Saturday, June 30, 2012

Popular, but in another way





 "First," declared US House Rep Jason Chaffetz  yesterday morning explaining the purpose of the
Committee, "Americans have the right to know that the money Washington takes from them is well spent. And second Americans deserve efficient, effective government that works for them.  Our duty on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is to protect these rights."

 Chaffetz is the Chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform's Subcommittee on National  Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations which held a hearing on Iraq.

Appearing before the Subcommittee on the first panel were: US State Dept's Patrick Kennedy, Peter Verga and USAID's Mara Rudman.  Panel two was the US Government Accountability Office's Michael Courts, the State Dept's Acting Inspecting General Harold Geisel, DoD's Special Deputy Inspector General for Southwest Asia Mickey McDermott, USAID's Deputy Inspector General Michael Carroll and the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen Jr.

Chair Jason Chaffetz: The State Dept has greatly expanded its footprint in Iraq. 
 There are approximately 2,000 direct-hire personnel and 14,000 support contractors 
-- roughly a seven-to-one ratio.  This includes 7,000 private security contractors to 
guard our facilities and move personnel throughout Iraq.  Leading up to the withdrawal, 
the State Dept's mission seemed clear.  Ambassador Patrick Kennedy testified that the diplomatic mission was "designed to maximize influence in key locations."  And later 
said, "State will continue the police development programs moving beyond basic 
policing skills to provide police forces with the capabilities to uphold the rule of law.  
The Office of Security Cooperation will help close gaps in Iraq's security forces 
capabilities through security assistance and cooperation."  This is an unprecedented 
mission for the State Dept. Nonetheless, our diplomatic corps has functioned without
 the protections of  a typical host nation.  It's also carried on without troop support that
 many believed it would have. As a result, the Embassy spends roughly 93% of its budget
 on security alone.  Without a doubt, this is an enormously complex and difficult mission.  Six months into the transition, the Congress must assess whether the administration 
is accomplishing its mission?  While the State Dept has made progress, it appears to be 
facing difficult challenges in a number of areas. The Oversight Committee has offered 
some criticism based on their testimony today.  Including the Government Accountability Office noting that the State and Defense Dept's security capabilities are not finalized.  
The Special Inspector General for Iraqi Reconstruction states that, "Thousands of 
projects completed by the United States and transferred to the government of Iraq 
will not be sustained and thus will fail to meet their intended purposes."  The Defense 
Dept's Inspector General's Office explains that the lack of Status of Forces Agreement 
has impacted land use agreements, force protection, passport visa requirements, air 
and ground movement and our foreign military sales program.  And the US AID Inspector General's office testifies, "According to US AID mission, the security situation has 
hampered its ability to monitor programs. Mission personnel are only occassionaly 
able to travel to the field for site visits."  Embassy personnel have also told Committee 
staff that the United States government has difficulty registering its vehicles with the
 Iraqi government and Iraqis have stood up checkpoints along supply lines.  According 
to one embassy official, the team must dispatch a liason to "have tea and figure out 
how we're going to get our trucks through."  These are just some of the challenges 
the State Dept is facing in Iraq today.  Perhaps as a result of these conditions, Mission 
Iraq appears to be evolving.  In an effort to be more efficient, the State Dept is evaluating 
its footprint, reducing personnel and identifying possible reductions.  This rapid change
 in strategy, however, raises a number of questions. Are we on the right track?  Are we redefining the mission?  What should we expect in the coming months?  And, in hindsight,      was this a well managed withdrawal?

 The first panel was a joke in so many ways.  Someone please convey to the State Dept that they
don't look 'manly' offering football allusions to Iraq.  With all the people -- Iraqis, Americans, etc. -- it's really beyond insensitive for State to show up and try to talk football.  There have been far too many deaths for anyone to see this as a game or match and you'd think the diplomatic arm of the government would grasp that on their own and wouldn't need that pointed out.  In addition to the unneeded sports comparisons and examples, there were also the answers which could be honest only if you agreed to ignore the facts. US House Rep Blake Farenthold became Acting Chair where we're doing our excerpt.

 Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  I just have one more question so we'll just do a quick
 second round of questions. Ambassador Kennedy, you mentioned the Baghdad police
 college annex facility as one of the facilities.  It's my understanding that the United States' taxpayers have invested more than $100 million in improvements on that site. It was intended to house the police department program -- a multi-billion dollar effort that's 
currently being downsized.  And as a result of the State Dept's failure to secure land use rights the entire facility is being turned over to the Iraqis at no cost.  The GAO reports 
Mission Iraq has land use agreements or leases for only 5 out of all of the sites that it operates. Can you say with confidence that those sites now operating without leases or agreements will not be turned over to Iraq for free as was the case with the police development program?  And what would the cost to the US taxpayer be if they were to 
lose without compensation all of those facilities?

Patrick Kennedy:  Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  First of all, the statement that has been -- 
that you were reading from about we are closing the Baghdad police development center because of a failure to have land use rights is simply factually incorrect.  We have a land 
use agreement for that site. As part of the program -- the police development program -- there are periodic reviews that are underway and my colleagues who do that -- it's not 
part of my general responsibility on the operating side of the house -- engage in reviews
on a six month basis both internally and with the government of Iraq.  It was always our 
plan to make adjustments to the police development program  over time.  But the 
statement that somehow we have wasted or had everything pulled out from under us because of lack of a land use agreement is very simply false. For our other properties
 in Iraq we have -- we have agreements for every single property we have in Iraq except 
for one which is our interim facility in -- in Basra which is simply a reincarnation of a
 former US military there. But even in that regard we have a longterm agreement that 
was signed with the government of Iraq by Ambassador Negroponte in 2005 in which 
we swapped properties with the government of Iraq and they are committed to provide 
us with a ten acre facility in-in Basra of our mutal choosing. And so we are covered, sir. 

 He said it.  Too bad it wasn't accurate or, for that matter, truthful.  We'll jump over to the second

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Mr. Courts, Ambassador Kennedy and I got into a 
discussion about the absence of or presence of land use agreements for the facilities 
we have in Iraq do you have the current status for that information from your latest 
eport as to what facilities we do and do not have land use agreements for?
Michael Courts: What Ambassador Kennedy may have been referring to that for 13 of 
the 14 facilities the Iraqis have acknowledged a presence through diplomatic notes. 
 But there's still only 5 of the 14 for which we actually have explicit title land use 
agreements or leases. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright so I'm not -- I'm not a diplomat.  So what does
 that mean?  They say, "Oh, you can use it until we change our minds" -- is that 
basically what those are?  Or is there some force of law to those notes?

Michael Courts: Well the notes are definitely not the same thing as having an explicit agreement.  And as a matter of fact, there's already been one case where the Iraqis 
required us to reconfigure, downsize one of our sites.  And that was at one of the 
sites where we did not have a land use agreement and so obviously we're in a much 
more vulnerable position when there's not an explicit agreement.

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold:  Alright, Mr. Carroll, I would also like to follow up a 
question I had on the last panel about the use of Iraqi nationals in overseeing some 
of our investigations of it -- does that?  I mean, what's your opinion that?  Does that 
strike you as a good idea, a bad idea or something we're stuck with because there's 
no alternative? It seems like Americans would be a little more concerned about how 
their tax dollars were spent than the Iraqi nationals who are the receipients of those 
tax dollars.  That's kind of a fox guarding the hen house, it looks like. 

Michael Carroll: [Laughing]  Well I-I personally I think it's a - like-like Ms. Rudman said 
it's an additive sort of step.  We would do the same thing. For example, in some of the 
places where it's absolutely prohibited because of security what we will do is contract 
with a local CPA firm -- primarily out of Egypt -- and do a very comprehensive agreed 
upon procedures document that they will go out and they will take pictures, they will 
ask questions, they will do what we would do if we could get there. So I think that it 
what Mara is talking about as well.  I don't see it as a problem.  In fact, I see it as an 
adjunct to and it's not a replacement for USAID contracting representatives and technical representatives actually getting out and ensuring that the work is actually being done. 
 That's not what these people are doing.  What these people are doing is just going out, 
doing some monitoring and observing.  But it does not replace what the 
responsibilities are for the Americans. 

Acting Chair Blake Farenthold: Alright. Thank you very much.  And I'm not sure if I 
want to address this to Mr. Courts or Mr. Bowen -- whichever one of you seems 
most eager to answer can take this.  I haven't been to Iraq.  My information in the
 field of what it's like on the ground there is based on the things that I've read and 
the reports that I've seen on television.  But a good many of our facilities are in 
metropolitan areas including the capital Baghdad and I'm concerned that we are 
struggling getting food and water to these folks in a safe manner.  I mean, what's 
the procedure?  Is the food delivered?  How -- how is that handled and why is it a 
problem in a metropolitan area? There are hundreds of thousands of people in
 these cities, Iraqi nationals, that need to be fed.  Obviously, it's more complicated 
than just going down to the Safeway but I mean how is that handled?  And why is it 
such a problem?

Stuart Bowen:  The State Dept, as Ambassador Kennedy indicated, continued the LOGCAP contract after the military withdrew in December and thus the process for bringing food
 into the country continued as well and that is via convoys that come up from Kuwait.  
There have been challenges.  That checkpoint has been occasionally closed.  There 
have been security challenges with regards to those convoys and other reasons that 
the shipments have been intermittent and has led to an occasional shortage of certain
 food stuff at the embassies.  [Former US] Ambassador [to Iraq James] Jeffrey emphasized repeatedly this spring his desire to move towards local purchase but that's been slow.

Is it wrong to note that the State Dept's Patrick Kelly was not honest with the Subcommittee or
that he chose to ignore the questions asked?  He wanted to insist (falsely) that there were leases
on all the Iraqi property currently occupied by the US diplomatic mission.  Again, that is not truthful.

In addition, he wanted to insist that turning over a facility the US taxpayer had spent over a million
dollars on was normal and natural.  It was neither.  US taxpayers, if asked, might have said, "Hey,
 turn it over to an Iraqi orphanage or youth project."

Or, noting the huge amount of widows due to  the war, might have said, "Turn it over as a facility for women and their children to live in."  But the same taxpayer that had no vote in whether or not to go to war got no vote in how to spend millions in Iraq..

Patrick Kennedy declared, "It was always our plan to make adjustments to the police development program over time."

That actually may be true.  (Or it may be another lie.)  But the fact is, the US State Dept refused to share the plan with Congress or the office of the Special Inspector for General Reconstruction in Iraq.  Kennedy might hope we forget that -- and certainly many in the press will rush  to assist him -- but those of us present at the hearings held in the last months of 2011 remember the State Dept refusing to answer questions.

The State Dept is not an fiefdom, though Patrick Kennedy appears to believe it is.  They are
answerable to Congress.  It's a real shame that all these issues were not nailed down in real time.

 If  you're confused or playing stupid, the reason it was not nailed down is many Democrats agreed to give the White House a blank check and they weren't even concerned with what figure might be written in on that blank check.  That's not just me.  Let's note Stuart Bowen's testimony to the Subcommittee yesterday about the State Dept's refusal to provide concrete answers:

Stuart Bowen:  I testified before this subcommittee in November 2011 about our 
concerns regarding the Department of State's planned multi-year, multi-billion-dollar 
Police Development Program [PDP].  I raised two overarching issues that threatened
 the PDP's success.  First, the Defense Department had not adequately assessed the 
impact of its own six-year police training efforts, and thus a key benchmark for 
future planning was missing.  And second, State had not sufficiently planned for the 
program, either on the policy or logistical fronts.  It is now beyond dispute that the 
PDP planning process was insufficient.  It should have produced specific program 
goals, a time frame for accomplishing those goals, the anticipated total cost for the 
program, the expected scope of required resources, and a method for measuring
 progress.  The process fell short in each of these areas.  Further, to succeed, the 
PDP required close collaboration and support from the Government of Iraq.  But
the GOI's support has been weak, at best. 

 That's why we have the problem we do now.  In other comments? Tim Arango of the New York Times   was attacked by the US State Dept for his writing.  His writing ( "U.S. May Scrap Costly Efforts to Train Iraqi Police") was about what the State Dept was discussing.

He did not attempt to predict what would happen or how it would play out.  We've already noted
Tim was correct and accurate in his reporting.  We'll note that his reporting only stands stronger
after the Thursday hearing.  If Victoria Nuland had any class or character, she'd apologize publicly
to Tim Arango for the attack she launched on him.
 Before we go further, we should fall back to the last hearing Jason Chaffetz chaired that we
covered.  That's December 7, 2011 and from that coverage, we'll note this:

 Subcommittee Chair Jason Chaffetz:  Before recognizing Ranking Member [John] 
Tierney, I'd like to note that the Defense Dept, State Dept, USAID and SIGAR will not 
have IGs in January.  In May of this year, I wrote the President asking him to move 
without delay to appoint replacements.  That letter was signed by Senators [Joe] 
Lieberman, [Susan] Collins, [Claire] McCaskill and [Rob] Portman, as well as [House 
Oversight Committee] Chairman [Darrell] Issa and Ranking Member [Elijah] Cummings
 and Ranking Member Tierney.  I'd like to place a copy of htis record into the record.  
Without objection, so ordered.  To my knowledge, the President has yet to nominate 
any of these replacements, nor has he responded to this letter.  I find that totally 
unacceptable.  This is a massive, massive effort.  It's going to take some leadership
 from the White House.  These jobs cannot and will not be done if the president fails 
to make these appointments.  Upon taking office, President Obama promised that his administration would be "the most open and transparent in history." You cannot 
achieve transparency without inspectors general.  Again, I urge President Obama and 
the Senate to nominate and confirm inspectors general to fill these vacancies  and
 without delay.
 Why is Geisel, who was at that hearing in December, billed as an "acting" anything?  Is the White
House unable or just unwilling to fill these slots?

 For many of us, the inaction reminds us that Barack Obama, as a member of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee was over Afghanistan in terms of subcommittees but never called a hearing
on the topic.  Someone appears to love credits in the yearbook, they just don't want to work for them.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The continued self-emasculation of Barry O









Senator Barbara Boxer:  I want to say I came here to talk to you about the epidemic of veteran homelessness and to offer up an idea that doesn't cost any money that I think would be terrific in involving the American people in this -- fighting this epidemic. You know, I would say probably all of us in this room -- I certainly hope all of us in this room -- have safe, comfortable homes to live in and we take it for granted.  But every night, 67,500 of our nation's veterans are homeless.  67,500 of our veterans are homeless. This is inexcusable because no veteran should ever have to spend a night on the streets and I know we all agree with that.  Ensuring that our veterans have safe, stable housing is also a smart thing to do because research has shown that a home is the very foundation that a veteran can build and sustain a successful life.  In my home state of California, I met a veteran, Holbert Lee.  And when Mr. Lee returned home from Vietnam, he ended up addicted to drugs and homeless on the streets of San Francisco.  We have an organization there called Swords to Plowshares and they helped him turn his life around, Madam Chairwoman, with the help of a housing voucher and VA support services, Mr. Lee now has a home to call his own.  And today as a vocational specialist at the San Francisco VA, he is working to assist other veterans.  Holbert Lee is a success story and proof of what can happen when we end the cycle of homelessness.  But there are too many more men and women who we have not reached. Now our government announced a goal to end veterans homelessness by 2015.  And I like to think that when we announce a goal like that, we mean it.  This isn't just something we throw out.   But yet [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki admitted, "While we're not where we need to be just yet, we have movement but it's too early to begin high-fiving one another." And it is clear from those words that we have a long way to go.  So I introduced S. 1806, the Check the Box for Homeless Veterans Act of 2011.  Very straightforward.  It creates a check off box on the annual federal tax return. Tax payers can decide to make a voluntary contribution of one-dollar or more to support programs that prevent and combat veterans homelessness.  The donations are deposited in a new homeless veterans assistance fund established at the treasury that can only be used to supplement Congressionally appropriated funds for these various programs to help veterans.  Now let me be very clear, the funds in the check off box will not be allowed by law to replace any budgeted dollars -- there needs to be a maintenance of effort -- but they would be used to supplement those dollars.  So colleagues, I want to say -- Well, before I do my real close, I want to place in the record with your permission, Madam Chair, letters of support from the Veterans of Foreign Wars, from the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, from TEAM AMVETS, from the Center for American Homeless Veterans Inc. and from the California Association of County Veterans Services Officers and Swords to Plowshares.  I think -- If I might put those in the record, if that is alright?
Chair Patty Murray:  We will do that.
Senator Barbara Boxer:  And I think that they -- If you read these letters, there's -- They strongly support this approach.  So in conclusion I would say that our veterans have given so much. You're dealing with this every day and a lot of them suffer, they suffer mightily.  And having a home is the least we can do and I think that all of Americans want a chance to help.  They -- they feel sometimes helpless.  But with a dollar on a check-off, if every American paying their taxes did that, we could do something special.  I hope you will consider this.  I will work with you to make it happen.  I thank you for your dedication.
Boxer was speaking at yesterday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on proposed legislation.  Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee.  Yesterday, we noted her bills S. 3340 The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 and S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012.  On the latter, we also noted some of the testimony of Tracy Keil.  Tracy and her husband Iraq War veteran Matt Keil faced obstacles to having a child following Matt Keil being shot on February 24, 2007 while on patrol in Ramadi.  If Matt Keil had a basic insurance policy with any corporation, fertility and conception issues and care would not have been an issue.  As a veteran, Matt Keil's 'insurance' -- and that of his family -- comes via the VA.  And Murray's bill brings the VA up to 2012 and puts veterans and their families on equal footing when it comes to reproductive health.  Tracy Keil probably said it best yesterday, "War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."
This is a basic issue that shouldn't be surrounded with any controversy or resistance.  It's not 1980, we're not just learning of Baby Louise (Louise Joy Brown, born in 1978, the first child conceived via in vitro fertilization).  Though the VA has dragged its feet for decades, these are not new issues.   Tracy Keil was part of the second panel along with VetsFirst's Heather Ansley, Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem and the American Urological Association's Dr. Mark Thomas Edney.  The first panel was VA's Dr. Madhulika Agarwal, William Schoenhard, Thomas Murphy and Robert Hipolit.  Excerpt of the first panel on this issue.
Chair Patty Murray:  Well the VA can't offer much in the way of care for spouses.  What does that mean for couples who need extra assistance conceiving a child because of a war injury?
Dr. Madhulika Agarwal:  Thank you again, for this question, Madam Chair.  Uh, Congress has generally restricted eligibility of health care services in VA to spouses.  There are some rare exceptions such as in [one word here -- no idea what she said, speak into the microphone] VA.  S. 3313 is aimed at expanding that authority to include infertility management for spouses under some circumstances when the veteran's injury has precluded their ability to procreate naturally.  Uh, we do not have a position on this yet but are reviewing it.  And, again, look forward to working with you and the Committee.
Agarwal?  We last encountered her in the June 4, 2009 House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health.  That performance led to the next day's entry here of "The VA's Madhulika Agarwal: Lying or grossly uninformed?"  In the three years, she's clearly not improved.  For example, I think Chair Murray knows S. 3313 and doesn't need anyone from the VA to tell her what it would do -- Murray is the sponsor of the bill.  We all caught that, right? Murray asked what services VA provided.  The answer is really none.  But to eat up time and give a false impression or who knows what, Agarwal starts babbling about what Murray's bill will do.  And, in her opening statement, Agarwal had already declared that the VA had no position on Murray's bill.  (Which I think is both offensive and a medical dereliction of duty.)
In addition to the snapshot, coverage came last night with Kat's "Justice for Camp Lejeune families?" offering the latest on the issue Ranking Member Richard Burr has long championed;   Ava's "Scott Brown backs two veterans bills" noted Brown's S. 3324 Housing for Families of Ill and Injured Veterans and S. 3308 The Women's Homeless Veterans Act; and  Wally offered "Veterans' cemeteries" on Senator Kelly Ayotte's S. 2320 Remembering America's Forgotten Veterans Cemetery Act of 2012 about the untended graves at Clakr Veterans Cemetery in the Philippines.  With those items covered, we'll note a Bill of Rights issue.  Specifically the Second Amendment. 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Mr. Murphy, you addressed the Second Amendment issue. If individuals -- Let me ask you this, how many veterans names have been turned over to NICIS?  How many are currently on that list?
Thomas Murphy: I don't have the details on the number of names that are currently on that list.  I can tell you the details around the number of requests for relief or removal from that list.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  How many names have been requested to be relieved?
Thomas Murphy: 185, Senator.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: And how many have been granted?
Thomas Murphy: A total of 19.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  And that's out of 127,000 names that have been turned over on the NICIS list.
Thomas Murphy:  Correct.  I'm assuming your numbers are correct. I don't have those in front of me.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Trust me, they are. 
Thomas Murphy:  Okay.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  If individuals seek releif from the NICIS list,reporting requirements, does the VA assist them in coming up with the evidence needed to show whether they're dangerous?
Thomas Murphy: Yes, Senator, we do.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  What do you do?
Thomas Murphy:  The Duty to Assist Act requires us to fully develop the case.  This is not a light matter in the Veterans Administration.  This is a fully adjudicated, full developed claim with a-a full decision letter with an explanation of how the decision was arrived to with a lot of supporting evidence and documentation provided.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Are there any veterans that are determined incapable to handle their own personal finances that's name is not put on the NICIS list?
Thomas Murphy:  Let me make sure I understand the question.  Are there veterans who --
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Do you -- You have sombody who's determined that a veteran cannot write a check so they cannot handle their finances.  They have now assigned a spouse to be in charge of the finances. Is there anybody that that's happened to that that veteran was not then listed on the NICIS list?
Thomas Murphy:  I can say that there are not supposed to be.  I'm not saying that through an administrative process of errors that it hasn't occurred.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  My understanding -- and I'll get you to go back and clarify this if I'm wrong -- every veteran who is relieved of their financial -- or deemed that they can't handle their own finances is automatically put on the list?
Thomas Murphy: They're placed on the list by the Veterans Administration, yes.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  So what are the qualifications of the VA employees who make the decisions about whether veterans and their families should be stripped of their Second Amendment? What training do these people go through? 
Thomas Murphy:  I-I don't believe we have an option in this, Senator.  We're directed --
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Well you've got VA -- You've got VA employees that are making a decision about whether somebody is capable of doing their own personal finances.  That determination that they're not capable of doing that strips them of their Second Amendment right.  It's very simple.  What training does that VA employee go through to be qualified to make a determination that would strip someone of their Constitutional rights?
Thomas Murphy:  Our employees -- Our adjudicators are trained in determining whether or not that veteran is capable of making the financial determinations they have with the funds that Veterans Administration provides that individual.  As a result of that decision, they are placed on the NICIS list.  It's not a determination of whether the individual is capable of handling firearms or not, it's can they manage their personal finances.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  I know.  But when they go on the NICIS list, they are now deprived of firearm ownership. 
Thomas Murphy:  That's correct.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay.  So a determination that they can't handle their personal finances strips them of their Second Amendment right and also, the way that it's written, it forbids any firearm to be handled by anyone in the household.  So you, in essence, strip the spouse of the Second Amendment right, you strip children of the Second Amendment right because you've determined that a veteran can't handle their own personal finances.  Are we in agreement?
Thomas Murphy:  We are.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: Okay.  Now I don't want to make this too simplistic.  If a veteran can't sign their name to a check and the VA determines that their spouse should be assigned the financial responsibilities because you're transferring money into an account, do we agree that that would trigger their listing on the NICIS list and that would lose their Second Amendment right and everyone else in the household.
Thomas Murphy: That's one I need to ask Mr. Hipolit to verify for me.  I'm not -- I'm unaware of the requirements for other people in the household on the restriction to own firearms.
Richard Hipolit:  Yeah, that's correct as well.  I was also not personally aware of the household restriction.  I know that if VA determines the person is incapable of handling their financial affairs that does get them on the NICIS list but
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  But you would agree, Mr. Hipolit, that a determination that they can't handle their finances has a wide definition to it.
Richard Hipolit:   I would say that if VA determines that they're unable to handle their finances that does qualify them to get on the NICIS list and their names are referred for the list.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  That's not necessarily a mental determination.  It could be a physical determination, correct?
Richard Hipolit:  Uh --
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  -- that they're not capable of handling their finances.
Richard Hipolit: If they had a physical disability that impaired their ability to handle they're financial affairs, yes.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  So they're automatically classified as dangerous?
Richard Hipolit:  Our determination is just whether they can handle their financial affairs and then that automatically triggers the requirement to refer their names.
Ranking Member Richard Burr: So would you agree that the purpose of the NICIC list which was to take guns away from dangerous people and the threshold that VA currently uses to determine who goes on the NICIS list are potentially two very different things?
Richard Hipolit:  I think that the law enforcement forces determined who should be put on the NICIS list and they determine that person --
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  But they don't in the case of veterans.  In the case of veterans, the only person that determines whether they get on the NICIC list is the VA and it's determined based upon are they capable of handling their own finances.
Richard Hipolit:  Well the law that requires us to make a referral is --
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  And you're the only agency in the federal government that across the board sends every person that's not qualified to handle their personal finances to the NICIC list?
Richard Hipolit:  That's not my understanding -- 
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Are you ware of that?
Richard Hipolit:  It's my understanding that other agencies refer people as well.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  Other agencies refer people but they have a different threshold for the ones that they  refer.  I think they might use the definition of dangerous and what I've heard you say is dangerous does not come into play. Mental capacity does not come into play.  Capability of handling your own personal finances is the only threshold and when they hit that, they're automatically put on the NICIS list.
Richard Hipolit:  From VA's standpoint, if they're determined to be unable to handle their financial affairs, we have to refer them.
Ranking Member Richard Burr:  I hate to dig in on this. I just want to point out to you that the threshold is very, very different at VA.  There are many veterans, spouses, and family members who are deprived of their Second Amendment right to own firearms based upon an arbitary decision by somebody at VA that they can't handle their own personal finances.  These people are all of the sudden labeled as dangerous when in fact the decision may have been a physical disability that didn't permit them to handle their own finances.  I hope this is something the Committee will look at.  I -- I'm actually shocked that the Veterans Affairs Committee is not outraged at the way this is being implemented.  127,000 of our country's veterans are stripped of a Constitutional right.  Some probably should.  Many of those 127,000 never have had that right take away. I thank you.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The greatest American zero



Princess Brat






Today the editorial board of the Spokesman-Review observed the vast number of suicides among service members and veterans and noted the work of Senator Patty Murray including the bill she introduced Monday: "The bill spins off the discovery that as many as 285 soldiers -- or 40 percent of those diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder -- had thos findings reversed at the Madigan Army Medical Center in Tacoma since 2007.  A PTSD diagnosis can come with lifetime benefits, so a lot rides on those decisions.  Murray became concerned that costs were becoming a factor in overriding legitimate diagnoses when she learned that a Madigan forensic psyhciatrist urged team members to be cognizant of the bottom line.  It was at Madigan that many veterans were accused of faking symptoms to gain benefits.  Many of those PTSD diagnoses were restored after news of the high reversal rate."  Today she spoke of the bill, S. 3340.
Chair Patty Murray: The Mental Health ACCESS Act of 2012 is sweeping legislation that improves how VA provides mental health care. I think it is fitting that we are here considering this legislation on National PTSD Awareness Day.  Over the past year, this Committee had repeatedly examined the alarming rate of suicide and the mental health crisis in our military and veterans populations.  We know our service members and veterans have faced unprecedented challenges multiple deployments, difficulty finding a job whenhome, and isolation in their communities.  Some have faced tough times reintegrating into family life, with loved ones trying to relate but not knowing how.  These are the challenges our service membes and veterans know too well. But even as they turn to us for help, we're losing the battle. Time and time again, we've lost service members and veterans to suicide. We are losing more service members to suicide than we are to combat.  Every 80 minutes a veteran takes his or her own life. On average this year, we have lost a service member to suicide once every day.  But while the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have taken important steps towards addressing this crisis, we know there's a lot more that needs to be done.  We know that any solution depends upon reducing wait times and improving access to mental health care, ensuring proper diagnosis, and achieving true coordination of care and information between the Departments.  The Mental Health ACCESS Act would expand eligibility for VA mental health services to family members of veterans.  It would require VA to offer peer support services at all medical centers and create opportunities to train more veterans to provide peer services.  This bill will require VA to establish accurate and reliable measures for mental health services.  This Committee has held multiple hearings on VA mental health care, and we heard repeatedly about the incredibly long wait times to get into care.  It's often only on the brink of crisis that a veteran seeks care.  If they are told "sorry, we are too busy to help you," we have lost the opportunity to help and that is not acceptable.  Without accurate measures, VA does not know the unmet needs.  Without a credible staffing model, VA cannot deploy its personnel and resources effectively.
That was this morning where she presided over the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  There is a ton of stuff to cover in that hearing.  Tonight at her site, Kat's grabbing Ranking Member Richard Burr as usual, Ava's going to fill in at Trina's site and cover Scott Brown, Wally will fill in at Rebecca's site to cover an aspect of the hearing which may be a cost issue but he's also considering a Bill of Rights and doesn't know yet what he'll go with.  Again, it was a jam packed hearing.  The purpose was to review and/or advocate for proposed legislation so you saw many US Senators not on the Committee appear before the Committee today.  We'll probably note the hearing in tomorrow's snapshot as well because so much did take place but we'll focus on Chair Patty Murray today.  If Murray's actions since becoming chair of the Committee were boiled down to one thing, I would argue she's been very firm that veterans have an equal playing field.  If they're promised something, it needs to be delivered.  If they're not promised something but civilians are, Murray's advocating for equality.  She has two bills she covered in the hearing.  We noted the mental health aspect.  Her other bill is S. 3313, The Women Veterans and Other Health Care Improvement Act of 2012. This pulls the VA into 2012 by recognizing reproductive injuries among other things.  Tracy Keil appeared before the Committee and noted, "I'd like to emphasize this statement: War time changes a family, it shouldn't take away the ability to have one."  But without the bill, many veterans families won't have the opportunity because certain procedures are not covered currenty.  She explained what happened to her and her husband, Iraq War veteran Matt Keil.  This is from her written statement.
My husband Matt was shot in the neck while on patrol in Ramadi, Iraq on February 24, 2007 just 6 weeks after we were married.  The bullet went through the right side of his neck, hit his vertebral artery, went through his spinal cord and exited through his left shoulder blade.  Matt instantly because a quadriplegic.  When I first saw him 3 days after he was injured I was in shock, they explained to me that he had a "Christopher Reeve type injury."  He would be on a ventilator for the rest of his life and would never move his arms or legs.
Matt and I looked at each other in his hospital room at Walter Reed and he asked me if I still loved him? I said "baby you're stuck with me!" at that moment we knew that we would be okay if we stayed in this together.  I knew that we just needed to work really hard to get Matt off his ventilator to increase his life expectancy.  Ultimately we moved to Craigh Hospital in Denver to be closer to family support.
Four weeks to the day of arriving at Craig Hospital in Denver, Matt was officially off of his ventilator and we could truly concentrate on him doing physical rehabilitation.  Matt has regained about 10% function of his left arm but not his hand.  He was feeling good and getting used to his new normal of being in a wheelchair and asking for help for everything.
It was while we were at Craigh hospital that we started talking about having a family.  Craig doctors talked to us about invitro fertilzation and recommended some doctors for us to speak to when we were ready tos tart a family.  We started to get really excited that even though so much had been taken away from Matt physically that we could still have the future we always dreamed of. 
My husband is the msot amazing man I have ever met, he is strong, honest and loyal and he wanted us to both have everything we always wanted before his injury and we agreed that this injury wasn't the end, it was the beginning of a new life, and we were in this together.
We had our whole lives ahead of us.  Matt was just 24 when he was injured and I was 28.  We are very fortunate that he survived his injuries that day and we made a promise to each other on our wedding day "For better or worse, in sickness and in health" I meant every word and still do today.  It is a challenge for my husband and I everyday but we knew we still wanted to start a family.  I remember back when he was in rehabilitation at Craigh Hospital it's all we could talk about was when we were going to be adjusted to our new normal and when we would we be ready to have children. We always knew we had wanted children.
In 2008 we moved into a fully handicap accessible home built for us by Homes For Our Troops.  We were strating to feel like things were falling into place in our lives.  We felt like we were starting to get back on track to where we were before Matt was injured.
His injury unfortunately prvents him from having children naturally.  In mid 2008 I started asking the VA what services they could offer my husband and I to assist us with fertility.  I can remember hitting road blocks at every turn.  I decided to take things into my own hands and write letters and make phone calls to try and get anyone to listen to us that we needed help.  Fertility treatments are very expensive and since I had left my full time job we were still adjusting to living on one income.
I felt helpless and hopeless and thought that our dreams of having a family may never come true.  The VA finally said that they would cover the sperm withdrawal from my husband . . . that costs $1,000 and that they would store the sperm for us at no charge.
It was very difficult when I found out there was no help available for us from the VA or Tricare. I felt very defeated, sad, disappointed and in some ways I felt helpless.  I researched everything I could about how to get Tricare to cover some of the costs but they couldn't because it was a direct result of my husband's injury and that fell under the VA.  The VA said that they had no programs in place for this sort of thing.  I even started asking non profits to assist with the cost and they couldn't help due to the other immediate needs of injured service members.
They had to jump through hurdles they never should have had to but , on November 9, 2010,
Tracy Keil gave birth to their twins Faith and Matthew.
Chair Patty Murray:  The Dept of Defense, as I mentioned earlier, provides access to advanced reproductive treatments.  And recently issued some guidance on offering these services at no cost to severely injured service members and their spouses.  The VA on the other hand can't provide these services and it's pretty clear that they don't meet the reproductive health care needs of veterans who have experienced severe trauma as you outlined to us in your testimony a few moments ago.  When you and your husband Matt were trying to conceive, you faced some very substantial road blocks from both the Dept of Defense and VA.  And since that time, DoD has changed their policy.  They now do offer fertility services for severely injured veterans.  I believe that veterans like Matt have earned DoD and VA coverage and there should be no difference.  I assume you agree with that?
Tracy Keil: I absolutely agree.  My understanding is that you would need to travel to a military treatment facility in order to receive those services that the DoD is offering -- whether that be Fort Bragg or Walter Reed. That's not an option for families of the most severely injured such as my husband. There's no way that I could travel to one of those treatment facilities  and care for my husband.  And I want him there every step of the way.  So that, for us, would not be an option.  I feel that he, with his service and sacrifice, I feel that he now falls under the VA guidelines  of care.  He is a retired -- medically retired -- service member. And he ultimately is the VA's responsibility.  So I feel that we fall under their responsibility.
A lot's going on in Iraq -- as usual -- so that's going to have to be it on the hearing for today.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

He's just not likeable enough






Gov. Earl Ray Tombin, Rep. Nick Rahall and Sen. Joe Manchin, who famously used firearms to express his displeasure with Obama’s policies, all will avoid the convention. Their state is well-known for being hostile to the president, with 41% of voters supporting a convicted felon from Texas over Obama during this year’s Democratic primary. And all three are notably up for reelection this year.
[. . .]

And Rep.
Mark Critz (D-Penn.) announced earlier this month that he will avoid the gala as well, with campaign spokesman Mike Mikus telling the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that internal polling has found that Obama trailed rival Mitt Romney by double-digits in Critz’s district.


Starting in the US where conservative Robert Maginnis weighs in on Iraq at Human Events.  First up, good for him, he notes the ridiculous 'survey' by the National Democratic Institute which was nothing but lies and he notes, rightly, that some outlets stupid enough to run with it (the New York Times -- always a whore -- and it's this piece by Tim Arango and Duraid Adnan).  We noted the poll May 22nd, either as it was being released or right after (a day) or right before (ibid):
Perhaps the saddest thing for the White House was realizing that it you want bi-partisanship, don't piss off Republicans.  Specifically, don't piss off [a] Republican on the issue of Iraq.  (Think about it, you'll quickly guess which US Senator I mean.)  Not only did he rally opposition to keep the International Republican Institute from being used to rubber stamp numbers that were going to be called results for a poll, he's gone away making sure many know that an upcoming National Democratic Institute for International Affairs  'poll' was nothing but propaganda on behalf of the White House.  The poll will insist -- abusrdly -- that Nouri al-Maliki's popularity is on the rise.
It would have been unbelievable coming from a reputable polling organization.  It would have been laughable coming from the NDI (a notorious tool to oppress and suppress freedom around the world -- as is its Republican counterpart) but with the senator telling anyone who will listen how the White House shopped it first as a joint-poll and the had no interest in it, the White House looks like its in the business of non-stop lying.  But maybe that's every administration's business?  Regardless, it's not a good time for the administration.
Maginnis and I will never agree on the illegal war but good for him for calling out the 'poll' ("Obama loyalists hosted and conducted the survey.").    It's a surprisingly strong article:
On the day the U.S. withdrew from Baghdad Maliki's security forces surrounded the residences of prominent Sunni politicians including Vice President al-Hashemi, to arrest him on charges of running death squads. But Hashemi escaped to northern Iraq and sectarian violence has since skyrocketed.
"It is very troubling the Maliki-led government is operating on cultivating sectarian tensions and executing policies to suppress democracy at the expense of the Iraqi people," said Vice President al-Hashimi from his exiled refuge.  He continued, "Iraqi politicians must put the past and our differences behind us to improve the lives of our people."
But Maliki isn't putting past differences behind him.  Rather he is resurrecting memories Iraqis associate with their former dictator, Saddam Hussein.
Second, the DNI/GQRR survey found most non-Shia Iraqis believe Maliki has too much power and 64 percent say he acts like a dictator.  Iraqis have good reason to associate Maliki's actions with their former dictator.
The prime minister is consolidating personal power as did Saddam Hussein says British scholar Toby Dodge who outlined Maliki's power grab at a forum hosted by the National Defense University and reported in Foreign Affairs.
Maliki completely transformed Iraq's security and intelligence forces to be at his beck and call, explained Dodge.  The prime minister retained the title and role of defense and interior ministers, controls all high-ranking appointments, and created special counter-terrorism brigades that report directly to him.  These special forces, which some Iraqis label fedayeen [Arabic for "those who sacrifice"] al-Maliki, remind them of Hussein's fedayeen Saddam which performed the dictator's dirty work.
And "surprisingly strong" is not due to, 'From the left, I can't believe anyone on the right can get anything about Iraq correct!'  "Surprisingly strong" means that at a time when the US media clearly doesn't give a damn about Iraq, it's surprising to find a strong article in any US media.  Good for Robert Maginnis.  And for any who are surprised that Republicans might want to make an issue out of Iraq, weren't you paying attention?  We told you that was the plan back in 2009.  That's why the questions and issues about Chris Hill were raised at his confirmation hearing.  We went all into that and how he would get confirmed but Republicans were getting it on the record. 
Many Democrats supported the war and many went along.  If they didn't, they could have stopped it at any time.  Former US Senator Mike Gravel discussed how you do that repeatedly in 2007 and 2008 but no one wanted to end it, not even 'brave' Dennis Kucinich.  And along with supporters and tag-alongs, you also had the evil that actively worked to get the illegal war up and going.  Indo-Asian News Service reports on the human garbage dump that is Mad Maddie Albright who declared in New Dehli today that "the war on Iraq was the biggest mistake we could make and are still hurt because of it." Lest anyone think the woman known as "Iraq's Grim Reaper" has come to her senses, she rushed to insist "that the international community has a responsibility to act if a country's leaders deny the people their rights, despite such actions being an encroachment of that country's sovereignty."  But Mad Maddie, as you damn well know, the costly and illegal Iraq War wasn't sold to the American people as, "Let's go kill millions and send our own off to die in a foreign land because we think the people are being denied rights!"  That never would have sold the illegal war.  Just last week a Dartmouth YouGov poll (with a +/- 3.18% margin of error) found only 32.1% of Americans surveyed would support using US military force "To stop small-scale or moderate human rights abuses by the government, such as the killing of tens or hundreds of civilians." 
The sentiment is similar around the world and not surprising.  It's why the United Kingdom required Tony Blair's endless lies -- including silencing objection from his government's legal expert about the legality of the Iraq War -- to sell the war there.  And in England, the war refuses to fade as an issue and the publication of Alistair Campbell's liary has only led to more attention.  More news from the book broke over the weekend.   Jane Merrick and Matt Chorley (Independent) reported:

MPs demanded an emergency recall of the Chilcot inquiry last night after new revelations that Tony Blair blocked the Government's most senior lawyer from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq. According to the newly published full version of Alastair Campbell's diaries, the Attorney General Lord Goldsmith wanted to "put the reality" to cabinet ministers that there was a case against, as well as for, military action in March 2003. But, according to his former spin doctor, the then Prime Minister feared that the legal opinion was too "nuanced" and would allow the war's ministerial critics Robin Cook and Clare Short to say that the case had not been made.

"Why does Alastair Campbell's account of cabinet decision-making about Iraq nine years ago still matter?" asked the editorial board of the Independent before answering:

Because, more than any that a government can make, the decision to join military action is the most serious. Millions of British people believed at the time that they were being taken to war on a false premise. They, and The Independent on Sunday, feared that Tony Blair had committed himself to the US. George Bush's motives were an unhealthy mixture of wanting to impress US voters with a vigorous response to the humiliation of 9/11, completing his father's unfinished business from the first Gulf War and a strategic concern about security of oil supplies.
By Monday,  Daniel Martin (Daily Mail) was reporting that Campbell had already rushed to deny that what he wrote meant what it said: "Mr Campbell said on his blog yesterday that the entry had been misinterpreted, and that Lord Goldsmith had addressed Cabinet after the meeting referred to in the diary. He had argued in Cabinet that there was a legal case for war and was cross-questioned by ministers."  
On my previous post on the issue of the Independent on Sunday article claiming that "Tony Blair blocked the Government's most senior lawyer [the attorney general] from explaining to Cabinet the legality of the war in Iraq", it was noted that Alastair Campbell had responded to the story on his blog. Campbell's (attempted) rebuttal largely misses the point but does make a very good point about what the views of the attorney general (Lord Peter Goldsmith] were at the time.
Campbell is so hooked on his self justifying claim that "The Real Spin Doctors Are The Journalists" that he does exactly what he accuses one of the IoS story's authors of doing.
I also drew attention to various passages of former Attorney General Peter Goldsmith's evidence to Chilcot, and asked if the IoS had bothered to study it before rushing to print a story which conformed to their view of the Iraq war.
e.g. when Sir Roderic Lyne asks: 'so no one at any stage asked you to restrict what you said to cabinet to the fairly limited terms in which you presented this to cabinet?' And Goldsmith replies 'No.'
If Campbell had bothered to read the IoS story properly, he would have seen -- as I pointed out yesterday -- that it did quote exactly that piece of evidence to the Inquiry. He later claims that what he recorded in his diary – that Blair "made it clear he did not particularly want Goldsmith to launch a detailed discussion at Cabinet" – is "consistent" with this.
Poodle Tony and Mad Maddie, two War Hawks. The Albright article notes that Mad Maddie's supporting Barack in the 2012 elections -- of course she is.  War Hawks of a feather bind and teather.  Just last month, Barack gave her the Presidential Medal of Freedom (she also chairs the laughable National Democratic Institute we were just mentioning).