Sunday, April 13, 2014

Congress and veterans


Dona: Last Wednesday, the House Veterans Affairs Committee held a hearing with regards to the lack of accountability on the part of the VA.  Joining me for a discussion of the hearing are The Third Estate Sunday Review's Ava, C.I. of The Common Ills and The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kat of Kat's Korner (of The Common Ills), Ruth of Ruth's Report, and Wally of The Daily Jot.  All attended the hearing and Ava and C.I. reported on the hearing in "No accountability at the VA (Ava)" and  "Iraq snapshot."  Longterm reader Keith, an Afghanistan War veteran, e-mailed to say how "grateful I am for both reports. I made a point Thursday to go to the website and stream the hearing" -- click here for that -- "and I still can't get over it.  This was an important hearing and thank you to Ava and C.I. for covering it.  I really want to underline that I laughed at C.I.'s coverage of Congresswoman Corrine Brown but didn't get how truly awful she was until I streamed the hearing.  Brown is no friend of veterans and, as a Democrat, that really saddens me."  US House Rep. Corrine Brown is from Florida as is our own Wally.  Wally, your thoughts?

Wally: I agree with Keith.  It's sad.  I also thought it was hilarious the way C.I. covered it.  Brown's an idiot and an airhead who appears to spend all her time shopping for bad wigs.  When she was babbling on --

Dona: Hold on.  Here's a section of what C.I. wrote:

It was a rare moment of coherence for Brown.  And she actually stood with veterans . . . while reading from her prepared remarks.

Then she wanted to insist, at the end of the first panel, that the VA is not broken: "I don't feel like it's broken, I feel like we need to do what we need to do to fix it."  Which would imply a break.

Hey lady, you lady.  Corrine Brown quickly got lost in her Charlene impression as she declared she'd been to "those areas in Florida or Tampa" -- yes, Florida is in Tampa, don't expect logic from Corrine Brown -- "I've been to, or Jacksonville or Gainseville or Lake City.  I mean, I've been to California . . ."

and anywhere I could run
I took the hand of a preacher man
and we made love in the sun

Poor, Corrine Brown, she's "been to paradise but I've never been to me."

Well, for a few moments she wasn't the biggest joke on the Committee.  We're being real kind and not quoting Loony Corrine Brown telling a man with stage-four cancer that she's got a friend that the hospital released and told him he was as good as dead but, somehow, maybe one of her magic wigs, he's still alive today.  If the story's true, Brown really needs to learn to edit herself and grasp that cancer patients don't need lectures or your hopium.  Loony Corrine Brown.  We're going to need two straight jackets -- one for her wig.

Wally:  Yeah!  I'm laughing right now.  But Brown's so stupid "in Florida or Tampa"?  So stupid.  And when she started listing places, I looked over at C.I. who was furiously taking notes and grinning and when Bown said she'd been to California, I knew what C.I. was thinking.  Brown's a real idiot and I thought C.I. really exposed that.

Kat: And the moment when she was telling this veteran, Barry Coates, who has stage-four cancer, when she was lecturing him on this didn't have to be a death sentence and he could have a full and happy life if he'd just grab a positive attitude because she had a friend once, who got released from the hospital, and he was told he'd be dead within a month, but he wasn't.  She sounded so patronizing, so stupid and was declaring a war on science.  Can someone shut that woman up?  She's so stupid.  Every veteran we spoke to after the hearing ended was offended by Brown and how dare she lecture a veteran with stage-four cancer.

Ava: Well, I mean, let's back up.  Barry Coates has stage-four cancer because of the VA.  He went to doctors for a year before he got the help he needed -- and then only because he refused to accept waiting six months for an exam -- and during this time his cancer got worse.

Dona: Right.  This is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee Jeff Miller, "Mr. Coates waited for almost a year and would have waited even longer had he not actively, persistently insisted on receiving the colonoscopy that he and his doctors knew he needed.  That same colonoscopy revealed that Mr. Coates had stage four colon cancer that had metastasized to his lungs and his liver.  Maybe that is why VA does not want to define accountability in terms of employees who have been fired."

Ava: And that's correct.  If they'd done their job, the VA, Barry Coates' cancer would have been caught much earlier.  Yet Corrine Brown wants to offer snake oil and lecture him.  She needed to shut her damn mouth.  She's such an idiot and she never knows what words sh's using, she's an embarrassment to the entire Democratic Party.  But the hubris of the whorish woman.  Insisting to Barry Coates that the VA is not broken?  After what he's been through.  She's an idiot, a damn fool.

Ruth: She is justifying the VA's actions and minimizing the pain Mr. Coates was in as well as minimizing him being in stage-four today.  Try to understand that he was dismissed as having hemorrhoids.  He came in presenting with the symptoms that should have resulted in an immediate colonoscopy but instead Mr. Coates' pain and suffering was minimized by a VA doctor who insisted it was just hemorrhoids.  There are 19 deaths that we know of.  That we know of, as US House Rep. Julia Bronwley pointed out, there are likely more.  And Chair Jeff Miller pointed out that just one death is one death to many.  Ms. Bronwley is a Democrat, Mr. Miller is a Republican.  On both sides of the aisle, everyone seemed to get how important this was -- everyone except for Corrine Brown.  And she did not just minimize what took place -- criminal actions, if you ask me, and I was married to a doctor, this is malpractice, that is what we are talking about although no one wanted to use that term in the hearing -- but Ms. Brown not only minimized it in the abstract, she minimized in the concrete, she minimized it with an actual person who suffers, whose life is shortened and will likely pass away soon sitting in right in front of her.  Ms. Brown is a joke and she is a very sick joke.

Dona:  Alright, thank you all.  Let's move to a different point.  Barry Coates never got an apology from the VA for this.  C.I., you report how this was an issue in the first panel, members of Congress -- not Corrine Brown of course, but actual representatives -- were asking Coates about this and there was no apology.  And as if realizing the oversight, the VA's Dr. Thomas Lynch runs over to Coates to offer a quick apology before testifying so that he can tell the Committee that he apologized to Coates.

C.I.: And if you didn't get that the apology was fake and for show, you weren't paying attention.  Before even starting in on reading his written testimony, Coates tells the VA that he'd just apologized to Barry Coates.

Dona: I want to get that part of the report in:

"Before I walked up here, I apologized to Mr. Coates," the VA's Lynch wanted to insist.  Yes, yes, you did.  At a Congressional hearing, after Barry Coates had testified -- and testified that no one in the VA had apologized to him, after Coates was done testifying and right before Lynch was about to, he rushed to get in a quick and perfunctory -- we all saw it -- 'apology.'  And to make clear just how insincere it was, Lynch wanted to make his first statement to the Committee, before he started reading from his prepared remarks, "Before I walked up here, I apologized to Mr. Coates."  Give him a gold star -- for insincerity. Coates had stated he did not receive an institutional disclosure (Chair Miller had specifically asked) and to make the 'apology' even more insincere, Lynch wanted to immediately rush into "if he did not receive an institutional disclosure" -- it's not if.  It's testimony to the Committee. 

Dona: And there was no accountability.  That's what Miller had feared would happen.  And the other representative, the woman who cried because her father was a veteran who had died of colon cancer --

C.I.:  US House Rep. Jackie Walorski.

Dona: Thank you, I was trying to find that section.  What state is she from?  She's first-term right?

C.I.: This is her first term.  She's from Indiana.

Dona: Let's put an excerpt of her exchange with Barry Coates in here.

US House Rep Jackie Walorski:  I sit here as a freshman lawmaker, so frustrated that there's a bureaucracy that's out of control and if this happened in the civilian world, where negligence was proven time and time again, we would be in the street with signs saying 'shut them down.'  It's an outrage, is what it is. This is an outrage.  And so, I just join the rest of my colleagues here.  This isn't a partisan issue.  This is an American disaster that we have sat here and witnessed -- for me, probably 16 months.  And if I could change your circumstance, I would. I would do it in a heartbeat.  [Sharp intake of breath.] 

Barry Coates: Thank you.

US House Rep Jackie Walorski:  My dad -- [Voice breaking] My dad . . . was a veteran . . . that died of colon cancer.  [Sniffling] This is so personal to me. And as a Committee, I can tell you right now what the VA's going to say when they sit here. They're going to say what the Chairman read in his opening remarks.  They're going to give us long dramatic answers and nothing is going to change unless we in this Congress -- on the House and the Senate side -- decide to stand up and take on one of the biggest issues in this nation -- which is this negligence toward taking care of the people who fight for freedom, fought for liberty and allow us to sit and serve in a place called the US Congress. 

Dona (Con't):  Okay, how often is it that a member of Congress cries at a hearing?

Kat: Have we seen anyone do that before?

Wally: Al Franken in the Senate.

Kat:  Oh, yeah.

Dona: So it's rare.  What was that like watching it?

Wally: I don't think anyone was appalled or even embarrassed.  I think there was gratitude that someone on a Committee could really relate to a veteran sitting before the Committee.  Walorski clearly was sincere and her frustration was visible.

Ruth: The VA's Dr. Lynch showed up for this hearing last week.  This is an important point to me, sorry.

Dona: No, it's fine bring it up.

Ruth: He shows up for this hearing where the first panel is veteran Barry Coates and a spokesperson for the American Legion.  He shows up knowing Mr. Coates will be testifying.  He shows up knowing he will be asked about Mr. Lynch's case.  And yet what does Dr. Lynch tell the Committee?  "I have not received specifics of his situation and I assure you I will."  If you want a better example of the VA not caring and not being accountable, there it is.  Dr. Lynch does not even bother to call for the records and review them before attending a scheduled hearing when he knows he will be asked about the specifics of Mr. Coates' case.  That really goes to how the VA does not give a damn.

Kat: Very good point, Ruth, very good point.

Dona: And the VA shows up at one hearing after another promising  accountability but it never comes.  The Committee can't even get their requests for information from the VA honored in a timely manner.   As of Friday, these are the statistics on the outstanding requests:

Number of Outstanding Requests: 103
Three Oldest Outstanding Requests: June 5, 2012; December 4, 2012; December 12, 2012
Requests Pending since 2012: 3
Requests Pending since 2013: 109

Requests Pending Longer than 60 days: 63

Dona (Con't):  That's from the Trials In Transparency page of the House Veterans Affairs Committee website.

Wally: We were talking earlier about the 19 deaths.  Since we're talking about VA's refusal to answer the Committee in a timely fashion, let me point out that Chair Miller noted in the hearing, "It concerns me that my staff has been asking for further details on the deaths that occurred as a result of delays in cases at VA medical facilities for months, and only two days before this hearing did the VA provide the information we have been asking for."  If the hearing hadn't been scheduled would they have even gotten that information?

Ava: I seriously doubt it and I don't understand why this isn't a bigger issue -- a department's refusal to promptly answer to Congress.  Congress has oversight responsibilities.  It cannot carry out its duties without having the information they need in order to evaluate and determine what's actually taking place.  That the VA is unable to provide timely responses is appalling.

Kat: No request from Congress should take more than 60 days for the VA to respond to.  That some are a year old or older is just disgusting.

Ava:  And the VA just keeps lying and making empty promise.  I'm quoting from a section C.I. emphasized in her report on the hearing, this Chair Jeff Miller:

On the 22nd of February,  in a Health Committee hearing, Dr. [US House Rep Dan] Benishek asked Dr. [Robert] Petzel to provide a list of circumstances surrounding the removal of six SES employees over the last two years.  Dr. Petzel promised at that hearing that he would provide that information at the end of that week -- this is February 26th.  It's been six weeks since the Committee asked for the information.  We have not received it.  

Kat: Exactly.  They'll lie in a hearing and say, "You'll get the information at the end of the week."  But over a month later, they still won't have it.  You have to wonder why VA Secretary Eric Shinseki is unconcerned and not raising hell over this -- until you realize that this is a pattern of non-transparency.

Dona: A few e-mails came in about the hearing asking why Kat, Wally and Ruth did not cover it.  Ruth, I know why you didn't cover it and I think most people do but let me start with you.

Ruth: Sure.  I attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Tuesday.  I then attended the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on Wednesday.  Tuesday night, I had started my coverage of the Foreign Relations Committee hearing and I finished that up on Wednesday night.  Now I could have reported Thursday night on the Wednesday VA hearing but I really felt C.I. had said pretty much everything in her report with Ava's report containing the only other thing I might have emphasized.

Wally: I would agree with Ruth and add that Rebecca did offer me the chance to blog at her site Wednesday night but I turned her down.  I blogged at her site Tuesday night to cover the Foreign Relations Committee hearing.  That meant she had to put her second part of Revenge coverage on hold.  If I'd blogged there Wednesday night as well, I would have pushed Revenge back again.  Also, I knew we'd be covering the hearing here like we're doing right now.  Kat?

Kat:   I didn't cover either hearing at my site because Tuesday I heard the Afghan Whigs new album Do The Beast [Kat's review is here].  I was on a huge high.  I love that group.  I had no idea they were doing an album.  When C.I. was playing it in the car last Tuesday, I nearly exploded screaming.  I'm not joking.  I have written about them over and over at my site and in my reviews.  They are one of my all time favorite bands and they broke up in the 90s.  So there new album had me focusing one night on music and I have no idea what I wrote about the other night.  I was off in my own musical world for most of last week.

Dona: By the way, our e-mail address is  As we wind down, the hearing found the Committee -- except for Corrine Brown -- expressing the frustration that you have been expressing since we started this feature -- there's no accountability at the VA, the VA does not answer requests from Congress in a timely manner making oversight near impossible, etc. Where do things stand now?

Wally: I'd say where they stood before the hearing.  The elephant in the room was noted and called out but I didn't see any change on the part of the VA witnesses.

Kat: I'd agree with Wally.  Miller -- Chair Jeff Miller -- and others stated, before the VA witnesses testified, what those witnesses would say and that ended up unfolding just as predicted.

Ruth:  And to hear the VA's Dr. Lynch, for example, testify, "I don't mean to sound like a broken record. We know you take this seriously. We will get back to you."  It was horrifying.  And he was so blase.  The fact that the VA just does not care was made painfully clear.

Ava: Exactly.  And I also agree with Wally and Kat but, to be honest, I was glad to hear members of the Committee -- Democrats and Republicans -- voice these issues.  Dona, you pointed out that we've been talking about this here and we have.  But as it goes on and on and as no one else seems concerned about it, you can start to feel like, "Am I seeing something that no one else is?  And if so, is that because it's not really there?"  So there was a validation aspect to the hearing.  I heard that when we spoke to veterans after.  So I would say that was an acknowledgement, if nothing else.

C.I.: I think everyone's making  good points.  But I also think when members of Congress take their frustration public, it does make a difference.  I think this could be the start of accountability because it does throw it out there.  It's on the record.  This could be where Congress moves towards actual accountability.

Dona: This is a mid-term year, sorry to interrupt, and there's talk the Republican could win control of the Senate.  In which case, you'd have Republicans in control of both the House and Senate.

C.I.: Assuming the House stayed Republican.  If that happened?  Yeah, you'd get accountability.  There's an impulse of Democrats to refuse to demand the accountability they did under Bully Boy Bush.  Republicans control the VA committee in both houses?  They could apply so much pressure that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki might be forced to resign.

Dona: Alright then.  This is a rush transcripts.  In addition the House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, the gang also attended the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing and reported on that in C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot," Ruth's "Laughable John Kerry says retirement is the same as death," Cedric's "John Kerry knows nothing about money," Wally's "THIS JUST IN! BOTOX KERRY TALKS MONEY!," Wally's "Learn the Constitution, John Kerry," Ava's "John Kerry gets prissy and rude before the Senate (Ava)," and Ruth's "Rand Paul's security concerns re: Benghazi."  Be sure to check those reports out.  Again, our e-mail is

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }