The Neglect of American Veterans

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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

Migrant Worker Abused in Lebanon Takes Life

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 00:17 AM EDT, 21 March 2012

BEIRUT, Lebanon - An Ethiopian domestic worker, Alem Dechasa, was taken to a psychiatric hospital following an attempt by a group of Lebanese men to kidnap her outside the Ethiopian embassy.

First aired by Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), the video shows Dechasa lying on the ground, crying while her employer Ali Mahfouz’s repeatedly tries to drag her toward a waiting vehicle.

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Asaminew Debelie Bonssa, Ethiopian general consul in Lebanon, told The Daily Star newspaper that Dechasa subsequently committed suicide by hanging herself, despite expressing a desire to return to Ethiopia.

The barbarity of the ill-treatment of migrant workers throughout the Middle East has been of grave concern to human rights watch groups. Many of these workers are in effect indentured servants who are treated more like slaves than domestic help.

Immigrants from Africa and Asia, come to Lebanon seeking opportunities to improve their lives but quickly become disillusioned. They discover that despite promises, Lebanese laws do not protect their rights, and as second class citizen’s they are not guaranteed basic healthcare, vacation, or equitable wages.

Additionally, because the sponsorship system ties the domestic worker to one employer, unscrupulous people can keep workers in bondage by withholding their passports, visas, and work permits ostensibly for ‘safe keeping.’

Rola Abimourched, program coordinator at KAFA (Enough) Violence and Exploitation, spoke passionately about the Dechasa incident. We hope that this case may become the catalyst that galvanizes the Lebanese government to introduce stronger laws to protect migrant workers and other immigrants to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again.

Death by Marriage | Rape Victim Amina Filali

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Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:31 PM EDT, 18 March 2012

Mukhtar Mai

MOROCCO – On Saturday, 17 March 2012, thousands of people around the world awoke to the horror of the suicide of a young girl who had been forced to marry her rapist.

Her rapist was given the option of marrying the girl under Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code. This antiquated law allows for a rapist to marry his victim to escape prosecution. It is a law that has been used to justify a traditional practice of ‘preserving’ the honor of the woman's family by making the victim marry her victimizer or face certain death.

Amina Al Filali, 16, swallowed rat poison yesterday in protest of her marriage to the man who raped her a year earlier. Rape victims face numerous challenges in seeking justice and healing, but in cultures where the ‘honor’ of the family outweighs the rights of its ‘less valued’ members, a rape victim can be placed in an untenable predicament.

Moroccan families of rape victims, who have availed themselves of this resolution, admit that they coerce the victims into marrying their rapists out of fear that she won’t be able to find a husband if the community finds out that she has been raped.

In many societies throughout Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, the loss of a woman's virginity prior to marriage, not only reduces her ‘value,’ but causes a great scandal which ‘injures’ the entire family. The rape victim is thereby sacrificed so that the males who did not protect her can absolve themselves of further responsibility.

In the photo above, a Pakistani woman, Mukhtar Mai, was gang-raped in 2002 on orders of a traditional village council as punishment for acts allegedly committed by her younger brother. Rather than retreat into silence or commit suicide (the expected response when dishonor is brought to a family), Mukhtar Mai testified against the perpetrators. She used the compensation money she later received to build schools and a shelter for abused women.

As in the States, the burden of proof of rape rest solely on the victim’s ability to prove she was attacked and that she didn’t ‘ask’ for it by putting herself in a compromising situation. In countries where ‘honor’ killings are prevalent, a woman risks being prosecuted for debauchery if she is unable to prove that she was raped.

In the case of Amina, according to her father, Lahcen Filali, the court pushed the marriage, even though the perpetrator initially refused. He only consented when faced with a potential 5 to 10 years in prison, which is the penalty under Moroccan law for rape. However, because Amina was a minor when she was raped, her attacker would have faced 10 to 20 years if he chose to go to court.

Immediately after the marriage, Amina complained to her mother that her husband was beating her repeatedly with increasing ferocity during the five short months of their marriage. Her mother as much a victim of societal pressure and expectations as her daughter, counseled patience.

Amina was subjected first to rape, then to a child-marriage, and finally to repeated physical and psychological abuse at the hands of her rapist. In a society where she had no voice, she chose the only option available to her, to take her own life.

Ironically, it may be this act of desperation that is giving voice to the countless others who are stuck in similar nightmares. Though Morocco updated its family code in 2004, Fouzia Assouli, a women’s rights activists and president of Democratic League for Women's Rights, says there remains a long road to achieve equality.

'It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon,' she said. 'We have been asking for years for the cancellation of Article 475 of the penal code which allows the rapist to escape justice. In Morocco, the law protects public morality but not the individual and legislation outlawing all forms of violence against women, including rape within marriage, has been stuck in the government since 2006.’

In recent years, reports of young women who have been raped, and then sentenced to death by stoning, have been reported from Nigeria to Iran.

Last year the plight of rape victims in Afghanistan was featured in an European Union (EU) commissioned documentary about Afghan woman serving prison time for so-called “moral crimes.” The EU blocked the film’s release – saying it would endanger the women involved in the film. (Source: Aljazeera)

In an unfathomable abuse of justice, Gulnaz, 21, who was brutally raped by her husband’s cousin, was serving a 12-year sentence for adultery. While in prison, she was raising her infant daughter, who is the offspring of her attacker. By contrast, her rapist only received a 7-year sentence.

President Hamid Karzai, under immense international pressure finally agreed to pardon Gulnaz with ‘no conditions.’ Initial petitions for her freedom required that she marry her attacker, a stipulation which she categorically rejected.

Perhaps it was because of Amina’s youth, her parent’s pressure or unrelenting physical abuse, but unlike Gulnaz, Amina was not strong enough to hold onto hope or life. A Facebook page called 'We are all Amina Filali has been formed and an online petition calling for Morocco to end the practice of marrying rapists and their victims has already gathered more than 1,000 signatures.

Follow Nahmias Cipher Report on Twitter
Twitter: @nahmias_report Editor: @ayannanahmias

Vanquish of the Long Suicide

Vanquish of the Long Suicide

Abandonment is the worst sort of betrayal to recover from because as with the death of a suicide or murderer, the perpetrators are permanently absent from the healing process. Thus, the victims are forced into the unenviable position of trying to answer the unanswerable and suffer through the litany of unvoiced recriminations that can take root and blossom into bitterness. Like many people, I have suffered great and small tragedies throughout my life, but have come to place in my journey as a writer where I can share my experiences openly without shame. When my husband abandoned me when I was eight months pregnant with our son, it took several years of mourning, spiritual awakening and cognitive therapy, but I finally realized that the power to change my existence lay firmly in my grasp.

As an equestrian, who practices the discipline of dressage, and as an avid horse lover; the imagery evoked by the phrase 'back in the saddle' is rich and picturesque. Literally, it can imply one who has been thrown by a horse, and who must immediately get back up on the horse or risk becoming paralyzed by fear and thus unable to ride again; or one who has encountered some great personal tragedy in life, but must find away to move beyond this event and re-engage with life.

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