Thursday, December 29, 2005

Don't Spend It All in One Place 

Our endlessly delightful colleague Avedon Carol informs us that the Pentagon is having to cut a corner here and there in order to thrive in today's increasingly competitive business environment:
The Army cannot account for $68 million in parts and tools shipped to contractors for repairs in 2004 because it does not demand receipts, congressional auditors said yesterday . . . .

Each year, the Army ships thousands of items, ranging from small tools to turbine engines, to private contractors for repair or alterations. Looking at data from two inventory control points, the GAO said 15 percent -- or $68 million -- of the unclassified shipments they analyzed "could not be confirmed as being received."

The GAO said an additional $481.7 million in unclassified items shipped for repair -- about 42 percent -- could not be reconciled with shipping records. Discrepancies were also found in records for 37 percent, or about $8.1 million in shipments, of classified parts and tools.
Luckily, the Pentagon takes these cost overruns quite seriously, and has found at least one area in which substantial savings might be realized by cutting back on waste and fraud:
The spiraling cost of post-traumatic stress disorder among war veterans has triggered a politically charged debate and ignited fears that the government is trying to limit expensive benefits for emotionally scarred troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the past five years, the number of veterans receiving compensation for the disorder commonly called PTSD has grown nearly seven times as fast as the number receiving benefits for disabilities in general, according to a report this year by the inspector general of the Department of Veterans Affairs. A total of 215,871 veterans received PTSD benefit payments last year at a cost of $4.3 billion, up from $1.7 billion in 1999 -- a jump of more than 150 percent.

Experts say the sharp increase does not begin to factor in the potential impact of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, because the increase is largely the result of Vietnam War vets seeking treatment decades after their combat experiences. Facing a budget crunch, experts within and outside the Veterans Affairs Department are raising concerns about fraudulent claims, wondering whether the structure of government benefits discourages healing, and even questioning the utility and objectivity of the diagnosis itself.

"On the one hand, it is good that people are reaching out for help," said Jeff Schrade, communications director for the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "At the same time, as more people reach out for help, it squeezes the budget further."

Among the issues being discussed, he said, was whether veterans who show signs of recovery should continue to receive disability compensation . . . .

Chris Frueh, director of the VA clinic in Charleston, S.C., said the department's disability system encourages some veterans to exaggerate symptoms and prolong problems in order to maintain eligibility for benefits.

"We have young men and women coming back from Iraq who are having PTSD and getting the message that this is a disorder they can't be treated for, and they will have to be on disability for the rest of their lives," said Frueh, a professor of public psychiatry at the Medical University of South Carolina. "My concern about the policies is that they create perverse incentives to stay ill. It is very tough to get better when you are trying to demonstrate how ill you are."
In other words, it is the thinnest of lines that separates the returning vet from the welfare queen. Noted commie Barbara Boxer recently introduced Senate Amendment #2634, which would have added to the army's financial woes by allocating an additional $500 million to treat returning vets who -- supposedly -- suffer from PTSD and substance abuse. She even had the bad taste to cite an e-mail from the widow of Capt. Michael Jon Pelkey, who took his own life some months after returning from Iraq:
Michael tried to seek help from the Fort Sill Mental Health facility but was discouraged that the appointments he was given were sometimes a month away. So, he called TRICARE and was told that he could receive outside therapy if it was categorized as "Family Therapy. Family therapy, marital counseling, or whatever they wanted to call it, we were desperate to save our marriage," Stefanie said.

In the two weeks prior to his death, the two saw an outside therapist authorized by TRICARE, as a couple, and individually. The therapist told Michael that he had PTSD and that she would recommend to his primary care physician that he be put on medication. "He was so excited and finally expressed to me that he could see a light at the end of the tunnel," Stefanie explained. "He finally had an answer to all of his problems and some of our marital troubles. It was an exciting day for us" . . . .

The last conversation I had with him was "Hey, when are you getting home? I'm hungry. I'm waiting for you guys to come home." And my father walked into the house, completely passed Michael. He was sitting in an overstuffed armchair. And he looked down at him and thought he was sleeping, and ... turned around and he said, "There's something not right." Michael was completely pale and there was a wet spot on his chest. And then my father saw the pistol on the floor of the living room. And he knew. He said he just went over and he touched him on his head and asked him, "What happened Michael?"
We are deeply relieved to report that fiscally responsible Senate Republicans saw through Capt. Pelkey's cynical grandstand play and killed the Boxer amendment, freeing up more money for the private contractors that our modern a-go-go army is compelled to grease.

How, then, is the Pentagon to make ends meet? Vast (and growing) numbers of servicepeople return home from the theatre of conflict in perfect health, only to develop, post facto, such retroactive, imaginary diseases such as "Gulf War Syndrome" or "PTSD"; the cost of their treatment often winds up costing the government far more than their services were worth. Mercenaries are attractive because they reduce DoD liability (and, as private entities, are unbound by treaties, regulations, local laws, etc.), but they tend to be far more expensive than volunteer servicepeople -- although it should be mentioned that a goodly chunk of their inflated salaries does find its way back into the pockets of administration cronies, where it belongs.

There is, however, an obvious solution.

You have undoubtedly read about conservative ideologues such as Grover Norquist, whose dream is to roll back the New Deal. But why should the modern conservative movement stop there? Roll back another seven decades! Think of the problems we might solve, the cash we might save, by repealing the 13th Amendment and reinstituting the press gang:
A proposal prohibiting defense contractor involvement in human trafficking for forced prostitution and labor was drafted by the Pentagon last summer, but five defense lobbying groups oppose key provisions and a final policy still appears to be months away, according to those involved and Defense Department records.

The lobbying groups opposing the plan say they're in favor of the idea in principle, but said they believe that implementing key portions of it overseas is unrealistic. They represent thousands of firms, including some of the industry's biggest names, such as DynCorp International and Halliburton subsidiary KBR, both of which have been linked to trafficking-related concerns . . . .

In a two-part series published in October, the Tribune detailed how Middle Eastern firms working under American subcontracts in Iraq, and a chain of human brokers beneath them, engaged in the kind of abuses condemned elsewhere by the U.S. government as human trafficking. KBR, the Halliburton subsidiary, relies on more than 200 subcontractors to carry out a multibillion-dollar U.S. Army contract for privatization of military support operations in the war zone.

The Tribune retraced the journey of 12 Nepali men recruited from poor villages in one of the most remote and impoverished corners of the world and documented a trail of deceit, fraud and negligence stretching into Iraq. The men were kidnapped from an unprotected caravan and executed en route to jobs at an American military base in 2004.

At the time, Halliburton said it was not responsible for the recruitment or hiring practices of its subcontractors, and the U.S. Army, which oversees the privatization contract, said questions about alleged misconduct "by subcontractor firms should be addressed to those firms, as these are not Army issues."
Human beings (especially foreigners) as private/corporate property: is there anything in the notion that strikes you as incompatible with the fundamental tenets of Bush-era conservatism?

Categories: , , , , ,

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us