Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No MoJo




UH . . . NO.



In the US, Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Thursday. Many families and friends will not be celebrating together for various reasons including work and distance. That's especially true for military families. Sadly, it's also true for veterans' families, for families where veterans have served, are out of the military and should be able to enjoy the day. Rosie and Le Roy Torres could be with their children having a nice Thanksgiving but he was exposed to toxins he never should have been exposed to and now Thanksgiving is another day where the family that should be able to focus on being together instead has to focus on survival:
This year our Thanksgiving holiday will not be celebrated with our children, instead we will be spending our Thanksgiving on the road after seeking specialized medical care for illness resulting from exposures to environmental hazardous toxins and chemicals from the Burn Pits at Camp Anaconda Balad, Iraq. Two years and over 20 medical visits later, both DOD and VA both continue to deny a chemically induced diagnosis. Our only option has been to seek specialized medical care at our own expense from Dr. Miller and Dr. Lambright at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Tennessee, who have been able to confirm a diagnosis. The expenses associated with Burn Pits include lodging (hotel rooms), food, Tri-care insurance co-pays, medications, travel (airline tickets, gas, car rental), time off of work (without pay status under service members family medical leave act), but most importantly it has costs us our family (time away from our children affecting them emotionally).
Senators Byron Dorgan and Evan Bayh have used the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (which Senator Dorgan chairs) as a bully pulpit to attempt to raise awareness and document this issue. Both men leave the Senate in January (both chose not to seek re-election). While they deserve strong applause for the work they did, there is so much work to be done as the Torres family well knows. Along with the Torres family's Burn Pits site, you can also refer to for more information. Le Roy Torres served in Iraq as a Captain in the US Army Reserve and was also a State Trooper. Now he's got to fight for treatment the government more than owes him. There's nothing 'thankful' about that and it goes to a Congress who would rather sit on their ass than address a problem because -- here's the big point -- it costs money. US Senator Jim Webb stabbed Vietnam veterans in the back with his attack on the VA's Agent Orange Registry and that all came down to money -- Webb is more than happy to spend the American tax payers' money on more weapons, he just wants veterans to foot the bill. He was also one of the big opponets to Evan Bayh's proposal for an Iraq and Afghanistan War Registry. Evan presented that himself to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee where it was roped off and couldn't make it out of committee. One of the strongest objections to a registry was Jim Webb whining yet again about the costs. What about the costs the Torres family's paying? What about the cost of a holiday that the children won't spend with their parents because Le Roy and Roise Torres have to fight and battle just for him to receive NEEDED treatment?
Evan Bayh's registry would have taken care of this issue. It's over. Congress isn't going to vote on it. Jim Webb ensured that it died in committee. As with the Agent Orange Registry -- which VA Secretary Eric Shinseki went around Webb and the other cheapskates to implement -- Webb opposed it because of the cost.
And yet Webb votes to fund every War Supplemental. But the injuries in the war are supposed to be out-of-poket expenses after a service member discharges?
September 30th, a sparsely attended hearing -- which had already been scheduled -- was held. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bob Filner and a few of his colleagues -- including some not even on the Committee -- remained as others did a mad dash out of DC to go hit the road campaigning. At the start of that hearing, Chair Filner delivered some important remarks.
Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize. We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed? Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year. We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers. We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years. We don't have it. Why don't we have it? They fought for this nation. We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one. So we have to find a pay-go. But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to. So the system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way. That's much easier than to care for them when they come home. This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get enough money for our veterans. We got to fight for it every day. We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue. This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat.Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated.
If the cost was factored in, cheapskates -- when it comes to health -- like Jim Webb wouldn't be able to prevent veterans from receiving the care they need. It's amazing that Jim Webb has signed off on how many billions for war in his brief time as a Democrat and as a senator but getting him to back full medical treatment for veterans is about as difficult as getting him to pick a check. He should be ashamed of himself.
Many veterans and contractors are turning to the court system in an effort to get some form of justice that the Congress has been unable to deliver. Disclosure, I know Susan Burke and think she's one of the strongest attorneys around. This is a press release from Motley Rice Law Firm who have partnered with her on burn pit cases:
Motley Rice attorneys have joined with co-counsel Susan Burke and her firm Burke PLLC in the KBR, Inc., Burn Pit multidistrict litigation to represent clients against multiple defense contractors for allegedly exposing American soldiers, veterans and former employees of defense contractors who worked and lived on or near military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to toxic smoke, ash and fumes generated through the disposal of waste in open burn pits. The plaintiffs in Jobes v. KBR, Inc. et al. allege that prolonged exposure to the pits' smoke, ash, and fumes caused injuries such as chronic illnesses, risk of illnesses and wrongful death. The injured plaintiffs also allege that the defendants had a duty to warn U.S. service members and civilians working and living around burn pit fumes about health and safety issues but failed to properly do so.
Plaintiff's also allege that these contractors used open burn pits rather than clean-burning incinerators at the majority of U.S. Military facilities in the Middle East in order to increase profits. Items disposed of in the burn pits may have included hazardous medical waste, hydraulic fluids, lithium batteries, tires and trucks (see detailed list below).
On Friday, October 15, 2010, the US Government Accountability Office released the Afghanistan and Iraq Report, in response to a request by Congress. It states that of the four burn pits they surveyed in Iraq, all standards outlined in 2009 for burn pit operations are not being met.
On Wednesday, September 8, 2010, Honorable Roger W. Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the lawsuits in In re: KBR Inc. Burn Pit Litigation may proceed after denying the defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The ruling allows the litigation to move forward and "carefully limited discovery" to take place.
The defendants who contracted to provide waste disposal services for United States operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are Texas-based contractors KBR, Inc.; Kellogg, Brown & Root Services, Inc.; Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC; and Halliburton Company. The plaintiffs seek monetary damages to compensate them for physical injuries, emotional distress, fear of future disease and the need for continued medical treatment and monitoring.
Thanksgiving will be Thursday and service members will remain in Iraq because that war didn't end. In addition, veterans of both it and Afghanistan will include many who are fighting for treatment, some even fighting for breath. That is violence, that is ongoing violence and Congress needs to start funding real and full benefits.

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