Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Bush's Legacy: VA Approaches 1 Million Soldier Claims

George W. Bush was total disaster as President. But the worst victims of all are the ones he praised the most--our troops. He sent thousands to their deaths needlessly. And many of those who survived are physically and financially harmed for life:

The Veterans Affairs Department appears poised to hit a milestone it would rather avoid: 1 million claims to process.

The milestone approaches as the agency scrambles to hire and train new claims processors, which can take two years. VA officials are working with the Pentagon under orders from President Barack Obama to create by 2012 a system that will allow the two agencies to electronically exchange records, a process now done manually on paper.

Meanwhile, veterans, some of whom were severely wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, continue to endure financial hardship while their claims are processed. They wait more than four months on average for a claim to be processed, and appealing a claim takes a year and a half on average.

Adding to the backlog are factors ranging from the complexity of processing mental health-related claims of Iraq veterans, to a change that made it easier for Vietnam veterans exposed to the Agent Orange herbicide to qualify for disability payments. The VA says it's receiving about 13 percent more claims today than it did a year ago.

The VA's Web site shows the department has more than 722,000 claims and more than 172,000 appeals it currently is processing, for a total of about 900,000. That is up from about 800,000 total claims in January, according to the site.

Since early 2007, the VA has hired 4,200 claims processors and with that has seen improvements in the number of claims it's processing. It's also working to modernize its system.

Last year, Congress passed legislation that sought to update the disability rating process. A hearing Thursday by a House Veterans Affairs subcommittee will look into whether the law's changes are being implemented and whether the VA will be able to handle a million claims.

Veterans advocates acknowledge there have been improvements in the claims process, but say it still is too cumbersome. They say some injured veterans from the recent wars are paying bills with credit cards, pending their first disability payments, at a time when it is challenging enough to recover from or adapt to their injuries.

U.S. Report: Global Warming is Impacting Environment Now

This report confirms what we see around us on a daily basis. The extremes in weather are apparent to everyone. You have to be a fool not to realize that. Global warming is a reality that must be dealt with now:

The harmful effects of global warming are being felt "here and now and in your backyard," a groundbreaking US government report on climate change has warned.

"Climate change is happening now, it is not something that will happen decades or centuries in the future," Jerry Melillo of the Marine Biological Laboratory in Massachusetts, one of the lead authors of the report, told AFP.

Climate change, which the report blames largely on human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases, "is under way in the United States and projected to grow," said the report by the US Global Change Research Program, a grouping of a dozen government agencies and the White House.

The report is the first on climate change since President Barack Obama took office and outlines in plain, non-scientific terms how global warming has resulted in an increase of extreme weather such as the powerful heatwave that swept Europe in 2003, claiming tens of thousands of lives.

Hurricanes have become fiercer as they gather greater strength over oceans warmed by climate change.

Global warming impacts everything from water supplies to energy, farming to health. And those impacts are expected to increase, according to the report titled "Global Change Impacts in the United States."

Areas of the country that already had high levels of rain or snowfall have seen increases in precipitation because of climate change, says the report, which focuses on the United States but also tackles global climate change issues.

It's even affecting the wind:
A new study shows that winds in the United States have slowed down from 15 to 30 percent over the past 30 years. Scientists are saying that global warming, something that wind power is supposed to be helping, maybe the cause. The report might not be as big a shock to wind farming, because the study also shows that wind speeds in certain parts of the country are actually speeding up.

The wind reduction seems to be taking place more in the eastern part of the country and predominantly in the great lakes. Scientists note that wind moves faster over ice than it does over water, because of the friction. This would confirm climate change as a possible candidate for the slowing winds. As the ice caps continue to melt, the increased friction of water will slow down the air flow. Eugene Takle, one of the leaders of the study and professor of atmosphere at Iowa State University, said that a drop in temperatures at the poles will lower the differential pressure over the earth’s surface. Takle said that this could be a cause of the slowing wind speeds.