Intercepts

Emergency fish funding?
We have nothing against fish here at Federal Computer Week. After all, our headquarters is located adjacent to the world-famous Fairview Park Salmon Run, the only salmon run in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

That said, it’s hard to figure out why various members of Congress find it necessary to use Defense Department appropriations bills as piggybanks for their pet fish projects. The 2007 emergency war supplemental appropriations bill approved by the House Appropriations Committee earlier this month continues the fish trend. It has a $60.4 million earmark for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to provide relief for people and businesses on the California and Oregon coasts that were affected by the salmon fishery “disaster” in the Klamath River.

I don’t know what constitutes a salmon fishery disaster, but I think this particular bit of funding could have been handled outside of a bill intended to provide funding for troops operating in areas far more disastrous than the California and Oregon coasts. Maybe we should have an Omnibus Fish Disaster Bill, which could include earmarks for DOD.

The Democrats said they have sworn off earmarks, but the fishy odor emanating from this sure smells like pork to me.

Christmas in March
That’s the only take I have after a careful reading of the House Appropriations Committee’s version of a bill the committee proudly named the Supporting Our Troops and Veterans’ Health Care Act. With that flag-waving moniker, I suppose the committee hopes to disguise such dubious line items as a cool half a billion dollars — real money, even in Congress — for wildfire suppression management.

The hacks in the committee split the wildfire funding between two agencies — $400 million would go to the Forest Service and another $100 million to the Interior Department — making at least two groups happy. But I’d love to get an explanation from someone on the Hill about how $500 million in wildfire suppression supports the troops. Does anyone out there in Intercepts land have a clue?

The bill also includes $118.3 million for FBI operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and enhanced counterterrorism activities. I have no idea what the FBI is doing in either war zone and even less of an idea of what constitutes enhanced counterterrorism activities.

But if both are so necessary, why not use the normal budget process?

The bottom line on all these nonemergency, non-war-related line items is a sad one. After subtracting all the earmarks, DOD ends up with $95.6 billion out of a $124 billion supplemental war-funding bill. In other words, the committee’s members support the troops with all the patriotic fervor they can muster, minus a 20 percent discount for other stuff.

Wait until July if you need PTSD counseling at NMCSD
Only one study has been done on the post-traumatic stress disorder rate in combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, but that 2004 study found PTSD rates of 11.2 percent in troops who served in Afghanistan and rates of 15.6 percent to 17.1 percent in those with Iraq combat tours.

No study has been published since then, but it’s probably not outrageous to assume that the rate has increased for troops who have completed anywhere from three to five tours. Lt. Cmdr. Shannon Johnson, who helped write a landmark American Psychological Association (APA) study on combat stress and PTSD, knows the problem well from treating Marines and sailors at the Naval Medical Center San Diego (NMCSD).

One obstacle in treating the current round of combat veterans is a poor systems interface between the Defense Department and Department of Veterans Affairs health care systems, the APA report states. There is also a shortage of trained psychologists in military health care facilities because 40 percent of the slots for psychologists in DOD and the VA are vacant.

Johnson’s slot at NMCSD has been vacant since February, she said in the April issue of the APA’s Monitor of Psychology, because she deployed to Iraq with an Army combat stress control team.

A spokesman for the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine said that because Johnson was deployed to Iraq as an individual augmentee, NMCSD would not replace her until her return, which won’t be until July.

The spokesman added that Johnson’s work probably could be handled by a reservist or by referrals to civilian clinicians, but he hasn’t called back with confirmation.

In the 2007 war supplemental bill, the House Appropriations Committee allocated $450 million to DOD for PTSD treatment. However, close to a half billion dollars will not do much good if the Navy cannot find a replacement for the one and only psychologist at a hospital whose mission is increasingly focused on combat veterans of our two current wars.

Speaking from experience — I had one really bad Vietnam day that will never go away — PTSD cannot be ignored. If it isn’t addressed, the vets, their families and society will pay a terrible price.

The situation at NMCSD needs to be fixed. Today.

Intercept something? Send it to bbrewin@1105govinfo.com.

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