In October of 2009, the Obama White House launched an attack on Fox News. It started on the Sunday TV shows with senior White House officials denouncing Fox and saying it was an arm of the Republican Party. But the backstage stuff was far nastier. The Obama White House said Fox wasn't a legitimate news organization and should not be treated as a member of the press corps. Team Obama took it upon itself to start denying Fox News access the to the administration that it gave to everyone else.
I got involved as one of the only mainstream, non-partisan media critics who said the executive branch of government does not get to say who is and who isn't a legitimate member of the press corps. That principle was laid down by the founding fathers, and this country only works with a free and independent press -- not one bullied into submission by the White House.
I'll spare you the details of the pushback I received. And I'll spare you my conflicted feelings about defending Fox given some of the anti-journalism brazenly practiced there. But like I said, you either believe in these principles and act of them, or you don't deserve to be a media critic.
Regarding general anti-FNC bias within the Obama White House in an October 23, 2009, email exchange between Jennifer Psaki, Deputy White House Communications Director and LeCompte, Psaki writes, “I am putting some dead fish in the fox cubby – just cause”. In an email on the night of October 22, 2009, commenting on a report by Fox News Channel anchor Bret Baier noting the exclusion of the network from the pool, Psaki writes to Compte and fellow White House colleagues, “…brett baier just did a stupid piece on it -- but he is a lunatic”.
Deputy White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest bluntly described the White House’s position on Fox News Channel in an October 23, 2009, email to LeCompte: “We’ve demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews…”
The Treasury Department blacked out a key email regarding its refusal to make available Treasury Secretary Geithner for an interview on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace.
“The Obama administration seems to have lied about its attempt to exclude Fox News Channel from access to an interview with the ‘pay czar.’ These documents show there is a pervasive anti-Fox bias in the Obama White House,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The juvenile Mafioso-talk in these emails has no place in any White House. For the Obama administration to purposely exclude a major news organization from access to information has troubling First Amendment implications.”
Friday, July 15, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, the US military announces another death, peaceful protesters are again arrested, Human Rights Watch expresses concern over a 'speech' proposal in Iraq, and more.
Yesterday on Flashpoints (KPFA, Pacifica), guest host Kevin Pina spoke with Mahdi Darius Nazemroaya who has left Canada to report from Libya on the illegal war. Excerpt.
Mahdi Nazemroaya: I want to point out that the rebels never got to the gates of Tripoli. I've looked at some of the reports and some of these news wires which usually use kilometers, the metric system, are using miles now to describe the rebels advances because when you use miles, the distance seems less. Like I see the wording they're playing. And they're using distance to let's say to a city near Tripoli. But anyway, they've not gotten to the gates of Tripoli. They've been claiming other cities have fallen like Sabha and Fezzan or near their environs and the journalists have been taken there. And I actually watch some of these reports from Tripoli because BBC English and BBC Arabic is still here, France's Arabic service is still here. You can watch these things here. And a lot of the journalists making these reports, I happen to see on a daily basis or almost on a daily basis. when I have to go the Rixos Al Nasr which is now the Swiss Inn, it's changed ownership. But this is propaganda, it's war propaganda. And these journalists that are making these reports are either embedded journalists or they're just as bad, the ones in Tripoli that are making these reports. I'd like to point out with regards to Russia, a statement's been made and it originally came from the Russian envoy to Africa, he's now the Russian envoy to Libya. [. . .] And this Russian official is saying Col Gaddafi has a suicide plan for Tripol which is nonsense. He said he met with the Libyan prime minister and Col Gaddafi has a suicide plan. What he's basically disseminating is Washington's propaganda and that's a shame [. . .] There's no suicide plan for Tripoli. Anybody that will come to Tripoli will see that the people here back Col Gaddafi, they back his government and he doesn't need a suicide plan unless they mean that there's going to be a massive bombing here and they want to blame it on Col Gaddafi, which they could do. I would not rule out a massive bombing to try to make Tripoli surrender. And then they'd try to blame the victim. That's what they usually do, the aggressors blame the victim. Reality's turned on its head.
There's another element that Mahdi Nazemroaya might consider. Whether it's Waco or Iraq, claims that the 'crazy' has or will kill their own people have repeatedly been used by the US to justify an aggressive invasion which the government has repeatedly presented as an action they were forced into. Meaning, the talk of a suicide plan may be laying the groundwork for Barack Obama to say, "I know I said we wouldn't have force on the ground, but the Libyan people needed us."
Kevin Pina: And that is the voice of Mahdi Nazemroaya coming to us direct from Tripoli, Libya. You're listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. Well indeed they have said that Gaddafi has plans to bomb Tripoli, level it to the ground should the rebels threaten to take over it. It's really good that you clarified that. Now they've also claimed that the rebels have reclaimed Qawalish which after Gaddafi forces had taken it and there's back and forth right now between Libyan rebels and Gaddafi forces. What do you know right know about what's actually going on on the ground militarily around the areas around Tripoli?
Mahdi Nazemroaya: They have not advanced here. I'm letting you know. They're going to take the foreign journalists to see that.place. Since I've been here, they've taken them to a couple of places, like I said earlier, they've taken to some of these urband centers that they claim have fallent to let them see with their own eyes and report to the rest of the world: This is not true. This is a full media war, it's a psychological war. And they are doing this to make it look like they're winning. Does anybody remember what they were saying about Baghdad? "The tanks are there. The tanks are there." And it took awhile for the tanks to get there . They got there [finally] but they weren't there. And it's not true. They're just saying -- They're just trying to make false propoganda fake victories were there are a lof of losses. The rebels -- There's a stalemate. In fact, they're being pushed back in a lot of places. And since we're on the subject, today is La Fete Nationale of France, the national day of France which is Bastille Day. Nothing was mentioned about Libya in France. They didn't say anything. In fact, I was told that the parade arrangeements were changed. Today was the national day and they were going to make the military the centerpiece but they made the the fire fighers in France the centerpiece. They expected an easy victory and they didn't get it and now nothing is being mentioned about Libya. They're not mentioning anything about Libya and at the same time, the Secretary General of NATO has said that only one person's died, we haven't killed anyone. There's a blackout now about Libya. They're not mentioning much about Libya. And the speech today that was given in France with Sarkozy and not once was Libyan mentioned. They are not mention Libya and the French news did not mention Libya because they are feeling the heat, . Many people in France are opposing the war and in Europe. And I hope in the United States these numbers are rising against the war. And in Canada.
Mahdi Nazemroaya will be back on Flashpoints Tuesday. Flashpoints airs Monday through Friday from five p.m. to six p.m. PST on KPFA (and other stations) ,
ABC News Radio reports, "An American service member was killed Friday in Iraq, bringing the number of those who have been killed or have died in that country to four for the month of July." This makes for 19 US service members killed in the Iraq War in six weeks, 15 last month, 4 so far this month.
As they continue dying, the governments of Iraq and the US continue to explore keeping the US military in Iraq for many years to come. Alsumaria TV reports, "In a statement to Al Iraqiya, Al Maliki noted that Iraq needs to keep a number of US trainers to train Iraqi Forces on newly purchased air, land and naval weapons. The extension of US Forces term in Iraq necessitates a new agreement that should be voted upon by two thirds of Parliament lawmakers, Al Maliki said noting that this is difficult to be attained." Nayla Razzouk (Bloomberg News) notes:
"Iraq needs the Americans for training on the sea, air and ground and sea weapons," he said in an interview with state- sponsored Iraqiya television. "This does not need the approval of parliament," he said.
Nouri is correct, he does not need the approval of Parliament -- we pointed that out in yesterday's snapshot. In part, he doesn't need it because he's made it precedent that he doesn't need it (by renewing the UN mandate at the end of 2006 without the approval of Parliament -- UN mandate that covered the occupation of Iraq -- and again at the end of 2007). Even if he was legally required to have their approval, Nouri's never concerned himself much with legality which is another reason the Iraqi peoples' voice in the 2010 elections should have been honored (which would have meant that loser Nouri not continue as prime minister). UPI reports that Dawa doesn't want US forces to remain in Iraq and they make a point to note that Dawa is Nouri's political party. It is. And it takes its orders from Nouri. Earlier this year, Dawa was full of talk of how they just might expell Nouri. They had every reason to. And yet they didn't. They have no power and they know it. They bask in the refracted light of whatever power Nouri manages to steal. Dawa just knew that Parliamentary elections would mean their true ascension. But Nouri didn't utilize them. Instead he put together a political slate (State of Law). Everytime Dawa could have stood, they chose to crawl or roll over and expose their belly in submission. To pretend that what a weak political party wants has any bearing on this issue is insane.
Dawa sent Haider al-Abadi out to make a statement. He's the political party's statement. Have we forgotten that Nouri has his own spokesperson? Or that he's designated who can and cannot speak for the government? Hint, Haider al-Abadi didn't make the list. The thing about taking a thug and grooming him into a tyrant is that you feed the ego over and over and there's no sense of connection or debt owed. Dawa waited too late to step forward and all they are now is angry child having a tantrum in a store.
Iraq was oh so briefly spoken of on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR) today and only because US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta had visited. By the way, when Diane can't remember on air (as she couldn't at the start of the hour) the outlet that her frequent guest Nadia Biblassy is with, it's really time for someone to step in and say, "Diane, go out before it gets really embarrassing." That little mini-struggle for recall of a basic fact and one that had been reviewed immediately prior to going on air? It's a sign of things to come.
Diane Rehm: All right. Let's talk about the visit of our new Secretary of Defense, Leon, pardon me, Panetta to Iraq. Tell us about it, Nadia.
Nadia Bilbassy: Well, basically this is the first visit. He's going there to nudge the Iraqi government to come up with a yes or no answer as whether they wanted the U.S. forces to stay in Iraq. As you know, this agreement that signed by President Bush and Prime Minister Maliki will expire in December 31st. And it's called the status of forces agreement, known as SOFA. So basically, he's saying, in a very blunt language, like, you have to tell us. Damn it, as he said. He used very colorful language, in complete opposite of the soft spoken former secretary of defense Robert Gates. And they understand the complexity of the situation. The Iraqi government, lead by Maliki has a coalition, shaky coalition, of the Dawa party, of the Sadrist groups, of the Kurdish nationalists. So it's a group together that they have to decide whether they want to keep U.S. forces or not. Now, on the street, I think, the concept is very unpopular. They, basically, were reinforced what they believed, that the invasion of Iraq was to get hold of Iraq's vast oil revenues and to establish a military base in the heart of the Middle East in Iraq. I will -- my guess will be that they will come up with some kind of agreement by the end of the year. But probably, regardless of how many troops will be left, whether it's 10,000 or 15,000, they still need to protect one of the biggest embassy -- U.S. Embassy's in the world, which is in Baghdad. It has 5,000 personnel, intelligence, civil servants, et cetera. So they will have some kind of forces, but also it's a message to Iran that we're not going to abandon the country. It's not going to be your playing field, it's actually -- the U.S. was going to be -- have some kind of presence in Iran.
Diane Rehm: Nadia Bilbassy of Middle East Broadcast Center. Short break, we'll be right back.
And that's all Diane could manage on Iraq. Which is why fewer and fewer military families bother to listen to her show anymore. And, no, she didn't think to note that a US soldier had died today in Iraq. On the subject of Panetta, Al Mada reports rebel rouser Moqtada al-Sadr, has issued another statement, this one directed to US Secretary of Defense and declaring that "we" will turn Iraq into a graveyard for the US. "We"? Moqtada's going to be handling drone attacks from Iran? "We"? It's exactly his inability to stand up and do as he instructs that's eroded so much confidence in Moqtada among his one-time followers.
In 2008, Moqtada's stock was almost this low. Bush, Robert Gates and Condi Rice made a huge mistake in egging on Nouri (who didn't need all that much egging) to go after Sadr's militias. This allowed Moqtada to issue statements --as he always does -- but for the statements to have more meaning than they usually did. Suddenly, in the face of an attack by US and Iraqi forces, his rantings seemed heroic and his stature rose. If the US government wants to fight Moqtada for all eternity, they'll do something stupid like the Bush administration did. If they want to neutralize him, they'll treat him with derision and indifference. If they were really smart, they'd expose a few of the sweetheart deals Moqtada received under the previous admistration (Bush administration). His stock is lower than it's ever been and his credibility can be further undermined. But if they insist upon launching or encouraging Nouri to launch a wave of attacks against his militias, they will allow Moqtada to again become 'voice of the beseiged.'
Besieged describes the Iraqi people. James Denselow (New Statesman) observes:
Yet the shockwaves of the revolutions are being felt in Iraq. Last week, CNN reported Iraqi forces beating and detaining at least seven protestors as hundreds of angry demonstrators gathered on Friday in central Baghdad. Since early February, tens of thousands of protesters have participated in demonstrations every Friday across Iraq. Maliki, like his embattled western neighbour Assad, has approached the demonstrations with his own variety of carrots and sticks. He cut his $350,000 salary in half, plans to reduce the government to 25 ministerial positions by merging the ministries that perform overlapping functions, and has sought to make a constitutional change to ensure a two-term limit to the office of prime minister. What is more, following the initial protests, the Iraqi government announced that they would be cancelling the planned purchase of 18 US-made F-16 fighter planes, instead allocating the money to improving food rationing for the poor.
The sticks meanwhile include standard acts of violence, as well as drafting legislation that Human Rights Watch believes criminalises free speech and Iraqis' right to demonstrate. The authorities have tried to bar street protests and confine them (unsuccessfully) to football stadiums. Meanwhile, several incidents of the security forces attacking and killing protestors have been reported, including a bloody encounter on the 25th of February where 12 people were killed and over 100 injured.
The US appears largely unconcerned by the spread of protests to Iraq, with its focus on ensuring its strategic posture in the country. This cedes space in the battle for legitimacy being waged, mostly through proxy, by the Iranians. The actions of Muqtada al-Sadr in the face of an extension of the US presence will be particularly scrutinised. His group controls 39 seats in the gridlocked 325-member parliament. Last April, Sadr issued a statement promising that "if the Americans don't leave Iraq on time, we will increase the resistance and restart the activities of the Mahdi Army". However it is hard to evaluate the cohesiveness of the once-feared Mahdi Army. The Asaib al-Haq and Promised Day Brigade splinter groups are evidence of Sadr's difficulty in maintaining political control. Indeed, in recent weeks, he appears to have backtracked somewhat from bombastic threats against the US, although what exactly he will do remains an unknown.
It's Friday, there are protests going on in Iraq. Revolution of Iraq reports on the demonstrations noting that police cordoned off protesters in Falluja while, in Baghdad, police made a point to search mobile phones "to provoke protesters" and that two protesters were arrested. Protesters were also arrested in Sulaymaniya For
Revolution of Iraq' Rami Hayali filmed the Baghdad protest. Aswat al-Iraq reports, "Hundreds of Iraqis demonstrated today in Tahrir Square, including government official, to-be-deported flats owners, unemployed persons and NGO activists. NGO activist told Aswat al-Iraq said that the demonstrators demanded eradication of corruption, unemployment and provision of services." Nouri's crackdown on protesters takes place not only in the streets but also behind closed doors. Dan Murphy (Christian Science Monitor) notes:
Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Iraq is also seeking to restrict speech. While the laws enacted when the US was running the country were unusually liberal for the region, Iraqi politicians have steadily whittled them back into a more authoritarian shape since they took control.
[. . .]
Iraq? HRW says it has a copy of a draft law on freedom of expression that gives the government the power to prevent political protests "in the public interest," a restriction so vague and broad that it would give a sitting government a theoretical veto on all protests. "This law will undermine Iraqis' right to demonstrate and express themselves freely," Human Rights Watch's Joe Stork said. "Rather than creating restrictive laws, the government needs to stop attacks on critics by security forces and their proxies."
Not all the attacks come from Nouri. In northern Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government, Swrkew Zahd Mahmoud is both a martyr to many and an inspiraction for further struggle. Scott Peterson (Christian Science Monitor) reports on the family of the 16-year-old who was killed by Kurdish police while peacefully protesting.
Qaradaxi became an organizer soon after protests kicked off in mid-February, and through sheer weight of presence tried to quell the violence that finally left 10 dead. Photographs show him in the thick of the street fight, trying to convince Kurdish riot police to stop shooting or throwing stones.
As an overhead fan keeps the 100-plus-degree heat at bay, at home, Qaradaxi pulls out discs with video footage that show Kurdish security forces firing with pistols at crowds on the same day – and in the same place – that Swrkew was killed. His son appears in some frames.
Qaradaxi was beaten at times, and tear-gassed to the point of writhing on the ground and choking. But he still went back to speak in the square at the podium – before security forces burned it in mid-April – to "show people that violence does work for us, to motivate people and give them hope."
Who doesn't get targeted in Nouri's Iraq? Other than Nouri himself, very few. Iraq's LGBT community has been attacked, Iraqi Jews, Iraqi Palestinians, residents of Camp Ashraf, Iraqi women, it's a long, long list. Asia News zooms in on Iraqi Christians:
The year 2010 was the worst year to date for the Christian community in Iraq, it has been revealed by the organization for human rights in Iraq, Hammurabi. Many Christians were forced to leave the country in fear of killings and violence of all kinds. The death toll among Christians over the past seven years, according to Hammurabi exceeds 822 people. 629 of them were murdered for being part of the Christian minority. Others were involved in 126 attacks of various kinds and many others have been victims of military operations undertaken by U.S. and Iraqi forces. 13% of victims are women. Among the Christian victims of 2010 there are 33 children, 25 elderly and 14 religious. In 2010 Hammurabi recorded 92 cases of Christians killed and 47 wounded, 68 in Baghdad, 23 in Mosul and one in Erbil.
The director of Hammurabi, named after the Code of Hammurabi, one of the oldest known collections of laws in human history, William Warda, said that constant monitoring and documentation show that all the Christian Churches in Iraq - Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrians, Armenians - have suffered heavy losses in the number of their faithful, all over the country. The decline is particularly strong in Baghdad and Mosul, where Christians are concentrated in greater numbers. Warda said that in one year there were more than 90 Christians killed and 280 wounded, and two churches have been the target of attacks in Baghdad. According to UNICEF, between 2008 and 2010 more than 900 children have been killed in Iraq, and 3200 injured. Children represent the 8 .1% of the victims of attacks in Iraq, where there are an increasing number of attacks against schools and educators.
Turning to some of today's reported violence, Reuters notes a Kerbala car bombing claimed 5 lives and left fifteen people injured, a Samarra roadside bombing left one Iraqi solider injured, a Baghdad sticky bombing injured a police officer, a Kerbala car bombing which claimed 2 lives and left four more people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing claimed 1 life and left three more people injured and a Mosul sticky bombing wounded two people.
Yesterday's snapshot noted the first panel of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee's hearing on mental health, Mike offered an overview of the entire hearing in "The Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing," Ava focused on Senator Scott Brown in the first panel with "Scott Brown asks if it is a staffing issue (Ava)" (at Trina's site) and I covered Senator Richard Burr at Kat's site with "Burr: I'd heard it before, I just hadn't heard it from you." because she was in Hawaii and not at the hearing. The Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee is Senator Patty Murray and her office issued the following:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Thursday, July 14, 2011 (202) 224-2834
VETERANS: Senator Murray Chairs Hearing on Gaps in Mental Health Care
Murray hears about long waiting lines and red tape from veterans who have attempted suicide, face chronic PTSD and depression
Hearing comes as VA says that 202,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities through March 31, 2011
WATCH hearing now.
(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, held a hearing to discuss access to mental health care services, including waiting times and staffing levels, outreach to veterans, the linking of mental health care to primary care, suicide prevention and problems identified by the VA Inspector General in mental health care.
"In the face of thousands of veterans committing suicide every year, and many more struggling to deal with various mental health issues, it is critically important that we do everything we can to make mental health care more accessible, timely, and impactful," said Senator Murray. "Any veteran who needs mental health services must be able to get that care rapidly, and as close to home as possible. Through its suicide hotline, VA has reached many veterans who might have otherwise taken their own lives. Each life saved is a tremendous victory, and we should celebrate those with VA. But we also have to recognize that these are veterans who reached out to VA. We want to hear about how VA is reaching out to veterans, and how easy or hard it is for veterans to access the care they earned through their service to this country."
At the hearing, Senator Murray heard from Daniel Williams, an Iraq veteran who described how an IED explosion during his 2003/2004 deployment to Iraq led to traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) injuries. Williams told the committee how those experiences then led to a suicide attempt in 2004 that was broken up by his wife and local police. He also discussed how his PTSD was received by fellow soldiers, his concerns over the stigma attached to the mental wounds of war, and his frustrations with the mental health care administered by the VA.
The Senator also heard testimony from Andrea Sawyer, wife and caregiver of Loyd Sawyer, who, after being deployed in Iraq, shared similar stories of frustration, including a failed suicide attempt. These two servicemembers, even after attempting their own lives, were met with red tape, wait times for initial appointments at the VA, and additional frustrations in seeking the mental health care they so desperately needed.
The hearing comes on the heels of a number of reports about gaps in mental health care. Two reports released by the IG showed unacceptably high patient wait times and long wait lists and an unacceptable number of veterans who are not contacted by VA between the time they were accepted and the beginning of the program. These reports also revealed that staffing levels for mental health works fell short of VA guidelines.
The GAO also published a recent report on sexual assault complaints in VA mental health units that found many of these assaults were not reported to senior VA officials or the Inspector General. VA clinicians also expressed concern about referring women vets to inpatient mental health units because they didn't think the facilities had adequate safety measures in place to protect these women. And two weeks ago GAO issued a report that found the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury can't adequately account for tens of millions of dollars it spent to improve treatments for the invisible wounds of war.
The full text of witness testimonies can be viewed here.
The full text of Senator Murray's opening statement appears below.
"Welcome to today's hearing to examine how we can close the gaps in mental health care for our nation's veterans. We all know that going to war has a profound impact on those who serve. And after more than eight years of war, in which many of our troops have been called up for deployments again and again, it is very clear that the fighting overseas has taken a tremendous toll that will be with us for years to come.
"More than one-third of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan who have enrolled in VA care have post-traumatic stress disorder. An average of 18 veterans kill themselves every day. In fact, the difficult truth is that somewhere in this country, while we hold this hearing, it is likely that a veteran will take his or her own life.
"Last week, the President reversed a longstanding policy and started writing condolence letters to the family members of servicemembers who commit suicide in combat zones. This decision is one more acknowledgment of the very serious psychological wounds that have been created by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an effort to reduce the stigma around the invisible wounds of war. But clearly much more needs to be done.
"In the face of thousands of veterans committing suicide every year, and many more struggling to deal with various mental health issues, it is critically important that we do everything we can to make mental health care more: accessible, timely, and impactful. In fact, according to data VA released yesterday, more than 202,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have been seen for potential PTSD at VA facilities through March 31, 2011. This is an increase of 10,000 veterans from the last quarterly report. Any veteran who needs mental health services must be able to get that care rapidly, and as close to home as possible.
"Over the years, VA has made great strides in improving mental health services for veterans. But there are still many gaps.
"As many of you know, just this past May, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that called attention too many of these gaps in mental health care for veterans. And while that ruling has gotten the lion's share of attention, it is one of far too many warning signs.
"Today, we will hear from the Inspector General about ongoing problems with delays in receiving health care for those veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war, like PTSD.
"In one report, published just this week by the IG, several mental health clinics at the Atlanta VA were found to have unacceptably high patient wait times. The report shows that facility managers were aware of long wait lists for mental health care but were slow to respond to the problem. The report also called into question the adequacy of VA's performance measurements for mental health access times across the entire system.
"As the IG noted, the VA only tracks the time it takes for new patients to get their first appointment. This means that since the VA is not tracking the timeliness of second, third, and additional appointments, facilities can artificially inflate their compliance with mental health access times. This is simply unacceptable and must change.
"In another report on veterans in residential mental health care the IG found that an unacceptable number of veterans were not contacted by VA between the time they were accepted and the beginning of the program, and that staffing levels for mental health workers fell short of VA guidelines.
"GAO has also recently published a report on sexual assault complaints in VA mental health units that found many of these assaults were not reported to senior VA officials or the Inspector General. VA clinicians also expressed concern about referring women vets to inpatient mental health units because they didn't think the facilities had adequate safety measures in place to protect these women.
"And just two weeks ago GAO issued a report that found the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury can't adequately account for tens of millions of dollars it spent to improve treatments for the invisible wounds of war.
"Taken together, these reports show very clearly that there is significant work to do to improve mental health care outreach and treatment.
"One way to fill in these gaps, to overcome the stigma associated with mental health care, and to eliminate wait times is to provide primary and mental health care at the same visit.
"In the hearing today, we will hear from Providence Health and Services, which was recently recognized as one of the five most integrated health systems in the country, about how they have integrated mental health services into their medical home.
"I believe we need to look to Providence and those VA programs that work for guidance on making real progress.
"Through its suicide hotline, VA has reached many veterans who might have otherwise taken their own lives. Each life saved is a tremendous victory, and we should celebrate those with VA. But we also have to recognize that these are veterans who reached out to VA.
"We want to hear about how VA is reaching out to veterans, and how easy or hard it is for veterans to access the care they earned through their service to this country. As we will hear today, despite VA's best efforts, veterans continue to experience problems when they reach out to the VA for mental health care.
"I have heard from veterans who have walked in to VA clinics and asked to be seen by a mental health provider, only to be told to call a 1-800 number. I have heard from VA doctors, who have told me VA does not have enough staff to take care of the mental health needs of veterans.
"And I have heard from veterans' families, who have seen first-hand what effects untreated mental illness can have on the family. We are here today to see that this ends. I am looking forward to hearing from all of our witnesses today.
"I hope it helps us to better understand these issues, and to address them so that our veterans can receive the timely, quality care they earned through their service.
"I will now turn to Ranking Member Burr for his opening statement."