Joe Sestak Interview

I sat down for an interview this afternoon with US Senate candidate Joe Sestak.  We covered a wide variety of issues but the conversation kept returning to the issue of trust.  Trust in the integrity of our elected officials.  Towards the end of the interview I accidently knocked the video camera and Joe cracked a joke about it.

I’ve known Joe since he was in Congress representing Pennsylvania’s 7th District in suburban Philadelphia.  I covered several of his events then and also his Senate contest six years ago versus Arlen Specter and Toomey.  Enjoy our conversation.

Corbett Is Denying Veterans Health Care Under ACA

Gov. Gasbag’s refusal to adopt Medicaid Expansion under the ACA is denying Pennsylvania veterans with needed health care.  An estimated 500-600,000 residents of our Commonwealth could be covered if the Governor accepted the federal funds for two years to fully fund the expansion.  This Memorial Day we should focus on how conservative ideology is costing people their lives.

We’ve already see the awful effects of sequestration cuts on the VA and how that agency is failing veterans.  Republicans and many Democrats were all too eager to go to war over lies they knew to be so but then refused to allocate the funds to properly treat our wounded and ill veterans.  One solution was to expand Medicaid for those vets too poor to pay for their own insurance.  Gov. Corbett continues to have the authority to do so but refuses because his ideology is in the way.  That’s peculiar for someone who professes to be “pro life.”

The One Percent

This is a guest column by Admiral Joe Sestak.

The One Percent

by Joe Sestak

Today, I am commemorating Armed Forces Day inside Pennsylvania’s Graterford Penitentiary with the veterans our nation left behind.  It’s the 25th anniversary of the prison’s Vietnam Veterans Chapter, and I’m with fellow veterans I’ve come to know over the years, although not all are from Vietnam. Too many are imprisoned there from the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It’s a long walk to the auditorium down the center corridor of the prison among the inmates.  But I can only imagine how tough the walks were for these men when they went “outside the wire” in a foreign land every day for twelve months, not knowing if the loud sound they suddenly heard was a nearby exploding car or a suicide bomber bent on their destruction.  Or how it felt when your next step in a minefield might set off a buried booby-trap, taking off a part of you – or apart all of you.  Then these men went back to do it again the next year, and then the next, doing it all over again and again, with every footstep, on every day.

The men I visit today are paying for having served our country, and physically surviving.  During Vietnam, this nation couldn’t spell Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), never mind provide treatment for our veterans that bore it when they returned home.  Is there any wonder why addiction to a substance that eased their pained memories became their safe harbor when our countrymen didn’t provide one?

And it should surprise no one that we have a similar challenge today when our government approved psychotropic drugs for over 100,000 warriors as they repeatedly re-deployed to our two recent wars, even though the federal Food and Drug Administration has not approved many of these drugs for either PTSD or for those under the age of 25.  Nor when both Veteran and active military hospitals delay and purposely non-diagnose their needed mental treatment.  Just scan the news of claims backlogs, hidden waiting lists and indolent VA health care employees.  Justice?  Not from the Justice Department that would not prosecute the $2 trillion-dollar HSBC Bank for laundering Iranian terrorist funds because of the possible “collateral consequences” of bank withdrawals. But “justice” did prosecute a young veteran for carrying thousands in drug money as he dealt with the mental “collateral damage” of the war – alone.  What an ironic message for our military recruiters:  the cost for someone fighting the war of terror is greater than the cost for supporting terror.

I’m concerned about how to keep our returned veterans from going into prison; but what about those who might later get out?  President George W. Bush had it right when he launched a $300 million re-entry initiative because, “America is the land of the second chances, and when the gates of the prison open, the path ahead should lead to a better life.”  But the initiative failed, for the same reason the VA has failed its men and women.  Rather than pursuing evidence-based programs, with accountable benchmarks and measurable results, too much of the program’s funding was put into the willing hands of those who were less than accountable to those who came out the gates of prison.

Those that serve our country are its real 1% — because less than 1% of our American families had a loved one serve in our recent conflicts overseas.  And while everyone seems to call for “taking care of our vets,” our nation has failed that plea – or else I would not be visiting Graterford Prison, today.  Are we veterans perfect?  No, but it’s hard to imagine many others better.

This, then, is a request to acknowledge that our nation has left our veterans behind – something no veteran would ever do in combat. And yet, would our veterans do it – service — again?  In answer, I’ll watch with deep respect today as each of the incarcerated veterans is called up by name as several other inmates softly hum the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  Then I’ll watch as a silent prison population rises as one to clap thunderously as the last prisoner strides up and turns, pride on his sorrowful face.  The answer is “yes;” it’s just a shame that our citizens take advantage of that selflessness.

The Stakes In This Election

If you’re any of these here are the stakes in this election.

Remember George W. Bush?  He created our massive budget deficits with two credit card wars, tax cuts for the rich and a financial meltdown caused by deregulation.  Voters restless for a faster recovery are deciding to go back for another dose of that poison instead of another dose of medicine.

If you’re a woman you’ll lose the right to control your own body and your access to contraception.  You won’t achieve equal pay for equal work and may very well lose your job.

If you’re over 65 you’ll both your Medicare and Social Security.

If you’re poor you’ll lose your Medicaid coverage.

If you’re a child with a pre-existing condition you’ll lose your health care when Romney repeals Obamacare.

If you’re a student you could lose your Pell grant.  The Ryan Budget cuts 1,000,000 college students from the program.

If you’re poor you’ll lose your food stamps and unemployment.

If you’re a veteran you’ll lose many of your VA benefits.  The Ryan Budget cuts $11 million from its budget.

If you eat cuts to the FDA could mean unsafe food and medicine.

If you have cancer severe cuts to the CDC and NIH could mean a setback in research.

If you drive rebuilding infrastructure will not happen.

If you’re young and unemployed new opportunities to get blown up in Iran loom in your future.

Aside from that there isn’t much risk to voting for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Obama Initiative Will Put Cops on Pennsylvania Streets

In an announcement earlier today the Obama Administration announced a new initiative which will put veterans to work as cops, some in Philadelphia.  Vice President Joe Biden headlined a White House conference call on the issue.  He said these post 9/11 veterans deserve employment as highly trained professionals.  One aspect of the program will be for the military to certify veterans for the training and experience they received while serving.  They can use these official certifications, whether it be in welding, law enforcement or whatever, to better get jobs in the private sector.  Unemployment for veterans is bad and President Obama has made getting jobs for vets a top priority recently.

The White House released this statement today:

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) today announced funding awards to over 220 cities and counties, aimed at creating or saving approximately 800 law enforcement positions.  The grants will fund over 600 new law enforcement positions and save an additional 200 positions recently lost or in jeopardy of being cut due to local budget cuts.  All new law enforcement positions funded in the COPS 2012 Hiring Program must be filled by recent military veterans who have served at least 180 days since September 11, 2001.  In his State of the Union Address, President Obama called for a new Veterans Jobs Corps initiative to help put veterans back to work on a range of projects that leverage skills developed in the military, including first responder jobs. In February, the President announced that preference for this year’s COPS and Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grants would be given to communities that recruit and hire post-9/11 veterans to serve as police officers and firefighters.

More than $111 million is being awarded to local public safety agencies across the country.  The list of this year’s grantees includes Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, PA; Chicago, IL; Boston, MA; Atlanta, GA; Trenton, NJ; Alameda County and Los Angeles, CA; Akron, OH; and Tacoma, WA.  The COPS Office will work with transition centers across the country to connect veterans with the new grant-funded law enforcement opportunities.  For the entire list of grantees and additional information about the 2012 COPS Hiring Program, visit the COPS website at www.cops.usdoj.gov.

“Since we got into office, the President and I have been committed to helping our returning heroes find jobs and transition back into civilian life. A lot of them want to keep serving now that they’re back, and these COPS Grants help give them that chance,” said Vice President Joe Biden.

“Today, we step up our support for recent veterans by offering them the chance to pursue meaningful careers in law enforcement,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “At a time of budget shortfalls, these grants will provide opportunities for much-needed, highly-trained professionals – with a proven commitment to service – to continue their careers in communities all across the country.”

“This new opportunity for veterans is a commitment to support those who are coming home from their tour of duty,” said Bernard Melekian, COPS Office Director.  “We sincerely hope this effort encourages our veterans to continue to protect and serve the United States through new law enforcement careers.”

The COPS Hiring Program makes grants to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies to hire or rehire community policing officers.  The program provides the salary and benefits for officer and deputy hires for three years.  Along with the pledge to hire military veterans, grantees for the 2012 Hiring Program were selected based on fiscal need and local crime rates.  An additional factor in the selection process was each agency’s strategy to address specific problems such as increased homicide rates and gun violence.

Today’s announcement builds on several steps President Obama has taken to support veterans in developing skills and finding work, including by: creating new tax credits for businesses that hire veterans; challenging the private sector to hire or train 100,000 veterans and their spouses by 2013; helping veterans obtain industry-recognized credentials and licenses; increasing access to intensive reemployment services; developing online tools to boost veteran employment; and increasing hiring of veterans in healthcare-related fields.

Aliquippa will get one new policeman, Chester five, Philadelphia 25 and Pittsburgh 13.  The COPS program begun by President Clinton once put 100,000 community oriented police officers on the streets.  It was credited with a significant decline in major crimes where implemented.  George W. Bush proceeded to gut its funding.  Community police officers get to know the communities on their “beats” and the direct interaction reduces crime.  The Bush Recession cut thousands of police positions and this new initiative puts some of them back on the street.

Memorial Day 2011: Two Names That Matter

Unless you were in a coma the past few years, you probably know who Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, and Paris Hilton are.

           You heard about them on radio, saw them on television.

           You read about them in newspapers and magazines, on Facebook, Twitter, and every social medium known to mankind.

           Because of extensive media coverage, you also know who dozens of singers and professional athletes are.

           Here are two names you probably never heard of. Sergeant First Class Clifford E. Beattie and Private First Class Ramon Mora Jr.

They didn’t get into drug and alcohol scandals. They didn’t become pop singers or make their careers from hitting baseballs or throwing footballs. They were soldiers.

           Both died together this past week from roadside bombs near Baghdad.

           Sgt. 1st Class Beattie, from the small rural suburb of Medical Lake, Wash., spent 17 years in the Army, and was in his third tour of duty in Iraq. On the day he was killed, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review, he had participated in a run to honor fallen soldiers. Sgt. Beattie was 37 years old. He leaves two children, one of whom was three weeks from graduating from high school; four sisters, a brother, and his parents.

           PFC Mora, from Ontario, Calif., a city of about 170,000 near Los Angeles, was in his first tour in combat. He was 19 years old. “He was a very serious student, and education was important to him,” Carole Hodnick, Mora’s English teacher and advisor, told the Ontario Daily Bulletin. Hodnick also remembers him as having “a charisma about him, and the students just fell in line with him.”

Clifford E. Beatttie and Ramon Mora Jr. were just two of the 6,049 Americans killed and 43,418 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan in war the past decade, the longest wars in American history.

           You can’t know or remember all of their names. But you can remember two.

           Clifford E. Beattie. Ramon Mora Jr.

Two Americans. One near the end of his Army career. One not long out of Basic Training. A White Caucasian and a Hispanic. Two different lives. Two different cultures. Two Americans.

Clifford E. Beattie. Ramon Mora Jr. Killed together more than 7,000 miles from their homes.

           As you prepare for Memorial Day barbeques, surrounded by celebrity-laden news, remember the names of Clifford E. Beattie and Ramon Mora Jr., and all they stood for. Theirs are the names that matter.

[Walter Brasch is a social issues columnist and author. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. For more details, see YouTube.]  

A Few Cutting Remarks

Throughout the country, the taxpayers have been revolting. Shocked by the enormity of the taxpayer revolt, and the untimely retirement of several hundred politicians, today’s current legislators, civil servants, and business executives have suddenly became the “people’s champions.” In a parallel universe, we can report the following, just since the latest election:

— Congress got the taxpayers’ message, and cut tax-supported junkets to only 15 per member. “The people have spoken,” said Rep. Horace Sludgepump from the Bahamas where he was on a fact-finding tour for the Maritime subcommittee. However, Rep. Sludgepump cautions that forcing Congressmen to stay at home and work for a living could bring chaos to the nation. Nevertheless, he promises to cut expenses even further three months before the next election.

— The Department of Defense was able to significantly reduce its budget by cutting back on the hours its golf courses and officers clubs were open. Complaining about the cuts were tax-reforming members of Congress whose districts were in the golf club re-appropriation. However, they were voted down by congressmen from Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota who were pleased to tell their constituents there would be new naval bases in their states.

— The Governor’s office announced that although the administration was forced to make severe cuts in education and human services, by strict cost-counting measures it was able to maintain staff salaries, and keep off the unemployment lines 125 administrative assistants, 265 executive assistants, 835 assistants to the administrative assistant, and 1,255 deputy special assistants.

— The budget cuts directly affect the nation’s 200,000 homeless veterans. But, there’s an upside to this. Sixty-three-year-old Cpl. Willie Joe Lumpkin, a veteran of the Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, re-enlisted. “After being downsized three times in the past decade and having the bank foreclose on my mortgage,” says Lumpkin, “at least I now have a bed and meals.” Lumpkin is expected to have shelter in Afghanistan for at least the next year.

— The president of Mammoth State University said that it too will cut expenses. Beginning next semester, the university will eliminate the departments of history, journalism, and philosophy, recruit high school students with at least a “C-” average who are willing to pay the increased tuition rates, add low-paid graduate assistants to teach megasection classes formerly taught by full-time professors, and cut the library budget by 35 percent. When asked if those changes weren’t severe, the President replied, “We tried to be as humane as possible. We allowed our 1,249 administrators to keep their jobs, have maintained our $6 million football program without restriction, and added three more PR people to better explain the mission of the university.”

— Slagheap World Airlines announced that in the spirit of national cost cutting, it would cut back its cockpit crew to one pilot and eliminate flight attendants, meals, and life rafts. “This way,” said the president, “we won’t have to penalize our loyal stockholders by lowering our return on investment.”

— The Association of American Landlords, which had lobbied extensively against annual safety inspections and property tax increases because they would be unfair to their tenants who would be required to pay higher rents, has also made concessions. Beginning September, in the spirit of tax reform, the landlords will sub-divide all apartments, and raise rents only 10 percent. “Sharing a bathroom and kitchen will bring people closer together,” said the Association president from his McMansion Media Room.

— Newspapers have been swept up in the spirit of reform. At the Daily Bugle, publisher Ben “Cash” Fleaux, from his villa in Bermuda, announced that his newspaper was forced to eliminate stories about local government, consumer and environmental reporting, and news of the courts when it cut its editorial staff by half in order to maximize profits during the Recession. To compensate, the Bugle is running more PR releases and added more stories about celebrities in rehab.

— The medical insurance industry, in keeping with the spirit of cost cutting, today announced it was cancelling coverage for 25 percent of its subscribers. “We hated to do it,” said an insurance spokesperson, “but some people insist on getting catastrophic illnesses, and that’s unfair to the rest who are healthy and don’t apply for benefits.”

— Finally, Dr. Guy Nacologist, the state’s richest obstetrician, announced that in keeping with the spirit of tax reform, he was now requiring all his patients to deliver their babies in eight months, thus saving a full month. When asked if he had also considered lowering his fees, he looked at the reporter, and then pointedly proclaimed that with the increase in country club fees, his patients were lucky he didn’t raise their costs by a similar amount.

[Walter Brasch says that since columnists are the soul of a newspaper, they should be downsized only after the last editor shuts off the lights in the newsroom. He reminds his readers that without their support, he’s likely to become unemployed and a burden on their hard-earned tax dollars. His next book is Before the First Snow: Stories from the Revolution, available at amazon.com and other stores after June 20. Also check out his YouTube video.]

                                                                                       

Value Our Veterans By Maintaining Social Security

As we approach another Memorial Day and we gather to salute and remember those who fought for and defended our country let us also fight for them.  Attempts to dismantle Social Security are attempts to hurt veterans and their families.  771,000 veterans receive Social Security benefits and 35% of all recipients are veterans.  Nine millions vets collect Social Security and 4,000 children of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan receive survivors benefits.  Four of every ten veterans is on the senior citizen program and the rest will once they become eligible.

Why would we abandon our veterans, those we’ll be honoring this weekend, by cutting off a vital part of their lives?  It isn’t easy living on the monthly stipend, I know that quite well after almost twenty years collecting Social Security Disability.  Imagine how our veterans and their survivors would feel if the country abandoned them once more?  Most of our homeless are already vets and the health care we provide them through the VA is substandard.  These people signed up and served us are we going to turn around and do them a disservice?  Keep Social Security and make it stronger not weaker.  Eliminating the cap on incomes subject to taxation for the program insures its liquidity for 75 years.  We owe this to our vets this Memorial Day.

Metcalfe Does It Again…

Rep. Daryl Metcalfe has made himself into a national embarrassment once again.  Operation Free (I’ll be covering their event in Warminster Wednesday) is a group of war veterans criss crossing the country stumping for real climate change/energy policies.  An organizer invited Metcalfe and his email response is disgusting:

Subject: Re: Veterans for American Power Bus Tour coming to your state

As a veteran,

I believe that any veteran lending their name, to promote the leftist propaganda of global warming and climate change, in an effort to control more of the wealth created in our economy, through cap and tax type policies, all in the name of national security, is a traitor to the oath he or she took defend the Constitution of our great nation!

Remember Benedict Arnold before giving credibility to a veteran who uses their service as a means to promote a leftist agenda.

Drill Baby Drill!!!

For Liberty,

Daryl Metcalfe

State Representative

Veteran U.S. Army

Metcalfe thinks the answer to global warming is more drilling…  He says these heroes are traitors because they accept, realize and fight for change so our strategic national security isn’t jeopardized by backwards thinking.  He says they are Benedict Arnolds for not being climate change deniers.  This embarrassment is now all over the country as blogs nationwide have picked up the story.

Recently Rep. Metcalfe sunk a resolution on domestic violence because he doesn’t want to believe that gays and lesbians can also be such victims.  If you have a Twitter account you can click on this link to sign a petition condemning Rep. Metcalfe’s outrageous words.  If not go here to sign this other petition being done by Operation Free.

Sestak Hosts Third Veterans Summit

Congressman Joe Sestak held his third summit for veterans in the 7th Congressional District at Ridley High School last evening.  Being a former Navy Admiral, Sestkis a veteran himself and vets obviously hold a place close to his heart.  Panelists included Col. John Gingrich, Chief of Staff to VA Director Gen. Shinseki, Rear Admiral T.L. McCreary of Military Advantage, Michael Moreland the Regional health director of the Veterans Administration, Thomas Lastowka, Director of the Philadelphia VA Regional Office Insurance center, three heads of area VA hospitals, State Senator Andy Dinniman and State Representative Bryan Lentz.

The hallway of the high school was filled with tables representing various resources for veterans.  Local colleges and universities, vets groups, job resource specialists, Social Security and Medicare, and various other people able to help vets shared information and resources with several hundred veterans.  Every vet I spoke with said the summit was a valuable source of information and quite constructive.

Congressman Sestak pointed out that 6,000 Pennsylvania National Guard Reservists are due to return from Iraq soon and up to 42% of them are expected to have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.  33% of all Iraq/Afghanistan soldiers are dealing with PTSD on top of traumatic brain injuries and physical injuries.  He called the situation in veterans affairs a perfect storm “we weren’t prepared for the demand on the VA, mental and physical, coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.  One in four homeless people in America are veterans and finding jobs remains the number issue affecting vets.  “We cannot allow what happened to our Vietnam vets to ever happen again.”

I’m old enough to remember Vietnam.  Those of us who vehemently opposed that war saw how the returning soldiers were mistreated.  Many had PTSD though we really didn’t know much about the affliction then.    The old term for it was “shell shock” and it went untreated.  Unable to deal with their PTSD vets couldn’t get or keep employment and became homeless.  It is shameful that America treated its heroes this way and inexcusable now.

President Bush began two wars without any consideration for how the injured troops, mentally or physically, would be taken care of by the VA.  Money simply wasn’t appropriated to deal with these issues.  Even today many veterans are waiting two years just for VA determinations of PTSD and TBI.  In that interim many will become homeless and we will have, once again, failed our heroes.

The 2010 VA budget calls for a 15.5% increase yet I wonder if this is sufficient.  Many VA facilities need upgrading so they can be state of the art in medical care and mental injuries still aren’t at a par with physical injuries yet can be just as debilitating.  A soldier badly wounded physically is also usually injured psychologically.  We must adequately fund the VA to care for these men and women.  They wore our uniform and went where we sent them to fight and, sometimes, to die.  The families of those who fell deserve our care and support.

As someone who is a TBI survivor the issue of these injuries is something personal.  I understand the challenges facing these vets.  It was encouraging to hear the Coatesville VA hospital is sponsoring kayaking for some vets.  That is my favorite recreational pursuit and I’ve heard of kayaking programs for returning vets.  I’m glad one of these programs is nearby.

There was a good deal of buzz about Congressman Sestak challenging Sen. Arlen Specter and witnessing the work he does for the people of his District shows he has the stuff to be a great Senator.  What he does for the people of the 7th can be done statewide.  Maybe it is time we had a Senator with the “right stuff.”