Friday, February 28, 2014

The VA's War: Department Of Veterans Affairs And Congress Clash Over Suicide Charges

International Business Times reports -- Simmering tensions between members of the House Veterans Affairs Committee and officials at the Department of Veterans Affairs boiled over this week following an IBTimes report that the veterans department had substantiated three ethical lapses -- one of which involved veteran suicides -- cited last March by an agency whistleblower.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), told IBTimes this week that at a January briefing, a VA official told a member of his HVAC staff that the agency did not follow up on some veterans who admitted to having suicidal ideas during a health study on veterans -- and who later committed suicide.

“My staff contends that during a Jan. 3, 2014, verbal briefing, VA officials confirmed that VA personnel did not follow up on some veterans who admitted to suicidal ideation -- and who later committed suicide -- during a study of Gulf War veterans,” Miller said. “If VA contends there was a miscommunication, it was only brought on by VA’s lack of transparency and reluctance to provide the committee with written details of its investigation into Dr. Coughlin’s allegations."

VA has confirmed some of the lapses cited by whistleblower and former VA epidemiologist Dr. Steven Coughlin in testimony before the HVAC's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, but insists the agency does not know if any of the veterans from the study later committed suicide.  

Coughlin claimed that the VA failed to follow up with nearly 2,000 veterans who reported in what was known as the “New Generation” study of veterans by the agency’s Office of Public Health (OPH) that they had suicidal thoughts.

“Some of those veterans are now homeless or deceased,” Coughlin said at the hearing. “I was unsuccessful in getting senior OPH officials to address this problem in the study.”
Curt Cashour, a senior HVAC staff member, told IBTimes that at that January briefing, Dr. Robert Jesse, VA’s principal deputy undersecretary for health, told Eric Hannel, the oversight and investigations subcommittee’s staff director, that some veterans who were not followed up on later took their own lives.

Hannel declined a request for an interview for this story. But Rep. Miller stands by Hannel's contention.

Asked about VA’s reported admission at the briefing that some veterans had killed themselves, the agency declined to comment on the record. Instead, its press office provided IBTimes with the results of an unrelated OPH study in which there were no proven suicides.

When asked again this week, a VA spokesperson said that the agency rejected the HVAC's contention. "In these briefings, no VA official nor staff present at the meetings stated that veterans had committed suicide when [study participants] were contacted for follow-up," said the spokesperson.

There are three VA health studies at issue:

·         - The National Health Survey of Gulf War Era Veterans and Their Families (“National Health Survey”) (1995-2001) included 15,000 deployed and 15,000 non-deployed veterans and their families in a study of adverse health outcomes associated with the Persian Gulf War (follow-up study in 2004-2005).

    - The Health Surveillance for a New Generation of U.S. Veterans (“New Generations”) (data collected 2009-2011) included 30,000 deployed and 30,000 non-deployed Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom veterans in a study of chronic medical conditions, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), other psychological conditions, general health status, reproductive health, pregnancy outcomes, behavioral risk factors, etc. On this study, Coughlin was a co-investigator.

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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Stupid selfie! Soldier posts pic of herself avoiding flag salute, ignites online firestorm

NY Daily Times reports -- Pfc. Tariqka Sheffey declares she just doesn't care as she lays back in her car in full uniform to avoid the 5 p.m. salute of the American flag as a member of the 59th Quartermaster Company, 43rd Sustainment Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo. 

Pfc. Tariqka Sheffey is catching serious flak for posting a photo of herself ducking in her car to avoid having to salute the U.S. flag.

A U.S. Army soldier is in hot water for snapping a selfie and boasting about hiding in her car to avoid saluting the flag.

Pfc. Tariqka Sheffey is catching serious heat for uploading the image, where she appears in full uniform, to Instagram.

"This is me laying back in my car hiding so I don't have to salute the 1700 flag," she captioned the picture.

"KEEP ALL YOUR 'THATS SO DISRESPECTFUL/HOWRUDE/ETC.' COMMENTS TO YOURSELF cuz, right now, IDGAFFFF," she added, under her handle sheffeynation.

The picture, and its caption, went viral and Sheffey — a member of the 59th Quartermaster Company, 43rd Sustainment Brigade at Fort Carson, Colo. — is now facing calls for her removal.

Other critics are demanding she be fired from her post, the Army Times reported. 

Food for thought:  While our country’s middle and lower class families are struggling to make ends meet, their tax dollars are paying the salaries of thousands of active duty service members like Pfc Sheefey.  Our young veterans are forced to show up to work everyday while the Pentagon is obviously failing to keep them gainfully employed.  

When I served as a young enlisted sailor, we got paid to sit on our butts all day, the majority of the time!  And during my last two years on active duty, I was paid thousands of dollars a month just to call in each morning, no later than 0730.  Looking back, I guess it was "hush" money, in an effort to keep me from going to the media as a military whistle blower. 

It looks like the Pentagon will have to stretch the truth some more to justify its over-inflated and “padded” defense budget.

Despite the Pentagon's shortcomings, Pfc Sheffey’s behavior is inexcusable and a blatant disrespect to the uniform and the flag she swore an oath to defend.  

On a lighter note, her cute "selfie" has given tax payer’s a sneak peak as to what really goes on behind the military’s iron curtain at the lowest ranks.

I'm sure the Pentagon's Press Secretary is hoping this doesn't become a race issue media storm, and the Army's Commandant has most likely been directed to handle this with kid gloves!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Monday, February 24, 2014

Thought for the day...

Racism/Sexism in the Navy

Recently, I received the following email from a fellow veteran who wanted to share his experience of racism in the Navy.  Although his experience was several decades years ago, some things never change!

Ms Penland,

I came across your blog this morning and it made me think about my experiences in the Navy, many of which were not good at all. I am black and I was a Cryptologic Technician. When I joined the Navy and even to this day, blacks were steered away from rates like Cryptologic Tech. Most of us were BM’s, SH’s, MS’s, etc. Often times I was the only black in my department.

I seen many instances of out and out racism and sexism while I was on active duty and I still see it today as I work with the Navy as a civilian Govt employee.

What  sticks out in my mind most was a black IS who had her clearance revoked and rate taken away because she would not name the father of her child. White female sailors who also held clearances, did not have their clearances revoked when they would not name their child's father.

In 1986 on the very day I reported to COMUSNAVPHIL in the Philippines, the CO for staff enlisted personnel called me into his office and asked me did I have a no shave chit because I was unshaven. When I produced the chit, he tore it up and told me to either shave or I would be processed out of the navy. The chief I worked for was white and had a no shave chit. When I mentioned this to the CO, he told me not to question him or I would find myself at mast.

This same CO would confine black sailors to base if he saw you associating with one of the local filipino girls. During one of the advancement cycles we had 3 sailors miss making rate by less than a point. One black and two whites. The CO back dated awards for the two white sailors and kicked the black sailor out of the navy.

When I was in Homestead Florida, the DAPA and Corpsman would go through the medical record of all newly arrived black sailors and if you had any major medical issues they would say it was drug related. I have a genetic kidney issue and they attempted to send me to drug rehab. The DAPA and the doc told the XO that my kidney issue was from doing drugs. I would not accept this and when I requested Captains Mast, it was dropped, but other people were not so lucky.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I think you get the picture. One thing that does not have anything to do with racism or sexism but I thought it was pretty messed up was when AIDS started affecting a lot of people. I was stationed in Subic Bay and there was a very big prostitution problem there and many of the girls were HIV positive. I came across a communication between the Admiral at Subic and the Admiral at the Pacific Command.  They were going to order that the fact that AIDS was a problem in the Philippines be kept under wraps.

The communication outlined the fact that a couple of husbands had got infected and in turn infected their wives. There were also a number of active duty people who had gotten infected and they wanted this kept under wraps. The policy at the time was to send dependents and active duty people back to the states if they were infected but these people were not sent back because the Admirals did not want it to get out.

Right before I got out of the Navy, there was this black female who got into a fight with her husband. He attacked her and she defended herself. She was sent to mast and later processed out of the navy. Right after that there was a white male first class who assaulted a police officer. He never went to mast and the command master chief and dept head went to court and talked in his behalf. In my opinion that female was a good sailor and this first class was a shit bird, but that’s how things work in the navy.

I could give you a hundred other examples but you get the picture...

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The jet that ate the Pentagon

Celebrating the Life of Jordan Davis

Spread your Angel Wings
© 2014 Syneeda  Penland

Like the river Jordan,
I will shed a tear for you,
Like many of our young black men
Why did you have to die too soon?

Your innocence will always be treasured,
Your legacy will live on forever,
And your smile can never be measured;

For it stretches to the hearts and souls
Of every mother, father and son;
As God sets a place for you in heaven,
Know that your work is never done!

As your spirit is now free to
Roam the open skies,
As far as the river Nile,
Spread your angel wings to
Now watch over
every other black child.  

Juror No. 4: Majority felt Michael Dunn murdered Jordan Davis; Davis' mother said jury did its best reports -- The first juror from the Michael Dunn murder trial to go public about the deliberations told the ABC News show “Nightline” that she thought Dunn was guilty of unjustly killing Jordan Davis and that most of her fellow jurors agreed.

In response to the interview, Davis’ mother, Lucia McBath, said Wednesday that she believed the jury did the best it could considering the evidence and trial testimony. His father, Ron Davis, said he wanted Dunn retried on the deadlocked first-degree murder charge, which State Attorney Angela Corey has promised to do….

The juror, who appeared on camera as “Valerie” Wednesday morning, said the majority of the jury thought Dunn crossed a line when he continued shooting into the vehicle once it started to leave. She said the exact words — crossed the line — were uttered several times by the jurors.

“A life was taken,” she said. “There is no longer a Jordan Davis and there’s only one reason why that is.”

Valerie, who is white, said race wasn’t a factor in the deliberations. Dunn is white and Davis was black, as are those who were in the SUV.

“Sitting in that room, it was never presented that way,” she said. “We looked at it as a bad situation where teenagers were together and words were spoken and lines were crossed.”

She said key moments in the trial that also swayed her were Dunn’s testimony insisting he was in danger, the use of the word thug to describe the music being played in the SUV and a jury instruction regarding the use of deadly force.

“To me, it was unnecessary,” the woman said. “We all believed there was another way out, another option.”

“Roll your window up, ignore the taunting, put your car in reverse, back up to the foot of the store, move a parking spot over,” she said.

Though the jury deliberated for 32 hours over four days, the woman said she was convinced after two days the jury would be deadlocked because of the self-defense issues. She said there was yelling, screaming and profanity in a passion-filled jury room.

“At one point we were all trying to get our point across,” she said.

Juror No. 4 had this message for the Davis family:
“I would say I am sorry, of course. Nothing will bring back their son. I hope that they feel that we didn’t do them a disservice.”…..

Ron Davis said he believes the jury instructions, which included language about Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, confused the jury. He said the laws have to be rewritten.

“These people were torn because of the jury instructions and not the case,” Davis said. “I believe the facts … showed that this guy had indifference toward my son and just killed him and continued to shoot at the boys in the car.”

While Davis noted that God delivers the ultimate justice rather than justice in the court system, he said he was ready for another trial.

“I want Michael Dunn to be tried and found guilty of killing my son … letting him know that it was wrong to kill my unarmed 17-year-old,” Davis said. “All the other 17-year-olds out there, they shouldn’t have to fear the adults with the guns that are running around here shooting them at will.”


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dallas man arrested after 8-year-old boy shot Tuesday night at a Lake Highlands apartment complex

Brian Cloninger
A Dallas man has been arrested in connection with the shooting of an 8-year-old boy in the jaw Tuesday evening at Lake Highlands apartment complex.

Brian Cloninger, 46, was charged with injury to a child. He remains in the Dallas County jail on a $2.2 million bond.

The boy, identified as Donald Maiden, Jr., was shot in the parking lot of La Bella Palms apartments in the 9400 block of Royal Lane near Abrams Road. Witnesses told police Cloninger had been seen waving his gun at people before the shooting, according to an arrest warrant affidavit.

A resident at the apartment complex went outside after hearing the gunshot. The boy bleeding was profusely, and Cloninger was standing beside his silver pickup truck. The man asked whether Cloninger shot the boy, according to police reports.

“Yes I shot that kid,” Cloninger told the witness, according to the arrest warrant.

Maiden remains in critical but stable condition after undergoing surgery at Children’s Medical Center Dallas, according to Dallas police.

Family friend and neighbor Dundra Moffit said Maiden is “doing fine.”

Full article:

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Food for thought:  How many more innocent young lives will have to be sacrificed before better legislation is passed to protect their human rights?!  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

BREAKING News: Today, Michael Dunn, who killed 17 year-old Jordan Davis for playing his music too loud was convicted of three counts of attempted murder and one count of shooting a firearm.

While we're relieved that justice was served for some counts, it was not served for killing Jordan. And everyday deadly laws like "Stand Your Ground," also known as "Shoot First" remain on the books, Black lives are placed in jeopardy. 

Nearly 111,000 ColorOfChange members have already taken action to put an end to these dangerous laws. Help us end the senseless violence perpetrated against Black folks like Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin by demanding an end to Shoot First now:

The Angry Eye - Brown Eye-Blue Eye Experiment - part 1

Friday, February 14, 2014

Thought for the day...

Love Is
© 2005 Syneeda Penland

The twitch you get in your heart
that tells you how you feel.
The twinkle that shines in your eyes
that expresses what you feel, ‘is real!’  

An unconditional emotion
aroused from deep inside,
an expression of openness
when there’s nothing to hide.

Love is a truism,
the realism of sensations
that comes straight from the heart;
conveyed by your actions, your words,
or even through creative ‘works of art’.

Love can be displayed
in different forms or fashion;
true love will never die, it’s symbolic.
It’s everlasting!

As we celebrate Valentine's Day, always remember the true meaning of LOVE

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Thought for the day...

 The Nine Attributes
The Power of Flow:
Practical Ways to Transform Your Life With Meaningful Coincidence
by Charlene Belitz and Meg Lundstrom

Excerpts from Chapter Four
The Nine Attributes That Create the Power of Flow

If there were only one personal attribute we need for flow, one that makes everything else possible, it would be commitment: to our own growth and expansion, to our family, to our chosen profession, to truth, and to the greatest  whole. With commitment, we say yes to life, and we don’t just mouth the word. We take a stand for our deepest values, and we do everything it takes to live by them….

Honesty, like Janus, the Greek god of hearth and home, has two faces: one that looks outward and one that faces inward. Inwardly, as we enter more deeply into flow, we seek integration, the coming together of all of our sometimes-conflicting parts into one powerful whole. This requires a solid commitment to identify and break through layers of misconceptions, self-deceptions, emotional scars, limiting and self-sabotaging beliefs, outdated responses, internal conflicts, buried dreams, hopes, and fears—all the accumulated baggage of human existence. We are ruthlessly honest with ourselves, no matter how uncomfortable that may sometimes be. We pursue the truth because we know it will set us free from old wounds that interfere with our experience of flow. We question and probe our own inner world to see what’s real, what’s true, and what’s not. The result of this quest for the truth is a deep self-understanding and a peace that can come only when we truly know ourselves…..

Courage does not require rappelling across rocky cliffs but rather, day in and day out, overcoming our fears by stepping outside our personal comfort zone, following our intuition, and making ourselves available to the larger plan. It means we transcend our limited self-definitions to be open to new information and stretch beyond the way we’ve always done things in the past. It means we listen within and sometimes turn left when everyone else seems to be going right. It allows us to risk ridicule to create something new, or to risk rejection when we are being true to our sense of what’s right…..

Flow is engendered by passion—passion for life, for knowledge, for a cause, for a relationship, for truth. Passion means caring deeply about something beyond ourselves. It means engaging with it at intense levels. It means letting go of self-protective caution to involve ourselves wholeheartedly with what we love…..

Living in flow means living fully in the present. We don’t hang out in the past rehashing old issues. We don’t hang out in the future trying to second-guess how things will turn out. We settle all of our attention on each interaction, whether it’s washing a dish, making love, attending a meeting, or reading to a child. We are fully engaged in whatever we are doing, and time seems rich and full and resonant and still, all at once. This state of awareness is called immediacy…..

Being ready and willing and available to a wide range of possibility makes the power of flow abundant in our daily life. When we are open, we waste little energy in warding things off; we do not erect walls between ourselves and the world. Instead, we embrace whatever develops, for we know that everything we experience has value. Events unfold naturally and effortlessly because, without preconceptions or judgments, without fear or anger, we are willing to do whatever a situation requires….

Being in flow means that we are ready to take our part in the unfolding of events. We listen to our inner voice for messages, we observe all that happens around us—especially synchronicity—and we then move in harmony with the moment. But we don’t attempt to control the outcome of those events. Instead, we hold open the space in which potentiality exists. Lake a dancer poised in the still moment at the start of a movement, we can go in any direction the music suggests….

In positivity, we seek out the value in every situation, at every turn, emphasize it, and work actively with it. That’s not to say that we are Pollyannas or blind to the negative potential of a situation; through experience, we’ve learned that in the positive side lies the potential for movement. We believe everything happens for a reason, and that perfection is found in each moment. As a result, we don’t shrink from difficult people or situations or challenges—we move toward them…..

One thing can switch the experience of flow on and off in an instant: trust in flow itself…..

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

President Obama to launch major new effort to help young minority men

President Obama will launch a significant new effort Thursday to bolster the lives of young minority men, seeking to use the power of the presidency to help a group of Americans whose lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and prison.

The “My Brother’s Keeper” initiative will bring foundations and companies together to test a range of strategies to support such young men, taking steps to keep them in school and out of the criminal justice system, a White House official said. Obama will also announce a more vigorous program to evaluate policies and publicize results to school systems around the country.

The effort will seek “to make sure that every young man of color who is willing to work hard and lift himself up has an opportunity to get ahead and reach his full potential,” the White House official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. “The initiative will be focused on implementing strategies that are proven to get results.”

Obama had promised to launch a new project focused on young minority men during his State of the Union address last month. His focus on a relatively narrow demographic group is unusual for a president who usually stresses how his policies affect large swaths of the American public. It also comes after the first African American president has faced repeated criticism from those who say he is failing to pay enough attention to blacks and other minorities.

The initiative is the latest sign that Obama plans to address such issues more directly in his second term. Last month, Obama and the first lady hosted a forum at the White House to persuade colleges to recruit more low-income Americans. And last year, the Justice Department overhauled drug-sentencing guidelines so that low-level and nonviolent offenders do not face stiff minimum sentences.

The new focus reached its emotional peak last summer when Obama delivered remarks about race in the United States after the non-guilty verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the killing of an unarmed black teenager, Trayvon Martin.

Read more:

Food for thought:  Since advocating for human rights, I’ve met a number of “so-called” black business men in Atlanta, posing as mentors to our youth; who have established non-profit organizations as a means to line their own pockets.  Of course they are not mentoring our young men and the crime rate in the city is almost surpassing the city of Chicago.  

As a concerned tax payer and military whistle blower against federal fraud I think we should hold the schools and local community leaders more accountable.  But the cure for this epidemic starts in the home.  

Before the President approves any federal funding towards his plan, he should consider broadening his scope for insight beyond the city of Chicago, "old School" Civil Rights leaders, ball players and hip-pop artists.  They don’t represent all black communities in our country, if anything they are contributors to the problems our black men and women are facing in their struggle for acceptance and survival in modern day America.

Remembering a Legacy...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Claire McCaskill Vows To Filibuster Kirsten Gillibrand's Military Sexual Assault Bill

Huffington Post reports-- The battle over how best to address sexual assault in the military hit a heated new pitch Thursday as Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said she would subject a competing proposal by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) to a filibuster vote.

McCaskill and Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) have offered a bill that would tweak reforms to the military justice system passed late last year, but would not go as far as Gillibrand's bill would by removing sexual assault cases from the military chain of command. Both measures are expected to come up before Congress takes its next break.

Gillibrand has said she backs McCaskill's bill and will vote to start debating it. If any senator chooses to filibuster a measure, it can take 60 votes to move a "motion to proceed" and start debate on that measure.

But McCaskill said Thursday she won't do the same for Gillibrand's bill and will insist on the filibuster threshold.

"No," McCaskill said when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill if she would vote to start debate. "There's a disagreement here. We do not believe that her bill will protect victims. We do not believe that it will result in more prosecutions. We do not believe it will increase reporting. And we believe there's real workability problems in terms of how quickly these cases will be brought to court."

"I think both bills will have to get 60 votes to proceed," McCaskill added. "We've got an awful lot of bills around here that had to get to 60 votes. I don't know why we would make an exception for this particular area, when we haven't made it for so many other areas that are of importance."

That view is somewhat ironic coming from McCaskill, who has complained about Republican filibusters in the past and voted last November to tighten the rules on some. She has also voted to limit filibusters on motions to proceed.

McCaskill's office said that a legitimate use of the filibuster against deeply controversial legislation is a completely separate issue from Republican abuse of the filibuster.
The heart of the dispute is whether the severe under-reporting of sexual assault in the military would be alleviated if cases were not run through the chain of command.

Victims have said they often don't trust commanders and argued that removing such assaults from the chain of command would be the single best step to increase reporting.
But McCaskill and Ayotte point to a recent report that found there was not enough evidence to show Gillibrand's proposal would improve matters. Gillibrand points to the Defense Department's Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services, which recommended unanimously that the New York senator's bill should be adopted.

Several advocates and victims of abuse in the military argued their case again Thursday in a press event with Gillibrand, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and several other senators. One slammed the idea of filibustering the bill as cowardice.
"Using procedural tricks to block a bill that already has bipartisan, majority support in the Senate is an act of cowardice and breaks faith with the brave veterans who have suffered from a status quo in the military that is all too permissive of sexual assault," said Tom Tarantino, chief policy officer for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Gillibrand, who had secured the support of a majority of her colleagues late last year but hadn't yet reached the 60 needed to break a filibuster, predicted she would prevail.
"Some say we can’t get 60 votes if needed to break a filibuster," Gillibrand said in another part of the Capitol shortly before McCaskill addressed reporters. "We disagree, because nowhere in America would we allow a boss to decide if an employee was sexually assaulted –- except the United States military."

Read more:

Food for thought:  Once again, the Senate is playing “politics” instead of being more concerned about the safety and security of our young women serving in the armed forces.   According to the 1964 CRA, as amended under the 1965 Equal Employment Opportunity Act; the federal government (including the military) is to provide employees a workplace free of discrimination, reprisal, harassment, sexual assault or rape.  

Excuse me but was the majority of the Senate asleep during law class when they discussed events leading to the passage of the CRA?  Or is Civil Rights issues still considered a “black” issue?!  I’m sorry to say this but the majority of the rape victims are white women.  In the military they are classified as a “minority”, which affords them protection under the CRA!! 

To put this issue to rest will require President Obama to issue an executive order; extending further protection of our human rights!