Friday, October 31, 2008

Iowa veterans cash in on lottery tickets

Iowa veterans and their families were the biggest winners in the Iowa Lottery’s most recent quarterly payout, which transferred $992,773 to the Veterans Trust Fund (VTF). The payout stemmed from sales of the $1 instant-scratch game, “Stars & Stripes,” between July and September 2008.

“We’re honored to have the opportunity to support those who have given so much for our country,” Ken Brickman, Iowa Lottery Acting CEO, said in a statement. “We thank our players for recognizing the importance of this cause and helping us provide a stable, ongoing source of revenue for the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund.”

The alliance between the Iowa Lottery and the VTF was spearheaded by Rep. McKinley Bailey, D-Webster City, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. He sponsored legislation, House File 2359 earlier this year that authorized the lottery games and appropriated the funds to the VTF.

“Iowa’s veterans have served with dignity, and with excellence, and all veterans have the gratitude of every citizen,” Gov. Chet Culver said in a statement. “I was proud to sign this legislation earlier this year authorizing new lottery games to help support the Veterans Trust Fund. And now, the proceeds from those games will play a vital role in helping veterans and their loved ones around the state.”

Lawmakers created the VTF in 2003 with the intent of giving the state flexibility with regard to Iowa's returning veterans and their families, in particular when it comes to issues that aren't covered by federal funding, such as job training, unemployment assistance, travel expenses for wounded veterans related to follow-up medical care, nursing home care, counseling programs and honor guard services.

The trust fund was supposed to eventually contain $50 million in 10 years, but only $5 million has been appropriated to the fund thus far, and Gov. Chet Culver's 2008 budget did not contain any additional revenue for the fund, thus prompting Bailey to find an alternative source of funding.

The new lottery games are estimated to generate up to $3 million a year for the trust fund at a minimal impact on the general fund. The lottery’s second set of games to benefit veterans are scheduled to begin sales in January.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Iowa guard units receive orders for Afghanistan deployment

To help support the ongoing war effort in Afghanistan, approximately 310 Iowa National Guard soldiers have been ordered to federal active duty by the Department of Defense and the National Guard Bureau.

Members of the 1133rd and 1168th Transportation Companies will report immediately to their mobilization station at Fort Riley, Kan. for additional training and preparation before departing for the Afghanistan theater of operations. In Afghanistan, these soldiers will operate as a Regional Corps Advisory Group Embedded Training Team (“ETT”) to provide mentorship and advanced training to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police.

The units are medium truck companies which transport equipment and supplies in a theater of operations and both served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

Community send-off ceremonies have been planned for Thursday, Oct. 30 in five different communities:

Aububon– Detachment 2, 1168th Transportation Company (approximately 65 Soldiers) -sendoff at 4 p.m., Audubon High School gymnasium, 800 3rd Ave., Audubon.

Iowa City – Detachment 1, 1133rd Transportation Company (approximately 25 Soldiers) -sendoff at 4:30 p.m., Regina High School gymnasium, 2150 Rochester Ave., Iowa City.

Mason City – 1133rd Transportation Company (approximately 115 Soldiers) - sendoff at 6 p.m., Mason City High School gymnasium, 1700 4th St. SE, Mason City.

Perry – 1168th Transportation Company (approximately 65 Soldiers) - sendoff at 7:30 p.m., Perry High School gymnasium, 1200 18th St., Perry.

Marshalltown – Detachment 1, 1168th Transportation Company (approximately 40 Soldiers) - sendoff at 7:30 p.m., Marshalltown Community College gymnasium, 3700 S. Center St., Marshalltown.

Monday, October 20, 2008

PTSD and Post Partum Depression: No Equal Defense before the Law?

The following a a guest column written by Bob Krause:

The Iowa Supreme Court's decision on the Heidi Anfinson case casts a new light into the shadows of mental illness and depression. The court ruled that the courts should have entertained evidence of depression and odd behavior that followed the birth of Anfinson's son. Anfinson allegedly drowned the child in Saylorville Lake a decade ago.

Although the tragic occurrence of the murder of Heidi's child by her was heinous, it has been recognized in medical circles and professional circles that an actual form of insanity sometimes occurs after child birth. It is called post-partum depression. The courts of Iowa will now allow evidence of the signs of it to be admitted in court during criminal proceedings.

But there are others in Iowa, some sitting in jail today without treatment, for an equally oppressive form of metal illness that they acquired often in the defense of America. That illness is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and it deserves a like legal review to post-partum depression.

Today in Iowa, PTSD cannot be used as a defense in an insanity or diminished capacity plea before a jury. Not even military medical records diagnosing a soldier or veteran with PTSD can be entered in defense. It is only after conviction that the court can entertain PTSD records – not to prescribe treatment, but for consideration in sentencing.

PTSD does not have the same sympathetic ring as post-partum depression. But it is with us, and it is common. 480,000 of those returning from Vietnam (15.2% of men and 8.1% of women) had it. 168,000 of those Vietnam vets still have it. Of those, according to the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study of 1988, ½ (around 240,000) were jailed at least once, 35% more than once, and 11.5% were convicted of felonies.

Today, some estimate that 20 percent of soldiers and 42 percent of reservists have returned from Iraq with some kind of psychological problem. Much of this is PTSD related. And the "canary in the coal mine" indicator of pervasive PTSD problems -- Army suicides -- more than doubled since 2001, hitting a 27-year high in 2007.

Many in my generation can relate to this as they saw friends and loved ones that served that bounced slowly down the razor-blade of life, not really quite fitting in after service. This generation will be "blessed" to see much of the same. And, with the high number of Guard and Reserve mobilizations in Iowa, the problem may be more significant.

I do not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but as a retired Army Reserve officer from the immediate post-Vietnam era, I have learned about it well over the course of a career.

My eyes first opened to the phenomena as a young captain in the 1133rd Transportation Company, Iowa Army National Guard in Mason City. One of my soldiers, Louis, a Vietnam veteran and a capable sergeant, disappeared early one morning.

Louis had been a tunnel rat in Vietnam. For those of this generation, a tunnel rat was a person that crawled into narrow enemy underground bunkers. It was a death-defying feat for the practitioners, and it had obviously had an impact on Louis.

That day, several years after the fact, Louis flashed back when he crawled under one of our trucks to change the oil. In his mind, he was back in a tunnel in Vietnam in a stand-off with a Viet Cong soldier. In this mental vise, he could not move forward, and he could not move backward. So he froze – for about six hours.

When we found Louis, he was embarrassed by what had occurred, but obviously changed and un-nerved. He quit the National Guard shortly after that, and I am embarrassed that at the time I did not know enough about PTSD to get him proper referrals. But, I was not alone in my lack of knowledge.

That evening, after the troops had left for the day, I asked my recruiting non-commissioned officer, also a Vietnam veteran, what he knew about Louis. Ron was also a Vietnam veteran and had his own little hell to live. Ron's was a traveling flash-back. Once a month or so as Ron was driving down the road, the windshield would suddenly become covered with gore and blood. He would stop the car, take a deep breath, and then start driving again. These episodes came from a mortar attack where the body of a soldier had been smeared across the windshield of the truck he was driving.

But these are just two old events of another generation. We have many good examples that we will be able to point to for this generation. I can assure you that many of these cases will wind up in the courts. Untreated, PTSD symptoms can become more severe. Drugs and alcohol are often part of escape from the pain and insomnia, and these in turn can trigger more grief. Jobs are lost; marriages are ruined, and fear-response mechanisms can breed violence. I have been involved in the periphery of a legal case in northern Iowa regarding such a young man of this generation. He was formally an upstanding businessman prior to a short notice mobilization with his Guard unit. Unfortunately he fell into calamity upon return, in part because of the consequences of the mobilization, and in major part because of his own personal reactions to his own PTSD.

Surely, he deserves the right to tell his case to the jury also, not just the judge, at sentencing.

Bob Krause is a retired lieutenant colonel in the US Army reserve. He is past state president of the Reserve Officers Association and past state chair of the Iowa Democratic Veterans' Caucus. He is currently roving ambassador for the Iowa Democratic Veterans' Caucus.

Friday, October 17, 2008

UI vets critical of McCain’s record on veterans’ issues

In light of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain’s recent “D” score on the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America report card, some members of the University of Iowa Veterans Association sounded off on their fellow veteran, The Daily Iowan reported.
“There’s a difference between the public John McCain who’s a POW and the John McCain who votes consistently against veterans’ benefits,” said sophomore Drew Hjelm, who supports Libertarian candidate Bob Barr. “I don’t see why that’s not a big talking point for [Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama’s] camp. … John McCain is just way off-base.”

“I think five years as a POW earns you a lot of things most people don’t deserve — but the presidency is not one of them,” added senior Scott Lyon, who is also leaning toward Barr.
Criticisms against McCain were lobbed during a UI Veterans Association meeting Wednesday at the Communications Center on the UI campus.

During the meeting, Aaron Schlumbohm, a member of the UI Veterans Association and an Obama backer, admitted he was surprised by McCain’s low evaluation “because I bought into the myth, the McCain myth,” the DI reported.

McCain’s Democratic rival, Sen Barack Obama, received a “B” on the IAVA report card.

However, Ben Hayden, a McCain supporter and state captain of the Vets for Freedom took issue with the IAVA’s report card rating, reference his organization’s “A-” rating of McCain, which praised McCain for his support of the Iraq war.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

McCain scores ‘D’ on veteran report card; Obama, Iowa delegation above average

With four weeks remaining before the election, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) released its report cards on members of the 110th Congress. Grading was based on legislation that affected veterans and their families.

In the Senate, Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain of Arizona earned a ‘D’ on the report card, while his Democratic opponent, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, finished the term with a ‘B.’ Grades were based on nine votes covering a range of issue including veterans’ health care, the new GI Bill, mental health and support for homeless veterans.

Both of the nominees’ grades were hindered by their attendance. While hitting the campaign trail for potential votes, McCain missed six of the nine votes, while his counterpart, Obama, missed four of the votes.

The IAVA, the largest organization of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, says it is committed to holding elected officials accountable through its nonprofit, nonpartisan 501, the IAVA Action Fund. The advocacy group released the report card on Oct. 6 to educate American voters on the voting records of elected officials and hold them them accountable for their actions regarding the 1.7 million veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The report card scores are based on how often legislators voted in favor of pro-veteran positions that align with the IAVA Action. All of the bills were equally weighted, except the 21st Century GI Bill, which was doubled because it was the IAVA’s top legislative priority.

The latter boded well for Obama, who co-sponsored the bill, but adversely affected McCain, who not only did not support the final version of the bill, but, while fundraising in California, missed the vote. McCain did co-sponsor an alternative bill, which was quickly shot down in the Senate, because it conflicted with Virginia Democratic Sen. Jim Webb’s version of the bill.

Voting against the new GI Bill affected Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, who received a ‘C’ on the report card, while his colleague Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, received the highest rating, an ‘A+’.

In the House, Iowa’s freshmen Democrats, Reps. Bruce Braley, District 1, and Dave Loebsack,District 2, joined Harkin at the top with an ‘A+.’ They were closely followed by Reps. Leonard Boswell, D- District 3 and Tom Latham, R- District 4, who received an ‘A,’ and Rep. Steve King, R-District 5, who earned a ‘B’.

The IAVA used 13 votes in the House to assess grades

Friday, October 3, 2008

Déjà vu? GOP obstructionism delays military suicide-prevention bill

Despite the steady rise in suicides among active-duty service members, congressional politics trumped an amendment to the recently passed Defense of Defense Reauthorization Bill that would have helped address this increasing problem.

Although Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was pleased with some of the measures in the bill that will help military members and their families, he was disappointed that his suicide-prevention measure, along with a measure to fix a pay glitch that shortchanged National Guard troops, were casualties of partisan politics.

“While I am glad my colleagues in the Senate have passed this important legislation, I was disappointed to hear that two fundamental measures that I pushed for were needlessly blocked by one member of the minority party,” Harkin said in a statement. “My amendment to help prevent suicide among active-duty service members and an amendment I co-signed that would have fixed a pay glitch that shortchanged many National Guard troops both fell tonight because of Republican obstructionism.

“The Army has reported that, as of the end of August, 62 soldiers have committed suicide so far this year and another 31 deaths appear to be suicides,” Harkin said in a statement. “If this pace continues, that could mean the number of suicides in 2008 would eclipse the 115 suicides recorded in 2007. These startling statistics should serve as a wake-up call that suicide among soldiers and veterans is more than a problem, it is an emergency. My amendment would have created a comprehensive suicide prevention program including annual training for all service members, improved instruction for field medics and post deployment assistance.”

The suicide-prevention amendment introduced by Harkin was one of 101 eventually scrapped by the majority party in the Senate, who feared that an amendment introduced by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., might reframe the debate over the amendments to a debate over pork-barrel spending – something the Democrats want to avoid in election-year politics.

Another amendment co-sponsored by Harkin and left by the wayside would have retroactively reimbursed soldiers shortchanged during a bureaucratic lapse. “Currently, there are more than 600 Iowa National Guard service members who have not received their earned leave due to a delay between the announcement of a new leave program by the Department of Defense and the establishment of the program by the individual services,” Harkin said in a statement.

DeMint, employing an obstructionist tactic, introduced an amendment that would have would have given the Department of Defense authority to ignore up to $5 billion of earmarks found not in the bill, but buried in the bill's report.

This is not the first time that a suicide-prevention measure aimed at helping service members was caught in the partisan crossfire and nearly killed by GOP obstructionism.

Despite overwhelming bipartisan congressional support for the Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act, which was introduced by Harkin in August 2007, the measure was held up by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who put a hold on it. Coburn called the bill insulting to veterans and warned that its mandatory mental health screening could harm their future job options. “I’m going to continue to hold this bill until we work on the issues to guarantee freedoms of the veterans in terms of the tracking,” Coburn said on the Senate floor.

The obstructionist move drew the ire of Harkin, who was surprised by Coburn’s hold. “The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention Act has received intense scrutiny, including two hearings in the House and three in the Senate,” Harkin said on the Senate floor in September 2007. “The bill has been strongly endorsed by the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Disabled Veterans of America, and other veterans groups. So it is a travesty to have this bill held up, now, by a single Senator for reasons that are completely bogus.”

The Joshua Omvig Suicide Prevention bill was first introduced in the House by Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, who named the bill after a soldier from his district in Grundy Center, Iowa, who took his own life after returning from Iraq. The bill directs the Department of Veterans Affairs to step up screening, counseling and other mental health services for returning war veterans by mandating this process. The House bill overwhelmingly passed in March 2007 by a vote of 423 to 0.

In the Senate, however, Coburn objected to the unanimous consent request, citing concerns that veterans’ access to purchasing guns may be hindered. Harkin refuted Coburn’s claim on the Senate floor: “And his principal reason for doing so is completely baseless,” Harkin said. “He speculates that if we have mandatory screening of all veterans for suicide risk, the resulting medical data might be used to deny a veteran the right to purchase handguns. No medical professional can refer an individual to the background check system that would limit access to firearms. This can only be done through the judicial system.”

Eventually, with the help of his colleague Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Harkin helped usher the bill through the Senate in late September 2007. Grassley took the leadership role on the Republican side and helped persuade Coburn to lift the hold, before it passed overwhelmingly in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush shortly thereafter.

The fate of Harkin’s new suicide-prevention and the National Guard pay-glitch amendments remain uncertain at this point, although Harkin has vowed to keep fighting for these measures until they pass.

As he said in a recent statement: “The demise of these two common-sense amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill is unfortunate and unfair to the men and women who serve our country so courageously.”