Saturday, May 28, 2011








Today Michele Martin hops a high horse at NPR -- Memorial Day must be approaching. Although she writes of "two wars our nation is fighting right now," she herself has trouble mentioning the Iraq War and it doesn't pop up until a quote from Capt Vernice Armour and then again from journalist Brian Palmer. It takes nine paragraphs before Martin can mention the Iraq War herself -- typical NPR nonsense of late. (Writes? Audio won't be available until Memorial Day -- her written column is up now.) NPR can't find Iraq and hasn't been able to in some time. The Diane Rehm Show used to carve out seven or so minutes each Friday, during the second hour of the program, for the topic. Not anymore. Not since January, in fact. The Iraq War ended -- at least Diane Rehm's interest in it did. What is Kelly McEvers? Why she's NPR's Baghdad bureau chief. And NPR's moved her to where? Syria. Syria. Where US troops aren't on the ground. Syria. And you wonder why you get no reports on Iraq these days from your NPR station -- your NPR station that just got done using Iraq in its fundraiser, insisting during its pledge drive that it provided coverage of Iraq, coverage you couldn't get elsehwere. Apparently they meant on their blog The Two-Way? (Click here.)
Memorial Day is Monday, a day when the sacrifices of those in uniform are supposed to be acknowledged but NPR can't even make time to acknowledge an ongoing war. 'Oh, but it's so hard, after 8 years, to find a new way to talk about it.' That whine -- and I'm burning a bridge here -- came from a friend with Diane Rehm's show. I note that today that they had time to discuss Israel and Palestine. That conversation predates The Diane Rehm Show -- and since no one's really serious about solving the issue, it will likely still be discussed constantly on NPR (constantly, if unfairly) long after Diane Rehm and I am both dead and gone. It's not that they can't find new ways to discuss it, it's that the war doesn't get enough press attention for Diane and her gaggle of gas bags to breeze through a quick brush up to get informed on the topic in less than ten minutes. (That is what they do. Select the topics and all go online before they go to live to find their talking points. Woops, am I spilling trade secrets?) NPR's Michele Martin might not be standing on quick sand if her peers did their job. Instead, Michele's hopped a high horse with a lame leg and it's not going anywhere.
Memorial Day will come again this year, the US will still have troops stationed on the ground in Afghanistan and Iraq, troops still in combat -- despite the lies of the White House as evidenced by the continued attacks on US troops in Iraq and the continued deaths. May 30, 2010 -- the day before Memorial Day -- the US military death toll in Iraq stood at 4400. Last night the count stood at 4457. That's 57 deaths that really haven't registered. That's [PDF format warning] 36 deaths, according to the Defense Dept, since the 'end' of combat operations announced by Barack Obama on August 31, 2010. Michele Martin's not aware of those facts. She's not aware of a lot. She should be aware that her own NPR program -- Tell Me More -- can't find Iraq. That war that takes her nine paragraphs to mention herself doesn't show up on her show. That would be the same show that 'informs' us of such important and life shattering stories as "O Magazine Staff Excited About Oprah Winfrey's Future," "O Magazine To Evolve, Collaborate With Oprah Winfrey Network" and "The Ups, Downs Between Iyania Vanzant And Oprah Winfrey" -- all of those 'reports' aired on Tell Me More's Wednesday broadcast. We'll be kind and call those "advertorials" -- they certainly weren't reporting. Prior to that 'reporting,' this week saw Suze Orman singing Oprah's praises for six of Tell me More's minutes while Dr. Phil was given over 12 minutes by the program to sing Oprah's praises.
I'm sorry, what war did Oprah die in? Battle of the Bulge? Charge of the TVQs? Memorial Day is one day in the year. And Michele Martin thought she could get on high horse for that. After a week of wasting her time and listners time over a faded TV personality (check the ratings, check O's circulation) packing it in before the ratings dropped further. Oprah's departure to cable was treated as more important than the country's ongoing wars and something requiring daily coverage and updates. Michele Martin and NPR owe the listeners a huge apology.
Lance Cpl Tim Horton: I have worked hard to ensure my injuries and other people's perceptions of them do not define my way of life or limit what I am able to accomplish. Receiving timely and quality prosthetics care is instrumental to maintaining my activity level. The quality of care I have received through the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center is outstanding. VA contracts with a number of prosthetic specialists who are familiar with cutting edge prosthetic technology and are able to outfit me with the devices I need to maintain a high level of physical activity. Most importantly, my prosthetics provider has really taken the time to understand who I am as a whole person -- not just a wounded warrior -- and how that shapes my medical needs. So while the quality of care I am receiving is very good, the process of going through the VA to receive those benefits takes far too long. When I need adjustments or replacement equipment, I must schedule an appointment with the medical center to be seen by a member of tehir prosthetics team who will then write the prescription to the provider, further delaying my ability to get an appointment and ultimately receive the adjustments or equipment I need. Why is this the case? I know other veterans who live in close proximity to Walter Reed who are able to walk in and out with the services and equipment they need within the same day, all without ever needing to go through their local VA. It would make sense to me if I were able to see my prosethetics specialist first, who could then communicate with VA about what I need and get the authorization, eliminating the wait time for an appointment. While waiting weeks for an appointment might seem like a minor inconvenicence, for a warrior like myself, spending weeks without the necessary prostehtics equipment, or sometimes even worse equipment that causes extreme discomfort and other medical issues, can be sholly disruptive to our daily lives. The timeliness and consistency of care should not be a function of where warriors happen to live. The most important thing I have learned in navigating my own transition and helping my peers through their own journey is that you must act as your own advocate. There are so many programs and benefits available to assist us, yet often we are never informed of these programs or the information is delivered in a time and place that is not conducive for wounded warriors to absorb it. We receive so much information at the time when we are newly injured. When I was brought to Behtesda, I was completely reliant on my mother as my caregiver. It took me two and a half months to regain the ability to feed myself. My sole focus was on my physical recovery. It was impossible for me to take in the vast amount of information coming at me during that time, I understand that since I have been injured the Federal Recovery Coordination Program has been put into place for severely wounded warriors to assist with this challenge. This is not a program I benefited from, nor did I know of its existence before preparing for my testimony here today. What I do know is that warriors need real help in discovering what benefits exist and how to utilize them so that they can thrive in their lives post-injury. Other veterans are out there spreading the word, but no one from VA is reaching out. That needs to change. I have spent the last several years sharing the knowledge I've gained through my own recovery and plan to continue that work as an outreach worker with the Wounded Warrior Project, but there must be a more systematic VA effort. My hope is that -- by coming before you today and testifying to some of my issues in navigating through the system -- things will continue to improve for the warriors coming behind me.
Iraq War veteran Tim Horton was testifying before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing Wednesday. We noted the hearing yesterday and are doing so today. Horton spoke of the assistance he received not from DoD or VA employees, but from Vietnam veterans who helped him navigate the system. This despite the fact that the US government pays for federal care coordinators, as Ava addressed in "Scott Brown, John Kerry, veterans clearing house" last night at Trina's site. As Ava reported, Senators Bernie Sanders and Johnny Isakson were among those wondering why there wasn't a national hotline, a clearing house, for wounded veterans to call and get help with their care?
May 7, 2008 -- over three years ago -- the VA issued a press release annoucing that their "new Federal Recovery Coordinator Program office is actively at work with dozens of severely injured patients acround the country" -- quoting then VA Secretary James Peake.
The release continued: "In coordination with the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services, the joint Federal Recovery Coordinator Program is designed to cut across bureaucratic lines and reach into the private sector as necessary to identify services needed for seriously wounded and ill service members, veterans and their families. A key recommendation of a presidential commission chaired by former Sen. Bob Dole and former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, the recovery coordinators do not directly provide care, but coordinates federal health care teams and private community resources to achieve the personal and professional goals of an indvidiualized 'life map' or recovery plan developed with the service members or veterans who qualify for the federal recovery coordinator program."
Yet neither Tim Horton nor Afghanistan War veteran Steven Bohn were provided with federal care coordinator. Ranking Member Richard Burr asked, "Steve, were you ever offered a federal care coordinator?" Bohn replied, "Negative. Me and my family -- I've never even heard of that unitl a couple of days ago." In last night's "Senate Veterans Affairs Committee," Kat reported on Burr's statements regarding DoD's refusal to submit their prepared (written) remarks in a timely manner. In his opening remarks, Burr wondered, "How much is enough time to prepare testimony before this committee?" He noted DoD was informed of this hearing on May 11th, yet 24 hours prior to the hearing, DoD still hadn't submitted -- as required -- their prepared remarks. There seems to be a great deal of problems with providing information. Maybe one answer is to, let's just take the federal care coordinators, for the federal government to post how many there are and how many veterans are utilizing them? In last night's "Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (Wally)," Wally gathers several strands from the hearing to make a strong case that the VA, DoD, etc are very happy to announce programs and get patted on the back but to actually provide these services to the veterans who need them seems to be another story. If, for example, the federal care coordinator program was required to be publicly posted -- how many are there, how many veterans are utilizing them, etc. -- maybe there would be more of a push by department heads to ensure that these programs are utilized? But this information, like so much other information, is difficult even for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee to get. (VA estimates that they have assisted 1,300 veterans since the program started in 2008 and that there are around 660 veterans currently being assisted by their 22 federal care coordiantors.)
As Kat noted, Burr asked the DoD witness George Taylor (Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense) why his prepared remarks were not submitted to the Committee on time (prepared remarks are supposed to be submitted to the Committee or Subcomittee 48 hours in advance) and Taylor said he'd have to follow up on that. As Senator Bernie Sanders observed, "I think the pity is we spend a fortune and sometimes at the end of the road the care is excellent if people can get to it. And yet I suspect that there are thousands of young men and women who've returned to who don't even know what they're entitled to, what is available to them, how to access it." Again, Sanders went on to recommend that a 24-hour hotline be created for wounded veterans to call and speak to someone who could tell them of the services that are available. From the hearing:
Senator Johnny Isakson: It's my understanding, I know we've got well over 100,000 people deployed in the Middle East right now and we have 22 federal coordinators -- federal care coordinators, is that right? [Lorraine nods] That's 22 coordinators and we've got people coming home every day with the same needs that Tim and Steve have talked about.
Moving to the second panel, VA and DoD staff, the Committee was told that DoD has "approximately 150" federal care coordinators. Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Committee and she asked if there were enough federal care coordinators and the reply was that they've just hired more and "there are 28 in class today". When the Chair asked specifically, "Do we have more soldiers coming home than the infrastructure is prepared for?," DoD replied that they believed the infrastructure was in place. The VA's Deborah Amdur would state she was "extremely disturbed" to hear Horton and Bohn's testimony; however, she offered no apology to either. (Senator Burr made a point to apologize to Bohn for the treatment he experienced, noting that someone should have apologized on behalf to Bohn a long time ago.)
Committee Chair Patty Murray: I want to turn to an issue that I am deeply concerned about and that is the issue of suicide. The number of service members and new veterans we have lost to suicide is now on par with the number of those who've been killed in combat. That should be disturbing to everyone in this room. Last week, at this hearing, we talked about the very high rate of suicides among those participating in the Joint Disability Evaluation process. Those service members are actually under constant supervision of the Department and that occurred. We do know that there is progress being made in suicide prevention and mental health treatement. Dr. Kemp, your program has been outstanding, I've heard a lot of good reviews about that. But there is a lot of work that remains to be done. And I want to ask this Committee what do we need to do to address this problem?
Dr. Janet Kemp: Yeah. Uh, first Chairman Murray, I want to say the numbers are appalling. And we know that and recognize that and no one who serves their country and comes back alive should die by suicide ever. Uhm, and I think that we, uhm, have worked very hard in the past two years to put programs into place One of the things you mentioned earlier was the crisis line which we have opened up now to service members and families and friends of service members and continue to get calls from that population. But we need to continue to communicate its availability, we need to make sure that people know that there is someone there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We need to work more closely with our DoD partners and we are in the process of doing this, to be able to communicate to our suicide prevention coordinators in the VA, sooner and earlier that someone may be released and someone needs services and we need to start that care ahead of time. We also need to do more work, and this is also in progress, in the area of training all providers and the people who do these disability examines to do screenings, to ask the right questions -- that just because someone's being evaluated for physical injury, we have to ask the emotional --
Committee Chair Patty Murray: How long will that take to train all the providers?
Dr. Janet Kemp: We've started the process with the providers who do the examines in the VA and we will start the process --
Committee Chair Patty Murray: At every facility across the country?
Dr. Janet Kemp: Yes. Yes. And we've also started training all of our primary care providers across the country to really work with emotional issues as well as regular mental issues. I anticipate that this is something we can do rather quickly and I will make a promise to you to, uhm, move that process along.
Committee Chair Patty Murray: Okay, we'll be following that and I want to know when those people have been trained.
Dr. Janet Kemp: Exactly.
Committee Chair Patty Murray: I -- You know, the data released at the end of April showed that the number of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are now utilizing VA care for mental health needs is more than half of all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who are using the VA care. In a way that's a more positive sign that more veterans are willing to come forward and ask for care. But I want to know if the system's adequately equipped now to handle those rising numbers and meet the criteria that we set out?
Antonette Zeiss: We are resourced to provide that care in mental health. Certainly, I can defer to other staff members here for some of the other physical health concerns that are also very much a part of what they bring to us. But, in terms of mental health, in 2004, VA recognized that there were gaps in staffing and services, developed a comprehensive mental health strategic plan, began to implement that in 2005 and, really, with a stronger pace in 2006. Since then, we have increased our staffing for mental health services to over 21,000 -- it's an increase of over 40% percent in our core mental health staff. As we track the number of veterans who are receiving mental health services, those also have increased during that time period but have not increased to the same proportion as the percent of staff that we have added and we think that's the right balance because, as I said, we had gaps when we started. So we've been able to fill gaps for those patients who were seeking VA care and intensive VA care earlier in this decade and to enhance our status in such that we can continue in a proactive way to meet the needs of returning service members who come to us as veterans while sustaining care for those veterans who are with us throughout their lifetimes. We will continue to track that very closely, of course, because we don't know when there may be significant numbers of additional service members returning. We look forward to working with you and keeping pace in terms of the data on are we adequeately resourced to provide care.
This was the second of a two-part hearing. The first-part of this series of hearings was held May 18th and for more on that you can refer to that day's snapshot as well as Ava's "Scott Brown questions DoD's concept of streamlining," Kat's "DoD embarrasses at Senate hearing" and Wally's "VA can't answer a basic service question." In addition, you can stream the hearing at the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's hearing page or, if you're having problems with that page, you can stream audio of the hearing from this CSpan page. [For the second panel of Wednesday's hearing, I relied on the stream because I left to attend the House Foreign Affairs Committee -- see Wednesday's snapshot and Ava's report "Ron Paul (Ava)" (at Trina's site).] To stay on veterans issues for two more topics. At the airport today, we were talking about this hearing and a veteran approached. He's a Gulf War veteran and he wanted to note a problem with VA care that isn't covered in hearings. It's when a veteran needs care and is not taken to a VA facility. He had collapsed from the heat earlier in the week, an ambulance was called and instead of being taken to the nearest VA, he was taken to a for-profit hospital. He later learned that the VA hospital was just a mile away. He stated he was talking and able to sit up in the ambulance but they insisted that the VA hospital was too late. The care he received at the for-profit hospital was grossly inadequate. He arrived at noon. They gave him liquids three hours later. (Three hours later.) Prior to that he was sitting and waiting. He repeatedly had to provide an inventory of his medical history and any allergies (at the VA his records would have been on file). After he was given fluids, he was ignored for many hours. Finally at ten p.m. he was told he was being discharged. He complained about thirst and hunger (he'd been there since noon) and was told there were snack machines in the lobby. He won't be footing the bill, the VA will pick it up. But he argues (I think rightly) that the service was inadequate and that, at best, the for-profit hospital should be paid for an hour's care. (He suspects the VA will be charged for the entire duration and considers it an example of fraud and waste.) Second, Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Patty Murray will be touring the Portland VA Medical Center this coming Tuesday to hear from veterans and review the process at that VA:

(Washington, D.C.) – On Tuesday, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will tour the Portland VA Medical Center and discuss her priorities as Chair of that critical committee charged with protecting the health care and benefits of our nation's veterans. The tour comes at a critical time for local veterans as more Iraq and Afghanistan veterans enter the VA in the Portland region. During the tour, press will get the opportunity to see the Portland VA's prosthetic and limb loss facility, including a demonstration of that facility's technology. There will also be a demonstration of adaptive vehicles used for disabled veterans and a tour of the women's veterans facility.

Following the tour, Senator Murray will discuss her priorities as Chair of the Veterans Committee including improving employment opportunities, health care coordination, and secure housing opportunities for homeless veterans.

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

WHAT: Tour of Portland VA Medical Center and Press Availability

WHEN: Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

2:00 PM PST

WHERE: Portland VA Medical Center

3710 SW U.S. Veterans Hospital Rd.
Portland, OR

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Matt McAlvanah

Communications Director

U.S. Senator Patty Murray

202-224-2834 - press office

202--224-0228 - direct

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