Today is our 3,908th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,009
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,040
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 343, 894, 000, 000 .00
It's a little thin on the veteran's front this week, so we'll actually turn to our friends at IAVA for their fine Daily Briefing.
Starting in Washington, there's yet another hearing on military suicides.
It's always been an issue, but at no time in our history has the rate been as high as it is now.
A conference scheduled for next week in Washington on suicide among U.S. military personnel and veterans has taken on new importance in light of reports showing active duty suicides to date are outpacing last year’s numbers.
The annual meeting, scheduled for June 20-23, will bring top officials, including Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, VA Undersecretary for Health Dr. Robert Petzel and others together to discuss the topic.
“The goal of the conference is to provide basic information, research findings and share best practices in the realm of suicide prevention, different interventions, post-ventions and surveillance activities,” said Jackie Garrick, head of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office.
The Associated Press reported 154 suicides among active duty personnel as of June 3, nearly one a day for the year and 24 more than occurred between Jan. 1 to June 3, 2011.
According to AP and service figures, the Marine Corps and Army have seen a slight uptick, with the Marine Corps having 18, the Army, 80. The Air Force has seen a sharp increase, up 32 from 23 at the same time last year. The Navy has seen a slight dip after experiencing a rising trend in the past few years.
The conference is the fourth on suicide prevention hosted by the Defense Centers of Excellence.
Something as simple as increased services might help with the suicide rate, but after decades of neglect, the Veteran's Administration network of hospitals is badly overwhelmed. There have been some attempts to resolve the issue, but like all government work, it's fraught with overruns and delays.
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Today, Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, issued the following statement regarding the construction of the new Orlando Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center, which will serve approximately 300,000 veterans and is already two years behind schedule:
“VA has painted a rosy picture for the public and the veterans of Florida for the past two years regarding the construction of the long-overdue Orlando Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. VA’s confidence in the timely and on-budget completion of this project was so great that it devoted ‘bid savings’ from this project for use elsewhere around the country. Needless to say, that confidence has given way to a somber reckoning of serious delays and potential cost-overruns.
“A Contract Cure Notice issued today by the Department of Veterans Affairs has the potential to stop construction at the Orlando site and increase the costs moving forward exponentially, if a resolution is not reached. The Committee was assured by VA officials on March 27, and again on May 18 of this year, that VA was working collaboratively with the contractor to ensure issues surrounding the construction of the facility would be resolved and the new timeline set forth by VA would be met. That was clearly not the case.
“This project has been a multi-million dollar debacle, and a failure of this magnitude deserves accountability at the highest level. Unfortunately, we have seen this pattern before. VA management and oversight of large construction and IT projects across the country has been sorely lacking and fraught with incompetence.
“The current situation in Orlando is inexcusable. Pointing fingers and laying blame will not build the medical center the veterans of Central Florida deserve. I expect answers immediately from VA on the status and cost of this project, and the implication of today’s decision on the delivery of care and services to our veterans.”
But that's only half the problem....when there are actually sufficient services for veterans, there's often confusion and delay. It's gotten so bad at one facility that the local employees are blowing the whistle
To hear wounded veterans tell it, there are few things more daunting, infuriating or soul-crushing than dealing with the Veterans Benefits Administration, the agency that decides whether they will receive disability benefits for injuries and illnesses incurred during war.
As the inventory of unprocessed claims has grown — to more than 900,000 nationwide — so has anger with the agency. On Tuesday, in what has become an annual ritual, Congress will hold hearings on the V.B.A.’s chronically poor performance.
But in one small pocket of the sprawling benefits agency, a branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs, front-line workers are taking the unusual step of going public about the dysfunction within their own bureaucracy, making common cause with some of their loudest critics.
On Saturday, workers from the benefits agency’s regional office in Columbia, S.C., will picket outside their workplace, hoping to spotlight what they consider root causes of their system’s breakdown: lack of accountability, inadequate resources, hopelessly complex policies and demoralizing work conditions.
“We want to take care of veterans; many of us are veterans,” said Ronald Robinson, a protest leader, president of the union local and an Army veteran. “We can’t sit any longer and be blamed for things that are beyond our control.”
The backlog in the disability compensation system has steadily worsened since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, having more than doubled in the last decade. The department defines its backlog as claims that have been awaiting decisions for more than 125 days, the department’s benchmark for timeliness.
Almost no regional office has been immune from problems, with the office in Oakland, Calif., now sending new claims to other offices because its inventory has grown so large. Yet even the Columbia office, considered by some veterans advocates to be relatively good, had a backlog of about 15,000 claims last month and did not accurately process one out of three claims last year, according to a report by the department’s inspector general.
Of course, none of these things will be getting any headlines as we go deeper into the election season. While wars are "sexy" and headline-grabbing, the aftermath seldom is. While neither major party candidate wore the uniform, you can be pretty sure which one of them may want to actually do something, and which one is going to cut services to the bone.