The downgrade of United States debt is a turning point in the crisis of American and world capitalism.
The rating agency Standard & Poor’s made clear in its statement Friday that it was taking the unprecedented step of stripping US Treasury bonds of their AAA rating because the Obama administration and Congress had failed in their budget-cutting deal to meet the demands of it and the Wall Street banks for which it speaks.
S&P reiterated its call, initially made last April, that the US government approve at least $4 trillion in deficit reduction measures, including massive cuts in entitlement programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, in advance of the November 2012 elections.
Beyond the political motives behind Standard & Poor’s action and its immediate impact on international financial markets, the loss by the United States of its top credit rating has immense historical, economic and political implications. It will further erode the status of the US dollar as the world reserve and trading currency, destabilize global economic relations and accelerate the growth of national antagonisms.
Monday, August 8, 2011. Chaos and violence continue, Nouri gets punked, a War Criminal is released into civil society, the UN issues a status report on Iraq, house bombings are the new weapon fad in Iraq, Political Stalemate II continues, and more.
Starting with the Libyan War, today the latest Law and Disorder Radio began airing this morning on WBAI at 9:00 am and airs around the country throughout the week. Attorneys Heidi Boghosian, Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner (Center for Constitutional Rights) host the program and, this week's guests include former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark who discussed the illegal Libyan War. Excerpt:
Heidi Boghosian: As many listeners know, the US and NATO military operation in Libya is not a humanitarian intervention but rather part of the global war and effort to militarize North Africa. The Chinese for example have sizeable interests in Libya in the battle for oil. Meanwhile the Gaddafi leadership has continued to function despite the NATO bombing campaign over the last four months and the loss of significant parts of the country. Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney recently returned from a fact finding mission in Tripoli during a time of intense bombing. She has organized speakers to discuss how millions are spent in this operation while we're being told there are no funds available for domestic jobs, health care and education. Ramsey Clark was among the speakers and he's been following the US and NATO involvement in brutal attempts to overthrow the Gaddafi government. Ramsey Clark was a former Attorney General under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was the first AG at the Justice Dept to call for the elimination of the death penalty and all electronic surveillance. After he left the administration, he became an important critic of the Vietnam War and continued defending the rights of people worldwide from Palestinians to Iraqis to anyone who found themselves on the repressive end of government action.
Michael Smith: Attorney General Ramsey Clark, welcome to Law and Disorder.
Ramsey Clark: It's very good to be here, thank you.
Michael Smith: Harry Reid gave a reason for the United States not declaring war on Libya even though they're dropping bombs on that country by saying that, 'Well the war's going to be over with very quickly and therefore it's really not a war.' It's quite disturbing to people like you and me and Heidi who believe in the rule of law and international law to hear this kind of thing. And I wanted to ask you just initially what is the international law relating to US actions with respect to Libya?
Ramsey Clark: Well I think the reality is that it's a war of aggression. The Nuremberg Charter -- and judgment -- defines this as the supreme international crime. Because what they've done is used the appearance of growing civil war, you might say, of people rising up against their own goverment to wage a massive assault really unrelated to their activities. I mean, the first places we started hitting were Tripoli and they were no where near Tripoli and we, you know, bombed the daylights out of it, we're still bombing the daylights out of it. I talked to people in Tripoli yesterday and they think a thousand have been killed in the last few days in heavy bombings and it's spreading away from the compound. It's hitting areas all over the city. So the war of aggression seems to be a strange thing and the US was able to -- didn't take much to twist the arms of particularly France and Italy and NATO to come in and take over so we can stay in the background -- and considering our deep and lonely involvement in Iraq still and Afghanistan. It's interesting to note that people are still fleeing from Iraq to Syria because it's safer there. We see on our televisions and read in our newspapers how violent the situation is in Syria.
Michael Smith: Yeah, that really is ironic. The pretext for the United States participating in the bombing of Libya was the same pretext with respect to Yugoslavia and that was "humanitarian intervention." Can you talk to us about that?
Ramsey Clark: Well the idea of humanitarian intervention is-is good but it also contains danger because what happens, obviously, is it's invoked selectively for places where we have interests in changing the regime or the government. To go back to Rawanda and remember how outraged everyone was after but nobody bothered to intervene at the time. The French had troops there, we could have had troops there very quickly and saved the lives, perhaps, of hundreds of thousands of people -- A clear illustration of what's been happening for years in the eastern part of Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo where hundreds of thousands of people have died and are dying, and have been killed by the armed troops of Rawanda and others. Nobody's bothered to intervene. I mean the slaughter there far exceeds anything that's happened -- or could happen, for that matter except for a holocaust -- in Libya. So what you do is you selectively -- where you want to go in anyway you use humanitarian intervention as your justification. You could theoretically use that any place there are demonstrations in the Arab world right now.
Heidi Boghosian: Ramsey, I understand that Congresswoman McKinney recently returned from a fact finding mission in Tripoli and that she's been speaking out against the billion of dollars spent on this military operation. Given the economic crisis that this country is going through right now, why aren't more Congress people speaking out in opposition?
Ramsey Clark: Well, you know, the poor Congress is defaulting on its responsibility and totally involved in partisan politics and issue politics and the votes they think will be determined by other issues. They don't see the public as being concerned about military costs compared to the military budget which in its totality exceeds the civilian budget, all the other expenditures of the United States government.
Michael Smith: Yeah.
Ramsey Clark: So they can gloss over it. Until we address the issue of US military expenditures our country, our government, will be a threat to peace in the world. We spend more on the military than the rest of the world combined if you include not only our direct military expenses but foreign military aid, the guns we give to favored countries to kill other people. It's just almost impossible to think that the US will curtail its foreign interventions and aggressions while the military expenditures are at the level they are. We still have tens of thousands of troops around the world from WWII and we're developing new and dangerous weapons like the drones which have as their ultimate purpose the ability to assassinate anybody on earth, any place on earth by punching a button in Washington or some place Washington designates for button punching. We've got in the Pacific Ocean today 8 Trident nuclear submarines on alert. The cost of that is enormous. Each one of them carries 140 to 145 nuclear war heads any one of which can destroy the biggest city in the country and go beyond it. The largest war head would create a crater with a 25 mile diameter, if you can believe it. Imagine that's in New York or Shanghai.
Turning to Iraq, Saturday the editorial board of the Merced Sun-Star called for US troops to leave Iraq: "We've got more than enough of our own problems. We hope that New Year's Eve closes a bloody and barren chapter of our history. Starting a new year out of Iraq would be the best way of ensuring that the sacrifice of more than 4,000 military lives and tens of thousands of shattered military bodies and minds had been worth it. Only be leaving that sad country can we get on with the work of saving our own." But, of course, the US government is in negotations with the Iraqi government to extend the US military presence in Iraq beyond December 31, 2011. Al Rafidayn also notes that the consensus among the political blocs is that Nouri should be the chief negotiator with the US government on extending the presence of US troops in Iraq beyond 2011. Linda S. Heard (Gulf News) argues of the negotiations, "Either the [Iraqi] government has no real choice in the matter or it's a Vichy-style regime that is collaborating with Washington to promote America's geo-strategic interests above the wishes of the Iraqi people. Given that several members of the cabinet have close ties with Tehran, including Prime Minister Nouri Al Maliki who lived there for eight years, I would imagine that Iraq's leadership has little say in the matter. Either way, the government is not fit for the prupose. If it isn't in a position to refuse the deal, it should admit its own impotency and quit fooling the Iraqi poeple that the country is free and democratic or that the occupation is about to end."
Today the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights released [PDF format warning] "2010 Report on Human Rights in Iraq." The report finds that at least 3,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in violence in 2010. There are many important findings in the report including the high rate of torture and how the over reliance on "confessions" in the Iraqi courts feeds into the rate of torture. But the most important section of the report follows:
Article 17 of the ICCPR mandates the right of privacy. This provision, specifically Article 17(1), protects private adult consensual sexual activity, including homosexual behaviour.
In 1994 the Human Rights Committee considered the case of Toonan v Australia. The committee concluded that the criminalisation of sexual acts between consenting adults was a breach of a right to privacy and that the right to be free from
discrimination on grounds of sex included sexual orientation. Since then, the committee has developed and consolidated its own jurisprudence. During the Universal Periodic Review at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in February 2010, Iraq expressly and officially rejected calls by UN member States to act to protect persons on account of their sexual preferences, and to investigate homophobic hate crimes and to bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice.
UNAMI continued to receive reports during 2010 of attacks against individuals based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation. The topic of homosexuality is largely taboo in Iraq and seen as incompatible with the country's culture and religion.
Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community usually keep their sexual orientation secret and live in constant fear of discrimination, rejection by family members, social ostracism, and violence. The Iraqi Penal Code does not expressly prohibit homosexual relations between consenting adults. However, a variety of less specific, flexible provisions in the Iraqi Penal Code leave room for active discrimination and prosecution of LGBT persons and feeds societal intolerance. Police and courts regularly take into account the alleged homosexuality of the victim as a mitigating factor in relation to crimes committed against persons on account of their perceived or real sexual orientation.
Reports published by Ali Hilli, the pseudonym of the sole publicly known representative of the Londonbased Iraqi LGBT, state that on 16 June, 12 police officers burst into a "safe house" in Karbala' and violently beat up and blindfolded the six occupants before taking them away in three vans. The same report states that the police confiscated computer equipment found in the house before burning it down. The six people arrested reportedly included three men, one woman and two transgender people. Two days later, one of the men turned up in hospital with a throat wound claiming he had been tortured. UNAMI has not been able to ascertain the whereabouts of the other five individuals.
UNAMI continued to follow the cases of ten men who were persecuted in Baghdad because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation. As previously reported, the men had suffered extreme forms of violence and abuse at the hands of members of the Mahdi Army, police officers, religious leaders and local criminal gangs, which had forced them to flee to a neighbouring country in May 2009 from where they hoped to seek protection in third countries. While one of these cases was subsequently resettled through UNHCR, some of these men subsequently returned to Iraq because they claimed they lacked funds and adequate means of support. One of them contacted UNAMI stating that he was homeless and alleging that he was being subjected to further acts of violence. He reported that he could not return to his family who had threatened to kill him because of his sexual orientation.
Why is that important? For a number of reasons including the reason that it was time for a new special envoy to Iraq. 'Addressing' the issue in private is not addressing it. Helping Muhammed in private and telling everyone to be silent may assist Muhammed (largely in leaving Iraq) but does nothing to improve or truly address the situation in Iraq for other LGBT-ers (or those suspected of being LGBT). As the assaults on the LGBT community became one of the biggest issues in Iraq, not only was the UN repeatedly practicing a position of silence but, in their silence, encouraged the continued discrimination. The UN's recent decision to treat LGBT rights as they do other human rights is part of a continued examination within the UN of this issue. The report, as is, would not have been published with the special envoy remaining. Specifically, the section we quoted would not have made it into the report. As noted in Friday's snapshot, Martin Kobler will be UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's new special envoy to Iraq.
The report has many important sections and we'll pull from it in every snapshot this week. Today we'll focus on the section on Iraqi women. The report notes that women have seen continued attacks on their rights: "Respect for women's rights deteriorated in some ways in 2010. While quotas ensured women were elected to the CoR in the general election in March, only one woman was appointed to a cabinet post by the end of 2010 following a prolonged period of government formation. [. . .] Sections of the Iraq Criminal Penal Code, which encourage honour crimes, remain in place, and there is still no law dealing with domestic violence." The report notes that Iraq is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (click here to read the UN contract) whose Article 3 and Article 26 cover the equal rights of women. In addition, the government signed onto the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. In addition, Article 14 and Article 16 of the Iraqi Constitution guarantees equal rights while "Article 37 prohibits forced labour, slavery trafficking in women or children and enforced prostitution."
A record number of women ran in the 2010 elections for the 80 seats designated for women despite facing "a lack of support from the public at large, public discouragement or even thrats from male relatives, patronizing behavior from male politicians, and internal ideological divisions within the main political groupings on the appropriate role of women in the political, social, and economic life of the country." Women are not represented on many committee in Parliament "such as the Defence and Security Committee, Tribal Committee, and the National Reconciliation Committee." The report notes, "The disappearance of women almost entirely from the cabinet represents a significant shrinkage of space in terms of women's visibility in the political sphere."
The report doesn't note it, but visibility goes two ways. As we noted during the Bush administration and during the Barack administration, the US could greatly help Iraqi women by appointing a woman ambassador to the country. James Jeffrey is the fifth US Ambassador to Iraq (since the start of the Iraq War). How many have been women? Zero. Don't think that doesn't send a message. The US government has hired five people to fill that post and never once hired a woman for it? That's appalling. Chris Hill's tenure made clear that competency on the job was not a requirement but apparently having that "Y" chromosome is.
The report notes that so-called "honour killings" remain a crime. The report does not word it that way when introducing the topic but several pages later (page 33) it suddendly does. These are not honor killings. To accept and use that language is to re-enforce the behavior. These murders take place "regularly" in the KRG. In addition, the report notes that female genital mutilation continues in the KRG with it being most common (in 2010) in Sulaymaniyah and Erbil. Anecdotal data "and other information" suggest domestic abuse is a problem throughout the country. The Iraqi government opened two domestic abuse centers in Baghdad, one in February 2010, the other in July 2010. In addition, some Iraqi women are seeking shelter in prison, the report maintains. There are four women's shelters in the KRG.
The report notes that paragraph 41 of the Iraqi Penal Code needs to be repealed. This section (me, not the report which is too weakly worded here) legalizes domestic abuse. There's no way around it, that's what it does. When you say the a "legal right" is "punishment of a wife by her husband," that is legalizing domestic abuse and it can't be prettied up and it shouldn't be. That this was written in while Iraq was occupied demonstrates not only the thug exiles disdain for women but also the US government's.
The report moves to the KRG where it notes 36 seats in the 111 KRG Parliament are reserved for women. Despite this, the KRG only has one female minister (head of a ministry in the Cabinet). 2010 saw more women in the KRG willing to come forward to report abuse:
In the first six months of 2010 alone, the DFVAW registered 2,040 complaints, including domestic violence, killings, burnings and other forms of abuse, compared with 1,446 cases during the second half of 2009. The cases reported between January and June 2010 include 59 murders and suicides, 239 cases of burning and 641 incidents of physical and psychological abuse including 63 cases of sexual abuse. Some of these cases, particularly burnings, were reported as household "accidents" or as self-immolation attempts by women. Others are reported to have been perpetrated by relatives of the women victims. The remaining 1,038 cases involved other complaints by women alleging abuse or harassment by relatives as well as non-family members.
Women are twice as likely to be attacked by a family member as by a non-family members. Victims are more liekly to be married (80% were) and to be between 18 and 30-years-old. The report notes that a 22-year-old woman in Qaladza who is a wife and mother ended up in the "hospital with severe burns" and her 'crime' was asking her husband why he was looking for a second wife "without informing her."
Let's move to the issue of trafficking. In the KRG, this appears to "be a growing problem." Foreign women and Iraqi women are being trafficked with foreign women more often then forced into the role (don't call it a 'job,' this is human trafficking) of "domestic helper" and Iraqi women more likely into prostitution. Now for throughout Iraq. The report notes that men have also been the "victims of trafficking, too." And that foreigners and Iraqis are both subjected to tafficking, resulting in them becoming household servants and sex-workers.
Again, we'll note the report in each of the snapshots this week. Turning to violence reported today, Reuters notes a Haswa home bombing injured four members of a police officer's family, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 child and left an Iraqi soldier injured and, last night, two Baghdad bombings left eight people injured. Home bombings are becoming a new favorite weapon. Yesterday Reuters noted an Iskandariya home bombing claimed the lives of 5 people from one family and left nine more injured and Yang Lina (Xinhua) reports a Baghdad home bombing killed a Sahwa leader and his son while leaving two other female family members injured.
Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) calls it "a black eye for Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's government" -- what's he referring to? Saturday Al Rafidayn reported Nouri al-Maliki spent hours before determining to dismiss the Minister of Electricity who is accused of having dozens of contracts (worth billions) in "fictitious names" (that might be termed "embezzlement" and "fraud" if the charges are correct). For those who've fogotten it was a little bit earlier this time last year that Nouri sacked the last Minister of Electricity. He then had the Minister of Oil fill both posts (without Parliament's approval). Aswat al-Iraq reported Sunday that Iraqiya MP Wihda al-Jumaily supports the firing and states "if the charges proved correct, and the general inspector was right about the existence of the two phony companies, we will be hand in hand wih Maliki." Salam Faraj (AFP) added that Raad Shallal al-Ani is said to have signed off on "$1.7 billion" in questionable contracts and that "It was not immediately clear, however, whether the dismissal would need the approval of parliament, or whether Maliki had approved a pre-existing resignation letter from Ani in order to fire him." Waleed Ibrahim (Reuters) reported, "A government ombudsman said on Saturday that Iraq had cancelled power plant contracts worth $1.7 billion with a Canadian and a German company after finding 'manipulation and misleading information' about their finances or their ability to carry out the work." And for those wrongly thinking that losing 2 Ministers of Electricity in two years somehow means Nouri is on the ball, he wasn't providing the supervision, was he? That's really underscored when Dar Addustour reminds that they reported on this issue July 1th and noted that one of the companies was fictitious. Things got even more interesting when Al Mada reported on rumors that the fired minister may expose other dubious contracts, contracts that took place before he was Minister of Electricity. Muhanad Mohammed (Reuters) reports, "Iraq's government on Monday said it had been duped when it signed power plant contracts worth $1.7 billion with foreign companies that it later discovered were either bogus or had lied about their financial status." Aswat al-Iraq adds, "A member of the Parliamentary Integrity Commission said today that the commission received additional information the phony company that is at the center of the ongoing scandal with Raad Shalah is being run by a high-ranking Iraqi official."
In other news of corruption accusations, Dar Addustour reports Ahmed Chalabi accuses the Ministry of Oil of rewriting Iraqi oil contracts to benefit BP -- with one clause insisting Iraq pay BP for every barrel of oil even if production comes to a standstill. Al Mada notes that Chalabi cites an article in the Observer. The Al Mada article is much more in depth, quoting Chalabi in full. If I thought Chalabi was the least bit credible, we'd provide a long excerpt of his statements.
Saturday War Criminal Charles Graner was released from prison Saturday. It's He got a dishonorable discharge and was sentenced to 10 years (he only served six) after, as CNN noted in real time, being found "guilty of 10 charges, including aggravated assault, maltreatment and conspiracy." It was the Abu Ghraib prison scandal -- now a part of the distant history because the Iraq War has gone on so long. Graner and those serving with him abused Iraqi prisoners. They physically abused them, they sexually abused them, they humiliated them and they had no real defense for their actions.
Though some involved in torturing were young, Graner was neither young nor inexperienced. He was already 34 and he'd previously served in the first Gulf War. His parents stated at the time that he was a fall guy for higher ups. There's little doubt (though no one's been able to prove it in court thus far) that the torture orders came from the White House (that was when Bush occupied it). There was no accountability above Graner. But if his parents want to boo-hoo over that, let's remember that Graner refused to take the stand in his own trial. He was caught. He chose not to implicate the ones above him. The editorial board of Gulf News points out that "to this day no senior US military officer has taken responsibility for what was going on in the US-managed prisons. Then secretary of defence was Donald Rumsfeld, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was General Richard Myers. Neither took any blame for the crimes, and their careers continued as though nothing wrong had happened in Abu Ghraib's cells."
He's a War Criminal for his actions and he knows it. After his sentencing, he told CNN, "We were called to violate the Geneva Convention. We were asked to do certain things I wasn't trained to do." He's a War Criminal and he had a choice. Aswat al-Iraq notes the Iraqi Parliament's Human Rights Commission called the release "utter negligence of Iraqi blood." AFP interviews (link is video) an Iraqi woman in Baghdad about Grainer's release and she stated, "By coming to Iraq, doing whatever they feel like doing, killing Iraqi people, all because they have immunity, do you think that's fair?" An Iraqi man states, "He should be executed for the crimes he commited in Abu Ghraib. The American committed many ugly crimes against the Iraqi people so he should have a fair trial which can become an example for the others."
Turning to the US and veterans issues, Feminist Wire Daily notes: "In an effort to better address the medical needs of the thousands of women veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, the Veterans Affairs Department (VA) started a "mini residency program" to refresh doctors and nurse practitioners, many of whom are more accustomed to treating male veterans, on women's healthcare. Approximately 1,100 health care providers have completed the course, which offers training on pelvic and breast exams, as well as services for women veterans who have been sexually assaulted. " Senator Patty Murray is the Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. In a recent hearing, she again raised the issue of treatment of female veterans specifically noting the lack of privacy at the VA for female patients and how one woman was expected to go through her appointment while being started at by men waiting for their appointment (stared at while examined by the doctor). From that July 27th hearing:
WEDNESDAY: Murray at Amazon Headquarters to Discuss Hiring Heroes Act
With unemployment rate among young veterans at over 27%, Senator Murray will discuss her landmark bill that will require job skills training for every separating service member, create new pathways to private sector and federal employment; Senator Murray will hear firsthand from employees of Amazon's successful
veterans hiring program.
(Washington, D.C.) -- Wednesday, August 10th U.S. Senator Patty Murray, Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, will visit Amazon Headquarters in to discuss current efforts to address unemployment among our nation's veterans. Senator Murray's bill, the Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, is the first of its kind to require broad job skills training for service members returning home and comes at a time when more than one in four veterans aged 18-24 are unemployed. In addition to providing new job skills training to all service members, the bill will also create new direct federal hiring authority so that more service members have jobs waiting for them the day they leave the military, and will improve veteran mentorship programs in the working world. For more information on the bill visit HERE.
Workers hired under Amazon's veterans recruiting program will also be sharing their stories at the event.
WHO: U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Amazon workers hired under their veteran hired program
WHAT: Senator Murray will speak at the Amazon headquarters in Seattle to highlight her Hiring Heroes Act of 2011, a bill that will require job skills training for
service members, create new pathways to private sector and federal employment
WHEN: Wednesday, August 10th
10:30 AM PT
WHERE: Amazon Headquarters
440 Terry Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98109
The US military now tracks suicides of those serving. Each month, the Army releases their data. And while this gives the appearance that something's being done to address the crisis, veterans suicides are not being tracked by the government (or that's the government's claim). Sharon Jayson (USA Today) reports the University of Utah's National Center for Veterans' Studies is presented findings Thursday at the American Psychological Association convention in DC. The National Center for Veterans' Studies will be highlighting a higher suicide attempt rate among college students with military service -- six times higher -- than students who had not. Brian Maffly (Salt Lake Tribune) adds, "In a new study led by the University of Utah's National Center for Veterans Studies (NCVS), researchers found that 46 percent of those responding to a survey reported some suicidal thinking, while 10 percent planned suicide and 7.7 percent attempted it. Eighty-two percent of those who attempted suicide experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD." Wendy Rigby (San Antonio's KENS 5 -- link has video and text) reports on the issue andspeaks with Dr. Craig Bryan of the UT Health Science Center who states, "The initial reaction was just shock and we were quite alarmed actually. The transition for many is much more difficult than what we often assume it would be. It's just a very different lifestyle. It's a very different lifestyle and as we all know it's just stressful to make those types of changes in life in general."
Last week, Senator Patty Murray's office issued the following news release:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, August 3, 2011 (202) 224-2834
VETERANS SUICIDES: Senators Call on Nation's Governors to Begin Reporting Veterans Suicides to the VA in Order to Accurately Track National Crisis, Improve Prevention Efforts
Letter focuses on the need for 41 states that do not currently communicate information about veterans suicides to begin tracking and reporting
(Washington, D.C.) -- U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), Chairman of the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee, has joined with Senators Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Max Baucus (D-MT), and Robert Casey (D-PA) to call on state Governors to begin reporting critical statistics on suicides among military veterans in their states. The effort, which comes amid a steadily rising suicide rate among veterans and members of the military, focuses on pushing 41 states to create a direct link to the VA to communicate information about veteran suicides. That information is particularly important for tracking and prevention efforts as many suicides among veterans not enrolled in the VA often go unrecorded.
"One of the most significant obstacles to understanding veteran suicide is the lack of information available regarding these individuals," the Senators wrote. "In many cases the Department of Veterans Affairs does not even know that a veteran has died if that individual was not enrolled in VA health care."
In addition to the National Governors Association the letter sent by the Senators also went to the National Association of Medical Examiners, which is the professional organization for medical examiners and death investigators who are responsible for investigating deaths that are violent, suspicious, or otherwise unusual.
The full text of the Senators' letter is below:
July 20, 2011
The Honorable Dave Heineman
Chair, National Governors Association
444 North Capitol Street
Washington, DC 20001-1512
Dear Governor Heineman:
As you know, there has been a disturbing rise in suicide rates among veterans and members of the military. We are sure you find this trend as troubling as we do. As we continue our work to provide all the needed resources and services to assist servicemembers and veterans with mental health concerns, we ask for your assistance in this effort.
One of the most significant obstacles to understanding veteran suicide is the lack of information available regarding these individuals. In many cases the Department of Veterans Affairs does not even know that a veteran has died if that individual was not enrolled in VA health care. This makes it very difficult for researchers and mental health professionals to study the information and design effective, targeted campaigns to prevent suicide.
This is a result of the fact that only 16 states provide information to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Violent Death Reporting System. VA has also been working with the states to create a direct link between the states and VA to communicate information about veteran suicide, but so far only nine states have reached such an agreement with the Department.
We understand that many states have efforts underway to address this problem. It is important to ensure that these efforts are completed quickly. Further, with respect to the states which have not yet begun such efforts, we must encourage those governors to see that their states begin working with VA to reach an agreement and provide this information directly to the Department. As you know, these arrangements will be very beneficial as they will allow VA to utilize the timeliest data to improve the efficacy of suicide prevention efforts.
Thank you for your assistance, we look forward to working with you on behalf of the nation's veterans.
John D. Rockefeller IV
the salt lake tribune