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VA hires a critic
Veterans Affairs Department

blogs.va.gov/VAntage

You want to keep your friends close and your enemies closer is a saying that originated with Sun Tzu, Machiavelli or Michael Corleone, depending on which source you consult. The Veterans Affairs Department heeded that advice, in a way, when it hired Army veteran Alex Horton.

As first reported in the Washington Post, Horton was unhappy with the treatment he got from VA after returning from combat in Iraq, and he wrote about it frequently in his personal blog, "Army of Dude." His primary concern was getting money under the GI BIll for college. A new version of the law had passed, and VA was lagging way behind in implementing it.

"The VA counselors at my school buy salt in bulk to pour into the wounds of the students they are purported to serve," Horton wrote in an entry on Sept. 1, 2009. "One in particular lambasts me whenever I call with a legitimate question regarding veteran benefits. With his trademark condescending tone, he sharply rebuked my questions about a delay in payments, suggesting that I should have been following the news of backlogged certifications, despite his assurance that the transition would not allow a payment disparity. Oh, to be tongue-lashed for not doing his job for him!"

According to the Post, VA started trying to recruit Horton to write for its blog last year, but he only recently accepted the opportunity. He moved from Austin, Texas, to Washington, D.C., where he now works as one of several writers for "VAntage Point," which tackles many of VA's problems head-on.

In a recent entry, Horton wrote about a photography exhibit showing veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Photographer Stacy Pearsall, an Air Force veteran, set out to demystify PTSD and show that its sufferers are ordinary people, Horton writes.

"In a way, Stacy is the personification of her ongoing project, a sharp rebuke of the stereotypical veteran," he writes. "Here is a young and female vet who made art from war, only to use those talents to challenge conventional wisdom and pay tribute to those who served at the same time. Every face a story, told elegantly through light and shadow."

Love to the Earth on Mother's Day
Environmental Protection Agency
blog.epa.gov/blog

Molly Hooven, writing on the Environmental Protection Agency's "Greenversations" blog, tied energy conservation to Mother's Day with a story about her mother replacing the household light bulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs.

"Moms across the nation are creating a path for younger generations to become more aware and proactive about protecting our environment," Hooven writes. "According to Energy Star, if everyone replaced the light bulb (like I did), then we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, but according to Mom, it’s just the right thing to do. That’s good enough for me."

Hooven said her mother has been eco-friendly for a long time.

"Even with summer just around the corner, there’s no vacation for recycling, according to my mom," Hooven writes. "When traveling to Maine for vacation, she collects our used bottles and made it a fun activity for us to stick them in a reverse vending machine at the grocery store that recycles them and refunds deposits to customers. I still hold a fond memory of the smell of soda cans and salt water!"

Ready for high-speed rail
Transportation Department

fastlane.dot.gov

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood writes in the "Fast Lane" blog that he was happy to see the bipartisan embrace of high-speed rail funding when the Transportation Department awarded $2 billion for projects earlier this month.

For example, DOT will spend $268.2 million to buy 48 high-performance passenger rail cars and seven quick-acceleration locomotives for eight corridors in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan and Missouri.

"The way that leaders from both major parties in Michigan came together reminds me that there are no Republican or Democratic roads or rails," LaHood writes.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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