamp down demand from those seeking to load up the measure with additional funding.
"I think it's more likely at this point to be smaller rather than larger," said Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
Bush is certain to oppose the effort, which would add to the war spending legislation a $12.7 billion plan to give 13 more weeks of unemployment checks to people whose benefits have run out and 13 weeks beyond that in states with especially high unemployment rates. He's also likely to oppose the even more expensive plan for higher GI Bill benefits for veterans.
But the plan would make it more palatable for anti-war Democrats to provide money until the next president takes office.
Bush has promised to veto any bill that exceeds his pending $108 billion request to fund U.S. military and diplomatic efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. It's a tougher line than he took last spring, when he accepted about $17 billion in domestic funding as part of a $120 billion war funding measure.
Democrats are in fact planning on not only providing the $108 billion to fund the war through Sept. 30, the end of the 2008 budget year, but they're likely to add another $70 billion for next year so they need not vote on war funding again in the fall election season.
But the hard line from the White House has Democrats scaling back plans to use the must-pass bill as an engine to carry everything from a summer jobs programs to a Senate proposal for $10 billion for infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges and new schools.
Republicans are eager for a battle with Democrats over add-ons to the war funding bill. Despite record low approval ratings and his status as a lame duck, Bush has to be rated as a clear favorite in any veto battle.
"If the president stands his ground on this he'll win," said House GOP Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. "And I believe he's prepared to stand his ground and we'll stand with him."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., told reporters Wednesday that proposals that don't make it into the war spending bill may instead be carried by a second economic stimulus bill. That's where the unemployment benefit extension ultimately may wind up anyway, assuming Bush carries out his veto threat.
On Thursday, Hoyer said Democrats are considering adding a package of tax incentives for renewable energy sources such as wind and biofuels. The Senate approved $6 billion in unrelated tax breaks for renewable energy producers earlier this month when it passed a package of tax breaks and other steps designed to help businesses and homeowners weather the housing crisis.
The tentative bill also would carry a plan to block new Bush administration regulations that would cut federal spending on Medicaid health care for the poor by $13 billion over the next five years. That bill passed the House on Wednesday by an overwhelming 349-62 vote despite a Bush veto threat.
Money to fight wildfires in the West _ backed by many GOP allies of the president _ also would make it into the measure, the aides said, as would additional help for victims of Hurricane Katrina. The wildfire funds could total about $400 million, while the state of Louisiana wants to ease current requirements that it put up 35 percent of the funds for a multibillion-dollar project to rebuild levees around New Orleans.
I say if the President wants his 108 Billion for Iraq he then needs to accept a few Democratic demands, the new G.I Bill that this nations veterans deserve, he is the President that forced them to serve repeat tours of duty when almost his entire administration and DOD officials ducked their service during the Vietnam War, heck even I enlisted during the Vietnam War, I wasn't drafted and I got the good GI Bill, I didn't have rich parents or the right connections, he owes these soldiers and veterans. The unemployment issue speaks for itself, he gave the richest 2% of Americans tens of thousands in tax breaks he can give the downtrodden a few of those borrowed dollars from our great grand children.........the Democrats need to keep sending him the same bill until he leaves office it's his damn war
Fort Drum saw a 253 percent increase in the number of soldiers seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Feedback: More Fort Drum Soldiers Seek Help For Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Over a two year period, Fort Drum saw a 253 percent increase in the number of soldiers seeking treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The local post says more troops are coming back from war in Iraq and Afghanistan with mental and emotional scars because of their exposure to combat.
“We think because our outreach is good, and because we’re aggressive at getting folks in the door, that the numbers are increasing…that given the fact that the conflict has been extended, we’re having more soldiers that have been deployed multiple times,” said clinical psychologist Dr. Todd Benham of Fort Drum’s Behavioral Health Department.
In the past, PTSD was called by other names including ’shell shock’ and ‘traumatic war neurosis’.
Thousands of soldiers suffered in silence from the anxiety disorder, which can cause depression as well as problems with sleep, concentration and behavior.
“Suicide is a huge concern for us and it’s something we’re actively addressing. It’s part of the reason that we partner with our local inpatient facilities to make sure we have a place to send soldiers that are suicidal,” said Dr. Benham.
Over the years, thousands of PTSD sufferers never sought treatment because of the fear that their military careers would be destroyed.
“Because of the stigma associated with mental health and accessing mental health services, that in some ways is a challenge - creates a barrier for those who need treatment from perhaps recognizing a problem and then accessing treatment,” said Dennis Whalen, deputy secretary for New York State Health and Human Services.
Since 2000, every soldier assigned to Fort Drum receives mental health screenings.
Since 2005, every soldier meets with a clinical social worker.
As a result, the stigma associated with PTSD appears to be diminishing - as reflected in the data provided by Fort Drum.
In 2004, the local post says it had 1,048 visits for PTSD.
Two years later, there were 2,269 visits - a 253 percent increase.
Fewer than 1 percent of soldiers leave Fort Drum due to PTSD.
Approximately 7 percent of soldiers with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team have sought some type of mental health treatment.
For more information about the causes, symptoms and treatment for PTSD, click here.
See Jeff Nelson’s report:
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Harkin, Feingold introduce veteran suicide tracking bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Sens. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and Russ Feingold, D-Wis., introduced legislation Tuesday requiring the Veterans Administration to track veteran suicides.
Currently, the VA records suicides and suicide attempts in VA facilities, but does not track how many veterans commit suicide each year outside of those facilities.
VA records show that the number of veterans who kill themselves in VA facilities increased from 492 in 2000 to 790 in 2007.
A recent report by the Rand Corp. also shows that nearly 300,000 American military personnel returning from Iraq or Afghanistan suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression.
Harkin and Feingold said that puts returning veterans at risk for suicide.
"We are looking at a real crisis among our veterans and it is high time the VA recognizes it," Harkin said.
Feingold said the lack of data on veteran suicides shows how much needs to be done to address their mental health needs.
"With ongoing reports showing that service members are returning from combat with alarming rates of mental health problems, understanding and responding to these problems is critical in preventing death," he said.
The Veterans Suicide Study Act would require the VA to report to Congress within 180 days how many veterans who committed suicide since Jan. 1, 1997, and continue to issue reports annually.
It is a companion bill to legislation introduced by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, in the House.
It also follows up on the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Law, signed into law last year. It requires the VA to integrate mental health services into veterans' primary care and increase counseling and other mental health services for veterans returning from war.
The law was named after Joshua Omvig, a soldier from Grundy Center, who committed suicide in December 2005 after he returned from Iraq.
An Aberdeen naval veteran, who took part in atomic bomb testing over 50 years ago, has joined a multi-million pound action against the Ministry of Defence.
Seventy-one-year-old George McKechnie, who now suffers from skin cancer, is one of hundreds of ex-British service men behind one of the country's biggest compensation claims.
He believes the nuclear bomb tested on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean in 1957 caused the cancer on his back, face and arms.
He said: "The way I look at it is I was used as a guinea pig. Now why can't the government just come out and be honest about it and say we were?
"At the time we had our back to the bomb. The most bits that was protected on my own body was my legs because we were bent over like that. So I think to myself why is there nothing on my legs. If it was sunbathing you are out in a swimming costume and you get the same sun on your legs as on your face and your back which ever way you are lying. So why is there nothing on my legs?"
Hundreds backing compensation claim against Ministry of Defence
Ledbetter: The Politics of Scheduling
The Senate rolls into action at 5 p.m. this evening, thanks to a scheduling maneuver by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV. In order to have the Democratic presidential candidates, Sens. Clinton and Obama, back in town for the cloture vote on , the Majority Leader had to postpone the usual morning convening, since a cloture vote is supposed to follow one hour after the Senate is called into order.
That's politics and nothing to get too excited about, especially since the tactics make it clear the bill is not intended to become law. No, it's just another way just to measure loyalty to the agenda of organized labor, trial lawyers and various grievance groups. Although....Senate Republican have a point about being cynically criticized for going slow on a veterans benefits bill. Where the demand for alacrity now? (The Swamp from The Baltimore Sun has a good rundown of the machinations, and The Corner relates the Republican objections.)
Just as long as the legislation goes down. Contrary to what editorialists at The Washington Post ("Fair Pay, Fair Play") and the New York Times ("Pass the Fair Pay Act") claim, this bill does not correct a faulty Supreme Court ruling, this bill opens the floodgates to discrimination lawsuits ad infinitum nauseum. As the NAM's Key Vote letter makes clear, statutes of limitations were written into the law for a reason -- one being the prevention of decades of increasingly tenuous employment discrimination suits.
It won't come to that, but the President is indicating a veto. The White House released its Statement of Administration Policy on the bill yesterday, which you can read here. A good statement, emphasizing the value of statutes of limitations.
This legislation does not appear to be based on evidence that the current statute of limitations principles have caused any systemic prejudice to the interests of employees, but it is reasonable to expect the bill's vastly expanded statute of limitations would exacerbate the existing heavy burden on the courts by encouraging the filing of stale claims.
STATEMENT OF ADMINISTRATION POLICY
H.R. 2831 – Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007
(Rep. Miller (D) CA and 31 cosponsors)
The Administration supports our Nation’s anti-discrimination laws and is committed to the timely resolution of discrimination claims. For this and other reasons, the Administration strongly opposes the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2007. H.R. 2831 would allow employees to bring a claim of pay or other employment-related discrimination years or even decades after the alleged discrimination occurred. H.R. 2831 constitutes a major change in, and expanded application of, employment discrimination law. The change would serve to impede justice and undermine the important goal of having allegations of discrimination expeditiously resolved. Furthermore, the effective elimination of any statute of limitations in this area would be contrary to the centuries-old notion of a limitations period for all lawsuits. If H.R. 2831 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
Meaningful statutes of limitations in these sorts of fact-intensive cases are crucial to the fair administration of justice. The prompt assertion of employment discrimination permits employers to defend against – and allows employees to prove – claims that arise from employment decisions instead of having to litigate claims that are long past. In such cases, evidence often will have been lost, memories will have faded, and witnesses will have moved on.
Moreover, effective statutes of limitations benefit employees by encouraging the prompt discovery, assertion, and resolution of employment discrimination claims so that workplace discrimination can be remedied without delay.
H.R. 2831 purports to undo the Supreme Court’s decision of May 29, 2007, in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. by permitting pay discrimination claims to be brought within 180 days not of a discriminatory pay decision, which is the rule under current law, but rather within 180 days of receiving any paycheck affected by such a decision, no matter how far in the past the underlying act of discrimination allegedly occurred. As a result, this legislation effectively eliminates any time requirement for filing a claim involving compensation discrimination. Allegations from thirty years ago or more could be resurrected and filed in federal courts.
Moreover, the bill far exceeds the stated purpose of undoing the Court’s decision in Ledbetter by extending the expanded statute of limitations to any “other practice” that remotely affects an individual’s wages, benefits, or other compensation in the future. This could effectively waive the statute of limitations for a wide variety of claims (such as promotion and arguably even termination decisions) traditionally regarded as actionable only when they occur.
This legislation does not appear to be based on evidence that the current statute of limitations principles have caused any systemic prejudice to the interests of employees, but it is reasonable
to expect the bill’s vastly expanded statute of limitations would exacerbate the existing heavy burden on the courts by encouraging the filing of stale claims.
* * * * *
I can't see how this bill affects veterans? Why are they comparing this to veterans legislation?Sphere: Related Content
VistA dieing of starvation and neglect
The Veterans Administration (VA) is starving its world-class VistA medical records software to death.
At a time when organizations around the world are switching from proprietary to open source models of support, an agency which created such a model from scratch is going the other way.
Phillip Longman (right), a senior fellow at the New America Foundation who called VA care the “Best Care Anywhere” in a 2005 Washington Monthly feature, yesterday confirmed what other observers have told ZDNet over the last week.
I just gave 11 addresses to front line VA employees in the last few weeks, and I heard over and over again their frustration over not being able to get to the people at the Department of Defense (DoD) making the hand-offs. Not only can’t the computers talk to each other, they can’t get the Army doctor in Germany on the phone to answer a simple question.
While VA care is still excellent, Longman said, three forces are killing VistA:
Security concerns are causing the Department of Defense (DoD) to seek centralized systems.
The DoD has its own medical computing system, called AHLTA, built by contractors, and sets its priority there.
Ideology, a desire to privatize all government functions. “John McCain has come out for closing the VA and giving everybody vouchers,” Longman said.
When wounded soldiers are discharged they move from the AHLTA system to VistA, and the two systems still don’t communicate, Longman said. (To the left, Longman’s book based on the article.)
“They could wire Walter Reed or Bethesda (the two biggest military hospitals) for VistA in an afternoon. Technically there’s no big problem, even in creating an interface. Yet there are DoD people who have built their careers on AHLTA and want people to switch to their system.”
It’s those voices which are being heard.
“If you look at the recent political appointees to the VA, they’re people with DoD backgrounds. And the DoD culture is procure everything – they don’t make anything themselves, they procure it. When they get to the VA they don’t appreciate the open source culture.”
While the VA has been using electronic health records for years, and depends on them, AHLTA is just now starting to make them mandatory, Longman said.
“The doctors don’t have buy-in, and some doctors don’t even use electronic health records. They’re having retention problems as the Department of Defense tries to make Electronic Health Records mandatory .
Security is the other big concern, leading to everything being centralized. It’s like waiting for a computer vendor to create a patch and not being allowed to write it yourself, Longman said.
“In the old days, whether you were in Durham or Puget Sound doctors would see an application, call in the local techies, then create a solution. Then they’d share it. That’s how VistA came to be. That’s why it had buy-in from users.
“That’s all gone now. All gone.” He gave an example from the Durham VA facility, which he visited recently:
At Durham, where I was, they have been known for IT innovation and there’s just one programmer left. Now if you have an IT idea, it’s like the 70s. It has to go to Washington, it will be contracted out to Perot Systems or someone, and any tinkering is all under the domain of central office, which uses security as a pretext to wipe out the innovation.
Ironically the VA has turned its back on VistA just as the commercial market is showing interest in open source health care tools.
The creation of Open Health Tools, a project based on Eclipse, the growing commercial success of Medsphere, based on VistA, and the launch of Tolven Inc., which is expanding the VistA code which Medsphere sells, all point to a growing VistA market.
“Even if the VA doesn’t want VistA there’s a community of people who use VistA outside the VA and program applications,” Longman said.
“I’m watching a standoff in Washington on what will be the standards for electronic health records. Years go by. Why can’t we take VistA?”
Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994
It is ludicrous for the government to try and swutch from VISTA to any other type of system, it is open source which they basically funded the creation of, it is admired by all hospitals for the ease of use of the system, all of the doctors, nurses and anyone else who has to use it, it is my opinion this is more a result of Congressman Buyers push to create a IT director to "help" the VA computer system. My question is why fix it if it isn't broke, why pay money for a private system, when they have an open source system that is free to use? This is NOT progress. It is my opinion that Congressman Buyer needs to be voted out of office
Texas heart surgeon Michael DeBakey to get Congressional Gold Medal today 8:23 AM CT
09:00 AM CDT on Wednesday, April 23, 2008
By BRENDAN McKENNA and TODD J. GILLMAN / The Dallas Morning News
WASHINGTON — Renowned Texas heart surgeon Michael DeBakey will receive the nation’s highest civilian honor today.
Dr. DeBakey, who helped develop the Army’s Mobile Army Surgical Hospital systems and invented several cardio-vascular medical devices and surgical techniques, will receive the Congressional Gold Medal in a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol.
Expected to attend the ceremony: President Bush, Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, Rep. Al Green, D-Houston, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi D-Calif., Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. D-Nev., House Minority Leader John Boehner. R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., are all expected to honor Dr. DeBakey at the ceremony.
Dr. DeBakey, now 99 and chancellor emeritus at the Baylor College of Medicine, pioneered heart bypass surgery in 1964, a breakthrough that has saved countless lives, and helped create the nation’s veterans health system.
Ms. Hutchison, who led the years-long push to add Dr. DeBakey to an elite list that runs from George Washington to the Wright brothers, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, had high praise for the Texas doctor.
“Dr. DeBakey’s medical advances have contributed so much to our country and the world,” Ms. Hutchison said in a written statement. “It is a high honor, and one that is certainly well-deserved.”
Texas heart surgeon Michael DeBakey to get Congressional Gold Medal
My own 2 cents, I am a grateful veteran for Dr DeBakeys work on heart surgery and due to several heart operations I am still alive and kicking, I SALUTE him on this past due honor, it should have been awarded to him decades ago, he has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, of veterans and civilains due to his pioneer work in this field.
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 22, 2008
In New Ad Hillary Vows To Care For Our Veterans
In a new 60-second NC Ask Me Ad unveiled today, Hillary Clinton addresses David Eichhorn’s concerns about the treatment of our nation’s veterans.
Eichhorn, 64, is a resident of Hickory who served 24 years in our nation’s military. He asks, “I am really concerned about the vets coming back from this war that I know you question and I question, and I wonder if the V.A. is going to step up a little better with them.”
Watch Hillary answer David’s question here:
The ad will begin airing statewide today.
Over 11,000 questions have been submitted through the campaign’s www.NCAskMe.com website. Staff and volunteers are working to answer every question and ensure that North Carolinians voices are heard. Senator Clinton will continue to answer voter’s questions over the coming weeks.
Following is the complete script of the ad.
David Eichhorn: I am really concerned about the vets coming back from this war that I know you question and I question, and I wonder if the V.A. is going to step up a little better with them.
Hillary Clinton: Well David, we've got to step up. We have so many young men and women who are coming back and they have injuries that are visible and invisible, to the mind and the body and the heart.
And it's really important that we take care of them because they sure have taken care of us, and that's why we have to fully fund the V.A., and it's why we have to have special services for a lot of the problems that our vets are coming back with.
So, I have been a leader in the senate on trying to do more for traumatic brain injury.
It is one of the highest obligations of our president and commander in chief to take care of our veterans.
We owe everything to those who have served us.
I'm Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.
Monday, April 21, 2008
VA Hid Suicide Risk, Internal E-Mails Show
NEW YORK (CBS News) ― The Department of Veterans Affairs came under fire again Monday, this time in California federal court where its facing a national lawsuit by veterans rights groups accusing the agency of not doing enough to stem a looming mental health crisis among veterans. As part of the lawsuit, internal e-mails raise questions as to whether top officials deliberately deceived the American public about the number of veterans attempting and committing suicide. CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.
In San Francisco federal court Monday, attorneys for veterans' rights groups accused the VA of nothing less than a cover-up - deliberately concealing the real risk of suicide among veterans.
"The system is in crisis and unfortunately the VA is in denial," said Veterans Rights Attorney Gordon Erspamer.
The charges were backed by internal emails written by Dr. Ira Katz, the VA's head of Mental Health.
In the past, Katz has repeatedly insisted while the risk of suicide among veterans is serious, it's not outside the norm.
"There is no epidemic in suicide in VA," Katz told Keteyian in November.
But in this e-mail to his top media advisor, written two months ago, Katz appears to be saying something very different, stating: "Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our metical facilities."
Katz's email was written shortly after the VA provided CBS News data showing there were only 790 attempted suicides in all 2007 - a fraction of Katz's estimate.
"This 12,000 attempted suicides per year shows clearly, without a doubt, that there is an epidemic of suicide among veterans," said Paul Sullivan of Veterans for Common Sense.
And it appears that Katz went out of his way to conceal these numbers.
First, he titled his e-mail: "Not for the CBS News Interview Request."
He opened it with "Shh!" - as in keep it quiet - before ending with
"Is this something we should (carefully) address … before someone stumbles on it?"
Today we showed the e-mail to Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., who chairs the House Committee on Veterans Affairs.
"This is disgraceful. This is a crime against our nation, our nation's veterans," Filner told CBS News. "They do not want to come to grips with the reality, with the truth."
And that's not all.
Last November when CBS Newsexposed an epidemic of more than 6,200 suicides in 2005 among those who had served in the military, Katz attacked our report.
"Their number is not, in fact, an accurate reflection of the rate," he said last November.
But it turns out they were, as Katz admitted in this e-mail, just three days later.
He wrote: there "are about 18 suicides per day among America's 25 million veterans."
That works out to about 6,570 per year, which Katz admits in the same e-mail, "is supported by the CBS numbers."
In an e-mail late Monday to CBS News, Katz wrote that the reason the numbers were not released was due to questions about the consistency and reliability of the findings - and that there was no public cover-up involved.
VA Hid Suicide Risk, Internal E-Mails Show
Doctor Katz should be fired, at the very least he should resign over this, he knew when he disputed the CBS report he knew the numbers they were reporting were accurate yet he accused them of not being accurate.
Talking Veterans Down From Despair
By PATRICIA COHEN
Published: April 22, 2008
CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. — Nancy Nosewicz was busy fielding calls at the new national veterans’ hotline on a recent afternoon when someone from the Veterans Administration in Topeka, Kan., phoned. He had a 55-year-old Army veteran from the Northwest on the line who had called to complain about his benefits, but now the guy, drunk and crying, was talking about not wanting to live. Could Ms. Nosewicz pick up?
In a slurred voice, heavy from weeping, the vet, whose name was Robert, told her he was homeless and wanted to “just lay down in the river and never get up.”
Ms. Nosewicz, a social worker, listened, and then in a voice firm and comforting like a big sister, said, “We don’t want you to, either. Today we’re not thinking about the alcohol or the housing, Robert. Today it’s about keeping you safe.” She gave Robert’s phone number to an assistant to locate his address and alert the local police to stand by.
The chain of care resembled a relay race, with one runner trying not let go of the baton until the next runner had it in hand.
The veterans’ hotline is part of a specialized effort by the Veterans Administration to reduce suicides among veterans by enabling counselors, for the first time, to instantly check a veteran’s medical records and then combine emergency response with local follow-up services. It comes after years of criticism that the department has neglected tens of thousands of wounded service men and women who have returned from war zones in Iraq.
On Monday, a class action suit brought by veterans groups opened in San Francisco charging a “systemwide breakdown,” citing long delays in receiving disability benefits and flaws in the way discharged soldiers at risk for suicide have been treated.
Up and running since August 2007, the hotline is an attempt to respond to at least some of those in crisis. Over eight months, it has received more than 37,200 calls and made more than 720 rescues — sending out, from a narrow office here in upstate New York, emergency responders all over the country to find someone on a bridge, with a gun in his hand, with a stomach full of pills.
Paul Sullivan, the director of Veterans for Common Sense, one of the groups involved in the lawsuit, said of the Veterans Administration: “I’m pleased they’re responding. However, much more needs to be done, so vets aren’t turned away from health care and don’t have to wait for benefits.”
Mr. Sullivan said that suicidal patients have not been able to get care promptly, citing the case of Jonathan Schulze, who was turned away twice from a V.A. hospital before he killed himself in January 2007. Mr. Sullivan, who has worked at the agency monitoring benefits, said, “more than 600,000 veterans are waiting, on average, more than six months for disability benefits.”
Exact statistics on how many veterans commit suicide each year are difficult to obtain and verify. But experts agree that veterans are more likely — perhaps twice as likely — to commit suicide than people who have never served in the military.
Meanwhile, a RAND study released last week estimated that roughly one in five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which heightens the risk of suicide.
Yet whatever larger failings may exist, the staff of social workers, addiction specialists and nurses who keep the hotline running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can count at least some victories by the end of each shift. What’s unique about this hotline, said Janet Kemp, the national suicide prevention coordinator for the Veterans Administration, is that the counselors now have medical information at their fingertips, which they use to connect vets with counseling near their homes.
The model evolved from a new research program on suicide prevention funded by the agency. “For years, people thought that asking questions about suicide put the thought in people’s mind, but now we know that’s not true,” said Dr. Kemp, who travels throughout the country training the agency’s staff.
The V.A. is spending about $3 million in the first year to start and operate the hotline, said Daniel Ryan, an agency spokesman; another $2.9 million is being spent on a mental health research center at the sprawling red-brick V.A. Medical Center in Canandaigua. Referring to the hotline’s relay model, Kerry Knox, the director of the new center, said, “You don’t want them to fall through the cracks.”
With Robert, for example —The Times has agreed to use no last names or exact locations to protect callers’ confidentiality — Ms. Nosewicz gradually nudged him to agree to be taken to a hospital, and to give her his name and social security number so she could check his file and put him in contact with the local suicide prevention coordinator
Meanwhile, Denise Slocum, a health assistant, relayed questions from the local police dispatcher. “The police are asking if you’re near an elementary school,” Ms. Nosewicz asked, and then nodded her head at Ms. Slocum.
“No, no, no — no handcuffs,” Ms. Nosewicz reassured him. “You’re going to go to the hospital.”
“Do you have a tissue to blow your nose? Then use your sleeve.”
“When they come in, you put them on the phone with me and I’ll tell them to treat you with respect.”
Twenty minutes later, Ms. Slocum called the police again to confirm Robert had been brought to a hospital., while Ms. Nosewicz alerted the local suicide prevention coordinator, one of 156 the agency employs at its health centers.
Robert’s name was added to a board near the doorway, so that the staff could follow up to ensure a local counselor actually met with him.
Of course, sometimes a crack is unavoidable.
“He’s going to do it — he’s really going to do it,” said Terri Rose, a counselor who was working the noon-to-midnight shift. She was wiping her red-rimmed eyes. A caller from Texas who said he was 65, a former helicopter gunner in Vietnam, said he had a suicide pact with his friend, but the friend had gone off and killed himself. Now he, too, was ready to die, saying he had even found a coffin for $150, said Ms. Rose, who served in the Air Force before being injured in an explosion. The veteran hung up and had stopped answering her return calls.
Sometimes veterans have a lot of trouble asking for help, said Jacalyn O’Loughlin, a counselor: “They keep saying ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ Especially marines, they feel they’re weak if they reach out.”
About half the calls to the hotline — the number is (800) 273-TALK (273-8255) — are from veterans, split fairly evenly between Vietnam and Iraq, Mr. Ryan said. About 30 percent of the vets who call are women.
A couple of months ago, a distraught woman called from Oregon, Ms. O’Loughlin recalled: The woman was driving to the woods, she said, and was threatening to “walk and walk and walk and never come back.” Ms. O’Loughlin rang the tiny silver bell on her desk to signal the health technician. The health technician checked the area code and phoned the closest veterans’ health center.
“And lo and behold, that suicide prevention coordinator knew her just by her first name,” Ms. O’Loughlin said. The technician called the police, the coordinator called the woman’s husband to get the car’s make and model, and Ms. O’Loughlin kept the woman on the line for hours, she said. “I could hear her getting out of the car. I could hear the rustling from the leaves.”
Meanwhile, the police and her husband were driving up and down back roads. They spotted the car, dashed through the trees and found her. She had a bottle of pills in her hand but had not yet swallowed them.
Sometimes, the victories are smaller, but no less satisfying. That morning Ms. Nosewicz spoke to a veteran whose house was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina; he had been relocated to a different state.
“He called, crying, because he can’t find a job, saying ‘My teeth are so rotten and my mouth stinks,’ ” Ms. Nosewisz said.
Dental referrals are not exactly part of the job description, but Ms. Nosewisz tried dental schools in his area, first one and then another, until she found a school to do the work. “He was crying on the phone, and said ‘Thanks so much, thanks so much.’ ”
All in all, not a bad day’s work, she said, as she got ready to leave for the day. “Three rescues, four consults, and one set of teeth.”