Good morning and welcome to our Monday edition of “What’s Right and Left of the World.” I often find myself sitting at the crossroads, wondering what subject to broach. Ideally, it would be something interesting or unusual that I can add my sophisticated sense of humor to. Some of the blogs recently have dealt with heavy news (pollution, hunger, wild monkeys) rather than my escapades at the beach while tracking a Charlotte bobcat. Today we’re going to take the more serious and Roebuck route because this next story is a shocker.
Here’s the double scoop. More than 120 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq commit suicide each week while the government stalls in granting returning troops the mental health treatment and benefits to which they are entitled to. This is according to a veterans advocate who testified before a federal judge last week in San Francisco.
The rights of hundreds of thousands of veterans are being violated by the Department of Veteran Affairs, “an agency that is in denial” and by a government health care system and appeals process for patients that is “broken down,” according to Gordon Erspamer, lawyer for two veterans advocacy groups, who made these remarks in an opening statement at the trial of a nationwide lawsuit. So now rather than just extending our soldiers tours of duty and prolonging the families pain, we’re screwing around with their heads when they return home.
Erspamer says veterans are committing suicide at the rate of 18 per day, a number acknowledged by the VA in a December 15 e-mail. The agency’s backlog of disability claims now exceeds 650,000, an increase of 200,000 since the Iraq war started in 2003. I guess the only good news is that there have been no disability claims filed yet from the next war in Iran.
Justice Department lawyer Richard Lepley countered that the VA runs a “world class health care system.” He said the changes the plaintiffs seek in their lawsuit, better and faster mental health care and more rights for appealing denials of benefits are beyond the judge’s authority. I don’t know that much about this subject, but let’s just say my entire body is wrapped up in red tape as I write this.
The judge in this case, U.S. District Judge Samuel Conti, earlier ruled that if the advocates can prove their claim, they would show that “thousands of veterans are suffering grievous injuries as the result of their inability to procure desperately needed and obviously deserved health care.” He also ruled that veterans are legally entitled to five years of government-provided health care after leaving the service, despite federal officials’ argument that they are required to provide only as much care as the VA’s budget allows in a given year. So what the government is saying is they don’t mind spending over $3,000 a second in Iraq, they just don’t want to go over budget when these vets return home. Fair enough, Pentagon boys.
The trial follows publication of a Rand study last week that estimated that 18.5 percent of U.S. troops returning from Afghanistan and Iraq suffer from major depression or post-traumatic stress. Now, I don’t want to rag on the Bush administration for wasting of trillions of dollars on a blatant lie a war or for taking our eye off the ball in Afghanistan and allowing the Taliban to regroup. That’s just not my style. I was just stunned when I read about the number of veteran’s suicides per day and felt the pain that accompanies these tragedies.
So that’s the news of the day. Today’s photos are from two sunrises back in February. I realize it’s an odd mix, beautiful sunrises over the Pacific along with painful revelations about what our government is doing to the returning troops but you never know what you’ll get here at Sunrise Santa Cruz. Someone once told me variety was the spice of life. I always thought it was onion or garlic powder. Shot a nice sunset tonight up the coast which we’ll see later in the week. Anyway, enjoy the morning colors, support the troops and we’ll catch you for wildlife Wednesday. Aloha.