Wednesday, February 06, 2013

More obstacles to employment

We remain in a recession.  Jobs are hard to come by.  And if that isn't bad enough, Moneywatch reports that prospective employers are now checking out credit histories:

Alfred Carpenter, 52, was working for a high-end shoe store in 2007, when the recession put the company out of business. A long-time salesman, Carpenter wasn't worried about getting another job, but then broke an ankle a few months later and ended up in the hospital. With no insurance and a $50,000 emergency room bill, he filed for bankruptcy protection.
Then his troubles got worse. One employer after another rescinded job offers after checking his credit report, he says. He finally found work, but at a fraction of his usual pay.
Such a story is far from unique. What many job applicants do not know is that credit reports are regularly used in hiring decisions, leaving millions of credit-scarred consumers in a Catch-22. They're broke, so they have credit woes; but those credit woes keep them from getting the work that could cure their ills.

If they'd used credit checks on me, I never would have been hired after my first five years of marriage.  My husband and I were forever in debt (eight kids) and forever late paying one bill.  I did all the tricks, send the check for the water bill to the electric company and vice versa, 'forget' to sign a check sent to the right place, etc.

I can't imagine how people struggling in today's bad economy can pass a credit check.  I would assume most people would have that problem today.  Especially today.

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

Wednesday, February 6, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, another suicide bombing in Iraq, the UN calls for an end to female genital mutilation, Iraqiya returns to the Cabinet meetings, DoD and VA fail to meet their assigned tasks, and more.

Starting with Cindy Sheehan who notes political prisoner Lynne Stewart explaining that her cancer has returned.  We'll note Lynne in the snapshot tomorrow -- today, we've got Congress, DoD, VA, Toby Dodge, and more already.   You can refer to Third's "Lynne Stewart's cancer has returned, release her" for now.

Turning to War Criminal Colin Powell who, ten years ago, appeared before the United Nations (February 5, 2003) to 'make the case' for war on Iraq by lying.  Lawrence Wilkerson may never be able to become the second Mrs. Colin Powell, but Wilkerson can and does 'stand by your man' right now.  And sadly, a lot of people assist Wilkerson in whitewashing Colin Powell -- but the blood never fades, all that blood of the innocents on Colin Powell's hands.  Today Norman Solomon appeared on Democracy Now! to debate Wilkerson .  Excerpt.

NORMAN SOLOMON: Well, we just heard Colonel Wilkerson say that "we were all wrong." I’m quoting him here from a few minutes ago. In fact, we were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes, and many guests on Democracy Now! demolished those claims from the Bush administration in real time. The organization where I work, the Institute for Public Accuracy, put out many news releases documenting the falsities coming from Colin Powell’s office and the entire administration, including the week that he gave his now-infamous speech at the United Nations. We had U.N. weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter and Hans von Sponeck demolishing many of those claims being made, again, in real time.
So, what we’ve heard again today -- and I think it’s very disappointing -- from the former chief of staff here of Colin Powell is the reiteration of these supposedly exculpatory, actually, excuses for just following orders. And I could condense what Colonel Wilkerson just said about Colin Powell’s role in the lead up to the war in Iraq: "We were just following orders, and Dick Cheney made us do it." No, Dick Cheney didn't make you do it. There's something called resignation. There’s something called speaking up and the First Amendment. There are a lot of dead Americans and many more Iraqis because of the silence and the following of orders when we look at what actually took place.
Now, one of the most important facts is that, 10 years later, an ongoing legacy of Colin Powell’s behavior -- and, unfortunately, of our guest, as well, and the entire upper echelons of the Bush administration -- is a pattern of impunity -- impunity to lie, impunity to deceive and distort, impunity that is personal, that is professional and is governmental. And that kind of impunity, which has caused so much death and misery in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere, is being fast-forwarded, is prefigurative for where we are now. And so, even today, although what’s done is done, we might say, the failure of people like Colin Powell to step up and say, "Look, not only was I wrong, but in planning and implementing aggressive war, I violated the Nuremberg Principles" -- if we could get those kind of forthright statements from these former top officials, we could look at the agenda building for war on Iran in a more understanding light.

Very well said by Norman Solomon who is asking people to go to this Roots Action page and let your senators know your concern over the nomination of John Brennan to be the next CIA Director.  Also calling out Brennan and Powell is David Swanson who has come up with The Colin Powell Memorial B.S. Award.

Today the United Nations issued a press release on the topic of female genital mutilation:

Fewer girls are subjected to the life-threatening practice of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) according to new data from the United Nations, released on 6 February, the International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation. The data show that FGM/C is becoming less prevalent overall and the younger generation is less vulnerable to the practice.
In the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East, where the practice of FGM/C is concentrated, on average, 36 per cent of girls aged 15-19 have been cut compared to an estimated 53 per cent of women aged 45-49. The decline is particularly sharp in some countries: in Kenya, for example, women aged 45-49 are three times more likely to have been cut than girls aged 15-19.
“This progress shows it is possible to end FGM/C” said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. “FGM/C is not only deeply wrong, we can and must end it to help millions of girls and women lead healthier lives.”
These recent estimates produced by UNICEF show that at least 120 million girls and women have experienced FGM/C in these 29 countries. Given present trends, as many as 30 million girls under the age of 15 may still be at risk. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C is currently making progress in preventing these girls and future generations from being exposed to FGM/C.
The new estimates follow the unanimous adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution in December 2012, calling on Member States to intensify efforts towards the complete elimination of FGM/C.
Since 2008, when the UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on FGM/C was established, nearly 10,000 communities in 15 countries, representing about 8 million people, have renounced the practice. Last year, a total of 1,775 communities across Africa publicly declared their commitment to end FGM/C.

All Iraq News reports the UN called on the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government to eliminate the practice of female genital mutilation and finds that 8% of Iraqi women ages 15 to 49 have had some form of FGM -- the bulk of the 8% reside in Erbil, Kirkuk and Sulaimaniya.

For the fourth day in a row, Iraq sees a suicide bombing. Bi Mingxin (Xinhua) reports a suicide car bombing at an Abu Ghraib military base resulting in the deaths of 5 soldiers with another nine injured.  Alsumaria notes that the attack took place at noon local time.   All Iraq News reports an attack on Mosul checkpoint left 2 police officers dead.  Alsumaria adds that the corpse of a 22-year-old female was found in Kirkuk -- signs of torture and gunshot wounds -- and that a Baghdad assasination attempt (by sticky bombing) on the Minister of the Enivornment's Sargon Lazar Salioh left his driver injuredPress TV notes a Mussayib attack which left 3 police officers dead and three more injured. And Alsumaria is reporting that a Salahuddin Province bombing (outside of Tikrit) claimed the life of 1 military officer and left two soldiers injured (all three were part of the Tigris Operation Command) and they note 1 man shot dead in Mosul by unknown assailants.

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 76 people killed this month by violence in Iraq.  76 in the first five days of the month alone.

As security is needed in Iraq, Alsumaria reports that Sahwa ("Awakenings," "Sons/Daughters Of Iraq") announced today that at least 80% of their weapons are out of date.  Kitabat reports that the Ministry of Justice announced yesterday that since December 21, 2010, 200 prisoners have died in Iraqi prisons.  Consider that another reason for the attempted prison breaks.

Tuesday saw a win for the Iraqi press.  Al Rafidayn reports that the despised 'cybercrime bill' has been dropped.  Iraq's Journalistic Freedoms Observatory issued a statement praising the Parliament and the Chair of the Committee on Culture and Information for abolishing the bill noting that it had met with harsh opposition since the bill became public -- many journalists -- in and out of Iraq -- condemned the bill and over 40 international organizations also came out against it.  Among the over 40 speaking out?  Human Rights Watch which noted last July:

The 16-page report, “Iraq’s Information Crimes Law: Badly Written Provisionsand Draconian Punishments Violate Due Processand Free Speech,” is a legal analysis of the draft law. It finds that the draft law is part of a broad effort by authorities to suppress peaceful dissent by criminalizing legitimate information sharing and networking activities. The proposed law had its first reading before Iraq’s Council of Representatives on July 27, 2011; a second reading is expected as early as July 2012.
“This bill would give Iraqi authorities yet another tool to suppress dissent, especially on the Internet, whichIraqi journalists and activists increasingly turn to for information and open debate,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The Council of Representatives should reject lawsthat would undermine the freedoms enshrined in Iraq’s2005 constitution.”

Jillian C. York and Maira Sutton (Electronic Frontier Foundation) observe, "Fortunately, it looks as if this bill will not become law. A document released on January 22, 2013 and shared by Social Media Exchange (SMEX) shows that a request was made by the parliamentary Culture and Media Committee and approved by the Speaker of the House to revoke the egregious law."  Also dropped is a boycott.  All Iraq News reports that Iraqiya members in Nouri's Cabinet have returned to Cabinet hearings saying that they feel protesters are being listened to.  (They boycotted hearings last month saying the protesters were not being listened to.)  The paper notes Ayada Allawi declared that a replacement needed to be named for Nouri because Nouri is unable to manage the state's affairs.  There have been calls for early parliamentary elections.  Whether that happens or not, Iraq is supposed to hold provincial elections in April. 

When the Independent High Electoral Commission was truly independent, Nouri tried to take it over.  Unable to do so, he would imprison the Committee Chair and a Commissioner.  Why isn't that still happening with the new Committee Chair?  Because Muqdad al-Sharifi is in Nouri's pockect.    AFP reports: that Nouri's little puppet declared that "anti-governmnet rallies" are causing security issues which could harm the April provincial elections. 

The problem is the "anti-government rallies"?

The only people who have died at the rallies were 7 Iraqis who were demonstrating.  (False attempts to tie the deaths of 2 Iraqi soldiers to the protests failed some time ago.)  But 76 people died through yesterday from violence.  The protesters are exercising their democratic rights guaranteed to them by their country's Constitution.  One would assume someone in charge of elections would applaud that.

Toby Dodge is the author of the new book Iraq: From  War To A New Authoritarianism.   Dodge is a British political scientist and a member of the International Institute for Strategic StudiesLast month he spoke about Iraq at the London School of Economics and Political Thought.  Excerpt.

Toby Dodge:   Now the national elections of March 2010 saw something quite remarkable, I think.  It saw a sustained challenge to that exclusive elite command.  Iraqiya  -- a coalition of political parties led by Ayad Allawi capitalizing on a rising nationalism in Iraq as violence decreased -- ran, I think, an incredibly effective grassroots campaign and mobilized enough folks to get 91 -- 91 seats compared to Maliki's 89.  However, that challenge to the exclusive elite pact created a counter-challenge by the politicians who'd benefited from the exclusive elite pact and what you saw from March to November was a period of extended and acrimonious negotiations.  In the end, I would argue, and there are probably people in the audience who disagree, that what happened was with the Erbil Agreement of November 2010, Iraqiya was brought back into another government of national unity on the basis of the exclusive elite pact.  Iraq's Islamic party had long failed to exist as meaningful electoral forces was pushed out, Iraqiya was brought in  -- "No, no, you can represent the Sunni population.  We'll give the Ministry of Finance -- a bit problematic at the moment -- we'll give you the vice president -- also problematic -- and that'll be enough."  Now think about the 2,849,000 people who voted for Iraqiya in March, they've seen the influence of their votes on the government systematically minimized ever since.  And their parliamentary representatives brought into government only to be persecuted and driven into exile in the case of [Vice President Tareq al-] Hashemi.   The continuation of this exclusive elite pact cannot but alienate increasing numbers of Iraq's population, exacerbating the already powerful, popular sentiment that the government is failing to deliver on their needs because of corruption.  So in 2013, ten years after the invasion, Iraq is a state whose prime minister is increasingly concentrating political and coercive power in his own hands.   He and the rest of the ruling elite are kept in power by a million man security force which is restricted by little or no democratic or parliamentary oversight.   In February 2011, the Arab Spring arrived in Iraq with mass public demonstrations breaking out, certainly in Baghdad but also in Basra and intriguingly up in the Kurdish Regional Government areas of north Iraq. These demonstrations -- these popular expressions of alienation and anger at the corrupt ruling elite were suppressed by extended violence.  This is the outcome of regime change a decade after invasion: An increasingly authoritarian government unable to deliver services to its population, increasingly reliant on an over-developed armed force.

Dropping back to yesterday afternoon, the US House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs held a hearing on the use of temporary disability ratings.

Subcommittee Chair Jon Runyan:  Our hearing topic today will focus on temporary total disability ratings.  Temporary total disability ratings serve a very important function in the benefits scheme.  This type of rating is assigned when it is established by medical evidence that surgery or certain treatment was performed, necessitating a period of recovery during which the veteran cannot work. However, according to a January 2011 report by the VA Office of the Inspector General, VBA has not been correctly processing and monitoring such claims.  As a result, the OIG stated that since January 1993, VBA has overpaid veterans a net amount of $943 million.  The OIG also stated that without timely action, VBA would overpay veterans a projected $1.1 billion over the next five years.  These numbers are troubling, to say the least.  As all of us here today are aware, our nation’s fiscal health is one of this Congress’s top priorities.  Part of this process includes trimming government spending and eliminating government waste.  It is my hope that by bringing attention to this topic, we can ensure that every dollar appropriated to VA is being spent properly on care and benefits for our veterans.  We heard from VA in June of last year during sworn testimony, that these errors were due to a computer glitch.  VA advised that the glitch would be fixed by July 2012.  Nonetheless, two new Regional Office audits issued by the OIG last month found that 50 percent of the temporary 100 percent disability evaluations reviewed were incorrect. The explanations given in the OIG audits stated that the 50 percent accuracy rate occurred because staff did not establish controls to monitor the proposed reductions initially, nor did they schedule future medical examinations as required. So -- something doesn’t add up here.  If the computer glitch was fixed in July 2012 but over 50 percent of temporary total rating claims are still being processed incorrectly as of January 2013, then that leads me to believe that these are human errors, not computer errors.

100% Temporary Disability Rating?  "A total 100% temporary disability rating will be assigned, without regard to the rating schedule, when a service connected disability has required hospitalization treatment by the Department of Veterans Affairs, for a period in excess of 21 days."   Paralyzed Veterans of America's Carl Blake submitted a written statement for the record.  He noted that temporary disability ratings rarely affected members of his organization:

That being said, temporary total disability ratings serve an important and practical purpose for many veterans.  The determination for temporary total disability ratings are governed by the provisions of 38 C.F.R. § 4.29, Ratings for service-connected disabilities requiring hospital treatment or observation, and 38 C.F.R. § 4.30, Convalescent ratings.  Temporary increases to VA disability ratings in accordance with the provisions of Paragraphs 29 and 30 are simple adjustments to running compensation awards that can be accomplished by employees with a minimum of training.  Temporary increases to compensation Paragraph 29 are determined by the verified dates of hospitalization.  Meanwhile, adjustments under the provisions of Paragraph 30 are established by rating action based on available medical information.  In each case, the dates of entitlement are clearly indicated, and with only a small amount of attention to detail, there should be no significant errors.

Runyan continues as Subcommittee Chair.  The new Ranking Member of the Subcommittee is Dina Titus.  There were two panels.  The first panel was Vietnam Veterans of America's Rick Weidman and VA's Assistant Inspector General for Audits and Evaluations Linda Halliday (accompanied by Larry Reinkemeyer and Brent Arronte).  The second panel was the VA's Diane Rubens.  While the issue of overpayment causes alarm in the current fiscal climate, overpayment isn't the only problem.

Ranking Member Dina Titus:  As the Chair mentioned, and it bears repeating, a billion dollars is something to be worried about.  But this doesn't just go one way in terms of overpayments.  At the Reno VA Regional Office, which serves my Congressional district in southern Nevada, the Inspector General found that over half of the 100% disability evaluations were incorrectly processed.  And while a number of these involved overpayments, there were also some underpayments.  And we certainly don't want our veterans to be underpaid.  For example, we found one veteran with service connected bone cancer and prostate cancer who was underpaid nearly $10,000 over a period of three years. 

We'll note one one exchange from the hearing.

Subcommittee Chair Jon Runyan:  Ms. Halliday, in your opinion, why is it the VBA failed to take adequate and timely measures to address the -- the systematic problems?

Linda Halliday:  Reliance that they needed an IT fix.  And that took some coordination between the VBA office and out office of OINT.  We kept telling them it is not just the IT fix.  What we were finding were people -- the VARO [Veterans Affairs Regional Office] staff were not making proper input to put these diaries in place.  Regardless of whether you had an IT fix in place, that action had to occur.  So it's been awhile that I don't believe VBA has been aggressive enough in addressing that -- that piece of it.  I know recently, Ms. Rubens had laid out some corrective action that included training which is consistently recommend in the benefits inspection reviews to try and reduce the human error associated with processing some of these claims.

Subcommittee Chair Jon Runyan:  And -- and going back -- and you mentioned it in your testimony there about the targeted completion date which was moved several times -- to September 30, [20]11, to December 30, [20]11, to June 30, [20]12 and then to December 31st, [20]12.  Do you know if the December 31st, '12 deadline was ever met?  Or has it been pushed back even further?

Linda Halliday: We haven't tested for it, but the evidence would be right now the benefits inspection are still identifying substantial errors.

Subcommittee Chair Jon Runyan:  And then finally, uhm, an alarming statistic in your written testimony says that only 53 regional offices have been inspected since your national audit -- have been fully followed by VBA policy and processing temporary disability claims evaluations.  Can you further elaborate on the extent that these problems are due to human error as opposed to the computer glitch?  And do you agree that -- with VBA's insistence that -- system glitches are the reason for these errors?

Linda Halliday:  Yeah, I'd like to ask Brent Arronte -- since he has spent so much time in our VA regional offices doing the inspections -- to filed that.

Brent Arronte:  What our inspections have-have shown is about 46% of the errors that we've seen with suspense date is what VBA is saying was the result of a systems glitch.  We never found a system's glitch.  To us a glitch means the system was not working as intended.  We spoke with some of the architecture behind this, I think in 2010, and they told us that the system was never developed to put these -- to ensure that these diary dates were populated into the system.  With that, we-we -- Two of the fixes that VBA has indicated that they have implemented, one in 2011 and one in 2012, we have not tested that yet.  We haven't obtained the data to see if those fixes are working systematically.  But what we have seen is about 25% of the errors are related purely to human error -- where staff is not putting in the -- or cancelling reminder notifications inadvertently, not understanding how to process reminder notifications and that results in the same effect of the benefit being paid when there's no evidence showing entitlement.

The Veterans Administration should be embarrassed that a hearing took place where the Inspector General explained that they refused to listen and that they repeatedly moved the date back.  The Secretary of the VA, Eric Shinseki, should be asked to explain how that happened?  He is supposed to be the head of the department, he is supposed to provide leadership.  This is just like, after the scandal of veterans not receiving their education checks, he mentions to Congress that he was informed of this impending problem right after he took over as Secretary of the VA.  He should have been called to the carpet for that but instead everyone apparently agreed to look the other way.  From the October 14, 2009 snapshot covering the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing that day:

Erick Shinseki: A plan was written, very quickly put together, uh, very short timelines, I'm looking at the certificates of eligibility uh being processed on 1 May and  enrollments 6 July, checks having to flow through August.  A very compressed timeframe. And in order to do that, we essentially began as I arrived in January, uh, putting together the  plan -- reviewing the plan that was there and trying to validate it. I'll be frank, when I arrived, uh, there were a number of people telling me this was simply not executable. It wasn't going to happen. Three August was going to be here before we could have everything in place.

But he didn't bother to let Congress know.  He didn't bother to warn the veterans who might be counting on those checks.  And this all got ignored.  Now we learn that the issue of 100% temporary disability pay has not been fixed and part of the reason for that failure is that they don't want to listen to the Inspector General's office.  Where is the accountability?

Halliday said at yesterday's hearing, "We had expected VBA to keep their commitment to work this national requirement and we just watched slippage upon slippage.  I think you have to ask the Department, VBA, why it took so long."  She might as well have been talking about the electronic record that VA and DoD were tasked with developing.  Mary Mosquera (Federal Computer Week) reported April 9, 2009:
Obama said it was time “to give our veterans a 21st-century VA," adding that there is no comprehensive system that enables a smooth transition of health care records between DOD and VA.
“That results in extraordinary hardship for an awful lot of veterans, who end up finding their records lost, unable to get their benefits processed in a timely fashion,” Obama said. Access to electronic records is essential to modern health care delivery and the paperless administration of benefits, he added.
“That’s why I’m asking both departments to work together to define and build a seamless system of integration with a simple goal: When a member of the armed forces separates from the military, he or she will no longer have to walk paperwork from a DOD duty station to a local VA health center; their electronic records will transition along with them and remain with them forever,” he said.

A seamless system of integration.  It would, Barack said, "give our veterans a 21st-century VA."  He wasn't pulling notions out of thin air.  In 2007, Commissioners Bob Dole and Donna Shalala were named to head The President's Commission On Care For America's Returning Wounded Warriors.  The commission came up with this idea and, in their final report, warned, "Meanwhile, congressional or departmental reform efforts should resist imposing new requirements that may result in duplicative or uncoordinated electronic systems and, instead, encourage the streamlining of today's systems and facilitate communication across them."

Does Shinseki think he can just blow off the tasks he's assigned?  Does he not get how this impacts veterans?  November 11, 2009, the VA's Assistant Secretary of Public and Intergrovernmental Affairs Tammy Duckworth appeared on The Diane Rehm Show (NPR).

Tammy Duckworth: Well what didn't work so well -- this is one of the first things I brought up to [VA] Secretary [Eric] Shinseki when he interviewed me -- was the fact that we did not have a seamless transition of our military records from DoD to VA. When I left Walter Reed with my full medical records and I went to my VA hospital for the first time, I had to strip down to prove that I was an amputee. Even though he could see that I was an amputee and he had the medical records from the surgeon who amputated my legs. And we're immediately fixing that.  Back in May of this year, [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates and Secretary Shinseki agreed to a program where we're going to develop virtual, lifetime, electronic records. So that from the day you raise your hand to enlist in the army to the day that you're laid to rest in one of our national shrines, your records follow you. And this will be a monumental change in how VA and DoD hand off and care for our veterans.

So in 2009, Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth told him in very concrete terms how this could effect a person transitioning from service member to veteran.  Did he not listen?  Duckworth is now a member of the US Congress, House Rep Tammy Duckworth.  I called out Shinseki this morning and Shirley and Martha advise e-mails felt I was giving Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta a pass because I know him.  I know Leon, I like Leon.  I've held him accountable when needed and haven't worried about 'tone.'  This isn't Leon's issue.  He's out the door, for one thing.  For another, he won't even have 18 months as Secretary of Defense (unless Chuck Hagel's nomination gets tanked).  If Hagel had been confirmed last week and had made the announcement Tuesday with Shinseki, I wouldn't have called out Hagel.  It's not Hagel's issue. 

Shinseki has been the consistent under Barack.  Dropping back to the July 25th snapshot to note that day's House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing:

This morning, US House Rep Jeff Miller noted that "in 1961 John F. Kennedy said we'd put a man on the moon, eight years later, we were there.  We're talking about an integrated electronic health records by 2017.  Why could we put a man on the moon in eight years and we're not starting from ground zero on the electronic health record -- why is it taking so long?" He was asking that of the Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki who were appearing before a joint-hearing of the House Armed Services and House Veterans Affairs Committee.  

Of course no real answer was given.  A grinning -- apparently amused -- Shinseki began his non-answer by declaring that "I can't account for the previous ten years."  Though he didn't say it, he also apparently couldn't account for the three years that he's been Secretary of the VA.  Three years and seven months.  You'd think Shinseki would be able to speak to the issue.  He couldn't.  He could offer that he met with Panetta four times this year with plans for a fifth meeting.  This was the same amount he met with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates but, apparently, in a few months less time.   I have no idea what that or his ridiculous grin was about. 

But I do think Shinseki may have inadvertently provided an answer for the delay when he went on to declare,  "It's taken us seventeen months to get to an agreement that both Secretary Panetta and I signed that describes the way forward."  There's the problem right there. 

Back in March 2011 what was Shinseki bragging about?  As Bob Brewin ( reported, "Veteran Affairs Sectretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday he and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed on March 17 that their departments would develop a common electronic health record system."  So that was agreed to in March 2011.  But it took Shinseki and and Gates 17 months to figure out how?  There's your time waster right there.  And it was not needed.  Shinseki and Panette did not need to 'invent' a damn thing.  This is not a new issue.  VA has long ago addressed what they need with regards to records and DoD has identified the same.  And after this had been done (and redone), Robert Dole and Donna Shalala served on the Dole -Shalala Commission coming up with many of the same things.  The Dole -Shalala Commission was established in 2007 and formally known as the President's Commission on Care for America's Returning Wounded Warriors.   Appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee February 7, 2008, VA's Dr. James Peake testified that this electronic record was "a critical recommendation in the Dole-Shalala Commission report."

So he and Gates agreed what their departments needed to do in March 2011.  Then, in June 2011, Panetta becomes Secretary of Defense and Shinseki decides to start all over and spend 17 months coming to an agreement with Leon?  This falls on Shinseki.  He has not delivered on the task.  Yet again.

At what point is there accountability?  At yesterday's joint-press conference, Shinseki bragged that he and Panetta had just held the ninth meeting ("in 18 months") and they stressed the "commitment of both of our departments to a single, common, joint integrated electronic health record, the IEHR."  The ninth meeting, Shinskei explained "was about how to get there."  Really?  Panetta's got one foot out the door and you're meeting with him "about how to get there"?  Barack Obama tasked you with this duty back in April of 2009 and, in February of 2013, you're having a meeting "about how to get there"?

There's a lot of confusion as to what's going on.  Patricia Kime (Army Times) does a great job covering where things stand.  The same can't be said for others.  What's taking place is that the actual task is being tossed aside.  Instead, some low rent version of what was asked for is going to be assembled.   Let's quote Senator Patty Murray from yesterday's press release.

“I’m disappointed that the VA and the Pentagon are now backing away from a truly seamless medical records system. While this is a very complex problem, we must provide the best care for our servicemembers and veterans. That means the departments must meet this challenge by working together. What they are now proposing is not the fully integrated, end-to-end IT solution that this problem demands. VA and DOD have been at this for years and have sunk over $1 billion into making this the cornerstone of a nationwide electronic medical records initiative. I intend to follow-up with both Secretaries to find out why this decision was made.”

Senator Murray is the outgoing Chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.  She's right that, after wasting $1 billion in taxpayer dollars, they're now refusing to live up to what was promised.  

It's not going to be the full medical records -- as people were promised.  Instead, as the Defense Dept revealed through various flunkies on a press call yesterday, "information on prescriptions or information on lab results that will be exchanged on all patients, and most critically, in a standard data format at the point in 2014, so the data looks exactly the same between the two systems."  That is a huge come down from an electronic record that would carry all the patient information and follow the service member on over to the VA.  This was an expensive proposal.  But it was thought that veterans' health was worth it and it was thought that this would also help lower some health costs (both by being paperless and by being a complete record which would mean tests wouldn't be accidentally duplicated since you had a complete record). 

Leon Panetta said at yesterday's joint-press conference, "Achieving the goal has taken a tremendous amount of collaboration at all levels.  But I'm proud to say that our department are now working together more closely than ever before.  We recognized that bringing together two large bureaucracies, trying to make those bureaucracies work together to form a seamless support system for all service members and veterans is not an easy challenge.  It's tough."   You need Leon criticism?  Every word just quoted was ignorant and uninformed.  Your proud that the two departments are working more closely than before?  Well that's been the assigned task since 2007.  Two different administrations have called for that.  It's not "an easy challenge"?  You're right, Leon, it's not "an easy challenge."  Because a challenge would be Barack saying to you, "Let's all work harder on meeting the needs of our veterans and service members."  That's a goal, a challenge.  "You and VA create . . ."  That's an assignment. Both departments were tasked with that assignment back in 2009.  It's tough?  Well, it's an assignment.  It's a job assignment.  If you're not up to it, you're not up to the job (or you're saying that President Barack Obama was unrealistic when he handed out the assignment).  It's amazing how everyone shirks responsibility.  A task was assigned in 2009.  The task has not been achieved.  That means you failed.  In the real world, that means you get fired.  This lack of accountability is exactly why there will be little concern over government layoffs if sequestration takes effect.  The American people are tired of seeing nothing get accomplished over and over.  They wants scalps at this point.  It's a shame it will most likely be the scalps of the overworked civil service employees and not those in management who are supposed to be getting results (but repeatedly fail to do so).

The House Veterans Affairs Committee leadership and the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee leadership issued a joint-press release today:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Committees on Veterans’ Affairs today faulted the Pentagon and Department of Veterans Affairs for backing off plans to create a single computer system to integrate electronic medical records for troops and veterans.
Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said: “I am deeply disappointed by the VA and Defense Department decision to back away from a commitment to develop and implement a truly integrated, single, electronic health record. President Obama charged the departments with creating a seamless system of integration so that service members transitioning from active duty to civilian life don’t have to worry about whether their health records will be lost or their claims delayed.  An integrated record would allow for a streamlined and timely claims process, faster decisions on benefits, less duplication in medical testing and more efficient, cost-effective treatment for both physical and mental health needs. Now more than ever we need greater cooperation between the departments to solve the serious challenges that continue to confront our service members and veterans.  I will continue to work to achieve better coordination by the departments and to ensure that the needs of veterans are met.”
House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) said: “The decision by DOD and VA to turn their backs on a truly integrated electronic health record system is deeply troubling. The need for a record system integrated across all DOD and VA components has been universally accepted for years, and until yesterday, both agencies have given us nothing but assurances they were working toward that goal. Previous attempts by DOD and VA to use disparate computer systems to produce universal electronic health records have failed, and unfortunately it appears they are repeating past mistakes. When DOD and VA take shortcuts, the veterans and service members under their care will be shortchanged.”      
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C), the ranking member of the Senate committee, said: “The fact that VA and DoD would reverse course on a plan they have been working towards for years that would create a coordinated electronic health record system between the two agencies is concerning and disappointing.  I am concerned about what this means for our nation’s service members and veterans, particularly those who will be transitioning from active duty service to civilian life in the near future.  We owe it to our nation’s defenders to do all we can to care for them and provide the most effective, efficient service we can, and coordination and communication between these two agencies is absolutely vital.” 
Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), ranking member of the House committee, said: “This is a huge setback and completely unacceptable. For years we have been told by both agencies that progress was made and that things were on track.  I’m disappointed that our nation’s two largest government agencies – one of which is the world’s foremost developer of high-tech machines and cyber-systems – could not come together on something that would have been so beneficial to those that served. We have just witnessed hundreds of millions of dollars go down the drain.”
Additional Contacts:
Michael Briggs (Sanders) 202 224-5141
David Ward (Burr) 202 228-2971
Ed Gilman (Michaud) 202 225-6306