|February 20, 2007|
||A Bleak Homecoming|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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Next year, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system expects to treat 263,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, a number three times what the VA initially projected. “The number of veterans coming into the VA health care system has been rising by about 5 percent a year, as the number of people returning from Iraq with illnesses or injuries keep rising.” President Bush has promised that our nation would “keep its commitments to those who have risked their lives for our freedom.” “We owe them all we can give them,” Bush said after a visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. “Not only for when they’re in harm’s way, but when they come home to help them adjust if they have wounds, or help them adjust after their time in service.” Yet as the number of soldiers injured in Iraq continues to grow, the VA health care system is “buckling under a growing volume of disability claims and rising demand for medical attention.” As of last month, the VA system was experiencing a backlog of 600,000 cases, “with about 168,000 pending for at least six months.” “There are VA facilities that were fine in peacetime but are now finding themselves overwhelmed,” said Steve Robinson, director of Veterans for American. Recent reporting has brought more dire news: the Washington Post discovered soldiers housed at Walter Reed face the “bleakest” of homecomings; McClatchy found the VA is “ill-equipped” to handle the increasing number of returning soldiers who need treatment for mental health; and the Associated Press revealed that the recent Bush budget contains funding cuts for veterans. (See where major veterans service organizations believe funding levels for veterans should be in their annual Independent Budget.) “Our veterans’ mental and physical health is not something to play games with,” the Macon Telegraph wrote recently. “They have served their country, and their country has an absolute obligation to return the favor.”
WALTER REED IS NO ‘CROWN JEWEL’: Dana Priest and Anne Hull of the Washington Post revealed over the weekend that Walter Reed, once perceived as the “crown jewel of military medicine,” has become “something else entirely — a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients.” “While the hospital is a place of scrubbed-down order and daily miracles,” Priest and Hull write, “the outpatients in the Other Walter Reed encounter a messy bureaucratic battlefield nearly as chaotic as the real battlefields they faced overseas.” The “legions” of injured soldiers housed at the facility has “grown so exponentially” that “they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army.” Building 18, which for many soldiers “symbolizes the indifference and neglect that many of the wounded say they experience at Walter Reed,” “has been plagued with mold, leaky plumbing and a broken elevator.” Life for many in the hospital resembles a chapter out of the novel “Catch-22“: “The wounded manage other wounded. Soldiers dealing with psychological disorders of their own have been put in charge of others at risk of suicide.” Priest admitted Walter Reed’s dilapidated condition was “surprising.” “We think that the American — we know that the American people support the troops, no matter what they think of the war,” Priest said on last night’s edition of PBS Newshour. “And so, when we started hearing these stories of neglect, and in some cases indifference, it was unbelievable.”
MISHANDLING MENTAL HEALTH: “[I]t is the invisible psychological harm — primarily post-traumatic stress disorder — that is the most pervasive and pernicious injury from this war and that is emerging as its signature disability,” the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote. “Veterans’ advocates say it is the number-one issue facing soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.” Thirty-five percent of Iraq veterans received mental health care after returning home, and 12 percent were diagnosed with a mental health ailment. Despite the staggering figures, the “VA isn’t prepared to give these returning soldiers the care that could best help them overcome destructive, and sometimes fatal,” illnesses. McClatchy Newspapers found the “average veteran with psychiatric troubles gets almost one-third fewer visits with specialists than he would have received a decade ago.” In addition, treatment quality differs dramatically across the country: “Montana, for example, ranks fourth in sending troops to war, but last in the percentage of VA visits for mental healthcare in 2005.” Funding problems have plagued the VA’s ability to provide proper mental health care. A Government Accountability Office report found last year the VA “did not spend all of the extra $300 million it budgeted to increase mental health services and failed to keep track of how some of the money was used.”
CONGRESS CAN HELP SOLDIERS STILL IN THE FIELD: Nearly four years since the Iraq war began, soldiers still lack proper equipment on the battlefield. In a survey conducted last year, the Pentagon Inspector General’s office “found that U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan lack sufficient armored vehicles, heavy weapons such as artillery or large machine guns, devices designed to jam signals used to detonate roadside bombs, and communications equipment.” “As a result,” the survey found, “service members performed missions without the proper equipment, used informal procedures to obtain equipment and sustainment support, and canceled or postponed missions while waiting to receive equipment.” Military families are still raising money on their own to buy their loved ones the most state-of-the-art body armor. The Center for American Progress has repeatedly called for Congress to provide full equipment reset funding for the Army and Marines. Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) has said he will unveil legislation next month that would set strict standards for troop readiness before soldiers are sent to Iraq as part of Bush’s escalation plan. Under the Murtha plan, troops would have to be “full combat ready” before deploying, “troops must have at least one year at home between combat deployments; combat assignments could not be extended beyond one year;” and “a ‘stop-loss’ program forcing soldiers to extend their enlistment periods would be prohibited.” Learn more about the Murtha plan here.
CLIMATE CHANGE — PRESTIGIOUS SCIENCE ASSOCIATION ISSUES WARNING ON HUMAN-INDUCED GLOBAL WARMING: The board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, publisher of the prestigious journal Science and the world’s largest general scientific society, issued its first statement on global warming last weekend, attributing the Earth’s recent warming to human activity. “The scientific evidence is clear: global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society,” the statement read. The release noted that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are at their highest concentration in 650,000 years, and AAAS president John Holdren added that by the end of this century, global temperatures could head for levels not seen in millions of years. The recent statement from AAAS marks another high-profile announcement this year from scientific and environmental groups calling for an immediate reduction of the causes of man-made climate change. AAAS concluded that there must be a definitive political push to address global warming. “We are already experiencing global climate change. It is time to muster the political will for concerted action. Stronger leadership at all levels is needed. The time is now. We must rise to the challenge.” Scientists recognized the important political implications of the statement. Susanne Mosner of the National Center for Atmospheric Research stated: “[The statement] is really strengthening the case and political momentum” for cutting greenhouse emissions.
IRAQ — RICE ADMITS TO U.S. TROOPS THAT ‘YOUR HONOR AND YOUR SACRIFICE’ IS ‘APPRECIATED’ BY IRAQ WAR CRITICS: Over the weekend, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addressed military personnel stationed in Baghdad. She told the troops that everyone — including critics of the administration’s Iraq policy — believes that “the sacrifice and the labor of our men and women here has been honorable.” She called the debate over escalation a sign of a “great democracy.” She stated, “And the final thing I want to say is I know that a lot’s going on in Washington and that you’re hearing it. A lot’s going on because we are a great democracy. And people have their views and they’re going to express them. … By the way, all of them know that the sacrifice and the labor of our men and women here has been honorable.” Rice’s comments contradict earlier claims from the administration that a debate on Iraq policy would be “detrimental from the standpoint of the troops.” Her words echoed those of Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace, who said the troops understand the “debate’s being carried on by patriotic people who care about them and who care about their mission.”
MILITARY — MILITARY DEFENSE EXHIBITION INCITES ‘SHOPPING SPREE’ AMONG ARAB GULF STATES: IDEX-2007, touted as the “world’s largest military defense exhibition,” began yesterday in Abu Dubai, UAE. The exhibition, according to a report by the Associated Press, has been highly anticipated by states in the Persian Gulf region. “Officially supported,” by the UAE government, the IDEX exhibition has attracted big names in the U.S. defense contracting industry including Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. The rising tension is the region between Iran and the U.S. and the fear that “violence [in Iraq] will spill into nearby” Gulf states has led to what the AP described as “shopping sprees for helicopters, ships and tanks.” Governments from the Gulf region are expected to offer contracts whose value will “soar past” the $2 billion in contracts offered at IDEX in 2005. Despite repeated attempts by U.S. officials to downplay rumors of war with Iran, the threat of air attacks by the United States or Israel on targets inside Iran is “pushing Gulf defense ministers to consider missile defense systems…warships, including minesweepers, and early-warning radar.” Fears of conflict with Iran were further escalated over the weekend as Iran conducted “military exercises” in the region. As a second U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is steaming toward the Gulf (with a third likely to follow), the exercises were condemned as “deliberately provocative” by U.S. Fifth Fleet Commander Vice-Admiral Patrick Walsh. While Iran is not expected to send an official delegation to the exhibition, Iranian military officials are “certain to be roaming the show and studying the weapons.”
Despite the Bush administration’s refrain that it is not considering military action against Iran, the BBC reports, “US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country’s military infrastructure.”
Justice Antonin Scalia is “poised to lead a new conservative majority” on the Supreme Court. “Between now and late June, the court is set to hand down decisions in four areas of law — race, religion, abortion regulation and campaign finance — where Scalia’s views may now represent the majority.”
Attorneys in the Libby trial are due to make their closing arguments today. The New York Daily News reports that, during the course of the trial, the public learned that at least “at least 10 other top [White House] officials” disclosed Valerie Plame’s covert identity.
Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) met privately Monday with religious broadcasters in Orlando, “then later said he isn’t catering to conservative Christians.” McCain explained, “What I have found out in my life, is that every time I have done something for political reasons and not the right reasons, I have paid a very heavy price for it — a big price.”
New study shows that strict voter ID rules “can reduce turnout, particularly among minorities.” Turnout in the 2004 elections “was about 4% lower in states that required voters to sign their name or produce documentation. Hispanic turnout was 10% lower; the difference was about 6% for blacks and Asian-Americans.”
Senate Finance Committee Chuck Grassley (R-IA) has warned that he may block the recently passed minimum wage bill unless a larger tax cut package is included.
“A critical meltdown of ice sheets and severe sea level rise could be inevitable because of global warming, the world’s scientists are preparing to warn their governments. New studies of Greenland and Antarctica have forced a UN expert panel to conclude there is a 50% chance that widespread ice sheet loss ‘may no longer be avoided‘ because of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Yesterday’s raid on a U.S. outpost in Baghdad are a “possible foreshadowing of attacks to come,” as insurgents target lightly fortified and “relatively isolated” outposts that are an “integral part” of the new U.S. strategy in Baghdad to immerse U.S. forces in Iraqi communities.
And finally: Arizona can’t give up its naked lady mudflaps. “It’s still going to be legal in Arizona for trucks to have splash guards with racist terms and silhouettes of naked women.” The state House last week rejected an amendment that would have banned splash guards with images that are “obscene or hateful.”