Monday, March 5, 2007

Jim Nicholson’s Head on a Pike

Everything in the ‘affairs’ departments is busted in American government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been America’s dirty little secret for a couple hundred years. Now, thanks to the first worthwhile piece of investigative reporting in recent memory, by Dana Priest at the Washington Post, Walter Reed Hospital has become the poster-child for neglected active-duty servicemen.

Danapriest Everything in the ‘affairs’ departments is busted in American government. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has been America’s dirty little secret for a couple hundred years. Now, thanks to the first worthwhile piece of investigative reporting in recent memory, by Dana Priest at the Washington Post, Walter Reed Hospital has become the poster-child for neglected active-duty servicemen.
But there’s another scandal lurking, the care system after discharge and, you guessed it, affairs is part of the name. Jim Nicholson heads up the United States Department of Veterans’ Affairs, a cabinet-level position. Check it out, Dana.
Vetaffairsnicholson_1 Bush’s man, Nicholson is an attorney, real estate developer, ex-ambassador to the Vatican and more recently, a former Republican Party chairman and big-buck campaign financier. What he knows about putting together a real estate deal is legendary.
His qualification for running the largest government organization outside the Department of Defense is less clear.
With a budget of more than $60 billion, VA employs approximately 230,000 people at hundreds of VA medical centers, clinics and benefits offices around the nation.
Like the one in Baltimore. That’s Aaron Chesley’s VA center.
In a homeless shelter filled with Vietnam War veterans, Chesley, 26, a former Catonsville High School honors student who joined the West Virginia Army National Guard in 2000 to help pay for college, was the only one in the facility who fought in the country's latest conflict. But across the nation, veterans of recent combat in Iraq and Afghanistan are slowly starting to trickle into shelters, officials say.
Homelessvietnamvet Excuse me? Trickle in to shelters. Do I have this straight? Does George Bush know?
Christian Davenport, a Washington Post writer, just penned an article subtitled, Homeless Vet Numbers Expected to Grow.
The number of homeless veterans from recent wars is hard to gauge. From 2004 to 2006, the Department of Veterans Affairs provided shelter to 300 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan tours, out of the tens of thousands who have served.

That figure "is not even close to accurate," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, because it doesn't include the "others sleeping in buses, their cars or on the streets."
Homelessiraqvet Jim Nicholson’s 230,000 employees were able to shelter 300 homeless vets.
The VA itself estimates that nearly 200,000 veterans are homeless on any given night. Our real-estate developer, cabinet-level, Secretary of the VA is able to provide a place to sleep for one in every 667 vets living in doorways or cardboard boxes. His department acknowledges that.
His department admits further, that nearly 400,000 experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has worn the uniform and served a country that has, essentially, turned its back on him (or her--not all homeless vets are men).
Not everyone agrees that Iraq and Afghanistan will increase homelessness among veterans. Peter H. Dougherty is one man who disagrees. Peter is director of Veteran Affairs' Homeless Veterans Programs and says the administration is
"light years ahead" of where it was during the Vietnam era. Without a draft, today's all-voluntary military is "better physically and mentally prepared" for combat, he said. The department now also provides free health care for two years after Iraq and Afghanistan vets get out of the military, and it's focusing on preventive services that help veterans and their families cope. 
After that, baby, you’re on your own. 100,000 of the homeless are Vietnam vets and a fair number (reduced each day by death) date back to WWII. If that's light years ahead, Dougherty ought to be quietly led off somewhere where he can do less damage.
"One of the big differences now is we're much more in a preventative health-care mode than we were in the past," he (Dougherty) said. "We're hoping by getting that early intervention we'll be able to take care of them.''
Although many vets suffer from PTSD, "epidemiologic studies do not suggest that there is a causal connection between military service, service in Vietnam, or exposure to combat and homelessness among veterans," according to the Veteran Affairs Web site. Rather, homelessness in veterans is caused by an amalgam of forces: family support, finances, education, mental illness -- the same factors that cause homelessness in the general population.
Epidemiology is the branch of medical science dealing with the transmission and control of disease. How does that specialty purport to evaluate causal effects?
Kickdowndoor Nonetheless, the amalgam of those (VA supported) causal forces somehow doesn’t include the stress associated with kicking down doors in Iraq, not knowing who is on the other side of those doors and not being able to talk to them in any event--all the while subject to prosecution for a quick trigger and death for being too slow. The constant fear of being blown up while driving to and from that door-kicking (or while manning a checkpoint) wasn’t mentioned either.
Talk about a tough day at the office.
And should it be forgotten, the glaring fact is that statistically, 25% of the homeless are vets, while they represent a mere 6/10ths of one percent of the population. Math may fail me here, but that would seem to be about a 40 to 1 error in the VA homelessness count.
No matter. Peter H. Dougherty is Jim Nicholson’s point-man on homelessness and if he’s wrong by a factor of 40, so be it.
Gengeorgeweightman In all fairness, Nicholson has been the United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs only since January of 2005, a mere two years on the job and he’s hardly (totally) responsible for a repeat of the Vietnam veteran disaster. On Secyarmyharveythe other hand, Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman was relieved of duty as head of Walter Reed hospital after only six months on the job. Secretary of the Army, Francis J. Harvey, (two years, three months) is secretary no more.
It’s a fine old custom for presidents to pop their major contributors into ambassadorships to France and secretaries of this or that. George Bush has cronied his way further than most.
But he has repeatedly, consistently and unendingly assured America that he was on top of disaster control and that America’s fighting forces were receiving the absolute best medical care and aftercare assistance.
The point-men in both cases, Michael Chertoff at Homeland Security and Jim Nicholson at Veterans’ Affairs have served inadequately and (to put it gently) without distinction.
If Francis Harvey and General Weightman can be compelled to leave, Michael Chertoff and Jim Nicholson can surely be required to follow.
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