Today is our 4,713th day in Afghanistan, and our 75th day back in Iraq.
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: 2,342
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,125
There have been no new casualties in Iraq.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 561, 884, 575, 000 .00
We'll dive right in; there has been some motion on the Iraq front. The President has informed Congress
of a new round of airstrikes in Iraq, which according to the story "resets" the counter and gives the President another 60 days of leeway. I'm not sure about this, but I don't think that's the way this is supposed to work. Here at AAV, we're using June 19th as our counting date, which was identified as the very first day of our re-involvement in Iraq by The Rachel Maddow Show, but who knows anymore?
President Obama formally notified Congress today [September 1] of the beginning of airstrikes against the Iraqi town of Amerli, as required under the War Powers Act. Administration officials say the attack was “consistent with the military missions we have outlined to date in Iraq.”
Under the War Powers Act, the president is allowed only to launch such unapproved operations in the case of “a national emergency,” which would be a difficult case to make in Iraq, and also he can only continue the war for 60 days without a Congressional authorization for the use of military force.
The 60 day clock really should have been ticking from the start of airstrikes earlier in August, but could be argued to begin with the Amerli strikes, which are what the administration notified Congress about.
Either way, continuing the war beyond 60 days would be a blatant violation of the law, though not one without precedent. In 2011, President Obama informed Congress of the attacks in Libya, and continued US military involvement in the war for months after the 60 day deadline passed without authorization.
Informing Congress at all suggests the president views the new Iraq War as likely to last more than 60 days, though he has shown a reluctance to seek actually Congressional approval for any of his wars, viewing the notifications as good enough.
But again, it's unknown if our involvement is really going to change anything, as the August update from Iraq
Using various published sources, Antiwar.com has tallied 1,652 killed and 1,460 wounded among Iraq’s security forces and civilians. Another 3,112 militants were killed, and 673 of their colleagues were wounded. The United Nations released higher figures (see below), but ignored all reports of militant casualties. Using our militant casualty figures, the total numbers are 4,800 dead and 2,839 wounded.
Due to the conditions across Iraq, completely accurate figures are impossible. Many areas have no independent observers able to confirm each reported attack, clash or other deadly event. Also, the Iraqi government has been known to skew figures to suit their political purposes. Regardless, these figures should be viewed as a low estimate of the casualties.
The number of dead this past month is about 900 fewer than in July, but that may only be the result of a change in reporting habits. Previously, the Iraqi government was releasing very rough estimates. Now, the estimates have transformed into vague statements such as "a number of militants" or "many militants." Consequently, those deaths were not added. Considering that U.S. forces are now conducting airstrikes, it is likely that the number of militants killed should be on the increase, not decrease.
The United Nations reported 1,265 civilians and 155 security forces were killed across Iraq during July. The numbers do not include Anbar province where the U.N. does not have an adequate number of observers. Another 1,370 people were reported wounded. They did release figures obtained from the Anbar Health Directorate. They reported 268 killed in Anbar, while another 796 were wounded. Together, the tallies add up to 1,688 dead and 2,166 injured. The fatalities figure is very close to Antiwar.com’s, but their observers found many more wounded.
Their report also warns that figures could be significantly higher. They have purposefully left out casualties due to secondary events, such as dying of exposure while fleeing violence. More importantly, they admit they cannot confirm many attacks occurring deep within Islamic State territory.
The United Nations, working with the Kurdish Regional Government, has determined that Iraqi Kurdistan is hosting about 1.4 million refugees from Iraq and Syria. About 850,000 were displaced internally since January. Another 335,000 moved from other parts of Iraq before 2014. The smallest segment (at 216,000) came from Syria. Only about 5 million people permanently reside in the Kurdish region, so this large influx is a substantial burden on the local people and infrastructure. Duhok province has taken about 64 percent of the refugees so far.
Amnesty International released a 26-page report on what it considers to be "ethnic cleansing" by the Islamic State. The United Nations said they will send a fact-finding team to Iraq to investigate the many claims of war crimes.
And since this is a Veteran's column, let's at least take a look at what's going on; I've got a couple of updates on stories we've been long-following here. First, we'll head back to the Phoenix VA. At one point in time, this was the epicenter of the healthcare crisis, then it dropped out of the news. Things are still happening, but with the news cycle the way it is, this barely rated a headline at the Military Times
A scathing report looking into care delay problems at the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health system recommends an overhaul in scheduling practices, better training and oversight for all employees, and possible firing of numerous system leaders as starting points for fixing cultural problems there.
The 143-page report by the VA inspector general was released as President Obama and VA Secretary Bob McDonald spoke at the American Legion’s annual convention about ways to both repair the department’s battered image after months of scandal and regain the trust of veterans.
“VA will get through its present difficulties, and be stronger for it,” McDonald promised the convention attendees.
Allegations of monthslong delays for medical appointments in Phoenix and secret waiting lists to conceal institutional problems led to nationwide scrutiny of VA problems and the May resignation of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.
The four-month-long Phoenix investigation uncovered dozens of incidents of delayed care for seriously ill patients, including a retiree who waited nine weeks after a lung cancer diagnosis for follow-up care and a 60-year-old veteran who received a follow-up care appointment three months after his death.
“We identified multiple types of scheduling practices in use that did not comply with [Veterans Health Administration] policy,” the report states. “These practices became systemic because VHA did not hold senior headquarters and facility leadership responsible and accountable.”
But the report deflects the most damaging accusation leveled against regional and national VA leadership: that incompetence and mismanagement may have led to the deaths of veterans.
Whistleblowers and lawmakers critical of the department have claimed that care delays in the Phoenix system led directly to the deaths of at least 40 veterans. Investigations said they found “troubling lapses in follow-up, coordination, quality, and continuity of care” but no direct link to patient deaths.
VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson called that finding reassuring but little comfort given the failings detailed.
“Veterans were waiting too long for care,” he said. “I am relieved that there weren’t findings that veterans died as a consequence of those delays, but that doesn’t excuse the delays. That was unacceptable. It doesn’t meet our standard of care, it doesn’t meet what we promised to deliver.”
Obama on Tuesday told Legion members he is committed to fixing the VA.
“Despite all the good work that the VA does every day, despite all the progress that we’ve made over the last several years, we are very clear-eyed about the problems that are still there,” he said. “Those problems require us to regain the trust of our veterans, and live up to our vision of a VA that is more effective and more efficient and that truly puts veterans first.”
The president also announced a host of new executive actions aimed at expanding suicide prevention programs, recruiting thousands of medical professionals into VA hospitals,and creating better medical transitions from military health care to VA programs.
Ah, and speaking of military suicides, here's another little-reported story
that should make your blood boil; once again, the powers-that-be remain in denial over the issues, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
Seven years ago, the Veterans Affairs Department rejected allegations by media outlets and watchdog organizations that America faced a suicide epidemic among former military personnel.
The VA claimed just 790 veterans under department care had taken their own lives that year. Yet, by reviewing available public records since 2005, CBS News uncovered 6,256 suicides.
As VA officials publicly disputed the network’s data, Dr. Ira Katz, the top mental-health officer, was sending internal e-mails titled “Not for the CBS Interview Request.”
“Shh!” Katz wrote in one message. “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities.”
When the e-mails were disclosed, confirming the CBS findings, some members of Congress called for Katz’s resignation or termination.
Today, Katz remains at VA headquarters as acting director of mental health operations. In a phone interview with The Arizona Republic, he and Caitlin Thompson, deputy director for suicide prevention, said veterans’ mental health care is a national success story that merits a B+ if graded on a curve against other programs. Katz said recent data indicate the suicide rate is increasing among men in the general U.S. population but is stable among VA patients. “We’re doing relatively well by fighting this trend,” he added.
An official Veterans Affairs statement to The Republic supplemented that point: “Getting help from VA does make a positive difference, and treatment does work. VA’s basic strategy for suicide prevention requires ready access to high quality mental health ... services supplemented by programs designed to help individuals and families engage in care.”
The positive evaluations come despite VA findings that the number of veteran suicides began rising in 2007. They also come amid confusion over just how many veterans are taking their own lives.
A fact sheet published by the VA’s Suicide Prevention Program in 2012 reported 18 veteran suicides daily, while a “Suicide Data Report” issued by the same program in the same year put the number at 22. In 2013, the VA and Defense Department published a clinical-practice guide saying 18 to 22 die daily.
Even the higher number is suspect. Craig Northacker of Vets-Help.org said death records do not capture the real tally of veterans’ suicides, which he estimates at 30 to 35 daily.
So, as we head back to school and work and other annual fall pursuits...it ordinarily would be time to get serious again. But with Congress still on vacation, nothing much is going to change, is it?