That's "Mission Fear" from September 17, 2006.
Four years ago and the crazy was saying we were safer but not safe. And I thought things could never get crazier.
And was I ever wrong.
The big difference today is that we don't only have an idiot in the White House, we also have a huge number in the press.
Here's C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"
Thursday, May 20, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, post-election madness does as well, the military 'suddenly' discovers DNA and a finger print on a weapon thought to have been used in a November death, a House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee phones it in, and more.
Helen Benedict is someone we've noted many times before. She wrote The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq and she is a professor at Columbia University. She appeared before Congress today and her opening remarks included:
Too often they told me that when they tried to report an assault, the military and VA treated them as liars and malingerers. They also told me that their Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, assigned to them by the military, often treated them with such suspicion that they felt re-traumatized and intimidated out of pursing justice. Indeed, the usual approach to a report of sexual assault within the military is to investigate the victim, not the perpetrator, and to dismiss the case altogether if alcohol is involved. Counselors have told me of seeing case after case where a battered and abused victim has been told, "It's your word against his." It is therefore essential that the counselors used by the military and the VA be trained in civilian rape crisis centers, away from a military culture that habitually blames the victim and that is too often concerned with protecting the image of a platoon or commander by covering up wrongdoing. These counselors -- and indeed anyone within the military charged with investigating sexual assault -- should be trained to understand the causes, effects and costs of sexual abuse to both the victim and to society. Within the VA, reform is also needed. The process for evaluating disability caused by military sexual assault needs to be automatically upgraded. And victims who were too intimidated to report an assault while on active duty should never be denied treatment once they come home, as they so often are now. The VA needs to recognize the fact that some 90 percent of victims never report assaults within the military because its culture is so hostile to them. The VA must also recognize and address the fact that it can take years to recover from sexual assault and that untreated trauma caused by sexual assault can result in depression, homelessness, self-destructive behavior and suicide. No victim of military sexual assault should ever be denied benefits and help.
She was but one qualified witness appearing before the Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs, chaired by US House Rep John Hall, and the Subcommittee on Health, chaired by Michael Michaud. There were also two who shouldn't have been present. Kaye Whitley, for example, will always get eye rolls when talking about how 'happy' she is to speak to the Congress (it will never be forgotten that she refused to appear before the Congress under Bully Boy Bush). And then there was Scott Berkowitz and I'm not donating to RAINN anymore. Scott's an idiot and he's always been an idiot but, more importantly, he spoke on behalf of an organization. Every other oganization sent women: Anuradha K. Bhagwati (Service Women's Action Network), Jennifer Hunt (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America) and Joy J. Ilem (Disabled American Veterans). But even with Whitley and Berkowitz, it should have made for a strong hearing.
It should have.
How many times did we hear a variety of this: "Your complete written statements are a part of the record, Chairman Michaud and I uh spoke about the time situation before and if ther'es no objection from members of the submccomties we would like to submit our questions in writing and for the record and move on to the second panel so that we can try and hear from as many witnesses as possible."
That's US House Rep John Hall. Guess what? Unacceptable.
What a load of s**t. 'Mexico's president is in the country!!!!!!' Can we not wet ourselves.
And we can talk decorum? I don't care what the Arizona law is (I haven't read it -- like the White House, I haven't actually read it), you do not applaud someone from another country -- you certainly don't stand up and applaud -- coming into the halls of Congress and delivering a speech calling out one of the fifty states. I believe the Dixie Chicks -- who did not hold any public office -- were banned, had their CDs burned and more for much, much less. That was shameful and disgusting. Joe Biden had the sense to remain seated, Nancy Pelosi was standing.
That was a shameful moment. It's a very thin line and the Congress needs to learn how to walk it. They are the public servants of the United States of America. Arizona is a part of those fifty states. To applaud and cheer Calderon's remarks against Arizona? That was disgusting. As they demonstrated at State of the Union address, the Congress has made WHORES out of themselves and no one should ever take them seriously. Apparently, when not in session, they can be found providing laugh tracks and applause for various sitcoms. They are not private citizens (the Dixie Chicks are), they are public servants and they were in the US Congress making monkeys of themselves.
At some point, someone might want to ask why Calderon of I-stole-the-election fame (or infamy) was even allowed to speak? He's unhappy with Arizona? Well I think the world's unhappy with the murders in Oaxaca. What the hell is he doing on that? And if it objecting to a law in the US is keeping him from addressing that issue, by all means take your ass back to your own country, don't feel you have to stay any longer.
So there was a serious topic today and it wasn't addressed seriously.
What was the hearing. We all had to stand for the Pledge. Why was that? If time was of essence, guess what, that's the first thing that could have been chucked. (Hall always starts his hearings with the pledge.) Then Hall made his statement then Doug Lamborn spoke from Land of Crazy -- you know all these false rapes and false claims and blah, blah, blah. But he was going to listen and hoped to learn something. The first thing he should have learned? When to stay silent. When not to flaunt the ignorance.
So here's how the 'hearing' went, there were three panels. Each witness read their prepared statement outloud. As one finished the next started. When panel one finished, panel two was called, then panel three.
Where were the questions?
There were none.
Don't worry -- we were told -- they'd be part of the record. They'd be done in writing. No, that's not good enough. That's outrageous.
What is that? Hearing by correspondence?
That is an embarrassment and it's an insult to those suffering from MST and those working in that field. You can give many sentences -- as Hall and Michaud did at the end of the 'hearing' -- claiming that this isn't an insult to the issue or the people or blah, blah F**KING blah. That's exactly what it is.
Calderon never should have been invited to address Congress to begin with. He had nothing of value to say and he's done nothing of value in his own country. But his chance to insult Arizona was deemed more important than the US government doing their business -- the business they are paid by the tax payers to do.
But they're only following lazy-ass-in-chief for whom every day is a snow day. Which is why the Gulf disaster continues. But hey, Barry got a chance to preen and pose today and isn't that what democracy is all about.
This hearing needed to take place and it needed to take place publicly.
There is no excuse for this.
In Iraq, bombings from the skies. Hurriyet Daily News states Turkey's military aircraft "hit PKK camps in northern Iraq." Counting 20 planes, Al Jazeera reports, "Turkish fighter jets have bombed dozens of Kurdish separatist targets in northern Iraq, local television has reported." The network's Anita Mcnaught declares, "This is one of the biggest strikes in the last two years. This was a very much larger strike than usual -- almost 50 locations. And a day long attack involving all these fighter jets." Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert (CNN) report, "A Turkish military source told CNN Turk, CNN's sister network, that the military scrambled jets to carry out the attack after a group of suspected fighters were detected on Iraqi territory, approaching Turkey's mountainous border with Iraq." And AFP adds, "Thursday's strikes followed a series of daring attacks in recent weeks by PKK rebels on Turkish military targets in the country's southeast, which left several soldiers dead." RTT notes, "At least 37,000 people have died in the two-decade-long violence unleashed by the PKK, which is listed as a terrorist organization by most of the international community including the United States and the EU."
March 7th was when elections were held. If the last time Nouri was crowned is any indication, there are still two months to go before anyone is 'selected' for prime minister. Back then, elections were held in December 2005. Nouri was 'crowned' in April 2006. Should the schedule be similar this go round, it would be July. However, this go round brought new stresses and Nouri and his toys did everything they could to tarnish Iraqiya's victory. They screamed that the results weren't accurate and that there was massive fraud -- so much so, they just knew (they claimed 'proof') that in Baghdad alone they could pick up to 20 extra seats via a recount. They screamed that elected candidates were Ba'athists and would not be seated in the new Parliament. They targeted Iraqiya with harassment and arrests. And, in the process, not only upped the stress levels for Iraqis, they put a cloud and question mark over Iraqiya's win which was the whole point. While Iraqiya was defending their win, Nouri was working on coalition building -- something he would have been rebuked on had he not made Iraqiya's win murky. (The winning slate is guaranteed first shot at forming a coalition.) While this may have been a 'winning' 'strategy' for his State Of Law slate, it has created stress among Iraq's middle class. Borzou Daragahi (Los Angeles Times) reports fundamentalists militias invading Ibtisam Hamoody's neighborhood didn't send her packing, "turning it into a killing field" didn't send her packing and her husband being shot dead didn't send her packing. But now she and her youngest daughter or leaving Iraq with plans to live in either Jordan or Syria. Why? The continued uncertainty and return to violence in the madness of post-election Iraq. Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) notes, "More than two months after the vote, Maliki and former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi -- leaders of two political blocs considered essential to a coalition government -- have still not met." Arraf notes that he was out of the country today as many leaders attended a scheduled lunch with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Alsumaria TV explained that the meeting today with Talabanai would be attended by Iraqiya's Tareq al-Hashemi (Iraq's Sunni vice president), Mohammed Allawi, Hussein Shaalan and Hasan al-Ulwi but "Kurdistan Alliance senior official Abdul Bari Zebari demeaned the importance of the meeting at Talabani's headquarters." Steven Lee Myers (New York Times) reports on the meet up and notes that with all the leaders attending, there was "not a single woman among them" and he quotes Tariq al-Hashemi stating of the drawn out post-election period, "It's a shame on Iraq. The United Kingdom formed a government in five days. Despite the political conflicts in Sudan, they were able to form a government quicker than us."
29-year-old Amy Seyboth Tirador died serving in Iraq last November, she was on her second tour of duty in Iraq. The 1998 Colonie Central High School graduate joined the military soon after high school and served for ten years. March's news included that the military had ruled Amy had taken her own life . . . because most who do shoot themselves in the back of the head, right? WRGB notes, "Tirador's mother, Colleen Murphy, has long maintained her daughter was murdered in Iraq last November despite a ruling from the armed forces that it was suicide. South Colonie High School is going to honor Tirador with a Memorial Day ceremony May 28th." Murphy tells Nicol Lally (WTEN) that the military has informed her that they found fingerprints and DNA on the gun assumed to have been used in the shooting. Dennis Yusko (Albany Times Union) adds, "But word of the possible evidence did not excite or assuage Murphy, who refuses to accept that her 29-year-old daughter committed suicide. Murphy, 53, believes her daughter was killed, and the military is covering up what really happened. She called the latest information 'stall tactics.' That's because she wants to launch a private investigation into Tirador's death with Michael Baden, a nationally known forensic pathologist, but can't get access to additional photos, interviews and other materials from the Army until the Criminal Investigative Division closes its case." Allawi had planned a trip out of the country and done so, he says, before the lunch was announced. Nouri had his own plans for today. Suadad al-Salhy (Reuters) reports that on this day of 'breaking bread' and public smiles, "Maliki crticised his rival in an interview published on Thursday in the al-Mada newspaper, saying Allawi was 'preaching for a civil war'." Viola Gienger (Bloomberg News) notes that Iraq's Ambassador to the US, Samir Sumaida'ie, declared today, "The outline of the endgame is becoming clear. It will be very difficult for any government to survive unless they include everybody or they satisfy the four leading blocs." Related, I've never called Gen Ray Odierno out for word games. And Gienger's report is the perfect example of why I don't: If the press doesn't have enough sense to know what a statement means, that's on them. For example, Gienger, you quoted Odierno giving you a non-answer. The SOFA does not include an end of August drawdown. That's Barack Obama's promise, it's not part of a SOFA. So when Odierno states that the post-election period is not effecting the SOFA, if you're not smart enough to follow up with: "Well, what about with Obama's promise to drawdown to 50,000 by the end of this August," that's on you. Gienger can take comfort in the fact that at least she didn't offer a 'detailed' 'analysis' of the SOFA the way Ryan Harvey did and embarrass himself and Iraq Veterans Against the War and everyone else that's reposting that crap. Is reading really that difficult?
Does no one know how to read? The SOFA is the SOFA. It was negotiated, it was signed off on. In fact, it passed the Iraqi Parliament Thanksgiving Day 2008 and the signing ceremony for it became a world event because that's where Bully Boy Bush got the shoes tossed at him. That's what he and Nouri were doing at that ceremony, signing the documents. So this garbage that Ryan Harvey's offering? If it's something not in the SOFA, it's not in the SOFA. Learn to read before you offer an analysis. That, especially being posted at IVAW, is the best example of stupid and Gienger need not worry that she's the global idiot today, not when we have Ryan Harvey. And for anyone wondering, he is not a member of IVAW, he did not serve in the military. He does serve in the Doofus Forces where he attacks right-wingers non-stop. Usually in bad song.
Iraq today saw waves of violence.
Reuters notes a Mosul suicide bombing which claimed the life of the bomber, 2 police officers and 1 bystander (either more people were wounded), a Mahmudiya roadside bombing which injured four people, a Baghdad roadside bombing which injured six people, a second one which injured two, a third which injured three, a fourth Baghdad roadside bombing which injured five people, a Yusufiya home bombing which injured three people a Mahmudiya roadside bombing which injured three people and, dropping back to yesterday, a Baiji roadside bombing which injured six militia members.
Reuters notes 2 police officers shot dead in Mosul, 1 civlian shot dead in Mosul, two civilians wounded in yet another Mosul shooting, a Balad Ruz armed clash which claimed 5 lives, and, dropping back to yesterday, an apparent kidnapping attempt in Kirkuk in which 1 person was killed and two more injured.
Jeremy Kuzmarov's book review "U.S. Terrorism in Vietnam" (Monthly Review):In late 1970, prompted by the debate over the exposure of U.S. atrocities in the village of Mỹ Lai, an anonymous GI wrote a letter to Army Chief of Staff William Westmoreland, claiming to have witnessed hundreds of acts of terrorism by U.S. soldiers during Operation Speedy Express. The campaign, intended to reclaim portions of the Mekong Delta, purportedly killed over ten thousand enemy but seized only seven hundred weapons."In the ambushes we killed anything or anybody and a lot of these weren't VC. We used claymores on any people, on any boat that passed even if sometimes it would be loaded with bananas and a couple of women, or a papasan [male Vietnamese] with a hoe. No big thing, they were VC as soon as we killed them." The GI went on to state that there was random shooting from helicopters at anything that moved on the ground and that the "snipers were the worst killers who were responsible for at least 600 murders per month [during the Operation]." The Battalion commander [Lieutenant Colonel David Hackworth, among the most decorated soldiers in U.S. history], told his company commander that "pretty soon there wouldn't be any rice farmers left because his snipers would kill them all. And he laughed."Such revelations provide a pivotal component of Bernd Greiner's compelling new book, War Without Fronts: The USA in Vietnam, which vividly details the genocidal nature of the warfare carried out by the U.S. Army in Vietnam, based on evidence drawn from Army criminal investigation division reports into alleged war crimes. These records were declassified in 1994 but largely ignored by scholars until recently. Greiner's findings and analysis are especially pertinent, given the historical revisionism and cultural amnesia that have taken root in U.S. society about the Vietnam War, paving the way for the current military aggression in the Middle East. The above might remind many of video released last month. Monday April 5th, WikiLeaks released US military video of an assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Iraq War veteran Josh Stieber was a member of the military company depicted in the video. Paul Jay (Real News Network) did a four-part interview with Josh. We noted a portion of part- three last week and we'll note this from part-four.
Paul Jay: So talk about that day or the few days or whatever leading up to that application for conscientious objector status. This must've been quite dramatic.
Josh Steiber: Yeah. Well, I actually didn't know what conscientious objection was until I got back from Iraq and I knew I had to act.
Paul Jay: So you finished your tour of duty.
Josh Steiber: Right, I finished my tour with all these questions going on in my mind and knew I had to start changing things but wasn't sure how extreme I would do with this until we got back and I got to spend a month back home with my family. And that process for me literally brought everything back home as I started to imagine all the different things that we have done to other people's families for the last 14 months going on to my family, and not just these big headline catchers like, you know, what you see in the WikiLeaks video. Obviously, that stuff goes on, but sometimes even the smaller things of what we were doing on a day-to-day basis.
Paul Jay: Like what?
Josh Stieber: Of searching through people's homes and people would often be disrespectful and that, and just, you know, you're told to search for weapons, so you go in a house and you tear it apart looking for weapons or anything suspicious. And I know, you know, people in my neighborhood growing up who, if that happened to their home, they would have some probably pretty passionate responses to that and other little thinks like, you know, if we were driving down the strett, somebody might think it was funny to swerve into a mud puddle and splash an old lady with mud, or when we were going into a house to pull the head off a baby doll that a kid was holding and hand it back to the kid. And, again, it's like that's not going to make, you know, the front page of the newspaper but you start to think, "Well what if that was my mom that got splashed with mud?" or "What if that was my little sister whose baby doll got ripped apart? How would I feel about that?" And so I got down to this very simple idea of doing unto others and I knew I wouldn't want other people to do to me.
Paul Jay: Now in this kind of culture that, you know, it's relatively acceptable to shoot civilians. We've been told of stories that, during these house searches, there's been quite a few killings, that people thought there were weapons -- or maybe they didn't -- and they shot anwyay. Did you experience any of that?
Josh Stieber: Not that I can remember offhand of something specifically in a house search but, again, it was sometimes even smaller things that would affect me -- like just how we treated the locals when we went into their house and knew that, if that kind of thing went on back here, that, you know, most people would be up in arms about that. You know, even some of the relatively minor things would set people off.
On veterans issues, we'll note this from the Senate Democratic Policy Committee:
Senate Democrats have a long record of working to ensure that our nation's veterans receive the care and benefits they have earned through their service. Over the past several years, congressional Democrats led the effort to fill in critical funding shortfalls at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) created by the previous Administration and championed the passage of the largest investment in veterans' education since World War II. In addition, working with President Obama, Senate Democrats have taken significant action to improve and expand access to VA health care services, better meet the needs of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, enhance access to benefits for all veterans, and ensure more timely claims processing and efficient management at the VA. As we near the Memorial Day holiday, we honor the service of the men and women who have sacrificed for our country and pledge to continue our commitment to the heroes that have served and continue to serve each day.
This Fact Sheet outlines the relevant legislative initiatives Senate Democrats have advanced since the start of the 111th Congress.
Senate Democrats have worked to provide historic funding increases to ensure first-rate care and services to our nation's veterans.
Senate Democrats led the passage of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, putting in place a blueprint for record increases for veterans' health care and services. The Budget Resolution for Fiscal Year 2010 included a funding increase of more than 11 percent for veterans' programs above the Fiscal Year 2009 level. According to veterans' service organizations, the discretionary budget authority exceeded the recommendations they provided in their policy and budget plan for the year, known as the Independent Budget – for the first time in the 24-year history of the Independent Budget. The Budget Resolution also included a provision to end the previous Administration's ban on enrolling modest income, non-service connected (part of the so-called "Priority Group 8") veterans in the VA health care system, which, according to the VA, will effectively bring more than 500,000 additional veterans into the VA system by 2013. Additionally, it authorized advanced funding for the VA medical care program to ensure stable management of VA medical services from year to year.
Under Democratic leadership, the Senate passed the Fiscal Year 2010 funding legislation to implement this historic budget increase. In December, the Senate passed the Military Construction and Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2010 (as part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010), which, in line with the Budget Resolution, provided for a record increase in funding this year – $2.5 billion above the Fiscal Year 2009 level – for critical veterans programs and services. The legislation included $53 billion in discretionary funding – the largest appropriation for veterans' programs in the VA's history – as well as $56.6 billion in mandatory funds. For the first time, the bill provided for advance appropriations ($48.3 billion) to fund VA medical programs for Fiscal Year 2011, a measure designed to ensure a stable and uninterrupted source of funding for medical care for veterans. The bill included other key priorities that:
· Expanded the Rural Health Initiative and the Rural Clinic Initiative, effectively improving access to medical care for veterans in underserved rural areas;
· Ensured the VA has the resources to meet the health care needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan ;
· Increased medical and prosthetic research in key areas, including mental health, traumatic brain injury (TBI), spinal cord injury, burn injury, polytrauma injuries, and sensory loss;
· Funded vital long term care programs for aging veterans as well as severely wounded combat veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan;
· Provided increased funding for health care and support services to assist homeless veterans, and established a new initiative to combat homelessness among our nation's veterans;
· Expanded access to VA health care to disabled veterans earning modest incomes;
· Addressed critical maintenance and repair needs as well as new construction priorities at VA hospitals and clinics; and
· Allowed the VA to hire 1,200 new claims processors to improve the timeliness of claims processing.
These increases build upon years of Democratic leadership that have ensured robust funding for the VA. Democrats have consistently worked to provide all veterans the health care and services they need and deserve. Throughout the previous Administration, Democrats in Congress fought against proposed fee increases for veterans' health care; pushed for bolstered investments in VA medical services; led the effort to enact a post-9/11 GI bill to provide enhanced educational benefits to today's veterans; and supported initiatives to expand services to rural veterans, better meet the needs of returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans, and increase housing assistance and other support services and benefits to veterans and their families. In 2007, the first year after Democratic leadership had been restored, Congress appropriated the biggest increase to veterans' programs in the history of the Department. Congress went even further the following year, providing a $4 billion dollar increase, or $2.8 billion above President Bush's budget, for the VA in Fiscal Year 2009.
Democrats strongly support President Obama's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal. Senate Democrats have endorsed the President's proposal, which would provide for a 7.6 percent funding increase to support critical programs; expand VA services to veterans in need, including rural veterans; authorize advanced funding for the VA medical care program for Fiscal Year 2012; bolster efforts to end veterans' homelessness; invest in initiatives to build a 21st century VA; and provide enhanced education benefits under the new GI bill.
Democrats worked to secure passage of landmark legislation to improve the support services and the quality of care for veterans. Last month, the Senate unanimously passed the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010, a bill that combines several legislative initiatives to extend benefits to the caregivers of injured veterans and to enhance vital veterans' health care services. The bill was signed into law by the President on May 5.
Support for the caregivers of wounded veterans. The legislation establishes a new, permanent program that will provide the caregivers of wounded warriors with training, counseling, mental health care and key support services. It also provides a living stipend and health care to the family caregivers of injured veterans under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA) program. This legislation is critical to alleviating the many hardships that have faced caregivers and recognizing their many sacrifices in caring for our nation's wounded veterans.
Breaking down barriers for veterans in rural America . The legislation breaks down many obstacles that make it difficult for veterans in rural area to receive the health care they have earned. Specifically, the bill provides reimbursement for travel to VA facilities, establishes grants for veterans service organizations transporting veterans from highly rural areas, and expands VA's telehealth program and its ability to collaborate with community organizations in rural areas.
Expanding health care service for women veterans. The legislation helps VA adapt to the needs of the growing number of women veterans. As provided for in the bill, qualifying women veterans can count on health care for their newborn children for one week. VA is also required to train its mental health providers in the treatment of military sexual trauma, provide readjustment services for women veterans, implement a pilot program to provide women veterans with child care, and report to Congress on a comprehensive assessment of the barriers in providing health care to women veterans.
Improvements in veterans care and services. The legislation also includes a number of provisions for enhancing veterans care, including measures that will enhance mental health care; remove barriers to care for catastrophically disabled veterans; strengthen the VA's workforce; and expand and improve services for homeless veterans.
Senate Democrats championed a bill to ensure timely and predictable funding for the veterans' health care system. The Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act, passed by the Senate in August, ensures that funding levels for veterans' health care will be determined one year in advance of the regular appropriations process. By reforming the current year-by-year funding process, the bill will put an end to funding delays for medical care programs for veterans and facilitate more effective budget planning at VA hospitals, allowing them to better meet veterans' needs. Additionally, it will ensure transparency in VA funding by requiring public reports and Government Accountability Office (GAO) audits on the VA's funding projections. In the words of President Obama, "For the VA, this means timely, sufficient and predictable funding from year to year. For VA hospitals and clinics, it means more time to budget, to recruit high-quality professionals, and to invest in new health care equipment. And most of all, for our veterans it will mean better access to the doctors and nurses and the medical care that they need: specialized care for our wounded warriors with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injuries, and the staffing to welcome back to the VA those half-million 'Priority 8' vets." The President signed the bill into law on October 22, 2009.
Democrats led Senate passage of legislation to enhance benefits for veterans and their families. On October 7, 2009, the Senate unanimously adopted the Veterans' Benefits Enhancement Act of 2009, to provide expanded compensation, housing, employment, education, burial, and insurance benefits to veterans and their families. Specifically, the bill included provisions to strengthen life insurance and mortgage insurance programs for disabled veterans; remove the enrollment cap on the number of veterans allowed in VA's Independent Living Program; and ease the burden of proof on veterans seeking to establish that their disabilities are related to their service. Further, the legislation provided for retroactive payment to service members who suffered from traumatic injury while on active duty on or between October 7, 2001 and November 30, 2005 – a benefit that previously was available only to those service members who were injured while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom during that time.
Democrats worked to provide $1.4 billion in reinvestment and recovery funding for VA hospital and medical facility construction and improvements. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 included $1.4 billion for the VA, with funding directed primarily for infrastructure repairs at existing Veterans Health Administration (VHA) hospitals and capital infrastructure needs at state VA long-term care facilities. Specifically, the bill provided: $1 billion for nonrecurring maintenance for VA medical facilities; $150 million in funding for grants and construction of state extended care facilities; $50 million for information technology systems for the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA); $150 million for VBA to decrease waiting times for claims surge processors; and $50 million for the National Cemetery Administration for monument and memorial repairs. In addition to creating jobs, these investments helped the VA address critical facility maintenance and upgrade needs, improving care for veterans across the country.
Under Democratic leadership, the Senate passed a bill to ensure the value of compensation for veterans and their survivors is protected from potential inflation. The Senate passed the Veterans' Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 to ensure that inflation does not erode veterans' benefits. The bill stipulated that, if the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates an increase in inflation based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the Secretary of VA would be required to increase veteran and survivor compensation by that rate. It also stated that if the CPI decreases, veteran and survivor compensation would remain at the previous year's rate. Effective December 1, 2009, the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) would be applicable to veterans' disability compensation, dependency and indemnity compensation for surviving spouses and children, and additional related benefits. The President signed the bill into law on June 30, 2009.
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