Friday, January 30, 2009
Thu, Jan 29, 2009
RUSSIAN MILITARY officials say they have shelved plans to deploy missiles close to the European Union, in what analysts called a gesture of Kremlin goodwill towards new US president Barack Obama.
Following a telephone conversation between Mr Obama and Kremlin counterpart Dmitry Medvedev, an official in the Russian military’s general staff said the decision was a response to the new US leader’s stance on proposals to build a US-run missile defence system in eastern Europe.
The implementation of these plans has been halted because the new US administration is not rushing through plans to deploy interceptor missiles in Poland linked to a long-range radar in the Czech Republic, Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted the unnamed official as saying.
The Pentagon says those facilities are intended to track and shoot down long-range missiles fired by the likes of Iran and North Korea – what former US president George W Bush called “rogue states”.
Russia believes the system is actually aimed at reducing its own military capability, however, and it has been heartened by Mr Obama’s insistence that he will only build the facilities if they are absolutely necessary, are not prohibitively expensive, and are able to neutralise the threat of long-range missile strikes.
The day after Mr Obama won the US presidential election last November, Mr Medvedev announced that he would station Iskander missiles in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea wedged between EU members Poland and Lithuania. “The earlier Russian announcement that they were going to deploy missiles . . . and point them at Nato allies was unwelcome. If that decision has now been rescinded, it is a good step,” said Nato spokesman James Appathurai.
The US ambassador to Nato, Kurt Volker, said that “if true, this would of course be a very positive step.” Yevgeny Volk, of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Moscow, called the announcement “a signal to Obama of Moscow’s goodwill. In response they want a decision not to deploy the missile defence shield in eastern Europe”.
Analysts said Russia hoped Washington would take note of the help that it needs from Moscow in dealing with major international issues.
The US would like to use Russia and its ex-Soviet central Asian allies as a safe supply route to military forces in Afghanistan, and wants Moscow to support tougher sanctions against Iran until it halts its nuclear enrichment programme.
WASHINGTON (Jan. 30, 2009) - Today, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki praised President Barack Obama's intent to nominate W. Scott Gould as next Deputy Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Gould is currently vice president for public sector strategy at IBM Global Business Services and a former intelligence officer in the naval reserve. He has public service experience at both the departments of Commerce and Treasury.
Shinseki said, "Scott and I share a reverence for those who have served in uniform. He is fully committed to fulfilling President Obama's vision and my goals for transforming the Department of Veterans Affairs into a 21st Century organization, and he understands the fundamentals that will drive that transformation: Veteran-centric, results-oriented and forward looking."
Shinseki further said that Gould possesses a unique and wide-ranging set of skills in information technologies, acquisition, budget, human resources and leading the modernization of large, complex organizations. "Scott's expertise in these areas, as well as his broad experience in the public sector, the private sector and the military, will prove invaluable for better serving our Veterans," Shinseki added.
Gould worked in the public sector as the chief financial officer and assistant secretary for administration at the Commerce Department and deputy assistant secretary for finance and management at the Treasury Department from 1994 to 1999. As a White House Fellow, he worked at the Export-Import Bank of the United States and in the Office of the White House Chief of Staff.
Prior to his job at IBM, he was chief executive officer of The O'Gara Company, a strategic advisory and investment services firm, and chief operating officer of Exolve, a technology services company.
As a naval reservist, Gould served at sea aboard the guided missile destroyer Richard E. Byrd and as assistant professor of naval science at Rochester University. He was recalled to active duty for both Operation Noble Eagle and Enduring Freedom as a naval intelligence reservist.
During President Obama's campaign and after his election, Gould was co-chair of the National Veterans Policy Team, Obama for America, and co-chair of the Veterans Agency Review Team for the Presidential Transition Team.
A fellow of the National Academy of Public Administration, Gould is a former member of the National Security Agency's Technical Advisory Group and the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Board of Overseers. He has been awarded the Department of Commerce Medal, the Treasury Medal and the Navy Meritorious Service Medal and is coauthor of The People Factor: Strengthening America by Investing in the Public Service. He holds a bachelor of arts degree from Cornell University and a masters in business administration and a doctorate in education from the University of Rochester. Gould is married to Michèle A. Flournoy, and they have three children: Alec, Victoria and Aidan.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
Thursday 29 January 2009
by: Maya Schenwar, t r u t h o u t | Report
Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) bring the horrors of the battlefield home. Twenty-six percent of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who seek care at the VA have PTSD. (Photo: Joe Raedle / Getty Images)
As the number of veterans seeking health care continues to rise, the VA is straining to meet demands.
Amid talk of a drawdown of troops in Iraq, new statistics from the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (VA) show that US casualties are still climbing quickly. Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield injuries and deaths number 81,361, up from 72,043 last January, according to data obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request by Veterans for Common Sense (VCS). Veteran patients - including those who didn't seek care until their return home - shot up to 400,304 (from 263,909 in December 2007).
For the thousands of soldiers flooding the VA, mental illness tops the list of ailments. Forty-five percent of VA patients have already been diagnosed with mental health conditions, including a startling 105,000 diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These data do not include the incalculable number of mentally ill veterans who have not received a diagnosis or haven't sought treatment at the VA.
Health care for veterans has improved substantially in the past year, mostly due to legislative changes and funding boosts, according to Raymond Kelley, legislative director of AMVETS. The recently passed Dignity for Wounded Warriors Act entitles veterans to up to five years of free health care for military-related medical conditions. Other legislative victories include improvements to VA facilities, increased mental health care research and a boost for the claims processing system, which has been vastly understaffed and overburdened throughout the "war on terror."
However, many barriers to adequate care and compensation remain, particularly for veterans filing for disability benefits. Delays and denials of those claims are routine. Among vets with PTSD, 59 percent have not been approved for benefits, meaning that their claims are pending or rejected - or that, due to any number of deterrents, they have not filed a claim.
According to Paul Sullivan, executive director of VCS, the average wait-time for veterans to receive an answer after filing for disability compensation is more than six months. A recent VCS lawsuit against VA showed that PTSD patients face even longer delays.
"That's wrong and it needs to get fixed now, especially during the recession when the veteran may also be out of work due to their disability," Sullivan told Truthout. "While veterans wait, their homes are foreclosed. Renters are evicted. Cars are repossessed. Some families often lack food or utilities while VA dawdles endlessly. Many veterans become homeless waiting for disability benefits."
More than 809,000 veterans (from all wars and peacetime) are currently waiting on pending claims.
Sullivan points to the case of Iraq veteran Scott Eiswert, who committed suicide after the VA rejected his PTSD disability compensation claim for the third time. After his death, the VA went further, denying Eiswert's life insurance benefits.
Jennifer Pacanowski, an Iraq veteran now living in Pennsylvania, waited two and a half years to receive a PTSD diagnosis, and nine months for her PTSD claim to be processed. In the meantime, her mother paid for all her medical care. Most of Pacanowski's efforts to utilize the VA yielded only frustration.
"Every time I reached out to the VA for help, they tried to have me admitted into the psych ward, which scared me, since all I needed was to talk to someone," Pacanowski told Truthout. "My family doctor from childhood tried to help with meds and treatment but [dealing with] combat veterans was a completely new thing for him, so it was hit or miss, with months of med changes and severe depression and anxiety, so I could not function."
Pacanowski still can't get all she needs from the VA. Since receiving her diagnosis, she has been eligible for full mental health benefits. However, the VA is overbooked, crowded and understaffed, and can only offer Pacanowski an appointment once every three weeks. So her family still shoulders much of the burden, paying for a private psychologist who can fill in the gaps.
According to Kelley, some claims are adjudicated quickly - usually those of recently discharged vets with very clear medical documentation of their condition. However, if a veteran doesn't visit the VA soon after returning home, or can't supply what the VA deems clear documentation, the claim could linger for years.
Moreover, the VA's intimidating bureaucracy deters some veterans from filing a claim at all. The process is arduous and sometimes convoluted, and, since a positive result is never guaranteed, vets sometimes abandon their attempts.
"We understand from speaking with veterans that some veterans are discouraged from filing claims because the claim form is 23 pages," Sullivan said. "I have watched veterans turn away in disgust when handed the stack of redundant forms VA requires."
The current, bulky method for filing claims also leaves a high margin for error, increasing the chances of denial. VCS suggests shortening the claim form to one page. According to Kelley, veterans should consult an officer from a veterans' service organization before filing a claim, to make sure it is correct and complete.
Pacanowski points to other reasons why veterans - especially those with PTSD - avoid the VA.
"I know many veterans with PTSD from all wars," she said. "Most are afraid to go to the VA because of fear of judgment and the constant run-around you get … The vets I know that don't go to the VA receive most help from fellow veterans. Or try and forget."
Self-medication, including drugs and alcohol, is also a popular alternative to the intimidating bureaucracy of VA treatment, according to Pacanowski.
With the advent of the Obama administration, veterans' organizations are hopeful that many of their long-sought goals will be realized. The House Veterans' Affairs Committee, too, is looking to make significant headway under the new president. According to Rep. Bob Filner, chairman of the committee, top priorities include providing the VA with "sufficient and timely funding," expanding access to health care for veterans in rural areas, and rebuilding the compensation and benefits system.
"We have a remarkable opportunity to make progress this year when it comes to veterans' issues," Filner told Truthout. "President Obama has laid out an ambitious agenda and the House Veterans' Affairs Committee is committed to bringing results to our veterans and their families."
Kelley points to the stabilization of VA funding as a key priority for the coming years. Under the current system, the VA budget remains uncertain each year until the annual appropriations bills are passed. This makes it difficult to plan long-term projects or expand ongoing initiatives.
"There has been a long-running problem with VA receiving a sufficient, timely and predictable budget," Kelley told Truthout. "AMVETS supports legislation that will allow Congress to provide advanced appropriations for VA healthcare, allowing VA to know well in advance of their budget so they can begin hiring personnel and planning infrastructure projects."
VCS is pushing for another measure to increase efficiency at the VA: automatic approval of disability claims for Iraq, Afghanistan and Gulf War veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD. The extra claim-approval step often means months or years of painful limbo for ill veterans, and according to Sullivan, eliminating it would be a legally and scientifically sound move.
Filner confirmed that when it comes to the claims process, the VA has a long way to go. Moving into the new governmental climate, he stresses the urgency of addressing the issues keeping patients from receiving proper treatment.
"We must make progress in rebuilding the VA's broken benefits system," Filner said. "We need to thank veterans for their service by granting their claims and providing appropriate care."
Maya Schenwar is an editor and reporter for Truthout.
David Nelson will be forever grateful to the American Legion’s Department of Veterans Affairs and the Sherburne County Veterans Service Office for helping him get back his disability benefits.
Nelson, who served for one year in combat in Vietnam, developed a form of cancer traced to the military’s use of Agent Orange, used to defoliate the combat area.
He chose the American Legion as his advocate after he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer in his abdomen and lungs.
For three years he received 100 percent of federal veterans benefits; that was cut 70 percent and finally to 0 percent.
Using his chosen advocate, the American Legion, and with the help of Veterans Service Officer Launette (LaBrie) Figliuzzi, Nelson appealed the entire loss of his benefits. He and the Legion won, and today he is receiving 30 percent of monthly benefit checks.
Last October, after five years, Nelson learned he is cancer free.
Interceding for veterans is one of the benefits for Legion members needing aid at the state level, where legal help is provided for veterans who have claims with the Federal Veterans Administration.
Nelson’s membership entitles him to life insurance, financial and medical help and lobbying for veteran-related legislation at the state and national level.
He belongs to Elk River American Legion Post 112, which is facing financial difficulty for all kinds of reasons. He receives the post’s newsletter and has a chance to be active in the post’s activities. The local organization has over 500 members who pay annual dues of $35, of which $26.50 goes to state and national dues.
Like other members, Nelson is aging and can no longer participate as he once did. Young veterans aren’t joining the Legion or other service organizations, claiming they are too busy to be involved.
The Elk River American Legion Post was chartered in 1919. It attracted World War I and II veterans and later Korean and Vietnam veterans. To belong, a member must have served in the military during war time.
In the 1950s, they built a post home near Main Street and Highway 10, including a hall and a bar, which became the meeting and activity center in the village. Back then, the Legion club was a place for members and auxiliary members to meet, to socialize and in some cases, to share their demons resulting from combat.
They sponsored ball teams, school patrol training, Boys and Girls State (where youth learn how government works), Americanism essays, organized honor guards, officiated at military funerals and donated blood for veterans.
Members also were the bartenders, the custodians and the fixers. They marched in parades, built ball diamonds, sponsored Memorial Day services and participated in Veterans Day observances.
They also became involved in charitable gambling (pull tabs), which at first produced lots of money to give away to community groups, particularly youth groups and the public schools. Flush with gambling dollars, members lost some interest in having fund raisers and staying involved in the post.
At first the Legion donated $130,000 to $140,000 a year from charitable gambling until the state tripled its take from the proceeds. That increase plus 50 percent fewer sales has reduced the donation to community causes to $2,000.
As members grew older they didn’t hang around the club as much, and more stayed away when smoking was banned and the blood alcohol level for driving was lowered to .08.
Last year was a downer for spending because the roof had to be repaired and the parking lot resurfaced.
Property taxes are at $26,000; license fees are $8,000 and now the bartenders and waiters need to be paid. The club’s three operations lost $86,000 and needs a 15 percent increase in revenues to stay open.
Can the Legion club operations be saved?
Organizations continue even when buildings are shut down. What’s happening in Elk River is happening throughout the country. Only Elk River and Zimmerman run club houses in Sherburne County. They’ve been shut down in Princeton, Becker and Big Lake.
At the state level, the membership has dropped from 137,000 to 103,000 since 1991. Still, the state organization has 28 percent of eligible veterans, the highest penetration in the country.
Figliuzzi says the Elk River post is involved and is an integral part of getting benefits for veterans — like David Nelson. It was the American Legion who referred Nelson to Figliuzzi, just as it has counseled and referred many others for benefits in its history.
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Purple Hearts: A Cold-Blooded Decision
Conn Hallinan | January 28, 2009
Editor: John Feffer
Foreign Policy In Focus
Behind the recent Pentagon decision to deny Purple Heart medals to soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a cold-blooded calculation: It saves money.
The official rationale for refusing to honor what is widely considered the "signature wound" of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that PTSD, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez, is "an anxiety disorder caused by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event," not "a wound intentionally caused by the enemy."
But a recent study by the Rand Corporation found that up to 320,000 vets returning from the two conflicts suffer from Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI), a condition whose symptoms are almost indistinguishable from PTSD. Virtually all MTBI injuries are the result of roadside bombs, also known as improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
What is MTBI?
MTBI is a slippery beast. Its symptoms range from depression and uncontrolled rages to digestive problems, emotional disengagement, blinding headaches, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction. MTBI is also associated with higher suicide rates.
"It is a complicated injury to the most complicated part of the body," says Dr. Alisa Glean, a chief of neuroradiology at San Francisco General Hospital and author of the standard text for imaging MTBI, who has been working with wounded soldiers at the Army's Regional Medical Center at Landstuhl, Germany.
MTBI doesn't show up on CAT scans, and its symptoms may not manifest themselves for several months or even years. There isn't even full agreement on exactly what causes it. Some researchers think it's just a concussion on steroids. But others point to injured tissue deep in the brain, which can't be explained by a simple concussion hypothesis.
Whatever its origins, the consequences for sufferers can be catastrophic.
One of the major effects of MTBI is what Dr. Judith Landau, a psychiatrist who works with veterans' families, calls "identity ambiguity: people who were decisive become indecisive. People who were charming become withdrawn." She sees soldiers who "left as a good son, a good father, and a good husband" suddenly "start hitting their children, can't have sex, start drinking too much, talking too loud."
Like a stone thrown into a pond, this behavior ripples out to family, friends, and coworkers. "There is a 70% chance that relationships will break down" after a person suffers from MTBI, says Landau.
It’s possible to recover from MTBI, but the process may be long — sometimes from five to 10 years, according to Landau — and expensive. Some estimates reach at least $14 billion over the next 20 years.
Purple Heart awardees are entitled to enhanced benefits, including exemptions from co-payments for hospital and outpatient care. They are also fast-tracked for getting appointments for medical care and psychological services.
Soldiers come home to few psychological services and virtually no individual therapy. It isn't uncommon to wait several months to see a therapist, and then only once a month. MTBI sufferers may see as many as seven different therapists.
The military has made little effort to deal with MTBI and PTSD. Soldiers suffering from PTSD outnumber amputees at Walter Reed Hospital 43 to 1, but there is no PTSD center. After diagnosis, sufferers usually go to the hospital's psych division, where they are housed with bipolar and schizophrenic patients and tanked up with drugs. A study by Veterans for America (VFA) found that some soldiers were taking up to 20 different medications at once, some of which canceled out others.
The military has lost 22% of its psychologists over the past several years, mostly to burn-out. Soldiers have difficulty finding private therapists because the Department of Veterans Affairs pays below market rates and even cut those reimbursements in 2007. About 30% of private psychologists won't take on military patients because they can't afford to. The situation is worse for the National Guard and Reserves, who make up almost 50% of the troops deployed in both wars and who, according to VFA, "are experiencing rates of mental health problems 44% higher than their active duty counterparts." Health care for such troops is generally inferior — and more expensive — than that offered full-time regulars.
Many soldiers are also reluctant to report their symptoms because they are afraid it will keep them from getting a promotion or landing a job once they leave the military. Only 53% of those diagnosed with MTBI sought help and, according to the Rand Study, "roughly one-half got minimally adequate care."
Worse, solders who report behavioral difficulties may find themselves discharged from the service, with the consequent loss of medical care. They may even be billed for their recruitment bonus.
PTSD and MTBI both result from deployment in combat zones. Large numbers of these soldiers were exposed to IEDs — the number-one cause of death and injury in Iraq and Afghanistan — but many didn’t suffer visible injuries. To make "shedding blood" the only criterion for being awarded a Purple Heart (and the benefits that go with it) is to deny the nature of the wars the United States is currently fighting.
Time for a Change
In contrast, the Canadian military awards a Sacrifice Medal to those who have suffered "mental disorders that are, based on a review by a qualified mental healthcare practitioner, directly attributable to a hostile or perceived hostile action."
A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail charged that the Pentagon's decision applies "19th century medical standards to what constitutes injury," and that the ruling "will further stigmatize mental illness and fails a group of veterans whose sacrifices can be every bit as great as those with physical injuries."
In his recent testimony before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, the new director of the Department of Veteran Affairs, Gen. Eric Shinseki (Ret.), promised to care for wounded veterans "bearing scars of battle, some visible and many others invisible," and to "treat our veterans with dignity and respect."
These are fine words, but so far the military has stubbornly resisted treating these so-called "unseen damage" injuries that Iraq and Afghanistan is inflicting on U.S. soldiers. "Many soldiers and veterans are waiting months, often years, for mental healthcare and disability benefits," says Veterans for Common Sense director Paul Sullivan.
Fewer than half of those Iraq and Afghanistan vets diagnosed with PTSD or MTBI have received disability benefits. One Veterans Affairs psychologist in Texas even urged VA staff to "refrain from giving a PTSD diagnosis" and consider instead "a diagnosis of adjustment disorder." PTSD sufferers receive up to $2,527 a month, adjustment disorders significantly less.
Terri Tanielian, the co-leader of the Rand Corporation study, says, "There is a major health crisis facing those men and women who have served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unless they receive appropriate and effective care for these mental health conditions, there will be long-term consequences for them and for the nation. Unfortunately, we found there are many barriers preventing them from getting the high-quality treatment they need."
The major barrier is pentagon-shaped. And the bottom line is that, given a choice between buying fancy weapons systems and taking care of soldiers damaged by war, the military will always choose the former over the latter.
The Pentagon has decided that it will not award the Purple Heart, the hallowed medal given to those wounded or killed by enemy action, to war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical wound.
Readers shared their thoughts on this article.
The decision, made public on Tuesday, for now ends the hope of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have the condition and believed that the Purple Hearts could honor their sacrifice and help remove some of the stigma associated with the condition.
The disorder, which may go unrecognized for months or years, can include recurring nightmares, uncontrolled rage and, sometimes, severe depression and suicide. Soldiers grappling with PTSD are often unable to hold down jobs.
In May, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said awarding Purple Hearts to such service members was “clearly something that needs to be looked at,” after he toured a mental health center at Fort Bliss, Tex.
But a Pentagon advisory group decided against the award because, it said, the condition had not been intentionally caused by enemy action, like a bomb or bullet, and because it remained difficult to diagnose and quantify.
“Historically, the Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental disorders or psychological conditions resulting from witnessing or experiencing traumatic combat events,” said Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman. “Current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time.”
One in five service members, or at least 300,000, suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, according to a Rand Corporation study in 2008.
For some soldiers suffering from the disorder, the historical distinction between blood and no blood in an injury fails to recognize the depths of their mental scars. A modern war — one fought without safe havens and with the benefit of improved armor — calls for a new definition of injuries, some veterans say.
Kevin Owsley, 47, who served in the Ohio National Guard in 2004 as a gunner on a Humvee and who is being treated for PTSD and traumatic brain injury, said he disagreed with the Pentagon’s ruling.
Unable to hold a job, Mr. Owsley supports his family on disability payments. This week he told his Veterans Affairs doctor he was fighting back suicidal impulses, something he has struggled with since his return. “You relive it every night and every day,” he said. “You dream about it. You can see it, taste it, see people getting killed constantly over and over.”
“It is a soldier’s injury,” he said, angrily, in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
But many soldiers do not feel that way. In online debates and interviews they expressed concern that the Purple Heart would be awarded to soldiers who faked symptoms to avoid combat or receive a higher disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“I’m glad they finally got something right,” said Jeremy Rausch, an Army staff sergeant who saw some of the Iraq War’s fiercest fighting in Adhamiya in 2006 and 2007. “PTSD can be serious, but there is absolutely no way to prove that someone truly is suffering from it or faking it.”
The Purple Heart in its modern form was established by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1932. Some 1.7 million service members have received the medal, and, as of last August, 2,743 service members who served in Afghanistan and 33,923 who fought in Iraq had received the award.
The medal entitles veterans to enhanced benefits, including exemptions from co-payments for veterans hospital and outpatient care and gives them higher priority in scheduling appointments.
The Pentagon left open the possibility that it could revisit the issue.
But a Pentagon-supported service group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, has strongly opposed expanding the definition to include psychological symptoms, saying it would “debase” the honor.
“Would you award it to anyone who suffered the effects of chemicals or for other diseases and illnesses?” John E. Bircher III, director of public relations for the group, said Wednesday. “How far do you want to take it?”
Post-traumatic stress disorder was first identified during the Vietnam War and has gradually been accepted as a serious psychological problem for some who experience violence and fear.
Dr. Barbara V. Romberg, a psychologist in Bethesda, Md., and founder of Give an Hour, which offers mental health services to troops and their families, said that she and many other psychologists believed the discussion of Purple Hearts had brought more attention to post-traumatic stress disorder and the seriousness of psychological wounds suffered on the battlefield.
“We’re working to normalize post-traumatic stress as an understandable human consequence of war that can result in very serious damage to some people’s lives, and they deserve honoring for that,” she said.
“But I don’t want to be so quick to condemn the decision,” she added.
Many have post-traumatic stress, but only some develop a serious lasting disorder; in both cases, she said, “people deserve to be honored in some way for the injury they received in combat.”
After years of criticism for ignoring the problem, the Defense Department and the Veterans Administration have bolstered their capacity to diagnose and treat PTSD, and those with serious cases may receive substantial disability benefits. Some of those suffering from severe traumatic brain injuries qualify for a Purple Heart because they required medical treatment.
But in its decision not to extend Purple Hearts to PTSD sufferers, first reported Tuesday by Stars and Stripes, the Pentagon said part of the problem stemmed from the difficulty in objectively diagnosing the disorder.
That decision was made in November. It was not clear why the Pentagon did not announce the decision then.
There have been recent changes in awarding Purple Hearts. The criteria was expanded in 2008 to include all prisoners of war who died in captivity, including those who were tortured. “There were wounds there,” Mr. Bircher said.“You have to had shed blood by an instrument of war at the hands of the enemy of the United States,” he said. “Shedding blood is the objective.”
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
(The Denver Post)
If there is anything that angers and saddens the aging veterans of Korea it is that theirs is the Forgotten War — "orphaned by history," in David Halberstam's phrase. Often it was not even called a war, but a "police action."
Make no mistake, a war it definitely was, particularly in its first year (it lasted from 1950 to 1953). Within its overall savagery, nothing was worse than the harrowing effort by the 1st Marine Division (and some Army elements) to break out of Chinese encirclement near the Chosin Reservoir in the frozen desolation of northeastern North Korea in late November and early December 1950. Next to the Inchon Landing of September 1950, it is probably the war's most famous episode.
The story has been told several times, most notably a decade ago by Korea veteran Martin Russ in "Breakout: The Chosin Reservoir Campaign, Korea 1950."
In "The Last Stand of Fox Company," Bob Drury and Tom Clavin, authors of "Halsey's Typhoon," focus on one sustained struggle of that breakout, the stand of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, against overwhelming Communist Chinese forces at a place called Fox Hill in the Toktong Pass west of the reservoir from Nov. 27 to Dec. 3, 1950.
This was six months after North Korea invaded South Korea. By this point, after the two sides had chased each other up and down the peninsula, the North Koreans were definitely on the run from the U.N. forces headed by the United States.
But Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of U.N. forces, was determined to take the war up to and perhaps into China in the face of warnings from the Chinese and explicit orders to the contrary from the Truman administration. One critic called it MacArthur's "deranged blood lust."
Drury and Clavin confirm what Halberstam and other historians have shown: that MacArthur arrogantly and stubbornly refused to accept the reality that military intelligence was telling him (and that soldiers on the ground knew)
— that there already were huge numbers of Chinese troops in North Korea.
It was a terrible fight in a terrible place. Temperatures, worsened by screaming winds, reached 30 below zero. Men were laid low by frostbite and by digestive problems caused by eating frozen C rations. Weapons refused to function properly in the extreme cold.
The Chinese frequently fired at the legs of their enemy, knowing that this might incapacitate three men: the wounded Marine and the two others it took to carry him to safety. The Marines, however, functioned as they always had, with esprit, cohesiveness and camaraderie.
They fought against overwhelming odds — 7-, 8-, even 10-to-one. A company against a Chinese regiment, a battalion against a division.
The Chinese were profligate in expending lives. One Marine said it was possible to walk around Fox Company's position without touching the ground, using Chinese bodies as a carpet.
They fought themselves out of an impossible situation. The famous (and often derided) statement attributed to Marine Maj. Gen. Oliver P. Smith, "Retreat, hell — we're attacking in another direction!," has more than a touch of truth to it. You can't retreat when you're surrounded; you can only attack.
And so, with Fox Company guarding the rear, they "attacked" down a miles-long, days-long, ice-encased gantlet of withering fire by the Chinese, bringing with them their vehicles, their wounded and their dead until they reached the relative safety of Hagaru-ri early in the morning of Dec. 4.
At roll call Dec. 5, out of the original 192 officers and enlisted men of Fox Company, 60 were still able to fight, which they did in later battles, where still more were wounded or killed. Of the 131 Medals of Honor earned in Korea, two went to members of Fox Company.
The authors tell a terrific story thrillingly, occasionally borrowing the rough colloquial language of the Marines. Maps are excellent. The book is, like many good military narratives, in large part a series of individual stories. This brings some humanity to the savagery and helps the reader comprehend the bewildering, swiftly changing combat.
Forgotten War? It's worse than that. It is so forgotten that Americans don't even know it's called the Forgotten War.
Justly famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote about the infantrymen of World War II, calling them "Brave Men." None were braver than these, who had no Pyle to memorialize them.
Roger K. Miller is a freelance writer and editor, and author of "Invisible Hero," a novel of the Korean War.
The USA is concerned about the Russian military threat. The US Congress asked President Obama to continue the purchase of F-22 Raptor fighter jets to guarantee the interests of the national security and the economy of the United States.US congressmen believe that it will become a good response to the modernization of Russia’s powerful missile systems known as SA-20 - the export designation of S-300 and S-400 complexes. Military experts Alexander Khramchikhin, Vladislav Shurygin, Anatoly Tsyganok and Konstantin Sivkov gave their comments to Pravda.ru in this connection.
It goes without saying that US congressmen exaggerate the “Russian threat.” The legendary S-400 system is not meant for export and cannot be found anywhere outside Russia. Furthermore, the Russian army has only two divisions armed with S-400 missile complexes, but the systems raise concerns with the United States anyway.
Konstantin Sivkov, the vice president of the Academy for Geopolitical Sciences, believes that the F-22 fighter jets pose a great danger to any modern missile defense system. “This aircraft has a wide range of opportunities to defeat the system. Its stealth element makes it inconspicuous for anti-aircraft systems. One has to add the enormous speed, which the aircraft develops, its maneuverability and its airborne equipment. All of that makes it a very powerful and dangerous aircraft,” he said.
An expert with the Institute of the Military and Political Analysis, Alexander Khramchikhin, believes that the statement from the US congressmen was a typical lobbying method, which they practiced for decades. “Russia exported S-300 systems to a very limited number of countries. We can not sell the S-400 system to anyone for a number of reasons. The Americans are dodging, because air defense facilities are not categorized as offensive weapons, and consequently, they cannot pose a threat to them. They only want to enhance their defense complex,” the expert believes.
“The US fighter jet of the fifth generation, F-22 Raptor, is a very strong weapon. However, one should not overestimate its abilities. It is radar-detectable and it is destructible, no matter what they might say. I have to say that the Americans are dodging when they talk about the danger of S-300 and S-400 systems. These systems are categorized as defensive arms – they cannot be used for attacking anyone. Therefore, the United States simply wants to continue its rearmament program to become absolutely predominant over any potential enemy,” the expert told Pravda.ru.
natoly Tsygankov, an expert with the Institute of Military and Political Analysis, said that the initiative of US congressmen revealed a military gap between Russia and the USA . “The USA has fifth-generation aircraft, but we have not started even testing it. However, there is no sensation about the suggestion from US congressmen. They most likely want to purchase the weapons, which they may not even use in the near future,” he said.
To put it in a nutshell, the myth about “the Russian threat” is just a feed box for the US defense industry.
The Pentagon previously planned to rearm the nation’s Air Force with F-22 aircraft. The jet was supposed to replace F-15 and F-16 fighters which make the basis of the US Air Force. However, the cost of Raptors skyrocketed due to the introduction of ultra modern expensive technologies. It costs $137.5 million to make one Raptor, whereas the full price makes up $361 million.
Nevertheless, US hawks demand the completion of at least the first batch of F-22 planes – 188 aircraft - claiming that potential adversaries already conduct active works to challenge the power of US Raptors. They mean Russia and China here first and foremost, saying that the two countries may have fifth-generation fighter jets during the upcoming five or ten years.
The deployment of F-22 jets in Japan, the Philippines and in Taiwan means that the planes will be meant to intimidate other countries too. The development of the F-22 fleet will most likely be aimed to restrain China’s ambitions which also has S-300 missile systems in its arsenal. It is worthy of note that not only did Beijing purchase the systems per se, but it also acquired a license to produce one of its modifications - S-300PMU-1, or Honggi-10 (HQ-10).
Raptors could be tested in Iran (this country also owns S-300 systems) and other countries that do not wish to dance to the US tunes. To crown it all, US defense officials would like to see how their Raptors would work in a real battle against S-300 complexes. This could be done in 13 countries, which have the S-300 system in their arsenal: Algeria, Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Hungary, Vietnam, Greece, India, Kazakhstan, Cyprus, Syria, Slovakia and Ukraine .
Vietnam is history, but Iran, Belarus and Syria make the group of the most problematic countries for the US administration.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
In the final days of the first Gulf War in Iraq, Mark Nieves was a soldier in a unit assigned to destroying munitions dumps. When the war was over, he came home to Seattle and started college, joining reserve officers' training to further his career in the military. His body, however, had other plans. As a junior in his 20s, Nieves began to notice that he couldn't exercise without becoming unusually winded. He became drowsy and lethargic, saw blood in his stool and, after exercising, he started breaking out in head-to-foot hives the size of dollar bills - a condition for which he sought help early on from the Seattle veterans hospital, only to regret it.
Saturday, January 24, 2009
Veterans in the town of Ellicott and villages of Celoron and Falconer are now able to lower property taxes through the Cold War Veterans Tax Exemption.
The Cold War Veterans exemption is an addition to two previously available tax exemptions. The Eligible Funds Exemption provides a partial exemption on property owned by a veteran or other designated persons, who purchased the property with pension, bonus or insurance money. The Alternative Veteran's Exemption applies only to veterans residential property who served during wartime or received an expeditionary medal.
Now, a third local law unanimously passed by the Chautauqua County Legislature will allow municipalities to provide the option for tax exemptions to Cold War Veterans.
Marsha Painter, town of Ellicott assessor, suggests that each veteran bring their discharge papers and disability rating when contacting their assessor's office to make sure they have all the benefits they are entitled to.
''They have earned this type of exemption by serving in the military. Our office would be happy to help them fill out the forms,'' Painter said.
In order to be eligible for the Cold War Veteran's Tax Exemption, the veteran must not already receive the eligible funds or alternative veteran's exemption. Other eligibility requirements for the Cold War Veteran's Tax Exemption include:
Available only to veterans who served active duty, excluding training, in the United States Armed Forces between Sept. 2, 1945 and Dec. 26, 1991.
The legal title of the property must be in the name of the veteran, the spouse of the veteran if the surviving spouse hasn't remarried, or both the veteran and spouse.
Exemptions may be combined if the property is owned by more than one qualified owner.
The property must be exclusively used for residential purposes and must be the primary residence of a Cold War Veteran, the spouse of the veteran if the surviving spouse hasn't remarried, unless that person is absent from the property due to medical reasons or be institutionalized.
If a portion of the property is used for non-residential purposes, the exemption will apply only to that portion of the property used exclusively for residential purposes. For example, a two-family home where the veteran owner resides downstairs and rents out the other apartment.
The percentage amount of the Cold War Veteran's Tax Exemption passed by the county is 15 percent, with a maximum of $6,000.
For the Cold War Disabled Veteran, the percentage amount passed is 50 percent of disability with a maximum of $20,000.
All exemption forms must be filed by March 1. If the veteran files by this date and qualifies, the first exemption will be on the 2010 county taxes.
The Cold War Veteran's Tax Exemption is good for a period of 10 years.
The Cold War Veteran's Tax Exemption is not granted for special ad valorem levies and special assessments.
Forms can be found online at www.orps.state.ny.us or at the assessor's office.
Hi all you regular Veteran readers!. I want to especially call out to you new Vets in V.A. Land. All you Kuwait Vets, Iraq, Afganistan, and all the rest of the the Non-Wars our warriors are used for. Here is a quick look into the window of the future for you as you get older.
Friday, January 23, 2009
NORTH TONAWANDA — Cold War veterans got the property tax breaks they had asked for, but wartime vets were still pleading their case Tuesday before the Common Council.
The Council approved tax exemptions for Cold War veterans — those who served in the military from 1945 to 1991 but didn’t see action. About 50 Cold War veterans have so far applied for the exemptions, which allow for 10 percent reductions in the assessed value of their properties. The average property assessment in North Tonawanda is $100,000.
Wartime veterans showed up in strength for a second time asking that the ceiling on their property tax exemptions be increased to $120,000, a $40,000 hike over the current ceiling.
As before, when the wartime veterans went to the Council more than a month ago, no action was taken on the matter. Some Council members expressed their support for the increased exemption, notably Alderman Dennis Pasiak, a disabled Korean War veteran whose father, uncles and two sons all served in the military.
The maximum property tax exemption for veterans in North Tonawanda is currently $80,000, and the request for the $120,000 ceiling wouldn’t take effect until 2010.
North Tonawanda lags far behind neighboring communities, said Tom Konopka, a Vietnam veteran and a director of Western New York Chapter 77, Vietnam Veterans of America.
The tax ceiling for wartime veterans’ exemptions in Amherst is $240,000, with the City of Tonawanda setting it at $140,000. The mayor of Tonawanda is Ron Pilozzi, a wounded Vietnam veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart.
“We’re not going away,” vowed Konopka, who was at the Council meeting with several other wartime veterans. “We’re going to keep pushing for this. We fought for it and we earned it.”
Konopka added that the local Vietnam veterans chapter does a lot for the community, including funding scholarships for high school seniors and running a food pantry for needy families. The scholarship is in memory of Sgt. Peter Tycz, the first Western New Yorker to be killed in Afghanistan.
The show of force of the local veterans coincided with the Council’s welcome home to Robert Ortt, a National Guardsman who has just returned from a year’s tour of duty in Afghanistan.
The 29-year-old North Tonawanda resident will take up new duties March 1 as the city’s treasurer/clerk, a position that combines two jobs, since the post of city clerk will be eliminated Feb. 27.
Marines & Marine Supporters - My apologies if you receive this invitation twice, but please take a moment to pass this invite along to any New York Marines that you may know. Art Gorman is an accomplished Marine and this event is not to be missed.
New York Marine Executive Association
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Happy New Year on behalf of the newly-formed New York City Chapter of the Marine Executive Association. Please join us for the official dedication of the New York City Chapter of MEA, an organization which has been supporting Marines in the business community for over twenty years.
The event will be held on Tuesday, January 27th at 6:30 p.m. on the second floor of the Soldiers', Sailors', Marines' Coast Guard and Airmen's Club at 283 Lexington Avenue (at 37th Street) in Manhattan. Light food and soft drinks will be provided. A cash bar will also be available.
We are pleased to announce that Lt.Col Art Gorman, USMC (Ret) as our first quarterly guest speaker. Mr. Gorman will offer his thoughts on transitioning from the Marines to the business world and the importance of Marine Corps connections. As Chief Operating Officer for Public Finance at Merrill Lynch and an active Marine supporter in NYC, Mr. Gorman has a lot to offer on this topic.
Marines, we hope you will join us to kick-off what we envision becoming a strong, well-organized and enduring support organization to our community in the greater New York area. Your feedback and suggestions are always invited.
Please honor us with your presence. RSVP requested, please e-mail: djmcsweeney@ gmail.com
Respectfully and Semper Fidelis,
New York Marine Executive Association
Michael Hallinan, President
Justin Bales, Secretary
Rob Devlin, Vice President
John Manley, Treasurer
Dan McSweeney, Vice President
Please signup for future emails - http://marine. meetup.com/ 11/
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Every inaugurated president for the last 56 years has attended the Salute to Heroes Ball. Except one.
Here it is less than 72 hours into a new administration and the blogs have already been burning up the internet over a major snub by our new president.
What is the slight that they’re feeling? What’s got them all bunched up? A party — one the new president failed to show up for.
Every four years during inauguration evening (the galas began in 1809), groups vie for a visit from the incoming president, his wife, and anyone from his ticket. For decades, the “official” and “unofficial” galas have hoped to get a short visit from the president. He would take a few turns on the dance floor, say a few words to those gathered, and move on to the next one. Typically, these galas and balls consist of groups of people that have a common theme or background — from youth groups (H.O.P.E. Inaugural Youth Ball) to the National Council on Women ball. Which ones the new president attends say much about his priorities (right or wrong) and which demographics he may hold in high esteem.
In this case, the American Legion, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America, as well as other veteran’s groups, were sponsoring their gala that has coincided with the inaugural evening since Eisenhower took office in 1953. In total, nine presidents and 56 years have gone by, and each inaugural evening the new president arrived to thank the veterans and Medal of Honor recipients in attendance. As one of the “unofficial” balls, it meant quite a bit to have the president show up and make an appearance.
Except this time.
The president and first lady, for the first time in those ensuing 56 years, did not make an appearance at the Salute to Heroes Inaugural Ball. In attendance at the gala were 48 of the 99 living recipients of our nation’s highest honor. Of the 99 who are still with us, not even half are in any condition or possess the wherewithal to travel to such an event. And by the next inauguration, likely half of those won’t be with us.
Making this evening even more special was the fact that it is the 50th anniversary of the Medal of Honor Society, which has been working hard to reach out to people to educate them about its members.
The new president’s perceived “slights” against the military have made veterans and military members quite sensitive to how President Obama treats them. From calling for a pullout from Iraq during the campaign to forgoing a visit to injured GWOT vets in Germany, we have kept an eye on his every move and decision with regards to our nation’s finest. This “change” appears to have set the tone for the rest of his administration. To forgo a tradition of greeting the veterans who’ve received the highest honor in order to attend galas featuring Hollywood elites was just a bit too much to bear.
Even in his inaugural address to the nation, he mentioned the sacrifices of veterans of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, but failed to mention (or deliberately ignored) the veterans of our current sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan. That gives more credence to the feeling that he just no longer cares about the sacrifices being made on behalf of our country and the service that so many Americans have made over the years.
In the blogsphere, reaction was swift and vocal. At the blog This Ain’t Hell But You Can See It from Here, which was one of the first to post on this issue, writer “TSO” writes about his getting to meet and interview six of the Medal of Honor recipients at the gathering. He was there to meet the heroes and also to get a chance to see the president (given the former tradition of his attending). Jonn Lilyea, of the same blog, then calls attention to the fact that the president did not attend. The negative comments were swift in coming, with most of them being unprintable.
In a fair and just world this country would accept no excuse and no reason for this snub and he’d be held in scorn for this. But since he has no honor, nor do many/most of his supporters they’ll overlook this issue. (Shovelhead)
And that was just one of the nicer ones.
From commenters at Ace of Spades:
The judgment question isn’t that he should’ve gone to this and didn’t; it’s that he could’ve gone to this and didn’t. (Firehorse)
Little Green Footballs had over one thousand comments on the issue. Suffice it to say, none were any prettier than those above.
The fact that all the other presidents, of both parties, were able to attend the ball and not be seen as choosing Hollywood and rappers over sacrifice and honor says volumes about our new president and the direction he is taking us.
Two days into his job as president and he’s already got a lot of ground to make up with those who truly count — the ones who’ve laid down their lives for their country.
Dear President Obama,
I am writing you today on behalf of American veterans who served during the Cold War era 1945-1991. We served all over. The Cold War was global in nature, and many facets and changing strategic considerations. During some parts of the period, actual shooting wars were involved, Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Beirut, and Persian Gulf . Many of the losses in the Cold War were on missions that were under the veil of secrecy. A total of 123 of those lost (in addition to those of the Korean and Vietnam wars) are still classified as Missing in Action (MIA).The Cold War was a unique period in our history, and deserves a unique medal. Senator Phil Gramm (R-TX) called it the most significant victory since World War II. It did not often have the kinds of dramatic battles that make newspaper headlines. It was the day-in-day-out routine where a successful mission meant you returned safely to port after patrolling the coast of Communist China or North Korea, or landed safely after evading Soviet interceptors. President Kennedy termed it the "long twilight struggle, neither war nor peace." It called for dedication to duty, production of good intelligence, or manning a guard post along the border with East Germany through a harsh winter. Its casualties were less frequent, but real nonetheless.
The "Recognition Certificate" falls far short of the recognition such service merits. The certificate can be awarded to any government employee, whether they were flying a U-2 over Cuba or a civilian clerk in the GSA in Kansas City. A service medal, on the other hand, recognizes military service. Congress has recommended that a medal be authorized. The Department of Defense has never substituted a certificate for a service medal in the past — our brave service men and women deserve a medal for Cold War service.
We honor and appreciate those who serve today, all we ask is that our government honor the living who served during the dark days of the Cold War. It will cost something, but our government should never be cheap where honor is concerned.
I humbly ask you Mr. President to issue a executive order establishing a Cold War Service medal to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall 1989. I appreciate your time and consideration of this request.
Sean Eagan (Cold War and Gulf War Veteran)
508 E 7th Street
Jamestown NY 14701
"America's line of defense is the Elbe River "
"There is only one sure way to avoid global war, and that is to win the Cold War. "
"By the grace of God, we won the Cold War. "
"And so the greatest of American triumphs.became a peculiarly joyless victory. We had won the Cold War, but there would be no parades."
"The Cold War was a war, and we won it. "
Congressman Mike Rogers, (R) AL-3rd will be our guest. Congressman Rogers is a member of the House Armed Services Committee as well as the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The status of the United States Air Force as the premier force in the world may be at risk. Currently, America's F-22 Raptor is the only operational fifth generation fighter that can cobat threats from China, Russia and Iran; but its continued production -- and America's global air dominance -- is in serious jeopardy.
Within just a few weeks of taking office, the new president must decide whether to continue the production F-22. It is crucial that he hear from all Americans about the need to continue this highly successful program in order to strengthen both our national defense and our domestic economy. You can assist with this effort by visiting www.preserveraptorjobs.com today and signing the petition urging President Obama to save the F-22 Raptor program.
The F-22 is a key component of our National Military Strategy. Its unparalleled combination of stealth, supercruise, maneuverability, and other advanced capabilities enables it to carry out missions with great speed over large distances without being detected by the enemy. It is an exponential improvement on the aging F-15 fleet it is replacing.
No new funding is needed for this project--the President merely has to approve what Congress has already allocated. If he thinks it's wise to spend billions bailing out the auto industry, he should be able to see the wisdom in continuing to fund a stable program that is so vital to our nation's defense and to tens of thousands of American jobs.
Please visit www.preserveraptorjobs.com right now. Our men and women in uniform deserve the best fighting aircraft available. In an increasingly unstable world, our nation cannot afford any less.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
WASHINGTON (Jan. 21, 2009) - Retired Army Gen. Eric K. Shinseki took the
oath of office today as the Nation's seventh Secretary of Veterans
Affairs, assuming the leadership of the Department of Veterans Affairs
following Tuesday's confirmation by the Senate.
"The overriding challenge I am addressing from my first day in office is
to make the Department of Veterans Affairs a 21st century organization
focused on the Nation's Veterans as its clients," Shinseki said.
Shinseki plans to develop a 2010 budget within his first 90 days that
realizes the vision of President Obama to transform VA into an
organization that is people-centric, results-driven and forward-looking.
Key issues on his agenda include smooth activation of an enhanced GI
Bill education benefit that eligible Veterans can begin using next fall,
streamlining the disability claims system, leveraging information
technology to accelerate and modernize services, and opening VA's health
care system to Veterans previously unable to enroll in it, while
facilitating access for returning Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans.
Shinseki, a former Army Chief of Staff, takes the reins of a
284,000-employee organization delivering health care and financial
benefits to millions of Veterans and survivors under a $98 billion
budget authorized this year through networks of regional benefits
offices and health care facilities from coast to coast.
Born in 1942 on the island of Kauai, Hawaii, Shinseki graduated from the
U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., in 1965. He served two
combat tours and was wounded in action in Vietnam. He served with
distinction in Europe, the Pacific and stateside, eventually becoming
the Army's senior leader from June 1999 to June 2003.
Retired from military service in August 2003, Shinseki's military
decorations include three Bronze Stars and two Purple Hearts.
Shinseki succeeds Dr. James B. Peake as Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
By BEN FOX, Associated Press Writer Ben Fox, Associated Press Writer
GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba – The Guantanamo Bay war crimes court came to an abrupt halt Wednesday as military judges granted President Barack Obama's request to suspend proceedings while he reviews his predecessor's strategy for prosecuting terrorists.
The judges quickly agreed to a 120-day suspension of the cases of a Canadian accused of killing an American soldier in Afghanistan and five men charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. Similar orders are expected in other pending cases pending before the Guantanamo military commissions.
Judge Stephen Henley, an Army colonel presiding over the Sept. 11 trial, accepted the prosecution argument that it would be in the "interests of justice" to give the new administration time to review the commission process and decide what to do next, a decision tied closely to Obama's pledge to close the detention center.
The five charged in the Sept. 11 attacks had said they wanted to plead guilty to charges that carry potential death sentences and their alleged ringleader, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told the court he opposes the delay.
"We should continue so we don't go backward, we go forward," said Mohammed, who shrugged off the prospect of a death sentence at a pretrial hearing at the base earlier in the week.
Another judge agreed to a suspension in the case of Canadian Omar Khadr with a one-sentence order.
Obama's order to seek a suspension of the proceedings came just hours after his inauguration.
Prosecutor Clay Trivett said all pending cases should be suspended because the new administration's review of the military commissions system may result in significant changes that could have legal consequences for the defendants.
In Washington, the administration circulated a draft executive order that calls for closing the detention center within a year and reviewing the cases of all the nearly 245 still held. The government would release some, transfer others and put the rest on trial under terms still to be determined. It was not known when Obama intended to issue the order.
The suspension of the war crimes trials "has the practical effect of stopping the process, probably forever," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. William Kuebler, Khadr's defense lawyer.
Khadr, a Toronto native, faces charges that include supporting terrorism and murder for allegedly killing U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Speer of Albuquerque, New Mexico, with a grenade during a 2002 battle in Afghanistan when he was 15.
Khadr faces up to life in prison if convicted by the military commission. His lawyer says he should now be prosecuted, if at all, in a civilian court, though he would prefer to be repatriated to Canada.
"He is anxious. He doesn't know what's going to happen," Kuebler said after discussing the delay with the 22-year-old prisoner. "But we are all hopeful and somewhat optimistic that this ruling now creates a space for the two governments to do something constructive to solve this case."
Khadr has received little sympathy in Canada, where his family has been called the "first family of terrorism." His father was an alleged al-Qaida militant and financier who was slain by Pakistani forces in 2003, and a brother, Abdullah Khadr, is being held in Canada on a U.S. extradition warrant, accused of supplying weapons to al-Qaida.
Reached in Toronto, Omar Khadr's older sister expressed mixed feelings at the news.
"I'm glad my brother is not going to trial, but I really would have preferred he was coming home, and he's not," Zaynab Khadr said.
War crimes charges are pending against 21 men being held at Guantanamo. Before Obama became president, the U.S. had said it planned to try dozens of detainees in a system created by former President George W. Bush and Congress in 2006 and has faced repeated challenges.
Relatives of Sept. 11 victims, who were at the base this week to observe pretrial hearings, and listened as one of the Sept. 11 defendants said he was "proud" of the attacks, told reporters they oppose halting the trials.
"The safest place to have these trials is Guantanamo Bay. If they were to move to the homeland it would endanger all of us," said Lorraine Arias Believeau of Barnegat, New Jersey, whose brother, Adam Arias, was killed at the World Trade Center.
Jim Riches of Brooklyn, N.Y., whose 29-year-old firefighter son, Jimmy, was killed in the attacks, said he would support another system, but doesn't want to wait much longer. "We'll go along with whatever process it is, but let's get it done. It shouldn't take another eight years," he said.