Republicans block aid for veterans exposed to burn pit contamination

The Senate failed to pass a procedural vote Wednesday that would’ve cleared the way for a vote on legislation to expand benefits for the estimated 3.5 million veterans exposed to toxic burn pits during America’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The bill, known as the Honoring Our PACT Act, passed both the House and the Senate with bipartisan support in June, but due to a snag in the bill’s language, it needed to go back and pass the House and Senate again. On Wednesday evening, 25 Republican senators reversed their support from June and voted no on a procedural vote to advance the legislation.

Congressional Republicans are apparently convinced their fascist ideology is so widely accepted by American voters they aren’t in the least reluctant to crap on that segment of the American population who served in our military. That should comeback to bite them on their collective asses. The sooner the better.

Veterans cleaning up after Trump’s ragtag insurrection attempt


Ben Peifer

When Capitol Hill was in chaos on Jan. 6, David Smith was there.

Smith, 40, was distributing hand-warmers to homeless people nearby when the siege started. He watched in disbelief as a menacing mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

“It was pretty gut wrenching to see,” said Smith, who retired less than a month ago after serving in the Navy for 13 years.

As a veteran, he was especially horrified, he said, to learn that his fellow vets participated in the insurrection, including Jake Angeli, also known as the “QAnon Shaman,” and Ashli Babbitt, who was shot and killed in the Capitol…

Smith decided he wanted to do something about it, calling on a group of fellow veterans and volunteers to do a thorough sweep of the area around the Capitol and downtown D.C. Beyond ridding the area of hateful markings, Smith hoped to reinforce that the veterans who participated in the siege do not represent them all.

My kind of military. My kind of veteran.

Discharged – then Discarded


Enrique Salas — discharged, deported, died

The report features a number of veterans who were in the U.S. legally and sustained physical wounds and emotional trauma in conflicts as far back as the war in Vietnam. Once they returned from service, however, they were subject to draconian immigration laws that reclassified many minor offenses as deportable crimes and were effectively banished from this country…

The treatment of veterans capriciously deported is one of the slimiest acts of an nation that pretends to care about the lives of those who volunteer for national service in the US military.

Military contractor wants court help extorting money from sick vets

Private military contractor Kellogg Brown and Root is suing 12 National Guard veterans for $850,000 in legal fees that the company has incurred through defending a suit brought by the 12 for damages related to service on behalf of the company while in Iraq.

Early in 2003, the Department of Defense ordered members of the Oregon National Guard to protect supply convoys and repair facilities operated by KBR. The DoD had hired KBR to restore the flow of Iraqi oil to pipelines supplying the West and Europe. At the Qarmat Ali water treatment facility, severely damaged by American attacks and fleeing Iraqis, members of the Guard were exposed to hexavalent chromium, a cancer agent.

After developing health problems consistent with hexavalent chromium exposure, the veterans sued KBR for negligence in Federal Court in Portland. After a month long trial, the jury awarded the veterans $85 Million in 2012. KBR appealed, and sought $30 Million in legal fees and damages from the veterans for initiating the lawsuit.

The soldiers, residents of Oregon and under orders from the Department of Defense, placed on loan to a private entity contracted by the DoD, sued in their home state in federal court, not state court. They argued that a chemical used at the Qarmat Ali treatment facility had, to the knowledge of KBR, contaminated the site. Remaining at the site without being informed of the presence of the cancer agent by DoD or KBR constituted negligence. The Oregon jury agreed.

In May of this year, however, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the ruling. The Court, persuaded by KBR lawyers, determined that an Oregon court, even if a federal circuit court, was not the proper jurisdiction for the case. Rocky Bixby, Ronald Bjerklund, Charles Ellis, Matthew Hadley, Colt Campredon, Vito Pacheco, Brian Hedin, Charles Seamon, Aaron St. Clair, Byron Greer, Jason Arnold and Larry Roberta must now take their case to Houston, Texas, where KBR is located.

A magnanimous KBR was pleased that the 9th Circuit ruled that the Oregon court did not have “personal jurisdiction” over the Texas based company. KBR executive vice president and general counsel Eileen Akerson said, “This ruling is another major step in resolving the few remaining legacy tort claims related to KBR’s work supporting the U.S. military in Iraq. We look forward to bringing closure to all of those matters.” Closure for KBR includes hiding behind its military contractor indemnification clause, and suing the Oregon soldiers for fees and damages incurred through the long course of this trial.

Creeps who should have been indicted as co-conspirators in the lawsuits should have included all the Republicans who profited from the war – starting with Dick Cheney with his ties to Halliburton. Yes, KBR was a subsidiary of Halliburton while Cheney’s firm was getting all those juicy no-bid contracts from the War Department.

Then, we get to confront our less-than-equal rights before American courts. Of course, we must move the retrial into KBR’s backyard. Makes it easier for lawyers, judges and politicians to discuss the case over cocktails.

Meanwhile, the Oregon soldiers contemplate zero compensation for their abuse and ill health in the Bush-Cheney War.

PTSD + Agent Orange = extra risk of Dementia

Exposure to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War doesn’t seem to increase the risk of dementia on its own, but it may exacerbate the effects of other risk factors like PTSD…

In an analysis of Veterans Affairs data, having been exposed to Agent Orange and having PTSD together was associated with a significantly increased risk of dementia according to Deborah Barnes, PhD, MPH, of the University of California San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center.

They reported their findings at the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference…

Some 8% of veterans were exposed to Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, where it was used as an herbicide to clear dense areas of forest…

Many other studies have looked at the health effects of Agent Orange exposure, and there have been mixed results regarding its neurological effects. Some studies found no adverse neurologic effects, while several recent studies have found worse cognitive function with greater exposure. Other studies have shown that verbal memory is the most affected neurocognitive region among Vietnam veterans.

Yet there haven’t been any studies specifically looking at the relationship between Agent Orange and the risk of dementia among these veterans, Barnes said.

Consequently, she and colleagues accessed VA electronic medical record data on 46,737 Vietnam veterans over age 55 who had at least one baseline visit and one follow-up visit, and who did not have dementia at baseline.

They looked at Agent Orange exposure alone and in combination with PTSD…

Barnes noted that there was a significant difference between the exposed and unexposed populations at baseline. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange were younger and had more comorbidities including diabetes, hypertension, cerebrovascular disease, depression, and PTSD…

When they looked at PTSD and dementia risk, however, they did find a significant association — and having both Agent Orange exposure and PTSD together was associated with a larger increase in risk of dementia…

“Agent Orange alone doesn’t appear to increase the risk of dementia,” Barnes said, “but it may exacerbate the effects of other risk factors such as PTSD.”

She cautioned that the findings were limited because the researchers weren’t able to measure the actual exposure to Agent Orange; they had to rely on patients’ own reports of exposure…

Soldiers on the line ain’t about to forget exposure to Agent Orange. Until they get Alzheimer’s, anyway.

And, no, that wasn’t meant to be a joke.

Vietnam War vets still suffering from PTSD

A small, but significant, portion of Vietnam War veterans still experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) even 40 years after the war ended, according to the results of a survey-based study.

When examining veterans over the course of a 25-year period, 10.8%, or about 271,000, of male “theater veterans” – those who served in the Vietnam theater of operations – reported experiencing current clinical and subthreshold war-zone PTSD symptoms based on CAPS-5 criteria, said Charles Marmar, MD, of New York University’s Langone Medical Center…

More than a third (36.7%) of all veterans with PTSD directly related to the war also experienced comorbid major depression. In addition, 30.9% met the criteria for current major depressive disorder…

Marmar told MedPage Today that he was surprised at the persistence of symptoms for veterans over the course of time.

“We did know that PTSD symptoms could persist in a minority of war fighters, or civilians for that matter, but it was surprising to find that 11% of those who served in the Vietnam theater had either PTSD or significant symptoms of PTSD that interfered with their functioning,” he said. “So the persistence was an important finding…”

Marmar said he did the study not only to honor the Vietnam generation and answer some questions for them, but to see what the road ahead may look like for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

“Nobody has known before this study what the true lifetime effects of military service are on psychological health in an epidemiologically drawn, representative sample,” he said. “People have done studies of longer term effects of war, but not in a proper sampling frame where you’re getting a picture of every man and every woman from all branches of the services in all levels of combat…”

While not involved with the study, Gary J. Kennedy, MD…told MedPage Today…that the results demonstrated the majority of veterans did not suffer from PTSD or depression. However, he pointed out that for those who were impacted, there may be inadequate resources to offer assistance.

“The optimistic finding of rather remarkable resilience is contrasted by the complicated needs of those who do not recover,” he said. “Just as in the post Vietnam era, the VA is not adequately funded to meet the mental health needs of returning service personnel…”

He concluded that similar to World War II veterans, Vietnam war veterans also deserve quality care for their physical and mental well-being, both from clinicians and from the nation itself.

Overdue.

My closest friend till his death was a WW2 vet who still had occasional bouts with PTSD – and little substantive help from the VA. Fortunately, one of his main areas of study – courtesy of the GI Bill – was in psychology and he did a pretty good job of managing things on his own. Still, I’ll never forget a couple of times when he was roused unexpectedly from a sound sleep and thought he was back in Bastogne.

The American military in a chickenhawk nation

The Atlantic magazine has unveiled a new cover story bluntly titled “The Tragedy of the American Military.” Written by James Fallows, it explores the problems and culture of the U.S. military after more than 13 years of war, and what it might take to fix them.

In particular, Fallows targets the “chickenhawk nation” that has sent its troops into combat without clear strategies, weapons acquisition programs that are expensive and politically connected, and an American public that is largely disconnected from the wars. Fallows also reports on the findings of a commission that President Obama requested in 2011 to examine how the Pentagon could best be reformed.

The commission, headed by former Sen. Gary Hart (D.-Colo.), made a series of recommendations that will be familiar to those following defense policy in Washington. It sought the creation of another panel to assess the lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, a separate effort to determine how the decision-making process for the use of military force should work in the future, and for the president himself to help bridge the gap between those who have served and the rest of American society…

The piece has created buzz on social media, in part because of the senior officials and famous academics quoted in it. But it’s the latest in a long line of journalism this year that grapples with how the military should reassess and reinvent itself following wars that have cost billions of dollars and thousands of American lives, without many clear victories…

Earlier this year, The Washington Post also published a series of stories titled “After the Wars.” Relying in part on a poll conducted along with the Kaiser Family Foundation, it found that 87 percent of the 2.6 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans feel proud of what they did during the wars, although more than half struggle with physical or mental issues and feel disconnected from civilians.

I wonder if our government, the Pentagon or even the Washington Post considered surveying the Iraqis, the Afghans, the civilian populations killed and maimed a hundred times more than our invading military?

All of these pieces expose the same basic issues: There will be no easy fixes for the military adjusting to life after a generation of intense sacrifice. The military is now shrinking and coping with budget cuts that would have been unheard of five or 10 years ago, increasing anxiety for many who want to serve at least 20 years and retire from the military honorably.

People write these articles as if they – and we – don’t discern any difference between war with an honorable task – fighting back against Fascist Imperialism, freeing nations from occupying foreign legions out to steal land and resources for a master race.

Sorry to hurt a few folks’ feelings; but, our military history since 1946 seems more and more like role reversal every decade since.

Who would oppose a jobs bill for veterans? Yup – you guessed it!

Congressional Republicans, resolute in their commitment to deny the Democrats anything that looks like an accomplishment in an election year, have spent the week obstructing passage of the Veterans Job Corps Act of 2012. It’s a perfectly inoffensive bill from Senator Patty Murray, the Washington Democrat, meant to increase hiring and job training for veterans, especially those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Who could oppose hiring more veterans as cops, firefighters and national-parks workers? Who could be against helping veterans apply their military training to earn civilian occupational licenses? The unemployment rate for new veterans hit nearly 11 percent in August, compared with 8.1 percent nationwide. Veterans and active-duty soldiers are committing suicide at alarming rates. The men and women who defend America in uniform are 1 percent of the population. Why shouldn’t the 99 percent give them a hand?

I’ll let the Republicans explain.

Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma says it is dishonorable and cowardly to help veterans find jobs when there are more important things (what?) to do

Rand Paul of Kentucky went further, saying he would block the bill until Pakistan freed Shakil Afridi, the doctor who helped the United States find Osama bin Laden…

Ms. Murray…has tried to make her bill as bipartisan as possible, by incorporating wholesale additions from Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican. The Senate could have rallied behind this bill, shown its dedication to the troops, and been done with it by now. But Democrats will have to pass this bill the hard, slow way, with repeated large votes overcoming Republican procedural objections…Or it might be killed by Republicans committed to making a bigger point about honor, valor, sacrifice and obstruction.

There hasn’t been a bloc of cowards, bigots and liars so infesting Congress like poison maggots since the days of the House UnAmerican Activities Committee. A sleazy group of politicians about as unAmerican as they come.

The Party-formerly-known-as-Republican is out to raise the bar of those years of racism, reaction and indolence. Nothing concerns their stony little hearts more than opposing any legislation offered by our sort-of-Black president and members of his party. Even at the expense of screwing our veterans returning home to unemployment and diminished opportunities.

Opportunities diminished, I might add, courtesy of the previous batch of conservative ideologues.

GOP says pay China, Wall Street first — Social Security, Medicare, Veterans can wait till some other day

New Republican legislation in the House and Senate would force the U.S. government to reroute huge amounts of money to China and other creditors in the event that Congress fails to raise its debt ceiling…

If passed, Pat Toomey’s (R-PA) plan would require the government to cut large checks to foreign countries, and major financial institutions, before paying off its obligations to Social Security beneficiaries and other citizens owed money by the Treasury…

That’s where Toomey’s idea supposedly comes in. And yet, according to the Treasury Department, his plan wouldn’t actually avoid a default, or its catastrophic consequences.

“[T]his idea is unworkable,” said Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin in a statement. “It would not actually prevent default, since it would seek to protect only principal and interest payments, and not other legal obligations of the U.S., from non-payment. Adopting a policy that payments to investors should take precedence over other U.S. legal obligations would merely be default by another name, since the world would recognize it as a failure by the U.S. to stand behind its commitments.”

The full impact of an actual default is unclear, but Treasury, and independent experts have warned that it would among other consequences, cause an enormous loss of wealth among U.S. citizens. Under the circumstances, one would think that the government’s top priority would be ensuring that citizens owed money by the Treasury would take precedence over, say, foreign governments. But that wouldn’t be the case if Toomey and some House Republicans, including Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-OH), get their way.

The Administration thinks such a policy would be tone deaf. “Such a policy would also be unacceptable to American servicemen and women, retirees, and all other Americans, who would rightly reject the notion that their payment has been deemed a lower priority by their government,” Wolin added…

I think it is a dreadful idea,” Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) told National Journal. “Basically what they are saying is, pay China first. Are we going to forget about the American public and the things that they need? Somehow they are secondary? And paying the Chinese and the Japanese is the first priority of this country..?

You have to be wearing blinders made of boiler plate to ignore how committed the Republican Party is to Big Oil and Big Money. Still, blatant butt-kissing like this is so contemptible. Couple it with Republican willingness to crap on the needs of ordinary citizens — rejecting any priority for social security or medicare payments, funding for veterans administration hospitals — puts their display of ethical corruption down lower than a snake’s belly.

Cripes. Rattlers in my neck of the prairie would be offended by being compared to Republicans.