Thursday, January 10, 2019

Dear Diary . . .

I love this new meme.

  1. This tweet which started the meme by now belongs in the Smithsonian.
  2. Cannot๐Ÿ‘ stop๐Ÿ‘ laughing๐Ÿ‘ Who would have imagined Jim Acosta would give the end-all be-all best defense of the wall of anyone anywhere Brb, dyinggg

It is hilarious.  You can even picture Jim Acosta on his bed, flat on his belly, knees bent with feet in the air, as he ponders how to do his diary writing.  :D

This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Thursday, January 10, 2019.  Another VA scandal, more assaults under investigation in the US military, nothing ever changes . . .

Starting in the US.  In Congressional hearing after hearing, pompous VA officials claim that they are helping veterans and that they are focused on their job duties.  Some are more convincing at the pose than others -- Allison Hickey, for example, fooled only the deeply stupid.  Don't weep for Allison.  Forced to resign in disgrace, she now has a high paying job at The Spectrum Group where she trades on the power her former VA position once gave her.  Yeah, she's another cheap hustler but, then again, wasn't that all she ever was?

The VA has far too many inept and corrupt officials -- even without Allison these days.  The latest VA scandal?  Misusing funds for suicide prevention.  Senator Tammy Baldwin's office issued the following:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin joined Senator Jon Tester (D-MT) and 19 of their colleagues to take the Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) to task for misusing its resources for suicide prevention outreach.

Following a report from the Government Accountability Office that poor leadership at the VA resulted in a misuse of resources and lackluster outreach efforts to at-risk veterans, the Senators are demanding a full accounting of the VA's budget for suicide prevention and mental health outreach and for the VA to consult with public and mental health outreach experts on how to better track the VA's performance.

Of the $6.2 million allocated to paid suicide prevention outreach like promoted social media posts and sponsored keyword search results, the VA only spent $57,000, less than one percent of its budget.

“As suicide prevention is the VA's highest clinical priority and the third highest priority in its 2018-2024 Strategic Plan, it is appalling that the VA is not conducting oversight of its own outreach efforts,” the Senators wrote. “We request that you provide a full accounting of the $17.7 million the VA budgeted for its suicide prevention and mental health media outreach for Fiscal Year 2018. We also request that rather than rely strictly on metrics the VA develops internally, that you consult with experts with proven track records of successful public and mental health outreach campaigns with a particular emphasis on how those individuals measure success.”

The report also found that the VA does not have trackable goals or targets to evaluate the effectiveness of its suicide prevention efforts. In addition, the report found that a lack of consistent or permanent leadership hampered the VA's suicide prevention efforts and outreach.

Baldwin and Tester are joined by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN) and Doug Jones (D-AL).

The Senators’ letter is available HERE.

Last June, the VA released  "VA National Suicide Data Report 2005–2015."  Among the findings:

  •    Suicide rates increased for both Veterans and non-Veterans, underscoring the fact that suicide is a national public health concern that affects people everywhere.
  • The average number of Veterans who died by suicide each day remained unchanged at 20.
  • The suicide rate increased faster among Veterans who had not recently used Veterans Health Administration health care than among those who had.

At the time of the report's release, Peter O'Rourke insisted, "Suicide remains a top clinical priority.  One life lost to suicide is one too many. Suicide is a serious public health concern in the Veteran population and across all communities nationwide."  Its the sort of lip service the Allison Hickeys spout and it's just lip service.  Over and over, they say it but, as their behaviors demonstrate, they don't really care.  If you doubt it, O'Rourke spouted those words when he was Acting VA Secretary.  He no longer holds that position.  Remember why?

As Maria Biery (WASHINGTON EXAMINER) noted last month:

A senior adviser and former acting secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Peter O'Rourke, has resigned under pressure after White House officials were informed he was getting paid to do little to no work, according to the The Washington Post.

Four sources told the Post that before leaving the job on Friday, O'Rourke rarely came to work. White House officials started to express concern about the adviser's work schedule last week. O'Rourke's salary at the department was reportedly as high as $161,000.

Again, these officials speak strongly in public, while the cameras are out, but then they go back to doing nothing.

The National Suicide Prevention Line is 800-273-8255 and you can also visit the website.  And, for more information and assistance, you can visit the Veteran's page at Suicide Prevention Line.

Senator Baldwin is also requesting an Air Force investigation into another issue. AP reports:

Baldwin, a Wisconsin Democrat, asked the Air Force on Nov. 13 to investigate claims involving members of the 115th Fighter Wing's Security Forces Squadron, a group of about 100 airmen that polices the Truax Field Air National Guard Base in Madison.
Baldwin made the request after Jay Ellis, a master sergeant in the squadron, contacted her office and said he had learned of six incidents of sexual harassment or sexual assault against female squadron members between 2002 and 2016. He alleged that high-ranking commanders have done little to address them. One of the women told The Associated Press in an interview that superior officers sexually assaulted her and her friend during a party in 2002 at a training base in Nevada as the unit was preparing to deploy to Iraq.

Last May, the US Defense Dept issued its "Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military."  The report found that assault was not decreasing -- it had actually increased by 10% from the previous study (the increase came from women reporting assaults -- 1,084 men had reported in the previous annual study and that was more or the less the same number in the latest report; however, female service members reporting assaults had increased by 13%).  The other numbers were:

6,769 assaults during the study period
5,864 were assaults on service members
868 were assaults on civilians and foreign nationals
37 were assaults on "victims for whom status data were not available"

Zachary Cohen and Ryan Browne (CNN) reported on last year's annual report and noted:

The Army recorded the highest number of reported assaults last year with 2,706 and saw an increase of 8.4% compared to 2016. The Air Force documented 1,480 reports with an increase of 9.2% while the Navy saw an increase of 9.3% with 1,585 reports, according to the Pentagon study.
But the Marine Corps saw the largest increase in reports among the four branches at 14.7% -- a rise that has caught the attention of the Pentagon's Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office. 

Female service members and veterans can refer to SWAN (Service Women's Action Network) for resources and information.  And if that's too partisan -- sorry, that is an issue and SWAN's CEO needs to work harder to avoid looking like a partisan hack, start by focusing on assault on your Twitter feed and not nonsense, you can utilize RAINN which provides assistance to all survivors of assault -- regardless of gender.  Along with the website, RAINN also has a hotline: 800-656-HOPE.

And I'm damn serious about SWAN's partisan b.s.  I've heard complaints about this for two months but only now looked.  If you are the CEO of SWAN, it is your duty to be inclusive on your Twitter feed.  If you're not going to be inclusive, people won't use you as a resource -- and I certainly won't recommend you anymore.  Your supposed duty is to those who have been assaulted.  Stop your partisan nonsense then.  Anyone can be assaulted.  And not only might some right-wing women in the military be assaulted and need help, more to the point, the bulk of America is sick to death of your partisan b.s.  You may think you look 'work' but, newsflash, you're only supposed to look like your goal is to eradicate assault.

In other news, RT reports:

Iraq is closing its camps for the displaced in the western Anbar province, a little over a year since it fought its last battle against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS). The closures are casting vulnerable families into a maelstrom of peril as many cannot return home since they have been accused by their tribes of collaborating with IS, AP said. Others worry there is no work or housing to return to. Stragglers are being sent to two camps deep in Anbar. When IS swept through northern Iraq in 2014, the militants triggered a migration and displacement crisis as millions fled their homes. Some 1.8 million people out of Iraq’s population of 38 million are still waiting to return home.

RT is mistaken.  Fighting in Anbar Province has continued throughout 2018.  Phillip Issa covers the same story for AP and notes:

Some of the families protested that they had no homes to return to. The army said they would be sent to Amariyat al-Fallujah, a remote camp ringed by chain-link fences and barbed wire.

“They threatened us,” said Khalwa Hamid, 27. “They said, whoever doesn’t leave, we’ll haul them out in our Humvees.”

Back to the US Congress for this press release from Senator Johnny Isakson's office:

Contact: Amanda Maddox, 202-224-7777
Anna Devanny, 202-224-9126

Isakson Elected to Third Term as Senate VA Committee Chairman
‘Proud to continue fighting for our veterans’
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., received a unanimous vote from his colleagues to serve a third term as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs (VA) for the 116th Congress, which formally began on Jan. 3, 2019, and runs through Jan. 3, 2021. Isakson has served as chairman of the committee since January 2015.
Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate VA Committee since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is also home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the military as well as home to nearly 700,000 veterans.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to once again serve as the chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs,” said Isakson. “Our committee has worked tirelessly to reform the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and ensure that our veterans receive the care and benefits they deserve. We owe our veterans a department that is responsive to them and their individual needs, and I’m proud to continue fighting for our veterans.”
Isakson will serve alongside Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., who returns for a second term as the ranking Democrat on the committee. In addition, Sens. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., will be joining the committee this session, bringing the total committee membership to 17 senators with a breakdown of nine Republican and eight Democrat members.
“Throughout the 115th Congress, the committee showed the American people that, regardless of political party, we are on the same team when it comes to getting things done for our veterans,”Isakson continued. “I look forward to working with Senator Tester and our returning committee members as well as the three new members of the committee to build on the progress we have made, to solve problems as they arise and to ensure the successful implementation of major reforms designed to improve the daily lives of our nation’s veterans.”
During the 2017-2018 Congress, the Senate passed 25 pieces of legislation, which were all signed into law, to reform veterans’ health care and benefits and to make the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more responsive to the veterans it serves. Of those bills, some of the most significant reforms include the landmarkVA MISSION Act, the Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act, theHarry W. Colmery Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2017, and the Veterans Appeals Improvement and Modernization Act of 2017.
In addition, the Senate also passed nine VA facility naming bills that were signed into law. The Senate has also confirmed 16 of President Trump’s nominees to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. Read more about the committee’s work for veterans here.
In the 116th Congress, Isakson said the committee will focus on overseeing the implementation of these new laws by the department to ensure veterans are being well served.
A full list of committee members follows:
Republican Members for the 116th Congress:
Johnny Isakson, Georgia (chairman)
Jerry Moran, Kansas
John Boozman, Arkansas
Bill Cassidy, Louisiana
Mike Rounds, South Dakota
Thom Tillis, North Carolina
Dan Sullivan, Alaska
Marsha Blackburn, Tennessee
Kevin Cramer, North Dakota
Democrat Members for the 116th Congress:
Jon Tester, Montana (ranking member)
Patty Murray, Washington
Bernie Sanders, Vermont
Sherrod Brown, Ohio
Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut
Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii
Joe Manchin, West Virginia
Kyrsten Sinema, Arizona
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs is chaired by U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., in the 116th Congress. Isakson is a veteran himself – having served in the Georgia Air National Guard from 1966-1972 – and has been a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs since he joined the Senate in 2005. Isakson’s home state of Georgia is home to more than a dozen military installations representing each branch of the armed services as well as nearly 700,000 veterans.

The following community sites -- plus PACIFICA EVENING NEWS and GUNS & BUTTER -- updated: