Saturday, March 03, 2012

More reasons to hate ObamaCare






Yesterday snapshot noted Wednesday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing where the VA appeared as witnesses. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee, Richard Burr is the Ranking Member. The topic was the White House's budget request for VA in Fiscal Year 2013. Many topics were raised in relation to the budget. We'll note this exchange initiated by the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Commitee, Senator Daniel Akaka.
Senator Daniel Akaka: General Shinseki, as you know, we often face challenges in treating our veterans who live in many rural and remote areas. This is especially true in places like Alaska and Hawaii where you just can't get to some places by jumping in a car and driving there. I know you're working on an MOU [Memorandum Of Understanding] with the Indians to find solutions to help provide services to our Native American veterans and I commend you and all of you involved in these efforts. Mr. Secretary can I get your commitment to possible ways of working with the Native Hawaiian health care systems and the Native American veterans systems that provide services for Native Hawaiian veterans who live in many of the rural parts of the state of Hawaii.
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Senator, you have my assurance that, uh, we will do our utmost to provide for any of our veterans wherever they live -- the most rural and remote areas, the same access and quality to health care and services as we provide to someone living in a more urban area. There is a challenge to that but we are not insensitive to that challenge and we're working hard to provide VA provided services and where we can't to make arrangements -- if quality services exist in those areas marking arrangements for veterans to be able to participate in those local opportunities. We are, I think you know, working and have been for some time on signing an MOU with Indian Health Service so that wherever they have facilities and we have vested interests that a veteran -- an eligible veteran -- going to an Indian Health Service facility will be covered by VA's payments. We're in stages of trying to bring that MOU to conclusion. We intend to do that. And where tribes approach us prior to the signing of the MOU and want to establish, from Tribal Nation with VA, a direct relationship because they have a medical facility and would like us to provide the same coverage, we're willing to do that. But that would be on a case-by-case basis.
Senator Daniel Akaka: Thank you. Secretary Shinseki, staffing shortages continue to be a problem although there's been some progress. But some clinics are seeing staffing levels below 50% causing excessive waiting time for veterans that need care. I understand this is an issue you've been working on. As you know the number of veterans needing services is growing yearly and it shows that you have been making progress. Can you provide an update on the Department's progress to address staffing levels?
Dr. Robert Petzel: Uh, Mr. Secretary, thank you; Senator Akaka, thank you for the question. The -- uh -- We've addressed mental -- We've talked about mental health earlier and the efforts we're making to try and assess whether there's adequate staffing there. I think you're probably talking about primary care, which is our largest out patient clinic operation. We treat 5 -- 4.2 million veterans in our primary care system and it accounts for the lion's share of our budget expenditures. We assessed staffing three years ago when we began to implement a Patient Aligned Care team or PAC program and have done it again recently. And we're finding that we're now able to bring up the support staffing and the physician staffing to reasonable levels associated with the standards around the country. I would like to take off record -- offline -- any information you have about specific places where there's a 50% vacancy rate. I'm not aware that we have this around the country. So I would be delighted to meet and talk with your staff and find out where these areas might be so that we can address them specifically.
Senator Daniel Akaka: My time has expired but, Secretary Shinseki, as we face budget constraints, we must all work to improve our efficiency and redouble efforts to look for ways to get the most from our budgeted resources. My question to you is can you talk about any steps you are taking to improve the acquisition process at VA and any efficiencies you've been able to realize in this area?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Senator, I would tell you that, uh, we have been working for several years now on restructuring our acquisition business practices. Three years ago, acquisition was spread throughout the organization. Now it's consolidated in two centers. One comes directly under Dr. Petzel and that's where all medical acquistions -- gloves, masks, aprons -- we ought to be able to leverage that into a bulk purchase and get a good price on those kinds of things. For everything we have an Office of Acqusition, Logistics and Construction and we have a director who heads both offices then come up to my level to the deputy secretary as part of our monthly oversight review process.
When I think of veterans in "rural" areas, I think of them in southern states or in Michigan which is densley populated in and around Detroit but much more sparsely populated throughout the rest of the state. I also think of Alaska, Montana and other states. I never consider Hawaii rural but of course it is. "Remote and rural" really drives that home. Senator Akaka's word choice really drove the point home. He also asked about staffing and a community member (Troy) had asked if the empty medical positions at VA were raised by any senator when discussing the budget on Wednesday? Ranking Member Richard Burr raised that issue.

Ranking Member Richard Burr: Since the Chair just asked about mental health, let me just ask if my information is correct. In December, VA polled their facilities and they found that there were 15,000 open mental health positions. Is that accurate? Dr. Petzel?

Secretary Eric Shinseki: Let me turn to Dr. Petzel.

Dr. Robert Petzel: Uh, could you repeat that number, Senator Burr.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: In December of 2011, the VA polled their facilites and found there were 15,000 mental health slots that were unfilled meaning --

Dr. Robert Petzel: Our of 20,500, that's true.

There were many important questions raised in the hearing. On Iraqi violence, Mohammad Akef Jamal (Gulf News) raises an interesting one today about the February 23rd attacks across Iraq, "The spokesman of the Ministry of Interior announced that the ministry possesses grave and important information regarding the blasts. He then proceeded to threaten all those who have carried out the terrorist operations -- but if the ministry was truly in possession of information, why are the culprits still at large? " Don't expect it to get answered anytime soon but it is an important question. AKE's John Drake appeared Wedensday on New Zealand's Radio Live (link is audio) to dicuss the ongoing violence. Excerpt:
James Coleman: John Drake is an Iraq intelligence analyst at AKE Intelligence -- an organization offering research and analysis on security risks around the globe. He joins us from London. John, good evening to you.
John Drake: Good evening and good morning.
James Coleman: So Baghdad is the focus of much of the violence. What has triggered the increase in aggression in the capitol?
John Drake: Well it's the focal point of all the main political organizations in Iraq. It's the seat of government, it's where a lot of the Iraqi and international media are based. So by conducting attacks in Baghdad, it often gives the militant groups additional attention, it raises the profile of their activies. It generates an audience for whatever political agenda they're trying to push. That's one of the main reasons. It's also, wherever you get a large amount of people in a large urban area that is often where you will get the great concentration of violence. Larger cities tend to see more crimes. It's often very similar when it comes to terrorism as well.
James Coleman :Mosul's been unusually quiet. Is there any indications that militants are looking elsewhere?
John Drake: That could be the case. Mosul is normally one of the most violent parts of the country. Over the course of last year, it saw an average of about one to two attacks a day. Over the last few weeks, it's been down to about two or three attacks a week. Now while the Iraqi authorities did indicate this was maybe due to some of their recent counter-insurgency operations in the city, the operations that they've been initiating haven't been more intense than normal and they haven't really been netting more militants than normal either. So there are two concerns. One is that militants may be looking across the border to Syria. They may be crossing the border to sell weaponry or even equipment and medicine or anything that they could put on the black market to raise finances for their operation. They may also be sending fighter across the border into Syria to engage in unrest and revolution there. They may be trying to infilitrate the main opposition organizations to Syrian President Basher Assad. They may be responsible for conducting some of the recent terrorist attacks in the country. However after the attacks -- the series of attacks in central Iraq a few days ago, it's obvious that they haven't all gone across the border. There's still a lot of them still in Iraq and looking to conduct attacks in the center of the country.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Cover or don't but drop the half-assed





Tuesday's joint-hearing -- House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing -- Senate Committee Chair Patty Murray noted that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki would be before the Committee and she would be attempting to get an aswer regarding sequestering from him. Sequestering refers to automatic cuts that would kick in on various federal departments and programs. Along with Senator Murray, Senator Jon Tester and House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller have noted that the inability of veterans to get a straight answer on this issue is frustrating and that veterans have a right to know what's going on with the budget of the VA.
Chair Patty Murray: [. . .] let me begin the questions by getting this one off the table. It's on the issue of sequestration and cuts to spending. Like I said in my opening remarks I believe that all VA programs including medical care are exempt from cuts but there is some ambiguity between the budget act and the existing law. And when I asked the acting OMB director to adress this issue in a budget hearing two weeks ago, he said OMB had yet to make a final determination. So I am concerned that by not settling this issue now, we are failing to provide our veterans with the clarity they really deserve to have. And so while you're here, I wanted to ask you: Do you believe that all VA programs -- including medical care -- are exempt from any future cuts?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: I think, Madame Chairman, the answer that the OMB director provided you was the same one that I understand. They are still addressing the issue. For my purposes, I would tell you I'm not planning on sequestration. I'mI addressing my requirements and presenting my budget as you would expect me to do. I think sequestration in part or in whole is not necessarily good policy. And I think the President would argue the best approach here is a balanced deficit reduction and that the budget he has presented does that and I would ask that the Congress look at that budget and favorably consider it.
Chair Patty Murray: I think we all hope that is the outcome but we want to provide clarity to our veterans. They are very concerned about this issue.
Murray asked, she attempted to get an answer as to -- yes/no -- whether the VA is a department immune to sequestering. Not only did she ask, she announced in an open hearing the day prior that she would be asking. Shinseki came into that hearing knowing he would be asked.
The answer? Another non-answer. The person in charge of the VA Department has no idea, if sequestering goes into effect, whether or not his department would be affected. That seems like an answer you would need to know for a hypothetical. With sequestration looking more and more likely, that seems like an answer you would need to know in order to plan for worst case scenarios in the department you oversee.
But he can't answer the question and has no knowledge as to whether or not VA would be effected if these cuts kick in.
On the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, Senator Patty Murray is the Chair. Richard Burr is the Ranking Member. A number of witnesses accompanied Shinseki to the hearing including Dr. Robert Petzel who is the Under Secretary for Health, Allison Hickey who is the Under Secretary for Benefits, Steve Muro who is the Under Secretary for Memorial Affairs, Roger Baker who is the Assistant Secretary for IT (Information and Technology) and W. Todd Grams (Executive in Charge for the Office of Management and Chief Financial Officer).
With that brain trust, you might think they could answer a basic question but you'd be wrong. As was the case in a recent House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, the problems started with Allison Hickey (she refused to answer Ranking Member Bob Filner's questions and then there was a rush by the VA witnesses to 'wall her off' from Filner's questions -- see the February 15, 2012 snapshot and pay attention to when Filner tells her, "You're not answering the question."). Claims processing was the issue Ranking Member Richard Burr brought up yesterday in the Senate Committee hearing. He was concerned with the diagnosis (it being incorrect and a veteran suffering as a result) and with the timeliness of it. There is a huge backlog -- when Chair Patty Murray held her Virtual Town Hall with veterans February 9th -- sponsored by Disabled American Veterans, full transcript of the exchange can be found here -- the claims backlog was an issue the veterans repeatedly raised. In fact, it kicked off the discussion and Senator Murray noted, "This is one of the most common complaints I hear. And let me say that w know that the claims system is broken." So Ranking Member Burr was asking about an important issue and just asking for basic information: How can, a year from now, they determine whether or not there's been improvement?
Ranking Member Burr noted that the accuracy with diagnoses was at 84% nationally for the VA but at regional centers it varied from 61% to 94%. What part of the budget is going to go to evaluation of the diagnoses? Shinseki passed it to Hickey. As usual, she began speaking at a hearing without turning on her microphone. "I'm glad you're asking about quality because we're very focused on production and quality . . .," she insisted as she avoided Burr's question but continued talking for over two minutes about nothing of importance and nothing that resembled an answer to his question. Ranking Member Burr interrupted her and wanted to know how far into the year will they go before they'll be able to determine if the plan for improvements is working?
Ranking Member Richard Burr: But at some point, you've got to say, "We're going to look at this and see if it's working."
Allison Hickey: We did, sir, absolutely did.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So?
Allison Hickey: And we did it in local pilots and we are just this week --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So a year from now, when we get together for the 2014 budget if the quality is not improved or the timeliness down, it will have failed?
Allison Hickey: No, sir, I don't expect the quality not to have improved. We have some very significant decisions and initiatives --
Ranking Member Richard Burr: My point is, what if it doesn't?
Allison Hickey: Sir, then we will adjust as necessary to find the reasons why, we will tackle that hard, but I don't expect that to be the answer. I expect us to see improvement in both quality and production.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Thank you. We have --
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Senator, Senator, if I might, quality is the function of trained people with the right tools. And we're working on both items right now.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: My question was, Mr. Secretary, at what point we will determine whether what we've implemented is working?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Fair. We'll be happy to provide that. We set a target of ending this problem with backlog in 2015.
But they haven't even reduced it. House Ranking Member Bob Filner pointed that out in Tuesday's joint-hearing. More people were hired by the VA to work on claims and the backlog has only increased. Whatever the VA's doing thus far, it's not working. Is it a comprehension issue? Does VA just not listen? Senate Ranking Member Burr repeatedly asked how they would measure this year whether the changes were working or not. He got no answer and it appears the VA thinks they'll decide whether things worked or not to improve quality and speed when 2015 comes to an end. Do they not understand the need for regular evaluations? For checking the process? They didn't appear to yesterday before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
You're a veteran and you need help with something, let's say PTSD. Is the VA providing timely care? No. And yet in the proposed 2013 Fiscal Year budget, they're asking for only a 5% increase in funding when it comes to health care providers. Is that really enough, Chair Murray wondered?
Chair Patty Murray: Mr. Secretary, last year, we talked a lot about mental health care and I think we together uncovered a lot of serious issues best summed up by a veteran that I heard from recently who uses the Ann Arbor Medical Center and had to wait months and months to get into counseling but then he had glowing things to say about his mental health care once he got in. So in order to address those types of issues, VA has to be certain it has enough resources to not only keep up with the increasing number of veterans seeking mental health care but also bring down that unacceptably long wait time. Over the course of the last fiscal year, the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are looking for mental health care went up by about 5% and that's about 18,000 every quarter. So I wanted to ask you this morning if you believe the increase in mental health funding in the budget request is sufficient to accomplish the goals and keep up with this increasing demand?
Secretary Eric Shinseki:: I-I believe that the budget, if you look at the 13 budget request, I think it's adequate for us to meet what we understand our requirements are in 13. Are there issues out there now that we will discover between now and executional budget? I would say if we do, Madame Chairman, I would be the first to tell you. Now you asked us to do a survey and we did. It was very hastily done. Senator Burr referred to some of the output conclusions out of that survey. Out of 27,000 of our health care -- mental health providers, 319 were surveyed and the results were as described. My question of VHA was did you go to the places we thought there would be problems? And the answer was yes, because we were asked to go figure this out. So I would say we got a pretty pure response. What I think we need to do is make sure -- we're going to take another broader look -- to make sure we understand across the larger population what our issues are and where there are opportunities for -- reallocation or to hire more people? I would offer to the Chair, I took a look at what we've done in mental health over the last 4 budgets. If we look at '12 to '13, it's rather unimpressive. I mean, it's 5% and it matches the increase in the medical budget but between '9 and '13 our increase is 39%. in mental health. And if you include the 14 advance appropes [2014 advance appropriations requests] it will go up 45% --
Chair Patty Murray: And that is a result of the number of soldiers who are coming home with the invisible wounds of war which is dramatically increasing, correct?
Secretary Eric Shinseki: Uh, true but we are trying to anticipate that there's going to be a larger requirement in the odd years even if we don't have clarity, we're trying to prepare for that. We want to do a larger survey here as I indicated and then see -- and then see what the outcomes are. But let me turn to Dr. Petzel for any details.
Dr. Robert Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Madame Chairman, as a result of the hearing that we had earlier in the year, we have now done two things that are, I think, important and on point with regards to your question. One is that we've developed a staffing model. It is the only staffing model that I know that is available about mental health. It's in the -- in the beginning stages but it is giving us some information about what the need might be. But I think more importantly, we're site visiting all 152 of our medical centers to look at the access to mental health services -- both the initial appointment and subsquent appointments, be it for PTSD patient program, a group program or individual psychotherapy. And what we're finding is that there is -- We do meet the criteria for the first appointment in most every instance. We're having some difficulties in some parts of the country making the next appointment in a timely fashion, getting them -- as you mentioned earlier -- into the specialty services. This could be the result of three things. One, is do we have enough staff out there? Have we given enough positions and enough resources? Two is: are those positions filled? Are they filling those positions up in a timely fashion. And then the third is are we getting the appropriate level of productivity out of each one of those people? If we do discover, as the Secretary just mentioned, that we do have additional needs that are unment, I can guarantee you that we will be in communication with the Commitee about those needs and in for a discussion.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay, I appreciate that. This is a top priority for us this year.
Secretay Eric Shinseki: I would just share that in FY '11, we hired about 897 additional mental health professionals bringing us up to about 20,500 mental health professionals so the interest is there in trying to determine what the requirement is and we're not hesitant about increasing those numbers.
As usual, Senator Daniel Akaka brought up a point that others miss (about the rural nature of Hawaii -- and "others" includes me and I have a house in Hawaii). I'd like to cover that tomorrow but we tried to cover the big issues today (and tried to cover these yesterday but it had to be cut due to space).

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Call him "Punky Brewster"








In April 2000, Jim Moran accused a black eight-year-old boy at a recreational center parking lot of trying to take his car keys and of threatening to shoot him and steal his campaign-subsidized car (since he apparently couldn’t afford his own despite the $141,300 congressional salary for 2000-2001 he received, not to mention the lifetime health benefits Congress has given itself).

According to the boy’s parents, the boy was merely admiring Moran’s car, a 1999 Toyota Avalon, and told him he liked it. The boy told the Washington Times, “He choked me and then cussed at me. I thought he was going to kidnap or kill me…All I told him was that I liked his car.” Moran responded, “It’s all lies.”



Ranking Member Bob Filner: We got several hundred thousand claims for Agent Orange in our backlog. How long have they been fighting it? Thirty, forty years. People get sicker fighting the bureaucracy than they did with the Agent Orange. So you know what we ought to do -- aside from greatly expanding eligibility to boots on the ground, to the blue waters, to the blue skies and Thailand and Cambodia and Laos and Guam? We ought to honor those Agent Orange claims today. You know, let's give people the peace that they deserve. Let's give you finally some closure here. And, you know, they're telling us, "It costs too much." I don't know if it's a billion dollars or two billion dollars. I don't care what it is frankly. You don't think we owe it to you? We owe it to you.
US House Rep Bob Filner is the Ranking Member on the House Veterans Affairs Committee which held a hearing yesterday morning. "We're hear today to hear the DAV legislative priorities for the year, : US House Rep Jeff Miller declared at the start of th ehearing. Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee which was holding a joint-hearing with the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee which Senator Patty Murray chairs. Appearing before the Committees were representatives with the Disabled American Veterans -- National Commander Donald Samuel, Garry Augustine (National Service Director), Joseph Violante (National Legislative Director), Barry Jesinoski (Executive Director, Washington Headquarters), Arthur Wilson (National Adjutant), Ron Minter (National Director of Voluntary Service) and Patrice Rapsiand (National Commander, Disabled American Veterans Auxillary). DAV, AMVETS, Paralyzed Veterans of America and Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States of America are the authors of the Independent Budget which contains various budget recommendations for VA and the programs that serve veterans. This Independent Budget -- focused on the needs of veterans -- is an independent guideline the Congress can use to contrast with what the White House is asking for to see if the needs of veterans -- outlined in the Independent Budget --- are being met by the administration's proposed budget.
We'll note the following exchange from today's hearing covering a wide range of issues.
Chair Patty Murray: I did want to ask you about health care funding. The VA's budget proposal reflects a very real committment to provides veterans with the care they need VA's budget request for medical care is, however, lower than the amount recommenedd by the Independent Budget. Can you tell us what the DAV's most significant concern with the administration's request for health care is?
National Commander Donald Smith: I think I am going to refer that question to Mr. Violante.
Joseph Violante: Chairman Murray, thank you for that question. You've been a strong advocate for veterans. And our biggest concern is, number one we believe they're about 1.5 billion dollars below where they need to be. I know a GAO report came out yesterday. I have not had the opportunity to review it. However, I understand that once again, they've inidicated that the management efficiences that have been identified by VA over the last several years. They cannot truly say that VA has generated any savings from those. That's a concern. Last year, the Secretary carried over $1.1 billion yet we continue to hear from our members around the country and from VA employees that they were short of funds, that Veterans couldn't get the service that they were eligible for because of the shortfall. So we have concerns. We would certainly love Congress to get VA in here to question them, to find out, again, why they aren't hiring people they need for homeless? Why veterans aren't able to properly access the care and to get what they deserve?
Chair Patty Murray: Okay, I very much appreciate that. Let me ask you about another issue I brought up in my opening statement and that is construction funding. The Presiden't's request for major and minor construction is significantly less than the Independent Budget recommendation. I'm really disappointed in the size of the gap between what they say they need and what we need to bring our facilities up to date. And I wanted to ask you, Mr. Samuels, failing to close that gap, what does that mean for our veterans across the country?
Joseph Violante: Madame Chairman, I'll go ahead and answer that question also. You know, it reminds me a lot of what happened in '04 and '05. And you remember very well in '05 when you and Senator [Daniel] Akaka tried to have an amendment passed in the Senate to increase funding by $1.5 billion for VA and at that time we were hearing horror stories from around the country about maintenance problems, about Togus, Maine where bricks were falling off the building and they had to put scaffolding up to protect veterans as they entered, other faciliites, where the air conditioning went down and the surgical units had to be closed because there wasn't air conditioning and the ability to get that fixed, MRIs that couldn't be repaired. And all of these items as well as building necessary or enhanced leases to provide the services that are needed in certain areas. So as that gap continues to widen, I think we're going to see many more of those same problems where VA is not going to be able to ensure the safety of the men and women coming for services.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay and this is an area I'm going to continue to follow. I care deeply about this and I've seen exactly what you're talking about so this is one that I will follow up and push very hard. And finally, Commander, I wanted to ask you -- and I really want to thank the DAV for working closely with me on the Women's Veterans Bill and I look forward to working with you to continue to make sure that all the women coming into the VA system have the kind of quality care that they need after serving our country. But I want to [applause] as the last women standing up here, I will ask you, what more needs to be done to address the serious shortcomings that women are seeing as they come into our VA facilities?
Barry Jesinoski: Chairman Murray, I'll take that question. First of all, thank you for your extremely staunch advocacy in this area. DAV stands with you in your concern and care for our women veterans. And Secretary Shinseki has stated that women veterans are a priority for VA. And they're going down the right track, we believe, so we're looking for your strong oversight as they continue to train their personnel and to ensure that all the areas of care are open to our women veterans whether that be military sexual trauma, homelessness and post-deployment mental healt. But there is much to be done, for sure, and, quite frankly, we're not finished until or unless all of our women veterans can walk down the halls of our VA medical centers with the same ease and comfort and receive the same level of care and breadth of care as their male counterparts.
Chair Patty Murray: I appreciate that and I would add one more challenge to all of us and it's what I hear from women veterans all the time, it's that they don't indentify themselves as veterans, they don't write it on their resumes when they put it out there, their kids don't call and have their mom's call and have their moms come to school and tell their experiences as a veteran. They don't tell their neighbors. We need to give women the power to say, "I'm a veteran" and be proud of that. And I want to work with all of you to do that. One last question and I will turn it over to Senator [John] Boozman for his questions, last year, we both talked about -- Chairman Miller and I both talked about the Vow to Hire Heroes Act -- a very important first step in ensuring that we are employing our veterans nationwide. I did want to ask you what more can be done to help our service disabled veterans overcome some of their barriers to employment that I'm hearing about and I wondered if you could respond to that?
Joseph Violante: There's a lot more that needs to be done -- particularly for service disabled veterans. And, if I could, Madame Chairman, I'd like to get back to you in writing on that to elaborate as to all of the things that need to be looked at in that particular area.
Chair Patty Murray: Okay, very good. I look forward to your response on that.

Elsewhere in the hearing, the issue of sequestration was raised. It's expected to that the federal government's buget will result in sequestration -- that cuts to reach X amount were not made and as a result automatic cuts will be imposed on many departments (and programs) across the board. Is the VA exempt or not? That's been an issue that several members of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committees have been trying to get answered (with no success). Chair Jeff Miller noted, "We believe that VA is exempt." He stated that it should be but if it is not, "we have to we'll make those statutory changes." Chair Patty Murray declared she was "confident" that sequestering would not effect VA but that she wants "clarity" on the matter. CORRECTION: Senator Murray questioned Eric Shinseki on Wednesday. This is an issue that's bothering a number of veterans because where would the money come from if the VA faces automatic across the board cuts. I agree with Chair Jeff Miller's earlier statements prior to today's hearing, that the administration should have addressed this issue publicly some time ago so that it wasn't so up in the air and confusing and, yes, distressing to veterans and their families.
Chair Patty Murray noted during the hearing that she had heard from veterans in her home state of Washington at a town hall she held this month and they listed a number of issue -- including continued problems "with the dysfunction of the claims system," unemployment, and "unacceptable long wait lines for mental health care" which still doesn't result in "getting the type of mental health care they need." Ranking Member Bob Filner noted that the men and women of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars are "becoming homeless faster than you who have come back from Vietnam" and that they were "committing suicide at a higher rate."
Now we're dropping back to the February 15th House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing for just a second.:
Homelessness was touched on by US House Reps Corrine Brown and Dr. Phil Roe. We're ignoring that for two reasons. 1) Roe brought up that once a case worker has X number of clients, the VA isn't issuing vouchers so even though there is space a veterans left sleeping on the street or somewhere else (he or she receives no voucher). Shinseki noted that homeless veterans were decreasing. Are they? Or is this program -- which tracks beds used in shelters -- not factoring in that veterans aren't receiving vouchers if their caseworker is maxed out? That's not addressed and until it is, I'm not interested in going into the figures.
I have an answer on that from a friend at VA and from a reporter who covers the story in Dr. Roe home state: If they're not using the beds, they're not being counted. So if vouchers exist but aren't being handed out -- for whatever reasons -- then those not in the shelter beds are not being tabulated in the VA count.
So we know the answer to that. And now we can pick up with Dr. Phil Roe who spoke briefly but did a really strong walk through on this voucher issue.
US House Rep Phil Roe: Homelessness. I know you're involved in that. And one of the things that's holding up -- and this is something that we've got to stick the VA with -- our case managers. We have 10,000 vouchers for our homeless veterans but they can't get those vouchers unless there's a case manager. And right now, in my own district, we've got vouchers we can't use because the VA, since November, hasn't hired a case manager to manage those. That's ridiculous when you're going through the winter, you've got a veteran sitting outside and the VA hasn't hired one person -- because one takes care of 25 veterans, they have to have one person. So if we're going to have 10,000 more vouchers at 70-something million dollars, it does the veteran no good who's outside unless the VA simultaneously trains and hires 400 case managers. They need to do that. So I guess a real quick question I have for you is what -- as a veterans service officer with obviously decades of experience -- what's the single biggest issue you're running across that we coluld help you with up here?
National Commander Donald Samuels: Well I would say, one, of course, is the backlog, the claims processing backlog. And of course the Secretary and our staff is working with the Secretary on trying to resolve that with a new IT programs coming in, pilot programs that the Secretary's going to introduce. But I would say that is one of the biggest problems that we hear from vetetan. Saying Why does it take two years to get a decision? Why does it take nine months to get a decision? I could ask my staff to respond more on that question but that is -- that is a big issue. If you're a service officer sitting in the bunker in a state, they constantly get calls where veterans are calling to check on the status of their claim because they have not gotten a decision on it.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Obamacare could be the death of his career










Leon Panetta is the US Secretary of Defense. Today he declared that the Defense Department -- not the VA -- was spending $50 billion a day on health care. If that number seems questionable, well after Panetta had mentioned it, he was asked again about the figure to be sure he hadn't been misunderstood.
Senator Rob Portman: You talked about health care earlier. Let me give you a statistic that I have. I hope it's not right because it's scary. $17.4 billion is what you spent on health care in 2000 and you said earlier that we're spending $50 billion a day. Is that correct?
Secretary Leon Panetta: That's right.
The Defense Dept spending fifty billion dollars a day might lead some to be tempted to cut corners. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.
Senator Patty Murray: Secretary Panetta, you know I spent a lot of time last year on the Joint- Select Committee on Defecit Reduction working with Democrats and Republicans to tackle some of the issues that you're talking about today. All of us went into the Committee knowing that sequestration would be a terrible outcome and we understood that, across the board, cuts to these programs middle class families and most Americans depend on would be bad policy. That was really the point of the bi-partisan triggers that Senator [Harry] Reid and Speaker [of the House John] Boehner agreed to -- they were supposed to be painful to push us towards a compromise. So I was really disappointed that despite the fact that we put a lot on our side, some pretty painful cuts out, we couldn't get to an agreement because we couldn't come to that shared sacrfice moment. I'm still willing to make those compromises needed to get to that. I hope everyone on both sides are because I think we're all really concerned about where that's going to go. But I -- I didn't want to focus on that today on my time, I wanted to ask you a question about an issue that has become very important and recently come to light at Madigan Army Medical Center in my home state of Washington. A number of soldiers had their behavioral health diagnoses changed from PTSD to other behavioral health disorders that didn't come with the same level of benefits. However, following, as you may know, an independent review at Walter Reed, a number of those diagnoses was changed back to PTSD. Obviously, this is really troubling. But what's even more troubling to me and to many service members and their family members in my home state and to a lot of people I've been talking to allegation that the decision to strip those soldiers of a PTSD diagnoses came from a unit at Madigan that seems to be taking the cost of a PTSD diagnosis into account when they were making their decision. Now there's an investigation going on into this but really, to me, one of the things that's clear is that oversight within the army and at the departmental level allowed this break from standard diagnoses process to go unchecked. So I'm really concerned about how the services handle non-PTSD behavioral health conditions like adjustment disorder where service members are administratively separated instead of going through the physical disablity process and I wanted to ask you given that an adjustment disorder is compensable, VA and DoD is required to use the VA's rating schedule, what is the reason for DoD treating adjustment disorder differently?
Secretary Leon Panetta: Well I was, uh, I was very concerned when I got the report about what happened at Madigan. And I think, uh, it-it reflects the fact that frankly we have not learned how to effectively deal with that and we have to. We-we-we need to make sure that, uh, that we have the psychiatrists, the psychologists and the medical people who can make these evaluations because these are real problems. I've met with men and women who have suffered this problem. Just met with a couple last night and they had to go through hell in order to be able to get the diagnosis that was required here. And that should not happen. So we are investigating obviously what took place but I've directed our Personnel Undersecretary to look at this issue and to correct it because it's unacceptable now to have the process we have in place.
Senator Patty Murray: Well I appreciate the attention given to this. It's going to take a lot of work. And I'm deeply concerned when someone comes home from war that they have to go through a diagnosis like this. It's hard enough after you've been told to "man up" during your time of service to then face the fact that you have PTSD -- and then to have that reversed and changed back and told there's nothing wrong with you is just devastating to these men and women and their families. So this is something I'm going to be following very closely. I want your personal attention on it. And I think that the issue raised at Madigan really shows us that we need to have a more clear, consistent guideline for clinical practices for diagnosing and treating PTSD.
Secretary Leon Panetta: I agree with that. I agree with that. Abosluetly. You're absolutely right.
Senator Patty Murray: I never want to hear anybody in any service say we're not going to give you a diagnosis of PTSD because we have a budget problem.
Secretary Leon Panetta: That's for sure.
Senator Patty Murray: Okay. Thank you very much.
The exchanges took place this morning at the Senate Budget Committee hearing with the Committee hearing from Secretary Panetta and Gen Martin Dempsey (Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff). Senator Kent Conrad is the Chair and he's a pretty lousy chair. The House is limited to five minutes for their exchanges. The Senate has a longer time limit for each senator to ask questions. Except when Kent Conrad's in charge. To be sure Panetta could leave by noon, Conrad limited everyone -- but himself -- to five minutes.
Senator John Kerry is the Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. And like a strong chair, when time is tight -- due to voting or a witness needing to leave by a certain time -- Kerry is more than happy to table his opening statement. To give a sentence or two off the cuff to start the hearing and just let his prepared remarks be entered into the record. Not so with Kent Conrad who seems to believe that his every repeated bromide is of value (they're not) and should be heard (they shouldn't). He was curt to the point of outright rude to two Senators on the Committee (Senator Kelly AYotte and Senator Bernie Sanders). But if you were one of his pets -- Senator Porter -- he would give you the times up look (and Porter acknowledged it by noting his time was up) but still let you babble on.
Senator Carl Levin is the Chair of the Armed Services Committee. And he's always able to keep things moving without being rude. He maintains his cool and usually a warm smile. Chair Levin also doesn't take his glasses off after he's done with his own questions and stare blankly into space for long periods of time.
Conrad wasn't fair and he didn't impose the time limit on himself. He'd note he was over the limit (such as during the first round) and continue prattling on and then allow -- on 'his' time -- one of the witneses to speak at length. But let Ayotte or Sanders attempt to clarify a response and he walked right over them in the rudest manner I've ever seen in a Senate Committee hearing.
Leon Panetta fed right into it and had his little drama moment as he decided to set professional aside so that he could lecture a Committee, his voice breaking and rising, that "Look, uh, this Congress proposed, as part of the Budget Control Act, a trillion dollars in savings off the discretionary budget."
He took a long pause there while shaking his head no frantically and waving a pointed finger at the Committee before continuing:
You can't meet the challenge that you're facing in this country by continuing to go back at discretionary spending. That's less than a third of federal spending. Now, if you don't -- if you're not dealing with the two-thirds -- that's entitlement spending -- if you're not dealing with revenues and you keep going back to the same place, frankly, you're not going to make it. You're going to hurt this country! You're going to hurt this country's security not only by cutting defense but very frankly by cutting discretionary spending that deals with the quality of life in this country.
Conrad, of course, is a well known opponent of Social Security, one who wants to destroy it. One who can get so carried away with his desire to destroy it that facts get lost along the way (see this PolitiFact check on his claims about what percent Social Security was of the budget -- he was LYING and PoliFact's fact check demonstrates that but they're too scared to call him a liar -- I will: LIAR!!) He's called it broke and worse publicly. Kent Conrad is an enemy of Social Security. And though the topic was supposedly the Defense Dept budget, Conrad made plenty of time to stick knives into Social Security.
As for Panetta, he is one of the Cabinet Secretaries who forgets his place repeatedly. Repeatedly and publicly. Considering all the scandals DoD has, you'd think he'd be focusing on them and not trying to figure out how to 'solve' problems beyond his jurisdiction. Dropping back to February 16th:

Josh Rogin (Foreign Policy) reports on US military maneuvers, specifically the movement of cash. The 2013 budget finds the Defense Department hiding $3 billion. To ensure that DoD has $3 billion in discretionary spending, the White House budget hides that figure under war spending. Rogin quotes Gordon Adams from the Clinton Administration stating this happens all the time and, for Rogin, that's that. Actually, it's not. War spending will not be subject to any automatic caps should sequestering be triggered. That's why it's being hidden. Who determined the caps that trigger sequestering? Who implemented it? Congress. So what you actually have is an attempt to get around the laws passed by Congress. Getting around the laws -- when you don't have a high priced defense team -- is also known as breaking the laws.
A case could be made that the White House is engaging in accounting fraud and doing so willfully since the intent to mislead and circumvent the Congress is so clear. This lust for fraudulent budgetary techniques may go a long way towards explaining why the Barack administration has refused to prosecute Wall Street corruption to the full extent of the law. That's not even factoring in how this attempt at smoke & mirrors with the budget goes against Barack's public pledge of transparency.

I think if your department attempted to lie to Congress and to the American people about $3 billion dollars, you really don't have the ethical force to finger-wag.
When Panetta finished his speech, instead of reminding Panetta that he was no longer in Congress and that his concern now should be the Defense Dept and that Social Security is not something that Panetta's opinions are needed on, Conrad had to babble on for over another minute insisting that "entitlements" needed to be cut, blathering on despite the fact that he'd already noted he was over the five minute mark, he'd already noted he was a minute over the five minute mark he imposed on others, and yet, his exchange would take up two more minutes and 32 seconds. But Ayotte and Sanders weren't allowed to clarify their issues. Bernie's mistake was in not grasping that if you wanted to attack Social Security, Chair Kent Conrad would give you and Panetta all the time in the world. Later on in the hearing, Panetta would call for an increase in tri-care fees and more. (More? He thinks conpensation will be reduced -- "I believe" -- that's compensation for veterans. People should be very offended by the little dance Conrad and Panetta did.)
Maybe Conrad had to shut down Bernie Sanders because Bernie was getting to the heart of the matter, addressing where money is wasted.
Senator Bernie Sanders: I'm going to pick up on a slightly different tangent than my friend from Alabama and suggest to you that everybody understands that our country faces huge economic challenges, our middle class is collapsing, we have more people living in poverty than probably anytime in the modern history of this country which is one of the reasons that MediCaid is up, one of the reasons that food stamps are up. We've got 50 million people who have no health insurance and millions of families are struggling to send their kids to college or to pay for child care. So how we deal with every aspect of the budget including the military impacts on every other. Now the reality is -- as I understand it, and somebody correct me if I'm wrong -- military spending has tripled since 1997. Tripled. Not exactly ignoring the military. And we now spend more on defense -- as I understand it -- then the rest of the world combined. So I want to start off by asking you, Mr. Secretary, my understanding is that the United States still operates 268 military installations in Germany and 124 in Japan. Now in Germany, people all have health care. In Germany, their kids go to college without having to pay for it, as a matter of fact. So I'm kind of interested to know why we have 268 military bases defending Germany when I thought that war [WWII] was won a few years ago. Somebody help me out on that one.
Secretary Leon Panetta: I'll also yield to General Dempsey on this one. First of all, that 268 number sounds very high. We've cut almost 140 bases out of Europe over the last few years and, uh, as a result of bringing down two additional brigades out of Europe, we will -- we will bring down that infrastructure even more.
Senator Bernie Sanders: Mr. Secretary, I may be wrong but that's the best information we have.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Okay.

Senator Bernie Sanders: By the way, why are we -- WWII's been over for a few years. Why are we -- Who are we defending? The Soviet Union doesn't exist. Why do we have that kind of presence in Germany when we have 50 million people in this country who have no health insurance?
Gen Martin Dempsey: I can't answer the, uh, the latter part of your question, Senator. But I will say that I'm advocate of maintaining our relationship with NATO. NATO gets maligned on occasion. They've done some great work around the world. They've got a $300 billion budget in the aggregate. If we go to war tomorrow, who's going to be the first people we're going to ask?
Senator Bernie Sanders: But who are we going to war with in Europe, do you think?
Gen Martin Dempsey: No, no. That's not the point, Senator. If we go to war tomorrow, the first people we'll ask to go with us are the Europeans.
Senator Bernie Sanders: But does that answer the question why we have that type of -- 268 military installations ?
Gen Martin Dempsey: Well, Senator, I'll have to -- I'll get you the data. I've spent 12 years in Germany, I can't imagine -- I've never counted up anywhere near 268 installations, but we'll take that one for the record.
Well then Dempsey isn't very observant or he's not very honest. Last year, Senator Jon Tester was discussing the "military installations" with then-Secretary Robert Gates. In fact, it's documented in this press release from December 15th of last year (two months ago) entitled "Senators join forces to save money and strenghten U.S. military" which clearly states "that the United States still operates 268 military installations in Germany and 124 in Japan."
So Dempsey either has serious observation issues -- a very serious liability for the Chair of the Joint-Chiefs -- or else he's lying. Panetta's not off either. Gates was Secretary of Defense through July. Senator Tester and Senator Kay Baily Hutchison were discussing the bases with Gates. When Gates left in July of last year, the number still stood at 268. So to claim that the number's been dropping for years -- no, it hasn't. Again, lack of knowledge or lying.
Bernie Sanders was correct.
Senator Bernie Sanders: I want to pick up on another question -- a question that the Chairman asked about defense contractors. My understanding is that in the past that the DoD has estimated that we have some 500,00 to 600,000 people who are military contractors. Is-is -- And that the GAO has estimated that number at 900,000.
Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale: You know, I think I'd have to see the definitions of what we're including. Are we including private sector contractors who are supporting others? That multiplying effect?
Senator Bernie Sanders: I suspect we are.
Under Secretary of Defense Robert Hale: The numbers I'm giving you -- and I agree they are rough in number -- are the portion, the full time equivalents that we're paying and I believe it's around 300,000.
Senator Bernie Sanders: I had an interesting experience. I was in Afghanistan maybe a year and a half ago. And we were being taken around by two fellows in an armored car. One was with US military, one was a private contractor. They were both doing basically the same work. The guy who was the contractor was making substantially more than the fellow who was in the army. Does that make sense? Can you talk about that?
Secretary Leon Panetta: Uh -- what -- Uh, let me just say, Senator, that the area you've pointed out is an area that frankly needs attention at the Defense Dept. One of the reasons we are looking at $60 billion in trying to make the place more efficient is going after contractors and trying to reduce those numbrs. So I just wanted to assure you that I'm aware of the problem. Senator Gates -- Secretary Gates, at one point, basically said he didn't know how many contractors he had at the Defense Dept. It is a large number. Frankly, it's too large and we need to do what we can to reduce it.
Senator Bernie Sanders: I appreciate that answer. Last question I would ask, Mr. Chairman, my office has gotten involved a little bit in terms of fraud. You've got a huge budget, you're dealing with thousands and thousands of defense contractors, etc. My understanding is that the top three defense contractors, that's Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop Grumman paid over a billion in fines over this ten year period to settle fraud allegations. That's just the top three. There's massive amounts of fraud going on in terms of defense contractors dealing with the DoD. Are we moving aggressively to try to address that issue?
Secretary Leon Panetta: That is part of our effort to, uh, -- Two ways. One, to be able to go after those kinds of fraudulent activities in the various contracts that we have to try to achieve savings there, but, in addition to that, the auditing -- I mean, we're a department that still cannot audit all of our books. That's crazy.
Senator Bernie Sanders: It is crazy.
Secretary Leon Panetta: We need to do that and --
Senator Bernie Sanders: I would just say, and I thank you (Chair Conrad) for raising that point. We hear, you know, people talking about 'we need more money,' and what you have just told us is we don't even know what we're spending and how we're spending it.
Secretary Leon Panetta: Well, we don't have audit ability and that's something, frankly, we owe the taxpayers.
Senator Bernie Sanders: I would think so. My last --
Chair Conrad: No. We've got to stop there because we're a minute over and [. . .]
Conrad blathered on some more while claiming time was short. Let's wrap up the US Congress by noting this from Senator Murray's office:
ose with this from Senator Patty Murray's office -- Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee:

Contact: Murray Press Office

Tuesday, February 28, 2012
(202) 224-2834

TOMORROW: VETERANS: Murray to Hold Hearing to Discuss FY 2013 Budget for Veterans' Programs

(Washington, D.C.) – On Wednesday, February 29th, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing on the fiscal year 2013 budget for veterans' programs. The Committee will hear from the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki and representatives of several veterans service organizations. The Senator will ask Secretary Shinseki about the impact of sequestration on VA services, funding for construction and maintenance of VA facilities, and efforts to combat the claims backlog. She will also address VA's ongoing challenges in combating long wait times for mental health care as the number of veterans seeking that care continues to rise.

WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee

WHAT: Hearing to discuss FY 2013 budget

WHEN: Wednesday, February 29, 2012

10:00 AM ET

WHERE: Russell Senate Office Building
Room 418

Washington, D.C.



Tuesday, February 28, 2012

No follow up






This afternoon the House Veterans Subcommittee on Health held a hearing that covered the issue of bridges between the VA and Community Organizations. Near the end of the hearing, Subcomittee Chair Ann Marie Buerkle declared, "I must say I'm a bit chagrinned and, more than that, concerned. I think we have a real big disconnect here in knowing what's avaialbe and what's out there."
More than anything, that summed up the hearing. Listening to panel two offer testimony was highly distressing. Chaplain John Morris, Reverend E. Terri LaVelle and Chaplain Michael McCoy Sr. were the primary witnesses on that panel and you really had to wonder about not just where the money goes but also who's watching it?
US House Rep Michael Michaud had a very basic question for Rev LaVelle and she explained that she'd have to speak to someone else about that, she was primarily focused on what went on in DC (she's with the VA Director Center for Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships) but she would speak to the filed about this.
The obvious question would be: Why didn't you before you showed up for this hearing?
The obvious question wasn't asked. Instead, she noted she'd only spoken to the district once in her time in her current position. Michaud asked her how long she'd been on the board and she responded "two and a half years." That should have been a red flag.
There were many red flags throughout the hearing.
Michaud wanted to know if veterans were being charged by faith-based organizations for services? He never got a clear answer on that. LaVelle, for example, was happy to talk at length in response to what should have been a "yes" or a "no" question. Going on and on, at a fast clip, about how you're "more than willing to say that so many days a week, so many hours, we'll use our current transportation" might have seemed like a response to her but I'm not sure many others would feel the same.
Her comments also raised serious issues about qualifications. For example, I think many of us (I know I feel this way, you don't have to) feel that if a veteran seeks out a faith-based organization, he or she will be speaking about issues to do with religion and spirituality. And that doesn't bother me (I'm not happy that it's funded with tax payer dollars because I believe it chips away at the wall that's supposed to exist between church and state). But when you're selling your program to Congress on something other than that, we may have a problem.
So, for example, when LaValle wants the Subcomittee to know that they employ Phds and licensensed clinical social workers, it does matter to me if these people are trained in assisting veterans. LaVelle's people she brags about, these people with so much education and training, have never been trained in helping veterans. But, she insists, they will learn on the job.
Will learn. Haven't yet. What do they do all day? We're not talking about fresh recruits, we're not talking about a new program that just received start-up funding.
Sitting through that hearing was a non-stop exercise in frustration and, after awhile, it really appeared that most members of the Subcommittee just gave up. (Two appeared to walk out in frustration. And those two were Republicans and Republicans who support the idea of faith-based programs being funded by the government.)
US House Rep Silvestre Reyes is a very laid back and calm person. He doesn't lose his cool in hearings and generally has a smile and some comforting exchange at the start to set the witnesses at ease. Though he did not lose his good manners, even he seemed puzzled by what was taking place before the Subcomittee.
He noted what so many noted which was, why aren't veterans hearing anything about these programs? (I will add, why aren't veterans hearing anything about these programs that US taxpayers are forking over a small fortune for?) This was picking up directly on US House Rep Michael Michaud's questioning but also on just about every Subcommittee member's line of questioning.
And the song and dance was always, 'We try. We're contacting someone.'
Reyes noted that in his area (El Paso), Joan Ricard would be the best one to contact. She's the Director of the El Paso VA Health Care System. He wondered, "Why can't your programs be part of the services?" No real answer.
They're putting on events. They're spending money. But it doesn't seem like veterans are going to these events and that seems to be because they aren't getting the word out on these events.
In addition, rural veterans are being completey disregarded by these programs. They aren't doing any in, for example, West Texas. As Reyes pointed out, except for El Paso pretty much all of West Texas is rural. The witnesses rushed to tell him that his veterans could go to Waco, Texas where they're putting on programs and he explained to them that Albuquerque was closer to El Paso than Waco (El Paso to Waco, he said, was 386 miles -- still a huge journey, especially for a disabled veteran and especially for a veteran in need of services; while El Paso to Waco is over 670 miles). Chaplain McCoy wanted to insist, "We are cooperating with the Office of Rural Health and we are cooperating with the Office of Mental Health and others." The programs they represented to the Subcomittee did not appear to be serving rural veterans, regardless of whom they were "cooperating with."
In Texas, Reyes was told, the closest chaplain to his city of El Paso is Waco. (Again, that's over 670 miles -- at 60 mph the whole way, someone's going to have drive over 11 hours for an event that's for 'rural' veterans. That's ridiculous.)
Reyes was also very concerned about this issue where the events aren't known, where even the faith-based organizations providing some kind of services weren't known of by the veterans.
He noted that his office holds a veterans clearing house meeting every month. He attends when he's in his district but, even when he's not there, the meeting takes place. And it's where information can be passed on. He noted Joan Ricard attends every month's meeting. But he's never once seen anyone from these groups or heard any information about their programs, He again stressed that the faith-based programs were not getting the information out, "We've never heard the information about your programs. So is there a reason you can't designate the VA Directors in our respective areas to provide information?"
LaVelle insisted that if someone could tell her the faith-based liason to Congress, they could get information to them about services in their district.
You're taking taxpayer money to provide a service for veterans. Your events are poorly attended. The reason for that is you're not getting the word out on them. And your answer to that is to wait until you're at a Congressional hearing and treat a Subcommittee as if you just dialed 411?
Winding down the hearing, Subcommittee Chair Ann Marie Buerkle said, "In closing here today, I think that Chaplain [John] Morris said it best, that we really do need a community effort to make sure that our veterans have what they need."
Tomorrow should be a big hearing -- joint-hearing by the Senate and House Veterans Affairs Committee. That's a problem for one reason, I'm not really able to go into to today's hearing. It's one of those that I would prefer to have a night's sleep between covering just because I'm so upset by it. But with tomorrow's hearing, it won't be possible to pick up this Subcommittee tomorrow. So we've done the above, a thumb nail, and that may end be it for the Subcommittee hearing. I think it was an important one, I think we've provided a bit more than overview but that's all we can do today. Short of my issuing a non-stop string of curse words, that's all we can cover. What the Subcommittee learned was that the faith-based organizations being represented by the witnesses happily take money from the taxpayer to provide services but they hire people who are unqualified to provide the services and then they somehow repeatedly forget to get the word out on the services which explains the low turnout. On top of all of that -- and the lack of oversight of the way the taxpayers' money is being spent -- rural veterans aren't benefitting from the present system. A specific issue family courts have raised to House members is where are the clergy to provide family counseling to veterans whose families and/or marriages are struggling? And the answer, like every other 'answer' to a direct question in this hearing, was a long string of words that wandered around but never arrived at a point.
Let's stay on veterans issue and Congress for a bit more. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office issued the following today:
Monday, Februay 27, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
(202) 224-2834
TOMORROW: Murray to Push Deense Secretary Panetta on Pentagon Oversight in PTSD Diagnoses
Murray will also question Panetta on proposed FY 2013 cuts and their impact on DOD
(Washington, D.C.) -- Tomorrow, Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), senior member of the Senate Budget Committee, will attend a hearing on President Obama's Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Request for the Department of Defense. The Committee will hear testimony from Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey. Sen. Murray will question Secretary Panetta about the Pentagon's handling of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) diagnoses, specifically as it relates to the recent controversy surrounding the Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state.
WHO: Senator Patty Murray (D-WA)
U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey
WHAT: Examination of President's FY 2013 Budget Request for Dept. of Defense
Focus on PTSD Diagnoses Oversight, FY 2013 Cuts
WHERE: Dirksen Senate Office Building -- Room 608
When: Tomorrow -- Tuesday, February 28, 2012
9:30 AM EST/ 6:30 AM PST
Megan Roh
Deputy Press Secretary
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
So what's going on? The press release refers to Madigan Healthcare System. As we've noted before, the US Army Medical Command has investigated complaints from soldiers who say that their PTSD diagnoses have been reversed and that there have been comments that these were administrative decisons made to save money. If you're late to the story, you can check out Hal Bernton's piece for the Seattle Times. That is tomorrow. As the press release noted, if you can't be present but are interested, you can stream it online. For those who are saying, "I'm on dial up" or "My platform's too out of date for streaming" or something similar -- CSPAN Radio will broadcast the hearing live (and most who can't stream video due to being dial up or an older platform, can stream audio with few problems). I was under the impression (apparently wrong) that CSPAN (1,2,3) broadcast all the Senate hearings. If so, that's not going to happen tomorrow unless CSPAN2 is carrying the hearing. (CSPAN1 and CSPAN3 are both going to be covering the House and not the joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.)