(FEDERALJACK) Family members of the Navy’s SEAL Team Six believes the public is being misled about the deaths of 17 of it’s members. The team, which gained worldwide fame for killing Osama bin Laden, was traveling with Afghan soldiers in a Chinook transport helicopter when the craft was downed by insurgents in August 2011. Family members of the seals filed a lawsuit to seek damages from the US, Afghan, and Iranian governments, while also pressing Congress to address what they perceive to be improprieties in the government’s version of events.
(MILITARY TIMES) A federal appeals court on Thursday revived dozens of lawsuits by soldiers and others who claim they were harmed by improper waste disposal while serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The lawsuits claim Houston-based contractors KBR and Halliburton Co. exposed soldiers to toxic emissions and contaminated water when they burned waste in open pits without proper safety controls. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus in Maryland dismissed the lawsuits last year, ruling that the contractors could not be sued because they were essentially an extension of the military.
But a three-judge panel of the Richmond-based 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in its unanimous decision that the contractors are protected only if they were following explicit instructions from the military. The court said Titus improperly tossed the case without sufficient evidence on that issue.
(MILITARY TIMES) Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York have coined the term “Iraq-Afghanistan war lung injury” to describe respiratory symptoms developed by some veterans — and they have duplicated the problem in mice, using dust from Camp Victory in Baghdad.
In an article published Friday in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers including Dr. Anthony Szema, an allergist and assistant professor of medicine at Stony Brook, found that exposing mice to dust collected from Camp Victory in 2007 produced inflammation and changes to respiratory airways similar to those found in Iraq veterans diagnosed with constrictive bronchiolitis.
The mice lungs contained “angular, sharp and solid” particles with traces of titanium and iron, according to the study.
Replicating the experiment with dust from other locations, including the San Joaquin Valley in California; Kandahar, Afghanistan; and a titanium mine in Montana, the researchers could not produce the same inflammatory response.
(MILITARY TIMES) Debt collection is emerging as a big issue for service members and veterans, according to data released by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on March 6.
Since the agency began accepting complaints in some categories last July, roughly 3,800 complaints specifically about debt collection have been received from military consumers — service members, veterans and their families. A breakout of how many complaints came from active-duty members and their families was not available.
Over the same period, the bureau has received 14,100 complaints from consumers in the military community, and has helped them recover more than $1 million.
The complaint volume rose by 148 percent from 2012 to 2013, according to the bureau.
Debt collection has quickly become the highest-volume complaint category for military consumers. Those complaints are about to overtake mortgage complaints as the largest category in terms of cumulative volume.
Since the bureau began accepting complaints about mortgages in December 2011, about 4,700 such complaints have been received from the military community. The 3,800 debt collection complaints have been racked up in just seven months.
“The sheer volume of debt collection complaints alone makes this an important complaint category [for the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs],” wrote Holly Petraeus, assistant director for that office, in an introduction to the CFPB report. “Beyond the number, however, I have heard in my many visits to military installations across the country about aggressive and deceptive tactics by debt collectors specifically targeting members of the military.”
Tactics to coerce payment often involve contacting the service member’s chain of command, threatening punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, threatening to have a service member reduced in rank or threatening to have the service member’s security clearance revoked, she wrote.
Many of the complaints are not related to monetary relief; the office also has helped military consumers with such problems as correcting credit report errors or opening or closing a bank account.
In addition to the 3,800 debt collection complaints and 4,700 mortgage complaints from July 21, 2011, through Feb. 1, 2014, CFPB also has received from military consumers:
■1,700 credit card complaints.
■1,500 bank account and services complaints.
■1,200 credit reporting complaints.
■600 consumer loan complaints.
■400 private student loan complaints.
■100 payday loan complaints.
■50 money transfer complaints.
(Noel Brinkerhoff, Danny Biederman) A physician working at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) hospital in Missouri claims she was fired for refusing to prescribe higher doses of addictive painkillers to patients.
Dr. Basimah Khulusi told the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) and ABC News that she lost her job at the VA hospital in Kansas City after patients complained that she would not authorize more powerful amounts of opiates.
“I had to do something about it. And I tried,” Khulusi said. “And then, you know, I was let go.”
Khulusi told CIR that the VA informed her she was being terminated so they could replace her with a new doctor who was willing to work in a VA clinic that specialized in giving pain medicine injections.
Abuse of painkillers has been a serious concern among VA patients, with prescriptions for opiates, including hydrocodone, oxycodone, methadone and morphine, rising by 270% between 2001 and 2012, according to CIR. That has contributed to a fatal overdose rate of almost double the national average, according to an analysis that was performed by scientists who are part of the VA staff.
Opiate prescriptions at the Kansas City VA alone soared by 173% during the period in question.
Khulusi explained that the majority of her patients were addicted to the drugs, which was why she refused to up their doses.
Some veterans were taking 900 narcotic pain pills a month and 1,000 milligrams of morphine a day, which is 10 times the level she said was safe.
Some of Khulusi’s patients expressed appreciation for her efforts to wean them off of the drugs, but others threatened her, “cussing, cursing, lashing out, complaining to the administration, complaining to the [medical] board to try to take my license away from me,” she told CIR.
VA officials say they are trying to address the problem with a new program, the Opioid Safety Initiative, which is supposed to cut down the number of narcotic painkiller prescriptions.
(GAZETTE) For three years, Graciela Saraiva has been trying to clear her name after she was discharged from the U.S. Navy under “other than honorable” conditions for failing a drug urinalysis.
Saraiva, 23, of Olney, tested positive for codeine, which was in Tylenol-3 pills she was taking after getting her wisdom teeth removed, she said.
During her orientation for the Navy Reserve, she took a urinalysis, she said.
There was paperwork asking what medication she was on. She left it blank.
It was a simple mistake, she said; she didn’t list her birth control either.
“It didn’t even occur to me,” she said of the Tylenol.
When contacted by The Gazette, Hunjin Kim, a Silver Spring-based dental surgeon, confirmed Saraiva’s account.
The Navy found codeine and morphine in Saraiva’s system, and sent her a letter in May 2010, telling her she had tested positive for the drugs.
A Navy spokeswoman said the Navy has a zero tolerance for drug use, but would not publicly comment on details of Saraiva’s dismissal.
Saraiva contends that she didn’t receive the letter right away because it had been improperly addressed to her and because she was in California completing her annual reserve training, she said.
When she returned from her annual training, supervisors pulled her aside.
“They give me a letter which said I had popped for codeine,” she said of the positive drug test.
They escorted her off the base, and told her that if she didn’t provide paperwork that didn’t explain the codeine in her system, she would be kicked out of the Navy.
It was a shock for Saraiva, a Brazilian-American immigrant who enlisted out of high school, mirroring her sister’s decision to join the Marines a few years before. It was an “honor” for her and her family, she said.
“I wanted to be part of this organization, to be part of a team, and do something greater for my country,” she said.
Saraiva provided the paperwork later that week, but was discharged in August anyway, she said.
“I was amazed, speechless, and pissed off,” she said. “Of all the [people] in the Navy who can’t pass [physical requirement tests] and follow orders, I’m the one kicked out? For something I didn’t even do?”
Saraiva earned a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, a Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, a Rifle Expert Medal, and a Pistol Sharpshooter Ribbon, according to her public record from the Navy before she moved to the reserves in March 2010.
Saraiva received a discharge of “Other Than Honorable,” which is two grades below an “honorable” discharge and one above “dishonorable.” She also was designated as RE-4, which is a recommendation against re-enlistment, according to the website of the Navy’s inspector general.
Naval records that Saraiva’s family provided to The Gazette show that when Saraiva appealed her discharge, two separate boards reviewed her case.
One, a Navy discharge review board, ruled in her favor in 2011, and changed her discharge status.
“She does have an honorable discharge,” Naval News Service Lt. Cmdr Sarah Flaherty told The Gazette.
However, the Board for Correction of Naval Records told the Saraiva family in May that it would not change Saraiva’s re-enlistment code from an RE-4, which Saraiva believes stands as a black mark on her record.
“It’s not a good thing to have — at all. It’s going to influence whether or where and what kind of jobs I can get,” she said. “It’s going to limit me significantly.”
“The rules for urinalysis are to disclose and declare medicines you’re on at the time of urinalysis,” Flaherty said.
She added: “The reason [the Navy] has medical declarations is because when something pops, they refer to your medical record.”
Flaherty also said that the Navy had received a congressional letter on behalf of Saraiva, but Ray Mabus, the secretary of the Navy, had not yet sent his response.
“She needs to wait to see the letter to see what comes,” Flaherty said. She did not say what decision the letter contained.
A representative from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), who Saraiva’s family contacted, said office policy prohibits them from discussing individual constituent cases.
If the Navy declines to change Saraiva’s re-enlistment code, her next step would be to file suit against the Navy in federal court, Flaherty said. Saraiva said she is considering that. But she’s not sure if she would re-enter the reserves at this point, even if she could, she said.
“At this point, I’m focused on getting my life back, getting my reputation back. Then I’ll think about whether or not I want to pursue that route,” she said.
(FEDERALJACK) A month after one of the most destructive chemical spills in West Virginia’s history, state residents are still dealing with lingering questions about the safety of their drinking water. But the potential health risks of the chemical spill in the Elk River outside of Charleston harken back to an even bigger water-contamination catastrophe. From 1953 to 1987, the water at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina was contaminated with harmful chemicals. Marines and their families who lived on base bathed in and ingested that water, and federal scientists have found an increased incidence of some birth defects and cancers such as leukemia in children of mothers exposed to polluted drinking water, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A high rate of male breast cancer among troops stationed at Lejeune during the period of contamination has also been reported. RT’s Ameera David speaks with Jerry Ensminger, co-founder of The Few, The Proud, The Forgotten, and Mike Partain, the organization’s lead community member, about their experiences at the Marine Corps base.
(WUSA9) He served his country, but has his country turned it’s back on him? A Maryland sailor says he’s now wheelchair-bound, and he blames it on radiation he was exposed to while representing his country at what’s been called the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
Steve Simmons spoke to WUSA9’s Debra Alfarone exclusively.
Simmons never needed any help getting out on the golf course, “Even if it is a bad shot, I’m still happy.”
Golf, hiking, he’s always been the guy that never stops, “I love P90X, in fact after I did P90X, I also ordered the insanity workout.”
Until November 2011.
Steve was 33. That’s when life started changing for this U.S. Naval Administrative Officer. It was eight months after Simmons served on the USS Ronald Reagan when it was the first ship to respond to what’s been called the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl – the March 2011 meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. It was the result of being slammed by a powerful tsunami, triggered by the most violent earthquake Japan had ever seen. Steve started feeling tired, not himself. Then, he blacked out while driving to work, and drove his truck up on a curb. Steve said his list of ailments was puzzling, “You’re starting to run fevers, your lymph nodes start swelling, you’re having night sweats, you’re getting spastic and you’re losing sensation in your legs, and you can’t feel your legs when you’re getting 2nd degree burns on them, and how do you explain those things?”
Doctors could not. Steve’s leg muscles eventually just gave up, and he’s now confined to a wheelchair to get around.
Steve’s then-fiance, now-wife, Summer, had just moved cross-country to Maryland with her 3 children to start their lives together. She says she was shocked, but quickly made a plan, “Things change, I started calling around, borrowed a wedding dress, we started looking for a chaplain and we were married the day before Easter in 2012 in a borrowed wedding gown and his dress whites. It was the last time Steve was really able to spend the day on his feet.”
Steve explains, “As far as the big picture we still don’t have a diagnosis of what this is, still struggling to even get a doctor to acknowledge that radiation had anything to do with it.”
That diagnosis is critical. Without the Navy acknowledging Steve wouldn’t be in this situation if it wasn’t for his time in Operation Tomodachi, his retirement and pension are at stake, plus he doesn’t qualify for aid in the same the way he would if he lost his legs in an IED explosion.
The Department of Defense says radiation levels were safe, and were the equivalent to less than a month’s exposure to the same natural radiation you pick up from being near rocks, soil and the sun.
Steve doesn’t buy that, “How do you take a ship and place it into a nuclear plume for five plus hours, how do you suck up nuclear contaminated waste into the water filtration system and think for one minute that there’s no health risk to anybody on board.”
Dr. Robert Peter Gale is one of the world’s leading experts on radiation’s effects, WUSA9 asked him if he thinks Steve’s condition is related, he said no, “I feel badly about it, but it’s extraordinarily unlikely that it has anything to do with radiation exposure. There’s no toxic agent that we can measure as precise as radiation. It’s very unlikely that the Department of Defense would not have precise data on this.”
But, Attorney Paul Garner, who is representing more than 70 sailors from the Reagan, now experiencing medical issues, says the Tokyo Electric Power Plant (TEPCO) who owns the plant misled the U.S., “I think TEPCO lied to the world, and our government sent these people in there on a humanitarian mission without consideration of whether or not they were sending these people into a zone where they had a nuclear explosion.”
Garner lists the issues his clients are facing, “Thyroid cancer, brain cancers, gynecological bleeding, growths on their body, hair falling out in clumps, loss of vision, destruction of the immune system.”
Steve desperately needs that diagnosis, not just for he and his family but also for those he served with, many he says are in their teens and twenties.
“If I can touch somebody and help somebody else work through their struggles…then I’ve succeeded, and that’s ultimately what really matters at this point for me.”
On Steve’s good days, golf serves as an escape, “After you’re done, no matter how good or how bad you played, you can go back and face the rest of the world. You don’t have to think about that stuff out on the golf course.”
It’s a couple of minutes cherished in the sun, before life comes back into focus. Summer says they have to face the facts, “This has progressed and no one wants to think about their mortality but realistically we don’t know how much time we have left together.”
The Simmons family lives in Fort Detrick, the only military housing they say can accommodate Steve’s wheelchairs. But, they can’t stay forever. And without help from a non-profit, a wheelchair accessible home isn’t looking likely.
Summer says they desperately want to give their three children a home where, after Steve’s gone, they can feel their father’s presence there. They have found some non-profits that can offer some assistance, but building a handicap-accessible home will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you know of any non-profits that can help, or you would like to donate to the Simmon’s GoFundMe page, visit http://www.gofundme.com/wwltjgsimmonshome
(JOE THE PLUMBER) Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) believes that it’s time that US military veterans do their part for America by taking a cut to their retirement benefits.
Because, of course, veterans haven’t done enough for the country.
Members of Congress, however, should take no such cuts. According to the rather despicable gun-control advocating Senator Schumer, the government officials have sacrificed enough.
Civilian federal employees have been cut, cut, cut. I think there was a feeling, if you’re going to cut them further, which was done, that the military retirees should have about an equal amount. It’s small,” the New York Democrat told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.
“I think (Rep.) Paul Ryan and (Sen.) Patty Murray looked everywhere they could to try and find compromise. Everybody had to take a little,” Schumer said.
“They’re going to have to pay a tiny, little bit into it, which they never have,” he added.
But Schumer maintained members of Congress should not be forced to take a pay cut. He said they have already sacrificed, since they have not seen a pay raise “in a long time,” and explained most of them are paying more for healthcare insurance.
“We have taken pretty big cuts,” he said. (source)
Let’s tally up the numbers to put things in perspective:
- The average pension for a retired veteran was $9,669 in 2011. (source)
- The salary for a US Senator is $174,000. (source)
Just so this statistic is perfectly clear, the members of Congress bring in over 17 times the amount that retired vets do.
Despite this, veterans under the age of 62 will be looking at a 1% per year cut in their benefits. Members of Congress will not be looking at any reduction.