Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Ignoring reality doesn't make it go away

Starting with war resistance.  Chris Kirby (Oklahoma's Pioneer Online) notes that Ann Wright recently spoke on campus and explained, "Hundreds of soldiers are going AWOL (absent without leave) because they don't agree with the way that the war in Iraq is being handled.  Instead of court-martialing all of these soldiers who are going AWOL, it is easier and faster for the government to just give them a dishonorable discharge."  Wright is both retired State Dept and retired military (Army Col.) and she is also the co-author with Susan Dixon of DISSENT: Voices of Conscience
Wright has traveled extensively getting the word out and that includes getting the word out on war resisters and speaking with them.  She's recently been of assistance to James Burmeister who has returned from Canada.  In Canada, war resisters are hoping the Parliament will take action on a motion waiting to be debated.   Currently, you can utilize the following e-mails to show your support: 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.  In addition Jack Layton, NDP leader, has a contact form and they would like to hear from people as well. A few more addresses 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.         

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, Jose Vasquez, 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, Logan Laituri, Jason Marek, 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).
Yesterday's snapshot addressed Tuesday's House Committee on Veterans' Affairs hearing entitled "The Truth About Veterans' Suicides." But the hearing received little coverage. You can read Lisa Mascaro (Las Vegas Sun), Kimberly Hefling (AP), Afani Ruzik, Ben Bauman and Stefanie Sloan (KTKA -- text and video), Lisa Desjardins (CNN) and CBS News. And that was really it.  More have filed since earlier this month but that was it for this morning, the morning after the hearing.
The hearing started with the broadcast of CBS News' reports (Armen Keteyian reporting, Pia Malbran producing) here and here and then US House Rep Steve Buyer worried how this would look in the record?  A transcript of the clips, a website, how? "This is a first," Buyer stated, "that we actually watch a news program.  And uh-uh . . .  I'm willing to work with the chairman to do something anew but either we refer to a website whereby individuals could pull down the rec-- could pull that down from the record and actually view the video because that was how it was viewed in the committee.  Or do we take a trans-trans-transcribe what was just put in there and put that in there."  Buyer wasted time there and wasted time throughout.  Surprisingly Panhandle Media didn't leap on one of his statements since they love to insult Real Media: "I want to caution my friends in the fourth branch of government who may be covering this hearing: Please do not refer to suicide as an 'epidemic' without saying that treatment is available."  No, the press is not "the fourth branch of government."  It is supposed to be independent of the government.  And suicide is an epidemic among veterans, no matter how Buyer wants to spin it (he's Republican) or how much he wants to pretend that veterans are looking for copy-cat things to do.  (That opinion, which he expressed, is very insulting.  But he didn't care about insulting veterans, only in attempting to clamp down on the story.  Judging by the lack of coverage of yesterday's hearing, he succeeded.)
The topic of the hearing itself was, as Chair Bob Filner noted, "A matter of life and death.  A matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for.  And I think there's criminal negiligence in the way this was handled."  How was suicide handled?  The Dept of Veterans Affairs elected fudge and hide the numbers and provided little (being extremely generous) aid to those veterans at risk of committing suicide.  Filner connected the cover up to earlier ones such as Agent Orange.  "Deny, deny, deny," declared Filner of the pattern.  "Then when facts seemingly . . . come to disagree with the denial, you cover up.  When the cover up falls apart, you admit a little bit of the problem and underplay it. 'It's only a few people, only a thousand veterans got exposed to that gas.  Agent Orange wasn't done very well.  Atomic testing, well -- nobody knew what was going on.'  And then finally, maybe, you admit it's a problem, way after the fact, try to come to grips with it.  We've seen it again and again and again."  
Filner pointed out that the VA was reducing it to "numbers, numbers, as if that's all, it's just a sort of bureacratic situation.  This is not a bureacratic situation with just numbers.  This is a matter of life and death.   A matter of life and death for the veterans that we are responsible for.  And I think there's criminal negligence in the way this was handled. 
If we do not admit, if we do not assume, if we do not know what the problem is then the problem will continue and people die.  If that's not criminal negligence, I don't know what is."
Filner reminded the Secretary of the Dept of Veterans Affairs James Peake that they spoke after Peake was confirmed  (December 14, 2007) and Filner asked him then if he was going to just try to tide the current administration over for a year or "do something real and  have a legacy to look at?" The answer now is that there is a bueracratic coverup and Filner noted that Dr. Michael J. Kusman, the Under Secretary of the VA, wasn't even present despite being mentioned in the e-mails "and he ought to be here." 
Where is accountablity?  Filner wanted to know if any resignations are being asked for, if there would be any "accountability for what has gone on here?"  Filner noted that Peake's perpared statement just offers "bureacratic details".  US Rep John Hall used his time to question the fact that veterans seeking help are shuffled around as opposed to meeting with the same provider and forming some sort of bond as well as by noting that the thirty minute 'treatment' periods are ridiculous in terms of therapy ("just about enough time to get started").  US House Rep Phil Hare Mike and Kim Bowman of Illionis whose son Timothy Bowman committed suicide: "They are rightly outraged and angry that from their perspective, the VA didn't do more to help their son."  Timothy Bowman returned from serving in Iraq and killed himself  nine months after returning from Iraq, in November of 2005.  His father told the Committee in December:
As my family was preparing for a 2005 Thanksgiving meal, our son Timothy was lying on the floor, slowly bleeding to death from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  His war was now over, his demons were gone.  Tim was laid to rest in a combination military, firefighter funeral that was a tribute to the man he was. . . .  Today you are going to hear a lot of statistical information about sucide, Veterans, and the VA.  But keep one thing in mind, our son, Specialist Timothy Noble Bowman, was not counted in any VA statistics of any kind.  He had not made it into the VA system because of the stigma of reporting mental problems, he was National Guard, and he was not on a drill weekend when he took his life.  The only stastical studay that he was counted in was the CBS study.  And there are many more just like him.  We call them KBA's, killed because of action.  The unkown fallen.
Hare called for universal screenings. And also wondered "how we reach out to those rural veterans" who do not live in close proximity to a VA hospital.  Remember the suicide coordinators are only at the 153 VA hospitals, not at the 875 VA Community-Based Outpatient Clinics.  Dr. Ronald Maris pointed this out yesterday and told the committee, "Thus the vast majority of VA facilities in fact do not have suicide coordinators."  Rep Harry  Mitchell noted that the Dept of Veterans Affairs was "not keeping track" of veterans' suicides nationally and:
in December we had a hearing to find out why and Mr. Chairman, I don't know if there was anyone here who attended that hearing and will ever forget it.  Mr. Hare mentioned that we heard from  Mike and Kim Bowman whose twenty-three-year-old son Tim  survived a year of duty in Iraq only to come home to take his own life.  Mr. Bowman warned us that our troops were coming home to an underfunded, understaffed, under-equipped VA medical health care system that imposes so many challenges that many are just giving up and so when Dr. Katz insisted at that hearing repeatedly that the VA had all the necessary resources to reach all veterans at risk for suicide and make special treatment available to them I was skeptical.  How could Dr. Katz be so sure that there weren't any requests for addtional resources sitting somewhere within the vast VA system that have gone unfulfilled?  Was he absolutely certain that there were no pending requests for an additional mental health counselor, for extra gas money to enable a VA employee to drive somewhere to contact an outreach?  As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversights and Investigations, I felt I had a responsibility to make sure.  So I asked the VA to double check.  I asked them to take a look at their records and send us any documents relating to any requests for additional resources that have gone unfulfilled or underfilled.  My thought was, "If we can find out what the VA needs are  to address this problem, we could get to work and make sure that they got it."  More than four months later, however, all I've gotten are excuses, complaints and, most recently, a suggestion that I, quote, "Go file a Freedom of Information Act Request."  That's not just an insult to me, it's an insult to this committee and to our veterans.  I've tried to be reasonable.  I've tried to work with Secretary Peake's office but, Mr. Chairman, my patience is at an end.  I've given the Department until Friday to finally produce the documents I've requested.  If they do not, Mr. Chairman, I want you to know that I will be asking you to pursue a subpoena. 
Telling a member of Congress conducting official business to file a freedome of information request is an insult and it's ignoring the separation of powers set up in the Constitution.  Yesterday Thomas Ferraro (Reuters) reported that a subpoena has been authorized by the House's Judiciary Committee for David Addington, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, regarding interrogation policies approved by the White House.  One would have assumed that Mitchell's comments would have either rated a stand-alone story or been piggy-backed onto that story but instead they've been largely ignored by the press.  It should be noted that in December the VA's Ira Katz gave prepared remarks that were pretty much the same as what James Peake provided yesterday.
After Peake read his prepared statement full of figures and charts, Filner pointed out "We can't do our job if you are not honest with us."
Bob Filner: We're not doing the job.  I don't care what your figures show.  We have tens of thousands of young people getting out of the military or the guard who have not been adequately diagnosed for either PTSD or brain injury.  Every one of your statistics says, 'Those who have come to us,' you know, which is a small fraction of  who is out there.  So we are not doing the job and we can't do our job, if you are not honest with us. And as I said before in my opening statement, we only came into possession of certain e-mails -- I don't know how many there are out there, but we only have a few  -- brought to the public by discovery in a legal case out on the West Coast.  So three days after the hearing in which Mr. [Katz], we asked directly, Mr. Mitchell just said it, we asked Dr. Katz, "Do you need any help from us? What resources do you need?"  And he said, "No, we've got it taken care of.  And here's our statistics and CBS was wrong and you guys shouldn't worry about this." Three days after that, Dr. Kussman writes to Mr. Katz and others that . . . 'in the clips this morning' -- I don't know if this is from home or work, but you're all working Saturday, that's good -- '18 veterans kill themselves every day. That's what CBS report said.  Sounds awful but let's not worry too much if you're considering 24 million veterans.'  Even in the first e-mail we have, I don't know how many there are, no one is saying 'We're not doing the job here.'  There saying, 'Oh, does this sound good?  Does this sound bad?'  And Dr. Katz says, 'Yes, there are 18 suicides. Is this supported by the CBS numbers?"  Now Dr. Katz, this contradicts what you told us in the hearing three days earlier.  Why didn't you just call us up or ask for another hearing and say, 'You know, we're looking at things differently, I misspoke, I want to talk to you some more about the stastics.'  This looks like a cover up because you didn't tell us anything. . . . And this is contradictory to what you said under oath to our committee.   Why should not either . . . go to court for perjury  or resign because you didn't tell us the truth?  Dr. Katz, I'm asking you. You keep looking at him, but I'm asking you.
Ira Katz: Thank you for asking.  In response to a question from Mr. Mitchell in the December 12th hearing, I and my colleague, Dr. Fred Blow, who accompanied me to the hearing, did mention the eighteen a day for suicides among all veterans.  We mentioned the four-to-five a day of suicides among those we cared for in VHA health care services.  When I asked him to, Dr. Blow  mentioned the fact that overall veterans had a rate suicide of about 1.5 times that of age and sex matched individuals from the general population and he mentioned the fact that among women the ratio of suicide among veterans in our system to the general population was about two.  That was mentioned in the hearing on December 12th.  There was no cover up.  This was mentioned --
Bob Filner: Did you not, did you not say -- and we saw the clips --  did you not say that CBS data was wrong?
Ira Katz: I was not referring to the entire data but the subset of data dealing with the youngest of veterans.
Bob Filner: (chuckeling) So the "Mission Accomplished" should have said "Mission Accomplished Only By Those Sailors Who Are Aboard This Ship In Those Two Days"? We didn't see the fine print?  We asked you several times and you said several times that the CBS data was wrong and you never made any qualification of that as far as I can remember.  Your story was 'they were wrong.'  And you didn't need any help either to deal with this issue.  Is that right?  You were fine.  Why do you keep looking at him?  I'm asking you.
Ira Katz:  Sir, I did speak about the suicide rates among veterans on December 12th and I continue to have concerns about the CBS reports about rates and  standard mortality ratio or ratios among the youngest veterans.  I wish they would present their data so we could review it. 
Bob Filner: Yeah but you're in charge.  They're just reporting.  They asked for all of this data and you never gave it to them so they spent six months tryng to find stuff that, Dr. Peake, you said 'We don't have as the VA.'  Well they went out and found it.  So I assume someone can go out and find it if you thought it was important enough.
James Peake: Mr. Chairman, if I may, I don't disagree with your premise that somebody should be able to go out and find it.  We -- they did not provide it to us.  Even though we asked so we have now gone out and asked for the same information and I'm very anxious to see what actually came back.  We, as I tried to explain, we are using  the data from the national sources which is the gold standard that any responsible uhm statistician would be able to use for this.  I will tell you that I am worried that suicide in general in this nation is under-reported. Not just in the military.  Not just in the VA --
Bob Filner: Well don't start that red herring.  We're talking about veterans right now so don't tell me 'well the whole of society is screwed up.'  We're going to do this job.  On the December 12th data, you don't see any difference, Dr. Katz, between what you told us then and what you said a few days later?  You say your consistent? 
Ira Katz: Again, the issue is the eighteen a day, the four to five a day, the ratios of 1.5 and 2.0 and those were provided at the December 12th hearing in response to a question by Mr. Mitchell. 
Bob Filner: Let me ask on the February 13th e-mails.  As we read them, I mean, first you say in one of them "Sh!" -- what did you mean by that, by the way? 
Ira Katz: That was very unfortunate.
Bob Filner: Yes, it was.
Ira Katz: I think the e-mail has to be divided into the subject line and the content.  I deeply regret the subject line.  It was an error and I apologize for that.  However, the content of the e-mail, the body of the e-mail, reflects an appropriate and healthy dialogue among members of VA staff about when it's appropriate to disclose and make public information early in the process of developing --
Bob Filner: No, no, an appropriate thing would say 'We're not sure this data . . . We'll study it further.  Maybe we should inform the committee."  But what you say, "Is this something we should carefully address ourselves in some sort of release before someone stumbles on it?" I mean, that's what you're concerned about, not the suicides, but someone stumbling upon this data. 
Ira Katz: No, sir.  I'm concerned about saving lives. 
Bob Filner: Well but that's not what you suggest here [in the e-mail]
Ira Katz: Sir, that e-mail was in poor tone but the content was a dialogue about what we should do with new information.
Bob Filner: And did you tell Dr. Peake about all of this? About the new data or what this 1000 attempts per day -- 
Ira Katz: The purpose of that e-mail was to open extensive dialogue within VHA about this emerging data.
Bob Filner: I mean, did you tell Dr. Peake about that, you were showing 1,000 suicide attempts per month?   
Ira Katz: I reported it to VHA senior leadership.
Bob Filner: That's not what we have in the e-mails.  We just have you talking to the PR guy.
Ira Katz: We were opening a dialogue about what to do with the new information. 
Bob Filner: Yeah and the first thing you do is talk to your public relations guy instead of  somebody who might know something about how to treat suicide?  I mean it seems to me that what you are trying to do is manage the data and not deal with the data.
Ira Katz: Sir, there's been extensive conversation about this with other suicide and mental health people. 
Bob Filner: I'm sorry, I didn't --
Ira Katz: There's extensive conversation about the thousand a month with uh-uh other people --
Bob Filner: Not in any information that we have.
Ira Katz: Not in that e-mail, no.
Bob Filner: So you would think that you would tell us about it since we have obviously a concern about it.  We're the -- we're the ones that can help get you the money to deal with the issue. It looks to me -- and all I have is what you provided to the court by discovery motions which I assume is as complete as you wanted to be  and if you gave us more complete stuff than you probably didn't give enough to the original discovery -- but that your interest is in managing the data as opposed to helping the veteran.
Ira Katz: Sir, earlier at the court in the same hearing I testified under oath about the thousand a month and about knowing about that number was so very important cause that pointed to a thousand people a month where we really could do something to dramatically decrease.
Bob Filner: Why didn't you just write us a letter or come to a meeting or brief us?  I mean instead of this kind of managing the data, why didn't you just talk to us about it and say 'We're on it.  We're serious.  We care about it.  We want you to know about it.  And we need this much more money or not to do something about it'?
Ira Katz: Dr. Peake spoke to the fact that this wasn't data yet. These were observations in measurements --
Bob Filner: When do you expect that to be real data?  Another year?  After your term is over? Or what?  I mean, it looks like this would never have come to our attention unless there was a court case with discovery.  You had never had any intention of talking to us, dealing with the data in an open way, but you were trying to manage it from inside.  And who knows when we would have heard about it?  Both that court case that got the data and the news media that is looking at this has done a far better job than you have in keeping us informed.  I would say.
[. . .]
Yesterday Indiana and North Carolina held primaries.  Lauren Lafaro (Politcker) shows more sense than most of her peers: "Now that Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have split Indiana and North Carolina, Oregon can be assured that it will receive attention."  And that's the reality.  One state was won by each.  But it's time for all the fringe elements (some of whom are Democrats and many of whom are not) to begin their cry of "Hillary must drop out!" yet again.  The candidate just won Indiana.  There's no reason to drop out.  Neither candidate will end the primary races with enough delegates awarded to have a lock on the nomination.  Hillary states: "Today, in every way that I know how, I am expressing my personal determination to keep forging forward in this campaign."  That's a fighter. And the campaign's working in West Virginia on getting out the vote which includes dairy farmers Ed King and Roxaina Hurlburt giving their time to the campaign, traveling from their homes in New York, to explain why Hillary's the candidate for farmers and for all Americans.  Meanwhile the faux candidate Barack had a faux event and Uppity Woman (No Quarter) provides the photos

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