Thursday, February 14, 2013

Great episode of Whitney

Whitney was back with a new episode.

It was Lily's best episode since last year.  (I think her personal best was when Mark got her to break some plates of Roxanne.  But there were many other strong season one moments.)


She, Mark and Roxanne walk into Alex and Whitney's living room.

Lily:  A deli tray?  Are we having Roxanne's intervention?  I didn't finish writing my letter.

Roxanne: They don't serve foods at interventions.

Everyone looks at Roxanne.

Roxanne: I have heard.


They needed to borrow Alex's car.  How come?  They were headed to Costco.

After Roxanne and Mark walk out first, Lily explains what's happening.


Lily: Hey, I arranged this whole shopping trip to get Mark and Roxanne together.  It's going to be their first date -- but they don't know it.


Whitney: Oh.

Alex: At a warehouse store?

Lily: Yeah.

Alex: Why don't you just take them anywhere else?


And in the car, after Costco, Lily was hilarious whispering suggestions to Mark and Roxanne and trying to set a mood.

Whitney Cummings was also very funny in this episode.  More that anytime else this season.

This is the sort of episode that made me love this show to begin with.


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"



Thursday, February 14, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, Nouri's Iraq releases a journalist, the Justice and Accountability Commission removes the Chief Justice, the UK Labour Party works hard to say 'we're a different Labour Party than a decade ago,' and more. 

Starting in England where Politics UK noted early today:


A new approach to intervening in foreign countries will be set out by Labour as the shadow Defence Secretary, Jim Murphy, accuses David Cameron of failing to learn the lessons from Tony Blair’s mistakes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Ten years after the Iraq War, Labour will attempt to further distance itself from a conflict which alienated many voters by warning against the “ideological” crusade against al-Qa’ida favoured by Mr Blair and Mr Cameron.

In his speech today, Murphy declared:

Just as important is the need to understand the culture and character of a specific country. A primitive understanding of the Afghan population, culture and geography prior to our intervention severely undermined attempts to work with proxies and our political strategy was in its conception insufficiently representative. In Iraq there was a serious deficit in Western comprehension of the Sunni-Shia or intra-Shia dynamics.
There is rightly much discussion of ungoverned spaces, but this means absence of a central authority rather than a non-existence of local power-brokers who must be navigated. Extremists often understand this and so must we.
Associated to this, as we all now know, the physical disconnection of a ‘Green Zone’ or an ‘inside the wire’ mentality can impede communication or cultural empathy. Diplomatic compounds, equally, can be isolated from local communities, restricting the relationships necessary to understand communities.
The final lesson I want to mention is the need to understand the interests of the Forces with whom we co-operate, not just our enemy. They will have their own interests - and not necessarily those of the central authority. It took too long for us to see the training of the ANA and ANP as a strategic priority, and we know that de-Ba’athification left a lethal vacuum in Iraq. When the UK plays a role in training local or regional forces, it is essential we view them not just as auxiliaries but as partners who can inform the strategy behind our operations.

And Murphy's remarks in the speech can be paired with what Labour's Douglas Alexander tells Andrew Sparrow (Guardian) in an interview today:
Q: You mentioned Iraq. Over the last 10 years, have you changed your view of that conflict and the British involvement in it?
A: Well, of course I regret the loss of life and accept that there was a loss of trust that followed. Had any of us who were in the House of Commons at the time known then what we know now, that the weapons of mass destruction weren't there, we wouldn't have voted, indeed there wouldn't have been a vote. So of course our understanding of the situation deepened and changed because the evidence pointed against the existence of weapons of mass destruction when the weapons inspectors did their work in Iraq after the conflict.
Q: It was clear within six months of the conflict that the weapons had not been found. But the way events have panned out of the following 10 years has, for many people, changed their views of the rights and wrongs of the conflict.
A: Sure, if you look at the ledger with a 10-year perspective, the negatives outweigh the positives. Of course, I don't regret the removal of Saddam Hussein, the relative safety of the Kurds compared with their previous position. But given the lack of post-conflict planning, the insurgency that followed the action in 2003, of course the negatives outweigh the positives in my judgment.

The remarks come one day before the tenth anniversary of the largest protest London ever saw -- and there were protests all over England February 15, 2003 -- not just in London.  The demonstrators were calling for the march to illegal war to be halted.  Laurie Penny reflects  in "Ten years ago we marched against the Iraq War and I learned a lesson in betrayal" (New Statesman):


Ten years ago this month, millions of people all over the world marched against the war in Iraq – and were ignored. I was one of them. For me, at the age of 16, there were a lot of firsts on 15 February 2003: first truancy, first solo trip to London, first time seeing democracy rudely circumvented.
Tony Blair’s decision to take Britain into the Americans’ war in Iraq was an immediate, material calamity for millions of people in the Middle East. I’m writing here, though, about the effect of that decision on the generation in the west who were children then and are adults now. For us, the sense of betrayal was life-changing. We had thought that millions of people making their voices heard would be enough and we were wrong.

The Week's Matthew Clark also reflects in "Lest we forget: anti-Iraq war protesters were in the right:"

Supporters of military intervention in Iraq, both then and since, have variously smeared the protesters for being pro-Saddam, anti-American, fellow-travellers of totalitarianism and jihadism, political ingénues and Chamberlain-style 'appeasers'.
Alastair Campbell, the ruthless and cynical apparatchik who did so much to promote the war, wrote contemptuously in his diary of encountering "no end of people coming back from the march, placards under their arms, faces full of self-righteousness, occasional loathing when they spotted me".
Shortly before the march, his boss Tony Blair made the characteristically grandiose and narcissistic observation that unpopularity was "the price of leadership and the cost of conviction" and insisted that there would be "bloody consequences" if Saddam was not "confronted".

The protests didn't stop the war but they do exist to serve notice that not everyone believed the lies, that everyone wasn't wrong and that 'no one could have guessed.'  They prove false the claims by War Hawks and other cowardly leaders that they were using the best available data to make their decisions.  As Mehdi Hasan (New Statesman) observes:
It isn’t the size of our demonstration that those of us against the war should be proud of, it is our judgement. Our arguments and predictions turned out to be correct and those of our belligerent opponents were discredited. Remember the rhetoric? There was “no doubt” that the invaders would “find the clearest possible evidence of Saddam’s weap­ons of mass destruction” (Blair) as well as evidence of how Iraq had “provided training in these weapons [of mass destruction] to al-Qaeda” (Colin Powell); the foreign troops would be “greeted as liberators” (Dick Cheney); “the establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East” would be “a watershed event in the global democratic revolution” (George W Bush).


Those protesting around the world a decade ago included people who hoped the rallies and marches would stop the Iraq War from starting, it included people who thought it might make a difference, it included people who felt it would make no difference but wanted to be on the record that a war on Iraq would be an illegal crime, it included people with a number of beliefs.  And it had an impact.  Tuesday on Mornings with Steve Austin (Australia's ABC -- link is audio), Austin spoke with Just Peace's Annette Brownlie.  She was one of the organizers of the Brisbane march ten years ago that drew between 700,000 and 1,000,000 participants.  As with the London protest in England, the Brisbane march was only one of the protests taking place in Australia that day. 


 Steve Austin:  You started protesting at the age of 16 against the Vietnam War.  Does it sadden you that this type of protest is still necessary but still appears to be ineffective?

Annette Brownlie:  It saddens me that it's still necessary, for sure.  You know, in an ideal lifetime, you would see the fruits of your labor.  But, you know, history isn't like that, is it?  It's sometimes  the really big paradigm shifts in human thinking take much longer than one person's lifetime.  And you think about slavery and just how long it took for people to accept that this was wrong.  Think about women's right to vote, it took a long time for that to take off.  And I'm, you know, I see what we do in the peace movement as being a continuum.  And at some point, we're going to realize that wars, indiscriminate killing of people, is a crime and it doesn't achieve what you want and it's criminal activity. 

The protests didn't stop the illegal war but they did object to it and the objection continues to this day.  Which is why, for example, Labour scrambles today.  The three in power and pushing the Iraq War destroyed their political parties.  In the US, Bully Boy Bush destroyed the Republican Party.  It lost the White House and is a joke today no matter what.  I'm not saying all their actions today deserve to be derided but I am saying the illegal war and their part in selling it has had an effect not just with the people but also with the press.  (For an example, see Elaine noting how NPR's trying to rewrite Senator Susan Collns.)  In England, Tony Blair was in power.  And when he left, Labour should have remained in power for years.  But the illegal war -- and their inability to address it publicly -- has meant Labour has scrambled for votes in an economic downturn that would normally have many flocking to them.  They are paying the political price for the illegal war.   In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard's Liberal Democratic Party remains in shambles for his selling of the Iraq War.   His party scrambles the same way the Republicans do, the same way Labour is doing.  In Australia, he was replaced with Kevin Rudd -- and Rudd was replaced Julia Gillard -- both are members of Australia's Labor Party.

Of the three countries, England's protesters have had the most impact.  Sue Wareham (Age) called this week for an Iraq inquiry in Australia:

Britain and the Netherlands have both conducted such inquiries, revealing much that was hidden in those countries' Iraq war decision-making. Of course, the government and opposition will resist, counting on the resignation many felt for the past decade to shield them from public pressure. But the demand for an inquiry into what happened 10 years ago can sow the seeds for a democratic capacity to ensure it never happens again.
Instead of simply looking back in horror at how Australia became embroiled in such an ill-conceived and catastrophic conflict, the inquiry would seek to identify the steps that led to Australia participating in the invasion of Iraq, in order to understand the lessons to be learnt and how to ensure we follow better procedures in the future.

 England has had multiple inquiries into the war -- the start of it and actions during it.  And now Labour has to work to woo voters.  Contrast that with the US where Dick Cheney's Deputy National Security Advisor is now the spokesperson for the US State Dept.  Victoria Nuland is a War Hawk from a family of neocon War Hawks.  So why does she represent the State Dept in Barack Obama's administration?

Remember Blackwater's massacre in September 2007?  From the Monday, September 17, 2007 snapshot:

Turning to the issue of violence, Sahar Issa (McClatchy Newspapers) reported Sunday that  a Baghdad shooting (by private contractors) killed 9 Iraqi civilians and left fifteen more wounded. Later on Sunday, CNN reported, "In the Baghdad gun battle, which was between security forces and unidentified gunmen, eight people were killed and 14 wounded, most of them civilians, an Interior Ministry official said. Details were sketchy, but the official said witnesses told police that the security forces involved appeared to be Westerners driving sport utility vehicles, which are usually used by Western companies. The clash occurred near Nisoor square, in western Baghdad.  CBS and AP report that Abdul-Karim Khalaf, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry, announced "it was pulling the license of an American security firm allegedly involved in the fatal shooting of civilians during an attack on a U.S. State Department motorcade in Baghdad," that "it would prosecute any foreign contractors found to have used excessive force" in the slaughter (eight dead, 13 wounded) and they "have canceled the license of Blackwater and prevented them from working all over Iraqi territory." 


17 dead and twenty injured would be the final tolls.  That didn't stop Gwen Ifill from finding the incident amusing on PBS.  From the October 8, 2007 snapshot:

Over the weekend on PBS' Washington Week (or Washington Weak) Linda Robinson of US News and World Reports decided to chat and chew the topic with star Gwen:
 
Linda Robinson:  Well Blackwater has about 800 people who are primarily providing bodyguard service to the embassy personnel.  And there are about, well there are some thousands of other contractors doing this exact kind of job.  So they're moving around the city in convoys and they apply very aggressive tactics in general.  There are some who are alleging that Blackwater in particular uses much more aggressive tactics.  But let's just set the stage a little bit.  Very, very violent city.  You're driving around, bombs are going off, at any unpredicted time.  So what happens is these convoy drivers uses a tactic: they throw things at people, they sound their horns their sirens if you don't get out of the way they will shoot.  So Iraqi drivers generally pull over as soon as they see a convoy.  The problem is SUVs cannot readily be identified often from a distance --
 
Gwen Ifill: Yeah, how do you know it's a convoy?  How do you know it's not the military?  How do you know -- tell the difference?
 
That's the problem.  Washington Weak tells you that's the problem.  For the record, Robinson informs Gwen that it's very obvious when it's the military and it's only confusing when it comes to civilian contractors.  So the question is, were Linda Robinson or Gwen to be walking to their cars at the start of the day and a car came zooming through with those in it throwing things at them, would they see that as a problem?  Should Jon Stewart attempt to find out for The Daily Show?  In fact, it shouldn't even be a surprise.  Gwen and Robinson should volunteer for it to prove what good sports they are.  After ten to fifteen minutes of drive-bys where water bottles are hurled at them (the mildest object usually cited in press reports) from speeding cars, let's see their smiling, bruised (possibly bloodied?) faces and find out whether they now think that "the problem" includes a great deal more than being able to tell if a convoy is approaching?  What's really appalling is Robinson admits to being selective in her report explaining that's why she "set up" because, apparently, reporters are not supposed to show any sympathy for the civilian populations they are allegedly covering but instead are supposed to be act as a p.r. hack for multi-billion dollar corporations.  And the chat and chew only got worse as it was wondered if this was all just sour grapes due to Blackwater's "success"?


How embarrassing was that broadcast -- which did include laughter at the assault?  So embarrassing that Gwen's vanished it from the show's archives -- even on YouTube.  That doesn't erase it from collective memory nor does it make it okay.  Rule of thumb for Gwen -- and Nuland as well -- when Iraqis die, take it seriously.  Your job shouldn't be to make excuses for the attackers.

Nuland's repeatedly attacked Iraqi protesters, insisted they were violent and done real damage on the topic.  Yet the only deaths in protests have come at the hands of Nouri's forces.  From the January 26, 2013 snapshot:

Friday, Nouri al-Maliki's armed thugs in Falluja fired on protesters killing at least seven (Alsumaria reported another of the victims has died from wounds raising the death toll)  and sixty more were left injured.  Alsumaria notes the Iraq's Literary Federation and the Association for Defending Press Freedom and the General Union of Writers have all called for the protection of the protesters, decried the violence and are calling for early elections.  Uday Hadim (Association for Defending Press Freedom) states that putting the military out there was a mistake to begin with and now the government and the Parliament must tender the resignations and early elections must take place under the supervision of the United Nations.   Writer Fahmi Saleh points out that the Constitution guarantees Iraqis the right to demonstrate and protest. In the KRG, Alsumaria reports, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (Iraqi President Jalal Talabani's political party) has called on Nouri to remove the military from protests and to show restraint.  All Iraq News notes that the Kurdistan bloc in Parliament also condemned the assault and called for Nouri to stop using the military on internal issues.  They also note that the National Alliance (Shi'ite grouping of various slates -- including Nouri's State of Law but I'm sure they're not part of this) is calling for a prompt and thorough investigation into the shootings.  Alsumaria notes Iraqiya announced they will boycott all upcoming Parliamentary votes that are not a no-confidence vote or votes addressing the demands of the protesters.

Alsumaria reports that the military was withdrawn from Falluja Saturday. Kamal Naama Suadad al-Salhy, Ahmed Rasheed, Patrick Markey, Andrew Roche and Jason Webb (Reuters) quoted Mustafa Jamal, the brother on one of the 7 shot dead by the military yesterday, stating, "Withdrawing the army from the city is not enough, I do not know how this will benefit me and it won't get my brother back."   The dead and wounded were taken to Falluja General Hospital [. . .].  Al Mada noted that Falluja residents descended on the hospital in large numbers to donate blood.  Kamal Naama Suadad al-Salhy, Ahmed Rasheed, Patrick Markey, Andrew Roche and Jason Webb (Reuters) report that "thousands" turned out for the five funerals in Fallluja Saturday.  Al Mada adds that the mourners chanted and marches calling for soldiers who executed the 7 citizens to be handed over.  Mohammed Tawfeeq and Chelsea J. Carter (CNN -- link is text and video) reported that Sheikh Ahmed Abu Risha who is a tribal leader and a Sawha leader delivered a statement on television Saturday in which he "gave Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government seven days to hand over to Anbar's criminal court those involved in the shootings."   Today the Sheikh tells Al Mada that he believes the violence was premeditate and planned because Nouri had declared on TV that the demonstration would be targeted.   BBC News adds, "Sunni leaders in Anbar province, where Fallujah is located, had earlier told the BBC that they would attack army positions in the province if the government failed to bring the soldiers responsible for the protester shootings 'to justice'." 

Now here's Icky Vicky Nuland on January 25th, the day of the assualt.

QUESTION: A very quick question: According to reports, five protestors got killed today in Fallujah, Iraq. Have – are you able to confirm – during protests by the Iraqi security forces.

MS. NULAND: I’m not in a position to confirm numbers, but I will say that we are concerned about the use of deadly force during today’s protests in Iraq. We understand that the Iraqi Government has now issued a statement indicating that they are initiating a very prompt investigation into the incidents, and that they have called for restraint by security forces. We obviously stand ready to assist in that investigation if asked, but we would also say that as the government and government forces show restraint, the demonstrators also have a responsibility to exercise their right to protest in a nonviolent manner, as well as to continue to press their demands through the political process.


The government, Icky Vicky rushed to assure, and its forces were "showing restraint."  7 people dead.  What does she consider 'letting the gates open' to be?

Today Human Rights Watch calls for  a real investigation into the assault and they note:


According to witnesses who spoke with Human Rights Watch, shortly after noon on January 25, about 10 soldiers at an army checkpoint prevented people from reaching a sit-in site. A Fallujah resident who attended the January 25 sit-in, who asked to be identified only as Abu Rimas, said that the soldiers verbally provoked a group of demonstrators as they were walking near the highway toward the sit-in. Abu Rimas said the demonstrators numbered in the hundreds: The demonstrators were walking past the checkpoints, at a distance, and the soldiers started yelling at us. They said, “Why are you coming here to demand the release of the whores [referring to female detainees] and terrorists? You are terrorists.” This provoked the demonstrators and many of them started throwing rocks at the army, and [the army] opened fire. Some of them opened fire right away, into the air . . . but some of the soldiers fired into the crowd.
He said the demonstrators were close enough to hear the soldiers yelling, but far enough away that none of the thrown rocks reached the checkpoint.

Victoria Nuland had nothing to say today about Iraq.  She wasn't asked about it at the brief State Dept press briefing and she certainly didn't volunteer anything. 

Strange because if Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy were declared a 'terrorist' this morning and removed from the bench, seems like that would be news.  That's what happened to Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud who is also the President of the Iraqi Higher Judicial Council.  Alsumaria reports 'independent' MP Sabah al-Saadi has accused Medhat al-Mahmoud of "crimes against humanity."   Ayad al-Tamimi (Al Mada) reports that the laughable Justice and Accountability Commission  has removed the judge from office.  He's a 'Ba'athist,' a criminal.
Returning to the topic of the protesters, Shafaq News points out, "Demonstrations and sit-ins still continue in Iraq in protest against Maliki's policies, as the sit-in in Ramadi had entered its 56 day.  Maliki's government is witnessing recently protests in several areas, including Anbar, Fallujah, Kirkuk, Samarra, Mosul and a number of neighborhoods in Baghdad to demand reforms and cancel laws that prohibit some from participating in the political process, as well as cancelling Article 4 of Anti-Terrorism Act and release detainees especially women detainees and achieve balance in the institutions of the state."  Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times) is back in Iraq and offers this take on the protests:

Something has broken. Much of Iraq's minority Sunni Muslim population appears to have run out of patience with Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, a religious Shiite Muslim who has ruled since 2006. In recent weeks, Sunnis by the thousands have carried out a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, closing off the main roads to Fallouja and Ramadi in the west and mounting demonstrations in Samarra, Baghdad and Mosul.
The rallies are a testament to problems left unresolved when the U.S. military campaign ended here, and to the new tension that has spread throughout the Middle East. Angry citizens of other countries have overthrown entrenched rulers through street protests or armed revolt. In neighboring Syria, Sunnis have risen up as well, forming the backbone of the insurgency against President Bashar Assad.
Though the protests have taken Iraq by surprise, they were triggered by two events no different from many in recent years that have left Sunnis feeling like second-class citizens: news reports about the rape of a woman in prison and the arrest of a local politician's bodyguards. But the original causes no longer matter; they have mushroomed into a larger outrage.


Meanwhile coalitions are forming.  All Iraq News notes that Ahmed Chalabi and KRG President Massoud Barzani have talked and are saying partnership is the only way to resolve the political crises.  Also partnering up were Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ammar al-Hakim.  All Iraq News reports that the National Alliance head and the head of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq held a joint-press conference last night to
. . . announce their love?  They didn't repeat anything new.  Mainly Ammar layered praise upon praise on Ibahim al-Jaafari. 

That won't end the political crises or the violence but the two men may have provided a chuckle or two.  Iraq Body Count counts 155 dead from violence through Wednesday.  The violence continues today, All Iraq News notes a Mosul home invasion that left 2 brothers dead -- one a soldier, the other a police officer.  The soldier was part of the security detail for Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi.  In addition, the outlet notes a Mosul bombing has left 2 police officers dead and a third injured.  Alsumaria notes another Mosul bombing which left one civilian injured (his legs were amputated) and 1 cleric was shot dead in Kirkuk.




AFP reports, "French-Australian journalist Nadir Dendoune has been released from an Iraqi prison after three weeks in custody, Iraqi and French sources said Thursday.  The 40-year-old reported was jailed in January after taking 'unauthorised' photos in Baghdad."  As I pointed out when I filled in for Ruth last week, he's French.  He was very vocal about that in a BBC report -- on tensions in France, alienation among the Muslim community.  October 31, 2005, he asked the BBC, "How am I supposed to feel French when people always describe me as a Frenchman of Algerian origin?"  -- over five years ago.  Dropping back to the February 8th snapshot:


Alsumaria reports Nadir Dendoune appeared before Baghdad's Criminal Court today wearing a jacket, jeans and handcuffed.  Who?  Good question because Nadir's not supposed to exist.  Just Saturday, Karin Laub and Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) reported  Nouri declared, "There are no detained journalists or politicians."  But Nadir Dencoune was 'deatined' and had been for weeks.  From the January 29th snapshot:


 
As we noted this morning, Nadir  Dendoune, who holds dual Algerian and Australian citizenship was covering Iraq for the fabled French newspaper Le Monde's monthly magazine.  His assignment was to document Iraq 10 years after the start of the Iraq War.   Alsumaria explains the journalist was grabbed by authorities in Baghdad last week for the 'crime' of taking pictures.  (Nouri has imposed a required permit, issued by his government, to 'report' in Iraq.)  All Iraq News adds the journalist has been imprisoned for over a week now without charges.



Nadir is the latest journalist to be targeted in Nouri's Iraq.   A petition calling for his release has already gathered 15,594 signatures and a Facebook page has been created to show support for himThe Journalistic Freedoms Observatory in Iraq, Reporters Without Borders and The Committee to Protect Journalists have called for his release.


Arnaud Baur (Le Parisien) reports his sister Houria spoke with him today and he told her he was at the French Embassy in Baghdad, that he has freedom of movement there and has thanked everyone but he does not yet know when he'll be able to leave Baghdad.  Remi Yacine (El Watan) counts 22 days of imprisonment for Nadir.  The Voice of Russia states he is "freed on bail."  Reporters Without Borders released a statement which includes:

“The announcement of Dendoune’s release is an immense relief after 23 days of worry,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “He was arrested simply for doing his work as a journalist. A campaign by his family and fellow journalists in France and Iraq has borne fruit. Reporters Without Borders thanks all the journalists who signed the petition for his release launched by RWB and the support committee.”
Dendoune arrived in Iraq on 16 January to do a series of reports for the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique and the magazine Le Courrier de l’Atlas. According to the French foreign ministry, he was arrested near a water treatment plant in the southwest Baghdad neighbourhood of Dora while out reporting on 23 January.






Moving over to the United States . . .

Dr. David Rudd: I've included in my testimony the tragic suicide of Russell Shirley.  I spoke with Russell's mother over the course of the last month.  I've spoken with one of his dear friends.  And I think Russell is probably typical of the problem -- the tragic problem which will occur over the coming years.  Russell was a son, a husband, a father.  He was a soldier.  He served his country proudly and bravely in Afghanistan.  He survived combat.  He came home struggling with PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury.  With a marriage in crisis and escalating symptoms, he turned to alcohol.  He received a DUI and, after ten years of dedicated service, he was discharged.  And part of the rationale for the discharge was the increasing pressure to reduce the size of the force.  I think we're going to see more and more of that over the coming years.  After the loss of his family, the loss of his career and the loss of his identity, Russell shot himself in front of his mother.  Having spoken with Russell, I would tell you  -- or having spoken with Russell's mother -- I would tell you that a part of the tragedy is that we knew that Russell was at risk prior to his death.  We recognized, identified him as an at-risk soldier prior to his discharge, but yet there were not adequate transitional services in place that allow a clean connection from an individual to an individual.  And I think those are the sort of things we need to start talking about, we need to start thinking about.  How do we connect at-risk soldiers -- once we identify them and they're being discharged -- particularly if they're being discharged against their -- against their wishes -- into the VA system and how do we connect them with an individual and not just with a system?  How do we help them connect in a relationship that can potentially save a life?  I've included a picture of Russell with his two children at the end of my [written] testimony.  And the reason I've done that is I think it's important for all of us.  When I read the Suicide Data Report, the one thing that is missing in the Suicide Data Report are the names of the individuals, the names of the families, the names of the loved ones that are affected and impacted by these tragedies.  And I think it's important for all of us to remember that.

Rudd was speaking before the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday as they explored mental health care issues.  He was on the first panel along with the Wounded Warrior Project's Ralph Ibson, the Disabled American Veterans' Joy Ilem and Connecticut's Commissioner of Veterans Affairs Linda Spoonster Schwartz.  Rudd spoke of Russell Shirley's forced discharge and the loss of identity that took place as a result.   Linda Spoonster Schwartz picked up on that theme.

Linda Spoonster Schwartz:  The President's message last night [Barack Obama's State of the Union address] that we're going to have all of these people coming down.  He [Rudd] mentioned  a very important point -- some of these people who have joined, you have an all volunteer force who has joined.  They intended to make this their career and now you have a drawdown and that is a loss of identity.  As a disabled veteran, I had to leave military service and I had a long time finding a new identity.


What she went through, what Russell Shirley went through, is happening for a number of veterans right now and is about to happen for even more.  Dr. Rudd portrayed Russell Shirley as someone the military knew, prior to the discharge, would be someone who would struggle with the discharge.  If they knew ahead of time and still couldn't tailor some program for him, what does that say about their ability to help those whose problems emerge at a later date?

Chair Jeff Miller:  Last night the President announced that 34,000 service members currently serving in Afghanistan are going to be back home.  The one-size-fits-all path the Department is on leaves our veterans with no assurance that current issues will abate and fails to recognize that adequately addressing the mental health needs of our veterans is a task that VA cannot handle by themselves.  In order to be effective, VA must embrace an integrated care delivery model that does not wait for veterans to come to them but instead meets them where the veteran is.  VA must stand ready to treat our veterans where and how our veterans want to be treated -- not just where and how VA wants to treat them.  I can tell you this morning that our veterans are in towns and cities and communities all across this great land.  The care that they want is care that recognizes and respects their own unique circumstances, their preferences and their hopes.


Spoonster Schwartz noted that veterans sought care that was closest and that might mean skipping the VA if it was sixty miles away.  She also noted that veterans had more access -- outside the office -- to a private sector doctor than to a veterans doctor

"Something somewhere is clearly missing," House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Jeff Miller observed at the start of the hearing.   US House Rep Mike Michaud is the Ranking Member on the Committee.


Ranking Member Mike Michaud:  Over the years we have held numerous hearings, increased funding and passed legislation in an effort to address the challenges of our veterans from all eras.  VA spent $6.2 billion on mental health programs in Fiscal Year 2012.  I hope to see some positive progress that this funding has been applied to the goals and outcomes for which it was intended and the programs are really working.  We all know that mental health is a significant problem that the nation is facing now -- not only in the VA but throughout our population.  In the broader challenges is an opportunity for the VA to look outside its walls to solve some of the challenges that they face rather than operate in a vacuum as they sometimes have done in the past. One of the most pressing mental health problems that we face is the issue of suicide and how to prevent it.  Fiscal Year 2012 tragically saw an increase in military suicides for the third time in four years.  The number of suicides surpassed the number of combat deaths.  Couple that with the number of suicides in the veterans' population of 18 to 22 per day and the picture becomes even more alarming.




Still on the issue of health care and veterans,  Senator Patty Murray is now the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and her office issued the following today:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, February 14, 2013
CONTACT:  Murray 202-224-2834
Tester 202-228-0371
Murray, Tester Introduce Bill to Expand Health Care for CHAMPVA Children
Would raise maximum age for CHAMPVA eligibility to 26 to bring program into parity with Affordable Care Act
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced legislation to adjust current eligibility requirements for children who receive health care under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act a child may stay on a parent’s health insurance plan to age 26. However, children who are CHAMPVA beneficiaries lose their eligibility for coverage at age 23, if not before. The legislation introduced today by Sens. Murray and Tester would raise the maximum age for CHAMPVA eligibility to age 26 in order to bring eligibility under the VA program into parity with the private sector.
“As more and more servicemembers return home from Afghanistan, CHAMPVA will continue playing a vital role in caring for veterans’ loved ones,” said Senator Murray. “In our ongoing commitment to keep the faith with our nation’s heroes, this bill ensures CHAMPVA recipients, without regard to their type of coverage, student status, or marital status, are eligible for health care coverage under their parent’s plan in the same way as their peers.”
"Allowing young folks to stay on their parents' health insurance until they turn 26 gives them a chance to finish school or start their careers without worrying what happens if they get sick,” said Senator Tester. “This bill makes sure that the children of our most selfless citizens have access to the same care as the rest of the country."
“MOAA strongly supports VA-sponsored health coverage for eligible adult children of CHAMPVA beneficiaries,” said VADM Norb Ryan, USN-ret., President, Military Officers Association of America. Such coverage is mandated in law to be made available for every other qualifying adult child across the nation and only a technical adjustment to the VA statute is needed to extend it to the grown kids of our nation’s heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.”
“The DAV applauds Senators Murray and Tester for introducing legislation we strongly support, which would grant adult children of beneficiaries of the Civilian Health and Medical Program of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) eligibility for continuing health benefits through age 26,” said Disabled American Veterans National Commander Larry Polzin. “DAV believes children of severely disabled veterans and of veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice in defense of our nation should be able to enjoy the same comfort and peace of mind of having health coverage into their young adult years as every other child in our great nation.”
“This legislation is critical to ensure that dependent children of severely disabled veterans are afforded the same health care protection as all other children,” said Paralyzed Veterans of America President Bill Lawson. “It is simply unacceptable that the only children who do not have the benefit of extended health care coverage are those children of the men and women who have sacrificed the greatest.”
CHAMPVA is a VA health insurance program that provides coverage for certain eligible dependents and survivors of veterans rated permanently and totally disabled from a service-connected condition. CHAMPVA is a cost-sharing program that reimburses providers and facilities a determined allowable amount, minus patient copayments and deductible. Once a veteran becomes VA-rated permanently and totally disabled for a service-connected disability, the veteran's spouse and dependents are then eligible to enroll in CHAMPVA.

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Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834
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