Archive for the ‘veterans’ Category

In case you missed it, here’s the text of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Memorial Day letter, as posted on the Huffington Post:

Today, as we honor America’s fallen soldiers, I ask you to join me in renewing our commitment to the men and women who have served our nation in the Armed Forces.

When I ran for Congress, I was clear about my opposition to the War in Iraq. But while I did not agree with President Bush ‘s policies, I worked hard in Congress to provide our servicemembers and returning veterans with the health care and educational opportunities they deserve.

Now I am renewing those efforts in the U.S. Senate. Last week I introduced legislation called PRO-VETS, to require the Veterans Administration to seek out and provide our returning heroes with information on the benefits they have earned. It will eliminate red-tape and bureaucratic bottlenecks, and require timely responses from the VA to all those who inquire about the benefits for which they are eligible.

I was shocked to find out the following statistics from my home state of New York:

  • While there are 237,302 veterans in New York City , 181,360 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
  • While there are 121,183 veterans in Western New York , 87,217 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
  • While there are 85,401 veterans in Central New York , 61,220 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
  • While there are 54,360 veterans in the Southern Tier , 39,277 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
  • While there are 92,549 veterans in the Capital Region , 71,571 are not receiving VA health care benefits.
  • While there are 46,762 veterans in the North Country , 35,085 are not receiving VA health care benefits.

My legislation would close the gap between what our veterans are eligible for and what they are receiving. As I say in the news piece below, this is about shifting the focus of the VA to become pro-active, not reactive.

While the US government provides our veterans with many benefits, I believe there is much more still to be done to fulfill our promise to those who risk their lives for our country.

  • We need to expand health benefits to include treatment of autism for children of retired and active duty servicemembers.
  • We need to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to allow our soldiers to serve openly and honestly, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • We need to expand access to healthcare for veterans and their families, including universal pre-natal care.
  • We need to provide incentives to businesses in order to expand the opportunities available to our veterans upon their return to civilian life.

In the meantime, it is my hope that my PRO-VETS bill, once passed and signed into law, will at least help veterans take advantage of the benefits that do exist. For me, this bill is my small way of saying thanks to our brave veterans for their service to our country. I encourage you all to join me in honoring our veterans and service personnel, not just today but every day. They and their families have earned our thanks and our support.

Damn right we have.  I’ve been a supporter of Ms. Gillibrand since before the election, and will continue to be one as long as she supports our troops, our veterans, and their families.  We need 99 more of her in the Senate.  If only the Republicans had half her patriotism.

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In what is possibly the most untentionally hilarious opinion piece in today’s New York Times, Stanley Fish attempts to explain how Dubya might be “regarded with affection” after he leaves office.  No, really.  I’m not kidding:

In the past year I have hazarded a number of political predictions, some of which (like the prediction that in a McCain-Obama matchup the Iraq war would play for the Republicans) panned out, and some of which (like the prediction that Hillary Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination) didn’t.

Now I would like to enter these treacherous waters again and venture another prediction: within a year of the day he leaves office, and no matter who succeeds him, George W. Bush will be a popular public figure, regarded with affection and a little nostalgia even by those who voted against him and thought he was the worst president in our history.

Yes, I know that right now Mr. Bush is associated with an unpopular and disastrously expensive war, with an economic collapse brought about in part by an administration that abhors regulation, with a spectacularly inadequate response to hurricane Katrina, with a precipitous decline in America’s reputation. After all, this is a guy whose name was never mentioned at the national convention of his own party, the guy that John McCain seems barely able to remember (just as after the Enron debacle Bush seemed barely able to remember that he ever knew Kenneth Lay).

But when Bush leaves office, he leaves behind all those liabilities, even though he had a large part in producing them. The war, the economy, the environment, the Middle East, a newly bellicose Russia — these will all be either McCain’s or Obama’s problems, and Bush will just be someone who shows up regularly and says mildly self-deprecating things about himself on the way to doing some good deed, perhaps in the company of his father and Bill Clinton.

What does Bush have to do? Not much, just be himself, not the wise and inspiring leader of the Western world — he never quite got that one right — but the amiable, funny, folksy and gregarious guy who tricked himself and the rest of us into thinking he was something more. Now he doesn’t have to do that. We’ll not be depending on him, so we’ll be free to like him.

And the fact is that he’s likable. I don’t mean on the superficial level of being someone you’d want to have a beer with. It’s deeper than that. He comes across as a basically decent man who is at peace with himself. Despite the fun poked at his verbal maladroitness, he is actually quite skillful (certainly more skillful than either Al Gore or John Kerry) in conveying his positions succinctly and persuasively. (He didn’t win two national elections — well, maybe one — by accident.) He may not be an intellectual, but he isn’t dumb and he is shrewd enough to play his “aw shucks” personality for all it’s worth. And he has a really good sense of humor (something Barack Obama seems to lack) and a comedian’s ability to make capital out of his own malapropisms. Putting aside the agendas for which he will no longer be held responsible, what’s not to like?

In addition, the road to rehabilitation will be shorter for him than it was for some of his predecessors. It took a while for Harry Truman’s feistiness to erase the memory of the 22 percent favorable rating he had at the end of his tenure. Richard Nixon had to make his way back from disgrace, and he did it being smarter than anyone else (he was, I think, the smartest president of the 20th century) and becoming an astute political commentator and historian. Jimmy Carter just continued being good and after a while it payed off in a Nobel Prize. Bush I’s basic, undemanding decency kept shining through after he left office. Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan didn’t need rehabilitation; each would have won a third term easily and still could (even though Reagan is dead).

Of course, rehabilitation can’t begin until your term is over, which may be why Bush is acting as if his term is, in fact, over. Some think that either Henry Paulson or Nancy Pelosi is now president. There are still occasional foreign policy forays and talks with international leaders, but they seem more ceremonial than substantive. Bush remains the titular head of his party, but the party is running away from him, and he seems irrelevant to the political process. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, for it allows him to appear to be above the fray as he prepares to exit or, rather, as he is already exiting.

How will he occupy his time? Roving ambassador? Baseball commissioner? University president? (Don’t groan; he’d probably be good at it.) I don’t know, but I do expect that one night in the not-too-distant future, some TV host will be calling for the drum roll and announcing, with pleasure and pride, “Heeeere’s Georgie.”

I don’t normally repost articles in their entirety, but felt this one deserved particular attention and comment.  Hundreds of comments follow on the original page, and run the gamut from guarded agreement to scathing opposition.  You can guess where the majority of responses fall.

Let’s see, we have a president who, during his eight years in office, presided over:

  1. Two wars, one of revenge and the other an illegal war of, well, revenge
  2. A half-assed overreaction to the most significant terrorist act committed against any major power
  3. The erosion of our civil liberties
  4. A botched and incompetent disaster relief non-effort after an entire city was nearly wiped off the map (2005, New Orleans, look it up)
  5. The squandering of international goodwill toward America
  6. The overt use of mercenaries in (1) above
  7. The systematic abuse and neglect of our nation’s veterans
  8. The use of torture, extraordinary rendition, secret prisons overseas, and military-style trials for civilians, detentions without habeas corpus or trial – all activities previously associated with the worst dictators on the planet
  9. The worst financial crisis to hit the nation since the Great Depression
  10. Abuse and misuse of our nation’s armed forces

What exactly will we remember him fondly for?  The worst is, this is only a partial list.  Just what I could think of off the top of my head.

He’s not likeable, he’s not even competent.  Everything he’s touched has turned to shit.  And that includes our great nation.  He’s been a walking clusterfuck as President, and the worst example of low-class humanity that ever existed.  A thug, a brute and a dictator, GWB should have been impeached years ago.

Maybe he can spend the rest of his life in Argentina with all the other retired dictators.

Peace.

Speaking at the 109th VWF Convention this week, Presidential candidate and serial distortionist Senator John McCain proved once again that when it comes to his own voting record he either a) can’t remember how he voted and when he voted, b) doesn’t think any of his votes are on record, c) doesn’t care, or d) doesn’t think we’re paying attention.  I think it’s a little of all of the above, personally.  After all, when your actual attendance record in the Senate is as abysmal as McAbsent’s is, remembering whether you turned out for a vote or played golf in Phoenix can be a little challenging.

Here’s the transcript of McCain’s speech at the VFW.  Here are some of the more (ahem) amusing points that practically beg to be torn apart.

During a lengthy segment he discussed the quality and availability of veterans’ health care in America.  Here’s what he said:

Through decades of struggle, free nations prevailed over tyranny in large measure because of the sacrifices of the men and women of the United States armed forces. And it will fall to the next commander in chief to make good on the obligation our government accepts every time any man or woman enters the military, and again when they receive their DD 214. Those we depend on as troops should know, when they become veterans, that they can depend on us. Honoring this obligation will require leadership. And I pledge to you that as president I will lead — from the front — to reform our VA system and make sure that veterans receive the respect and care they have earned.

The Walter Reed scandal was a disgrace unworthy of this nation — and I intend to make sure that nothing like it is ever repeated. There are other problems as well that have not received as much media attention. And my administration will do the hard and necessary work of fixing them, even when the press and the public are not watching.

Reform begins with appointing a Secretary of Veterans Affairs who is a leader of the highest caliber, and who listens to veterans and veterans’ service organizations. My VA secretary must be a forceful advocate for veterans and forthright advisor to me, so we can make the right choices about budgeting, health care, and other veterans’ benefit issues. He or she will also need to be a high-energy leader, too, because we’ll have a lot of work to do in improving service to veterans.

Veterans must be treated fairly and expeditiously as they seek compensation for disability or illness. We owe them compassion and hands-on care in their transition to civilian life. We owe them training, rehabilitation, and education. We owe their families, parents and caregivers our concern and support. Veterans should never be deprived of quality medical care and mental health care coverage for illness or injury incurred as a result of their service to our country.

As president, I will do all that is in my power to ensure that those who serve today, and those who have served in the past, have access to the highest quality health, mental health and rehabilitative care in the world. And I will not accept a situation in which veterans are denied access to care on account of travel distances, backlogs of appointments, and years of pending disability evaluation and claims. We should no longer tolerate requiring veterans to make an appointment to stand in one line for a ticket to stand in another.

I’m not here to tell you that there is a cost that is too high to be paid in the care of our nation’s veterans. I will make sure that Congress funds the VA health care budget in a sufficient, timely, and predictable manner. But I will say that every increase in funding must be matched by increases in accountability, both at the VA and in Congress. And this requires an end to certain practices and abuses that serve neither our veterans, our country, nor the reputation of Congress itself.

Exactly because funding VA programs command bipartisan support, some in the Congress like to attach unrelated appropriations and earmarks to VA bills. The result is to mix vital national priorities with wasteful and often worthless political pork. Earmarks show up in bills of every kind, and not just VA bills. That’s how we end up budgeting hundreds of millions of dollars for bridges to nowhere, or lesser sums for Woodstock museums and the like. When that earmark for a million bucks to fund a Woodstock museum didn’t come through, I don’t imagine that many veterans had to change their vacation plans. And the principle here is simple: Public money should serve the public good. If it’s me sitting in the Oval Office, at the Resolute desk, those wasteful spending bills are going the way of all earmarks, straight back to the Congress with a veto.

When we make it clear to Congress that no earmark bill will be signed into law, that will save many billions of dollars that can be applied to essential priorities, and above all to the care of our veterans. But reform doesn’t end there. We must also modernize our disability system to make sure that eligible service members receive benefits quickly, based on clear, predictable, and fair standards. And we must address the problems of capacity and access within our VA health care system. While this will involve a wide range of initiatives, I believe there is a simple and direct reform we should make right away.

My administration will create a Veterans’ Care Access Card to be used by veterans with illness or injury incurred during their military service, and by those with lower incomes. This card will provide those without timely access to VA facilities the option of using high-quality health-care providers near their homes. For many veterans, the closest VA facility isn’t close enough. And many of their local providers are already familiar with the most common needs of veterans. Often, all that prevents them from receiving local care is a system for sharing medical records among VA, DOD, and civilian hospitals and doctors. My reform will improve care, reduce risks, and broaden access all at the same time.

This card is not intended to either replace the VA or privatize veterans’ health care, as some have wrongly charged. I believe the VA should always be there to provide top-quality care for our veterans. And I believe that the VA should continue to provide broad-spectrum health care to eligible veterans, in addition to specialized care in areas such as spinal injuries, prosthetics, and blindness — services in which the VA sets the standard in medical care.

Lovely words, aren’t they?  Unfortunately, his record doesn’t match what he said.  Here’s the true measure of McCain’s support for veterans:

May 2006:  McCain voted against an amendment that would provide $20 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for health care facilities.

April 2006:  McCain was one of only 13 Senators to vote against $430,000,000 for the Department of Veteran Affairs for Medical Services for outpatient care and treatment for veterans.

March 2006:  McCain voted against increasing Veterans medical services funding by $1.5 billion in FY 2007 to be paid for by closing corporate tax loopholes.

March 2004:  McCain once again voted for abusive tax loopholes over veterans when he voted against creating a reserve fund to allow for an increase in Veterans’ medical care by $1.8 billion by eliminating abusive tax loopholes.

August 2001:  McCain voted against increasing the amount available for medical care for veterans by $650,000,000.

As you can see, McCain has some serious “fence mending” to do when it comes to his fellow warriors.  Like, actually showing them some support once in a while.  As the old saying goes, nothing is too good for our veterans – and that’s exactly what they’ll get.

In the same segment, he mentioned the “Wounded Warriors Act”, which he said he co-authored.  I took the liberty of looking up the actual bill to find out who introduced it and who the co-sponsors were.  The results were, to say the least, not at all surprising (emphasis mine):

S.1283
Title: A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to improve the management of medical care, personnel actions, and quality of life issues for members of the Armed Forces who are receiving medical care in an outpatient status, and for other purposes.
Sponsor: Sen Pryor, Mark L. [AR] (introduced 5/3/2007)      Cosponsors (2)
Related Bills: H.R.1538
Latest Major Action: 5/3/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on Armed Services.


COSPONSORS(2), ALPHABETICAL [followed by Cosponsors withdrawn]:     (Sort: by date)

Where’s Senator McCain?  Not on the list, I see.  Hmm.  Maybe he looked at it once and offered a spelling correction on page ten.  Maybe.

Of course, if I were him, I wouldn’t be crowing about my military voting record, especially when it comes to Wounded Warriors.  He’s done so much to create so many new disabled veterans in the past eight years, after all.  Here’s how he voted when it came time to support the troops:

September 2007: McCain voted against the Webb amendment calling for adequate troop rest between deployments.

October 2003:  McCain voted to table an amendment by Senator Dodd that called for an additional $322,000,000 for safety equipment for United States forces in Iraq and to reduce the amount provided for reconstruction in Iraq by $322,000,000.

April 2003:  McCain urged other Senate members to table a vote (which never passed) to provide more than $1 billion for National Guard and Reserve equipment in Iraq related to a shortage of helmets, tents, bullet-proof inserts, and tactical vests.

This is the same John McCain who in this week’s speech said that his opponent thinks “veterans concerns are just one more issue to be spun or worked to advantage.”  This was in reference to his recent lack of support for the Webb GI Bill, which his opponent voted for.  Instead, he co-sponsored a watered-down Bill that wouldn’t have addressed the problems nearly as well.  I say again, he either doesn’t know, doesn’t think we know, or just simply doesn’t care that we know what his real record is.  It’s clear from a careful examination of his actual record that it is McCain who treats the needs of troops and veterans as a political football, to be used to personal and political advantage and to be spun, distorted or simply lied about in order to score easy points.

McCain has been running one of the lowest, most despicable presidential campaigns in American history.  This recent speech to the VFW, with all its lies, distortions and blatant hypocrisy, only further underscores his lack of fitness to hold that high office.  He knows nothing about what Veterans and the troops need, and cares less.

As reported by the Washington Times, August 5, 2008:

Violations rife in hospital’s studies on veterans

An investigation of research conducted at an Arkansas veterans hospital has uncovered rampant violations in its human experiments program, including missing consent forms, secret HIV testing and failure to report more than 100 deaths of subjects participating in studies.

(more)

And you thought America respected and honored the sacrifices of its veterans.  Think again.

The investigation revealed that “serious adverse events” had not been reported, including some resulting in the deaths of 105 veterans.  But, according to a VA spokesman,

“The issues at the VA medical center in Little Rock were detected by VA employees, revealed through investigations by [the Food and Drug Administration] and VA’s Office of Research Oversight, and ultimately referred to VA’s Office of the Inspector General,” said VA spokesman Matt Smith. “This is an example of VA detecting and fixing its own problems.

“The issues cited in VA’s Inspector General report are being addressed through an aggressive action plan. The Little Rock research program is under heightened scrutiny to ensure no recurrence,” Mr. Smith said.

“VA strives to provide world-class health care to its patients and that includes observing the highest professional standards in protecting people who agree to participate in medical research,” Mr. Smith said.

This is absolutely disgusting.  This is not about detecting and fixing problems, it’s about the problems happening in the first place.  These experiments should simply never have been done without following proper procedures.  The sheer incompetence and negligence of this activity is mind-boggling.  Indeed, it’s almost on par with that exhibited by the Bush administration during the early days of the Iraq occupation.

Clearly, there are people in the VA bureaucracy that think they can operate outside the law.  They are wrong.  Experiments of this nature must be halted immediately and the people running them must be removed and prosecuted.

It is simply unconscionable that our veterans should be treated in such a callous and inhumane manner.

The following list is all the Senators who voted against the Webb GI Bill.  If yours is on it, please write to him (or her) and let him know he’s made a terrible mistake.  These people should pay for their callous disregard of the troops with their careers.

Alexander (R-TN)
Allard (R-CO)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Bennett (R-UT)
Brownback (R-KS)
Bunning (R-KY)
Burr (R-NC)
Cochran (R-MS)
Corker (R-TN)
Cornyn (R-TX)
DeMint (R-SC)
Ensign (R-NV)
Enzi (R-WY)
Graham (R-SC)
Grassley (R-IA)
Gregg (R-NH)
Hatch (R-UT)
Kyl (R-AZ)
Lugar (R-IN)
McConnell (R-KY)
Sessions (R-AL)
Voinovich (R-OH)

Notice they’re all Republicans.  Worthless, lying, warmongering, troop-betraying, scum-sucking Republicans.

Throw the bums out.

Happy Memorial Day

Posted: May 25, 2008 in america, veterans

If you haven’t already, take some time to thank a Vet.  Visit the local VA hospital, if you’re near one, or lay some flowers on the stones at your local cemetery.  These people fought for your freedom, and they deserve better than what America’s been giving them lately.

From the Huffington Post today:

Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart was in Washington, DC Tuesday night for the USO-Metro Awards Dinner, where the Daily Show host was honored with a Merit Award from Joint Chiefs vice-chair General James Cartwright. If it seems an odd fit for a comic who consistently lampoons the Bush administration, the Washington Post‘s Reliable Source informs readers that all the comedic comfort Stewart gives critics of the Iraq War is matched by his efforts to comfort our wounded soldiers:

Turns out the comedian has been quietly visiting soldiers at Walter Reed and Bethesda hospitals, trips he began in 2004 to better understand the Iraq war. “I felt that I was living in a world of theory,” he told the audience, “but I hadn’t touched the reality and the humanity of it.” The first patient he met was “funnier than I was” — and Stewart’s been a regular ever since.

Stewart told the Post, “I certainly get a lot more out of it than they do…If anything, it’s made me angrier… You can be for the war, against the war, but you can’t be uninformed about it. To see the human cost is part of the equation.”

This observation, from a man whose viewing audience was once described as “stoned slackers” by Faux Noise’s Bill O’Really. Add “retired veterans” and “thinking Americans” to that list, Bill.

I really, really, really like Jon Stewart. He’s a true patriot in the same way that sycophantic supporters of Bush and Cheney aren’t.  There is no excuse for being uninformed about this.