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Memorial Day and the VA

8:32 am in Government by dakine01

Punchbowl National Cemetery

Punchbowl National Cemetery, Honolulu, HI

Today is Memorial Day 2014. It’s been a few years since I last posted on Memorial Day. As I noted then, this holiday was originally known as Decoration Day though the name gradually changed over the years and in 1968 the date was changed from the traditional date of May 30 to the last Monday in May.

The US Department of Veteran’s Affairs (“the VA”) has been in the news quite a bit recently and not for good reasons. I hope to write something on this soon but am still trying to formulate my thoughts.

But there is a strong link between the VA and Memorial Day. Memorial Day is a day to honor and remember the dead of war. Many of these dead are buried in our National Cemeteries. According to wiki, the VA maintains 131 of the 147 National Cemeteries with the US Army maintaining Arlington National Cemetery and the US Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home National Cemetery. The National Park Service maintains fourteen cemeteries “…associated with historic sites and battlefields.” The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains twenty-four military cemeteries overseas.

The VA has three primary missions; Veterans Health Administration (the VA Medical Centers in the news are part of this), Veteran’s Benefits Administration (including education benefits, i.e., the “GI Bill,” and home loans among other areas), and the National Cemeteries.

Eligibility for burial in a National Cemetery is fairly straightforward for the actual veteran:

(1) Any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who dies on active duty.

(2) Any Veteran who was discharged under conditions other than dishonorable. With certain exceptions, service beginning after September 7, 1980, as an enlisted person, and service after October 16, 1981, as an officer, must be for a minimum of 24 continuous months or the full period for which the person was called to active duty (as in the case of a Reservist called to active duty for a limited duration). Undesirable, bad conduct, and any other type of discharge other than honorable may or may not qualify the individual for Veterans benefits, depending upon a determination made by a VA Regional Office. Cases presenting multiple discharges of varying character are also referred for adjudication to a VA Regional Office.

(3) Any citizen of the United States who, during any war in which the United States has or may be engaged, served in the Armed Forces of any Government allied with the United States during that war, whose last active service was terminated honorably by death or otherwise, and who was a citizen of the United States at the time of entry into such service and at the time of death.

Depending on the circumstances others eligible for National Cemeteries include members of the Reserves, Commissioned Officers of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Public Health Service, World War II Merchant Mariners, The Philippine Armed Forces, and some Spouses, dependents, Parents, and selected others.

Not all of the 131 National Cemeteries are “Open,” i.e., available for new burials or cremations. This page allows you to see what cemeteries are in your state as well as whether the cemetery is “Open” or closed to new internments. On this Memorial Day – or any day for that matter – visiting a National Cemetery is a sobering experience. Unfortunately, there are far too many new internments in these past dozen years from active duty deaths.
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The Vortex of Stupidity, also known as Washington, DC

4:47 pm in Economy, Government, Jobs by dakine01

A shot of the US Capitol

Just how stupid are they? (Photo: David Flores / Flickr)

I sometimes think that there has to be a crest to the levels of stoopid coming out of Washington, DC but obviously, I am wrong. Just the past two days, Dean Baker at his blog Beat the Press refuted three different pieces of so-called “conventional wisdom” by different members of the Beltway Village Idiots Pundits, Press, and Politicians in good standing.

First up was his having to counter a column from Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post. Pearlstein says:

Europe is a different story. The bubble years allowed much of Europe to avoid making the kind of structural changes necessary to put its social welfare system on a sustainable fiscal path and reform its labor and product markets. The euro crisis — which is both a banking crisis and a sovereign debt crisis — has forced Europeans to begin addressing those issues.

Baker points out however:

Of course this is completely wrong. The countries with the well developed welfare states, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands are doing fine. The countries that are in crisis, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, have the least developed welfare states among the older EU countries.

Next up we have a WaPo opinion piece decrying the “looming short fall in public pensions.” Baker points out here:

The pensions are underfunded in part because policymakers would not take seriously those of us who warned that pensions were making overly optimistic assumptions about stock returns before the market crashed. Returns have been well below expectations in the dozen years since the peak of the stock bubble in 2000.

The other reason is that some politicians, like New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, think it is really cute to not make the state’s required contribution to the pension fund. Not surprisingly, if states get into the habit of not contributing to their pension fund, as has been the case in some states, then pension funds will be underfunded.

However, it is more than a bit bizarre that we should therefore ripoff the workers who are counting on these pensions. Suppose state and local governments contract with construction companies for road work or hospitals to treat poor people. If the governments don’t put aside the money to pay these contracts would we then think it makes sense to tell the contractors and hospitals to get lost?

Finally, today Baker goes after NPR and Nariman Behravesh, the chief economist of the forecasting firm IHS Global Insight, who thinks that the biggest problem we face is “the deficit”:

Wow, isn’t that impressive. So Europe, China and the rest of the world will be really impressed if the United States throws even more people out of work as long as it reduces its budget deficit! That’s interesting, had it not been for NPR I never would have known people in the rest of the world thought this way.

As one of the 25 Million plus long term un and underemployed Baker mentions in his post, I would like to quote the inimitable Mr Pierce, “Fck the deficit. People got no jobs. People got no money.

David Dayen at FDL News today (Monday, October 22) covered a survey on the wage gap between federal workers and their private industry counterparts. Not so surprisingly, the public sector workers are paid far less than private sector jobs requiring comparable levels of skills and education:

If you compare organized federal employees, many of whom have college degrees, to unorganized service-sector and retail workers, then yes, you will find higher wages in the public sector. But if you do an apples-to-apples comparison between public employees and their private-sector counterparts in related fields, you will find that the public sector is significantly undervalued.

…snip…

You cannot lump together those who clean up the National Mall and those who work on scientific breakthroughs at the National Institute of Health, compare them to the “average worker,” and come up with a legitimate pay scale for federal employees. You have to go sector by sector and find the appropriate comparison in the private sector. And when you do that work, you see that federal employees are underpaid. This has an impact on millions of hard-working Americans, who are forced to take less than their skills would bring them back in the open market, because of a foolish tendency toward austerity and the demonizing of public workers.

Over these past few years, we’ve all seen many articles decrying the “generous pensions and salaries” of public sector workers, whether teachers, fire fighters, EMTs, or police at local levels or scientists at the NIH, NASA, JPL, EPA, or any other federal agency you wish to name.

My question is why?

One of the themes to emerge from this year’s presidential race has been Mitt Romeny’s “infamous” speech at a private fund raiser last May, calling 47% of the US basically moochers and freeloaders because they don’t pay federal income taxes or they receive some level of federal benefits be it Social Security, VA or the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) among others.

But why is it so fashionable to trash people who have earned pensions, earned veterans benefits or Social Security or have used the EITC because of low wages? Shouldn’t we be asking why there are so many people earning such low wages that they don’t even pay a minimum federal income tax? I know for myself, I would dearly love to be earning a salary that would have me paying federal income taxes. Reuters offered this analysis on Friday (October 19):

The number of Americans not owing federal income taxes has been growing since the mid-1980s, and the increase largely stems from expansion of these two tax credits – championed by Republicans from conservative economist Milton Friedman to former President Ronald Reagan.

I want to work in my chosen field, earn a decent wage with benefits and pay my fair share of taxes. Instead, we see the “champions of industry” threatening employees with lay offs should President Obama be re-elected.

Right now, I’m a bit surprised we don’t see more news articles like this one from the AP last Sunday (October 14) about a man attempting to rob a bank of $1 so he could be sent to a Federal Prison. How bad must it be to want to rob a bank so that you can get sent to prison? My guess is the three hots and a cot and health care sounded mighty appealing if the option was starving on the street.

And because I can:

Cross posted from Just A Small Town Country Boy by Richard Taylor