Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Obama and his Republican base

Starting with war resisters.  Earlier this month, Paul Boers (The Goshen College Record) reported on war resister Rob Weiss. At age 17, Weiss signed up for the US military and, following high school graduation and basic training, the Army sent him to Germany where he was stationed.  For 18 months all was fine until he was home at the end of 2006 when the fiance of his sister died en route to the hospital and, as Boers explains, "This event caused Weiss to start thinking about his own mortality, especially as a soldier."  Weiss explains to Boers about how he would explain his death, "What would I say? 'Sorry, I didn't have time to go to church.  I was hung over.'  I thought, 'maybe it's time that I would do something productive with my life other than getting bar fights and getting hammered drunk'." Exploring these issues and turning to the Bible, Weiss explains, "I was shocked by this message of peacemaking.  There is a constant, recurring message of not responding in violence, unlike in the Army where they teach you to kill everything." On June 6, 2007, Weiss filed his conscientious objector status and as he waited for a response, he was sent to Iraq.  While in Iraq, the decision came down: his CO application was denied.  While on leave, Weiss self-checked out and went underground in the US.  Speaking to Boers, Weiss explained, "I think it's better to turn yourself in and get it over with.  I don't want to live in people's basements until the day I die."
Meanwhile war resisters who have moved to Canada were dealt a serious set-back when the Canadian Supreme Court refused to hear the appeals of Jeremy Hinzman and Brandon Hughey.  Today, Canada's Parliament remaining the best hope for safe harbor war resisters have, you can make your voice heard by the Canadian parliament which has the ability to pass legislation to grant war resisters the right to remain in Canada. Three e-mails addresses to focus on are: Prime Minister Stephen Harper ( -- that's pm at who is with the Conservative party and these two Liberals, Stephane Dion ( -- that's Dion.S at who is the leader of the Liberal Party and Maurizio Bevilacqua ( -- that's Bevilacqua.M at who is the Liberal Party's Critic for Citizenship and Immigration. A few more can be found here at War Resisters Support Campaign. For those in the US, Courage to Resist has an online form that's very easy to use.  That is the sort of thing that should receive attention but instead it's ignored. 
There is a growing movement of resistance within the US military which includes Matt Mishler, Josh Randall, Robby Keller, Justiniano Rodrigues, Chuck Wiley, James Stepp, Rodney Watson, Michael Espinal, Matthew Lowell, Derek Hess, Diedra Cobb, Brad McCall, Justin Cliburn, Timothy Richard, Robert Weiss, Phil McDowell, Steve Yoczik, Ross Spears, Peter Brown, Bethany "Skylar" James, Zamesha Dominique, Chrisopther Scott Magaoay, Jared Hood, James Burmeister, Eli Israel, Joshua Key, Ehren Watada, Terri Johnson, Clara Gomez, Luke Kamunen, Leif Kamunen, Leo Kamunen, Camilo Mejia, Kimberly Rivera, Dean Walcott, Linjamin Mull, Agustin Aguayo, Justin Colby, Marc Train, Abdullah Webster, Robert Zabala, Darrell Anderson, Kyle Snyder, Corey Glass, Jeremy Hinzman, Kevin Lee, Mark Wilkerson, Patrick Hart, Ricky Clousing, Ivan Brobeck, Aidan Delgado, Pablo Paredes, Carl Webb, Stephen Funk, Blake LeMoine, Clifton Hicks, David Sanders, Dan Felushko, Brandon Hughey, Clifford Cornell, Joshua Despain, Joshua Casteel, Katherine Jashinski, Dale Bartell, Chris Teske, Matt Lowell, Jimmy Massey, Chris Capps, Tim Richard, Hart Viges, Michael Blake, Christopher Mogwai, Christian Kjar, Kyle Huwer, Wilfredo Torres, Michael Sudbury, Ghanim Khalil, Vincent La Volpa, DeShawn Reed and Kevin Benderman. In total, at least fifty US war resisters in Canada have applied for asylum.

Information on war resistance within the military can be found at The Objector, The G.I. Rights Hotline [(877) 447-4487], Iraq Veterans Against the War and the War Resisters Support Campaign. Courage to Resist offers information on all public war resisters. Tom Joad maintains a list of known war resisters. In addition, VETWOW is an organization that assists those suffering from MST (Military Sexual Trauma).


In 1971, over one hundred members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War gathered in Detroit to share their stories with America. Atrocities like the My Lai massacre had ignited popular opposition to the war, but political and military leaders insisted that such crimes were isolated exceptions. The members of VVAW knew differently.
Over three days in January, these soldiers testified on the systematic brutality they had seen visited upon the people of Vietnam. They called it the Winter Soldier investigation, after Thomas Paine's famous admonishing of the "summer soldier" who shirks his duty during difficult times. In a time of war and lies, the veterans who gathered in Detroit knew it was their duty to tell the truth.
Over thirty years later, we find ourselves faced with a new war. But the lies are the same. Once again, American troops are sinking into increasingly bloody occupations. Once again, war crimes in places like Haditha, Fallujah, and Abu Ghraib have turned the public against the war. Once again, politicians and generals are blaming "a few bad apples" instead of examining the military policies that have destroyed Iraq and Afghanistan.
Once again, our country needs Winter Soldiers.
In March of 2008, Iraq Veterans Against the War will gather in our nation's capital to break the silence and hold our leaders accountable for these wars. We hope you'll join us, because yours is a story that every American needs to hear.

March 13th through 16th are the dates for the Winter Soldier Iraq & Afghanistan Investigation. Dee Knight (Workers World) notes, "IVAW wants as many people as possible to attend the event. It is planning to provide live broadcasting of the sessions for those who cannot hear the testimony firsthand. 'We have been inspired by the tremendous support the movement has shown us,' IVAW says. 'We believe the success of Winter Soldier will ultimately depend on the support of our allies and the hard work of our members'." As part of their fundraising efforts for the event, they are holding houseparties and a recent one in Boston featured both IVAW's Liam Madden and the incomprable Howard Zinn as speakers. IVAW's co-chair Adam Kokesh will, of course, be participating and he explains why at his site, "But out of a strong sense of duty, some of us are trying to put our experiences to use for a good cause.  Some of us couldn't live with ourselves if weren't doing everything we could to bring our brothers and sisters home as soon as possible.  The environment may be unking, but that is why I will be testifying to shooting at civilians as a result of changing Rules of Engagement, abuse of detainees, and desecration of Iraqi bodies.  It won't be easy but it must be done.  Some of the stories are things that are difficult to admit that I was a part of, but if one more veteran realizes that they are not alone because of my testimony it will be worth it."
Staying with veterans, the US House Committee on Veterans Affairs' subcommittee on Health held a hearing today.  Subcommittee chair Michael Michaud explained in opening remarks, "Today's hearing is an opportunity for the VA, Veteran Service Organizations and members of this subcommittee to discuss draft legislation dealing with Fiscal Year 2009 VA construction.  38 United States Code requires statutory authorization for all VA major medical facility construction projects over $10 million and all major medical facility leases more than $600,000 per year.  This hearing is a first step in this important process."  Dennis Cullinan, Veterans of Foreign Wars of the US, testified on behalf of the VFW regarding the proposed "Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Facility Authorization and Lease Act of 2008."   Cullinan felt the budges were too low and placed the blame for that on "the administration" which "saw fit to halve the major and minor construction accounts from the Fiscal Year 2008 levels, failing to meet the future needs of our veterans."  The White House has played it on the cheap with veterans care throughout this decade and they've generally gotten away with that.  Cullinan stated the proposed legislation "demonstrates that this Congress is ready, able and willing to correct this situtiona and to advance VA's construction priorities so that future generations of veterans -- such as those currently serving in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Aghanistan -- will have a first-rate VA health care system ready to fully meet their needs."  The proposal, as US Dept of Veterans Affairs' Donald Orndoff noted, mainly is about the "authorization for six major medical construction projects and twelve major medical facility leases". 
Meanwhile, Dr. Dean Kilpatrick of the Medical University of South Carolina testified to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs yesterday on the subject of PTSD and this morning he testified to the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs.  Kilpatrick is the direcyor of the National Crimes Victims Research and Treatment Center. And for context, the American Public Health Association's 135th Annual Meeting last November utilized these numbers for PTSD -- 12 percent to 20 percent of all veterans from the Iraq War will suffer from PTSD, over 52,000 veterans have already been diagnosed and treated with PTSD. In December 2006, Ann Scott Tyson (Washington Post) reported, "U.S. soldiers serving repeated Iraq deployments are 50 percent more likely than those with one tour to suffer from acute combat stress, raising their risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the Army's first survey exploring hos today's multiple war-zone rotations affect soldiers' mental health."  In his opening remarks today, Kilpatrick explained the basics.
Kilpatrick:  I will begin with some background information of posttraumatic stress disorder.  Briefly described, PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can develop in a person after a traumatic experience.  Someone is diagnosed with PTSD if, in response to that traumatic experience, he or she develops a cluster of symptoms that include        
* reexperienceing the traumatic event as reflected by distressing recollections, memories, nightmares, or flashbacks
* avoidance of anything that reminds them of the traumatic event   
* emotional numbing or feeling detached from other people 
* hyperarousal as reflected by trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, outbursts of anger, and having to always be vilgilant for potential threats in the enivornment        
* impairment in social or occupational functioning, or clinically significant distress   
The focus of the hearing was not PTSD, however.  Kirkpatrick and others were members of the Institute of Medicine committee studying veterans health issues with a primary focus -- today -- on the ratings.  Is the Scehdule for Rating Disabilities -- currently used to determine the financial benefits paid to wounded veterans -- adequate or even fair?  Former American Medical Association president Dr. Lonnie R. Bristow gave an overview of areas the committee felt needed futher exploration and these included compensation for loss of quality of life, the differences in employment income for those suffering brain injuries as opposed to physical ones.  Scott Zeger, of John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health noted veterans with "medical conditions that develope after military service" and the need to for "Congress or the Department of Veterans Affairs . . . to make a 'presumption' of service-connection so that a group of veterans can be appropriately compensated.  Presumptions are made in order to reach decisions in the face of unavailable or incomplete information."  The Center for Health Research and Policy's Joyce McMahon also addressed compensation and the need for a system that was inclusive, "Congressional language indicates that the intent of VA compensation is to provide a replacement for the average impairment in earning capacity.  VA compensation is not an individual means-tested program, although there are minor exceptions to this."  As with most studies, by the committee members own statements, the emphasis was on males and before Congress creates an 'inclusive system,' it would be better to actually be inclusive.  At this late date, there's really no excuse to set up a system that will treat male as the norm and take decades of pressure to include women in the studies and then to begin addressing health and disability issues specific to women.  Aaron Glantz (War Comes Home) reported last month on the continued crisis in veterans health care and noted, "The average wait time for a veteran's disability claim to be decided is now 183 days.  More than 600,000 disabled vets are waiting.  Tens of thousands more veterans are being totally denied medical care and disability benefits they were promised after serving abroad."  The 600,000 waiting should especially stand out to those who remember the 2004 presidential debates.  Senator John Kerry noted the crisis -- it was then and it is now a crisis -- in veterans health care and among the lies Bully Boy tossed out (and the likes of quickly swallowed) was that the wait-time was going smoothly, right on track, boom-boom-boom.  The reality, as Kerry pointed out repeatedly before the debate and after was that the wait-time was increasing.  So when the figure of 600,000 emerges today, it has recent historical roots.  Let's return to PTSD to note this from AP (November 2007): "About 42 percent of the Guard and reserves compared to 20 percent of active-duty troops, were identified as needing medical health treatment in two screenings.  The first testing was immediately upon return from Iraq and the second six months later.  Problems showed up more often on the second screening. . . .  For those citizen soldiers, the military's Tricare health insurance benefits expire after six months: VA benefits expire two years after a soldier's return to civilian status."  Ron Jacobs (Dissident Voice) reviews Michele Barrett's Casualty Figures and notes of PTSD, "We associate this disorder primarily with veterans of combat.  What many people do not know is that this disorder was included into the bible of therapeutic mental health disorders only after a long struggle by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War and some other US veterans organizations in the 1970s."

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1 comment:

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