Thursday, October 07, 2010










The illegal war has led to filings with the Iraq Inquiry from human rights attorneys. The UK's Law Gazette reports, "The Solicitors International Human Rights Group and the Law Society's international action team found fault with the UK government's two main justifications for the invasion, in a written submission to Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the Iraq conflict."
Turning to the US, are the surviving spouses of deceased veterans receiving all they are owed? Senator Daniel Akaka's office issues this alert:
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) is urging widows and widowers of deceased veterans to check to be sure that they received VA compensation for the month of their spouse's death. According to new figures from the Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 196,030 widows and widowers have received a total of $124,348,136 in month-of-death back payments since Senator Akaka uncovered a VA accounting error in December 2008.
"Nearly 200,000 widows and widowers have finally received their benefits, but I want to be sure that all surviving spouses receive the compensation they are eligible for. I urge the survivors of disabled veterans to contact VA if they did not receive compensation during the month of their loved one's death," said Akaka.
For almost 12 years, surviving spouses of veterans were wrongly denied benefits. In 1996, a law was enacted instructing that when a veteran receiving VA benefits died, the spouse would be entitled to a payment for the month of death. However, due to an error, VA wrongly demanded the money back from many surviving spouses. Senator Akaka learned of the problem when a Maui widow contacted him for assistance after a paymetn for the month of her husband's death was taken from her bank account by the Treasury Department.
Looking into the case, Akaka discovered that VA had failed to adjust its computer programs and notification letters to surviving spouses after the law was changed. As a result, surviving spouses were still being told that the check they received was an overpayment which needed to be returned to VA. In cases where the money had been spent, such as for funeral expenses, the Treasury would withdraw the money from the widow or widower's bank account.
VA has implemented new notification letters and changed its practices. However, surviving spouses should ensure that their month-of-death benefit was paid as promised. In some cases, VA may not be aware that the veteran had a surviving spouse, as marital data is not always collected if the veteran's benefit does not take a spousal amount into account. (This occurs when a veteran's monthly compensation check is based on a disability rating of less than 30 percent, or when a veteran does not tell VA that he or she has married after VA benefits are commenced.)
For more information from the Department of Veterans Affairs, click here. LINK.
Kawika Riley
Communications Director and Legislative Assistant
U.S. Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs
Senator Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), Chairman
Yesterday's snapshot covered the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing on the VA's IT program. Kat covered the hearing last night in "MUMPS?" covering the technology aspect (confusing terms) and noting Roger Baker stated, "We wrestled mightily with implementing the Chapter 33 system and a lot of it was because of the short time frame to get it implemented and then the fact that it was very popular with the folks using it. And so we had a relatively poor IT system that VBA had to use in that first semester and we saw the impact of that. Veterans did not get paid in a timely fashion. With another year, we're able to implement the longterm solution much better." That was the only other mention of the 'mix up' involving the Post 9/11 GI Bill. (Yesterday's snapshot noted Belinda's Finn's remark on it.) Wally covered it at Rebecca's site with "The economics of today's hearing" which focused on asking why are contractors getting bonus pay just for doing their job, and Ava covered the hearing at Trina's site focusing on Scott Brown (Trina's senator) "What Senator Scott Brown has learned (Ava)."
An important hearing took place last week, Bob Filner chaired a hearing on the true costs of war which was covered in the September 30th snapshot and the October 1st snapshot. Kelley B. Vlahos ( reported on the hearing at length on Tuesday and I want to note one section first:
You could practically count the number of members who bothered to show up on one hand, and they were all Democrats. Three congressmen not on the committee sat in, including Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), one of the few GOP war critics in Congress, who sat noticeably in front of 25 empty committee seats. But within an hour or so, all were gone but Chairman Bob Filner (D-Calif.), looking lonely across from the sizable (but definitely not standing room only) audience of mostly veterans' advocates all too used to the feeling of talking to a wall.
Congress voted to adjourn before the hearing. Filner and those present deserve tremendous credit -- my opinion -- for being there. I believe the others were Walter Jones, Harry Mitchell, Harry Teague, Ciro Rodriguez, Jerry McNerney, Zachary Space, Jim Moran and George Miller. All of those House members are running for re-election but they managed to be at the hearing. And Congress is still adjourned so I think Senators Daniel Akaka, Richard Burr, Scott Brown and Mike Johanns deserve credit for being present for yesterday's Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. And, personal note, if I'm tired or have a small child with me, I usually sit as far in the back as possible. At the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, I was both tired and had one of my goddaughters with me (Rebecca's daughter) so I was in the back.
The hearing focused on the true costs of the war which including caring for those who served -- a bill that's ignored repeatedly. We'll again note this from Chair Bob Filner's opening statement (delivered, not his written statement:
Chair Bob Filner: It struck me as I looked at a lot of the facts and data that we-we see across our desks that, as a Congress, as a nation, we really do not know the true costs of the wars we are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. [. . .] We all look at the data that comes from these wars. It struck me one day that the official data for, for example, the wounded was around 45,000 for both wars. And yet we know that six or seven hundred thousand of our veterans of these wars -- of which there are over a million already -- have either filed claims for disability or sought health care from the VA for injuries suffered at war -- 45,000 versus 800,000? This is not a rounding error. I think this is a deliberate attempt to mask what is going on in terms of the actual casualty figures. We know that there is a denial of PTSD -- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It's a 'weakness' among Marines and soldiers to admit mental illness so we don't even have those figures until maybe it's too late. We all know that women are participating in this war at a degree never before seen in our nation's history and, yet, by whatever estimate you look, whether it's half or two-thirds have suffered sexual trauma. The true cost of war? We know that over 25,000 of our soldiers who were originally diagnosed with PTSD got their diagnosis changed or their diagnosis was changed as they were -- had to leave the armed forces, changed to "personality disorder." And not only does that diagnosis beg the question of why we took people in with the personality disorder, it means that there's a pre-existing condition and we don't have to take care of them as a nation. Cost of war? There have been months in these wars where the suicides of active duty have exceeded the deaths in action. Why is that? When our veterans come home from this war, we say we support troops, we support troops, we support troops? 30% unemployment rate for returning Iraqi and Afghanistan veterans. That's three times an already horrendous rate in our nation. Guardsman find difficulty getting employment because they may be deployed. Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize. We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed? Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year. We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers. We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years. We don't have it. Why don't we have it? They fought for this nation. We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one. So we have to find a pay-go. But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to. So they system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way. That's much easier than to care for them when they come home. This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get enough money for our veterans. We got to fight for it every day. We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue. This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat. Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated. It's not a radical idea. Business owners are required to account for their deferred liability every year. Our federal government has no such requirement when it comes to the deferred liabiilty of meeting the needs of our men and women in uniform even though meeting those needs is a moral obligation of our nation and a fundamental cost. It does not make sense fiscally, it does not make sense ethically. If in years past, Congress had taken into account this deferred fiscal liability and moral obligation of meeting the needs of soldiers, we would not have the kind of overburdened delivery system that we have today in the Veterans Administration. And would veterans and their advocates on Capitol Hill have to fight as hard as they do every year for benefits that should be readily available as a matter of course? Would they have to worry as much as they do today that these benefits will become targets in the debate over reducing the federal budget? Listen to this statement by one of the co-chairs of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility -- that's trying to figure out how we balance our budget -- former Senator [Alan] Simpson said, "The irony is that veterans who saved their country are now in a way not helping us to save this country in this fiscal mess." That is, they should defer their health and welfare needs because of a budget problem.
On the mounting costs of the current wars, Kelley B. Vlahos offers a common sense solution:
Here's an idea -- how about ending the wars? Several (failed) attempts were made in July by members to start withdrawing troops now (instead of 2011 -- what's the difference?). Most "experts" are increasingly framing operations in Afghanistan as hopeless, and with Muqtada al Sadr on the ascent in Iraq, we're likely not too long for that place either. Why not save a few skulls (and a lot more money) in the meantime? Then we can concentrate on the billions in lifetime costs we're already obligated to pay.
If a kid repeatedly broke his bones climbing trees, his father wouldn't take on a part-time job just to pay for the medical bills, he would tell the kid to stop climbing the damn trees and come home.
We need to get our men and women out of the trees and back home, and then we can start the healing.

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