Saturday, October 20, 2012

Four more years of celebrity?


AS THE TCI WIRE NOTED WEDNESDAY MORNING OF THE CELEBRITY IN CHIEF'S DEBATE PERFORMANCE, "More importantly swing voters and undecideds had little to grab onto. If you're undecided at this point, presumably, the last four years have not pleased you.  And that's why we see Barack as the loser.  Last night, he yet again had a chance to present a vision or even a glimpse of four-more-years of Barack.  He never did.  He runs from his actual record and he won't talk about the future."  OTHERS ARE PICKING UP ON THAT.  A COLUMNIST FRIDAY NOTED BARRY O HAD NOTHING TO OFFER ABOUT THE NEXT FOUR YEARSBBC NEWS NOTES THE OBVIOUS TODAY.


During the second debate, Romney passed up multiple opportunities to slam Obama for stretching the truth. Such as when the president talked about so-called Dreamers -- undocumented students pursuing higher education -- deserving a "pathway to citizenship." Obama said he gave them that pathway "administratively."
Correction: Never happened. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program is explicitly not a pathway to citizenship. It is temporary; applicants are given a two-year work visa but can still be deported at any time by immigration officials.




Starting with veterans, in the US veterans have struggled with many issues they shouldn't have to.  Some struggles may truly be a surprise.  Many struggles aren't.  Many struggles are a sign that proper planning was not done when the government sent people off to war.  This is a point US House Rep Bob Filner very skillfully made September 30, 2010:
Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars.  And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma.  The true cost of war?  We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder."  And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation.  Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that?  When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. 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.
That pretty much says everything about the planning and the funding and how both were lacking.  Bob Filner was Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Comittee at that time and credit to him and US House Reps Harry Teague, Ciro Rodriguez, Jerry McNerney, Walter Jones, George Miller and Jim Moran who all attended that hearing while almost everyone in the House had already bolted and gone back to their districts to focus on their re-election races.  Bob Filner did a great job serving veterans as a member of Congress.  He's decided not to seek re-election to Congress and instead is running for Mayor of San Diego.
He will be missed in Congress.  Veterans are fortunate to have other champions in Congress.  One of those is Senator Patty Murray whose office issued the following yesterday:
Thursday, October 18, 2012
Contact: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
Sen. Murray Calls on Secretary Panetta to Provide Timeline for Promised Military Review of PTSD and Behavioral Health Diagnoses
In the aftermath of the misdiagnoses of servicemembers in Washington state, Murray calls on the Pentagon to move forward with nationwide review of mental health diagnoses since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began
Letter also calls for information on efforts to collect missing unit military records that could prove critical if certain health care problems arise from service in Iraq or Afghanistan
(Washington D.C.) -- Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta requesting next steps and a timeline for the execution of a critical military-wide review of PTSD and behavioral health diagnoses made since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began.  The review, which Secretary Panetta promised following the misdiagnoses of severvicemembers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, has seemingly stalled since being announced on June 13th.
"The Department must act with a sense of urgency in order to complete this review and to act on its findings in coordinating with other ongoing efforts to improve the disability evaluation system."  Murray wrote to Panetta.  "Each of these efforts is vital in ensuring servicemembers truly have a transparent, consistent, and expeditious disability evaluation process."
"Senator Murray's letter also addressed her concerns that records for military units in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are often used to provide information on potential health and exposure issues be carefully identified, located, and collected.
The full text of Senator Murray's letter follows:
October 18, 2012
The Honorable Leon E. Panetta
Secretary of Defense
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301
Dear Secretary Panetta:
I am writing to express my concern about two distinct issues, which taken together impact the disability evaluation process for servicemembers and veterans.
At the outset, I very much appreciate your ongoing efforts to address behavioral health diagnoses and care both within the Integrated Disability Evaluation System and throughout the Department at large.  In June, as part of this ongoing effort, you announced a comprehensive Department-wide review of mental health diagnoses.  Shortly after the announcement, I had the opportunity to meet with Under Secretary Conaton to discuss some of the initial steps the Department had taken in preparation for this review.  However, it appears that progress on this effort may have stalled.  I am writing today to request the Department's next steps and timeline for execution of this review.
The Department must act with a sense of urgency in order to complete this review and to act on its findings in coordinating with other ongoing efforts to improve the disability evaluation system.  Each of these efforts is vital in ensuring servicemembers truly have a transparent, consistent, adn expeditious disability evaluation process.
My second concern relates to the ability of the Department, and specifically the Army, to identify and account for many records for units that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  The lack of access to documentation of the locations and fucntions of specific military units interferes with the ability of both servicemembers and veterans to obtain evidence of military service that may result in adverse health conditions now or in the future.   As we have learned from prior conflicts, this lack of documentation all too often leads to hardship for veterans in establishing a relationship between miltiary service and a specific medical condition.
The lack of accessible documents may also impede future research efforts if health care problems arise from service in Iraq or Afghanistan.  For these reasons, I would like to know the current status of efforts to identify, locate and collect records for units that served in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I also urge you to take all necessary steps to ensure unit records are properly archived and accessible.
I appreciate your attention to these requests and look forward to our continued work together to strengthen both the disability evaluation system and behavioral health diagnoses and care and to ensure our servicemembers and veterans have access to critical military documents.
Patt Murray
To tie the two together -- because this is really not new -- Bob Filner was speaking of a policy to change a diganoses from PTSD to "personality disorder" because someone was deciding the government shouldn't pay what the government owed.  Someone was deciding that the role of government was to get over on veterans, not to deliver to veterans what had been promised.
And you'd think the shame of doing that would stop it.  You'd think they'd stop changing diagnoses.  But people continue to do that.   This year, Senator Murray's found it happening in her home state of Washington.  She's repeatedly attempted to get answers -- not just as Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (though she's repeatedly asked for answers in that role) but also, for example, using her position as a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee to question Army Secretary John McHugh about the changing diagnoses.
There is no excuse for diagnoses to have ever been changed.  There's even less excuse for refusing to start the promised review of changed diagnoses.  To be clear, there's even less excuse for Leon Panetta to avoid starting the promised review.  Leon is Secretary of Defense.  I like him, I've known him for years -- since he was in Congress.  I like Leon.  But that doesn't change the fact that as Secretary of Defense it reflects poorly on him that the review has not started.  It doesn't change the fact that he needs to do his job.  I didn't care for Robert Gates and was appalled to see the press fawn over him (in the months long farewell tour coverage as well as in that awful farewell press conference that immediately went off the record so the press could hug him and get their photos taken with him -- as someone in the entertainment industry, I'm used to excited fans, but this was a press acting like teeny boppers mooning over some heart throb of the moment).  The fact that I like Leon doesn't mean that I don't think he should be evaluated when he leaves office.  There are not two standards here.  Gates should have been evaluated on key issues (instead, he was only evaluated on granting press access) such as military suicides and military sexual assaults.  Those were two key problems in the military and he should have been evaluated on how he addressed those (and other key problems).  Leon should be judged by those and also by issues like this scandal and the failure to launch a review in a timely manner.  Leon Panetta needs to provide an answer to Senator Murray -- more than that, he needs to launch the promised review.
The Paterson Press notes another need, in Paterson, New Jersey, the Paterson Veterans Council wants to inscribe the names of three local Iraq War veterans who died while serving in Iraq on the Veterans Memorial Park monument.  The three fallen are Spc Gil Mercado, Spc Farid Elazzouzi and Sgt Christian Bueno-Galdos.  The Paterson Veterans Council is staging a beefsteak dinner November 5th as a fundraiser: "Donations to the Nov. 5 beefsteak are tax-deductible and can be made to the Paterson Veterans Council, 296 Maitland Ave., Paterson, NJ 07502. For information, call Tony Vancheri at 973-303-3523."
"It's eight years [since her son died at the age of 21 while serving in Iraq] and it still hurts,"  England's Sue Smith explains today as the British courts tell four families of the British fallen they have permission to sue the Military of Defence over deaths that could have been preventable.  Steve Anderson (Independent of London) reports, "Relatives had argued that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) failed to provide armoured vehicles or equipment which could have saved lives and should pay compensation."  ITV explains, "They were nicknamed mobile coffins and, in 2006, Private Lee Ellis died when one of them was blown up by a roadside bombing."  Sue Smith  is the mother of Private Phillip Hewett who died serving in Iraq from a roadside bombing while in a Snatch Land Rover.  She tells Channel 4 (link is video and text):
Sue Smith:  This is a case of an employer owing his staff the right duty of care.  Take away the uniform and everything else and it's simply a man or a woman doing their job and they should be respected for doing that job  the same as anybody else. [. . .] I think it's despicable.  They knew the vehicles were no good but it's also this dismissive attitude of it doesn't matter, they're like action men, if we break them, we can throw them in a junk pile and nobody can do anything about it.  And if they're really badly broken, they can be buried.  Well, it doesn't work like that.
Along with the family of Philip Hewett, the family of Cpl Stephen Allbutt, Private Lee Ellis and Lance Cpl Kirk Redpath have been granted permission to file suit.  The Allbutt family attorney Shubhaa Srinivasnh tells the Telegraph of London that it's a "landmark" decision and, "We maintain that the MoD's position has been morally and legally indefensible, as they owe a duty of care to those who fight on behalf of this country."    Ann Salter (International Business Times -- link is text and video) hails the verdict as "historic" and notes the families can now "sue the Ministry of Defence for negligence and inadequate equipment" as a result of the ruling made by the London Court of Appeals.  BBC News' Nick Childs speaks with Sue Smith (link is video). Excerpt.
Nick Childs:  Why are you trying to go through the UN Convention on Human Rights to deal with this - this issue?  When the court of appeal has said these claims can be pursued in terms of care and negligance through the courts here?
Sue Smith:  The negligance is for wives or dependants because that's a compensation claim.  I'm not claiming compensation.  I'm claiming that the soldiers have a right to life which is something that the MoD seemed to say that if they're on exercise or anything like that abroad, they're not covered by that. 
[. . . ]
Nick Childs:  How have you felt about the Ministry of Defence as you've gone through this-this legal proces.?
Sue Smith:  Well they're just pen pushers as far as I'm concerned.  They've got no idea.  They're not living in this world.  They're not the ones going out in substandard vehicles -- or were.  I'm not sure what they're doing now.  But at the end of the day, they're people that are arguing who haven't actually lived the life that we're living.  They've got no idea.  So how can they sit there and say that these boys have no right to life? They're not the ones sitting in the back of the vehicle that might blow up at any moment.

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