CHAIRMAN BOB FILNER
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 11, 2008
House Passes Bill to Improve VA Home Loan Program and Sends COLA Bill to President’s Desk
House approves better refinancing options for veterans in response to mortgage crisis
Washington, D.C. – On Thursday, September 11, 2008, Bob Filner (D-CA), Chairman of the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, announced that the House of Representatives passed a legislative package that would increase health care access for veterans living in rural areas, authorize construction for major medical facility projects, improve home refinancing options for veterans, and provide for a cost-of- living adjustment for veterans with service-connected disabilities.
The following bills were considered and approved by the House of Representatives:
H.R. 1527 – Rural Veterans Access to Care Act (Rep. Jerry Moran)
The bill would establish a pilot program to allow certain veterans to receive health services through a non-Department health care provider. For a three year period, veterans defined as “highly rural” that receive care in Veteran Integrated Services Network 1, 15, 18 or 19, would be permitted to receive covered health services through providers other than the VA.
Chairman Filner offered the following statement on H.R. 1527: “Many rural veterans face significant challenges accessing VA health care services due to their geographic distance from VA facilities and limited transportation services. Some of these veterans must face commutes of several hours just to utilize VA healthcare services. This legislation would set up a pilot program to allow some rural veterans to elect to receive health care locally, eliminating the frustration and hassle of a lengthy commute to the nearest VA medical center.”
H.R. 6832 – Veterans’ Construction and Extensions Act of 2008 (Chairman Filner)
This bill will make home loans more accessible to veterans by easing restrictions on the refinancing component of the VA Home Loan Guaranty Program administered by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The bill would eliminate the equity requirement and raise the loan limit for home refinancing for veterans and their families. The bill also authorizes major medical facility projects for the Department of Veterans Affairs for fiscal year 2009 and extends certain authorities of the Secretary of Veterans of Affairs.
Chairman Filner discussed H.R. 6832 on the Floor of the House of Representatives: “For many of our returning service members and veterans, the stress of what they have gone through in war is still prevalent when they return home. Unfortunately, for many of these heroes, they are returning to a mortgage crisis and fear losing their home. The bill passed today will help veterans get out of predatory mortgages, protect veterans from foreclosure, and offer better refinancing options through the VA home loan program. In this time of crisis, veterans ought to be able to turn to the VA for assistance.”
S. 2617 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2008 (Senator Akaka)
The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act, known as the COLA, will increase the rates of compensation for veterans with service-connected disabilities and the rates of dependency and indemnity compensation (DIC) for the survivors of certain disabled veterans. The disability COLA would be effective December 1, 2008, and will be equal to that provided on an annual basis to Social Security recipients.
Chairman Filner offered the following statement on the COLA Bill: “Since 1976, Congress has passed a measure to direct the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to increase the rates of basic compensation for disabled veterans and the DIC rates to their survivors and dependents, in order to keep pace with the rising cost-of-living. I am pleased that we are able to work with the Senate to get this bill passed and on to the President for his signature. This will ensure that our veterans will not be delayed in getting their cost-of-living adjustment.”
Thursday, September 11, 2008
President George Washington stated: "The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportionate to how they perceive the veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their countrySphere: Related Content
Vets group has action plan for new president
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 4, 2008 8:24:46 EDT
A group representing the interests of the 1.7 million Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans issued a 10-point action plan for the next U.S. president, which includes giving a long-delayed $1,000 monthly payment to service members on repeated or extended deployments.
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-partisan group formed in 2004, said in a statement that having a new person in the White House — Democrat or Republican — offers the opportunity to make some big changes. “With the new president in office next year, America will have the chance to turn the page on the way veterans were treated after Vietnam,” IAVA says in a statement.
Most of the issues mentioned by IAVA involve improving veterans’ benefits and health care. It wants the disability benefits system to be improved and streamlined, the backlog of veterans’ benefits claims cut in half by the end of 2009, 50,000 vouchers issued to find housing for homeless veterans, and the Veterans Affairs Department to more aggressively advertise its services so veterans know what they have earned.
IAVA wants families to have more access to mental health services, both on military bases and in veterans’ centers; and for shortages of mental health professionals in the Defense Department and VA to be filled as quickly as possible.
For active-duty members, the group wants mandatory and confidential mental health screening for every returning combat veteran both before and after their deployment, and it wants tax incentives to encourage private-sector companies to hire veterans and reservists.
Deployment pay made the IAVA list “because we have heard from a lot of people about how high deployments has been really hard on military people and their families,” said Paul Rieckhoff, IAVA’s executive director. “This is something the president could do with the stroke of the pen,” he said, noting there is existing authority to provide the monthly payment for extended or repeated deployments, but the program was never implemented because the Defense Department decided to waive the policy after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
On some of the issues listed by IAVA, like reducing the claims backlog, both presidential candidates have talked about making improvements if they are elected — but Rieckhoff said neither Republican Sen. John McCain nor Democrat Sen. Barack Obama had provided detailed plans.
IAVA has attended both the Democratic and Republican national conventions but will not be endorsing a candidate, Rieckhoff said.
House lawmakers approve veterans COLA
By Rick Maze - Staff writer
Posted : Thursday Sep 11, 2008 5:56:16 EDT
The House of Representatives gave final approval Wednesday to a veterans’ cost-of-living adjustment bill, sending it to the White House for President Bush’s signature and setting the stage for what could be major relief for thousands of service members and veterans who are facing escalating mortgage payments.
The House also passed a bill that would allow some veterans in highly rural areas to get health care from non-VA facilities.
The COLA bill, S 2617, provides for a Dec. 1 increase in disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation, and pensions that will match whatever increase is provided in Social Security benefits. The increase, which applies to about 2.8 million veterans and survivors, would first appear in January paychecks.
The Social Security increase won’t be known until mid-October, but is expected to be a minimum of 6 percent. The Social Security COLA automatically applies to military and federal civilian retired pay, but veterans’ disability and survivor benefits and pensions increase only through the enactment of new legislation.
The Senate passed the veterans’ COLA measure in July.
The House also passed HR 6832, a measure that approves construction and leasing for veterans facilities. It also extends expiring programs and expanded refinancing rules under the veterans’ home loan program in a way that could help service members and veterans with adjustable-rate mortgages or other high-interest mortgages.
It does this by making two changes in VA loan rules. First, it removes a requirement for a homeowner to have at least 10 percent equity in a home in order to refinance. Allowing 100 percent loans — those where the loan matches the total value of the house — makes it easier for people whose homes have not increased in value to still refinance.
Second, it allows refinancing of loans up to the maximum guaranty for a new home purchase. Under current law, refinancing is limited to loans of about $144,000, but the bill allows loans up to $417,000 in most areas, and up to $729,000 in high-cost areas.
Rep. Bob Filner, D-Calif., the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, has been pushing for the changes in refinancing rules, arguing that VA’s loan program is so restrictive that it has been of little help to veterans.
The House bill would help veterans who are pinched but are not in severe financial troubles, because qualifying for refinancing through VA would still require meeting credit standards.
HR 6832 has not passed the Senate, which means the refinancing changes and the construction, lease and program extensions in the bill are far from final.
The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee has been working on its own home loan legislation. S 3023, passed by the committee in June, includes provisions sponsored by Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, that would raise the refinancing loan limit, similar to the increase in the House bill, but limits the homeowner to borrowing 95 percent of the assessed value, requiring at least 5 percent equity.
The rural veterans’ bill, HR 1527, creates a pilot project aimed at veterans who are 60 miles or more from the nearest VA primary care facility, 120 miles from the nearest VA acute care hospital or 240 miles from the nearest VA facility providing specialty care. They would be allowed to receive treatment at government expense at the nearest non-VA clinic or hospital, with VA also filling prescriptions ordered by non-VA doctors.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., is one of several measures pending in Congress that tries to expand the reach of VA care after complaints, including many from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans who were mobilized National Guard and Reserve members, about the difficulty of getting care for service-connected health problems.
“Despite our best efforts, the reality is that some veterans live in remote areas beyond VA’s ability to construct medical facilities to care for them,” Moran said. “Too often, the distance means rural veterans are foregoing the trip to the VA.”
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
When Army Strong Snaps
Carissa Picard | September 10, 2008
At 8:40 am on the morning of September 8, 2008, a young Fort Hood soldier shot and killed his young commanding officer and himself in front of dozens of witnesses and police officers. Both soldiers were assigned to 1st Cavalry Division, which had just returned from a fifteen-month tour in Iraq this past December and is already preparing to leave again in the winter.
The facts surrounding this case are unclear. Some neighbors said he had been AWOL when his sergeant and lieutenant came to see him but the public affairs office said that he was on transitional leave and the visit was pertaining to stolen equipment. (Apparently this soldier was being separated from the Army. I am extremely curious as to what kind of discharge this soldier was getting. In light of what he did on Monday, I would be very surprised if he was not exhibiting "red flag" behavior prior to this incident; i.e., engaging in acts of misconduct or other self-destructive behavior signaling that he was a soldier in distress.) According to one eyewitness, the police were called when a significant amount of ammunition was seen through the blinds of the soldier's living room window. By the time the police got there, however, the soldier had stepped outside of his apartment to talk to his lieutenant. Once outside, he shot his lieutenant, exchanged fire with the police, and then shot himself. Autopsies are being performed on both soldiers.
Ironically, last week the Army recognized National Suicide Prevention Week. The Army also has a "battle buddy" program/policy to combat suicide. Soldiers are teamed up in pairs and they are supposed to keep an eye on each other. (I wonder if this soldier had a battle buddy?)
Despite these efforts, the number of Army suicides in 2008 is expected to surpass the number of suicides in 2007, continuing its post 9/11 annual record-breaking trend (with each new year breaking the record of the one preceding it). For the first time since the Vietnam War, soldier suicides are expected to exceed the civilian suicide rate. That being said, one needs to look not just at active duty Army suicide rates in general, but at combat veteran suicide rates in particular. Only about half of our soldiers have been deployed to a combat zone. Once a soldier is an OIF/OEF (Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation Enduring Freedom) veteran (i.e., served in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan), the chances of committing suicide increase significantly. VA Secretary Peake testified before Congress in May. Young male OIF/OEF veterans (18 - 35) are twice as likely to commit suicide as their civilian counterparts and young female OIF/OEF veterans are three times as likely to commit suicide.
Suicides are not the problem, however, they are a symptom of the problem: the Army does not put nearly as much emphasis on the mental health and well-being of its soldiers as it does on their physical health and well-being. Yet after waging seven years of ground warfare in Afghanistan and five years of ground warfare in Iraq, one would think that the military would realize that service member psychological stability is esseential to unit readiness and troop morale – not to mention public safety.
The Army says that it appreciates the importance of mental health but as an advocate I have seen unit after unit choose to punish a post-combat soldier for misconduct rather than help that soldier get evaluated and treated for PTSD (as well as traumatic brain injuries). This is a choice that Commanders make and it is a choice that completely undermines the Department of the Army's own messaging on the importance of good mental health. Nonetheless, this is happening at Army bases all over the country.
Of course, in defense of the Department of Defense, as an institution it is doing as much as it can in light of the demands being placed upon it by our Executive and Legislative branches (to maintain two fronts in the Middle East using only our all volunteer force). Individual Commanders are being pressured to maintain their unit's numbers for deployments. The "mission" ultimately, is preparing for and engaging in these wars. The mission does not include post-combat care, which is often viewed as the VA's responsibility. Well, therein lies the rub when it comes to these "invisible" injuries. If service members separate from the military without proper diagnosis, intervention, and treatment of their PTSD and TBI, their mental and neuropsychological health is compromised and their behavior may have already deteriorated to a point that makes the idea that they can get "fixed" at the VA more theoretical than realistic. Moreover, some would argue that the VA's track record on mental health care is even worse than the DoD's.
Consequently, if we are going to continue to engage in these prolonged military conflicts overseas, then the mental health of our service members should be a priority for everyone: the American public, Congress, and the DoD. Mental health care and treatment has to be generously funded by Congress and aggressively utilized by the Department of Defense. If we don't, then this won't be the last time you will read a headline like this.
Sound Off...What do you think?
Aid for all veterans VA actively pursuing young soldiers
DAWN ZERA Times Leader Correspondent
PLAINS TWP. – When Colleen Kaskel first joined the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center as acting Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom manager, about 3,000 veterans of those conflicts had sought VA services.
Colleen Kaskel, acting manager of the Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom programs at the Wilkes-Barre Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, talks with a veteran.
Jonathan J. Juka/for the times leader
Times Leader Photo Store
That was a year ago; now there are about 4,100 – an increase the Veterans Administration has worked hard for, as the agency tries to communicate to a younger generation of soldiers that services are available once they leave the military.
“There recently was a concentrated effort, to reach every person who has served, through nationwide and global phone calls to those who have been discharged,” Kaskel said. “Out of that, we got about 63 veterans who had never been here before. Now, those phone calls will be done on a yearly basis.”
The local VA center serves more than 207,000 veterans in 19 Pennsylvania counties and one New York county, with outpatient clinics in Allentown, Berwick, Bangor, Sayre, Tobyhanna, Williamsport and Schuylkill County. A long list of health and welfare services includes a women’s veterans program, readjustment counseling, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder services, pharmacy, pastoral counseling, an eye clinic and even smoking cessation.
Kaskel said during the discharge process soldiers are encouraged to enroll with the VA and set up appointments.
Many vets, Kaskel said, do not see an immediate need to go to the VA, but the administration is making efforts to let them know they have five years from their time of discharge to establish contact.
That is not to say that after five years, the VA won’t help a veteran, but, Kaskel said, “it does come down to a pressing time frame – it is a big financial thing.” Whether the cost of a service is covered sometimes depends on if it is connected to the veteran’s military experience.
Kaskel serves veterans as young as 19 and up to about age 50, many of them reservists. The bulk of them are 20 to 40 years old, with about 10 percent women, which has widened the services offered to address women’s health needs.
“It’s something we’ve been moving towards all along, because the military has been changing. It’s something we’re very in tune to,” Kaskel said. Women also tend to react differently to stress related to combat experiences.
“Females tend to talk more; males isolate, or may show aggressive behavior,” Kaskel said, offering advice for families and friends of returning soldiers. “It is best to listen to them, offer understanding – genuine understanding, they don’t need to be catered to. Support them but don’t constantly ask questions.”
Only some of the 4,100 veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom who have registered with the local VA use VA Medical Center services on a regular basis, Kaskel said. Another 49 veterans in the coverage area are seriously ill.
“There also are a lot of post-traumatic stress disorder (cases),” Kaskel said, as well as veterans with traumatic brain injuries, amputees and burn victims. A support group meets the third Monday of every month and “more and more of these groups are being set up. It is a growing thing.
“With someone with post-traumatic stress disorder and brain injury, the patient wants to isolate himself. My job is to encourage that person to get in here,” she said.
There also is a suicide prevention program, which includes trained suicide prevention coordinators.
Many times a spouse will call the VA looking for help.
“In many cases, the wife managed to get along without the soldier for a certain amount of time ... the children are resentful. There is a family adjustment. And reality is not the same as when the person left,” Kaskel said.
But she stressed that her job is not about waiting for that phone call. Many veterans want to forget their experiences and get back to a normal life, in which case they do not think contacting the Veterans Administration for services is a priority.
Kaskel focuses on providing a lot of coaching and support to the veterans, as well as adjusting her work schedule to meet theirs.
“It’s about gaining their trust, so that eventually they accept help. Sometimes they just need a friendly face to get into the building,” Kaskel said.
REACH THE VA
Veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom in the Wilkes-Barre Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center’s coverage area can contact Colleen Kaskel at 824-3521, ext. 7803.
My HealtheVet is touted as “the gateway to veteran health benefits and services,” Kaskel said, providing access to health information, federal and VA benefits and resources, personal health journals and online prescription refills. The Web site promises that in the future, users will be able to view appointments, copay balances and key portions of medical records. Veterans can register at www.myhealth.va.gov. The national VA suicide hotline number is 1-800-273-8255.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
House Criticizes VA For Destroying Specimens
Members of Congress weighed in today on the destruction two years ago of thousands of biomedical specimens on Legionnaires' and other infectious diseases, criticizing the decision to destroy more than 25 years' worth of irreplaceable samples, The Associated Press reports.
According to a staff report from the Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House Science and Technology Committee, laboratory staff was ordered to destroy a "unique collection" of specimens compiled by two prominent researchers. The specimens, according to the report, were "particularly valuable because it was not a simple collection of disease strains" but correlated to clinical outcomes.
Michael Moreland, who headed the VA's Pittsburgh Healthcare System at the time, defended the decision to close the Special Pathogens Lab and destroy the specimens, saying the lab wasn't approved to do the work; that specimens were not labeled and were considered hazardous; and that the lab was operating an unauthorized commercial enterprise to test water for private companies, the AP reports.
The chairman of the House Science subcommitee, Rep. Brad Miller, D-N.C., said he saw no "credible reason" for the December 2006 destruction of the samples. The congressional report said the collection contained 8,000 disease, serum, respiratory and urine samples, gathered between 1979 and 2006.
"All of us may pay a price for this conduct, veterans most of all," Miller said.
Dr. Victor Yu, professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh and formerly the chief of infectious diseases at the VA center, called the destruction of the specimens that he had collected with Dr. Janet Stout, "a terrible tragedy."
Yu and Stout originally helped identify Legionnaires' disease, a form of pneumonia which first cropped up at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976.
Researchers around the world "were outraged" by the VA's action, and hundreds signed a petition asking for an independent investigation, according to the congressional report.
"It is breathtaking that a federal health agency official would order the destruction of a human tissue specimen collection without discussing it with and receiving approval of the agency's research officials," the report said. "It is even more breathtaking that the top officials ... have taken no formal action since to make sure that such an action never occurs again."
By Derek Kravitz | September 9, 2008; 4:02 PM ET
Program Aids Veterans Entering Corporate World
By Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 7, 2008; Page A04
NEW YORK -- Ed Pulido joined the Army at 18 and spent 19 years in uniform. He lost his left leg four years after being wounded by a roadside bomb in Baqubah, Iraq. And when he was discharged in 2005, with a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart, he decided to the devote the rest of his life to work with a foundation helping the families of veterans who have been wounded or killed.
But he had one problem, he said: "How to initiate the contacts with corporate leaders, to be able to fundraise and to network."
That's where Sidney E. Goodfriend came in.
Goodfriend spent 25 years as a banker on Wall Street, mostly at Merrill Lynch. But, he said, he had made enough money, he was looking for a career change, and he wanted to make a contribution through public service.
With his own money, and using his Wall Street connections, Goodfriend, 48, founded a group called American Corporate Partners, which pairs returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan with mentors from the corporate world. He has enlisted six companies -- Campbell's, PepsiCo, Home Depot, Verizon, General Electric and investment bank Morgan Stanley -- that have each promised to offer returning vets 50 mentors, in eight cities.
The mentors pledge to spend four hours each month for a year meeting with their assigned veteran, and the meetings could take most any form: lunch, a fishing trip, a golf outing.
"These folks come back, and in their first year, they don't know anybody, and they especially don't know anybody in the corporate sector," Goodfriend said. "There is no way for them to transition easily into corporate America."
Goodfriend said the priority is helping disabled or severely wounded veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, or the spouses or relatives of soldiers killed in action. "If you had to give preference, you'd probably give preference to those who sacrificed more," he said.
Pulido, who lives in Oklahoma City, said he will be driving once a month to Dallas to meet with his mentor, from Frito-Lay, a division of PepsiCo. "The transition from military to civilian, it's a very hard transition if you don't have the skills and the education," Pulido said by telephone. "I'm going to be driving down to Dallas to be part of that program because I think it's important for my future."
Another veteran, retired Capt. Sara Skinner, 31, spent 12 years in the Army, including four at West Point, and did two tours in Baghdad -- the second time replacing a platoon leader who had been killed. She was injured and received a Purple Heart. The married mother of three is now working as an operations manager for SunGard Availability Services, an Internet company in Atlanta.
Skinner, who is waiting to be matched with a mentor, is looking for advice on how to leverage her military skills in the private sector. She heard about American Corporate Partners in an e-mail from a West Point alumni site.
"I've been out of the Army for a year," she said by telephone. "There's just not a clear path, I guess, to success in corporate America."
"I know from the Army the value of mentoring," she added. "What are the logical career paths? And specifically for me -- I'm a woman; I have children." She said she is looking for a female mentor "who is successful also with children and a family."
Goodfriend said the idea is to match mentors with veterans as closely as possible without pigeonholing. "It may be better to have a woman with a woman," he said, "or an African American with an African American mentor."
He has assembled a high-level bipartisan advisory board, including former secretary of state George P. Shultz, former Senate majority leaders Robert J. Dole (R) and George J. Mitchell (D), former deputy defense secretary and World Bank president Paul D. Wolfowitz, former Treasury secretary Lawrence H. Summers, and former Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Peter Pace.
"It's not whether or not anyone is for or against the war, but it's for the troops," Pace said in an interview. "It is certainly something that is very, very helpful to our vets. When it comes time to leave the military, they don't have any connections outside."
As evidence of the need, when the program officially opened two weeks ago with 300 slots, Goodfriend said, it received 800 applications, though it had no publicity -- most heard about it by word of mouth.
Goodfriend is working closely with the Army Reserve. "ACP is not a 'jobs' program for men and women leaving the military," said Lt. Gen. Jack Stultz, chief of the Reserve, in an e-mail statement. The program, he said, "aims to strengthen the relationship between employers of America's leading corporations and those who have served our country, often at great sacrifice."
The Army Reserve has partnerships with companies for training, under an employer outreach project involving, for example, medical technicians, truckers and police officers. But American Corporate Partners is the first program aimed specifically at mentoring.
Goodfriend said he launched the project because he recognized the importance of mentoring in his own Wall Street success. He is also a mentor to at-risk children from poor neighborhoods in New York. "Mentoring can make a vast, vast difference," he said.
He would not disclose how much of his money he used for startup costs but said it was not much. "The amount of money I've spent so far, you could spend," he said.
Mostly, he said, he relies on friends and colleagues for favors -- free office space at Emigrant Savings Bank in New York, Web site design by a relative, a prominent law firm doing all the legal work without fee. "What I've done right now, anyone can do," Goodfriend said.
He hopes to expand beyond the six companies currently involved but said, "I've been turned down by many more companies than have signed up."
He goes through the program's advisory board members to make contacts with corporate chief executives he doesn't know. And he said he is not looking for money or contributions, since his organization is not a charity but a partnership among corporations that he hopes will continue after he is gone.
And what drives him? "It's a lot more meaningful than being a banker," he said. "I'm probably too old to enlist, so this is my way of making a contribution."
He added, "If you said 10 years ago I'd be doing this, I would have been astonished."
Monday, September 8, 2008
'You're Not Accountable, Jack'
I can not reprint the entire article it is 5 pages but it shows that the President and VP bypassed the Joint Chiefs of Staff by using retired General Jack Keane as his own military Chief of Staff as a veteran this is appalling
Keane, in Baghdad for another visit, saw an opening. At 3:27 p.m. the next day, March 12, he sent an e-mail to Chiarelli.
"Subject: Food for Thought
"Pete, a way ahead after Fox Fallon: Announce Petraeus as replacement but do not assign till fall or early winter. . . . Assign Odierno, who will have had six months back in states, to replace Petraeus." Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, a towering Army officer, had previously been the corps commander in Baghdad. "Believe this provides the strongest team we have to the key vacancies. For what it's worth. Best, JK."
Chiarelli e-mailed back 20 minutes later.
"Sir -- do you want me to pass to the SD?" SD was shorthand for the secretary of defense.
By all means, Keane said.
* * *
While in Iraq, Keane talked to Petraeus about his future. Petraeus's next assignment -- commander of NATO -- seemed set.
NATO was important, Keane said, but its time had passed. The international center of gravity had moved to the Middle East. "We're going to be here for 50 years minimum, most of the time hopefully preventing wars, and on occasion having to fight one, dealing with radical Islam, our economic interests in the region and trying to achieve stability," Keane said.
This shift would have huge implications for how the U.S. military would be educated and trained. "We're going to do it anyway because we don't have a choice," Keane said. "So the issue is: Get over it. Come to grips with it." The Army didn't want that. "It wants to end a war and go home. But that's not going to happen."
Petraeus seemed to agree but waxed nostalgic about NATO.
The phone rang. It was Chiarelli.
"Three o'clock, okay, I've got it," Petraeus said into the phone. He hung up and turned to Keane. "Secretary of defense wants to talk to me at three o'clock."
"You know what this is, don't you?" Keane asked.
"I suspect I know."
"Hopefully, you'll give him the right answer."
* * *
On April 7, 2008, Gates invited Keane to brief him at the Pentagon.
"Assign Petraeus to CentCom," Keane urged. Delay the assignment until the fall. Make Odierno the new Iraq commander. Odierno was an unsung hero with intellect and moral courage, Keane said.
"Let's be frank about what's happening here," Keane told Gates. "We are going to have a new administration. Do we want these policies continued or not? Do we want the best guys in there who were involved in these policies, who were advocates for them? Let's assume we have a Democratic administration and they want to pull this thing out quickly, and now they have to deal with General Petraeus and General Odierno. There will be a price to be paid to override them."
* * *
Gates knew that Petraeus was the natural choice to replace Fallon. Two weeks later, on April 23, Gates called a news conference.
"With the concurrence of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff," Gates said, "I have recommended and the president has approved and will nominate General David Petraeus as the new commander of Central Command." Odierno would be nominated to return to Baghdad as the new Iraq commander, replacing Petraeus sometime in the late summer or fall.
Asked by a reporter whether the move marked a "stay-the-course approach," Gates replied, "I think that the course, certainly, that General Petraeus has set has been a successful course. So frankly, I think staying that course is not a bad idea."
Brady Dennis and Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.
Iraq Troop Levels to Remain Steady Until After Bush Leaves Office
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 9, 2008; Page A15
President Bush will announce today that the number of U.S. combat brigades in Iraq will remain steady until after he leaves office, deferring any further decisions about troop withdrawals to his successor, according to a copy of his speech released by the White House.
At the same time, Bush will preside over further increases in the number of U.S. troops fighting the resurgent Taliban militia in Afghanistan, including a fresh Marine battalion in November and an additional Army brigade in January.
The new plans are likely to represent Bush's last major decision on the deployment of U.S. troops in the two wars that have come to define his presidency. The plans also mean that either Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) or Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) will have to cope with decisions on wartime troop levels immediately after taking office January 20.
Bush's plans, which were first recommended last week by the Pentagon, effectively shift a similar number of combat troops from an improving situation in Iraq to a worsening conflict in Afghanistan, where the increasing death toll among foreign troops has surpassed those in Iraq in recent months.
In his speech this morning, Bush will praise significant progress in Iraq while acknowledging that "huge challenges in Afghanistan remain," according to the White House.
"For all the good work we have done in that country, it is clear we must do even more," Bush says in his prepared remarks, to be delivered at the National Defense University in Washington. "As we learned in Iraq, the best way to restore the confidence of the people is to restore basic security -- and that requires more troops."
Bush will also argue that his plans for a continued drawdown of troops and support personnel from Iraq underscores the dramatic reduction in violence there, which he credits to a rapid increase in U.S. troops that began in early 2007. In addition to the Army combat brigade in February, the administration plans to withdraw an 1,100-member Marine battalion and 3,400 support troops from Iraq over the next several months.
"Here is the bottom line: While the enemy in Iraq is still dangerous, we have seized the offensive, and Iraqi forces are becomingly increasingly capable of leading and winning the fight," Bush says in his prepared remarks. "As a result, we have been able to carry out a policy of 'return on success' -- reducing American combat forces in Iraq as conditions on the ground continue to improve."
The announcement amounts to an endorsement of a compromise plan among military leaders, who were divided on how quickly U.S. combat troops could be safely withdrawn from Iraq. The U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus, initially sought to sustain the current level of 15 Army combat brigades through June of 2009, while members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged a swifter reduction, according to senior military officials.
Security gains in Iraq, most notably in Anbar province, Baghdad and the southern city of Basra, led Adm. Michael Mullen, the Joint Chiefs chairman, to favor cutting the force in Iraq to 14 combat brigades by February, which became the final Pentagon recommendation agreed to by Bush, officials said.
So far this year, the United States has withdrawn the five additional combat brigades that had been sent to Iraq as part of the "surge" that began in January 2007, leaving about 146,000 troops currently in the country. By February, the president says, a total of about 8,000 additional U.S. combat and support troops will be withdrawn.
The scale of U.S. troops in Iraq, along with debate over how rapidly to remove them, has been a central issue in the presidential race between Obama, who advocates a 16-month withdrawal plan, and McCain, who opposes set timetables. The administration's position has been complicated by demands from Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a complete U.S. military withdrawal by 2011, and the two countries remain mired in negotiations over the future of U.S. forces there.
In his speech, Bush will emphasize improvement in Iraq that he describes as "virtually unimaginable" two years ago, when al-Qaeda in Iraq fighters and other insurgents had gained control of vast portions of the country. "Civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down, suicide bombings are down and normal life is returning," Bush says.
But reiterating a point that the White House has made repeatedly in recent months, Bush also warned that "progress in Iraq is still fragile and reversible."
Perhaps most striking, Bush will spend almost half of his address today on Afghanistan rather than Iraq. In his remarks, he says that despite some early U.S. successes and a "quiet surge" in U.S. forces over the last two years, from 21,000 to 31,000, "enemies of a free Afghanistan refused to give up the fight."
Bush also appears to indirectly address allegations by Afghan and United Nations officials that more than 90 civilians, including dozens of children, were killed during an Aug. 22 raid by U.S. and Afghan commandos on the village of Azizabad. U.S. officials maintain that 30 Taliban fighters, and no more than seven civilians, were killed in the operation.
"Regrettably, there will be times when our pursuit of the enemy will result in accidental civilian deaths," Bush says in his remarks. "This has been the case throughout the history of warfare, yet our nation mourns every innocent life lost."
This is on page 15 why isn't it on the FRONT PAGE more than 30,000 wounded, more than 4000 dead more than 20,000 combat veterans discharged with personality disorders without veteran benefits the troops deserve better than this from their Commander in Chief
WWII vet goes to battle for his dad
11:34 PM PDT on Wednesday, September 3, 2008
By JESSE JONES / KING 5 News
Video: Son of WWII vet goes to battle for his dad
When William Donovan left his home in Pennsylvania in 1942, he was sent to the South Pacific to join in some of the most violent battles in World War II.
“I remember him telling me about the hand to hand combat and the horrors of war,” said his son, Patrick. “He has three bronze medals, has a good conduct medal, so he's a well awarded veteran who really served his country well.”
William now suffers from dementia and stays in an adult care center in Edmonds. Patrick says the Veterans Administration is withholding the benefits his father desperately needs to stay there or at any other facility.
“Sixty-eight years later he's asking for a little bit of funds which have been granted to him, and the Veterans Administration can't see to it to pay it,” said Patrick.
Here's what happened: Patrick and his mother signed his father up for benefits last year because they were running out of money. In June, the VA said it would give William Donovan $1,800 a month. But the hoops the family had to jump through kept the money away.
“It makes me think there is some type of incompetence in the Veterans Administration,” said Patrick.
Patrick tried for months to get those benefits, knowing he couldn't afford to pay for his father's care.
“As of the 15th of August, the day before his birthday, all of their money has run out and I can't afford $3,200 a month to pay for his extended care facility on top of everything else I'm paying,” said Patrick.
Desperate for help, Patrick called us. The VA wouldn't discuss the case. But within two weeks, Patrick says, case workers came to his home. They've worked out their financial issues and his father is waiting for a bed at a facility in Port Orchard.
“It has been a very long road, shortened by you,” said Patrick. “Thank you… by your intercession you helped tremendously.”
Even with all of the assurances given to him, Patrick says he is still skeptical about the VA coming through for his father.
We will be watching this story very closely.
Just remember, if you are dealing with the VA, make sure you have all of your financial and medical information available. It can save you time and unnecessary headaches.
If you have a consumer concern, call Jesse Jones toll-free at 866-51-JESSE or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filthy Iraqi drinking water raises cholera fears
BAGHDAD_Just months after Americans repaired a sewage treatment plant in southern Baghdad, insurgents attacked the facility and killed the manager. Looters took care of the rest.
Nearly three years later, the plant remains an abandoned shell. Raw sewage is still flowing freely through giant pipes into the Tigris River, ending up in some of the capital's drinking water. And those pipes are hardly the only source of contamination.
Many residents only have to sniff the tap water to know something is not right.
"I fear giving it to my children directly unless I boil it," said Enam Mohammed Ali, a 36-year-old mother of four in the New Baghdad district in the eastern part of the city.
The water crisis began as a symptom of the problems that plagued reconstruction efforts in the early years of the war. Extremists attacked infrastructure projects, including electricity stations and sewage plants, to undermine support for the U.S. and its Iraqi allies. Law and order broke down, with looters stealing pipes, power lines and other equipment.
But now, the recent decline in violence is raising hopes that the government can focus on repairing critical public services crippled by war and neglect. Perhaps the most complex: trying to control what goes into waterways and what comes out of Baghdad taps.
Two-thirds of the raw sewage produced in the capital flows untreated into rivers and waterways, Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, said in his quarterly report released Wednesday.
U.S. and Iraqi officials insist that the tap water in most of Baghdad is of at least fairly good quality because it comes from less polluted areas north of the city. In fact, more Iraqis nationwide have access to potable water now than before the war _ 20 million people compared with 12.9 million previously, according to Bowen's report.
But some Baghdad neighborhoods, notably New Baghdad and Baladiyat, are not so lucky.
There, the Tigris is so filthy with sewage and other pollutants that the local treatment facility can only do so much. To make matters worse, sewage then leaks into the potable water pipes. On Friday, the U.S. military announced the opening of a water distribution site to prevent the mixing of sewage and drinking water in New Baghdad and Baladiyat.
It comes none too soon.
A cholera outbreak in northern Iraq last year killed 14 people. A similar outbreak of the waterborne disease in Baghdad _ home to about 6 million people _ could be far worse.
"Iraq is on the cusp of a serious water crisis that requires immediate attention and resources," said Thomas Naff, a Middle East water expert at the University of Pennsylvania.
The World Bank has estimated that it would take $14.4 billion to rebuild the Iraqi public works and water system.
A U.S. Embassy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to talk to the media, said the actual need is higher. The United States has allocated $2.7 billion for water projects in Iraq, but the official said the money is running out.
Iraq has been slow in spending its billions in oil revenues on public works projects _ despite insistence from U.S. military commanders who recommend quality-of-life improvements to undercut militants and win over Sunni districts wary of the Shiite-led government.
"Up to now we have seen nothing from the government," Sheik Ayad Abdul-Jabbar al-Jubouri complained to a top American commander during a July 12 meeting at a combat outpost in Radwaniyah, a Sunni community just west of the capital. He said the central government is sitting on U.S.-led projects to repair four small water treatment plants and improve two irrigation canals in Radwaniyah.
"We'll fix it," Maj. Gen. Jeffery Hammond assured the sheik.
Mustafa Hamid, a spokesman for the Iraqi environment ministry, said the water pipe network is more than 50 years old and suffers from corrosion "which allows sewage water to infiltrate."
But Hamid downplayed the risk. "There is contamination but not a serious one," he said, saying test results in most parts of the city generally met "safe standards."
Many residents are unconvinced.
Hassan Khalid, 13, said he took antibiotics for typhoid four months ago after drinking tap water. "I had fever, headaches and was throwing up all the time," he said.
Although bottled of water is sold in Iraq _ much of it from Saudi Arabia _ the majority of Baghdad residents use tap water. U.S. troops, however, are warned that the water is only for bathing, not drinking.
The U.S. Embassy official said she has seen black sewage water gushing into the Tigris from a giant pipeline during an aerial tour.
Farmers in Baghdad's northern districts of Azamiyah and Istiqlal, just a few miles from the Tigris, are forced to use sewage water to irrigate crops, the U.S. military said.
The Tigris, which cuts through the heart of the capital and provides most of its drinking water, runs brownish green in the summer. But it still attracts bathers seeking to escape the scorching heat.
"The water smells like dead fish," Giya Nouri, a 40-year-old construction worker, said as he swam with his two young sons. "When I was a kid, it was blue and clean."
But Nouri shrugged his shoulders when asked about the potential health risks. "We got used to it," he said.
So far there has been no outbreak of waterborne diseases in Baghdad.
Last year in Iraq, the World Health Organization confirmed more than 3,300 cases of cholera, a gastrointestinal disease typically spread by contaminated water, and at least 14 deaths from the acute and rapid dehydration it causes. The hardest hit areas were in northern Iraq.
Dr. Nagesh Kumar, a water expert in India, said Iraq's current drought "will make the water contamination situation worse" by drying up wells and lowering river levels.
In the capital, the Tigris is at its lowest level since 2001. Reeds stick up from the water on each bank.
Women And War: The Toll Of Deployment On Physical Health
ScienceDaily (Aug. 15, 2008) — More than 80 percent of a sample of Air Force women deployed in Iraq and other areas around the world report suffering from persistent fatigue, fever, hair loss and difficulty concentrating, according to a University of Michigan study.
Health & Medicine
Mind & Brain
Gulf War syndrome
Toxic shock syndrome
The pattern of health problems reported by 1,114 women surveyed in 2006 and 2007 is similar to many symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome, the controversial condition reported by veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.
"It is possible that some unknown environmental factor is the cause of current health problems and of Gulf War Syndrome," said U-M researcher Penny Pierce.
"But it is also possible that these symptoms result from the stress of military deployment, especially prolonged and multiple deployments."
Pierce and U-M colleagues conducted a similar study of women veterans in 1992 following that war to assess the impact of deployment and combat exposure on physical and mental health.
An associate professor at the U-M School of Nursing and a faculty associate at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), Pierce is also a colonel in the Air Force Reserve Program. With ISR psychologist Lisa Lewandowski-Romps, she presented the findings from the study Aug. 14 in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association.
"Women now comprise approximately 15 percent of our nation's armed forces," Pierce said. "And since the Persian Gulf War, combat roles for women have expanded substantially. This study is an attempt to understand the impact of deployment and war-related stressors on the health of military women."
The Air Force women surveyed by telephone and through mailed questionnaires were drawn from a stratified, random sample and deployed at least once since March 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Half of those sampled served in the theater of war and half served elsewhere; half had children under the age of 18 still living at home; half were active duty, a quarter in the Reserves and another quarter in the National Guard. The median age of participants was 36 years, and 45 percent were married. About 36 percent had a dependent child at the time they were sent overseas. About 70 percent were white.
Asked if they experienced any of a list of symptoms persistently in the past year, 89 percent of those surveyed reported suffering from fatigue, 85 percent from difficulty concentrating, 83 percent from fever, and 83 percent from hair loss. In addition, 35 percent reported suffering from muscle pain and stiffness, 29 percent from irritability, 26 percent from loss of energy and 25 percent from headaches.
In general, Pierce and Lewandowski found that those in the reserve and guard reported more physical symptoms than active duty personnel. Enlisted women reported more health problems than officers did.
In most cases, women serving in the theater of war were more likely to report physical health problems than were than those serving elsewhere. But in many cases, the differences were small, suggesting to Pierce that deployment-related stressors such as family separation and disruption of social support systems may play a critical role in developing stress-related physical problems.
In an earlier analysis of data from the study, presented at last year's American Psychological Association conference, Pierce and Lewandowski-Romps found that about 20 percent of the women surveyed reported at least one major symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTDS).
"Deployment itself is a major stressor," she said. "The whole person is deployed---body, mind, and spirit. We don't know the precise biological mechanism, but it is generally accepted now---perhaps more so than it was in the early 1990s when Gulf War Syndrome was first reported---that persistent levels of heightened stress take a major toll on physical health.
"By identifying problems early, I hope our findings will guide policy-makers and health care professions to design interventions to support service members and their families."
The study is part of an on-going research program on women veterans funded by the TriService Nursing Research Program.
For more information:
Women Veterans Project website: http://sitemaker.umich.edu/afwomen/home
U-M Institute for Social Research: http://www.isr.umich.edu
Outmaneuvered And Outranked, Military Chiefs Became Outsiders
By Bob Woodward, Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 8, 2008; A01
At the Joint Chiefs of Staff in late November 2006, Gen. Peter Pace was
facing every chairman's nightmare: a potential revolt of the other chiefs.
Two months earlier, the JCS had convened a special team of colonels to
recommend options for reversing the deteriorating situation in Iraq. Now, it
appeared that the chiefs' and colonels' advice was being marginalized, if
not ignored, by the White House.
During a JCS meeting with the colonels Nov. 20, Chairman Pace dropped a
bomb: The White House was considering a "surge" of additional troops to
quell the violence in Iraq. "Would it be a good idea?" Pace asked the group.
"If so, what would you do with five more brigades?" That amounted to 20,000
to 30,000 more troops, depending on the number of support personnel.
Pace's question caught the chiefs and colonels off guard. The JCS hadn't
recommended a surge, and Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Iraq commander, was
opposed to one of that magnitude. Where had this come from? Was it a serious
option? Was it already a done deal?
Pace said he had another White House meeting in two days. "I want to be able
to give the president a recommendation on what's doable," he said.
A rift had been growing between the country's military and civilian
leadership, and in several JCS meetings that November, the chiefs'
frustrations burst into the open. They had all but dismissed the surge
option, worried that the armed forces were already stretched to the breaking
point. They favored a renewed effort to train and build up the Iraqi
security forces so that U.S. troops could begin to leave.
"Why isn't this getting any traction over there, Pete?" Gen. Peter J.
Schoomaker, the Army chief, asked at one session inside the "tank," the
military's secure conference room for candid and secret debates. Was the
president being briefed?
"I can only get part of it before him," Pace said, "and I'm not getting any
Pace, Schoomaker and Casey found themselves badly out of sync with the White
House in the fall of 2006, finally losing control of the war strategy
altogether after the midterm elections. Schoomaker was outraged when he saw
news coverage that retired Gen. Jack Keane, the former Army vice chief of
staff, had briefed the president Dec. 11 about a new Iraq strategy being
proposed by the American Enterprise Institute, the conservative think tank.
"When does AEI start trumping the Joint Chiefs of Staff on this stuff?"
Schoomaker asked at the next chiefs' meeting.
Pace, normally given to concealing his opinions, let down the veil slightly
and gave a little sigh. But he didn't answer. Schoomaker thought Pace was
too much of a gentleman to be effective in a business where forcefulness and
a willingness to get in people's faces were survival skills. "They weren't
listening to what Pete [Pace] was saying," Schoomaker said later in private.
"Or Pete wasn't carrying the mail, or he was carrying it incompletely."
In several tank meetings, Adm. Michael Mullen, chief of naval operations,
voiced concern that the politicians were going to find a way to place the
blame for Iraq on the military. "They're orchestrating this to dump in our
laps," Mullen said. He raised the point so many times that Schoomaker
thought the Navy leader sounded "almost paranoid."
* * *
The atmosphere in the tank was tense Monday, Nov. 27, 2006, as Pace briefed
the chiefs and the colonels on a White House meeting about Iraq the day
before. J.D. Crouch, a deputy to national security adviser Stephen J.
Hadley, had presented the results of a secret strategy review on how to
respond to the escalating violence. "I walked out happy because I got my
views on the table," Pace said, making it clear that this was not always the
The president, Pace told the group, is "leaning into announcing a new phase
in the war that will help us achieve our original end state. . . . By April
1, 2007, we would have five more brigades in Iraq."
Schoomaker was dismayed. Suppose the surge didn't work? "What is our
fallback plan?" he asked.
There was no fallback, Pace replied.
"Are people engaged on this," Schoomaker asked almost defiantly of the surge
proponents, "or is this politics?"
"They are engaged," Pace replied. But if progress is still lacking "after we
surge five brigades," Pace said, "then you are forced to conscription, which
no one wants to talk about." To mention a draft was to invite the ghosts of
Vietnam into the tank.
"Folks keep talking about the readiness of U.S. forces. Ready to do what?"
Schoomaker growled. "We need to look at our strategic depth for handling
other threats. How do we get bigger? And how do we make what we have today
more ready? This is not just about Iraq!"
Part of the chiefs' job was to figure out how to accelerate the military's
overall global readiness and capacity, Schoomaker said. "I sometimes feel
like it is hope against hope," he said. "I feel like Nero did when Rome was
burning. It just worries the hell out of me."
Several colonels wanted to applaud. It worried them, too. Others disagreed,
feeling it was more important to focus on the current war. But they all
maintained their poker faces.
"Look, no one is whistling 'Dixie' here," Pace told the group. "The
president and the White House understand the resource constraints."
It was not clear that anyone believed what the chairman was saying, or
whether even Pace believed it.
"We need to position ourselves properly for the decision likely to come,"
Pace said. "The sense of urgency is over Iraq, but not over the other
Mullen said the all-volunteer force might break under the strain of extended
and repeated deployments. "I am still searching for the grand strategy
here," Mullen said. "How does a five-brigade surge over the next few months
fit into the larger picture? We have so many other issues and challenges:
Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea and places we are not even thinking about
* * *
In Baghdad, Gen. Casey realized that he had lost a basic, necessary
ingredient for a commanding general in wartime. He had lost the confidence
of the president, a stunning and devastating realization.
He wasn't alone. The president was not listening to Casey's boss, Gen. John
P. Abizaid at Central Command, anymore, either.
"Yeah, I know," the president said to Abizaid at a National Security Council
session in December, "you're going to tell me you're against the surge."
Yes, Abizaid replied, and then presented his argument that U.S. forces
needed to get out of Iraq in order to win.
"The U.S. presence helps to keep a lid on," Bush responded. There were other
benefits. A surge would "also help here at home, since for many the measure
of success is reduction in violence," Bush said. "And it'll help [Iraq Prime
Minister Nouri al-] Maliki to get control of the situation. A heavier
presence will buy time for his government."
The rest of Iraq wasn't as tenuous as Baghdad, Abizaid said. "But it's the
capital city that looks chaotic," Bush said. "And when your capital city
looks chaotic, it's hard to sustain your position, whether at home or
* * *
The chiefs' frustration grew so intense that Pace told Bush, "You need to
sit down with them, Mr. President, and hear from them directly."
Hadley saw it as an opportunity. He arranged for Bush and Vice President
Cheney to visit the JCS in the tank Dec. 13, 2006. The president would come
armed with what Hadley called "sweeteners" -- more budget money and a
promise to increase the size of the active-duty Army and Marine Corps. It
would also be a symbolic visit, important to the chiefs because the
president would be on their territory.
"Mr. President," Schoomaker began, "you know that five brigades is really
Schoomaker was in charge of generating the force for the Army. Sending five
new brigades to Iraq meant another five would have to take their place in
line, and to sustain the surge, another five behind them. This could not be
done, Schoomaker said, without either calling up the National Guard and
Reserves or extending the 12-month tours in Iraq. The Army had hoped to go
in the other direction and cut tours to nine months.
Would a surge transform the situation? Schoomaker asked. If not, why do it?
"I don't think that you have the time to surge and generate enough forces
for this thing to continue to go," he said.
"Pete, I'm the president," Bush said. "And I've got the time."
"Fine, Mr. President," Schoomaker said. "You're the president."
Several of the chiefs noted that the five brigades were effectively the
strategic reserve of the U.S. military, the forces on hand in case of
flare-ups elsewhere in the world. Surprise was a way of international life,
the chiefs were saying. For years, Bush had been making the point that it
was a dangerous world. Did he want to leave the United States in the
position of not being able to deal with the next manifestation of that
Bush told the chiefs that they had to win the war at hand. He turned again
to Schoomaker. "Pete, you don't agree with me, do you?"
"No," Schoomaker said. "I just don't see it. I just don't. But I know right
now that it's going to be 15 brigades. And how we're going to get those 15
brigades, I don't know. This is going to require more than we can generate.
You're stressing the force, Mr. President, and these kids just see
deployments to Iraq or Afghanistan for the indefinite future."
* * *
"The tank meeting was a very important meeting," Bush told me during a May
2008 interview. "In my own mind, I'm sure I didn't want to walk in with my
mind made up and not give these military leaders the benefit of a discussion
about a big decision."
The president said that if he were just pretending to be open-minded, "you
get sniffed out. . . . I might have been leaning, but my mind was open
enough to be able to absorb their advice."
I told him that, based on my reporting, some of the chiefs thought he had
already decided, that they had sniffed him out.
"They may have thought I was leaning, and I probably was," Bush said, noting
that the chiefs had felt free to express themselves. "But the door wasn't
Still, Bush fully understood the power of his office.
"Generally," he said, "when the commander-in-chief walks in and says, done
deal, they say, 'Yes sir, Mr. President.' "
* * *
Just after Christmas, while in the United States, Casey got an e-mail from
one of his contacts. "Hey, you need to know that the White House is throwing
you under the bus," it read.
A couple of days later, Abizaid phoned Casey with a warning. "Look," Abizaid
said, "the surge is coming. Get out of the way." Casey was soon offered a
promotion to Army chief of staff, and in February 2007, he left Iraq,
replaced by Gen. David H. Petraeus.
The president said later in an interview, "The military, I can remember
well, said, 'Okay, fine. More troops. Two brigades.' And I turned to Steve
[Hadley] and said, 'Steve, from your analysis, what do you think?' He, being
the cautious and thorough man he is, went back, checked, came back to me and
said, 'Mr. President, I would recommend that you consider five. Not two.'
And I said, 'Why?' He said, 'Because it is the considered judgment of people
who I trust and you trust that we need five in order to be able to clear,
hold and build.' "
The views of those trusted people came largely through back channels, rather
than through the president's established set of military advisers -- Casey's
deputy saying that a surge wouldn't work with fewer than five brigades and
Jack Keane making the same case to Hadley and Vice President Cheney.
Hadley maintained that the number "comes out of my discussions with Pete
"Okay, I don't know this," Bush said, interrupting. "I'm not in these
meetings, you'll be happy to hear, because I got other things to do."
So the president did not know what his principal military adviser, Gen.
Pace, had recommended. Pace, however, had told the chiefs Nov. 20, 2006,
that the White House had asked what could be done with five extra brigades.
* * *
The president announced the surge decision Jan. 10, 2007. Five more brigades
would go to Baghdad; 4,000 Marines would head to Anbar province.
The next morning, he went to Fort Benning, Ga., to address military
personnel and their families. His decision had been opposed by Casey and
Abizaid, his military commanders in Iraq. Pace and the Joint Chiefs, his top
military advisers, had suggested a smaller increase, if any at all.
Schoomaker, the Army chief, had made it clear that the five brigades didn't
really exist under the Army's current policy of 12-month rotations. But on
this morning, the president delivered his own version of history.
"The commanders on the ground in Iraq, people who I listen to -- by the way,
that's what you want your commander-in-chief to do. You don't want decisions
being made based upon politics or focus groups or political polls. You want
your military decisions being made by military experts. They analyzed the
plan, and they said to me and to the Iraqi government: 'This won't work
unless we help them. There needs to be a bigger presence.' "
Bush went on, "And so our commanders looked at the plan and said, 'Mr.
President, it's not going to work until -- unless we support -- provide more
Brady Dennis and Evelyn Duffy contributed to this report.
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"Keep on, Keepin' on"
Dan Cedusky, Champaign IL "Colonel Dan"
See my web site at:
When I was in the Army the Joint Chiefs of Staff were gods I don't remember AEI or anyone else telling Johnson and McNamara, Nixon and friends from how to run Vietnam so much for that book that was supposed to keep this generations of Generals from selling out like the Nam era Generals did......can we say "oops we did it again"?
VA Clarifies Voter Registration Regulations
WASHINGTON (Sept. 8, 2008) - The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)
announced today it has clarified its policy on assisting veterans' voter
registration activities, with particular focus on inpatients and
residents of VA community living centers, domiciliaries and patients
with limited access to community voter registration resources.
The Department will welcome state and local election officials and
non-partisan groups to its hospitals and outpatient clinics to assist VA
officials in registering voters at VA facilities. Such assistance,
however, must be coordinated by those facilities in order to avoid
disruptions to patient care.
"VA has always been committed to helping veterans exercise their
constitutional right to vote, which they defended for all Americans
while serving their nation," said Dr. James B. Peake, Secretary of
Veterans Affairs. "We've now established a uniform approach to helping
those of our patients who need assistance to register and to vote."
The policy requires that information about the right of VA patients to
register and vote, and other patients' rights, be posted in every VA
hospital, and that all VA patients be provided a copy of these rights
when they are admitted to a VA facility.
Every hospital is now also required to publish a written policy on voter
assistance, allowing patients to leave the hospital to register and
vote, subject to the opinions of their health care providers. Patients
unable to leave the facility must be assisted to register and to vote by
In their written policies, VA hospital are required to establish the
criteria they will use to evaluate requests from outside agencies to
register voters, and to determine where, when, and how such registration
activities will be conducted. They will also develop procedures to
coordinate offers of assistance from state and local governments and
from non-partisan organizations, and how to work with VA's Regional
Counsel offices to determine whether or not groups offering registration
help are non-partisan, as required by law.
Voluntary Service Program Managers at each of VA's 153 hospitals will be
responsible for implementing the new policy, and for providing timely
and accurate voting information to veterans cared for at their
facilities. They will also obtain and maintain materials that are
needed to assist veterans with voter registration requirements.
CHAIRMAN BOB FILNER
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS’ AFFAIRS
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Schedule for Week of September 8, 2008
Tuesday, September 9 – House Floor
House of Representatives to consider three bills reported from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
· H.R. 1527 – Rural Veterans Access to Care Act (Rep. Jerry Moran)
· H.R. #### – Veterans’ Construction and Extensions Act of 2008 (Chairman Filner)
· S. 2617 – Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2008 (Senator Akaka)
Tuesday, September 9 at 10 a.m. – 340 Cannon House Office Building
Subcommittee on Health Hearing
· H.R. 3051 – Heroes at Home Act of 2007 (Rep. Salazar)
· H.R. 6153 – Veterans Medical Personnel Recruitment and Retention Act of 2008 (Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson)
· H.R. 6629 – Veterans Health Equity Act of 2008 (Rep. Shea-Porter)
Thursday, September 11 at 9:30 a.m. – 345 Cannon House Office Building
Joint House and Senate Full Committee Hearing
Legislative Presentation of The American Legion
Thursday, September 11 at 1 p.m. – 340 House Office Building
Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity Hearing
“Oversight of G.I. Bill Implementation”
The purpose of the Subcommittee hearing is to see how far along the VA has come in meeting the requirements for the new G.I. Bill, Chapter 33 benefits. The VA will have an opportunity to present its primary plan for meeting its goal of implementation. The Subcommittee will inquire about the plans for outsourcing the implementation to a private contractor as well as alternative plans if the deadline is not met.
Witness for hearing:
Keith Pedigo, Associate Deputy Under Secretary, Policy and Program Management, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Keep updated on the committee schedule here: HVAC Website