May 9, 2012. Chaos and violence continue, Sahwa walks off the job in
Diyala Province, Shinseki and the VA try to distract Congress in the US,
Cindy Sheehan meets with the Taxman and Taxwoman, and more.
Starting with the US Congress.
House Rep Johnson: I'm going to start off with a bit of a difficult
questions. You know, year after year, in annual budget submissions, in
annual performance reports, quarterly reports, Congressional testimony
and in countless press releases and statements, the VA has consistently
touted the 14 day standard as the number one measure of mental health
care access. In a five month investigation; however, the IG found that
measure to have no real value and to be essentially meaningless. Mr.
Secretary, how is it possible that that's not bubbling up to your level?
How is it possible that you don't know that? And who is responsible for
misleading Congress and the public on this metric? And how will they be
Eric Shinseki: Uh, Congressman, I, uh, I-I don't think,uh, anyone has,
uh, misled Congress here. Doctor Petzel described three methods of, uh,
identifying in the scheduling arena. Capacity, desire date, create date.
We have -- They have in the mental health areana been using desire date
now since 2007 and my understanding this uh goes back to when we had a
previous discussion like this. Uhm, I'm not sure how the, uh, results
were achieved but it just seems to me that desire date and create date
in the report, uh, are brought together in a way, it's hard for me to
determine, whether there was a pure assessment of whether desire date
was being executed properly, whether staff were properly trained and
following the instructions, that would allow us to focus on corrective
actions. Right now, part of my discussion with Dr. Petzel is that we're
going to sit down with the IG and make sure we come up with a clear
standard here so that when we audit in the future, there isn't this
confusion about which date we're uh using and we get a cleaner outcome,
understanding. I'm not able to address the specifics here but I would
assure the Congressman there's no misleading of Congress.
House Rep Bill Johnson: I can certainly agree that there is no
intention to do so but I think we all agree here that the objective is
to make sure those veterans that request mental health counseling get it
as soon as absolutely possible.
from yesterday's US House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. US House
Rep Bill Johnson was questioning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki. And it
may have wrongly seemed like Shinseki answered Johnson's question. He
Johnson asked about the figures that
were given. Shinseki attempted to dispute the report from the Office of
the Inspector General. He also attempts to push off his Department's
problems onto the IG. There are these different ways of measuring,
And we're supposed to say,
"Goodness, that is confusing. That mean old IG!" But that nonsense is
not from the IG. That is the VA's nonsense. The VA is the one that
wants to bring in "desired date" and other obscuring nonsense. The IG
noted that in the cover letter -- for get the report itself -- back in
April: "VHA does not have reliable and accurate method of deteriming
whether they are providing patients timely access to mental health care
servies. VHA did not provide first-time patients with timely mental
health evaluations and existing patients often waited more than 14 days
past their desired date of care for their treatment. As a result,
performance measures used to report patient's access to mental health
care do not depict the true picture of a patient's waiting time to see
mental health provider." And if Shinseki wants to object to that
finding, it's a little too damn late. As the next sentence notes,
"The Under Secretary for Health conccured with the OIG's findings [. .
Congress did not invent the
14% number. The VA did. And while Shinseki attempts to distract and
pin the blame on the IG, someone whould have asked him what Johnson was
originally getting at: How did the VA get this figure they promoted?
was a false figure. They promoted it over and over. Please note,
Shinseki rushed to assure that no one with the VA had intentionally
tried to mislead Congress. He didn't say a damn thing about their
attempts to mislead the public. But then, misleading Congress can
result in sanctions. Lying to the public is a just standard politics.
with the numbers and trying to hide behind terms is not leadership. US
House Rep Cliff Stearns, while questioning the reps for the Office of
the Inspector General, probably put it best, "Well, I think the bottom
line is, you've said it takes 50 days to provide this roughly 200,000
veterans with their full evaluation. That's what you're saying and
that's not good and that should be changed. And I think that's -- no
matter what we're talking about, a capacity desire or a create date --
the bottom line is that veterans, almost 200,000, are not getting
serviced. And the Veterans Administration can use whatever terminology
and definitions they want, but by golly, these guys -- these guys and
gals aren't getting taken care of. And that's why we're here today."
before US House Rep Johnson went to his line of questioning, Shinseki
was declaring, "My guess here is we're doing good work, we're just not
able to document it."
Is that your guess? Are you paid to guess or are you paid to suprevise?
metrics have never been in place and that's not just my opinion, that's
the opinon of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee based on their own
public statements in one hearing after another. Shinseki was appointed
by Barack Obama to supervise the VA. Supervision is not a guess.
Shinseki's gotten a pass from the press from early on. When the fall of
2009 rolled around and veterans were without GI Bill checks, when they
couldn't afford housing, when this situation continued through Christmas
-- as many veterans stated to the press and to Congress, their kids had
to do without Christmas because they still hadn't gotten their checks
for the semester they'd just completed, they'd had to borrow money to
pay for that. When all of that came out, something came out with it.
Shinseki admitted that, shortly after being confirmed to his post by
the Senate, he was informed that there would be problems with the checks
that fall. That the system wasn't ready for it. He knew that and
Congress repeatedly asked him if there were any problems, repeatedly
asked if help was needed and he said no and no and no over and over.
Then when the problem emerged, VA tried to play dumb for months.
Eric Shinseki: 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. Uh, to
the credit of the folks in uh VA, I, uh, I consulted an outside
consultant, brought in an independent view, same kind of assessment.
'Unless you do some big things here, this is not possible.' To the
credit of the folks, the good folks in VBA, they took it on and they
went at it hard. We hired 530 people to do this and had to train them.
We had a manual system that was computer assisted. Not very helpful
but that's what they inherited. And we realized in about May that the
530 were probably a little short so we went and hired 230 more people.
So in excess of 700 people were trained to use the tools that were
coming together even as certificates were being executed. Uhm, we were
short on the assumption of how many people it would take.
remember too what the VA did in real time: Blamed veterans. They did
the form wrong or it was the schools! It was everybody but the VA.
No. As Shinseki finally admitted in an open hearing -- with the press
taking a pass on it -- he knew when he started the job. He heard it
from VA employees, he went to an outside consultant who told him the
same thing. Never did he inform Congress of that before the press
started reporting what was happening.
That's not leadership.
over and over, this is the pattern with Shinseki who is supposed to be
supervising the VA. The Walter Reed Army Medical Center scandal
pre-dates Shinseki. But there will be many scandals after Shinseki's
out of office that result from the lack of supervision right now.
Yesterday morning, as he called the hearing to order, Chair Jeff Miller noted why they were meeting.
Jeff Miller: I think most of the Committee knows that two weeks ago the
VA Inspector General released a report reviewing veterans access to
mental health care -- something that we're all very interested in, as
are all veterans and Americans across this country. And I've got to say
that the findings in the report are really more than troubling. That's
probably an understatement to just call them troubling. And one of the
most disturbing things that the IG discovered is that more than half of
the veterans who seek mental health care through the VA wait an average
of 50 days -- 50 days -- to receive a full mental health evaluation.
So let me be real clear from the outset, a veteran who comes to the VA
for help should never, never under any circumstance have to wait almost
two months to receive the evaluation they have asked for and begin the
treatment they need. I don't believe anybody in this room thinks
there is any excuse for that type of delay.
the topic seems familiar, it was the same for the April 25th Senate
Veterans Affairs Committee hearing. If you missed those hearings, you
can refer to "Fire everyone at the VA
," "Scott Brown: It's clearly not working (Ava)
"VA paid out nearly $200 million in bonuses last year (Wally)
" and that week's Wednesday's snapshot
. and Friday snapshot
The hearing was made up of three panels. The first panel was Shinseki
and the VA's Robert Petzel, Mary Schohn, Antonette Zeiss, Annie Spiczak
and, from the Office of Inspector General, John Daigh and Linda
Halliday. The second panel was noted in yesterday's snapshot
, in Kat
's "Congress Member Gone Wild
" and in "Congress is supposed to provide oversight
The witnesses were Dr. Nicole Sawyer,Group Health Cooperative's Diana
Birkett Rakow, Dr. James Schuster and Health Net Federal Services'
Thomas Carrato. The third panel was the Disabled American Veterans
' Joy Ilem, Paralyzed Veterans of America
's Alethea Predeoux and Wounded Warrior Project
's Ralph Ibson.
From the first panel, we'll note this exchange.
Jeff Miller: You talked about the press release April 19th. You've
acknowledged also that there's about a 15 -- I think it's 1500 mental
health staff vacancies. It could be more or less. And you're staffing,
your testimony today talks about maybe hiring more than 1900. So what
I'd like -- an answer is, I know you're going to try to fill the 1500
vacancy that exists. You're going to add additional 1900-plus staff.
And the question is: Is that correct? Then a couple of other things.
How quickly do you think VA can hire the additional staff? Where are
you going to put the additional staff? And how will you be able to
measure the impact they will have on improving care?
Chairman, let me just make an opening statement here and then I'm going
to call on Ms. Annie Spiczak who does the recruiting and retention
personnel work for us because you're asking to see what tools we have
and what our expectation here is? We think that we'll get most of that
done in the next six months but some of these specialities are difficult
to recruit and I would, be honest with you, I'm not sure I can pin a
date when all of them will be in. But the vast majority of the work
will be done in the next six months. Some of this may carry over into
the second quarter of FY13. Let me call on Ms. Spiczak to talk about
the process here.
Spiczak: Thank you, Secretary. Uh, sir, I would say that we have a
four-fold strategy to recruit and hire the mental health
professionalsthat we need in VHA. Uh, the first part of that strategy is
to have a very robust marketing and advertising campaign to do that
outreach to mental health providers and providers by the use of USA
Jobs, using social media, getting all of those vacancy announcements
posted to specialty sites and job boards. The second part of that is
using our national recruiters. We have 21 dedicated health care
recruiters and they are very involved with the VISNs and the medical
center directors to recruit those hard to fill positions -- especially
our psychiatrists and our psychologists. Thirdly, we're going to
recruit from our active pipeline of trainees and residents. VHA has a
very robust training program and they are an integral part to filling
that pipeline of our workforce. And, fourthly, we're going to ensure
that we have complete involvement and support of VA leadership.
Chair Jeff Miller: I guess --
Eric Shinseki: Mr. Chairman, I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel to just
add some concluding thoughts here. But I would also point out the, uh,
national recruitment program, the 21 high quality recruiters that Ms.
Spiczak referred to, all are veterans. 18 of them have extensive
experience in recruiting. And for any new individual who joins the
team, they go through a training program and oversight, mentoring by
some of the old timers, so this is a pretty robust crew that we're
talking about. Dr. Petzel?
Robert Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Mr. Chairman, I just wanted
to add briefly, the VA trains -- has 1,000 psychiatric residency
positions. We have over 730 internship positions for clinical
psychologists, just to mention a couple of the positions. We're the
largest trainer of mental health professionals in the country. And this
group of trainees is the primary place that we're going to be
recruiting those individuals to fill those 1900 jobs. And the last thing
I'd like to add is that the most difficult to recruit group is the
psychiatrists. Particularly in more remote and rural areas. And we have
recently sent a memo to the Secretary which I believe he has signed or
is about to sign to change the pay table for psychiatrists and to make
available other incentives so that we can compete more equitably with
the private sector and DoD in terms of recruiting psychiatrists.
Jeff Miller: Ms. Spiczak, how long does it take for VA to fill a
vacancy like the 1500 that are open now for mental health
professionals. What's the average time that those positions have
Spiczak: Sir, it takes anywhere from four to six but for some of our
hard to fill positions, it can take up to a year to fill those
Chair Jeff Miller: Have you ever been even close to 100% staffed at the full level with the 1500 that you currently have?
Spiczak: Sir, we'll always have a turnover rate, a vacancy rate that
we're always trying to close that gap but you have my commitment that
we're going to work very hard to close that.
Jeff Miller: At what level is the vacancy rate? Is it more at the
upper level, the lower tier, I hate to say 'lower tier,' but, obviously,
the psychiatrist level downward? Which is the higher rate? Is it the
psychiatrist or is it the person in the --
Spiczak: No, sir. Our turnover rate in FY 2011 for mental health
professionals was 7.23%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the
health care industry shows a 28% turnover rate.
Jeff Miller: Then I guess the last question that I'd like to ask in
this round is how are we going to pay for the extra 1900 mental health
Secretary Eric Shinseki: For that question, I'm going to call on Dr. Petzel.
Robert Petzel: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Mr. Chairman, we, uh, have
estimated that, uh, cost in Fiscal Year 12 will be relatively small
because it's going to take some time to get these people on board and we
will use money that we have available in 12. We expect that this will
not exceed 29 million and may be a bit less than 29 million dollars. In
fiscal year 13, we're going to separately identify the funding for this
initiative as part of each one of the VISNs allocations and then the
VISNs will receive a hiring target based on their allocation and we're
going to keep very close track of that hiring target. Ms. Spiczak can
give more detail about how we're going to do that, but we're basically
going to be daily looking at how they're meeting that hiring target.
We've identified -- We will identify each one of these positions
electronically on USA Jobs by special number so that we can track all
of the 1900 new people as well as all of the vacancies that exist right
Eric Shinseki: Mr. Chairman, just a data point. Psychiatrists are the
toughest to recruit and I think under this new model we say it's about
57 that we're going to go after in this group of 1900. Of 57, 37 have
already been recruited. 7 are already serving. 30 are being on-boarded
and so we're beginning to hone in on this most difficult recruiting
challenge and working it down. So there's some evidence that we can
recruit to what we need here.
about as much garbage I can take in one excerpt. Where to begin?
Annie Spiczak asserts, "Our turnover rate in FY 2011 for mental health
professionals was 7.23%. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics for the
health care industry shows a 28% turnover rate." No, they don't.
During the long, long break in the hearing for votes, I called the
Bureau of Labor Statistics to check that. 28%? It was 21.9% in 2006,
the highest its been in the last ten years. In 2010, the turnover rate
was 15.8% and in 2011, the turnover rate was 15.5%. In addition, I was
told Spiczak's number for the VA was "questionable" and was asked if I
thought they were counting "positions" because if they were doing it
that way, all those empty positions would artificially reduce the
turnover rate. I asked for an example on that. If there are 800
positions and only 100 are filled, are you dealing with the turnover
rate of that 100 staff or are you using positions and acting as though
you have 800 positions? If you're going by positions -- and including
empty positions -- you can artificially reduce the turnover rate. If
that doesn't make sense, blame me and not the Buereau of Labor
Statistics which was very helpful. (Until yesterday's hearing, I hadn't
even registered on the term "turnover rate." The BLS was very helpful
in explaining that but if there's a mistake in this paragraph, it's on
me and on my misunderstanding the BLS. And though I did get a name from
a mutual friend and call and speak to that person, I was also told that
the BLS works very hard to assist everyone with answers and that they
do so via the phone and via e-mail.)
like to note the third panel as well as the line of questioning US House
Rep Timothy Walz pursued. Time and space permitting, we'll do so in
snapshots later this week.
Iraq today is in the midst of a political crisis caused by Nouri al-Maliki's power grabs. 'Not so fast,' insists neocon Michael Rubin who writes at Commentary
that Nouri's not doing a power-grab or becoming a dictator, he's just
"consolidating power." Yeah, well to become a truly powerful despot,
you usually need to start by consolidating power -- which is another way
of saying "power grab." He wants you to know that Nouri's "between a
rock and a hard place." And that his targeting of Tareq al-Hashemi?
Well "INTERPOL certainly believed the evidence against Hashemi as,
frankly, do even many of Hashemi's supporters." First, congrats, you
spelled INTERPOL correctly which does put you far ahead of the Associated Press
However, don't be forming conclusions about what INTERPOL
'believes.' Not only was the Red Notice issued as a part of an
arrangement with the US White House, but they chose not to issue an
arrest warrant. They issued a non-binding Red Notice.
is a War Hawk responsible for the illegal war. Having made such a huge
mistake, you'd think he tried to avoid further ones. As noted many
times yesterday, I've been speaking to two friends at INTERPOL about the
Red Notice. One e-mailed suggesting we link to this
What is that? It's a Red Notice from March for the arrest of four
suspects. I didn't get the point until I read over it. As he noted in
his e-mail, "The wording, no one wants to pay attention to it." Compare
the wording of it with the one on Tareq al-Hashemi
my friend explained when I was able to call him today, a Red Notice,
the language is pretty much the same. It's a standard issue release
that only the names and the alleged crimes change. Except with
al-Hashemi. His release contains: "A Red Notice is not an international
arrest warrant." That's reality. But that's not something that's
usually included in the Red Notices. INTERPOL made a point to include
it in al-Hashemi's.
Citing security sources, Alsumaria reports
that Diyala Province saw an attack on a home that left the home owner
and his son dead and that the home invasion was followed by a bombing
aimed at the police and citizens who rushed to assist -- 3 civilians
were killed and six more injured in hte bombing. They also report
a Baghdad car bombing late yesterday claimed 3 lives (including Amir
Muhammad Abd Mutlaq) and left six people injured. Covering these
events, Xinhua notes
the home invasion was of a police officer's home (the officer wasn't at
home) and they count 7 dead and sixteen injured in the violence
Alsumaria noted. Alsumaria also informs
that a police officer was shot dead Tuesday in Tal Afar.Yesterday's snapshot
included: "In other news, Kitabat reports
thousands poured into the streets of Erbil today as people demonstrated against the magazine Al-Hamsa
which some are convinced is anti-Islam. Demonstrators threw bottles of
water and stones and attempted to climb the barriers around the
compound. 52-year-old demonstrator Said Ahmed Ali stated that the
government was allowing insults to Islam and the Koran. The editor of
the magazine was arrested." Al Rafidayn reports
the demonstrators attacked social clubs, liquor stores and a hotel
among other establishments. They smashed the windows of the hotel. How
that 'helped' Islam is not clear in the report nor is how it made the
protesters come off as 'holy.' The paper reports they then charged the
Kurdistan Parliament and security forces used tear gas. Dar Addustour reports
that the protesters set fire to liquor stores and when they charged the Kurdistan Parliament, they were hurling stones.
Yesterday's snapshot also noted, "Al Sumaria reports
a Sahwa leader in Diyala Province, Sami al-Khazraji, has revealed his
monthly salary has been cut and that was on the orders of Nouri and
his Minstry of Reconciliation. Other Sahwa have been cut by 20% in the
province and there are said to be over 7,000 Sahwa in the province with
most in Baquba." Today Alsumaria reports
that over 30 Sahwa in Diayal Province walked off their posts yesterday to protest the cuts.
I had Round X (X representing an unknown quantity) with the IRS/US Attorney today at the US Attorney's office in Sacramento.
meeting was to try and discover my alleged assets so the IRS could
collect approximately 105 grand in taxes that it says I owe for 2005 and
2006. I am not so naive to think that the IRS, using a number of
resources or any of the secretive alphabet agencies, doesn't know every
single thing about me. However, I refuse to participate in my
persecution and furthermore, I should be constitutionally protected from
such a thing.
For immediate releaseMay 7, 2012
Contact: Lina Thorne 718 825 9119
Sweet, World Can't Wait Director, will receive the 2012 American
Humanist Association's (AHA) Humanist Heroine Award. The award will be
presented at the AHA national conference on June 9 in New Orleans and is
a joint presentation of the AHA and its Feminist Caucus. Since 1982,
this award is given annually to women who promote and advance the ideals
of human rights and gender justice using a non-theological approach.
Past awardees have included Judy Norsigian, Robin Morgan, Julia Sweeney
and Amy Goodman. Debra Sweet helped establish and continues
to lead World Can't Wait in its mission to "stop the crimes of our
government," including unjust military occupations, covert drone wars,
torture and indefinite detention as well as reversing the fascist
direction of U.S. society. She has worked with abortion providers for
thirty years, organizing community support and helping them withstand
anti-abortion violence. Since the age of 19, when she confronted
Richard Nixon during a face-to-face meeting and told him to stop the war
in Vietnam, Debra has been a leader in the opposition to U.S. wars and
Sweet will be leading World Can't Wait's
efforts in protesting NATO's meeting in Chicago, May 20-21, where the
U.S. and its military allies will discuss the continuation of US/NATO
presence in Afghanistan until 2024.
Annie Laurie Geller,
Co-President, Freedom from Religion Foundation, nominated Debra for this
award. "Debra Sweet, more than any person I know, embodies heroism: for
women, for peace, for the progression of humanity," she says. "She
inspired me, her classmates, the city of Madison, Wisconsin and the
entire nation when, as a student, she met President Richard Nixon. Her
courage to openly express the views of most Americans toward Nixon and
the war was an electrifying moment that touched many and opened our
eyes to personal activism. She has gone on to dedicate her life to peace
and progressive causes, including feminist issues."
May 4, Sweet was convicted with 19 others of disorderly conduct for a
2011 protest against the NYPD's "stop and frisk" policy. "700,000
people were stopped, questioned and frisked by the NYPD last year, the
great majority of them Black and Latino, in violation of their
constitutional rights and their humanity," said Sweet. Fellow defendants
in the non-violent civil resistance were Dr. Cornel West of Princeton
University; Vietnam war resister and revolutionary leader Carl Dix;
clergy, students and residents of the Harlem community who had been
victimized by the policy. Dr. West called Sweet "a long-distance
freedom fighter whom I deeply respect and love."
FOR MORE INFORMATION about The American Humanist Association, contact: Brian Magee, (202) 238-9088 extension 105, Mobile: (202) 681-2425. FOR MORE INFORMATION about Freedom from Religion Foundation, contact: Annie Laurie Gaylor (608) 256-8900.