Today’s Three Martini Lunch with Radio America’s Greg Corombos and Jim Geraghty from National Review pulls no punches as President Obama’s approval ratings take another dip. They also discuss the administration’s accusation that U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s former platoon mates are guilty of “swift-boating” their former comrade. And they look at the Republican Senate races across the nation, especially in Mississippi, where Senator Thad Cochran and challenger Chris McDaniel look to be headed toward a run-off to decide a very bitter primary.
Archives for June 2014
Evidence of dozens of veterans dying as they waited months for appointments and treatment are likely the tip of the iceberg and the real number of deaths could be in the thousands, according to a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who closely follows the issue.
Jessie Jane Duff spent 20 years in the Marines, rising to the rank of gunnery sergeant. She is now on the organizing committee at Concerned Veterans for America. While the government is essentially admitting to about 40 deaths in Phoenix due to long waits and dozens more facilities are under investigation, Duff says the real number of veteran deaths due to the VA bureaucracy in recent years is exponentially higher.
“Yes, I do estimate it’s in the thousands. Let’s go to the backlog that they had. Fifty-three veterans died a day just waiting on their benefits in 2011. The VA itself has those numbers. We’re talking about egregious mismanagement, a culture of corruption that was allowing all these executives to give the impression that they had 14 days of waiting time, not months and months of waiting time, so they could get bonuses. So I expect it will be several hundred, if not thousands,” said Duff.
Duff says another reason the numbers are likely to soar is because of systemic bureaucracy that grinds the system to a crawl.
“In Albuquerque, New Mexico, veterans were waiting over four months with gangrene, heart disease, brain tumors. I didn’t even know you could wait that long with any of those predicaments. In Harlingen, Texas, in 2010, they decided that men had to come back with three screenings that came out positive before they could get in for a colonoscopy. By that time, it was a Stage Four cancer,” said Duff, who elaborated further on some of the red tape our veterans are forced to navigate in Albuquerque.
“It came out that they had eight cardiologists on staff. But only three would work a day and they would see only two patients per day. I’m not sure if that was two patients per cardiologist or two total. Regardless, the report I read determined that they were seeing in a week what most medical facilities could see in two days,” she said.
She says a final death count may prove difficult since many vets ultimately gave up on the VA system and sought care in the private sector. Duff says the most troubling aspect of this story is not just incompetent mismanagement but the blatant deceit perpetrated by VA officials around the nation.
“What disappoints me the most out of this is that it was deliberate. I used to think it was just mismanagement. I’ve been reporting on mismanagement for the past year. Now I realize it was all deliberate and it was all in the name of an almighty dollar. I’m so shocked and saddened to know that executives at the highest level were training their employees to hide numbers, training their employees to make it look like veterans were only waiting 14 days,” said Duff.
“They were not realizing the reality nor did they care about the reality that this was going to result in many of these veterans’ deaths. And we’re talking often about our Vietnam era and older. Many of those men are not in a position where they can heal quickly and go without medical care for sustained periods of time,” she said.
“It’s tragic that these executives became so removed, so removed from the very veterans they were helping that they never looked in the eyes of these family members or went to one of the funerals or watched the pain and suffering that these men went through,” said Duff.
Federal spending on veterans’ health care is up significantly in the Obama administration and the president vowed last week to fight for as much additional money as needed to fix the system. That approach to the problem leaves Duff incensed.
“Oh please. I just want to scream when I hear somebody say, ‘Let’s slap more money onto it,'” said Duff. “They have a $150 billion budget. They requested $160 billion for the next fiscal year. They’ve never been denied anything from the Senate or the House as far as their budget goes. Thirty-nine percent is going to medical costs. Thirty-nine (percent) of the $150 billion,” said Duff.
Duff reports that 52 percent of taxpayers dollars spent at the Phoenix VA went to administrative costs, including the purchase of expensive office furniture. Another six million was spent on a sparsely attended national conference in Orlando, Florida.
“They’ve wasted thousands and thousands and millions of dollars,” said Duff. “The money is simply being mismanaged.”
She is also seething at Senate Democrats for blocking the VA Accountability Act, which easily passed the House and would give the secretary of Veterans’ Affairs. However, GOP attempts to approve the plan in the Senate were blocked by Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont).
“Sanders has another bill of his own, another $20 billion in a pork-funded bill that he’s trying to get through the Senate. He used two false arguments. His first false argument is we need time to review the bill. It’s a three-page bill, 27 lines, Bernie. How slow do you need to read?” asked Duff.
“The second false argument is that he said this would give a greater opportunity when we change administrations for executives to be fired and that would be unfair. That’s another false argument. The Department of Defense has this authority to fire executives. This was in place in several previous administrations. Secretary (Robert) Gates used it during the Walter Reed scandal in 2007. We have heard of no executives being fired when the administrations changed so that is a false and ridiculous argument, said Duff.
She says executives would still have the right to appeal their termination, so punitive firings would be very difficult. Duff says the case of Sharon Helman is the perfect example of why reform is needed. Helman deliberately submitted false information on the number of veteran suicides. Instead of being fired, she was promoted to director of the Phoenix VA, site of the initial reports of falsified wait lists for veterans.
With all of the promises of reform flowing out of Washington, when will America know real progress is being made?
“We have over a quarter-million veterans who are appealing their claims. I want to see where they start getting a very solid ratio of when they grant a claim, it’s not being appealed. That tells me you’re giving a quality assessment to the person who is making the claim. We’re going to see our veteran suicides drop. Right now, 22 vets a day are killing themselves due to mental health issues. Often there is a huge delay of up to three weeks getting in for a mental health exam within the VA. We’ll see that drop,” said Duff.
“We will also see a greater quality in care. I expect that they’ll start serving these veterans and find out how long they’ve been getting care. And I expect the Senate and the House to be monitoring this a hell of a lot closer than they’ve been. Sadly, they’ve all gotten letters from veterans complaining about the VA, but it wasn’t until Phoenix that we heard them do anything about it,” she said.
President Obama is moving forward with a central component of his climate change agenda, as the Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday that carbon emissions must be reduced by 30 percent at fossil fuel-burning power plants by 2030 in order to fend off the devastating effects of a changing climate.
The plan is actually set to take effect next year, but EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy says the administration has a “moral obligation to act.”
The reduction in carbon emissions was a critical component of Obama’s “cap-and-trade” agenda that failed to pass the U.S. Senate in 2010, even with a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. This time, the administration is not involving Congress, a move that has Republicans seething.
“That’s been par for the course ever since Republicans took the majority in the U.S. House. The president has just ignored Congress and done everything by administrative fiat, in many cases going beyond his legitimate authority. That’s really dangerous and not living under the Constitution in significant ways,” said Louisiana Sen. David Vitter, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
“I think it’s dangerous when you have this dramatic (of) an action plan which can’t get legislative support, even in the Democratic majority in the U.S. Senate,” said Vitter.
“It can’t get support for good reason. It’s costly. It hurts our economy. It hurts consumers. It hurts the poorest and most vulnerable. And what it is achieving? Less than two percent impact on carbon emissions. So as China and India and other countries do nothing in this category, we’re killing our economy,” he said.
So why would greatly reducing carbon emissions at power plants lead to the “killing of our economy?” Vitter says it’s pretty simple.
“To reduce carbon emissions like that so dramatically, we’d have to get rid of a lot of abundant, cheaper sources of energy right now, starting with coal and many other fossil fuels. Those are the most efficient, the most low-cost forms of energy we have. So we’re simply displacing that for higher ways of producing electricity,” said Vitter.
“So energy costs are going to go up significantly. When you do that, it’s a toll on the economy. It’s basically a tax on consumers and a tax on the economy, so it’s going to slow economic growth even more,” he said.
Vitter says that 40 percent of the nation’s electricity comes from coal, which is expected to take the hardest hit if these regulations take hold. He says the green energy movement cannot begin to replace the lost energy capacity expected from these regulations and adds there’s really nothing to replace coal that is even remotely competitive on price.
“So we’re going to pay much higher prices. A big to to consumers and to families and a big hit to businesses in terms of costs. That means fewer jobs,” said Vitter.
Vitter says Republicans in Congress, along with some Democrats, will try to stop the implementation of the new EPA rules, which he calls “illegal and unconstitutional”. He also expects major lawsuits to be filed against the rules, but the senator says the real leverage belongs with the American people in November.
“We’re going to have a big national election this fall. Conservatives have an opportunity to take back the U.S. Senate. That would be a significant check and balance against this sort of unbridled power. I think and hope that energy, energy prices, the very slow recovery we have is going to be an important part of that election debate,” said Vitter.
Today’s Three Martini Lunch with Radio America’s Greg Corombos and Jim Geraghty from National Review spends some time with Geraghty’s new book, “The Weed Agency,” available from booksellers today. They also discuss President Obama’s flawed rationale for trading Taliban prisoners for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. They finish by talking about a study alleging that hurricanes named after women are much deadlier because people instinctively believe that women are less threatening.
Today’s Three Martini Lunch with Radio America’s Greg Corombos and Jim Geraghty from National Review is all about the recent prisoner swap of five Taliban figures held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl. They talk about some of the disturbing facts surrounding the swap, including the possibility that Bergdahl abandoned his post, the fact that the Obama administration has been accused of making a deal with terrorists, and its disregard for the law by failing to give Congress proper notice.