Wednesday, March 06, 2013
KILLER BARRY O IS LOSING SUPPORT NOT JUST INTERNATIONALLY BUT ALSO DOMESTICALLY -- HIS NUMBERS ARE SO BAD DOMESTICALLY THAT THE TYPICAL RE-ELECTION 'HONEYMOON' IS SAID TO BE OVER.
SPEAKING TO THESE REPORTERS THIS MORNING AT THE INTERNATIONAL HOUSE OF PANCAKES -- IHOP -- KILLER BARRY SEEMED BOTHERED BY MANY THINGS INCLUDING THAT THERE WAS NO NEAR BY WAFFLE HOUSE.
"I JUST WANT TO EAT MY WAFFLES!" HE LAMENTED REGULARLY THROUGHOUT THE INTERVIEW.
THE KILLER OF THE UNITED STATES EXPLAINED HE IS NOT GIVEN ENOUGH CREDIT FOR HIS ACCOMPLISHMENTS AND HE POINTED TO YEMEN AS A SOLID EXAMPLE WHERE "I HAVE LEFT A STRONG IMPRESSION ON CHILDREN."
HE ALSO DOES NOT UNDERSTAND WHY AMERICANS MIGHT BE BOTHERED BY HIS ADMINSTRATION'S CLAIM THAT HE CAN USE DRONES TO KILL IN THE UNITED STATES.
"IF I CAN'T KILL," HE WHINED, "WHERE'S THE FUN IN THE JOB? TALKING TO ERIC BOEHNER AND NANCY PELOSI? PUH-LEASE!!"
FROM THE TCI WIRE:
Senator Dean Heller: We have 300,000 veterans in Nevada. We have 10,000, right now, backlogged in the state of Nevada. We're being told now by soldiers that they are to, once they get out of the service, these men and women, once they get out of the service to immediately file a claim because it's going to take a year-and-a-half to two years in order for that claim to be processed. They're getting apology letters, three or four apology letters, before their claim actually gets filed. Can't they just process the claim instead of sending them all of these apology letters?
Heller was speaking this morning at the joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today, they were hearing from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) which is headed by John E. Hamilton who was accompanied by Robert E. Wallace, William Bradshaw, Ray Kelley and Karen Nigara. The Senate Committee Chair is Bernie Sanders, the House Committee Chair is Jeff Miller. The joint-hearings are a way for the various veterans service organizations to outline veterans needs to the members of the House and Senate Committees.
Hamilton is a lively speaker. He can motivate the listener to feel outrage or joy. But sitting through the hearing this morning, I was reminded of how VFW officials keep telling me that they have a hard time getting veterans of today's wars to join the VFW, how they seem, to some vets, to be an older persons group. One thing Hamilton could have worked on was women veterans. Nearly every example was "he." There was no example of "she." There was "guys and gals." But whether it was a medic or someone driving a truck, it was a "he" over and over. When I think of someone driving a truck in either Iraq or Afghanistan -- someone with the US military -- my first thought is usually Kelly Dougherty because she's shared her experiences in so many forums.
You want to bring in younger veterans right now? Work towards using inclusive language. At one point, a woman, Karen Nigara, was able to speak. I'm not including that because I was honestly embarrassed. Nigara conducted herself professionally but the intro was like, "And it speaks too!" And the 'we love our women veterans'? Women want to be included. They don't want to be patronized and the intro to Karen Nigara speaking seemed embarrassing. As always, I discussed the hearing with as many veterans as possible after the hearing concluded. I wasn't able to speak to any women present but two veterans under 30 did point out that intro as part of the problem the VFW has attracting women of today's wars. Again, great speaker in so many ways but Hamilton could work on conclusion and also on introducing a woman in the same way he did a man about to speak.
Let's jump into an exchange after everyone's opening remarks were finally recited.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Let me begin by asking a couple of questions. One on budgetary issues and one on the unemployment situation. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, there is a proposal floating around which would reconfigure how COLAs [Cost Of Living Adjustments] for Social Security beneficiaries and disabled veterans are calculated. What that proposed change in the annual Cost Of Living Adjustments, COLAs, are calculated would mean that veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 -- not uncommon -- would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2341 at age 55 and $3231 at age 65 according to the Congressional Budget Office. Commander Hamilton or anybody else at the table, could you describe for us the real world consequences that using this so-called Chained CPI would have on disabled veterans and surviving family members.
John E. Hamilton: Senator, thank you for the question. I think our disabled veterans have given enough. They've given enough. And obviously we're opposed to that, we remain opposed to that and-and we'll always be opposed to that. Look, when people live on disability, live on that, it's an increased hardship for them. And we'll continue to do so -- we'll be happy to talk -- our people and your people -- about why and how ever --
Chair Bernie Sanders: But I think what you're saying is that you perceive the benefits now not being overly generous. Is that right?
John E. Hamilton: Absolutely right. Absolutely correct. Let me -- You know, there's a guy in here named Mike Ferguson, Senator, who's one of my heroes. Mike was a young Marine, lost both his legs, both above the knee, okay? You can never repay that young man for his service to this country enough. 1% keeps us free. Take care of our heroes, take care of our brothers.
Chair Bernie Sanders: And the only point I want to make is the theory behind this is that we have been "too generous" in cost of living increases [laughter] -- I know. That's right. People laugh. That's the theory that's circulating around here and that's the theory we want to defeat, I think. Second question, Mr. Commander, and that is, regarding employment, you touched on this issue, based on the feedback you receive from VFW members around the country, what recommendations do you have as we continue to work to provide service members and veterans the tools they need to successfully transition? Can you comment on the employment situation?
John E. Hamilton: Yes, sir, we will. I think we need, obviously, a nation-wide hire-a-vet campaign. Veterans are great employees. They're trained. They're disciplined. They know how -- They know how to stay on task and take care of things and stay on the mission. And something else we do, we make the tax credits a little less red-tape so that the small business that can't afford to hire three CPAs and 2 attorneys to figure out how the hell to -- I'm not supposed to talk like that, I know -- but I do sometimes, I'm still a sergeant in the Marine Corps with tattoos. But we got to make it simpler so that the average business can understand the law and get around the red-tape and do what they need to do to hire our people. You know, it should be to put people back to work not to fill out forms and hire accountants. My answer.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Okay. Commander, thank you very much. Chairman Miller?
Chair Jeff Miller: Commander, the [VA] Secretary's testified and also talked to me in various meetings lately about meeting their goal of clearing the disability backlog by 2015. They are absolutely convinced that they're going to be able to do that. And I've asked the question of each organization: Do you think they're going to hit their goal of 90+ percent accuracy [and] 125-days-or-less by 2015.
John E. Hamilton: Mr. Miller, you're a great friend of veterans and I appreciate what you do. I do, from my heart. Floridian to Floridian, I believe in you. But I want to tell you something, we've heard this and I hope that I'm wrong. I pray to God every day, I grab a knee and say to the Sergeant Major upstairs, let's get it right, let's take care of our heroes. But I've been listening to this for 35 years, since I've been fighting for veterans' rights. 35 years I've heard this. I hope we get it right, I hope we get it wrong. That's why I say we need to take our time don't be in a hurry if we put it out, let's make it right. Let's make it right. Are we going to make it by 2015? I hope so. I really don't know.
Chair Jeff Miller: I think -- I appreciate your comments too because there's a lot of faith being put in the VBMS system and they're saying that that's going to be the solution that's going to solve everything. But if you don't have the proper personnel actually inputting information, doing what needs to be done, the right attitude, it's not going to get better. And you know, I-I appreciate your saying that those that are in there that are not doing their job should move on to something else.
John E. Hamilton: You betcha. You know, absolutely. Mr. Miller, I met with the President [Barack Obama] a few days ago and discussed with him that very issue again. And I want to believe. I want to believe. But, having said that, if we can't come up with some kind of program to see this VMBA, I pray it works, and if it doesn't put us in a path to where we're going and we don't see positive -- positive change -- heading on to 2015 and doing the right thing exactly what you said, maybe it's time for some people over there in the ivory tower to find themselves another job, let's get somebody over there to do the job. And I thank you for your comments.
The VFW is concerned about younger members joining. That's good, that shows outreach efforts on their part. When the Post-9/11 GI Assistance Bill was first going to go into effect, you may remember, we steered anyone it applied to towards the VFW based on the advice of a friend with another service organization. The VFW offers many services. We're including the next exchange mainly because Hamilton's talking about one such service that VFW provides.
US House Rep Beto O'Rourke: When you talked about the claims backlog and the VBA and the lack of accountability and the error rate. And when you were asked about your estimate on our ability to fix this backlog within the promised time and you said that you'd been waiting for thirty-five years for this country to get it right. I wondered if you or your membership or fellow panelists could talk about, if we're not getting these things right at the federal level, are there some local VAs, are there some states that are approaching these issues the right way that we can learn from here in Congress, in Washington, DC? We heard testimony last week from a veteran who said that, in Pittsburgh, they're turning around a claim in thirty days. We hear Ranking Member [Michael] Michaud talk about the way the system's organized in the Philippines. There are some states that have been pioneers in work force transition and in hiring a vet. Where can you point us where we're getting the culture right, where we're getting performance right and where we can apply those lessons to what we should be doing here on the national level?
John E. Hamilton: Sir, I'll let Bill or Bob talk to that but I want to say this, you look at Baltimore where they say the error rate was 40 to 60%. In the real world, those cats would be looking for a job. Okay, so who . . . [applause] Whoever alluded to the problems up there of we got to get it right or we got to train the people -- you talk about replacing folks -- in the real world, it just wouldn't happen. So there are these places where things are better than others but overall? Overall with the backlog and the error rate, it's unbelievable. You know, we have to -- and, of course, something that we need to do as an organization, I'm talking to my comrades in the back -- we need to make certain somehow, we're trying desperately to get the word out to veterans: Don't file your own claims. Listen, if I need open heart surgery, I understand what they do but I'm not going to cut my chest open, try to do it myself. We've got professional people that know what they're doing. So we've got to somehow get the word to those folks to come in here [VFW office] because what happens is when they get an incomplete claim or something's filed, it's got to back again. Sometimes, something's filed two or three times. Now it's not a year, it's two or three years sometimes. So we've got to do a better job -- We, the veterans community, the VFW, of making certain that we get the word to those people. That's why this TAP program is so important, so when these people come out of the military, we can say, "Hey, here's what you get, here's what you ought to get and here's where it is." We've got people to review those claims on both sides of the coast and they come back to make certain that they're correct. Because the average guy or gal doesn't know you're getting 30%, you should have gotten 70. Now the short answer -- that's the long answer to that -- but, Bob, is there something we need to say about location.
Robert E. Wallace: Congressman, in all fairness to VA, to VBA, there was a conscious effort made by previous Congresses and previous administrations to change the health care system from a hospital system to outpatient. Over the course of history, you can check the records, VBA was not funded as it should have been. We have the finest, as John just said, he was in Puerto Rico, they push an electronic health record. VBA never sophisticated and went with automation. The last few years, four, five, six years, we've seen a push for that and they're playing catch-up ball. It's very depressing to go into a regional office and see all those papers -- very, very depressing because each one of those paper files is some veteran that's waiting. Are there things that are happening that are good? Yes, there are. Fully developed claims is starting to catch on and starting to work and those are the kind of claims that could get done in 30 days -- diabetes, boom, boom, boom.
The VFW can help you file claims, a VFW Service Officer is trained in benefits and claims and can assist you. Hamilton mentioned the TAP program. That program received a much needed overhaul via the work of the veterans committees in the previous Congress and specifically via Senator Patty Murray's VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. The Transition Assistance Program is helpful but if you're leaving the service, you can also speak with an expert at the VFW about BDD -- Benefits Delivery at Discharge. The VFW offers many things including allowing veterans to interact with one another. This also includes the local VFWs and, if you are a drinker but live in a 'dry' region where alcohol is not sold, the local VFW canteen is your best shot. It's not just a group that goes before Congress. It does go before Congress and does a lot of strong work there. But not everyone's political (and some who leave the military, leave having heard enough lies and broken promises from politicians to be turned off politics for life), so it bears noting that the VFW has many social events and interactions. On political, it bears noting that the VFW is very good at getting issues before Congress so, for example, if you're a young female veteran and you're feeling like female issues aren't being addressed within the VA framework, there's a reason for you to join, to help make your voice heard. Lastly, being a member of the VFW does not mean you cannot be a member of another (or many other) veterans organizations.
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