Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Belated Centennial Notice

Yesterday was the centennial of Arizona's admission to the Union. These days, wfith Arizona's checkered reputation, many Americans would probably prefer to forget that Arizona is one of these United States but it is. And it's not far off the national dime when it comes to wingnuttery. The craziness that is Arizona these days is hardly unique to the Grand Canyon State, not in a nation gives any credence to the likes of Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. Not in a nation where many believe that unlimited purchase of weapons is a Constitutional right.

For all of its craziness, I found a lot to like during my quarter century living in Arizona. As a hiker and outdoor enthusiast, I spent a lot of time exploring some amazing places; Arizona is unrivaled be any state except possibly Utah. I have never seen a night sky as brilliant as the night sky I watched for five years in Window Rock, Arizona. I was represented in Congress by Morris Udall, one of America's finest statesmen. Kirsten Sinema was my last state representative. And I made any number of good friends during those years. As I am glad to be out of Arizona, I have no regrets about living there. It was a good move, personally and professionally.

So here's to Arizona on its centennial. And here's hoping that Arizona will someday live up to the progressive constitution that brought it into the Union.

And just for giggles, read Jana Boomersbach's account of Arizona's checkered path to statehood. It explains a lot.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

When the War Comes Home

Timely piece in the Washington Post today about the widow and family of a Marine Corps major who committed suicide after two tours in Iraq. The veterans benefit system does not fully accept suicide as a "legitimate" casualty so claiming benefits after a suicide is difficult and exhausting. I've met two widows of suicides in my veterans advocacy work. Neither has been awarded benefits. Both have had trouble even getting information. I can give them some information but I've always thought that they need a full-time lawyer to really pursue their claim.

Turns out, even that doesn't work.
Almost two years later, the high-level intercession by the Marine commandant and the Washington lawyer has produced little from the federal government for Hackett’s widow. The inability of Dowd to wrest any money from the Department of Veterans Affairs shows the limits of what the federal government can do for families of service members who kill themselves as a result of mental trauma caused by war.

Dowd and a team of nine lawyers have fought unsuccessfully for the last 18 months to convince the VA and Prudential Financial Inc., which administers a life insurance program for veterans, to pay a $400,000 claim to Danelle Hackett. The life insurance premiums were automatically deducted from Hackett’s paycheck for 26 years when he was on active duty.

If Hackett had been killed in battle or committed suicide before he retired in 2008, his wife would have received the $400,000 from the policy. But Hackett left the military and, amid mounting personal crises, let the policy lapse.


After reviewing the evidence collected by Dowd and his team, the VA ruled that Hackett’s death was caused by the “chronic and severe” PTSD he developed in Iraq. The finding meant that his wife would no longer have to pay taxes on his $1,755-a-month pension. The change resulted in an extra $100 a month in income, Danelle said.

Last month, Dowd urged the VA to retroactively find Hackett “totally disabled” and incapable of “substantially gainful employment,” a designation that would have allowed his widow to collect on the $400,000 life insurance policy.

The VA rejected the request, citing Hackett’s job at the refinery. “I know [the job] was less than he was trained for as an officer,” a VA official said. “But it is not about the quality of the job or the wage he earned. . . . There is no wiggle room there.”

Robert M. Bilder, the chief of medical psychology and neuropsychology at UCLA’s medical school said the VA did not grasp the depths of Hackett’s helplessness. Bilder, who has advised the Marine Corps on mental health issues, reviewed Hackett’s file on a pro-bono basis for Dowd.

“While I have seen my share of what I believe are inappropriate judgments by insurers, I believe this is the greatest travesty I have personally witnessed in my 25 years of clinical practice,” he wrote.

Stories like these make me want to puke. I recall all the lies that created these wars and all the promises to "support the troops." And then I see this shit.

These families pay the ultimate costs of war while its architects live out their lives in ease and wealth. What's not to puke about?


Dowd is John Dowd, one of the biggest names in Washington, DC legal circles, one of the heaviest of heavy hitters.

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