RUSS REPORT - On Friday, President Barack Obama announced a complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq by the end of the year.
Because the Obama Administration could not negotiate an extension to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) that would provide US soldiers serving in Iraq immunity from prosecution in Iraqi Courts beyond 2011, the alternative was to honor the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA) between the United States and Iraq that mandated all United States Forces to withdraw from Iraq by December 31, 2011. (LINK)
The agreement signed by former President G.W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in December 2008 was predicated by “political realities on the ground” and was left up to the Iraqi Parliament for a decision on US presence in Iraq after 2011.
Obama did not mention the months of tense, unproductive negotiations with Iraq to keep several thousand U.S. forces- whittled down to 3000- in Iraq after December 2011 to continue training Iraqi soldiers and to guard against interference from Iran or other outside forces. Only 160 troops are scheduled to remain in Iraq at the US Embassy in Baghdad beyond the end of the year.
Many experts, and Republicans alike, are expressing concerns that the deaths of nearly five thousand US Soldiers and the $800 Billion spent on this war may, ultimately, have been a waste not only because of the continued vulnerability of Iraqi soldiers but also because of fractious religious and ethnic groups in Iraq that lend to a climate of instability.
On the heels of the President’s announcement, Peter J. Gravett, Secretary of the California Department Of Veterans Affairs (CALVETS) issued a statement saying, “I want to remind all Californians that CALVETS is ready to receive our nation’s youngest veterans and assist their transition back into civilian life. Our work here at CALVETS is even more important as we connect these young men and women with the services and benefits they will need to successfully transition from the battlefield to home.”
But what are these veterans coming home to? Many have been through multiple deployments and will have a hard time transitioning back to civilian life.
The Veterans Administration (VA) says that 30% of US troops are likely to develop serious mental health problems 3 to 4 months of returning home and that 20% will have serious brain and spinal injuries that require immediate, or ongoing, medical care.
There is no reliable data available on the costs related to substance abuse, homelessness, family strain, and other indirect consequences of mental health conditions. With the unemployment rate hovering at 12% in California, what jobs can returning veterans hope to find?
The only VA hospital serving the San Fernando Valley is the Sepulveda VA that now is just a clinic.
The Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System (GLA) and the Long Beach Healthcare System are the only hospitals in Los Angeles serving veterans. Unfortunately, hundreds of veterans must drive three hours each way to seek medical help from either VA facility.
How does Gravett hope to “connect these men and women with services and benefits” when a million claims lay backlogged in the VA across the nation? As of April 2011, in just the Los Angeles Regional Office alone, there is a backlog of 12,800+ claims pending and 3,100+ pending appeals.
Conservative estimates show the homeless veteran population in Los Angeles still at, or above, 8000 of which the VA estimates that 45% are plagued by mental illnesses and 70% suffer from some kind of substance abuse. With the return of untold numbers of troops in just two months, these estimates will undoubtedly escalate.
For the last few years, the VA Office of the Inspector General (VAOIG) has found problems in handling of mail and processing compensation/ pension claims and shredded claims in 41 out of 57 Regional VA offices. While there has been some improvement, these problems continue to be a serious and on going management challenge for the Department.
Medical records for soldiers from Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm were destroyed because there was no room to ship them back to the States- contrary to Army regulations governing the preservation of wartime records and nothing has been given by way of assurances that medical records for service members won’t be destroyed again for “our nation’s youngest veterans.”
Gravett’s rhetorical comments have been repeated ad nauseum for years. In an already “clogged” system, there certainly is no hope for change by January.
Right now, it’s a “wait and see” game at the expense of our troops and their families.
(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and to the North Valley Reporter. Katharine Russ can be reached at: [email protected] ) –cw
Tags: President Obama, President Bush, Iraq, Iraq Troop Withdrawal, vets, veterans, VA, Department of Veterans Affairs, CALVETS, Peter Grafett
Vol 9 Issue 85
Pub: Oct 25, 2011