Tag Archives: veterans

Dean’s Back In My Mailbox: Sweet Children Edition

I’m starting to develop a theory concerning politicians, photographs, and pro-family policies.  The theory is congealing along this line:  The more adorable small children are shown in close proximity to the politician in the campaign photographs, the less likely the politician is to be a true advocate for policies which benefit women and children.

Case in point:  Dean Heller’s latest addition to the contents of my mailbox.

This latest contribution is a flyer with nice photos of Senator Heller (R-NV) and lots of nicely clad, well groomed children, all looking familial. Very familial.  So, it’s no surprise that the “content” portion of the campaign piece highlights domestic violence; pregnant workers; veterans; and sexual assault survivors.

Lest I become too excited at the prospect of Heller as a prime champion of these causes, it’s time for a bit of context.

About those domestic violence survivors…  According to Heller, Heller “broke with his party” to pass the Violence Against Women Act.  If we are discussing the Reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act in 2012, then Senator Heller wasn’t exactly the first to line up:

“Bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the landmark Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reached a critical point Tuesday, as Nevada Republican Dean Heller became the 60th Senator to cosponsor the legislation.  The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was introduced in November by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho).

“The Violence Against Women Act has always been, and continues to be, a bipartisan priority,” said Leahy.  “I am grateful that Senator Heller has joined as a cosponsor of this important bill.  Every victim of violence deserves to access the resources available through VAWA.  Congress should act, without delay, to approve this commonsense legislation.” [IndLaw]

Thus, Senator Heller wasn’t among the first co-sponsors of S. 1925 in 2012, he was more like the 60th, and he voted in favor of the bill’s Senate passage along with 15 other Senate Republicans.  Fast forward to 2018 and the VAWA is about to expire in the summer months.  Indeed, it is due to expire in September 2018. There are 12 bills related, one directly others tangentially, to the VAWA in the 115th Congress, all have about a 3% chance of passage.   HR 6545, the reauthorization for 2018 has about a 7% chance of passage  However, Senator Heller is shown in the pictures with lots of nice looking children.

Pregnant workers... I like the title “Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.”  Although are there any other kinds of pregnant workers than women?  Senator Heller says he is working with his colleagues in the Senate on this one, specifically that would be Senator Casey (D-PA) the sponsor of S 1101.   The bill has two co-sponsors (Shaheen and Heller) and a 3% chance of passage.   Not to put too fine a point to it, but I’m not wagering any portion of my piggy bank contents on this one getting past the committee stage. Senator Heller is shown with several well scrubbed kiddies in the flyer.

America’s Veterans...  by Senator Heller’s lights he’s helped over 15k veterans with their issues, however we don’t know, for example, how many of these are directly related to issues with the VA; how many are directly related to health issues? Housing issues? Educational benefits issues? Other issues? Nor do we know when the count started, are we speaking of the last year or for every year Senator Heller has spent in D.C?  He’s also claiming “leadership” in resolving VA backlog issues, but then so is every other member of Congress.  The jury’s out on this one, but the Senator is shown with children in a nice sylvan setting.

Sexual Assault Survivors...  Republicans seem intent on talking about that rape kit testing backlog and I’m all for that. Both paring down that backlog and talking about it.  However, I’d be happier still if more Republicans would start talking about preventing sexual assault in the first place.  I’m not hearing all I’d like about making reporting instances of assault and molestation easier on the victims.  Nor am I hearing as much as I’d prefer about extending the statute of limitations on assault, molestation, and harassment, for the perpetrators of these crimes.  And then…there’s the not-so-small-matter of getting firearms out of the mitts of domestic abusers.  Abused women are five times more likely to be killed by their abuser if the abuser owns a gun.  Not only are spouses and ex-spouses abused, but if the situation escalates then the lethality increases five-fold.  There are lots of children in that sylvan setting with Senator Heller.  What has Senator Heller done to make life safer for the children who aren’t in the photograph?

Then there’s the  unspoken part … Planned Parenthood … which Senator Heller would have us “defund.”

Does he know that if a woman doesn’t have medical insurance she can receive low cost or free pre-natal care at a Planned Parenthood facility?  Does he realize that Planned Parenthood can help women find affordable health insurance so their children can get off to a good start?  Does he understand that Planned Parenthood also supports post partum care?  There are some profoundly good reasons for a woman to have a post partum check up and for the infant to get his or her check ups too.  Perhaps we could have fewer glossy photos and more attention to providing medical services for more women and their children?

And now I’ll search for more data with regard to my developing theory: The more adorable small children are shown in close proximity to the politician in the campaign photographs, the less likely the politician is to be a true advocate for policies which benefit women and children.

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Filed under Gun Issues, Health Care, Heller, Nevada news, Nevada politics, Politics

It’s Official: No More Phony Memo Here

The cable news obsession with the highly questionable (I’m trying to be polite) memo from Devin Nunes’ staffers is sucking up the oxygen, and nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide, and water vapor from the air…or at least from the airwaves. So, how about some news that isn’t Dumb Memo related?

As if one weren’t too many, there’s a fellow being styled as the “next David Duke.”  The Huffington Post has an interesting article about this bit of algae mass in stagnant water.  It seems the “White Ethno-State” is as phony as the leader.   In a related publication the New York Daily News offers a good piece on the NFL and the players’ protests, speaking of the origins of the flag ceremonies:

However, that’s not the case anymore. In 2015, two senators released a report that found that the Department of Defense spent $6.8 million on “paid patriotism” between 2012 and 2015. The money, which was spread out amongst 50 pro teams from the NFL, NBA, MLB, and others, was for teams to do flag presentations, honor military members and reenlistment ceremonies.

Which begs the question: How can black players who protested the flag be unpatriotic if the faux patriotism that we see before every NFL game had a price tag?

Good question.

Be careful of slipping on ICEPBS reports: “Federal immigration authorities formalized a policy Wednesday to send deportation agents to federal, state and local courthouses to make arrests, dismissing complaints from judges and advocacy groups that it instills fear among crime victims, witnesses and family members.”   The official guidelines are here (pdf).   Gee, what could possibly go wrong?  Oh, how about a person showing up at a traffic court?  The man’s crime, in case anyone’s interested, is that his DACA status expired although he is still eligible for an extension.  He has no other criminal record. Or how about detaining an immigrant (with green card) while he and his wife were in court as part of an interview to establish their official status as a married couple.  Or, the Polish immigrant doctor arrested on January 16, 2018 by ICE for having two misdemeanor offenses on his record as a teen; he was released on bond  yesterday.  Then there are the two detainees in Florida who have died in custody.    At least there’s one federal judge who isn’t amused.

America alone means China First:  at least in terms of amassing trade deals, “From deals with blocs including the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to bilaterals with tiny countries like Maldives, China’s FTAs already cover 21 countries. That compares with the 20 countries covered by U.S. agreements. More than a dozen additional pacts are being negotiated or studied, according to the Ministry of Commerce. ” (FTA = Free Trade Agreement)

Renegotiate a better NAFTA?  Maybe not, the administration’s trade rep is clashing with the neighbors.   Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears to be trying to help clean up the mess.

Jobs Jobs Jobs: Harley Davidson is cutting production (read: layoffs) as a result of declining sales.  Wal-Mart is planning on store closures and other layoffs, “in the thousands.”  Sears is laying off 220 from its corporate offices. Whirlpool confirms it is planning layoffs.  Pandora is laying off 5% of its workforce.  Kimberly Clark is paying for its layoffs with its shiny new tax cuts.

Closer to home: The Nevada Independent reviews some important state races. (Highly recommended reading)  Reno city officials are having a tough time explaining how they handled an ex-employee’s sexual assault complaint.  Rep. Jacky Rosen announces her introduction of a bill to assist homeless veterans.

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Filed under Nevada politics, Politics

The Fanatic Season: Politics as Liturgy

Fanatic Eric Hoffer summed it up in The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements in 1951:

“The quality of ideas seems to play a minor role in mass movement leadership. What counts is the arrogant gesture, the complete disregard of the opinion of others, the singlehanded defiance of the world.”

Consider how often the right wing insists on doing the unthinkable?  Why would anyone launch a deliberately provocative  “Cartoon Contest” and call it an exercise in ‘free speech?’  Why would anyone put a gun site target on the names of members of Congress? Why would anyone think it appropriate to print the addresses of physicians who provide abortion services?  Because, perhaps, these are arrogant gestures, with a complete disregard for the safety and well being of others, defying convention (and good sense) as would a single-handed hero in defense of something, anything, whatever…

On the national level this allows Fox News to promote the demonization of Islam and its adherents, or to declare a “War on Christmas,” or to offer comfort to the bigot, the intolerant, and the racist.   On a state level the concept allows the elevation of the gun enthusiasts and supports their sense of victimization – as some unspecified “they” are perceived to be “coming for your guns. “ It also allows the faithful to identify “public servants” as “pigs at the trough” when they aren’t being vilified for not doing their jobs with insufficient resources; and, to degrade the humanity of the working poor for “not making good choices,” thereby relinquishing their right to be treated with compassion as fellow human beings.  Hoffer had a line about this concept as well:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

Indeed, the current manifestation of the conservatives in the Republican Party (and this may mean just about all of its leadership at the moment, the moderates being driven from the field) is beset with devils of all sorts.   At this juncture political ideology becomes confused with something we might call political liturgy.

Let’s look at the definitions. First, ideology is defined as “a system of ideas and ideals, especially one that forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy.”   Liturgy means “a form or formulary according to which public religious worship, especially Christian worship, is conducted.”  A formulary “is a collection of formulas or set forms, especially for use in religious ceremonies.”

The fanatic may have some difficulty differentiating between an ideology and the performance of liturgy. Ideology is properly understood as a position a person takes regarding, say, how revenue is collected for the operation of a government and the priorities for its distribution.  A liturgical element inserts itself as time after time a politician asserts talking points which are faith based with little or no rational substance.

Some Examples

The standard Republican talking point (liturgical element) concerning proposals to increase the minimum way is that doing so will have a negative economic effect.  This is often reduced to the formulaic: Increasing the minimum wage will cost jobs.  The problem is that there is no substantive research confirming this notion.  There are several credible studies indicating there would be no “negative employment effects” of increasing the minimum wage, and the talking point defies the common sense notion that an employee of one company is always a customer of others.  Empirical studies demonstrate that lower wage workers are more likely to spend marginal income than wealthier ones. [Salon]

The standard Republican talking point (liturgical element) is “Support the Troops;” and a person can easily obtain a yellow ribbon car magnet for this message to place alongside the “Love Your Country Live With Pride” bumper sticker.  That this is a liturgical insertion rather than an ideological position is illustrated by the disinclination of Republicans in general to vote in favor of increased wages for members of the Armed Forces, in favor of more benefits for service members and veterans, in favor of more job training programs for veterans, and in favor of the extension of more VA medical services to veterans who served during peacetime.  At the risk of sacrilege, I’d say this is roughly analogous to reciting “Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison” without thinking of the meaning.

And then there’s the standard GOP line … “the government is the problem.”  Until, of course, it’s the solution.  We might consider Texas Senator Ted Cruz’s remarkable illustration of how this liturgical element can be reversed as he begged for federal aid for Texas cities literally drowning in flood waters.  This, from the self-same Senator who voted against federal relief expenditures for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. [DailyBanter]  This line is hauled out of the vestry and applied to attempts to curtail malfeasance (and worse) in the banking industry, to curb polluters, to put the brakes on corporate mismanagement, until the nation becomes a victim of banking malfeasance (or worse), the state has to clean up a toxic spill, and the investors in a corporation despair of any relief from greedy executives.

The Ramifications

When policy positions (political ideological statements) become articles of faith (as part of a liturgy) then there’s a danger that portions of the electorate are no longer participating in a political process, but are voting and behaving as a “mass movement” in which the Devils will be scourged by those who can recite all the correct elements of the liturgy.  Nothing contemporary illustrates the liturgical quality of Republican leadership statements as the current blathering about climate change.

When the Pew Foundation did some polling on the subject it found that 67% of all adults surveyed believed that climate change is occurring, and 84% of Democrats (or those leaning toward the Democratic party) agreed.  Among Republicans 46% agreed the climate is changing, and this represents 61% of “mainstream GOP” who agree the climate is changing, and 25% of Tea Party adherents who agree.

Bear in mind the Tea Party  percentage when noting that 66% of Democrats agreed that human activity was a major cause of climate change, compared to 43% of independents, and 24% of Republicans in the 2013 survey.

The 24-25% of Republican voters would likely find nothing untoward about presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s request that the Pope leave the “science to the scientists.” [CSMonitor]  It’s probably important to note at this point, that no, the Pope doesn’t have the equivalent of a master’s degree in chemistry – but he did have a degree in chemistry in the Argentine educational system and according to a fellow Jesuit: “Liebscher said he hopes this does not sound like “we’re denigrating his education. Francis certainly respects the scientific method, and careful measurement ranks high in his list of values.”   The “correct” liturgical response about climate change has evolved in Republican political parlance.

Initially, and there are still adherents to the position, the GOP response was that Climate Change was misinformation, or at worst a hoax.  Later on the position was Climate Change is real but human beings aren’t responsible. The present iteration seems to be that Climate Change is real, human beings just might be responsible for some of it, and ordinary people shouldn’t talk about it because “science is best left to scientists,” the optional liturgical insertion may be “I’m not a scientist.” [Bloomberg]

Moving beyond a single illustration of how the transformation of ideology into liturgy is problematic for a democratic republic, when the correct formulaic recitation of liturgy stands in place of a discussion of policy alternatives only the True Believers are deemed fit to carry the party banners.  This is what former Republican official Bruce Bartlett complains of when writing that Fox News has actually harmed the political prospects of the Republican Party.

‘Fox has now become a problem for the Republican Party because it keeps a far right base mobilized and angry, making it hard for the party to move to the center or increase its appeal, as it must do to remain electorally competitive….One of the reasons Mitt Romney was so unable to pivot back to the center was due to the drumbeat at Fox, which contributed to forcing him to the right during the primary season.’

Compare this to one of the original quotations above:

“Hatred is the most accessible and comprehensive of all the unifying agents. Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without a belief in a devil.”

The unspoken assumption seems to be that Fox News will only beat out the rhythms of the Pure, the uncontaminated unadulterated liturgy of the extreme right.  It will only sate the political appetite of those who prefer liturgical formulations rather than explain the underlying catechism; in other words – those who wish to cast out the “devils” — be they African Americans in urban areas, minimum wage workers, environmental advocates, human rights activists, critics of the banking industry, or Democrats.

The proper incantation of the political liturgy will comfort those who wish to be comfortable in their biases, prejudices, and ideology.  Just as their unquestioning belief in a particular confession of faith grounds them, their insistence on a political liturgy relieves their anxieties keeps them anchored.   A liturgy which validates their fears – of African American men, of the working poor, of unemployment, of immigrants, of members of the LGBT community, of Muslims, of economic displacement, of anyone or anything outside their immediate experience – is consoling.

The Bottom Line

The problem, as Bartlett observes in a political realm, is that the more ideology is replaced by a confession of faith, and the more the confession of faith is sustained by the participation in ritualized liturgy, the more likely it is that the movement devolves into a sect.  Once a movement is reduced to a sect at least two things can happen, and they’re both bad.

First, as Bartlett notes, the sect becomes so restricted that it cannot reach a wider audience, and secondly the sect is inclined to defend the indefensible, merely because a fellow member is being criticized.  Witness the defense of the Duggar family’s handling of their son’s molestation of his sisters which almost perfectly summarizes the DARVO position – Deny, Attack, Reverse the Victim and the Offender.  Again, the more the sect becomes identified with a cultish adherence of defending the indefensible the more narrow the appeal of the movement.

One one hand there is some consolation in the idea that the Republican Party may eventually restrict itself to a narrow cult of unelectable True Believers, however, as one who finds the restriction of alternative points of view counter productive in politics and public policy the prospect of a degenerating GOP is not very appealing.

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Filed under banking, conservatism, ecology, energy policy, financial regulation, Republicans

To Heck With Your Service? Again?

Heck photo

The issue of protecting military families from egregious practices by predatory payday lenders gets a bit mired in Congressional legislative processes.  However, it’s not hard at all to figure out what the Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee wanted to do.

“House lawmakers narrowly voted to remove controversial language delaying new rules on payday lenders from their annual defense authorization bill early Thursday morning, calming concerns from advocates who saw the move as potentially undoing financial protections for military families.

By a 32 to 30 vote, members of the House Armed Services Committee stripped provisions from the legislation that would have delayed Defense Department plans to expand the scope of the 2006 Military Lending Act by requiring a new report due next spring on DoD’s rule-making procedures in that regard.” [MilTimes]

Congressman Joe Heck (R-NV3) has a seat on that committee.  Further, Representative Heck is the chair of the subcommittee on Military Personnel. The blurb from the subcommittee’s web page reads:

“The Military Personnel Subcommittee is responsible for military personnel policy, reserve component integration and employment issues, military health care, military education, and POW/MIA issues. This subcommittee makes sure that our troops and their loved ones are receiving the first class benefits that they deserve.”

Remember this for future reference.  For the moment ask how the statement squares with the effort to “delay new rules on payday lenders…?”  And, how does this align with comments made by subcommittee chairman Joe Heck:

“The 2006 lending law was passed by Congress after reports of payday lenders charging unusually high interest rates to troops — 400 percent or more, in some cases — and misleading borrowers about the long-term debt they could incur.

Implementation of the law initially was confined to payday loans, vehicle title loans and tax refund anticipation loans. But last September, defense officials proposed new rules that would expand the types of credit covered by the maximum 36-percent interest rate that can be charged to service members and their dependents.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., chairman of the armed services committee’s military personnel panel, said those moves have raised concerns that defense officials are applying rules too broadly.”  [MilTimes]

It’s the Pentagon’s belief that service members need protection from predatory forms of credit cards, deposit advance loans, installment loans, and unsecured open ended lines of credit.  The bottom line is simple – members of our armed forces can be charged no more than the quite nearly usurious 36% interest rate. Too broadly?  How does applying rules saying no member of the military can be charged no more than 36% cut off credit options? If a lender can’t profit with a 36% margin perhaps they ought not be in business?

Representative Heck’s idea was to have the Pentagon conduct ANOTHER study of the effects of the Military Lending Act, in spite of the completion of the original study. Translation: Congressional studies can be used to delay the implementation of regulations interminably. Meanwhile, member of the military remain threatened by the terms of predatory lenders. [More at TP]  And, was Representative Heck proud of his delaying maneuver?

“The one-year delay of new financial protections for the military appears to come from Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV), who chairs the subcommittee that produced the provision without discussion. Heck’s office did not respond to requests for comment on the provision.”  [TP]  (emphasis added)

Members of the Armed Forces should welcome the amendment by Representative Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) which stripped Heck’s language from the appropriations bill, and was adopted by the committee on a 32-30 vote.

But wait, there’s more.

“The House voted 213-210 Thursday against an amendment that would have allowed Veterans Administration doctors to discuss medical marijuana with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and other conditions. Opponents of the amendment underscored marijuana’s federally illegal status and said veterans shouldn’t be prescribed pot for psychological problems.” [IBT]

Representative Heck voted in favor of the amendment, but Nevada Representatives Hardy and Amodei voted against it.  Perhaps Hardy and Amodei are clinging to the old War on Drugs theme, a stale leftover from those days when it seemed like every candidate for every office was running for county sheriff?

The amendment certainly wouldn’t have required the VA to prescribe marijuana or related products to veterans, but it would have aligned the services of the VA more closely with NRS 435A on the medical usage for marijuana.  The state of Illinois is currently hearing a report on studies related to the use of marijuana to assist in the treatment of PTSD.  The American Glaucoma Society isn’t thrilled with the side effects of marijuana, but acknowledges that it does reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) in glaucoma patients.

Contrary to the drum beating of the Old Drug Warriors, marijuana has been used successfully to treat moderate to severe “refractory spasticity” in multiple sclerosis patients, to alleviate loss of appetite associated with HIV/AIDS cachexia, and to inhibit chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting among cancer patients.

In short, given Representative Heck’s attempt to give a handout to the predatory lenders, and Old Drug Warriors Hardy and Amodei’s conviction that medical and marijuana don’t fit together – it wasn’t a complete loss of members of the Armed Forces and Veterans in the House, but it was a near thing.

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Filed under Amodei, Defense Department, Heck, Veterans

The Veterans and their Administration

Veterans PopulationThe Numbers Game: Issues pertaining to the management of Veterans Administration services have special meaning to 225,933 people in Nevada, 169,255 of whom served this country during war time, and 56,678 who served during peace time.  [VA actuary]  69,190 Nevadans served during the Gulf War era, 79,281 served in Vietnam, 20,462 served in Korea, and we have about 9,444 remaining veterans from World War II. [VA actuary]  Meanwhile, 13 years of operations in Afghanistan and in Iraq are adding to these numbers.

The United States deployed 2,333,972 people to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2001 and 2011, of whom 1,353,627 have since left the forces, and 711,896 used VA health care services between FY 2002 and FY 2011. [ABC] Veterans during the period 2008 to 2011 saw deployment time increased by 28%. [Rand pdf] The Iraq operations, we were told, could last “six days, six weeks, I doubt six years.”

“We don’t talk about deployments in the specific, but we have brought a good many Guard and Reserve on active duty. Fortunately, a great many of them were volunteers. We have been able to have relatively few stop losses. There are some currently, particularly in the Army, but relatively few in the Navy and the Air Force. And it is not knowable if force will be used, but if it is to be used, it is not knowable how long that conflict would last. It could last, you know, six days, six weeks. I doubt six months.” [Rumsfeld, Aviano Air Base February 7. 2003] 

We may not want to talk of deployments, but warfare creates veterans and the longer the warfare lasts the more veterans there will be.

Estimates during the debate over initiating operations in Iraq which projected totals over $3 trillion (Stiglitz) were dismissed out of hand. Instead Lawrence Lindsay, Chair of President Bush’s Council of Economic Advisers estimated the war might cost $200 billion at the most, but during the 2002 campaign season this projection was determined to be “shockingly high,” Lindsay was fired and replaced by Mitch Daniels who argued the Iraq war would cost no more than $50 to $60 billion.  [EconMonitor]

The $60 billion figure is dwarfed by the estimated $135 billion estimated as minimally necessary to provide services to veterans.

Making the situation even more tenuous for veterans, the Sequester budget deal cut  services from other agencies (HUD, Defense, Labor) for veterans while ostensibly leaving the VA untouched — except that “administrative costs” might be cut by 2%, and what constituted an “administrative cost” remained ambiguous. [WaPo]

The Management Game:  The VA Inspector General’s office has expanded its investigation to 26 VA facilities regarding allegations of falsified records and delayed care.  One former administrator in Phoenix, AZ offered his opinion that 40 veteran may have died while waiting for care.  To date no link has been established between the delays and those deaths. [ABC]  The lack of direct linkage notwithstanding, it is certainly possible that care delayed can all to easily become care denied.  Instead of listening to carping, finger pointing, and generally distasteful politicizing of the situation at the Veterans’ Administration, here’s what I’d rather hear from our pontificating pundits and politicians:

Reducing delays and other problems within the VA system, which have long be evident, may well require a significant shift in the way in which services are perceived and administered.

#1. Future Congressional calls for war or large military operations should be accompanied by calculations projecting a reasonable TOTAL cost of the actionsincluding services and benefits for veterans. As there should be an accounting for individuals who falsified records to artificially reduce wait times, there should be an accounting for those whose minimalist estimations for the cost of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan made those actions appear “affordable.”

The failure of the VA to provide timely services is a function of staffing and facilities, infrastructure which should be considered before we launch wars in which we have an option to defer, delay, or avoid action altogether.

#2. Administration of VA services should be predicated on veterans’ needs and not dubious or inappropriate management theories.  The VA is not a commercial or manufacturing entity. Its sole function is to provide customer/client services.  In this wise, the VA perspective ought to be one in which client service is acknowledged to be labor intensive, and hiring should be adjusted accordingly.

For example, while demand for VA care services has increased by 38%, the VA has hired only 9% more medical professionals.  Public-private partnerships with local medical service providers has been applied, and more such partnerships may be one part of a larger strategy to appropriately staff the facilities.   Actions by Senate Republicans who blocked a $24 billion veterans’ health bill in February  2014 which included funding for 27 new medical facilities are unhelpful. [Reuters] [Roll Call 46 – all 41 votes blocking  S. 1982 were cast by Republican Senators]

The treatment of and for veterans should reverse the perspective that all claims are “costs” and “cost containment” is an ultimately desirable institutional goal.  If one is manufacturing widgets for WalMart this might be an acceptable perspective, but we are not talking about a price driven retail commodity — we’re speaking of veterans who have been promised a level of support services (educational, medical, and employment) which have not been delivered on a timely basis.

The much maligned Internal Revenue Service is a far more trusting agency than the VA appears to be.  When I file my return electronically the IRS assumes I am being honest. I may be audited at some point in the future, but for the latest fiscal year the assumption is that I meant what I affirmed at the end of the document — that the return is the most honest and accurate it is within my power to provide.   The VA claims process might be improved by adopting the same attitude.

Unfortunately, the VA is giving the appearance of an institution for which a claim is as much an opportunity for fraud or misuse as it might be a legitimate request for service.  This attitude could quickly spawn a multi-layered bureaucracy  devoted to weeding out any untoward claims. It’s essentially the pre-ACA attitude of health insurance corporations which sought to deny as many claims as possible in order to manipulate its medical loss ratio.  This situation might have been predicted since politicians of every imaginable stripe have loudly proclaimed their affinity for rooting out “Waste, Fraud, and Abuse.”  In the instance of the VA all this cat-calling from the bleacher seats simply serves to reinforce the “cost containment” proclivities and diminish the “service to the client” perspective.

#3 The core of the manipulation problems in the Phoenix office is said to emanate from a bonus system for “meeting the numbers.”  I’ll have to admit to a jaundiced view of bonuses.  Bonuses are what you pay employees when you don’t want to pay them up front what they are really worth. It’s close to an analogy in which the cafe owner justifies sub-minimal wages because the wait staff receives tips.

No one should be particularly surprised when people emphasize on the job what the institution/company/corporation rewards.  If the company rewards speed in delivery, speed we will get — even if a NOAA drone is delivered by FedEx to the wrong address.  If the company/agency rewards fast service, then the service will be fast, and if that can’t be done in the real world then the numbers are fudged to gain the reward and make the boss happy in the bargain.  If the disturbing consequences of the testing furor in education has taught us nothing else, it should have told us that we will get what we measure, not necessarily what we want.

How much less traumatic might the problems with the VA be if we could admit to ourselves that there are immeasurable things which are nonetheless important to the delivery of competent and complete care for veterans and their families?

#4. Technology moves faster than our fingers.  Granted that the inability of computer data systems to share information quickly and accurately is a problem, especially it seems between Department of Defense and VA systems.  At some point we need to acknowledge the hard horrible fact that older stand-alone data systems were never designed to function in a file-sharing world.  No amount of patching or plugging is going to make them compatible.

Until we accept that if we want compatible systems we have to buy them.  They are expensive, they are complicated, and they are unintelligible to most voters — however, the old retail saw holds true — we will get what we are willing to pay for.

Meanwhile there are 225,933 veterans in Nevada who deserve to receive the educational, employment, and medical services they were promised when they signed on to serve us, and who deserve more than a political outrage du jour, and a brief turn in the media limelight.

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Filed under Veterans

No Thanks For Your Lip Service

Veterans DayAnother Veterans Day, another lesson in the difference between “Thank You for your service,” and “Thank You” for your service.  Bunting and bands are lovely.  Donated meals are a nice gesture, as are donations to the various organizations which assist veterans and their families.   However, as far as I’m concerned those who proudly plaster their windows and bumpers with “Support The Troops” displays while voting for members of the U.S. Congress who do not support appropriate improvements in services for veterans are merely giving lip service to those who’ve done us a real service.

As of the Census Bureau’s Statistical Abstract 2010 (pdf) there were 2,076,987 veterans in the United States, of whom 189,662 were disabled.  There are 27,386 veterans in Nevada, of whom 1,882 are disabled.   As we might obviously expect, most of our veterans were enlisted personnel.  {see table 510 CBSA pdf}

Putting Some Legislation Where Our Mouths Are?

So, who is supporting those veterans with legislation to improve the quality of their lives?  Let’s look at the dismal history of H.R. 466, initially introduced in the 111th Congress.   Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX35) put the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act in the hopper on January 13, 2009.  It passed the House on June 8, 2009.  The bill was sent to the Senate, where it went to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.   Nothing further was seen of the bill.

The bill, the Congressional summary of which is:

“Wounded Veteran Job Security Act – Expands the definition of “service in the uniformed services” for the purposes of uniformed servicemembers’ employment and reemployment rights to include a period for which a person is absent from a position of employment to obtain medical treatment for an injury or illness recognized as service connected by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs (VA), or for which a line-of-duty document has been granted by the Secretary of Defense (DOD). Directs such a person intending to return to a position of employment to notify the employer within a specified time period. Requires a person submitting an application for reemployment due to such an absence for medical treatment to provide the employer, upon request, with documentation to establish eligibility for reemployment, including a link between the injury or illness and the medical treatment obtained.”

seemed like a common sense piece of legislation. So, Rep. Doggett re-introduced it as H.R. 2875 in the 112th Congress.  This time it was referred to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. Jefferson Miller (R-FL) from which it never emerged.   Rep. Doggett kept trying.

In the 113th Congress the Wounded Veteran Job Security Act was numbered H.R. 1774, and was introduced in September 2013.  It was promptly sent to the Economic Opportunity subcommittee of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, chaired by Texas Republican Bill Flores (R-TX17).  No further action has been taken on H.R. 1774.

In short, a bill which would protect the job security of a veteran seeking  treatment for a service connected medical issue, can’t seem to get through the Republican controlled House of Representatives in the past two sessions.  Even GOP sponsored bills can’t seem to make it through the Congress — witness the sad tale of H.R. 1293 the Disabled Veterans Home Improvement and Structural Alteration Grant Increase Act of 2009.  The bill would increase the home modification funds for disabled veterans from $4,100 to $6,800.  [GovTrack] The bill passed the House 426-0 on July 28, 2009 — a person might have thought it had a chance in the divided, filibuster riddled,  Senate?  No, nothing happened.  See: [Veterans Guidebook to Opportunities and Benefits: How to Navigate the Funding Process and Services U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand New York 2013, download]

Unfortunately, these aren’t the only examples of our flag pin bedecked Congress members speaking one way and acting another.  On September 19, 2012 the IAVA was moved to outrage over the failure of a Jobs for Veterans bill blocked by a Republican filibuster in the Senate:

“Today, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation’s first and largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, expressed outrage at the Senate’s failure to pass the Veterans Job Corps Act (VJC) – which would help put thousands of young veterans back to work. With Congress shutting down to campaign, no employment legislation will pass until after the election. And with the unemployment rate officially at 10.9%, veterans across the country are left treading water while Congress blocks legislation with procedural tricks.”

Words which might apply just as well in November 2013 as in 2012.  Words are fine…some action would be preferable.

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Filed under Defense spending, Politics, Veterans

Thank You For Your Service, sort of

VeteransThe CBPP estimates that 11,300 veterans — that’s Veterans — in households receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits in Nevada will see benefits cut — that’s CUT — on November 1, 2013.

“The 2009 Recovery Act temporarily raised SNAP benefits as a form of effective economic stimulus and to reduce the hardship that low-income families faced during the recession.  This benefit increase is set to expire on November 1.  The coming benefit cut will reduce SNAP benefits, which are already modest, for all households by 7 percent on average, or about $10 per person per month.” [CBPP]

The assistance will drop back to less than about $1.40 per meal.  Again, the point remains that programs like SNAP are economic “automatic  stabilizers.”  At the risk of continual repetition, an automatic stabilizer is a financial augmentation in income designed to offset deflationary pressures during economic downturns.  In English, that would be money to offset income lost during recessions and depressions to keep the aggregate demand from succumbing to further contractions — leading to more contraction.  We know from analysis during the Great Recession of 2007-08 that those SNAP benefits created $1.73 in economic activity for every $1.00 expended.  [Moodys pdf]

And so now we have the Farm Bill stalled in conference between the House and Senate which would address SNAP related issues, and the two sides arguing about whether to cut yet another $35 billion from the food assistance program. [USAT]  This, in the face of the obvious point that the “Recovery” hasn’t been a general success for all levels of income earners.

“All told, average inflation-adjusted income per family climbed 6% between 2009 and 2012, the first years of the economic recovery. During that period, the top 1% saw their incomes climb 31.4% — or, 95% of the total gain — while the bottom 99% saw growth of 0.4%.”

Last year, the richest 10% received more than half of all income — 50.5%, or the largest share since such record-keeping began in 1917. Here is how the top earners break down: Top 1%: incomes above $394,000 in 2012; Top 5%: incomes between $161,000 and $394,000; Top 10%: incomes between $114,000 and $161,000.”  [Wall Street Journal]

The 1% have done very nicely, thank us all very much, while the remaining 99% — including those 11,300 Nevada veterans in low income brackets — have witnessed the income gap widen.  Thank you for your service…

The right wing response is generally, “Why don’tcha get off your lazy butt, get some job training, and find a better job?”  Well now, that might have been easier for some active duty military personnel had not the House/Senate GOP decided to shut down the federal government, including the office that processes military education benefits. [IHE]

The shutdown was a temporary tantrum, the Sequester (Budget Control Act) was more serious:

March 8, 2013: “Due to the current fiscal challenges, the Secretary of the Army has approved the suspension of Tuition Assistance (TA) effective 1700 EST Friday, 8 Mar 13. The suspension applies to all components and will remain effect until the fiscal situation matures.
Effective 1700 EST 8 Mar 13, Soldiers will no longer be permitted to submit new requests for Tuition Assistance through the GoArmyEd portal.”  [TDB]

There was sufficient outrage to move the Congress to reinstate Pentagon authority to restore the tuition assistance program by March 28, 2013. The U.S. military was ordered to find other areas in their budget to cut and to reopen enrollment in the TA program. [HuffPo]  Are we beginning to see a pattern here?

The Budget Blasters in the U.S. Congress are delighted to take very grand, or grandiose,  general positions like shutting down the government — but for Heaven’s Sake don’t shut down the World War II Memorial; and, cut all that fat from the federal budget — but for Heaven’s Sake don’t cut tuition assistance for members of the U.S. military.  A person could easily conclude that the Budget Blasters in Congress dislike federal spending on anything in general, but come to a screeching halt when we get down to the specifics in real federal functions.

The Senate Republicans successfully filibustered a bill in September 2012 to create a job training program for veterans which would have involved a relatively modest $1 billion in expenditures over a five year period.

“Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said GOP concerns were about the $1 billion price tag for the program over five years. Republicans described the proposal as a political ploy of no practical value. “If, in fact, we want to help veterans get jobs, there are lots of ways to do it,” Coburn said on the floor before the vote. “We need to make sure the job training programs we have are working, and they’re not.” [WaPo]

There might have been “lots of ways” for veterans to find job training programs in 2012, except that the Budget Control Act which Senator Coburn and others referred when filibustering the 2012 bill to death also shaved funding from other job training programs:

“Federal money for the primary training program for dislocated workers is 18 percent lower in today’s dollars than it was in 2006, even though there are six million more people looking for work now. Funds used to provide basic job search services, like guidance on résumés and coaching for interviews, have fallen by 13 percent.” [NYT April 2012]

One year on, and the same squeeze was observed by the National Skills Coalition which issued its report on the impact of diminished support for job training programs in July 2013, including this conclusion:

“Over the past three years, Congress has cut funding to employment and job training programs by over $1 billion. Sequestration and spending caps will result in further cuts for the next decade. In addition, some in Congress are proposing additional, even deeper cuts that will worsen the existing skills gap and make it difficult for businesses to grow and compete globally.” [NSC]

Excuse the impertinent inquiry — but job training programs have already been cut by $1 billion as a result of Sequestration and spending caps, and the Congressional Republicans have blocked more targeted programs for training veterans, so exactly where are veterans supposed to go for help once they are home and trying to transition back into the civilian economy?  If Senator Coburn believes there are “lots of ways to do it” then perhaps he’d care to point out where the federal government is poised to give the assistance to veterans they need to improve their job skills?

“Thank you for your service” is a hollow bromide, with little more staying power than those cheap yellow ribbon car magnets, unless we are ready and willing as a nation to assist veterans with educational programs, job training skills, and some basic resources — like Food! — so that they can fully contribute to  our economy.

Meanwhile, some 11,300 Nevada low income veterans who are struggling to put food on the table are about to be hit with another blow from the authors of the great American con job, those espousing the notion that we can get everything we want, we just shouldn’t have to pay for it.  And the 1% keep rolling along…

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Filed under Economy, Nevada economy, Nevada politics, Politics