Archive for December 2nd, 2006
Her name doesn’t show on any official list of American military deaths in the Iraq war, by hostile or non-hostile fire, who died in that country or in hospitals in Europe or back home in the USA. But Iraq killed her just as certainly.
She is Jeanne “Linda” Michel, a Navy medic. She came home last month to her husband and three kids, delighted to be back in her suburban home of Clifton Park in upstate New York. Michel, 33, would be discharged from the Navy in a few weeks, finishing her five years of duty.
Two weeks after she got home, she shot and killed herself.
“She had come through a lot and she had always risen to challenges,” her husband, Frantz Michel, who has also served in Iraq, lamented last week. Now he asks why the Navy didn’t do more to help her.
All deaths are tragic, especially when young lives are lost in an unnecessary war after all hope for a meaningful victory has passed. Those of us of a certain age — boomers-verging-on-geezers — may recall the early 1970s when stories of suicides and crippling mental trauma associated with Vietnam veterans belatedly emerged in the press. No doubt some of that was triggered by the growing realization that countless soldiers had died, and were still dying, in vain — wasted, in every sense of the word.
We are witnessing the same phenomenon today in regard to Iraq, with newspapers only now, at last, starting to look behind the routine (and seemingly endless) reporting of American fatalities — and finding that many are not what they seem to be.
Earlier this month at E&P Online, I examined the deaths of a soldier reported by the military (and the press) as being killed by insurgents, who was actually murdered by our allies, the Iraqi police; and another who killed herself in Iraq (officially listed as death by “non-hostile gunshot”) shortly after she protested the torture of prisoners.
But I also
Let’s all be sure to remember this when it comes time to vote for candidates for Congress:
“Use it or lose it” might seem to be the obvious game plan for the Republicans who are about to give up control of Congress.
But rather than using the final days of their lame-duck session next week to ram through all the legislation they can, Republican leaders are taking a counterintuitive approach: Do a minimum and leave the rest to the Democrats to deal with next year.
That includes political hot potatoes such as domestic terrorism surveillance and an immigration overhaul. It also includes one of Congress’ most basic responsibilities: passing the annual appropriations bills, which determine how the federal government spends some $873 billion to cover everything from making nuclear weapons to running the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Only two of this year’s 11 appropriations bills – those dealing with defense and homeland security – have passed. The rest are now two months overdue, comprise about $400 billion and cover everything from national parks and veterans’ care to the federal judiciary.
One explanation for the inaction is that fiscally conservative Republicans, who want to rein in government spending, are making it too tough for their party to finish the work by year’s end. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and his allies have threatened to offer dozens of amendments to strip pork-barrel projects from the spending bills, a tactic that could drag the session on for weeks as lawmakers fight to protect projects for their constituents.
There’s a more cynical element to the Republican Party’s wait-it-out approach, too: It throws a wrench into the plans of the new party in power.
And it’s going to get worse. That’s not what they’re saying, that’s my prediction: as troops return from Iraq, the incidence of PTSD will, I believe, increase because of the particular stresses of urban warfare and being caught in the middle of a civil war. Here’s the story:
The Department of Veterans Affairs is falling behind in its efforts to provide prompt disability benefits for veterans nationwide, as its backlog of cases continues to grow, new reports show.
In fact, the department’s performance slipped in the past year even though its workload was lower than anticipated.
For its part, the VA said that its productivity did drop last year but that things should improve next year, as a new batch of employees gets fully trained and up to speed.
“We’ve made an investment in 2006 in terms of hiring a lot of new employees,” said Michael Walcoff, one of the department’s top benefits officials. “We feel very confident that when they are trained, they will be very productive.”
The performance measures are contained in the VA’s annual accountability report sent to Congress and the president in November. The VA said it was able to meet many of its performance “targets” for the year, even though several of them are far from the VA’s long-term goals.
Earlier this year, top VA officials, including Secretary James Nicholson, told Congress they were anticipating a huge increase in claims for disability compensation and pensions, due to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, continuing claims from older veterans and a special outreach program.
In testifying to Congress in February that the VA was “focused on delivering timely and accurate benefits,” Secretary Nicholson and other VA officials said the department expected to receive 910,126 new claims and complete a decision on 838,566.
Instead, the VA received far fewer claims – 806,382 – and it produced a decision on 774,378, or 8 percent fewer than expected, VA data show.
As productivity dropped, the VA’s closely watched backlog of claims went up, and has continued to rise since the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30. It now tops 400,000.
For years, the VA has tried to get this backlog of pending cases to 250,000; the figure topped 400,000 in 2002, and after driving the number down to 253,000 the VA boasted about its success. Now, most of those gains have been erased.
“They haven’t made a lot of progress in the last year,” said Randy Reese, national service director for Disabled American Veterans. “I know it’s on their plate, and I know they are worried about it.”
Another closely watched measure is the time taken to decide each claim, and in the past year that average processing time rose to 177 days, 10 days longer than in the previous year. It was the second straight year performance dropped.
The VA wants to process claims in 125 days, a target that had been relaxed from prior goals that aimed to bring the average to 100 or fewer days.
To explain the processing slowdown from 2005 to 2006, the VA in its recent report to Congress gave three reasons:
The list is not mine, though the books certainly look worthwhile.
Two days before he was fired, he sent Bush a memo that the strategy in Iraq wasn’t working. Then he’s immediately fired. Coincidence?
The most efficient way to make change —using the fewest possible coins—would be if, instead of the 1¢, 5¢, 10¢, and 25¢ coins we now have, the government issued coins with values 1¢, 5¢, 18¢, and 25¢.
It would be a little more difficult to do the math in your head, but change is now routinely computed by cash registers so, really, no problemo. With the four new coins, the number of coins returned in change would average 3.9 coins, instead of the average 4.7 coins now required.
When will this come about? (Hint: never)
Of course, if politicians were mathematicians, we wouldn’t have the entertaining spectacle of the Indiana legislature considering a bill to make pi equal to 3.2. That in itself isn’t so bad, but one side-effect would be that 1 would become a transcendental number.