Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Barry's turn to cry







"These are difficult times for many Americans," declared US Senator Daniel Akaka today, "with an unemployment number higher than it has been for 20 years. When the number of those who have given up looking for work because they believe none is available is combined with those who are only able to find part-time employment, the extent of our challenge is staggering. For our nation's veterans, especially those who have recently separated from active duty, the search for a job can be particularly difficult. Skills honed on the battlefield are not easily translated to a resume for the civilian job market. Add to that the need for a readjustment to civilian life and the problem is compounded."

Akaka was chairing the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's hearing entitled Easing The Burdens Through Employment. To underscore the problems with employment, Senator Patty Murray explained that the citizen-soldiers of the 81st Brigade Combat Team of the Washington Army National Guard "just returned this summer after serving their country honorably in Iraq," that there were approximately 2300 in the brigade "about 1/2 of them tried to get direct job placement or job training" but "only 20% have been able to get a job so far."

The first panel was the Assistant Secretary for Veterans Employment and Training from the US Dept of Labor, Raymond Jefferson who noted that this was his 100th day on the job in his current position andh touted the Dept of Labor's Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) in his opening remarks. He also noted that the veterans population included under-served populations such as (from prepared remarks, except for a nod to Senator Jon Tester, more or less the same as what he stated to the committee) "Native American Veterans, especially those on tribal lands, are one such population. [Labor] Secretary [Hilda] Solis hosted a Summit of Tribal Leaders at the Department of Labor earlier this month that VETS participated in. We discussed the challenges facing Native American Veterans and potential solutions. This event began the process of better serving this community. VETS will also be participating in a number of major Native American outreach events in 2010. Furthermore, we are conducting a study on the employment needs of Native American Veterans living on tribal lands to identify best practices for serving this population." Another population he noted was "wounded, ill or injured" veterans which the VETS program is mainly addressing via REALifelines and America's Heroes At Work. We'll note one exchange from this panel for two reason. (A) I don't think we've noted Senator Mark Begich in any hearing before. (B) Because the exchange resulted in some laughter.

Senator Mark Begich: Let me, if I can add, expand a little bit on, Senator Tester commentary. Being from Alaska, you know we also have a very strong rural component of our state but also of Indian country can you -- I was listening carefully to what you were describing to Senator Tester. What it sounds like, and I don't want to put words in your mouth, but I -- and I want this to be viewed as positive -- that there has not been an aggressive approach in reaching out to rural communities, especially American Indian country. Is that a fair statement?

Raymond Jefferson: Senator, when I took office 100 years ago, and I've assessed it -- [Laughs] 100 days ago,

Senator Mark Begich: 100 days ago.

Senator Jon Tester: I like the way he looks for 100 years.

Raymond Jefferson: It's been a lot of midnights.

Senator Mark Begich: It feels like 100 years, I know.

Raymond Jefferson: But, senator, I'm just not satisified.

Senator Mark Begich: Okay.

Raymond Jefferson: I realize that with the resources we have, we have to work. Working harder isn't going to cut it, I think we have to work more innovatively. And there's two key components. The first is the dialogue we're having with the Native American veterans and the tribal leaders and also, as Senator Tester alluded to, broadening that to the representatives of the rural community to find out from them what will best serve them. And then what I'm looking at is parternships, partnerships with other agencies and specifically non-profits and some of these new veteran volunteer initiatives can be helpful there.

Panel two was composed of America Works's Peter Wikul (US Navy Capt, retired), Vietnam veteran Dexter Daniel (with Marriott), National Organization On Disability's Helen Tymes, Iraq War veteran Joshua Lawton-Belous (with Oracle) and Lutz Ziob (Microsoft). We'll provide a sample exchange from the second panel.

Chair Daniel Akaka: It seems that one of the themes running through all of your testimonies this morning is mentoring, coaching and hands-on approach to providing assistance. Let me ask each of you to rate this aspect of any program that might be developed in terms of its value and as a factor for success.

Helen Tymes: I'll make a statement on that.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Ms. Thymes.

Helen Tymes: Yes, sir. As far as the effectiveness of our program, it is right now 90% as far as the veterans that we serve and the opportunities that we have assisted to get. We -- we give individualized services to veterans. As far as the transition from being in the military has been stated later and to the civilian sector, many of those skill sets, the individual, the veteran, is not aware of what they are. Because of our education and history and knowledge of the military, we are able to get those skill sets out and come up with resumes that are working resumes, not just a show resume, but something that actually has substance to make that veteran competent for employment and to also help with any other application process there is for education. Our veterans today are facing a lot of mental problems -- PTSD, TBI, a combination of both. This makes the veterans upset, they get angry, have a very low temper tolerance and, because of our services -- because of our personalized services, we're able to assist the veteran with what needs to get accomplished.

Dexter Daniel: I concur with --

Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Daniels.

Dexter Daniel: -- Miss Helen. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. What I personally experienced was I was so ashamed when I came home, I just couldn't, you know, really face the reality of wanting to talk to people about my problems and I just didn't reach out. And, you know, the shame that I felt caused me to react in a lot of the ways that I did. Again, I always thank God for MAC VETS (Maryland Center for Veteran's Education and Training 1-410-642-1693) because they reached out in a way that no one else ever had. You know, I was literally in prison and they had a represenative that came around, I was in the cell and, at that time, I knew I was facing a lot. Then an individual came around and found out first and foremost, he's a veteran, number two, this is an availability of a program that we have. Longterm, two year availability to be able to do it, that to me is personalized. Once I got there, the counselors welcomed me with open arms and I still had a lot on my plate at that time. I still had obligations and commitments to the division of parole and probation to come out. They went the extra mile to even talk to my probation agent and the judge, to solidify this one final -- and that's how I felt, one final -- opportunity that I'd have in this life to do good. They gave me my shot and, you know, we've just had a wonderful partnership ever since then. That's the effect that it's had on me.
Chair Daniel Akaka: Mr. Belous?

Joshua Lawton-Belous: Mr. Chairman, as a representative of Oracle corporation, we've found that there are many reasons we don't actually need to ask for money from the federal government to run our wounded warrior program. Mainly because each wounded warrior we take in is a value added proposition for Oracle corporation. They add something to it. And it's a dual mentorship. It's a two-way street on the mentorship role. One is that those who are in the industry need to mentor wounded warriors, soldiers, marines, veterans coming out of the military to explain to them the career path. It's a completely different world when you go inside and understanding it will take some time. There's always that uptick no matter what job you go to where there's a learning curve. But secondly, it behooves veterans to mentor those who are mentoring them to show them 'This is exactly what I learned in the military, this is what I'm capable of doing.' Because, as we find now, only 1/2 of 1% of the population is actually serving in the wars that we are fighting today which means that over time -- and it has already occured where those who are hiring do not understand the valued added proposition that service members can bring to an organization. That, I believe, is the greatest effect of the mentorship program. That way programs that we have today to help veterans transition out of the military will be more successful when the vast majority of senior to mid-level managers are no longer military veterans.

Chair Daniel Akaka: Captain?

Peter Wikul: Chairman Akaka when America Works is racked and stacked against organizations that do similar types of work in the New York area, we consistently rank number one in terms of getting people jobs. People come in the door, we give them mentoring, we give them mentoring. We give them interview skills so that when we get them an interview, they give the right answers to the right questions so they can get them the jobs. We don't get them the jobs, we get them the interviews. They have to get the job and we coach them in that process. If you're a veteran and you need a suit, we get 'em a suit. There's a program to get them a suit. And I have to tell you just recently with in the last two weeks, I went to two veterans homeless shelters in New York City to give a motivational speech and some of these guys are really whipped down and they're broken. And you start talking to them and I try to motivate them and I try to tell them, "Look when we help you get a job, you will get back your self-respect and dignity and-and it will put you on the road to getting an even better job." And so we go there, we go right into the shelters, we talk to them, we give them a speech, and around town, we have a card and it says: "Do you need a job? America Works. If you're a New York City resident and are having difficulty finding a job, call this number and go here. No fee." And we are right in the trenches, we get these people, we bring them in the door . What's amazing is when I first hooked up with this company, which I really find amazing, is you walk in the door at the beginning of the day and it's loaded with people. It's just, you have to fight your way in to get to the offices. And I came back, we went on some sales calls, and I came back about five hours later and I said, "Where are all the people?" And they said, "Out on interviews getting jobs." And so this is what this company does. Against similar companies, we're ranked number one. We get people jobs. We're right on the streets. We're in the trenches. We go to homeless veterans shelters, we talk to the people, we mentor them, we bring them out of their shells, we give them the interview skills and a suit if necessary and we help them restore their dignity and their self-respect so that they can become whole and good American citizens.

Lutz Ziob: To answer your question, Chairman Akka, I believe internships are very important. Occupational success is typically the combination of subject matter expertise. You have to be a good nurse, system manager, but also know how to navigate the world of work, the changing world of work. It's your - your - what you know about your job. The mentorship people that are in the trenches can provide that guidance. The difficulty is they have a day job as well so we need to free up their time and find the opportunity to connect them -- mentor and mentee -- in an effective way.

This was more of a fact finding hearing and Senators Tester and Begich set up time next month with Raymond Jefferson to address concerns for rural veterans and Senator Murray sounded out Lutz Ziob specifically on potential legislation (a bill) she's attempting to draft and plans to bring to the Senate floor next year.

This morning Anthony Shadid (Washington Post) reported that Tariq al-Hashimi, Iraq's Sunni vice president (they have two vice presidents, one Shia -- Adel Abdul Mehdi, one Sunni) vetoed the election law: "The veto by Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi was the latest wrinkle in growing criticism over the law by the country's biggest minorities, Sunni Arabs and Kurds. Both groups are effectively demanding the allocation of more seats to their blocs in the next parliament, which is almost assured of having a Shiite Muslim majority." In yesterday's snapshot, we noted that the food rations cards being used for the registry was a joke and included a number of reasons why. All Shadid can do is tell you that the food rations cards are overseen by the Trade Ministry. The name we used yesterday -- the one Shadid fails to attach to this story -- is Abdel Falah al-Sudani -- a Nouri appointee, to Minister of Trade, a member of Nouri's own political party and someone who was forced to resign in May of this year over corruption issues. It is not a minor issue when your voter roll was overseen by a minister who has had to resign in disgrace. In real time, Bloomberg News noted that al-Sudani "acknowledged cases of corruption and said the system needed to be revised" in May of this year and that "Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity earlier this month charged nine trade ministry officials with financial and administrative corruption related to the country's food import program." "Financial and administrative corruption related to" what is now being hailed as a legitimate voter roll. CNN added this morning that Tariq al-Hashimi "refused to sing the law without an amendment that would increase the number of seats allocated to refugees, many of whom are Sunnis, from five percent to 15 percent. The Constitution stipulates that every 100,000 Iraqis should have one representative in the country's parliament but al-Hashemi said that refugee numbers are not included in how seats have been calculated." Martin Chulov (Guardian) observes, "However, Hashimi's move has set the scene for a showdown between MPs and the Sunni minority, which increasingly feared it was likely to lose even more political ground. The last election, almost five years ago, was boycotted en masse by Sunnis." Liz Sly and Raheem Salman (Los Angeles Times) provide this context: "Iraq's constitution stipulates that elections must be held by the end of January, and failure to meet that deadline could plunge the country into a constitutional crisis. The vote was originally slated for Jan. 16, but the commission had already said that would be impossible. Hussaini estimated that the latest date on which it can feasibly be held is Jan. 21. It will be impossible to hold the election in the last 10 days of January, Hussaini said, because of the Shiite Ashura holiday, when millions of pilgrims converge on foot on the holy city of Karbala from all over the country and the world. The roads will be clogged, and many Shiites will be away from their home constituencies and unable to vote." Anne Barker (Australia's ABC) reminds that the current Parliament is set to expire by the end of January. So where are things right now? Anthony Shadid and Daniel Dombey (at the Financial Times of London) flip through the memory books to pull this now-forgotten reality back out, "The election deal was only reached after sustained lobbying by Joe Biden, US vice-president, and had been portrayed by the Obama administration as a rare piece of good news from the Middle East and 'critically important' for Iraq's prospects". On today's All Things Considered (NPR), Corey Flintoff examined the latest news.

Corey Flintoff: When President Obama hailed the passage of the law on November 8th, he cited the link between elections and the US withdrawal.

US President Barack Obama (November 8th): This agreement advances the political process that can bring lasting peace and unity to Iraq and allow for the orderly and responsible transition of American combat troops out of Iraq by next September.

Corey Flintoff: US officials have said that if the security situation in Iraq is stable they can begin withdrawing troops 60 days after the election. Iraq's Constitution calls for a new Parliament to be elected by the end of January when the current government's mandate expires.
Flintoff notes that Constitutional crisis could take place but that some MPs state that the Parliament has the authority to extend the term by one month. At the US State Dept today, in the daily press briefing, spokesperson Ian Kelly declared:

We're disappointed at these developments related to the elections law. We urge the Iraqi leaders and Parliament to take quick action to resolve any of the outstanding concerns that have been expressed. And this is so elections can go forward. And these elections, of course are mandated by the Iraqi Constitution. We believe that it's the responsibility of all Iraqi partiest to ensure that the Iraqi people are able to exercsie their democratic right to vote and this election law represent the best way forward for the Iraqi government to be able to consolidate the democratic and political achievements.

The proper response to Kelly's statement was: "Oh, explain that law to us." Naturally, no one embarrassed Kelly with a difficult question -- one his laughable remarks begged for.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"About those 'intended' January elections"
"Military suicide rate"
"Not in the mood"
"Katha Pollitt, alleged feminist"
"Millions of Women Could Lose Abortion Coverage"
"don't become 'the battered woman of the house'"
"Reading on the road"
"Danny Schechter, the eternal idiot"
"Center for Reproductive Rights"
"CRR (yea!), CCR (boo!)"
"I feel just like Elizabeth Edwards"
"Indecision is killing him"

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