Washington State Chapter
Senator Cantwell's latest letter
Senator Maria Cantwell has sent another letter informing us that the American Lake Medical Facility is no longer under considerating for closing. Vancouver and Walla Walla are still on the list. Of course, if you go to a "safe" facility, you will find it a little more crowded after other facilities in the state are closed.
Write to Senator Cantwell and tell her why we need more and not less capacity for veterans' medical care.
Gagged by Congressman Brian Baird
On July 31, I was given notice that I am officially barred from asking questions at Congressman Brian Bairdís town meetings. He obviously did not like two questions I asked, one at the town meeting he held at Tumwater on May 27, 2003, and the other at Kelso on July 29, 2003. He also did not like the reaction of the people attending the meetings, who were disturbed by the facts I related. At his Olympia town meeting on July 31, Congressman Baird let me know that I had already asked my question at a meeting two days earlier and would not be permitted to ask any more. Several of the other persons at the meeting asked several questions.
So much for the democratic process!
The question asked at Tumwater was related to a comment Congressman Baird made about the government not being able to promote some relatively low-cost projects because it has no more money. I stated that I had been fired from the United States Forest Service for reporting several incidents of theft and fraud amounting to a total of about $300,000. I asked whether it would not be possible to obtain the funds for worthy projects by simply keeping Federal employees from stealing the money under their control. I cited a GAO report from the early 1980s, which estimated the loss to Federal agencies by fraud to run into the tens of billions of dollars, and a Department of Justice report made somewhat later stating that about 10% of the entire Federal budget was being fraudulently misappropriated. The audience became very concerned about this question, and Congressman Baird said that I should report my problems to his staff after the meeting. I answered that his staff already had a large file of documents I had given them over the past four years. After the meeting, he said that his staff members would take care of my problems and let me know about the action he would take.
The next day, I dropped some additional documents off at his office, and never heard another word from his staff.
At Kelso, I mentioned to him that Senator Cantwell had informed me that the Veteransí Medical Facilities at American Lake, Walla Walla, and Vancouver might be closed because of a shortage of funds. I stated that the $1.8 billion being cut from veteransí medical care by Congress was, by the most conservative estimate, only about 5% of the money being stolen or lost through fraud by Federal agencies. I asked whether it would be possible to do something about some of the fraud and theft so that the $1.8 billion could be restored to the veteransí budget. He said that he was limited in his power to do anything about my administrative problems. I answered that my question did not concern my problems but rather on the elimination of veteransí benefits because the money that should be paying for them is being stolen. I noted that several whistleblower organizations have stated that if a person works for the Federal Government and observes the person at the next desk stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars, he should not turn that person in. Under the present system, if he turns the thief in, he will be fired and blacklisted, and not only will the thief not be punished, he will probably be permitted to continue stealing. My own appeal before the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) had no chance of success because I am a Vietnam War veterans, and the MSPB has never once ruled in favor of a veteran. It is the agency responsible for enforcing USERRA and the VEOA in the Federal civil service.
Apparently these are facts that Congressman Baird does not want to hear, although the persons attending the town meeting were very disturbed to hear about what is going on. Nobody expressed disbelief. Apparently, the general public knows about the theft and fraud but does not know what to do about it. When a congressman says that this is not his problem, it does not make him look very good.
At Olympia, the question I was not allowed to ask concerns the House proposal to pay state employment services Federal grants for veteransí employment after rather than before veterans are actually placed in jobs. This bill has been emasculated in committee because the states want to continue receiving money from the United States Department of Labor to misappropriate for other purposes. The Veteransí Employment and Training Service (VETS) has a budget of $179,000,000 per year, mainly to donate to state employment services to give special services to veterans. Veterans do not receive these services. It is also responsible for investigating employment discrimination complaints from veterans. A response from VETS to my inquiry under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that VETS does not even keep track of the number of complaints it receives from veterans. However, of a total of 1029 complaints that it did keep on file in 2001, only 5 were brought to a United States District Court and 1 will actually be tried.
VETS just announced that it will begin formulating a set of regulations for itself. If this agency is only getting around to making rules for itself now, what has it been doing for the past 10 years? Will VETS begin doing anything before all of the veterans it is supposed to serve have died of old age?
What can be said of VETS can also be said of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, an agency of the Department of Labor that has wasted even more money than VETS. Some of its duties duplicate the work of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, while the rest just creates delays for veterans who wish to sue employers who discriminate against them for serving in an ďunpopular war.Ē The taxpayers would save billions if Congress would abolish such agencies and instead provide veterans with legal assistance in obtaining their benefits through the courts. A veteran recently told me he visited one of these Department of Labor offices in California at 2 p.m., and the civil servants there were getting ready to go home for the day.
Another question I have for Congressman Baird is his opinion on the bill to reform the law governing pay deductions from active and retired servicemen for former spouses. Although I am not personally affected by this law, a large number of veterans are. Under the laws now in force, it would be possible for a marriage swindler to marry three of four servicemen in succession over the years and then claim about half of the earnings of each after the successive divorces, with increases as the former spouses receive promotions after the divorce. While women were formerly the typical swindlers, the new role of women in the armed forces promises to attract male cons to this lucrative profession. His staff recently wrote to a veteran that Congressman Baird does not support changing the law, citing some odd logic. I think that it is time for Congressman Baird to explain his position on reforming this law.
In addition to making myself unpopular with my questions, I made some observations at the town meetings. One of them was the poor attendance. At Kelso, in a county which can boast of an unemployment rate of about 10%, Congressman Bairdís staff and a few people who seemed to be local reporters accounted for about 1/3 of the people attending. At Tumwater, the attendance had been better, but not by much. At Olympia, staff, public officials, reporters, and friends who spoke to the Congressman on a first name basis accounted for about half of the people attending. That meeting had the largest audience, which explains why my question would have made Congressman Baird particularly uncomfortable.
Even more disturbing than the general lack of attendance was the absence of any representative of the American Legion, VFW, or any other veteransí organization. One person in Kelso did raise the question of the proposed closing of the veteransí medical facilities in Washington, but he did not show any particular affiliation with a veteransí group. If veterans want to have anyone in Congress take them seriously, we have to bring our issues to the attention of the general public and also take them directly to our elected representatives whenever we have the chance. Are veterans really so satisfied with how the government treats them?
What would have been necessary to promote our issues was to have enough veterans at the meeting so that another veteran could raise the questions after I was gagged, and still another veteran could continue raising them after the second veteran was gagged, and so forth. As long as I am raising the questions alone, it is easy for the congressman to simply refuse to permit me to ask any.