Today is our 355th day back in Iraq.
There have been no new casualties.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 619, 672, 575, 000 .00
So let's dive right in. You may have seen this circulating around the book of face yesterday. There are some new suicide figures out, and it appears that everyone has been surprised at how high the rates are
for our female veterans.
New government research shows that female military veterans commit suicide at nearly six times the rate of other women, a startling finding that experts say poses disturbing questions about the backgrounds and experiences of women who serve in the armed forces.
Their suicide rate is so high that it approaches that of male veterans, a finding that surprised researchers because men generally are far more likely than women to commit suicide.
"It's staggering," said Dr. Matthew Miller, an epidemiologist and suicide expert at Northeastern University who was not involved in the research. "We have to come to grips with why the rates are so obscenely high."
Though suicide has become a major issue for the military over the last decade, most research by the Pentagon and the Veterans Affairs Department has focused on men, who account for more than 90 percent of the nation's 22 million former troops. Little has been known about female veteran suicide.
The rates are highest among young veterans, the VA found in new research compiling 11 years of data. For women ages 18 to 29, veterans kill themselves at nearly 12 times the rate of nonveterans.
In every other age group, including women who served as far back as the 1950s, the veteran rates are between four and eight times higher, indicating that the causes extend far beyond the psychological effects of the recent wars.
The data include all 173,969 adult suicides -- men and women, veterans and nonveterans -- in 23 states between 2000 and 2010.
It is not clear what is driving the rates. VA researchers and experts who reviewed the data for The Times said there were myriad possibilities, including whether the military had disproportionately drawn women at higher suicide risk and whether sexual assault and other traumatic experiences while serving played a role.
Whatever the causes, the consistency across age groups suggests a long-standing pattern.
"We've been missing something that now we can see," said Michael Schoenbaum, an epidemiologist and military suicide researcher at the National Institute of Mental Health who was not part of the work.
There have always been suicides in the military, just as there are always suicides in civilian life. But the military tends to trend higher, due to the stress of the job, lack of support mechanisms, and easy access to the resources necessary to complete the act.
The government can never do enough about this, so we're also aware of many charities that have sprung up to help. Most folks working at these places aren't in it to make any money - there's a genuine concern to help our veterans. And then there's this guy
. What we've got here is a complete dirtbag - it's not too hard to imagine resources that could be helping our veterans being used to line his pockets instead.
Traditionally, charities are supposed to keep their costs down and give the vast majority of their funds to the needy. Steven Nardizzi—CEO of the Wounded Warrior Project, a veterans charity—has another idea: that philanthropies should be allowed to have king-sized fundraising costs and huge salaries for executives.
Nardizzi is an advisory board member of the Charity Defense Council, an outfit with lofty ambitions. The organization wants to remake the entire charitable sector to be more permissive of high overhead and high executive compensation, explicitly citing as its model the oil industry’s efforts to rehabilitate its public image.
Highly compensated CEOs are persecuted, the Charity Defense Council says, so much so that they need an “Anti-Defamation League” to defend them. “Free speech” means that charities should not be made to talk about overhead, the group also argues. (The Anti-Defamation League, which combats anti-Semitism, told The Daily Beast that its lawyers had previously reached out to request that the CDC not use the ADL’s copyrighted name in its messaging).
Nardizzi’s participation in the Charity Defense Council is the latest odd turn for the Wounded Warrior Project, which the veterans community has questioned for spending too much on self-promotion and not enough on helping wounded warriors. The group has outraged yet more vets by threatening legal action against—and even suing—small charities that use the term “wounded warrior” in their name.
And in another twist, the charity is repackaging givers’ personal information and selling it off to third parties, making more than $1 million in the process.
The renting of private information is a betrayal of donors, argues Sandra Miniutti, the vice president of Charity Navigator, a group that rates nonprofits. “When a donor gives to you there’s a level of trust, that you’re going to repay that with respect, that together you’re working to make the world a better place, and that [the charity is] not going to flip and sell my personal information,” she said.
A top official for a another large veterans nonprofit was aghast when informed about the practice. “We have never rented out, sold, or shared our donor list,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “Our donors would kill us if we did that…I can’t believe their big, midsize, and small donors would be too happy with that.”
Nardizzi’s group not only engages in the selling of donor information, but he’s apparently proud of it, brazenly arguing in its favor.
The practice reflects a broader, self-serving philosophy that is being employed at his organization: higher revenue at high cost, churning growth at high cost. Good for direct marketers, good for executives—but how good exactly for veterans?
For his part, Nardizzi is putting his money where his mouth is: The Wounded Warrior Project CEO’s own salary rose by nearly $100,000 in the course of one year, to $473,015 in 2014. The group’s 10 most highly compensated employees made approximately $2.6 million in total that year.
Finally this morning, if we're going to talk about waste, frivolous spending, and lining one's pockets, no charity can hold a candle to the industry leader, which is of course the Pentagon itself. I believe I have posted this story before about the $34m we blew in Afghanistan on a now-abandoned command centre. There's been some more information and opinion about that recently.
Camp Leatherneck in southern Afghanistan was not a particularly hospitable base for the tens of thousands of U.S. Marines and other troops who surged there toward the end of the last decade. Sandstorms regularly swept through the treeless landscape, and attacks on the base by Taliban forces claimed lives.
So it was perhaps understandable when the Marines declared an “operational need” in 2010 for a huge headquarters building at the site, to be outfitted with air conditioning, plush seating, and comfortable offices.
But the decision to construct a 64,000-square-foot command and control facility has since come to exemplify the U.S. military’s careless waste in Afghanistan. After $34 million was spent on its construction, the tall, windowless building was never, ever used, except perhaps for target practice by the Taliban, according to U.S. officials. The facility was officially turned over to the Afghan army last fall, but it remains empty and sits in a part of Afghanistan where U.S. personnel rarely if ever travel now.
The question posed by the initial exposure of this costly debacle in July 2013 is, who was responsible? And will anyone in the military be held accountable?
After two internal investigations, and considerable hemming and hawing, the Pentagon’s definitive answer is finally available in a newly released federal report: No one in particular made a bad call, and if the question arose again under similar circumstances today, the same cavernous facility would be still be ordered up. Therefore, no one in the chain of command can or should be held responsible.
This reply has outraged several key lawmakers. Senator John McCain (R-AZ), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told the Center for Public Integrity in a written statement that the project was a “boondoggle” and that the Pentagon’s claim that its construction was prudent is “patently false.”
Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), a ranking member of the governmental affairs permanent investigations subcommittee, similarly called the facility’s construction “one of the most outrageous, deliberate, and wasteful misuses of taxpayer dollars.” She expressed shock that the Pentagon “completely failed to hold any officials accountable after all the facts came to light.”
Their criticisms were shared by the author of the new federal report, John F. Sopko, the presidentially appointed special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR). In the report, he accused a senior Army general of insisting in August 2010 that the facility be completed merely because Congress had already agreed to fund it.
This decision was made over the objections of three generals who were arguably closer to the U.S. military deployments in Helmand province, where Camp Leatherneck was situated, and who were aware that the surge of forces there was unlikely to be long-lasting. One of them sponsored a May 2010 review that declared the command center was “not necessary to execute our mission.” Another general agreed in a memorandum the following month that “this project is no longer required.” And a third said that month that the requirement for a facility “has already been met and thus this project is no longer required.”
These recommendations were rejected by then-Major General Peter M. Vangjel, the deputy commander of the Army’s forces attached to Central Command. He said in a note at the time that because Congress had already approved the construction, shifting those funds to another project was “not prudent”—an apparent reflection of the infamous “use it or lose it” ethos that federal bureaucracies use to keep their spending levels intact.
Vangjel, who went on to become the Army’s top inspector general before retiring in February, told one of Sopko’s aides that his decision was made with the “knowledge that there would be other opportunities to de-scope, or even cancel the project if the situation dictated.” Even though that never happened and the facility was almost fully finished before its abandonment, Vangjel said that in his opinion, proceeding was “the right decision.”
It's hard to decide which is the most disturbing story today...but all of them are part of the same depressing pattern.