U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice went on the Sunday talk shows with a set of talking points that were grotesquely wrong and were known to be.
Sharyl Attiksson (CBS News) reports:
Regarding the talking points: one source who reviewed the documents said removal of the word "al Qaeda" from the talking points was initiated, at least in part, by one of the "press shops." The source said press officers from the Defense Intelligence agency, the White House and the FBI were "looped in" from the start and that some of them expressed concerns in writing that the media would ask follow up questions if certain words or phrases were used. The source added that the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and then-Deputy CIA Director Michael Morell were included in these emails.
That is the most that has been learned thus far. Imagaine how much more we would know right now if the White House had cooperated and not stalled.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for today:
Senator Dean Heller: We have 300,000 veterans in Nevada. We have 10,000, right now, backlogged in the state of Nevada. We're being told now by soldiers that they are to, once they get out of the service, these men and women, once they get out of the service to immediately file a claim because it's going to take a year-and-a-half to two years in order for that claim to be processed. They're getting apology letters, three or four apology letters, before their claim actually gets filed. Can't they just process the claim instead of sending them all of these apology letters?
Heller was speaking this morning at the joint-hearing of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Today, they were hearing from the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) which is headed by John E. Hamilton who was accompanied by Robert E. Wallace, William Bradshaw, Ray Kelley and Karen Nigara. The Senate Committee Chair is Bernie Sanders, the House Committee Chair is Jeff Miller. The joint-hearings are a way for the various veterans service organizations to outline veterans needs to the members of the House and Senate Committees.
Hamilton is a lively speaker. He can motivate the listener to feel outrage or joy. But sitting through the hearing this morning, I was reminded of how VFW officials keep telling me that they have a hard time getting veterans of today's wars to join the VFW, how they seem, to some vets, to be an older persons group. One thing Hamilton could have worked on was women veterans. Nearly every example was "he." There was no example of "she." There was "guys and gals." But whether it was a medic or someone driving a truck, it was a "he" over and over. When I think of someone driving a truck in either Iraq or Afghanistan -- someone with the US military -- my first thought is usually Kelly Dougherty because she's shared her experiences in so many forums.
You want to bring in younger veterans right now? Work towards using inclusive language. At one point, a woman, Karen Nigara, was able to speak. I'm not including that because I was honestly embarrassed. Nigara conducted herself professionally but the intro was like, "And it speaks too!" And the 'we love our women veterans'? Women want to be included. They don't want to be patronized and the intro to Karen Nigara speaking seemed embarrassing. As always, I discussed the hearing with as many veterans as possible after the hearing concluded. I wasn't able to speak to any women present but two veterans under 30 did point out that intro as part of the problem the VFW has attracting women of today's wars. Again, great speaker in so many ways but Hamilton could work on conclusion and also on introducing a woman in the same way he did a man about to speak.
Let's jump into an exchange after everyone's opening remarks were finally recited.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Let me begin by asking a couple of questions. One on budgetary issues and one on the unemployment situation. As I mentioned in my opening remarks, there is a proposal floating around which would reconfigure how COLAs [Cost Of Living Adjustments] for Social Security beneficiaries and disabled veterans are calculated. What that proposed change in the annual Cost Of Living Adjustments, COLAs, are calculated would mean that veterans who started receiving VA disability benefits at age 30 -- not uncommon -- would have their benefits reduced by $1,425 at age 45, $2341 at age 55 and $3231 at age 65 according to the Congressional Budget Office. Commander Hamilton or anybody else at the table, could you describe for us the real world consequences that using this so-called Chained CPI would have on disabled veterans and surviving family members.
John E. Hamilton: Senator, thank you for the question. I think our disabled veterans have given enough. They've given enough. And obviously we're opposed to that, we remain opposed to that and-and we'll always be opposed to that. Look, when people live on disability, live on that, it's an increased hardship for them. And we'll continue to do so -- we'll be happy to talk -- our people and your people -- about why and how ever --
Chair Bernie Sanders: But I think what you're saying is that you perceive the benefits now not being overly generous. Is that right?
John E. Hamilton: Absolutely right. Absolutely correct. Let me -- You know, there's a guy in here named Mike Ferguson, Senator, who's one of my heroes. Mike was a young Marine, lost both his legs, both above the knee, okay? You can never repay that young man for his service to this country enough. 1% keeps us free. Take care of our heroes, take care of our brothers.
Chair Bernie Sanders: And the only point I want to make is the theory behind this is that we have been "too generous" in cost of living increases [laughter] -- I know. That's right. People laugh. That's the theory that's circulating around here and that's the theory we want to defeat, I think. Second question, Mr. Commander, and that is, regarding employment, you touched on this issue, based on the feedback you receive from VFW members around the country, what recommendations do you have as we continue to work to provide service members and veterans the tools they need to successfully transition? Can you comment on the employment situation?
John E. Hamilton: Yes, sir, we will. I think we need, obviously, a nation-wide hire-a-vet campaign. Veterans are great employees. They're trained. They're disciplined. They know how -- They know how to stay on task and take care of things and stay on the mission. And something else we do, we make the tax credits a little less red-tape so that the small business that can't afford to hire three CPAs and 2 attorneys to figure out how the hell to -- I'm not supposed to talk like that, I know -- but I do sometimes, I'm still a sergeant in the Marine Corps with tattoos. But we got to make it simpler so that the average business can understand the law and get around the red-tape and do what they need to do to hire our people. You know, it should be to put people back to work not to fill out forms and hire accountants. My answer.
Chair Bernie Sanders: Okay. Commander, thank you very much. Chairman Miller?
Chair Jeff Miller: Commander, the [VA] Secretary's testified and also talked to me in various meetings lately about meeting their goal of clearing the disability backlog by 2015. They are absolutely convinced that they're going to be able to do that. And I've asked the question of each organization: Do you think they're going to hit their goal of 90+ percent accuracy [and] 125-days-or-less by 2015.
John E. Hamilton: Mr. Miller, you're a great friend of veterans and I appreciate what you do. I do, from my heart. Floridian to Floridian, I believe in you. But I want to tell you something, we've heard this and I hope that I'm wrong. I pray to God every day, I grab a knee and say to the Sergeant Major upstairs, let's get it right, let's take care of our heroes. But I've been listening to this for 35 years, since I've been fighting for veterans' rights. 35 years I've heard this. I hope we get it right, I hope we get it wrong. That's why I say we need to take our time don't be in a hurry if we put it out, let's make it right. Let's make it right. Are we going to make it by 2015? I hope so. I really don't know.
Chair Jeff Miller: I think -- I appreciate your comments too because there's a lot of faith being put in the VBMS system and they're saying that that's going to be the solution that's going to solve everything. But if you don't have the proper personnel actually inputting information, doing what needs to be done, the right attitude, it's not going to get better. And you know, I-I appreciate your saying that those that are in there that are not doing their job should move on to something else.
John E. Hamilton: You betcha. You know, absolutely. Mr. Miller, I met with the President [Barack Obama] a few days ago and discussed with him that very issue again. And I want to believe. I want to believe. But, having said that, if we can't come up with some kind of program to see this VMBA, I pray it works, and if it doesn't put us in a path to where we're going and we don't see positive -- positive change -- heading on to 2015 and doing the right thing exactly what you said, maybe it's time for some people over there in the ivory tower to find themselves another job, let's get somebody over there to do the job. And I thank you for your comments.
The VFW is concerned about younger members joining. That's good, that shows outreach efforts on their part. When the Post-9/11 GI Assistance Bill was first going to go into effect, you may remember, we steered anyone it applied to towards the VFW based on the advice of a friend with another service organization. The VFW offers many services. We're including the next exchange mainly because Hamilton's talking about one such service that VFW provides.
US House Rep Beto O'Rourke: When you talked about the claims backlog and the VBA and the lack of accountability and the error rate. And when you were asked about your estimate on our ability to fix this backlog within the promised time and you said that you'd been waiting for thirty-five years for this country to get it right. I wondered if you or your membership or fellow panelists could talk about, if we're not getting these things right at the federal level, are there some local VAs, are there some states that are approaching these issues the right way that we can learn from here in Congress, in Washington, DC? We heard testimony last week from a veteran who said that, in Pittsburgh, they're turning around a claim in thirty days. We hear Ranking Member [Michael] Michaud talk about the way the system's organized in the Philippines. There are some states that have been pioneers in work force transition and in hiring a vet. Where can you point us where we're getting the culture right, where we're getting performance right and where we can apply those lessons to what we should be doing here on the national level?
John E. Hamilton: Sir, I'll let Bill or Bob talk to that but I want to say this, you look at Baltimore where they say the error rate was 40 to 60%. In the real world, those cats would be looking for a job. Okay, so who . . . [applause] Whoever alluded to the problems up there of we got to get it right or we got to train the people -- you talk about replacing folks -- in the real world, it just wouldn't happen. So there are these places where things are better than others but overall? Overall with the backlog and the error rate, it's unbelievable. You know, we have to -- and, of course, something that we need to do as an organization, I'm talking to my comrades in the back -- we need to make certain somehow, we're trying desperately to get the word out to veterans: Don't file your own claims. Listen, if I need open heart surgery, I understand what they do but I'm not going to cut my chest open, try to do it myself. We've got professional people that know what they're doing. So we've got to somehow get the word to those folks to come in here [VFW office] because what happens is when they get an incomplete claim or something's filed, it's got to back again. Sometimes, something's filed two or three times. Now it's not a year, it's two or three years sometimes. So we've got to do a better job -- We, the veterans community, the VFW, of making certain that we get the word to those people. That's why this TAP program is so important, so when these people come out of the military, we can say, "Hey, here's what you get, here's what you ought to get and here's where it is." We've got people to review those claims on both sides of the coast and they come back to make certain that they're correct. Because the average guy or gal doesn't know you're getting 30%, you should have gotten 70. Now the short answer -- that's the long answer to that -- but, Bob, is there something we need to say about location.
Robert E. Wallace: Congressman, in all fairness to VA, to VBA, there was a conscious effort made by previous Congresses and previous administrations to change the health care system from a hospital system to outpatient. Over the course of history, you can check the records, VBA was not funded as it should have been. We have the finest, as John just said, he was in Puerto Rico, they push an electronic health record. VBA never sophisticated and went with automation. The last few years, four, five, six years, we've seen a push for that and they're playing catch-up ball. It's very depressing to go into a regional office and see all those papers -- very, very depressing because each one of those paper files is some veteran that's waiting. Are there things that are happening that are good? Yes, there are. Fully developed claims is starting to catch on and starting to work and those are the kind of claims that could get done in 30 days -- diabetes, boom, boom, boom.
The VFW can help you file claims, a VFW Service Officer is trained in benefits and claims and can assist you. Hamilton mentioned the TAP program. That program received a much needed overhaul via the work of the veterans committees in the previous Congress and specifically via Senator Patty Murray's VOW to Hire Heroes Act of 2011. The Transition Assistance Program is helpful but if you're leaving the service, you can also speak with an expert at the VFW about BDD -- Benefits Delivery at Discharge. The VFW offers many things including allowing veterans to interact with one another. This also includes the local VFWs and, if you are a drinker but live in a 'dry' region where alcohol is not sold, the local VFW canteen is your best shot. It's not just a group that goes before Congress. It does go before Congress and does a lot of strong work there. But not everyone's political (and some who leave the military, leave having heard enough lies and broken promises from politicians to be turned off politics for life), so it bears noting that the VFW has many social events and interactions. On political, it bears noting that the VFW is very good at getting issues before Congress so, for example, if you're a young female veteran and you're feeling like female issues aren't being addressed within the VA framework, there's a reason for you to join, to help make your voice heard. Lastly, being a member of the VFW does not mean you cannot be a member of another (or many other) veterans organizations.
We'll return to veterans issues at the end of the snapshot. For now, the good news: Roy Gutman is back in Iraq. This means McClatchy Newspapers will have (for a brief time) some Iraq coverage. They had been using Germany's wire service (Deutsche Presse-Agentur) after apparently failing the fine Iraqi correspondents they had. (Laith Hammoudi, for example, moved over to Agence France Presse.) So this is good news and may the worst attacks Gutman be the target of be the verbal ones launched here.
Which brings us to today's report. I'm not surprised that Prime Minister and Chief Thug Nouri al-Maliki is attempting to use yesterday's incident as an excuse to again cry for the US government to hurriedly arm him but I am surprised that Gutman seems unaware that Nouri's constantly telling the US government that he needs weapons now. (There was even a joke about that in the White House the week after the election -- after Barack Obama refused to take Nouri's congratulatory call -- a snub the Iraqi media has not forgotten.)
Gutman notes Hoshyar Zebari, Foreign Affairs Minister, is among those leading the cry about how Iraq needs the weapons to defend itself.
Gutman, why doesn't Zebari focus on diplomatic issues and let the Minister of Defense address this topic. Oh, that's right, another detail not in the report: Iraq has no Minister of Defense.
Iraq hasn't had one since 2010. Recently, when Chuck Hagel's boo-boos (and who knows what else) weren't immediately kissed by the US Congress, there was talk of how Hagel needed to be confirmed and needed to be confirmed quickly because the US needed a Secretary of Defense. We're talking about a matter of weeks that the vote on Hagel was delayed and, equally true, Leon Panetta remained on the job as Secretary of Defense until Hagel was confirmed.
But Iraq has no Minister of Defense. Back in July, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) observed, "Shiite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has struggled to forge a lasting power-sharing agreement and has yet to fill key Cabinet positions, including the ministers of defense, interior and national security, while his backers have also shown signs of wobbling support."
How did this happen? Nouri's State of Law lost the 2010 parliamentary elections. Iraqiya came in first. Per the Constitution, Iraqiya had first crack at forming a government. Nouri refused to step down. That should have been a major story but most English-language outlets take their cues from the US State Dept and the administration wanted -- Barack Obama wanted -- Nouri to have a second term. (There is supposed to be a CIA report on how damaging a second term for Nouri would be to Iraq. This report has been rumored since before the March 2010 elections. The only thing that's changed in DC today is that this alleged report is now rumored to be on the verge of being leaked to the press. True or false, I have no idea.) So Nouri brought the country to a standstill for eight months. It was as though, following the November 1992 election, George H.W. Bush had refused to vacate the White House despite losing and refused to allow Bill Clinton to be sworn in.
After eight months of nothing happening, the US government was able to convince the other political leaders in Iraq to give Nouri a second term. In exchange, Nouri would give them various political wants/needs. And the US government swore this would be a binding contract so The Erbil Agreement was drawn up. This circumvented the voters, the Iraqi Constitution and democracy as it handed a second term to Nouri.
The Constitution requires certain things. I was an idiot -- not the first time (or the last) -- in November and December of 2010 because I stupidly thought the Constitution was in play. It wasn't. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and others were in on the con they pulled on the Iraqi people. Nouri was 'named' prime-minister designate like the Constitution requires. But the Constitution wasn't being followed.
I stupidly and wrongly thought that Nouri would have 30 days to name his Cabinet (that's nominate and get each member approved by Parliament in a vote). If he had failed at that, then someone else would be named prime minister-designate by Talabani.
Nouri did fail at it. No one else was named. The Erbil Agreement was extra-constitutional and overrode the Constitution. So Nouri had his second term and didn't have to follow the Constitution.
This was why he was able to do the power-grab. Refusing to nominate any people to head the three security ministries, he was able to control them.
This is against the Constitution but Nouri's whole second term is against the Constitution.
Back in October, John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast) noted some of the results of the US government refusing to back democracy:
Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq’s first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."
When Zebari whines that Iraq is at risk of attack, the proper response is not, "We'll send the F-16s immediately!" The appropriate response is, "If you feel your security may be threatened, it's probably past time your country named a Minster of Defense, a Minister of Interior . . ."
For any who are surprised that Zebari's thrown in with Nouri, don't be. Zebari thought he'd be a future king and yet when Jalal had his stroke and people were discussing who could replace Talabani, Zebari only found support among Americans -- and a small number of Americans at that. That's not surprising. After six years of working so closely with Nouri, Kurds tends to see Zebari as way too tight with Nouri.
Is Iraq threatened?
Considering that Nouri's State of Law is forever insisting that some 'Ba'athist plot' is being executed or about to be executed or requires the round up of hundreds of Iraqis, it seems like the government of Iraq thinks Iraq lives under constant threat. With Nouri's paranoia, the US needs to arm him?
Friday, January 25th, Nouri al-Maliki's forces killed peaceful protesters in Falluja. Imagine how much higher the death toll would have been if the forces could have used something greater than rifles? They could have just launched missiles on the unsuspecting. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation. That there's been no response is troubling. That the US is thinking of supplying this abusive and, yes, deadly government with even more weapons and more deadly weapons is appalling.
In yesterday's attack inside Iraq on the Syrian military, seven Iraqi soldiers are said to have been killed.
7 members of the Iraqi military were killed why? Because Iraq provided harbor to one side. Adam Schreck and Qassim Abdul-Zahra (AP) quoted Nouri's spokesperson Ali al-Moussawi declaring, "We do not want more soldiers to cross our borders and we do not want to be part of the problem." Then stop allowing fleeing sides in the combat to cross into your country.
More protesters were killed in Falluja on January 25th by Nouri's Tigris Operation Command than Syrian soldiers were killed yesterday in Iraq.
Where's Zebari's call for an investigation into the deaths of those protesters?
Alsumaria reports that Sahwa leader Ahmed Abu Risha is calling for the families of the Iraqi soldiers killed in the attack to file a lawsuit against Nouri al-Maliki for his dragging the Iraqi military into Syria's internal issues. Don't expect Matthew Weaver to blog on that -- live or otherwise.
Abu Risha is a leader of the protests in Anbar Province. All Iraq News reports that Iraqiya is stating that they will join the protesters if the government does not meet the protesters' demands. Spokesperson Haider al-Mullla is quoted stating, "The issue in Iraq cannot be neglected and we call the Iraqi National Alliance to hold the biggest responsibility in settling the crisis and calling to stop the delaying procedures in dealing with the demonstrators' demands. The IS [Iraqiya Slate] will positively deal with the political initiatives to settle the crisis and responding to the demonstrators' demands such as amending the Justice and Accountability Law and cancelling the law related to suspending the possessions of the persons included in this law, in addition to endorse the General Amnesty law draft and some other important laws."
Iraqiya is the political slate that came in first in the March 2010 parliamentary elections, beating Nouri's State of Law. Al Mada reports that Iraqiya is currently exploring whether to continue boycotting Council sessions or to withdraw? All Iraq News adds that Iraqiya has a meet-up today to address whether or not to join KRG President Massoud Barzani's call of a national meeting.
Still on Iraqiya, MP Liqa Wardi has made a very strong charge. She tells All Iraq News that Nouri's government is deliberately misleading the Iraqi people, "There is a misleading to the public by announcing that the prisoners are being released and there are committees formed to respond to the demonstrators' demands where there[are] the released prisoners, [they] belong to some provinces and certain blocs and not to the provinces that witness demonstrations. To prove it, the head of the Sadr Trend, Muqtada al-Sadr, stated that there is no balance in releasing the prisoners where the private amnesty is used for a certain sect or community." So what she's saying is that demonstrators in predominately Sunni provinces have protested about Sunnis being over-represented in the detained population and that Nouri has responded by releasing . . . Shi'ite prisoners. This might explain why the flunky Nouri put in charge (Hussain al-Shahristani, the Deputy Prime Minister on Energy -- like that makes sense) has repeatedly refused to issue a list of names of supposedly released prisoners.
Alsumaria reports a car bombing near a football stadium in Diyala Province this evening which killed 3 people and left seventeen people injured. Also targeted today? A secondary school. All Iraq News reports a Kirkuk car bombing which has claimed 5 lives and left sixteen people injured. And other violence today? National Iraqi News Agency notes an armed attack in Baghdad which claimed 2 lives and left a third person injured, 1 person shot dead in a seperate Baghdad incident, a Kirkuk grenade attack claimed the life of Turkmen official Qasim Zine El Abidine and 1 North Oil Company employee (leaving a second employee injured), and a Baiji roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left three more injured, Both NINA and All Iraq News are reporting a car bombing in Erbil today but no details. NINA later reported the car belonged to a colonel in the Peshmerga. Alsumaria reports an attack in Nineveh Province south of Mosul on the convoy of Qayyarah Saleh al-Juburich left two of his bodyguards injured. Dropping back to Monday, All Iraq News notes that 1 police officer's corpse was discovered in Mosul.
Lastly, in the US Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and also the former Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Her office notes:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Contact: Murray Press Office
Murray Calls on Shinseki to Expedite Waivers for Same-Sex Burials in National Cemeteries
After VA grants first-ever waiver for Oregon couple, Murray leads letter urging basic "fairness and equity" for all same-sex veterans and their spouses
(Washington D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray, a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, led a letter to U.S. Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki calling for an expedited waiver process granting same-sex veterans and their spouses burial rights in national cemeteries. Currently, only members of the opposite-sex are buried next to their veteran spouse in national cemeteries.
“For the LGBT members of our nation’s armed forces, and for those of us who support them, the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was only the first step on the road towards equality,” said Senator Murray. “Our country now must work to ensure each of our heroes receives the same quality care and services once they leave the military – and this includes a dignified burial for them, and their spouses. I was glad to see Secretary Shinseki honor the request of Lieutenant Colonel Campbell on behalf of her wife Nancy and am hopeful he will not only seriously consider similar requests in the future, but implement an expedited process so no veteran will have to face uncertainty when mourning the loss of their spouse.”
“We strongly believe in equality under the law for all Americans, particularly for our veterans, who continually put themselves in harm’s way for our country. It is unacceptable that, after selflessly serving their nation, these men and women who have given so much would not be allowed to be buried next to the person they love in our national cemeteries…Offering burial rights in national cemeteries to same sex spouses of our nation’s veterans is not only a matter of fairness and equity, it is simply the right thing to do.”
On January 29, 2013, Secretary Shinseki granted a waiver, the first of its kind, for the burial of civilian Nancy Lynchild in Willamette National Cemetery in Portland, Oregon. Her spouse, retired Lieutenant Colonel Linda Campbell, led the months long efforts to make the waiver a reality.
Senator Murray was joined by the following Senators in sending this letter to Secretary Shinseki: Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Mark Begich (D-AK), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Al Franken (D-MN), Chris Coons (D-DE), Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI).
The full text of the letter follows:
March 5, 2013
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Secretary of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
Dear Secretary Shinseki:
We are writing to commend you for granting a waiver to Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Linda Campbell, so that her spouse, Ms. Nancy Lynchild, can be laid to rest alongside her in Willamette National Cemetery. We strongly believe in equality under the law for all Americans, particularly for our veterans, who continually put themselves in harm’s way for our country. It is unacceptable that, after selflessly serving their nation, these men and women who have given so much would not be allowed to be buried next to the person they love in our national cemeteries.
We expect that you will continue to grant similar waivers moving forward. Making this important change is a matter of basic fairness and equity. We have applauded the President for his decision not to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court, and we welcomed the Department of Defense’s recent announcement that they will extend additional benefits to LGBT service members and their families. We also commend you, and the Department of Veterans Affairs, for working to ensure that the Department is a welcoming place for LGBT veterans and their families, and for your continued commitment to achieving equity and fairness for all of our nation’s veterans.
Although the Obama Administration has taken important steps towards achieving equality for LGBT Americans and their families, such as recognizing the validity and dignity of committed same sex couples and working to end discrimination in federal benefits on the basis of sexual orientation, there is still much more work to be done. Numerous federal benefits remain restricted by DOMA, including specific benefits that could soften the tragic blow of the loss of a loved one.
While we work to repeal DOMA in Congress, it is our hope that the Department of Veterans Affairs will continue to examine its policies and implement changes that further advance equality for all Americans. We ask that such changes include implementing an expedited waiver process, so that a veteran mourning the loss of her same-sex spouse need not also worry whether her spouse can be buried alongside her in a national cemetery. Offering burial rights in national cemeteries to same sex spouses of our nation’s veterans is not only a matter of fairness and equity, it is simply the right thing to do.
Thank you for granting spousal burial benefits to Lt Col Campbell, and for your continued commitment to our nation’s veterans. We look forward to your response on this important matter.
Senator Patty Murray
Senator Jeff Merkley
Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Dianne Feinstein
Senator Barbara Boxer
Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Maria Cantwell
Senator Mark Udall
Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Mark Warner
Senator Mark Begich
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Al Franken
Senator Chris Coons
Senator Brian Schatz
Senator Mazie Hirono
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834
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