Bob Schwartz

Category: Veterans

IAVA: “WTF!?!? A tax on our GI Bill!!”

I’ve posted frequently about the sorry state of veterans affairs in America. Hypocritical “Thank you for your service”—particularly from flag-lapel-pin-wearing ultra-patriotic politicians—followed by every effort to not serve those who deserve it.

Following is the text of an email just received from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) about the latest travesty. As the email says: “Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level.”


You’re not gonna believe this!

Yesterday, Congress took stupid to a whole new level by announcing a ridiculous plan to tax enlistees $2,400 to use their Post-9/11 GI Bill. Yes, some in Congress want to tax troops to use the GI Bill. It’s insanity!

It’s bad for veterans. Bad for our military. Bad for recruiting. Bad for our economy. And especially bad for families making a base pay of only about $19,000 a year.

And IAVA won’t stand for it. No way.

If you’ve volunteered to serve this country, you are entitled to your education benefits. It’s a cost of war. PERIOD.

IAVA created and passed the original post-9/11 GI Bill back in 2008. And we’ve been holding the line to defend it ever since. We fought to upgrade it in 2010. We’ve also helped hundreds of thousands of vets use it. And thanks to your support last year, we successfully fought $4B in proposed cuts.

But our earned wartime benefits are under attack again by politicians looking to nickel and dime our brothers and sisters–as bullets continue to fly at them in combat around the world.

IAVA will ferociously #DefendTheGIBill. Now and forever. We will fight to ensure all enlistees get the same benefits (or better) than we got. And we need you to have our back.

Sign our petition to send a clear message to Congress now: if you need money to pay for stuff, find it elsewhere! Not from the wallets of young enlistees.

Together, we will hold the line. And we will win.

Onward,

Paul Rieckhoff
Iraq veteran
Founder and CEO
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA

PS. We need fuel for this urgent fight. Donate now to #DefendTheGIBill.

Veterans Day and Operation Unite America

veterans-day

Friday, November 11 is Veterans Day, which this year arrives during the same week as Election Day (you remember that day, don’t you?)

The great Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) has organized Operation Unite America:

Veterans Day 2016 is just 3 days after Election Day. Join IAVA’s campaign to do the impossible: bring together all Americans.

After a long, brutal and disgusting election season, everyone’s had it. It hasn’t been a good look for America. Everyone is exhausted–many are outright embarrassed. But Republican, Democrat, Independent, Other…we’re ALL sick of the bickering, the commercials, the debates, the politics, the fighting.

Here is your mission (if you choose to accept it!), JOIN US:

Tag your Veterans Day activities on social media with #veteransday

Donate $11 to IAVA to help us support veterans

Attend a #veteransday #VetTogether

 

tammy-duckworth

In the wake of Election Day, it is happy news to report that Rep. Tammy Duckworth of Illinois won a seat in the U.S. Senate. She is an Iraq War veteran, awarded the Purple Heart after losing both her legs. She joins a number of women warriors in Congress, which needs more women and more experienced warriors who know how to choose our wars carefully. And who will take good care of other warriors when they come home.

Another Cool Way to Show Support for Our Veterans

IAVA Lifeline Flex

I’ve written a number of times before about veterans issues and about the Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), which last month sponsored a televised Commander-in-Chief Forum featuring the presidential candidates.

It is an old song, but worth repeating. Our treatment of those we have asked to fight is a national shame. If we don’t want to fight and defend, and don’t ask others to do the job for us, fine. Peace is wonderful. But once we ask, we have to provide virtually infinite support for those who answer. This should be at the top of any policy priority list, because it is a moral test, not a partisan talking point. For a grade, I’d consider giving us an E for Effort, but really, it’s more like an F.

If you want to show your support, IAVA has a very cool and inexpensive wearable. It’s the IAVA Lifeline Flex:

IAVA Lifeline Flex
$14.99

Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) Lifeline Flex in Night Vision Yellow and Black with engraved logo on a metal toggle clasp. Hand-wound from the same 550 lb tested parachute chord used in WWII to attach men to their chutes, these cuffs give you up to 15ft of usable paracord when unwound. Not just an all purpose survival tool, the 550 cord also looks killer on your wrist. Don’t leave home without one of these killer bracelets.

ITEM DETAILS:
Hand-wound from military grade 550 cord
One size fits all “Flex” interior with IAVA closure clasp

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America

Sometimes Heroes Need Help

If it didn’t reduce the impact and get old for readers, I’d post about Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and veterans issues just about every day. As I’ve noted many times, eagerly asking men and women to patriotically sacrifice for our security and then not treating them as the most important people in our country is a moral test we continue to flunk.

IAVA has reported its Program Impact in 2015 and it is impressive and heartening. Please read it and be astonished by how much one committed organization can do to advocate for so many important Americans. The report begins:

IAVA had huge accomplishments in 2015. We reached a record 439,269 veterans nationwide through in-person and online programs — and we did it with fewer resources, while maintaining top ratings from leading nonprofit reporting agencies, GuideStar and Charity Watch.

So if you are frustrated by how slowly and imperfectly our politics match our commitments in this area, please donate to IAVA. It is easy to say thank you to our veterans, as just about every politician does. It is harder and more costly to back it up capably and unconditionally.

Veterans Day: The Annual Shame of a Nation

Veterans Boots

Failure to take full and proper care of veterans is not a Democratic or Republican shame. The only reason to focus on Republicans here is that last night, in their debate, on the eve of Veterans Day, only four passing mentions of veterans were made during two hours.

The debate was formally about the economy, but since every one behind the podiums is practiced at changing the subject, there’s no reason some or all of them couldn’t have just said: The economy is an important topic, but just tonight, this particular night, I’d like to focus my time exclusively on veterans matters.

Here’s what one of them might have said:

There is enough responsibility to go around for getting this nation involved in military conflicts. It doesn’t matter what party started it or finished it or didn’t finish it. It doesn’t matter whether it was a great idea or a terrible idea or whether it is too soon to tell. As a nation, we do what we do, and we have to pay the price and keep our promises. In the case of military service, that promise is to spare no expense or effort to not only make combatants whole, or whole as humanly possible, but to elevate their service to priority status in our national consciousness and commitments.

That’s why I’m going to spend whatever minutes I have on this national debate platform tonight to talk specifically about immediate solutions to veterans issues, rather than casting blame or blowing hot air. I also call upon the millionaires and billionaires supporting us and trying to influence the election to divert just a little of that money to nonpartisan efforts such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America to start solving the problem. Of course, making this a government first priority would be nice too. Because if it comes down to a choice between any of us actually getting the nomination, which is admittedly a long shot for most of us anyway, and the comfort and well-being of those men and women we’ve flag-wavingly asked to fight on our behalf, I’d rather ask that those veterans be made whole than that I be President.

I know. Dream on.

Warriors Day

Battle of the Somme - 1916

Today is Warriors Day. We call it Veterans Day, which intentionally or inadvertently distances it from a harsher reality. It began in 1919 to commemorate the Armistice that ended World War I, the War to End All Wars.

Who is a warrior?

In broad terms, all of us are warriors of some sort, battling for causes and ideals ranging from the personal to the cosmic, and everything in between. We fight for ourselves, our families, our nation, our ideologies, our traditions.

But the warriors of Warriors Day are something very specific. These are the people we delegate to fight for us, for causes that we deem significant enough to sacrifice their safety, their bodies, their lives. Under threat, current or prospective, real or perceived, we sacrifice them and peace so that we might ultimately have peace.

What should we do?

After the fact of war, we should keep whatever promises we make to warriors—without adjustment, equivocation, or renegotiation. World War I provided one of the most egregious instances of this. World War I veterans were not to receive full payment of their service bonus until 1945. But the Depression left many of them destitute. Thousands of them marched on Washington in 1932, seeking an advance of this payment. The letter of the law dictated waiting; the spirit of their sacrifice and hardship demanded payment. The Bonus Marchers were violently dispersed, though in 1936 Congress met the demands—over FDR’s veto.

Before the fact of war, we should consider everything involved. Really consider, not just blow hard self-righteously and politically. This is easier for those who have actually been warriors, though that number is decreasing as a proportion of our population, especially among our politicians and policy makers. Those veterans may or may not be able to sort through and articulate all the issues of our most complex geopolitics ever, but they can do something home front folks can’t—relive the experience of being a warrior.

Demand truth. Truth is said to be the first casualty of war, including pre-war and post-war. Right now, for example, Obama’s talk about “advisers only” in Iraq is making some veterans, particularly those of Vietnam, shake their heads. Col. Jack Jacobs, an NBC commentator, observed this morning that his experience as an “adviser” in Vietnam inevitably involved combat.

What about peace?

Peace, the absence of conflict at all levels, may not be a possibility. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be our default position, the one from which all other circumstances are an aberration. For whatever reasons, conflict seems to be the default position for some, including those in positions of power and influence. There are things worth fighting for, but before moving forward, we need to be much surer of what those things are, how we are going about the fight, and how honest we can be. Most of all, if it is someone else doing the fighting at our command, we must realize that we are totally answerable for the consequences, as uncomfortable and costly as that might turn out to be.

Ebola Stress Test

Kaci Hickox

Stress tests. We see them in medicine, in banking, in construction.

How well will the patient’s heart perform when he is on a treadmill? How sound are a bank’s finances in the worst case scenario? How will building materials stand up under maximum pressure?

Public crises are stress tests. So far, Ebola is the latest demonstration of the tendency for our civic infrastructure to crack—or show signs of it—under pressure.

Quietly, where no one can hear, some leaders and citizens are probably worried that if this was a real Ebola outbreak in the U.S., and not the thankfully tiny and so far isolated problem it is, we would fall apart. Utterly fail the test.

The latest episode concerns this weekend’s rapid response by multiple states to Craig Spencer, a doctor returning from West Africa and becoming sick with Ebola in New York City last week. In addition to New York and New Jersey, other states are now or may be requiring returning health care workers to be quarantined.

There is a problem: none of these states appear to have thought through any of it—most especially the practical aspects of whisking someone coming home from a heroic medical mission into isolation that is supposed to be comfortable, suitable, sensible, and sensitive under the circumstances. It now seems the scenario is act first, plan later.

Nurse Kaci Hickox is the first one caught in this trap. She is not sick and is showing no symptoms. Arriving at Newark Airport Friday night, she was taken to a tent behind a hospital, with a portable toilet, no shower, no television, and little cellphone reception. She castigated all involved, particularly Governor Chris Christie, who said she had symptoms and was sick, when she hadn’t and wasn’t. She plans a federal lawsuit challenging the quarantine.

“I also want to be treated with compassion and humanity, and I don’t feel I’ve been treated that way in the past three days. I think this is an extreme that is really unacceptable. I feel like my basic human rights have been violated.”

(Update: Governor Christie has relented, allowing her to return home to Maine, where, if you read between the lines, the message is that it will then be Maine’s problem to monitor her and where, if something goes wrong, it will be on their head.)

We seem to have forgotten how to solve problems, enthralled by our own voice either positing solutions, making points, or complaining. Or maybe it is that this is America, with a history of being bigger, stronger, smarter, and most of all, righter, in all circumstances. Even if that was ever true, politics—in the big sense of privileging positions over effective and thoughtful answers—has poisoned that well. Worthy questions and deliberate solutions are rejected out of hand because of the source, because they don’t fit some preconceived notion or program, or simply because they won’t help win or not lose elections.

Whether or not quarantine of heroic Ebola care givers returning from West Africa is a good idea, it is certainly a good idea to evaluate and plan exactly how you are going to practically handle it. Maybe, though, we shouldn’t be at all surprised. In recent years we did, after all, send hundreds of thousands of troops abroad, and when the promised rewards for their heroic service came due, we seemed unable to fulfill and, worse, were suddenly unenthusiastic about keeping the promise anyway.

If this is a war on Ebola, we better make sure we are committed to those who are sacrificing, part of which is actual planning and resourcing, not ignorant and reflexive pontificating and politicking. So far, this is looking too much like some of our other recent wars. Maybe we can use this as an opportunity to get better and be better at it.

VA Health Crisis: Listen to IAVA

VA IG Report

We should listen to the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America about this VA health system crisis.

As the name implies, IAVA represents the latest generation of American war veterans. They are in some ways the most attuned to the current realities and sensibilities of veterans’ issues in 2014. Not because they have been around the longest, but because they are native to the way things work, or don’t, here in the early 21st century in America.

Those realities regarding the health care crisis in the VA are shocking to some, but come as no surprise to those who have watched it happening, including Congress (both parties) and the President.

Is it fixable? What won’t fix it is political posturing, handwringing, or even the delayed but imminent departure of VA Secretary Shinseki.

What will fix it? Good policy well executed, without excuses or cover up. The IAVA can help with that.

In the wake of yesterday’s Inspector General Report about the Phoenix VA health system, IAVA CEO and Founder Paul Rieckhoff said:

The new IG report on the Phoenix VA is damning and outrageous. It also reveals the need for a criminal investigation. Each day we learn how awful things are in Phoenix and across the country. The VA’s problems are broad and deep – and President Obama and his team haven’t demonstrated they can fix it. As one of only two combat veterans, Senator John McCain’s call for Secretary Shinseki’s resignation is particularly impactful…

Today’s report makes it painfully clear that the VA does not always have our veterans’ backs. Even before this report came out, IAVA members were losing confidence in Secretary Shinseki and President Obama. At Memorial Day events across the nation, our members voiced outrage, anger, and impatience at the growing VA scandal. This new report only increases the belief that the promise to veterans has been broken. We are sharing this report now with our members and seeking their reaction. In the coming days, we will share the voices of our members with the President, VA leaders and those in Congress.

In the IAVA 2014 Policy Agenda, the VA health system was just one of a number of initiatives offered for consideration. On that score, IAVA recommends this (excerpted):

I. Establish a Presidential Commission to end the VA claims backlog.

II. Transform the Veterans’ Benefits Administration’s (VBA) adversarial culture…

III. Reform VA’s work credit and productivity evaluation system for claims processor….

IV. Outline the VA’s responsibility about the requirements to substantiate a claim….

V. Adopt the “treating physician rule” for medical evaluations for compensation and pension…

VI. Require appeals form to be sent along with the Notice of Decision letters in order to expedite the appeals process.

VII. Evaluate the Segmented Lanes work initiative to continually assess whether it is meeting the goals of fast tracking…

VIII. Report the intake of new compensation and pension claims on the Monday Morning Workload Report.

IX. Report separated statistics on the intake and processing of supplemental and original claims in the Monday Morning Workload Report…

XIII. Continue to engage veteran stakeholders in updating the VA Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD).

XIV. Require the VA to accept a PTSD diagnosis provided from a qualified private medical provider.

X. Establish a model to accurately project the claims workload and the resource and staffing requirements needed to meet the demand.

XI. Make all disability benefits questionnaires available to private medical providers.

XII. Simplify notification letters to provide easily digestible, specific and clear information about the reasons for rating decisions.

XV. Allow the VA to incentivize private medical providers to furnish medical health records to the VA for processing.

XVI. Clarify and report accuracy ratings for each regional VA….

This is an agenda, and if the President and the good people of Congress want to adjust or add, that is their prerogative and duty. But you have to start somewhere, with something on the table, and this is a good place for that. If these warriors are smart enough and capable enough and honorable enough to fight our wars, they are surely able to suggest the smart, honorable, and capable ways of treating them when those wars are over.

Veterans Day and Busby Berkeley

Gold Diggers of 1933
Gold Diggers of 1933 may be the strangest of all classic movies—and the one that has the most to say about Veterans Day 2013.

It is classic because it is still entertaining: snappy, cynical dialogue; singing and dancing that may be a little out of style, but Busby Berkeley production numbers that are still wonders of the world, in part because they were actually performed and filmed on sound stages—no special effects or shortcuts. Your jaw will drop in astonishment and delight.

The strangeness is that framing this jollity is a movie about the Depression—not as a backdrop but about it, head on. Nowhere is this incongruity more obvious than the close of the movie. There is a penultimate mega-happy ending, where the three down-on-their-luck showgirls marry the three rich Boston bluebloods. But just then, there is one last song and production number: Remember My Forgotten Man.

In 1932, most veterans of World War I were out of work, as were so many others. In 1924 the government had authorized a longstanding practice of offering bonuses to those who served in war. This took the form of Certificates of Service, which matured over 20 years, and were to be paid in annual installments. But in the midst of the Depression, the veterans didn’t need that money down the road—they needed it right now. A movement for immediate redemption of the certificates gained momentum (the amount was tens of billions of dollars in today’s money). So in 1932, 43,000 marchers—veterans, their families and their supporters—gathered in Washington in what came to be called the Bonus Army, to demand cash payment. This was rebuffed. President Hoover and Republicans in Congress believed that this would require a tax increase, and that a tax increase would delay the recovery of the economy.

These were the Forgotten Men. As the tragic climax of a musical comedy, we watch a sordid street scene, narrated in song by Gingers Rogers. She is now surviving as a prostitute, married to a war veteran abandoned by the government and the nation. On stage we see the troops marching off in glory to cheers and flag-waving, only to return broken and injured, with no one to greet or comfort them—or even to remember them.

Remember My Forgotten Man

I don’t know if he deserves a bit of sympathy,
Forget your sympathy, that’s all right with me.
I was satisfied to drift along from day to day,
Till they came and took my man away.

Remember my forgotten man,
You put a rifle in his hand;
You sent him far away,
You shouted, “Hip, hooray!”
But look at him today!

Remember my forgotten man,
You had him cultivate the land;
He walked behind the plow,
The sweat fell from his brow,
But look at him right now!

And once, he used to love me,
I was happy then;
He used to take care of me,
Won’t you bring him back again?
‘Cause ever since the world began,
A woman’s got to have a man;
Forgetting him, you see,
Means you’re forgetting me
Like my forgotten man.

Maybe the musicals of the 1930s are old-fashioned and for a lot of people unwatchable. Maybe Busby Berkeley is just some campy choreographer whose over-the-top numbers are funny but incomparable to today’s digital masterpieces. Then again, maybe ending a popular entertainment with a bleak and uncompromising plea to our national conscience isn’t a bad idea—and never goes out of style. Remember Our Forgotten People, circa 2013.

The Wait We Carry

The Wait We Carry
IAVA has been at the forefront of modern veterans advocacy—something desperately needed in the face of modern veterans benefit challenges (that is, much talk, little action).

The latest of these advocacy tools is dazzlingly innovative and personalizing. Here is the IAVA introduction:

This is the true face of the backlog. Introducing: The Wait We Carry.

By now, you’ve seen the big numbers behind the VA disability benefits backlog — over 565,000 vets waiting too long to get their claims resolved. But it’s not enough to talk about the numbers. We wondered: what are those vets going through? How is their wait for benefits affecting them and their families?

We asked vets to tell us about their experiences while waiting for their benefits. Their stories blew me away. I knew immediately that I wanted to do something that would give a voice to their struggle. Harnessing the power of technology, we have created a state-of-the-art data visualization tool to bring those stories to the world. It’s called The Wait We Carry.

The Wait We Carry is an interactive way for anybody to engage with the folks waiting for their benefits through their stories. There are several different search options so you can find a specific story, or you can simply take your time browsing through all of the stories. It drives our point home that there isn’t just one backlog experience. The weight of the wait is different for everybody.

The power of this tool is that it holds everybody accountable for the unacceptably long wait times. That’s why it’s crucial that this thing goes viral.

I’ve been working on this for months, and I am certain that The Wait We Carry is powerful enough to end the VA backlog for good. Make sure you check it out today — thewaitwecarry.org

Thanks,

Jacob Worrell
OIF Veteran, US Army 2004-2007
Product Strategy Associate
Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA)