Monthly Archives: September 2007

Dems to make low-income nicotine addicts pay for health care bill

Democrats, who wrote the legislation and provided most of its votes, generally portray themselves as champions of the poor. They do not dispute that the tax plan would hit poor communities disproportionately, but they say it is worth it.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who spoke against the bill in last week’s debate, said: “The headline ought to read, ‘Smokers in America to pay for middle-class welfare.'”

Associated Press | Sep 30, 2007

By CHARLES BABINGTON

WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats have chosen an unlikely source to pay for the bulk of their proposed $35 billion increase in children’s health coverage: people with relatively little money and education.

The program expansion passed by the House and Senate last week would be financed with a 156 percent increase in the federal cigarette tax, taking it to $1 per pack from the current 39 cents. Low-income people smoke more heavily than do wealthier people in the United States, making cigarette taxes a regressive form of revenue.

Democrats, who wrote the legislation and provided most of its votes, generally portray themselves as champions of the poor. They do not dispute that the tax plan would hit poor communities disproportionately, but they say it is worth it to provide health insurance to millions of modest-income children.

All the better, they say, if higher cigarette taxes discourage smoking.

“I’m very happy that we’re paying for this,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in an interview Friday, noting that the plan would not add to the deficit. “The health of the children is extremely important,” he said. “In the long run, maybe it’ll stop people from smoking.”

Congress probably will revisit the cigarette tax issue soon because President Bush has pledged to veto the proposed $35 billion expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. The decade-old program helps families buy medical coverage if their income is too high to qualify for Medicaid.

Bush has proposed a more modest growth for the program, and both political parties seem inclined to pay for it through a tax on an unpopular group, cigarette smokers.

By most measures, the average smoker is less privileged than the average nonsmoker. Nearly one-third of all U.S. adults living in poverty are smokers, compared with 23.5 percent of those above the poverty level, according to government statistics.

The American Heart Association reports that 35 percent of people with no more than 11 years of schooling are smokers. Those with 16 or more years of formal education smoke at a 12 percent rate.

Non-Hispanic black men smoke at slightly higher rates than do non-Hispanic white men. But the reverse is true among women.

The demographics of smoking and taxation received scant attention during last week’s House and Senate debates, perhaps because many Democrats and Republicans agree that cigarettes are the best target for tax increase if the insurance program were to grow. A few lawmakers, however, took a swing.

“I know there is very little sympathy for smokers these days,” Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said during the House debate. “But it is still a tax increase on the backs of the smokers. And in order to get enough money to pay for this, it would require 22 million new smokers.”

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., defended putting the burden of expanded medical care on smokers.

“The tobacco tax is a great way to pay for it,” he said, “because if you tax people who are smoking and they smoke less, then we have less health problems.”

Rep. Jim McCrery, R-La., did not buy that logic. “To propose funding a growing program with a declining revenue source is, I would submit, irresponsible fiscal policy,” he said.

If the federal cigarette tax nears $1 per pack, smokers in many states will pay hefty sums into government coffers unless they kick their habit. On top of the federal tax, New Jersey levies a $2.57 per pack tax on cigarettes, followed by Rhode Island at $2.46.

California is near the middle, at 87 cents a pack. Three states tax cigarettes at less than 30 cents per pack. South Carolina is the lowest at 7 cents.

Bill Phelps, spokesman for Philip Morris USA, based in Richmond, Va., said a steep federal tax increase could accelerate the national decline in smoking to the point that the insurance would have to find other revenue sources.

The average U.S. price of a pack of cigarettes has risen by 80 cents since 1999, Phelps said, largely because of state tax increases. State and federal governments received more than $21 billion in cigarette excise taxes in the 2006 budget year, he said, “so we think this trend is unfair to adults who smoke and to retailers who sell tobacco products.”

In Congress, these groups receive little sympathy. But some lawmakers say voters should know the details of the insurance program’s proposed funding structure.

Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who spoke against the bill in last week’s debate, said: “The headline ought to read, ‘Smokers in America to pay for middle-class welfare.'”

Doctors plan to inject 3 month old babies with neurotoxic HPV vaccine

Australia: Let’s give babies Gardasil vaccine shots

Renew America | Sep 27, 2007

by Cynthia A. Janak

One of my dream vacations is to spend a month in Australia and travel the country. As of today I am going to have my doubts whether I will. At least, I will not go to the area that this doctor is from if I ever do. I think there might be something in the water in her area. Let me explain why I feel this way.

I am going to quote this short article from The Sydney Morning Herald dated August 27th, 2007:

Cervical vaccine trial on babies: report

A doctor who played a key role in trials of a cervical cancer vaccine is proposing testing it on babies.

Suzanne Garland, the director of microbiology and infectious diseases at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne, is flying to the US to meet with drug companies and will discuss trialling the vaccine on babies up to a few months old, Fairfax newspapers report.

Professor Garland said there were benefits to immunising babies instead of schoolgirls, but one of the questions that would need to be answered was how long the vaccine would last, and whether a booster shot would be necessary years later.

The vaccine has been tested in children only over the age of 10.

. . .

What I am going to do here today is give you some stats as to what is going on with babies (0–2) and vaccinations. I am going to show you how health through better chemistry is harming some babies.

I am going to start with going to one of my favorite sites that deal with vaccines, medalerts. http://www.medalerts.org

First, I wanted to see how many reports were generated that a medical professional felt compelled to send a report to VAERS. It seems like the reports go back to 1989. I did find a few that went back to 1983 but not many.

From 1989 until present there have been 66820 cases reported of adverse reactions to vaccines in 0–2 year olds. That makes an average of 3712 children and infants a year.

1960 children died. 1679 infants died before they were 7 months old. 112 died before their first birthday and 169 died before their second birthday.

8177 children from 0–2 needed to be hospitalized.

5821 children from 0–2 had not recovered at the time of the report.

1424 children from 0–2 are disabled at the time of the report.

1559 children from 0–2 the person who reported the event felt that it was life threatening.

23961 children from 3–5 had adverse reactions to vaccines.

46 children from 3–5 died, some because the vaccine was ineffective.

877 children from 3–5 needed to be hospitalized.

1186 children from 3–5 had not recovered at the time of the report.

192 children from 3–5 are disabled at the time of the report.

255 children from 3–5 the person who reported the event felt that it was life threatening.

What this tells me is that in the 18 years that VAERS has been operational there have been a total of 93163 reports of adverse reactions to vaccines in the 0–5 age group.

With all that said I wanted to know how many cases were reported were autism was mentioned in the report. This is what I found.

783 children from 0–5 autism is mentioned as a symptom.

This peaked my curiosity as to some of the other symptoms that were reported. What I did was entered the symptom like ‘seizure’ in the symptoms box and did a search. Some of the reports will be duplicated in the numbers because many of the children had multiple symptoms. Here are my findings.

33727 children from 0–5 had a fever.

119 children from 0–5 suffered convulsions.

4620 children from 0–5 had seizures.

627 children from 0–5 retard or retardation is mentioned as a symptom.

45 children from 0–5 brain damage is mentioned as a symptom.

409 children from 0–5 developmental delay is mentioned as a symptom.

Just a little note here. With one of my children I experienced the high fever and deafness in my infant child. Fortunately, the hearing started to improve after 3 months of heart wrenching worry and self doubt because I felt that I caused this injury to my child. So I know what every parent has gone through in these reports. No one should have to go through that type of emotional roller coaster.

As many of you know that read my articles regularly, I have been writing a series of articles about Gardasil and the serious side effects.

I want to know what this doctor is thinking. Why would someone want to give another vaccine to an infant that is proving to have such a debilitating effect on 12–19 year olds?

In a previous article I mentioned the neurotoxin aluminum.

The ingredients of Gardasil.

Each 0.5-mL dose of the vaccine contains approximately 225 mcg of aluminum (as amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate adjuvant), 9.56 mg of sodium chloride, 0.78 mg of L-histidine, 50 mcg of polysorbate 80, 35 mcg of sodium borate, and water for injection. The product does not contain a preservative or antibiotics.

This doctor wants to inject our infants with this toxin that could have a very real adverse effect to their developing brains. My opinion is that if this trial is going to commence what is the possibility of more infants being diagnosed brain damaged or autistic? Don’t we have enough of this today as a result of vaccines? My opinion is I think so.

The interesting thing about this article is that it only mentions concerns to how long the vaccine would last and if a booster shot will be necessary later. What it does not ask is if there will be any serious side-effects to the infant that could mirror what is happening presently or be more intense for the infant. My question to this doctor is why give it to an infant? What is your reasoning behind this action? I would really like to know.

I wonder if the reasoning behind this new trial is that these children will have to have a booster every 4–5 years and that will bring up the profit margin for Merck. Another up side for this would be that babies only cry. They can not tell you what is wrong and voice an opinion.

This part of my article goes to the people of Australia. Please do not let this trial commence. You are already seeing the effects that Gardasil has on your youth. Do not subject an infant to the same pain and suffering that is being experienced by some of the young girls getting the shot today. My opinion is that this would be sadistic.

My prayers go out to all the families that are presently dealing with the side effects of this vaccine. May your God bless you.

Ron Paul Won PBS/GOP Debate

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Presidential hopeful Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, left, signs his autograph for Piera Yerkes, second right, and Charlotte Zoller during a rally at Veteran’s Park in Manchester, N.H. ,Saturday, Sept. 29, 2007. (AP Photo/Cheryl Senter)

Donklephant.com | Sep 28, 2007

By Justin Gardner

I caught a good chunk of the PBS debate last night and Ron Paul was the clear crowd favorite. Nearly every single time he finished speaking there was big applause.

Ron Paul PBS Republican Debate 9-27-07 pt.1

I think it’s because a lot of his ideas resonate with the African American community, especially ending the war on drugs. And when he explained why federalized health care and “the welfare state” was a bad idea, the crowd seem to really respond. That surprised me, but there it was nonetheless.

Ron Paul PBS Republican Debate 9-27-07 pt.2

The other big winner last night? Mike Huckabee. The guy is incredibly well spoken and his solutions for dealing with the high incarceration rates and health care issues for minority communities were spot on. I have a feeling that he’s front runner for VP if he wants it.

Also of note, Alan Keyes actually scored some points, but I didn’t realize he was running for president. Did I miss that announcement?

One last thought, I’m glad the top tier candidates weren’t there. FAR less rhetoric and a lot more ideas this time around. If only all debates could be this engaging.

Read Your Own DHS Travel Dossier

homeland-security-vaccum

UNSecureFlight.com

The Department of Homeland Security already knows everything about your travel. Now, for the first time, The Identity Project makes it easy for you to request the unclassified parts of the dossier that the DHS has complied on you.

Warning: You can only request records on behalf of yourself or others with their written explicit permission. There are severe penalties for making requests for records on someone else without their knowledge.

Are you prepared to find out for yourself the outrageous amount of personal information Homeland Security has been vacuuming-up on you? This is how to do it:

More…

Edwards Predicts Prison Or Death For All African-American Males

 edwards_cfr_bitch

“They’re all going to be in prison or dead.”

FOX News | Sep 28, 2007

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said if he isn’t elected president, the population of African-American males is likely to either wind up in prison or dead.

At an MTV/MySpace.com forum Thursday, Edwards responded to a question about inner-city kids partaking in violence by saying there was no “silver bullet” to fight the problem.

“We start with the president of the United States saying to America, ‘we cannot build enough prisons to solve this problem. And the idea that we can keep incarcerating and keep incarcerating — pretty soon we’re not going to have a young African-American male population in America. They’re all going to be in prison or dead. One of the two.”

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha king of Bulgaria ‘was a spy for the KGB’

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Former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, entertained by Bush in the Oval Office Feb. 25, 2003, was recruited by Soviet secret services during his long exile in Spain.

Telegraph | Sep 26, 2007

By Harry de Quetteville

The former king of Bulgaria, who returned to the country after half a century of Communist-imposed exile, was a KGB spy, it has been alleged.

The accusation comes as the country delves through its Communist-era files to discover the identity of former collaborators and informants.

A Tribute to Communism

But instead of producing the intended “healing effect on society”, the process has resulted in political mayhem and mudslinging, with a host of high-profile casualties.

Georgi Parvanov, the current president, has already been denounced as one of 139 leading figures, including 19 serving politicians, who worked as informants for the Soviet-era secret service that riddled Bulgaria until 1989.

But now, members of Bulgaria’s opposition Order, Rule of Law and Justice party (ORLJ) have claimed that former king Simeon Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was recruited by Soviet secret services during his long exile in Spain.

Yane Yanev, the ORLJ leader, alleged that the Saxe-Coburg, who returned to Bulgaria in 1996 amidst scenes of public adulation, was recruited after KGB agents preyed on his weakness for gambling.

“There are undisputed facts and documents proving that Simeon, the ex-king, was noticed by the Russian KGB in the early 60s and was later offered money to pay his gambling debts in exchange for his collaboration with the service,” Mr Yanev told a party meeting.

The accusations have been rejected by the ex-king, who was prime minister for four years after forming his own political party and riding a wave of popularity to victory in 2001 elections.

He suggested that the latest allegations were intended to smear him in the run up to local elections.

6 die from brain-eating amoeba in lakes

Associated Press | Sep 29, 2007

By CHRIS KAHN

PHOENIX – It sounds like science fiction but it’s true: A killer amoeba living in lakes enters the body through the nose and attacks the brain where it feeds until you die.

Even though encounters with the microscopic bug are extraordinarily rare, it’s killed six boys and young men this year. The spike in cases has health officials concerned, and they are predicting more cases in the future.

“This is definitely something we need to track,” said Michael Beach, a specialist in recreational waterborne illnesses for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“This is a heat-loving amoeba. As water temperatures go up, it does better,” Beach said. “In future decades, as temperatures rise, we’d expect to see more cases.”

According to the CDC, the amoeba called Naegleria fowleri (nuh-GLEER-ee-uh FOWL’-erh-eye) killed 23 people in the United States, from 1995 to 2004. This year health officials noticed a spike with six cases — three in Florida, two in Texas and one in Arizona. The CDC knows of only several hundred cases worldwide since its discovery in Australia in the 1960s.

In Arizona, David Evans said nobody knew his son, Aaron, was infected with the amoeba until after the 14-year-old died on Sept. 17. At first, the teen seemed to be suffering from nothing more than a headache.

“We didn’t know,” Evans said. “And here I am: I come home and I’m burying him.”

After doing more tests, doctors said Aaron probably picked up the amoeba a week before while swimming in the balmy shallows of Lake Havasu, a popular man-made lake on the Colorado River between Arizona and California.

Though infections tend to be found in southern states, Naegleria lives almost everywhere in lakes, hot springs, even dirty swimming pools, grazing off algae and bacteria in the sediment.

Beach said people become infected when they wade through shallow water and stir up the bottom. If someone allows water to shoot up the nose — say, by doing a somersault in chest-deep water — the amoeba can latch onto the olfactory nerve.

The amoeba destroys tissue as it makes its way up into the brain, where it continues the damage, “basically feeding on the brain cells,” Beach said.

People who are infected tend to complain of a stiff neck, headaches and fevers. In the later stages, they’ll show signs of brain damage such as hallucinations and behavioral changes, he said.

Once infected, most people have little chance of survival. Some drugs have stopped the amoeba in lab experiments, but people who have been attacked rarely survive, Beach said.

“Usually, from initial exposure it’s fatal within two weeks,” he said.

Researchers still have much to learn about Naegleria. They don’t know why, for example, children are more likely to be infected, and boys are more often victims than girls.

“Boys tend to have more boisterous activities (in water), but we’re not clear,” Beach said.

In central Florida, authorities started an amoeba phone hot line advising people to avoid warm, standing water and areas with algae blooms. Texas health officials also have issued warnings.

People “seem to think that everything can be made safe, including any river, any creek, but that’s just not the case,” said Doug McBride, a spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Officials in the town of Lake Havasu City are discussing whether to take action. “Some folks think we should be putting up signs. Some people think we should close the lake,” city spokesman Charlie Cassens said.

Beach cautioned that people shouldn’t panic about the dangers of the brain-eating bug. Cases are still extremely rare considering the number of people swimming in lakes. The easiest way to prevent infection, Beach said, is to use nose clips when swimming or diving in fresh water.

“You’d have to have water going way up in your nose to begin with” to be infected, he said.

David Evans has tried to learn as much as possible about the amoeba over the past month. But it still doesn’t make much sense to him. His family had gone to Lake Havasu countless times. Have people always been in danger? Did city officials know about the amoeba? Can they do anything to kill them off?

Evans lives within eyesight of the lake. Temperatures hover in the triple digits all summer, and like almost everyone else in this desert region, the Evanses look to the lake to cool off.

It was on David Evans’ birthday Sept. 8 that he brought Aaron, his other two children, and his parents to Lake Havasu. They ate sandwiches and spent a few hours splashing around.

“For a week, everything was fine,” Evans said.

Then Aaron got the headache that wouldn’t go away. At the hospital, doctors first suspected meningitis. Aaron was rushed to another hospital in Las Vegas.

“He asked me at one time, ‘Can I die from this?'” David Evans said. “We said, ‘No, no.'”

On Sept. 17, Aaron stopped breathing as his father held him in his arms.

“He was brain dead,” Evans said. Only later did doctors and the CDC determine that the boy had been infected with Naegleria.

“My kids won’t ever swim on Lake Havasu again,” he said.

Wounded vets also suffer financial woes

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Physical therapist Don Akeju uses a light to help patient, Evan Mettie, a brain-injured Iraq war veteran, move his eyes as Denise Mettie, Evan’s mother, watches during a therapy session at the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., Friday, Sept. 7, 2007. (AP Photo/Mike Derer)

Associated Press | Sep 29, 2007

By JEFF DONN and KIMBERLY HEFLING

TEMECULA, Calif. – He was one of America’s first defenders on Sept. 11, 2001, a Marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon. He saw more horrors in Kuwait and Iraq.

Today, he can’t keep a job, pay his bills, or chase thoughts of suicide from his tortured brain. In a few weeks, he may lose his house, too.

Gamal Awad, the American son of a Sudanese immigrant, exemplifies an emerging group of war veterans: the economic casualties.

More than in past wars, many wounded troops are coming home alive from the Middle East. That’s a triumph for military medicine. But they often return hobbled by prolonged physical and mental injuries from homemade bombs and the unremitting anxiety of fighting a hidden enemy along blurred battle lines. Treatment, recovery and retraining often can’t be assured quickly or cheaply.

These troops are just starting to seek help in large numbers, more than 185,000 so far. But the cost of their benefits is already testing resources set aside by government and threatening the future of these wounded veterans for decades to come, say economists and veterans’ groups.

“The wounded and their families no longer trust that the government will take care of them the way they thought they’d be taken care of,” says veterans advocate Mary Ellen Salzano.

How does a war veteran expect to be treated? “As a hero,” she says.

___

Every morning, Awad needs to think of a reason not to kill himself.

He can’t even look at the framed photograph that shows him accepting a Marine heroism medal for his recovery work at the Pentagon after the terrorist attack.

It might remind him of a burned woman whose skin peeled off in his hands when he tried to comfort her.

He tries not to hear the shrieking rockets of Iraq either, smell the burning fuel, or relive the blast that blew him right out of bed.

The memories come steamrolling back anyway.

“Nothing can turn off those things,” he says, voice choked and eyes glistening.

He stews alternately over suicide and finances, his $43,000 in credit card debt, his $4,330 in federal checks each month — the government’s compensation for his total disability from post-traumatic stress disorder. His flashbacks, thoughts of suicide, and anxiety over imagined threats — all documented for six years in his military record — keep him from working.

The disability payments don’t cover the $5,700-a-month cost of his adjustable home mortgage and equity loans. He owes more on his house than its market value, so he can’t sell it — but he may soon lose it to the bank.

“I love this house. It makes me feel safe,” he says.

Awad could once afford it. He used to earn $100,000 a year as a 16-year veteran major with a master’s degree in management who excelled at logistics. Now, at age 38, he can’t even manage his own life.

There’s another twist. This dedicated Marine was given a “general” discharge 15 months ago for an extramarital affair with a woman, also a Marine. That’s even though his military therapists blamed this impulsive conduct on post-traumatic stress aggravated by his Middle East tours.

Luckily, his discharge, though not unqualifiedly honorable, left intact his rights to medical care and disability payments — or he’d be in sadder shape.

Divorced since developing PTSD, Awad has two daughters who live elsewhere. He spends much of his days hoisting weights and thwacking a punching bag in the dimness of his garage. He passes nights largely sleepless, a zombie shuffling through the bare rooms of his home in sunny California wine country.

___

Few anticipated the high price of caring for Awad and other veterans with deep, slow-healing wounds.

Afghanistan seemed quiet and Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq one year after the Sept. 11 attacks. That’s when the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs guaranteed two years of free care to returning combat veterans for virtually any medical condition with a possible service link.

Later, few predicted such a protracted war in Iraq. “A lot of people based their planning on low numbers of casualties in a very short war,” says Paul Rieckhoff, an Army combat veteran who founded Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Also, Iraqi insurgents have relied on disfiguring bombs and bombardment as chief tactics. At the same time, better armor and field medicine have kept U.S. soldiers alive at the highest rate ever, leaving 16 wounded for every fatality, according to one study based on government data. The ratio was fewer than 3-to-1 for Korea and Vietnam.

On the flip side, many are returning with multiple amputations or other disabling injuries not completely fixed even by fancy prosthetics, methodical rehabilitation, and job retraining. The Pentagon counts more than 29,000 combat wounded in the Middle East since the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. Tens of thousands more were hurt outside of combat or in ways that show up later.

There was no mistaking the wounds of Cambodian-American Sgt. Pisey Tan. Eight months into his second tour in Iraq, a makeshift bomb blasted his armored vehicle and took both his legs.

coming_home_wounded_the_price2

Pisey Tan climbs into a chair beside his prosthetic legs at Prosthetic Innovations in Eddystone, Pa., Monday, Sept. 10, 2007. Tan lost his legs in a makeshift bomb blast in Iraq. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Still, Tan has needed to rely on private donations and family, as well as the government. The government treated him and paid for his artificial legs.

But his brother, Dada, left college to live with him at a military hospital for almost a year. Later, his brother carried him piggyback up and down the stairs at home as Tan got used to his prosthetics.

“That’s how our family is,” says the Woodlyn, Pa., veteran. “We always take care of our own.”

The government says it does too, and with some truth. Of 1.4 million U.S. forces deployed for Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 185,000 have sought care from the VA — a number that could easily top 700,000 eventually, predicts one academic analysis. The VA has already treated more than 52,000 for PTSD symptoms alone, a presidential commission finds.

Veteran John Waltz, of Hebron, Ky., blames his post-traumatic stress disorder on his rescue work at a plane crash aboard a carrier bound for an Iraqi tour. While his condition and disability claim were evaluated, he ran up about $12,000 worth of medical bills, he says. Despite Social Security and his wife’s work, the couple’s yearly income was cut in half to $30,000.

“We have to be really frugal, as far as what groceries we buy,” Waltz says. “I think we’re down to just a couple dollars now, until the next time we get paid.”

On a national scale, the costs of caring for the wounded certainly won’t crush the $13 trillion annual American economy. It probably won’t bankrupt the VA, which already treats more than 5.5 million patients each year. But the price tag will challenge budgets of governments and service agencies, adding another hungry mouth within their nests.

Economic forecasts vary widely for the federal costs of caring for injured veterans returning from the Middle East, but they range as high as $700 billion for the VA. That would rival the cost of fighting the Iraq war. In recent years, the VA has repeatedly run out of money to care for sick veterans and has had to ask for billions more before the next budget.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if these costs per person are higher than any war previously,” says Scott Wallsten, of the conservative think tank Progress and Freedom Foundation.

The costs often fall on veterans and their families. Ted Wade, of Chapel Hill, N.C., can’t drive or keep his memories straight since a bomb tore off an arm, hurt his foot, and wracked his brain in an attack on his Humvee in Iraq. He and his wife have had to lower their living standard and accept house payments from parents.

“I can’t work because he can’t be up here by himself,” says his wife, Sarah. “It’s my volunteer work, is what it really comes down to.”

Yet federal officials say the cost of this wounded influx isn’t hurting the quality of care promised to veterans.

At a recent ribbon cutting, the Army’s vice chief of staff, Gen. Richard Cody, trumpeted a new rehab center for amputees as “proof that when it comes to making good on such an important promise, there is no bottom line.”

Since President Bush took office, medical spending for veterans has risen by 83 percent, says White House budget spokesman Sean Kevelighan. However, that includes the increased numbers of all veterans treated — not just the wave returning from the Middle East.

“The president has made his dedication very clear to troops in the field and after,” the spokesman said.

The VA didn’t respond to several requests for comment. Recently, though, outgoing chief Jim Nicholson acknowledged trouble keeping up with the pace of disability claims.

But earlier this year, he also insisted that veterans “will invariably tell you they are really getting good care from the VA.”

___

Not invariably.

The VA takes the lead in treating wounds and paying for disabilities of veterans. And it usually does a good job of handling major, known wounds, especially in the early months, by many accounts. The military, Social Security Administration, Labor Department and other agencies add important federal benefits.

However, many veterans and families say the VA often restricts rehabilitation or cuts it off too quickly.

Former Army Ranger Jeremy Feldbusch, of Blairsville, Pa., was blinded and brain-injured by artillery shrapnel in Iraq, but he and his mother decided to get some care outside the VA. His mother, Charlene, says some specialists, especially brain experts, are better in the private sector.

Insurance for major injuries is available at low cost to service members. It pays out up to $100,000 to help cover costs of rehabilitation. But many think it isn’t enough.

In Odessa, Fla., the family of John Barnes decided to save most of his $100,000 payout.

They could easily have spent more of it. His mother, Valerie Wallace, estimates her expenses at more than $35,000 to help care for him while he deals with a brain injury and paralysis from a mortar attack on a base outside Baghdad. She took time off from her nursing job, paid $17 an hour for a home health aide, and transported her son to countless rounds of therapy.

Still, she wanted to preserve his insurance money. “John’s going to need that money down the road,” she says. Instead, she stopped saving, closed out investments, and borrowed against her own insurance.

Disability payments supply monthly income to the wounded, but the VA focuses on replacing lost earnings. A presidential commission has recommended broader compensation for lost quality of life — a concept in line with civilian law. Co-chair Donna Shalala, a former U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services, estimates that the committee’s package of recommendations would cost at least several hundred million dollars.

In Oceanside, Calif., Joshua Elmore, says his $1,200-a-month disability payments aren’t “even coming close” to replacing what he’s lost. A rocket attack on a Marine base in Iraq shattered his arm bones and left other injuries.

He can still do yard work, odd jobs, and go to culinary school. But Elmore, who has two little girls, complains that he can’t run and sometimes limps when he walks.

Some wounded veterans turn to private health insurance and other programs outside the federal government, swelling costs for states and towns. Sean Lunde, an Iraq veteran at the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services, says his agency rushes emergency funds to some wounded veterans.

Service nonprofits also pay for emergency shelter, housing, job training, food, clothing and transportation for wounded veterans who risk slipping into coverage gaps.

T.J. Cantwell, of Rebuilding Together, says his group puts an average of $20,000 — plus donated supplies and labor — into houses it modifies for injured soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In Rosedale, Md., the group added handrails, new light switches and door knobs, a garage door opener, and other improvements to the home of Army Sgt. 1st Class Juanita Wilson. The 33-year-old mother of two lost part of her arm in a homemade bomb blast in Iraq, but she remains on active duty to preserve her retirement.

Meanwhile, she says of the remodeling job, “If I had to pay for it, probably very little would be done.”

Despite all this help, many families drop tens of thousands of dollars on travel to hospitals, stays in hotel rooms, extra therapies, and on making their homes and vehicles accessible to the disabled. Intent on the best care, parents sometimes quit jobs and lose their own health insurance.

Denise Mettie, of Selah, Wash., and her husband have been living “paycheck to paycheck” while she helps in the recovery of her son, Evan. A car bomb in Iraq propelled shrapnel into his brain, and he can no longer walk or talk. His mother gave up her $30,000-a-year bank job and had to buy health insurance for herself and her two daughters, just to watch over her son’s hospital treatment, she says.

“What the VA has to offer is insufficient economically to take care of the impact of what happens,” says psychologist Michael Wagner, founder of the nonprofit U.S. Welcome Home Foundation and a retired Army medical officer.

Veterans groups finally sued the VA a few months ago, seeking quicker medical care and disability payments for those with PTSD. They claim that the crush of shattered troops has sent the agency into a “virtual meltdown.”

Last week, the VA challenged the lawsuit on technical grounds. Its lawyers also argued that even though VA rules commit to two years of free care, that depends upon Congress setting aside enough money.

___

Upset by his visits with wounded veterans, defense hawk Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., who chairs a defense spending subcommittee, dropped his support for the Iraq war in 2005.

Speaking of the wounded, he now says federal officials are “not taking care of the things they should and … we’re trying to change the direction.”

Many recommendations have come from veterans, federal advisers and others. Some involve quicker and heftier disability benefits. And nearly everyone begs for more VA money and staff for medical treatment, though few specify where they’d find extra resources.

Rep. Chris Carney, D-Pa., a military reservist, is promoting a bill to set mandatory annual spending levels for veterans’ health care. Prospects are unclear.

Either way, it may be too late for veterans like Awad, who nervously awaits the approach of imagined enemies around what was once his castle.

U.S. soldier planted wire to fake victim was insurgent

 artiraqchildap

A boy lies injured Saturday in a Baghdad hospital after a U.S. airstrike Friday in the Dora area of Baghdad.

CNN | Sep 29, 2007

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — An Army sniper was sentenced Saturday for tampering with evidence in the death of an Iraqi civilian, but was acquitted of his murder.

A military panel gave Spc. Jorge G. Sandoval, 22, five months in prison, a reduction in rank and a loss of pay for placing detonation wire on the body of a man killed April 27 to make the victim look like an insurgent, according to The Associated Press.

Sandoval had been charged with murder in that death and another on May 11, but the panel acquitted him Friday of those charges. Sandoval also was acquitted of planting an AK-47 rifle on the body of the second man and of failing to ensure humane treatment of a detainee.

During the court-martial, fellow soldiers testified that they and Sandoval, of Laredo, Texas, were following orders when they shot the unidentified Iraqi men near Iskandariyah, 30 miles south of Baghdad, according to AP.

Meanwhile, violence on Saturday took the lives of at least nine people in Iraq, six of them civilians, according to reports.

A suicide truck bombing killed three Iraqi soldiers and three civilians near Mosul, northwest of Baghdad, AP reported. Soldiers were pursuing the vehicle when it exploded, according to AP.

Also in Mosul on Saturday, a Sunni sheik was killed in a drive-by shooting and an Iraqi journalist died in a mortar attack on his home, according to Mosul police.

In central Baghdad, police said, a civilian was killed when gunmen opened fire at an Iraqi checkpoint, according to AP.

Also Saturday, a senior U.S. military official said the number of foreign fighters entering Iraq has been cut in half through improved border security.

Brig. Gen. Joseph Anderson, chief of staff for the Multi-National Corps in Iraq, said that from 60 to 80 foreign fighters had been entering Iraq each month, but the numbers have been reduced on all of Iraq’s porous borders.

“The effectiveness — between the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement and our border transition teams — they’ve had great success at the standard border-crossing points, enforcing standards and monitoring what’s going on there,” Anderson said.

He said foreign militants are responsible for about 80 percent of suicide bombings in Iraq.

The topic came up as Anderson announced the death earlier this week of a senior al Qaeda in Iraq leader, a Tunisian who was considered the “emir of foreign terrorists in Iraq,” and close associate of the head of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Ayyub al-Masri.

Coalition forces killed the militant Tuesday in Mussayib, south of Baghdad, said Anderson, who emphasized the death is “a significant blow” to al Qaeda in Iraq — a Sunni-dominated militant group that takes its inspiration from Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda.

Military commanders have said the leadership in the Iraqi group includes many foreigners while the rank and file is Iraqi.

Iran brands U.S. army, CIA “terrorists”

Reuters | Sep 29, 2007

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iranian lawmakers branded the U.S. armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as “terrorist” in a statement read out in parliament on Saturday, Iranian media said.

Signed by 215 members of the 290-seat legislature, the statement was an apparent response to reports that Washington is considering labelling a unit of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organization.

The legislators criticized the U.S. military and the CIA for what they called terrorist actions, the official IRNA news agency said, citing the World War Two atomic bombing of Japan, the Vietnam war and the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples.

“Iranian lawmakers in a statement labeled the American army and the country’s intelligence services (CIA) as terrorist,” IRNA said.

Their statement condemned “the violations by the American army and the creation of insecurity in the region,” IRNA said.

It also listed the United States’ “unlimited support for the racist and aggressive Zionist regime (Israel) and involvement in the terrorist operations of the government of that regime against the oppressed nations of Palestine and Lebanon”.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week Washington was considering sanctions against the Qods force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards which it accuses of inciting violence in Iraq.

The Qods force is considered the elite unit of the Revolutionary Guards.

The two nations, who have not had diplomatic ties since shortly after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, are embroiled in a deepening rift over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. They also blame each other for the bloodshed in Iraq.

Iran has said any U.S. move to brand the Guards unit a terrorist organization would be illegal and amount to a confrontation with the entire Islamic Republic.

A month ago, there were plans within the U.S. administration to label the entire Guards Corps a foreign terrorist group — the first time the United States would place the armed forces of any sovereign government on such a list.

U.S. officials said the thinking was that the Qods unit was easier to target. Washington accuses the force of training and equipping insurgents who have attacked U.S. troops.

Iran denies this, as well as Western allegations its nuclear program is aimed at developing atomic weapons.