Today is our 4,090th 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: 2,168
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,072
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 404, 143, 700, 000. 00
A bit of a mixed bag today. Since it is the season of giving, we'll start with a veteran's charity. They're in the news today, for all the wrong reasons.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A veterans charity already under scrutiny for how it raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in Tennessee handed out only a fraction of the money in the form of gift cards and threatened to fire workers if they didn’t meet fundraising quotas, former employees say.
The Stuart, Fla.-based Veterans Support Organization has been criticized by other groups for how it uses donations raised outside retail stores and supermarkets. It had been fined by Tennessee for making false claims about the benefits it offered, and Connecticut lawmakers called for a federal investigation before the group’s Tennessee branch closed last month.
However, former employees interviewed by The Associated Press shed new details on how the charity operated. For instance, it claimed to help veterans and non-veterans by providing them jobs, but disciplined people who didn’t meet fundraising quotas. It also claimed to provide housing and help for poor or homeless veterans, though the former workers say that amounted to little more than a rented home in Tennessee where the workers were charged $400 a month for bunk beds and plastic dressers.
It’s not the first such charity to be scrutinized as thousands of veterans leave the military after serving in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Ohio, for instance, a man has been charged with running a $100 million scam through a bogus charity collecting donations for Navy veterans. Other charities around the country have been scrutinized for spending large portions of the donations they receive on operating expenses.
VSO reported raising nearly $8.5 million nationwide during the last fiscal year, but leaders emptied its office in Madison and laid off about 20 workers the day before Thanksgiving. Charity officials declined to answer questions about the workers’ claims, but provided a short statement.
The Tennessee chapter was raising tens of thousands of dollars a month at its peak, former chapter manager Kurt Jones told the AP, who was among those laid off. However, he said, its only donations were about $400 worth of Walmart gift cards given every other month to Veterans Affairs facilities in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Jones estimated the chapter raised almost $1.5 million in his two years as manager, but very little benefited veterans in those states.
Staying with the season, let's ponder the baby Jesus just a moment. The myth is that he was born on Christmas (with the truth a little more nebulous.) Many veterans returning to civilian life would like to do normal things. Get a job, buy a house, maybe even have children. But some veterans come back with profound damage to their 'regions', and might be needing advanced help for that sort of thing. Regrettably, Congress has seen fit to kill a bill
that would have helped. I've actually been there; my private insurance covered it all without blinking, but it looks like Tricare won't be doing so.
A bipartisan bill providing fertility treatments or adoption benefits for those suffering from service-connected injuries to their reproductive organs passed the Senate on Wednesday but is likely dead because the House has no plans to take it up by year’s end.
The Senate-passed bill, S 3313, is aimed at veterans who suffered serious injuries to the urinary tract and reproductive organs, often as the result of improvised explosive devices, making the normal reproductive process difficult or impossible.
It would have provided reproductive assistance, such as vitro fertilization, to female veterans, the spouses of veterans or to surrogates. IVF can cost up to $15,000 per person for a full cycle of treatment and has a 30 percent chance of resulting in pregnancy. Additionally, the bill would have covered the cost of up to three adoptions for an eligible veteran, as long as the total cost did not exceed what the government would otherwise pay for one cycle of reproductive assistance.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairwoman and chief sponsor of the measure, said about 2,000 service members have suffered permanent disabilities or organ loss between 2003 and 2011, making them eligible for the proposed benefit.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has a higher estimate, suggesting up to 3,500 people a year would be eligible to receive fertilization assistance if the bill becomes law.
Senate passage is as far as the bill is going to get; the House will not pass it before the legislation expires at the end of the year when the current session of Congress ends.
Ah well. At least in this season of love, there is some hope, right? We've had "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" overturned, and there have even been a handful of weddings at the fantastic cathedral at West Point. It's too bad that the culture hasn't caught up to the law yet.
The newlywed wife of a female lieutenant colonel stationed at Fort Bragg, the largest Army installation in the country, has been denied membership in a base club for officers’ spouses, igniting accusations from a national military spouses organization that the woman was blackballed only because she is a lesbian.
Ashley Broadway married her 15-year companion, Lt. Col. Heather Mack, in November — their first chance to hold a formal ceremony after the 2011 repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” the policy that kept gays from openly serving in the military. The couple has a 2-year-old son and Mack is 8-months-pregnant with their second child.
“I was really hurt by the denial. Living for years under ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ I couldn’t be a part of the military family,” Broadway said, breaking into tears. “After ‘Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,’ I thought, wow, I can finally be part of something, finally give back to the military community in ways other than just writing a check. So it was a blow. A real blow. Here, I thought things were progressing. I was knocked back down.”
During a phone call Broadway received last week from a representative from the Association of Bragg Officers' Spouses, Broadway said she was told her application was rejected by the group’s president, Mary Ring, because Broadway does not have a military spouse identification card.
But that rule was added only after Broadway asked to join several weeks ago, according to Babette Maxwell, founder and executive director of both Military Spouse Magazine and the annual Military Spouse of the Year Awards. Maxwell and others advocating for Broadway said they have been monitoring and chronologically noting changes in the website for the Bragg spouses club.
Hell of a Merry Christmas for our vets, don't you think?