United States News Digest
Lautenberg, Waxman Demand Answer on Halliburton Retaliation
Representative Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) are challenging Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to answer for Halliburton's retribution against Lloyd Owen International (LOI), whose CEO testified against Halliburton three weeks ago. Alan Waller, who testified that his company delivered oil from Kuwait to Iraq for 18 cents per gallon, while Halliburton charged $1.18 for the same gas, has now reported to the Senate Democratic Policy Committee that Halliburton on July 11 moved to block LOI's access to the military crossing between Kuwait and Iraq, essentially blocking LOI's ability to continue its delivery of 140 truckloads of fuel to the Iraqi government, since the civilian crossing takes hours to get through. Halliburton has the contract to run the military crossing.
Waxman, Dorgan, and Lautenberg wrote to Rumsfeld on July 21, noting the obvious security crisis if the fuel is cut off from the Iraqi government, and asking for answers to several questions, including: What contract is Halliburton operating under for the border crossing? Does Halliburton have a role in policy at the crossing? Does Halliburton have the power to retaliate against LOI or others? How will the obstruction of LOI's oil deliveries enhance U.S. security and reconstruction?
Army Pushing Wounded Soldiers Out the Door
A July 19 story by Scripps-Howard News Service concerns a soldier by the name of Rory Dunn, who was seriously wounded in Iraq in May 2004 when a bomb hanging from a tree destroyed the Humvee he was riding in. He suffered traumatic brain injury, severe damage to his sight and hearing, and was in a coma for almost six weeks. Yet, days after he came out of the coma, and before reconstructive surgery had even started or physical therapy begun, Army officials began to pressure him to sign discharge papers. "The Army tried to get rid of him," said Cynthia Lefever, Dunn's mother. "It was immoral and unethical. The Army owes these kids." Army officials deny that there's a rush to get soldiers out before they've received the care that they need, saying instead that there's a delicate balancing act between determining when a soldier can no longer perform assigned duties and when he's received optimal medical care. However, the issue has caught the attention of Congress. "I think the Army underestimated the number of wounded," says Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.). "I don't know whether they are overcrowded or just trying to cut costs. No one is talking about it."
Bipartisan Effort To Defeat New Medicare Rule
Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) was joined by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), Chairman of Senate Republican Conference, Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Rep. Nina Lowey (D-N.Y.), in a press conference on July 21, to introduce legislation to block the ongoing attempts by the Bush Administration to restrict which patients could receive Medicare-covered intense rehabilitation in Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities (IRFs). IRFs are an essential provider of post-acute hospital care for treatment of stroke, trauma, spinal-cord injury, brain injury, severe burns, knee or hip replacement, and neurological disorders.
The bill, S.1405, entitled "Preserving Patient Access to Inpatient Rehabilitation Hospitals Act of 2005," is meant to counteract Medicare's new policy of requiring IRFs to increase up to 75%, the number of patients they treat that have one of 13 specific conditions. Otherwise, they will not retain IRF status and receive adequate Medicare reimbursement. Patients without those conditions just don't get rehabilitation, which means some will never recover function and operate independently again.
"By limiting access, based on strict conditions versus medical necessity, CMS [the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency that oversees Medicare] is restricting a doctor's available treatment options, and jeopardizes the quality of outcomes for patients requiring IRF care," Sen. Santorum said at the press conference.
Reid Fights To Save VA Nursing Homes from Destruction
As the Congress nears completion of action on the 2005 supplemental appropriation for veterans health and the 2006 Veterans Administration budget, both revealed to have massive shortfalls, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev), joined by Veterans Affairs Committee ranking member Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hi), and leaders of two national veterans' organizations, announced that he is putting forward a unanimous consent request calling for the Senate to amend the House-passed $975 million emergency appropriation for fiscal 2005 to conform with the twice-passed Senate $1.5 billion appropriation and send it back to the House for final passage. At stake is an end to the hiring freeze at VA hospitals nationwide, which has resulted in such atrocities as three-year waiting lists for surgery.
Also at stake is the very existence of the network of state-run nursing homes for veterans, which is threatened by an administrative change in eligibility rules. Alfie Alvarado, the President of the National Association of State Veterans Homes, told EIR that if the proposed eligibility rules are enforced, 85% of the 19,000 veterans in state homes nationwide would no longer receive a Federal per diem, and would, in effect, be kicked out of the facilities unless the states pick up the funding. In fact, Alvarado reported, the VA has made it clear that it intends to enforce this policy, whatever funding levels are voted by the Congress, and veteran advocates are attempting to get Congressional legislation forbidding such a move.
Bush Administration Wants To Abolish Pay Schedule
The Bush Administration wants to abolish the general schedule pay system by 2010 for the government's 1.8 million civilian employees, and to expand government-wide the kind of pay-for-performance systems being implemented at the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The Administration's draft bill, which it is circulating on Capitol Hill, was criticized by Federal employee unions. A representative of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) said the proposal "is meant to erode Federal pay and future retirement security for middle-class Federal workers over time."
McCaffrey: U.S. Military Has No 'Surge Capacity'
Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey told radio host Diane Rehm on July 19 that U.S. forces in Iraq are "stretched to the limit," and "will start melting down." The National Guard "is coming apart," he said, and we have a national recruiting problem, all because Rumsfeld is "denying what is in front of his eyes."
He came back to this for his closing statement, saying that if we have any other demand on our militaryif, for example, Castro dies and we are hit with a wave of refugees, if there is a problem in Taiwan, or in Korea, we "lack the strategic surge capacity" to deal with any such crisis.
Base Closing Commission Slams Air Force Plan
The concerns communicated to the Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) about the Air Force plan for the Air National Guard took center stage, on July 18, as the Commission heard from top Pentagon and Air Force officials concerning the plan. The climax came when Commission member Adm. Harold Gehman (ret.) told Lt. Gen. Steven Wood, Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff for Plans and Policy, and other senior officers, that the plan appears to substantially deviate from the requirements of the base closing law, that the Air Force inconsistently applied military value criteria to its decisions, and that it appears to contain hidden policy issues, including an implicit decision that not every state will have an Air National Guard flying mission.
"It would be easy to just throw the whole thing back to the Defense Department," Gehman said, "but it would be irresponsible for us to do that." Rather than tossing out the whole plan, Gehman, as BRAC Commission chairman Anthony Principi had said at the outset, instead called on the Air Force, the Air National Guard, and the National Guard Bureau to come up with a better plan. These officials "have to help us with what appears to be an unworkable and unsatisfactory set of recommendations," he said. He called for a commissioner-level briefing from the Air Force to help the Commission to deal with the issues that he raised, a request that was seconded by Commission chairman Anthony Principi.
Governors Warn Bush About Extended Guard Deployments
The National Governors Association, meeting in Des Moines, Iowa on July 16 and 17, warned the Bush Administration about the dangers of extended National Guard deployments in Iraq, cautioning that the deployments leave states unprepared for natural disasters and other domestic emergencies, according to the July 17 New York Times. Incoming chairman of the NGA, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, warned, "If we had a major natural disaster, we would be stretched thin. I think all governors right now are worried about the long-term impact of long deployment and frequent deployment on recruiting and retention. It is a major topic of concern."