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Author: TriSec    Date: 07/01/2014 10:19:04

Good Morning.

Today is our 4,650th 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: 2,332
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,120

We find this morning's Cost of War passing through:

$ 1, 545, 949, 050, 000 .00

We'll start briefly in Iraq this morning. We're all aware of what's going on over there, but the overall magnitude has not been reported well here in the west. This past month has been deadlier to Iraqis than an entire decade of war was for Americans.

The month of June is over, and unsurprisingly has wound up not only the deadliest of the year for Iraq, which is rapidly flying apart at the seems, but is indeed the deadliest month there in many, many years.

The Antiwar.com figures show 5,456 killed, including 3,627 militants, and 2,553 wounded, including 93 militants. The low militant wounded figure is because militants wounded are not widely reported, and so it is a dramatic under count.

That’s up from 2,249 killed in May, which was itself the worst toll of the year. The UN figure for May was 799, but they deliberately excluded Anbar Province, which was where most of the fighting was.

The U.N. has been reluctant to give a full account of the deaths in Iraq, due to the inability to confirm many of the reported deaths. For several months, they’ve avoided publishing any figures from occupied Anbar province, for example, even confirmed civilian deaths.

Many of the reports, particularly those from the Iraqi government need to be taken with a grain of salt. First, they appear to be undercounting military deaths. If they are to be believed, then several ground clashes resulted in the deaths of dozens of militants but not one soldier or policeman. It is also impossible to tell if they are overcounting militant deaths. Some of the tallies of militant deaths in airstrikes deep within occupied territory seem completely made up.

But on to the business at hand. We'll actually stay in Iraq for another story...remember two decades ago now, when our first waves of troops in Iraq started coming home with bizarre and unusual illnesses? It hasn't really gone away, and "Gulf War Syndrome" has proven to be one of the more vexing legacies of the first go-round. Well....it's happening again.

In June 2011, Army Master Sgt. Rob Bowman began feeling “off,” experiencing night sweats and registering a low-grade fever.

He didn’t think much of it. But when symptoms persisted, Bowman, about to report to the Sergeants Major Academy, went to a doctor. He didn’t want to start school — the path to his goal of becoming a command sergeant major — sick.

The diagnosis was devastating. Rather than the flu he suspected, Bowman had cholangiocarcinoma, a rare cancer of the bile ducts.

The Iraq veteran, then 42, began chemotherapy and forged on, achieving the rank of sergeant major. But on Jan. 13, 2013, he lost his battle with cancer, leaving behind a wife and four daughters.

How the powerful, healthy soldier whose awards included a Bronze Star with combat “V” developed the illness is unknown. He didn’t have the associated gene mutation, nor did he smoke.

Doctors suspect an environmental toxin. And Bowman’s wife, Coleen, is convinced that toxin — or whatever it was that sickened her husband — is in Iraq. On June 11, she spoke to a Pentagon panel about her husband’s fight to live, and why she believes other troops have been similarly sickened.

“There are other diseases — cancer, gastrointestinal problems, tumors — that troops are getting and no one is talking about them,” she said before a meeting of the Defense Health Board’s public health subcommittee, which has been tasked by the Defense Department to review evidence of deployment-related lung diseases.

But Bowman wanted panel members to be aware of other exposure-related illnesses in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 3,500 troops have registered deployment-related pulmonary concerns with Burn Pits 360, an advocacy group for troops with respiratory illnesses, but little is known about those with other diseases such as cancer, Crohn’s disease and fibrous tumors.

Few studies have been done on the relationship between certain types of cancer and combat deployments. The Millennium Cohort Study, a vast collaborative health review between DoD and the Veterans Affairs Department that began in 2001 and is expected to last through 2022, is looking at the long-term health of many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

But of course, the VA is doing a fine job in managing veteran's care recently, isn't it? You may have seen this via Paul Rieckhoff about 10 days ago, but it wasn't widely reported at the time. Our friends at the Phoenix VA have done such a fine job that they've collected bonuses...to the tune of 10 million dollars. It's not her world, but I'd sure love to see my Senator Warren investigate those finances.

Newly released records show the Phoenix VA Health Care System paid out roughly $10 million in bonuses during the past three years, when some staff manipulated patient wait-time records to trigger bonuses as veterans died awaiting care.

The Arizona Republic, after asking for bonus records at least 10 times since March, obtained the data Friday from the Department of Veteran Affairs under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

Bonus payouts increased significantly under Sharon Helman, who became director of the Phoenix VA in February 2012. She was placed on administrative leave last month with two other top staff members amid accusations of mismanagement stemming from the bonus scandal. Helman could not be reached, but previously has said she was unaware of fraudulent record-keeping or patient deaths caused by delays.

Records show 4,188 bonuses were paid over the past three fiscal years to more than 2,150 employees, including doctors, nurses, administrators, secretaries and cleaners. Nearly 650 VA employees received a bonus in each of the three years. The VA has about 2,500 employees.

The bonus totals increased from $2.5 million in 2011, to $3.5million in 2012 and $3.9 million in 2013. The figures obtained by The Republic are much larger than figures recently posted online by two watchdog groups.

“The VA employee recognition and awards program provides an entire range of rewards to recognize employees who make contributions that support goals and objectives across the facility,” said Jean Schaefer, a Phoenix VA spokeswoman.

Roughly half of the Phoenix bonus payments went to doctors as part of a “physician performance pay” program.

Finally, since the last few cycles haven't been that positive, let's finish up with a small bit of good news that wasn't reported at all, since it came in the Friday news dump last week. We've finally decided to get out of the landmine business. Oh, we still have our stockpile, but no new mines are to be built. It's a step in the right direction, at least.

WASHINGTON — After two decades of waffling, the United States on Friday announced its intention to join an international treaty banning land mines, without setting a time frame while working through possible complications on the Korean Peninsula.

Human rights advocates applauded the progress, but said the Obama administration should immediately commit to a ban and begin destroying its stockpile, while Republicans accused the president of disregarding military leaders who wanted to maintain land mines in the U.S. arsenal.

The 15-year-old Ottawa Convention includes 161 nations that have signed on to prohibit the use, stockpiling, production and transfer of anti-personnel mines. President Bill Clinton had a goal of joining the treaty, but the Bush administration pulled back amid objections from military leaders. Obama ordered up a review of the U.S. policy when he came to office five years ago, and a U.S. delegation announced the change in position Friday to a land mine conference in Maputo, Mozambique.

"We're signaling our clear aspiration to eventually accede to the Ottawa Convention," White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters travelling with the president Friday.

Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the United States has no land mines currently deployed around the globe but maintains an active stockpile of just over 3 million. "They are all in inventory and that's where they will stay," Kirby said. He added that the stockpile will begin to expire in about 10 years and be completely unusable in about 20 years.

50 comments (Latest Comment: 07/01/2014 23:18:26 by Raine)
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