this is from a piece by saskia de melker and rebecca jacobson ('the newshour,' pbs)
On Wednesday, NewsHour correspondent Hari Sreenivasan
moderated a panel discussion on the subject, specifically focused on
how Native American tribes are coping with climate change. We'll air
part of that discussion on the NewsHour tonight. For a preview, the
video above is an excerpt from that panel, featuring Kitty Simonds,
executive director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and a native Hawaiian, and Jeff Mears from the Oneida Nation tribe in Wisconsin.
When we began our NewsHour coverage
on communities across the United States coping with climate change, we
didn't plan to focus on Native American tribes. But we soon realized
that indigenous communities are on the frontlines of America's
Native Americans make up about one percent of the United States
population, but they manage more than 95 million acres of land. Their
reservations lie in some of the most diverse ecosystems in the country,
ranging from Alaska to the coasts of Florida. That diversity - both
geographically and culturally - makes them a sort of demographic
microcosm of the United States. That means the climate shifts that they
are feeling now could give clues to what other Americans can expect
might see in the near future.
of course, the planet earth belongs to all - humans, plants, animals, etc. but you would think that npr wouldn't have been the 1st to stumble across this issue or this demographic.
if you're interested in the topic - and i hope you are - pbs notes these additional reports:
Native Lands Wash Away as Sea Levels Rise
Native Americans' tribal lands along the Louisiana coast are washing
away as sea levels rise and marshes sink. We report from Isle de Jean
Charles, a community that is slowly disappearing into the sea.
The Northwest's Salmon People Face a Salmon-less Future
For Northwest tribes, fishing for salmon is more than a food source,
it's a way of life. Now the climate may push the fish towards
extinction. Together with KCTS 9 and EarthFix, NewsHour recently visited
the Swinomish Indian reservation to see how they are coping.
Climate Change Threatens the 'Twilight' Tribe
Washington's Quileute tribe, thrust into the spotlight by the "Twilight"
series,' has been caught in a struggle to reclaim land threatened by
floods and sea level rise. Together with KCTS9 and EarthFix, NewsHour
visited the tribe to hear their story.
so you can check out those stories as well.
but take a moment tonight to picture yourself, okay? pretend you're a teacher. 1st grade or k. and you've got kids and you've got paper and crazyons. and you're getting them to draw the world they see. how do you explain pollution to them?
there was a time where people didn't know.
but that was so long ago.
so how do you explain pollution today? how do you explain it continuing?
how do you explain people putting profit ahead of the entire ecosystem?
now stop your exercise and ask yourself why we're not doing more to stop the end of the world?
let's close with c.i.'s 'Iraq snapshot:'
July 20, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Iraqiya is on the short
track to head a security ministry or two, Iraqiya is not on the short
track to head a security ministry or two, Cheveron follows ExxonMobil's
lead, Nouri blusters in his embarrassed state, the UN Security-General's
Special Envoy to Iraq tells the UN Security Council about increased
violence in Iraq, Kobler also feels the political stalemate is harming
the country, Syrian 'rebels' control the border between Syria and
Iraq, Senators Patty Murray and Richard Burr have questions about the
VA's Benefits Accreditation Program, we offer another look at the House
Oversight Subcommittee's VA hearing yesterday, and more.
Starting off with Syria as it relates to Iraq. Neocon Michael Rubin (Commentary) is alarmed
that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani offered condolences to Syrian
President Bashar Assad's sister Bushra Assad on the death of Assef
Shawkat. It's outrageous, Rubin feels. The man killed Wednesday is
Bushra Assad's husband. Is Rubin aware of that? Is he also aware that
Syria is one of three countries that borders northern Iraq? Syria,
Turkey and Iran. Talabani is a Kurd from the Kurdistan Region -- that's
northern Iraq. Of course, he would know the Assads. He's traveled to
Syria numerous times to meet with President Bashar Assad -- both before
the start of the Iraq War and today. That the two leaders from
neighboring countries know one another is not surprising. That they
get along has been known since before 2003. Not sure why Rubin sees
something sinister in the whole thing but it reads like more of his
I-hate-Kurdish-people kick that he's been on of late. Rubin rushes to
trash Assad and build up the resistance or 'resistance.' He would
though, he'll never admit that he and his kind created al Qaeda in Iraq
and that's a key part of the Syrian resistance or 'resistance.' We'll
follow Mike's lead
in noting Larry Johnson (No Quarter) on this issue
war drums are really blasting in Washington and wishful thinking has
replaced reason and logic. The Obama Administration, with the
full-throated cheerleading of neo-cons like Charles Krauthammer, are
celebrating the terrorist attack on the Government of Bashir Assad and
hoping that Assad folds his tents. Some breathless analysts on Fox News
are even predicting that Assad will be gone in 36 hours. Delusional
The Defense Minister who was
murdered in this attack was a Christian. The group claiming credit for
the attack has direct links to the same folks that fill the ranks of Al
Qaeda in Iraq. So who are we backing? Why, the al Qaeda guys, of course.
York, July 18, 2012--Two Iraqi journalists living in Syria and covering
the conflict in that country were killed on Saturday although news
reports differed on crucial details. The Committee to Protect
Journalists continues to investigate the circumstances of the deaths,
which come amid reports of increasing violence toward Iraqis living in
Taha, a freelance journalist who contributed to several Iraqi news
outlets, was killed while covering ongoing clashes between government
forces and the Free Syrian Army in the capital, Damascus, numerous news
reports said. An unidentified group of armed men killed Ali Juburi al-Kaabi, editor-in-chief of the Baghdad-based weekly Al-Zawraa, in Jaramana, a suburb of Damascus, according to news reports. Al-Zawraa is a weekly issued by the Iraqi Journalists Syndicate, news reports said.
accounts carried few details about the deaths. While most reports said
both journalists were shot to death, some accounts citing Iraqi army
officials said they had also been stabbed. Most reports describe the
deaths as having occurred separately in different locations although
some accounts said the journalists both died in Jaramana.
On the topic of oil, Reuters reports that for the third straight month, Iraq's exports have fallen "below 2.4 million barrels per day". Trade Arabia notes,
"Chevron Corp is buying into blocks in Iraq's Kurdistan, according to
two oil executives involved in the region, as the second-largest U.S.
oil company follows Exxon Mobil Corp into an area where oil rights are a
subject of fierce dispute. Chevron is purchasing 80 per cent of the
Sarta and Rovi blocks from India's Reliance Industries, according to the
two executives, who requested anonymity." If that rumor is true, that
would be a big blow to Nouri. Remember Antony Blinken's meeting with
Nouri yesterday? (Blinken is US Vice President Joe Biden's National
Security Adviser.) Supposedly Blinken made time to press Nouri on
ExxonMobil -- Nouri wants the deal cancelled -- but didn't press him on
Ali Mussa Daqduq. If true, that's really embarrassing. Remember that
first a US official insisted they were already pressing Iraq to
extradite Daqduq to the US and then Nouri's spokesperson made clear that
no such request had been made. And then a US official said they were
'about to' make the request.
over three hours later, Nouri al-Maliki was issuing a statement
claiming he had the US backing on ExxonMobil. He's such a damn liar and
you really have to wonder about the reporters that print his crap
without challenge. It wasn't two weeks ago, that these same outlets
were running with Nouri met with the UN and UN says Camp Ashraf must --
no, the United Nations didn't say it but did we ever get a retraction
from the press? Of course note. So Aseel Kami and Braden Reddall (Reuters) take stenography
today and want you to know that Nouri has the US backing on ending that deal the KRG and ExxonMobile signed back in October.
high likely is it that the US government, via Blinken, conveyed
anything of meaning regarding ExxonMobil? Not at all likely. In the
United States, there is no state control of the oil companies. (Some
would argue there is control of the government by the oil companies and
certainly the Iraqi press have had stories where the White House has
conveyed to Nouri that he needs to work things out with ExxonMobil.) So
it's a non-story but watch how it gets parroted over and over by news
outlets that make Hedda Hopper look like Bob Woodward.
On this morning's Chevron rumors, AP reports
that they are true and Chevron and the KRG signed a deal today. Reuters notes
Chevron has purchased "80 percent of two blocks in Kurdistan." Tina Davis (Bloomberg News) clarifies
, "Chevron Corp. (CVX)
agreed to buy Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL)
's 80 percent stake in two blocks covering about 490 square miles (1,124 square kilometers) in Iraq's Kurdistan region." Mark Lawson (Wall St. Cheat Sheet) adds
"These blocks are north of Erbil and contain a combined area of around
490 square miles. The subsidiaries in question will partner with OMV
Rovi GmbH and OMV Sarta GmbH, which hold 20 percent interest in the Rovi
and Sarta PSCs, respectively." Hassan Hafidh (Dow Jones) explains
"Under the agreement with Kurdistan, Chevron must drill two wells by
November 2013, company spokesman Gareth Johnstone said." In addition, Oil & Gas Journal notes
"A group led by Hunt Oil Middle East has tested a combined flow rate of
13,584 b/d of oil from three zones at the deepened Simrit-2 well in the
Kurdistan Region of Iraq with nine more zones to be drillstem tested.
Afren PLC, which has a 20% interest in the Ain Sifni PSC, said the well
has been drilled to 3,800 m and encountered 460 m of net oil pay."
Meanwhile the latest Sports Illustrated
it out and the Jul 23, 2012 issue is the Olympic Preview issue. When
it was slid over to me by a friend at Time-Warner-CNN-Pony Express, it
was stressed that the issue had a big "Arab Spring" spread. Big? It's
ten pages. Why we'd be interested in it -- no Iraq athletes are
included in the article -- is beyond me. If Tunisia's your thing, pick
up the issue. (They also don't pick any Iraqis to place in the top three
of any event. Afghanistan's Rohullah Nikpai is the only one they pick
from Aghanistan and they predict he'll take the Silver in 68 kg
Taekwondo. It's a shame they spent 12 pages on predictions when they
could have profiled more athletes in that space instead of wasting it on
I-think-this-will-happen.) The Summer Olympics
kick off in London in less than 8 days (7 days, 20 hours the counter
currently reads). Iraq has 8 athletes competing. The three women are:
Dana Abdul Razak, event: 100m; Noor Amer Al Ameri, event: Women's 10m
Air Pistol; and Rand al-Mashhadani, event: Archery, Women's
individual. The five men are: Mohanad Ahmed Dheyaa al-Azzawi, event:
Swimming, Men's 100m Butterfly; Safaa al-Jumaili, event: Weightlifting,
men's 85kg; Ali Nadhim Salman Salman; Wrestling, Men's 120kg
Greco-Roman; Adnan Taess Akkar, event: Athletics Men's 800m; and Ahmed
Abdulkareem Ahmed, event: Boxing, Men's Welter (69kg). For more on Iraq
and the Olympics, you can click here
for the folder BBC News has created for this topic. Kay Johnson (AP) did a lengthy (and solid) report
on Safaa al-Jumail:
al-Jamaili has already overcome greater challenges just to keep
competing. He was forced to stop lifting weights for more than a year
after his family fled their home province of Diyala, 90 kilometres (55
miles) northeast of Baghdad, as waves of insurgent attacks and
retaliatory violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslim militias flooded
over the area.
One reason they fled: His older brother was kidnapped and held for three days.
then 17, was with his brother on that day in 2007. He remembers walking
together toward their aunt's house, feeling lighthearted because he had
just returned from winning a gold medal in a regional youth
championship in Jordan. Then, several armed men accosted the brothers.
Al-Jamaili managed to run away, but his brother was captured.
family spent three tense days selling their furniture and borrowing
money to pay a ransom before his brother was finally returned. Then,
they all fled to the northern city of Kirkuk, where al-Jamaili worked
full-time on a construction crew to help the family earn cash.
Weightlifting was out of the question.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon states that the turmoil in Syria has negatively effected Iraq, Al Mada reports
and that the political crisis has prevented Baghdad and Erbil from
addressing Iraq's internal problems. The political crisis, Ban Ki-moon
stated, has prevented efforts to resolve outstanding issues and, without
these issue being resolved, the future of Iraq is threatened.
I sit before the Council today," the UN Secretary-General's Special
Envoy to Iraq Martin Kobler declared this afternoon, "Iraq is in the
midst of a seven month long stalemate between the political blocs. a
situation which continues to hamper progress in areas essential to
Iraq's development including a sustainable solution to the disputed
internal boundaries, the unfinished Constitutional agenda and the
adoption of essential outstanding legislation and the preparation for
next year's provincial council elections."
was in New York, speaking to the United Nations Security Council as he
briefed them on Iraq. We'll note some of his testimony in today's
snapshot and some in tomorrow's snapshot.
Envoy Martin Kobler: The question today is whether crucial obstacles
can be overcome in order for the Iraqi state to realize its true
potential. In my assessment, the role of UNAMI will be more important
than ever in supporting Iraq on its journey towards stability and
development. Mr. President since my last briefing to the Council, I've
intensified my engagement with political leaders from all sides in
Baghdad and in the Kurdistan Region, met with representatives of many of
Iraq's communities and listened to the advice of Iraq's spiritual
leaders such as Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf. I've also
sought -- sough the views of the government of Iran, Kuwait and Turkey
on the region. The Core of UNAMI's mandate is to support and assist
the people of Iraq for it is the people of Iraq who want the political
stalemate to end and it is they who want to have a life in security
and prosperity. It is they who want to have a better future for their
children. And it's they who long for the day when benefits from the
natural wealth of the country will translate into the reliable delivery
of electricity and other public services and economic development.
Almost seven years ago, the Iraqi people laid the foundations for
democracy in their country by adopting their Constitution. Today,
however, key institutions have yet to be established and fundamental
legislation remains outstanding -- including the establishment of the
Federation Council, the strengthening of the Judicial System, the
legislation on revenue sharing and hydro-carbons, the protec -- the
protection of minorities. Just to say a few. My colleagues and I have
made the promotion of progress in these areas a priority. In
particular, the legal and policy framework for revenue sharing need to
be put in place and this would constitute a signficant strengthening
of the federal system, improve the environment for investment, and
provide for the agreed distribution of national wealth. Revenue sharing
is vital to help improve Arab-Kurdish co-existence, vital to ensure
that Iraq remains a single federal state and, above all, vital for
advancing a solution in the disputed internal boundaries. Making
progress in unblocking Iraq's unfinished legislative agenda, however
requires an agreement between Iraq's political leaders that will end the
political stalement. Such an agreement must be reached through
transparent and inclusive dialogue in respect of the Constitution and in
a spirt of compromise. Mr. President, there is no democracy without
elections and there are no credible elections without a strong and truly
independent election commission. As we speak, my political deputy, Mr.
Georgi Boston, is engaged in facilitation efforts to bring about the
formation of a new, Independent High Election Commission which is
representative of the main components of Iraq -- including women and
children and minorities. The urgent selection of the commissioners is
essential for ensuring that the provincial council elections due to take
place in March 2013 can be conducted on time. I'm concerned that the
ongoing political stalemate is hindering the process however. In recent
days, I have discussed with political leaders -- including Prime
Minister al-Maliki -- the need for a swfit conclusion of this political
process and the need for an adequate representation of women and
minorities in the commission. Today, I would like to re-iterate my
appeal to all political blocs to expedite the selection of professional
commissioners. UNAMI stands here ready to actively assist. Mr.
President, the number of civilian casualties caused by terrorist attacks
is increasing across Iraq. Since the beginning of this year an
average of 12 violent attacks a day have claimed a total of more than
1,300 lives -- many of them innocent children and women who were simply
at the wrong place, at the wrong time.
what's a news outlet to do? The UN's going with increased violence
and the White House is insisting that's not the case? What will the
stenographers do? Less than two weeks before the end of the month when
they'll have to note violence. What will the stenographers do?
political crisis has already seen two stalemates. The first one lasted
over eight months and followed the March 7, 2010 elections. Nouri's
political slate State of Law came in second to Iraqiya (headed by Ayad
Allawi) but Nouri didn't want to follow the Constitution and demanded a
second term as prime minister. The White House backed Nouri and not the
Iraqi people, their votes, democracy or the Constitution. So the US
government brokered a contract between the political blocs, the Erbil
Agreement, which gave Nouri a second term if he agreed to various
concessions (implementing the Constitution's Article 140, creating an
independent security commission, etc.). Nouri used the Erbil Agreement
(November 2010) to get his second term and then refused to follow the
Erbil Agreement. Once this became obvious, the second political
stalemate had started. By summer 2011, the Kurds, Iraqiya and Moqtada
al-Sadr were calling for a return to the Erbil Agreement. This is the
current and ongoing political stalemate.
This morning Al Mada reported
that Iraqiya is hopeful that one of their own might be nominated to
head one of the security ministries and the names Jawad al-Bolani,
Mustafa al-Hiti and Salah al-Jubouri are among those being tossed out
(by Iraqiya). An unnamed State of Law official seems skeptical about
that happening. al-Jubouri currently serves on the notorious Justice
and Accountability Commission. al-Hiti is a member of Parliament and has
unofficially served as an Iraqiya parliamentary spokesperson since
2010. He is a member of Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq's
National Dialogue Front. In 2009, Jawad al-Bolani wrote a column for
the Washington Post
which you can read here
Jawad al-Bolani served as Minister of the Interior in Nouri's first
Cabinet. It was during that time that the Ministry of the Interior
became synomous with terrorism and power struggles. You can refer to
the Los Angeles Times
archives for many reports on that and you should probably start with this July 2007 report by Ned Parker
is Iraq's Ministry of Interior -- the balkanized command center for the
nation's police and mirror of the deadly factions that have caused the
government here to grind nearly to a halt.
The very language
that Americans use to describe government -- ministries, departments,
agencies -- belies the reality here of militias that kill under cover of
police uniform and remain above the law. Until recently, one or two
Interior Ministry police officers were assassinated each week while
arriving or leaving the building, probably by fellow officers, senior
police officials say.
That killing has been reduced, but
Western diplomats still describe the Interior Ministry building as a
"federation of oligarchs." Those who work in the building, like the
colonel, liken departments to hostile countries. Survival depends on
keeping abreast of shifting factional alliances and turf.
the second floor is Gen. Mahdi Gharrawi, a former national police
commander. Last year, U.S. and Iraqi troops found 1,400 prisoners,
mostly Sunnis, at a base he controlled in east Baghdad. Many showed
signs of torture. The interior minister blocked an arrest warrant
against the general this year, senior Iraqi officials confirmed.
third- and fifth-floor administrative departments are the domain of
Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's Islamic Dawa Party, a Shiite group.
sixth, home to border enforcement and the major crimes unit, belongs to
the Badr Organization militia. Its leader, Deputy Minister Ahmed
Khafaji, is lauded by some Western officials as an efficient
administrator and suspected by others of running secret prisons.
The seventh floor is intelligence, where the Badr Organization and armed Kurdish groups struggle for control.
ninth floor is shared by the department's inspector general and general
counsel, religious Shiites. Their offices have been at the center of
efforts to purge the department's remaining Sunni employees. The
counsel's predecessor, a Sunni, was killed a year ago.
any who are confused, per the Constitution, yes, Nouri was supposed to
have named heads to the security ministries back in November 2010. His
failure to do so was supposed to mean that he did not advance from prime
minister-designate to prime minister and that, instead, a new person
was named prime minister-designate and given 30 days to come up with a
Cabinet. The US-backed Erbil Agreement 'trumped' the Iraqi
And this afternoon, All Iraq News reports
Iraqiya spokesperson Maysoon al-Damalouji stated that there were no
nominations from Iraqiya for the post of Minister of Defense and that
they were not asked to provide any names for that post.
All Iraq News reports
Iraqiya's Salem Dali notes that the move to question Nouri before
Parliament continues and that this is necessary because public funds are
being wasted and due to large numbers of Constitutional violations. He
doesn't need to list reasons, the Constitution gives the Parliament the
right to question Nouri. It's good that there are reasons but Nouri's
continued refusal to appear before Parliament is just another example of
how he refuses to follow the Constitution. Nasiriyah reports
that Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq is calling for calm and
dialgoue. Anybody remember how Nouri's Reform Commission was supposed
to meet and finalize things this week? Yeah, what happened to that?
Has his diversion already been dropped? There's not been any coverage
of it all week. However, All Iraq News reports
that Allawi is supposed to meet with Moqtada al-Sadr shortly.
One thing the Parliament is putting time into is funding their own personal purchase of firearms. Al Mada reports
the plan to spend five billion dinars is going through and that the
Parliament has even turned down the Ministry of Interior's offer to
provide them with firearms. To be clear, these guns will only be for the
Parliament and they're not passing any laws to provide Iraqi citizens
with guns. Despite the fact that the bulk of them live outside of Iraq
and that they frequently can't show up for sessions or actually earn
their big salaries, they feel that they need guns and that the Iraqi
people should foot the bill.
While the Baghdad-based government
is happy to arm the Parliament -- which, for the record, has no security
area to patrol -- they appear to balk at funding security forces.
Specifically, Al Mada reports
that the Minister of the Peshmerga in the KRG is stating that it
appears Baghdad will not fund the arming of the Peshmerga (Kurdish
security forces) and that the KRG will have to foot that bill. It's
seen as part of the ongoing distance between Baghdad and Erbil.
In other spending news, the Minister of Justice, Hassan al-Shammari, announced yesterday
that Iraq's 27,000 detainees are costing his ministry $20 million per
month (it says "dollars," not "dinars" so I won't bother to do a
conversion). Despite this large figure, Iraqi prisoners are not
receiving health care, the minister notes. Where's the money going?
The only big item listed is electricity. Due to international
standards, Iraq provides (or attempts to provide) electricity to prisons
24 hours, 7 days a week. Kitabat quotes
Minister Hassan al-Shammari declaring that the expenses are food and
maintaining/meeting international standards. Meanwhile Alsumaria reports
that the Ministry of Interior released a statement stating that Nouri
must launch an investigation into the death of prisoner Saddam Mukhlif
while in a Baghdad prison. The cry for an investigation comes as Alsumaria also reports
the Ministry of Justice is insisting they've stopped a plan by 16 death row prisoners to escape.
On the topic of electricity, Nasiriyah reports
that in an effort to try to reach 12 hours of electricity a month for
the holy month of Ramadan, Iraqi is increasing energy imports from Iran.
Dropping back to the House
Oversight's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and
Foreign Operations Wednesday hearing about VA's continued inability to
resolve claims in a timely fashion. Yesterday
we mainly noted that while the US is gripped by an economic crisis and
facing record debt, the VA has given out $2.8 million to 245
employees. Today we'll cover two other topics. US House Rep Jason
Chaffetz is the Subcomittee Chair and appearing before the Subcommittee
were VA's Undersecretary for Benefits Allison Hickey, the VFW's Gerald
Manar and Disabled American Veterans' Joseph Violante.
are Simplified Notification Letters which the VBA sends out to veterans
to let them know that their claim has been denied or approved -- if the
latter, a disabilty rating will also be in the letter. Hopefully, the
letter will make sense. Veterans advocates don't feel that has been the
case -- as evidenced by the written statements Manar and Violante
handed in to the Subcommittee. Chair Chaffetz raised the issue.
Jason Chaffetz: If you get a 100% disability, you're probably going to
agree with it. If you get a five or ten-percent, your probably going
to have some questions. We're trying to find the proper balance between
handing somebody so many documents and simplifying the process. But
these two gentlemen here certainly don't seem to be, based on those
statements, fans of this. How do we find that proper balance?
Hickey: Chairman Chaffetz, thank you for that question. I will
address it by saying that I, today, provide access to our VSOs to every
one of those files for them to do whatever research they want to do.
They will have even greater access to knowing exactly the data and the
information we know when they are joining us this month on VBMS as we go
into the new Veterans Benefit Management System. In addition, I have
whole heartedly encouraged -- as we go through change, there's
adjustments and adaptations, there's a learning process -- I have wholly
encouraged them at the local unit level when they have a service
officer, the final one that just doesn't have enough for them to go
directly to that supervisor and say, 'Need a little help here, there's
not enough here.'
Chair Jason Chaffetz: But don't you think --
Allison Hickey: We will handle that on the spot. We will train to that as we learn more and more about that.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Don't you think that that's contributing to the backlog because --
Allison Hickey: I do not.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: -- back in line again and say --
Allison Hickey: It has not. In fact, it's handled on the spot.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: You really think --
Allison Hickey: And it's reduced our backlog by 30,000.
Jason Chaffetz: You really think that the veterans are convinced that
it's just "handled on the spot"? I mean, our office, we get these all
the time. This is not --
Allison Hickey: Chairman Chaffetz --
Jason Chaffetz: For you to say that they're just handled on the spot?
Mr. Manar, how would you -- Is that true, are they handled "on the
Manar: Depending on the regional office and the individuals that our
service officers deal with, they are sometimes handled on the spot. In
other instances -- and it's rare -- our service officers are told, 'If
you don't like it, you can appeal it.' And then there's a wide range of
interactions in between. Our concern isn't -- We're concerned about the
SNL letters because it's not just our service officers trying to figure
out why VA made a decision. We train our people to do that, to go
behind and look at the data and basically re-evaluate it and see if they
would have arrived at the same conclusion. But-but perhaps 50% of
veterans are not represented. So they have to accept whatever VA gives
them on blind faith or decide whether they're going to appeal on their
own. The point here -- and I'd like to say this -- General Hickey has
worked with us signficantly to try to improve these letters. She put
out some directives last February to the field that -- if those
directives were followed -- the letters, barely adequate in our view,
but at least they'd be adequate. The problem is that when we've come
along in April and May and looked at letters and decisions that were
made in many different offices, we're finding a significant number -- 50
to 60% -- that are not getting the job done.
Jason Chaffetz: That's a pretty high number. Mr. Violante, I know
it's past my time, but I want to give you an opportunity to respond
though. Then we'll go to the gentleman from Illinois.
Violante: Like Mr. Manar, we have similar experiences with regard to
whether or not we can get something corrected "on the spot" depending on
the regional office and the employees. With regards to the SNLs, we're
not opposed to the concept. We have seen some good ones come out and we
have brought the bad ones to General Hickey's attention. But if they
can work on that, there is a balance that needs to be done so that
veterans can understand in a simplified way what the VA's decision is.
we're going to focus on another exchange but we're just zooming in on
the Military Sexual Trauma (MST) aspect. It's an issue that doesn't get
enough attention and when it is noted in a hearing, we make a point to
include it in our coverage.
House Rep Jackie Speier: And then my third question is on MST. As you
know, military sexual assault is absolutely out of control in the
military, 19,000 cases a year. As I understand it, your reviews have
found differences in denial rates between sexual assault PTSD and other
PTSD cases. I'd like to know what you have found and what you are doing
about it? And for those that have been previously denied, what can be
done for them in terms of refiling and being reconsidered? Thank you.
Hickey: Thank you, Congresswoman Speier. [. . .] I am so glad you
brought up Military Sexual Trauma. It is the very first issue I grabbed
the reigns on and ran with when I got on station here aside from,
obviously, the backlog. And I will tell you, I'm the one that asked for
us to go show -- show me what our grant denial rate is between MSTPTSD
and what it is between PTSD for the other three -- combat, fear,
terrorism? I asked for us to do that. I got it back and I said, "This
is unacceptable." We had a 20% difference in our grant denial rate. I
said, "We're going to change this process." We did. And by the way,
the process is now in a segmented lane which is one of our new
transformation initiatives. We have trained from the VBA person who
handles it coming in the door through the exam doctor in the health
administration who does the health exam. And we now have everybody
trained. I just got the data last Friday that shows I have closed that
gap as a result of that effort. We have increased our grants a full 35%
in our MST as of last Friday because of the directions we did, the
actions we took to make those right and to do those right [. . .]*
US House Rep Jackie Speier: Mr. Chairman, could I ask a follow up question? I know my time has expired.
Chair Jason Chaffetz: Feel free.
House Rep Jackie Speier: Thank you. What are we doing about those
that had their claims denied? Are we going back now and saying refile?
Hickey: I am glad you asked that question as well, Congressman --
Congresswoman Speier. We are sending letters to everyone we've ever
denied and saying, 'This is what we do. We've got a new process. If you
feel like you were denied in error, please send it to us and we will
*After "and to do those right" Allison Hickey may say "for women." She hadn't take a breath and her last words were not clear.
the House to the Senate, there's important news today from the Senate
Veterans Committee and its leadership. Senator Patty Murray is the
Committee Chair, Senator Richard Burr is the Ranking Member. Chair
Murray's office issued the following:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, July 19, 2012
CONTACT: Murray Press Office
VETERANS: Murray, Burr Call on GAO to Review VA's Benefits Accreditation Program
findings raise serious questions about effectiveness of accreditation
process in ensuring proper conduct by individuals assisting veterans
with benefit claims
D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate
Veterans' Affairs Committee, joined with the Committee's Ranking
Member, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), in sending a letter to the Comptroller General Gene Dodaro requesting assistance from the Government Accountability Office
(GAO) in examining the Department of Veterans Affairs' accreditation
program. The request stems from issues identified during GAO's recently
completed investigation into VA's pension program, which revealed that
individuals and companies are using VA accreditation as a way to take
advantage of elderly veterans and their families.
Government Accountability Office's recent investigation of VA's pension
program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns
regarding VA's accreditation program," the Senators wrote in the letter to GAO. "GAO's
final report, Veterans' Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that
some VA accredited individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits
claimants, such as by charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in
deceptive marketing practices, or selling unsuitable financial products
The full text of the letter
The Honorable Gene L. Dodaro
U.S. Government Accountability Office
441 G Street NW
Washington, DC 20548-0001
Dear Mr. Dodaro:
Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) Office of the General Counsel
provides accreditation to attorneys, claims agents, and representatives
of veterans service organizations so they can assist VA benefits
claimants with the preparation, presentation, and prosecution of VA
claims. To become accredited, an individual must demonstrate a level of
proficiency in VA's policies and procedures to be able to provide
assistance with VA claims. Also, restrictions exist regarding fees that
can be charged by accredited individuals for services associated with
VA benefit claims.
Accountability Office's (GAO) recent investigation of VA's pension
program, conducted at our request, raised some significant concerns
regarding VA's accreditation program. GAO's final report, Veterans'
Pension Benefits, highlighted the fact that some VA accredited
individuals may be taking advantage of VA benefits claimants, such as by
charging illegal or exorbitant fees, engaging in deceptive marketing
practices, or selling unsuitable financial products or services.
light of these concerns, we request the assistance of the GAO in
examining the following questions: (1) What are VA's policies and
procedures for accrediting and providing oversight, including data
collection and analysis, of those individuals? (2) Are there potential
vulnerabilities in VA's existing policies and procedures which may allow
abuses of the accreditation system? (3) What is the process for
suspending or revoking accreditation if abuses are found to have
We appreciate your attention to this request.
Specialty Media Coordinator
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
448 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington D.C. 20510