The Neglect of American Veterans


Michael Ransom, Contributing EditorLast Modified: 06:51 a.m. DST, 28 May 2014

"U.S. Military - Dog Tags..."  Photo by: marsmettt tallahassee

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Department of Veterans Affairs misconduct is a national dishonor. But while politicians in Washington coordinate partisan finger-pointing and a "hot potato" style pass-off of culpability, veterans remain under-served at home. As they have for generations.

While all politicians are theoretically behind the troops, few supplement their talking points with federal spending. It may not be apparent reading recent headlines, but this duplicity exists on both sides of the aisle.

In February of this year, Republicans in the Senate voted down a $24 billion proposal for increased Veteran healthcare provisions. The bill would have also allotted educational stipends for former military members.

There is plenty of blame to go around, as liberals have not championed the cause either. In 2008, Senate Democrat Jay Rockefeller sparked nationwide disapproval when he questioned presidential hopeful Senator John McCain's wartime humanity.

Towards this end, returning U.S. soldiers have become cannon fodder in a war waged between two fighting factions, each of which talks a good game, but in the end, do little to effect change.

Repeated, this has been demonstrated by the lack of legislative action, since every time the opportunity arises for representatives to actually enact legislation to amend this gaping wound in the landscape of veteran affairs, they choose not to honor the values and promises they espoused during their campaigns.

These men and women have faithfully served and protected and did not question why, but when they return and ask so little of the system, their requests are denied. The promises and the periods of outrage U.S. representatives display during the election cycle historically fail to translate into meaningful change. In the meanwhile, men and women returning from war face alarming and unaddressed domestic challenges trying to navigate a system fraught with land mines of confusing regulations, long-waits, and lack of mental health treatment because of the stigma of mental illness.

Homelessness is also a little-known but continuing difficulty for former soldiers. Approximately one in eight homeless Americans are veterans. Other estimates conclude a one to five ratio. African-American and Hispanic vets are three times more likely to live on the streets than their white comrades. And probable mental illness or substance abuse is more likely to go untreated when these men and women are living off-the-grid.

Each day, more than 22 American veterans take their own lives, which is approximately one person every hour. The actual number of suicides is significantly higher but under-reported for a number of reasons. Many states, [including Texas] do not report these statistics to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Equally notable, a lack of statistics on homeless vets preclude these individuals from being counted in the findings. Moreover, funeral homes vary in terms of reporting veteran status and suicide causation. Finally, a stigma towards suicide in the ranks plays into the deflated numbers. With increased funding and coordination, these deaths will become largely preventable.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) functions with the second largest budget in the federal government, behind the Department of Defense. But, the VA is notoriously mismanaged according to bipartisan reports. Everyone agrees that the health of American soldiers returning from duty should be a priority, and needs to match the importance given to the national weapons cache, or the development of aircraft technology, or their value when they are sent to distant lands to fight in wars dreamed up by old men.

Keeping with historical trends, the improprieties of the Department of Veterans Affairs [that lead to 40+ dead veterans] is prompting more outrage than action. It will be telling if either party responds to these misconducts with concrete legislative improvements to the structure of the VA. There are plenty of places to start: increased VA personnel, funding and promoting veteran well-being, and requiring all states to accurately report data on veteran's health to the national department.

Follow Michael on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Contributing Editor: @MAndrewRansom

Lawmakers in the U.S. Work to End Underground Sex Trafficking


Olivia Elswick, Asia CorrespondentLast Modified: 1:06 p.m. DST, 22 May 2014

"For Sale" Photo by: Spring Tripp-Reilly

WASHINGTON, D.C.  -  The FBI estimates that 293,000 American youth are at risk of being trafficked in the underground sex trade. Lawmakers in the House are proposing a bill package aimed at shutting down the nation’s multimillion dollar sex trafficking industry, up for vote on Tuesday.

The measures include exploitation close to home as well as resolutions condemning the kidnapping in Nigeria of 200 schoolgirls by Boko Haram, an armed terrorist group that has threatened to sell the girls into forced marriages.

Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Missouri sponsored a bill that would make it a federal crime for advertisers to display child and adult trafficking victims on their websites.  Another bill urges states to enact laws that treat minors who have been sold for sex as victims rather than criminals when they are arrested.

The legislation includes a formal condemnation of the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnapping on 14 April, a requirement for states to identify and address sex trafficking of children in foster care, and a request of the State Department to give “advance notice of intended travel” for sex offenders convicted of child abuse.

Additionally it would impose additional financial penalties on sex traffickers and increase restitution to victims.  It offers employment assistance through Jobs Corps to the victims, and provides more resources to the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It would require convicted sex traffickers to report to authorities every three months and appear on the National Sex Offender Registry for life.

Cindy McCain, co-chair of Arizona governor’s Task Force on Human Trafficking, and wife of Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said, "This is beginning to reach critical mass in the U.S. and people are paying attention to it.” McCain, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-North Dakota, met with Mexican government officials to discuss ways to end sex trafficking across the border.

“We can’t lead worldwide unless we clean up our own house first,” McCain told CNN. Human trafficking is the third-largest international crime behind illegal drugs and arms trafficking according to data from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Of the estimated $32 billion profits from human trafficking, it is estimated that $15.5 billion comes from industrialized nations.

In Portland, a pimp and his coworker approached Katie Rhoades, a 19-year-old homeless, drug-addicted stripper. Offering a better life as their recording studio production assistant, they lured in the teen. 72 hours after Rhoades moved from Portland to San Francisco she was held captive by the pair and forced to have sex for money. She was held hostage with other women in a building surrounded by a 6-foot fence topped with barbed wire and cameras, and guarded by pit bulls and an alarm system. When she finally escaped, she enrolled in a drug rehabilitation program, got clean, and earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work.

Rhoades now runs a victim advocacy group and helps to train hotel staff on recognizing sex trafficking. "We need stronger laws penalizing folks who facilitate the sex trade," Rhoades said. "If a hotel manager consciously turns a blind eye to allow this to occur in his hotel then he needs to be penalized."

There needs to be more resources for victims once they’re rescued, according to Dedee Lhamon. She is the executive director of The Covering House, a St. Louis shelter for children rescued from the sex trade. Children in her shelter are usually from suburbs or small towns, where they are conned into the sex trade under the guise of things such as a study-abroad program or “girls who are going to school or church and being rented out by a parent or someone who needs to get their drug supply.”

29 people in Minneapolis have been indicted in a significant sex trafficking case where the victims (some under the age of 14) were repeatedly victimized over several years and transported several places.

"As a parent, I can sympathize and only imagine how horrible it is as a parent to have a child that has been subjected to this horrific crime," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Virginia, said at a news conference on Tuesday.

This coming Wednesday, National Missing Children’s Day, the Department of Justice will honor seven people who helped to rescue missing or abused children. Holly Smith, author of “Walking Prey,” a book written about her experiences when she was sex trafficked at 14, will speak at the event.

Follow Olivia on Twitter Twitter: @nahmias_report Asia Correspondent: @OCELswick

Egypt Makes Conciliatory Gesture toward U.S.


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 13:22 PM EDT, 29 February 2012

Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Egypts Interim Head of StateCAIRO, Egypt - Minutes ago Egyptian officials announced that they would lift the travel ban on 7 of the 16 Americans who have been accused of inciting violence among Egyptian protesters during recent rallies.

Since their detention, relations between the United States and Egypt continued to deteriorate. The one-time strong allies have suffered several crippling blows to their 30-year relationship.

First, was the loss of one of their staunchest ally in the region - President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, who was ousted after 18 days of Arab Spring protests. The US' inability to successfully broker an Israel Palestinian peace accord, followed by this latest incarceration of American citizens has strained the relationship to breaking.

This latest fracas in which 16 Americans and 27 other people were put on trial for "illegally obtaining funds to foment unrest in Egypt and incite protesters against the nation's military rulers," was the third blow to an apparently foundering relationship.

Although, the trial of the 33 individuals began on 26 February 2012, it was subsequently adjourned until 26 April 2012. The US communicated through back channels that the continued detention of their citizens was unacceptable under any circumstances.

The lifting of the travel ban on the 7 remaining pro-democracy activists, signals an end to a politically charged incident, thus paving the way for the detained Americans to leave the country.  The other 9 were not in country and the 7 remaining NGO workers did not appear in court on Sunday.

This conciliatory gesture may have come as a result of threats to cut off much needed aid to Egypt from America.