Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Boise VA: Lousy Marks for Scheduling Appointments

Posted By on Tue, Jun 10, 2014 at 9:33 AM

A startling audit has revealed that more than 57,000 men and women who have worn a uniform in defense of their country have been waiting for up to three months for a medical appointment. The study comes in the shadow of a national uproar of reports that some VA patients had died while awaiting appointments and the revelation of cover-ups at a VA medical facility in Phoenix, Ariz.

The federal audit, which included the Boise VA medical facility, examined 143 VA hospitals.

The audit found that the Boise VA Medical Center was among the six worst VA hospitals in the nation for scheduling appointments within 30 days. The national average was 34 percent.

The audit was released Monday by the Department of Veterans Affairs, as the U.S. Senate takes up bipartisan legislation to revamp the system.

“If the Senate is able to come together on a comprehensive piece of legislation, it will be a major victory for us,” said Louis Celli, the top lobbyist for the American Legion, the largest fraternal organization for U.S. veterans. “We’re confident the House will work with them to get a good piece of legislation passed.”

The good news for regional veterans is that the Boise VA had no such "tampering" or cover-up of falsified appointment dates in order to meet on-time performance goals. The Boise VA, however, did show some understaffing in physical therapy and ophthalmology.

Overall, Boise was 10th best in the nation for scheduling new patients for primary care visits, with an average wait time of 23 days. Compare that to Hawaii's average wait time of 144 days.

Boise ranked 29th in the nation for new patients to schedule mental health appointments and 52nd for new patients to schedule special care visits.

Investigators visited Boise to review records at the local VA facility on May 13.

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Sunday, June 8, 2014

U.S. Military: Bergdahl Says He Was Tortured, Held in Shark Cage

Posted By on Sun, Jun 8, 2014 at 9:08 AM

Idaho native and U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has told military officials that he was tortured, first by his Taliban captors and then members of the Haqqani network, a Taliban-associated militant group that held him prisoner on more than one occasion.

Two American officials, each speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Bergdahl described being held in total darkness in a small "shark cage for weeks, possibly months." Bergdahl reportedly said he was held in the cage as apparent punishment for one or possibly two attempted escapes.

“It’s safe to assume” that Sergeant Bergdahl was “held in harsh conditions,” a senior Defense Department official said Saturday. “These are Taliban, not wet nurses.”

Doctors at the U.S. military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, have confirmed that the 28-year-old Bergdahl currently suffers from skin and gum disorders but is otherwise physically sound. He weighs about 160 pounds.

This morning's New York Times reports that Bergdahl put on his Army uniform for the first time in five years, and has taken walks through the Landstuhl hospital corridors.

Meanwhile, the FBI has confirmed that Bergdahl's family in Hailey have received threats, and local and national law enforcement are "taking each threat seriously." Bergdahl's freedom—now only about one week old—has become the center of intense scrutiny, with criticism surrounding the terms of his release, his previous statements about the U.S. Army and the possibility that Bergdahl walked away from his post and ultimately into the hands of his captors.

However, the Times reports that when hospital staff call Bergdahl "sergeant," he bristles. Bergdahl was promoted twice while in captivity, rising in the ranks from private to sergeant.

"He says, 'Don't call me that,'" an American official told the Times. "'I didn't go before the boards. I didn't earn it.'"

Meanwhile former U.S. Secretary of State and presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, in an interview to air on ABC News this coming week, says she supports President Barack Obama's decision to bring Bergdahl home in exchange for for five Taliban POW's.

"If you look at the factors going into the decision, of course there are competing interests and values," said Clinton. "And one of our values is: we bring everybody home off the battlefield, the best we can. It doesn't matter how they ended up in a prisoner of war situation. It does not matter. We bring our people home."

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

HuffPost: Labrador Openly Supports Bergdahl Release Swap

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 3:07 PM

Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador doesn't often agree with President Barack Obama, but he does support the administration's move to swap five Taliban enemy combatants for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who had been held captive by Taliban forces in Afghanistan since 2009. 

"If you look historically, at the end of any conflict, you have a swap of prisoners, and that happens. Usually our side will release people that are less than desirable in order to get some of our people back in these swaps. So I would suggest that anybody who's being hyper-critical about this, they should look at the history. This has happened before," Labrador told Boise radio station 670 KBOI

Labrador's statements put him at odds with the rest of Idaho's Congressional delegation, including U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, who is critical of the swap, as noted by Huffington Post writer Amanda Terkel. Indeed, many high-ranking members of the GOP have been critical of the swap, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who said he may push for President Obama's impeachment if the president releases more Guantanamo prisoners without Congressional approval. 

Bergdahl, an Idaho native, was captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2009. His release has sparked a national discussion about whether he deserted his post, and whether the release of five high-ranking Taliban fighters was an equitable trade for the prisoner of war. 

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Following Closed-Door Briefing on Bergdahl, Many U.S. Senators Still Not Conviced Swap Was Right

Posted By on Thu, Jun 5, 2014 at 9:07 AM

Four days after the controversial swap of five Taliban POWs to secure the freedom of Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, top Pentagon officials went to Capitol Hill Wednesday to win more support for the mission. But that apparently failed.

"I still am totally convinced that they released five people who were judged a risk to the security of this country," said Arizona Republican Sen. and former Vietnam War POW John McCain. "I guarantee you that a year from now—if not before—they will be back in Afghanistan."

But Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told media upon merging from the closed-door session where senators were shown a recent proof-of-life video of Bergdahl prior to his release that the only U.S. military POW of the war in Afghanistan appeared to be drugged or tired.

"He didn't look well to me," said Durbin. "I think it was a very hard decision."

Meanwhile, a former top White House aide, who until last year served as the Pentagon's top official overseeing policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan, said the White House had been regularly considering all of its options prior to the POW swap.

"There were negotiating paths we could have explored other than the Taliban in Doha," David Sedney told the Washington Post. "Specifically, putting more pressure on the Pakistanis to get him or get us more intelligence. I am not aware of them actually helping us, despite repeated requests. It could have made the possibility of rescuing him more likely."

And President Barack Obama, traveling in Poland, continued to push back against criticism over the deal to secure Bergdahl's freedom.

"We saw an opportunity, and we were concerned about Bergdahl's health," said Obama. "Is there the possibility of some of them trying to return to activities that are detrimental to us? Absolutely. There's a certain recidivism rate that takes place."

And a senior administration official, who spoke to the Post on the condition of anonymity, said White House officials apologized to some U.S. senators this week, saying "we regretted we were not able to reach some members personally on Saturday. We have been very clear about the reasons we did not notify the Congress 30 days in advance."

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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Hailey Cancels Bowe Bergdahl Celebration Event

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 4:03 PM

In the shadow of a wave of controversy surrounding the freedom of the Idaho native and U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the City of Hailey has decided to cancel an event celebrating the safe return of its native son.

Here is the press release organizers of the annual Bring Bowe Back event crafted today:

"Hailey community members who worked during March and April of this year to organize their annual Bring Bowe Back event in Hailey have asked to cancel the event.

"When the news of Bowe Bergdahl’s release was announced this past Saturday, the organizers joyfully declared that the event would be renamed Bowe is Back, and would become a celebration of family and friends being reunited with their son who was had been held captive in Afganistan [sic] for five years. In the past, the event had been a celebration of support to the family through these many years.

"National media attention on Hailey and this event has led many across the nation to believe that the event is intended to be a military parade. There is broad interest in this topic, as evidenced by the approximate 100 correspondences per day received by the City of Hailey this week. The organizers and Hailey expect a significant increase in attendance to this event, by people who both want to support or protest against it.

"In the interest of public safety, the event will be cancelled. Hailey, a town of 8,000, does not have the infrastructure to support an event of the size this could become."

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Daily Beast: Hillary Clinton Skeptical of Bergdahl Swap

Posted By on Wed, Jun 4, 2014 at 8:56 AM

Maybe it's because she's the presumptive 2016 Democratic nominee for president; maybe it's because she has a book tour that's about to launch. But nonetheless, a report from The Daily Beast this morning that Hillary Clinton is seeking to distance herself from the swap of five Taliban POWs for Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl has the White House buzzing.

"She was heavily involved from the beginning. She was very skeptical of the arrangement. She was very wary of it," an unnamed ex-Obama administration official told The Daily Beast. "If we had come to some agreement she perhaps would have backed it, but we never got to that point."

Meanwhile, a friend of Clinton's, Virginia Democratic Rep. Jim Moran, went on the record with The Daily Beast on behalf of Clinton's skepticism.

"She has felt that the Haqani network were really bad guys," said Moran. "She was reluctant to enter into negotiations with them."

Moran also told The Daily Beast that timing may have been the deal-maker in the Bergdahl deal.

"The fact that we are going to be pulling out of Afghanistan shortly meant that the likelihood of retrieving Bergdahl was diminishing," he said. "And once the war in Afghanistan is over, some will argue that we no longer have a legal right to detain the Taliban."

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Bergdahl Begins Long Road to Recovery

Posted By on Mon, Jun 2, 2014 at 9:20 AM

U.S. National Security Adviser Susan Rice confirmed that Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl "had lost ... a good bit of weight," and that his life was deteriorating, triggering the U.S. to act quickly to save Bergdahl's life.

As part of a swap for five high-profile Taliban leaders, who had been detained at the Guantanamo detention facility, Bergdahl was handed over to U.S. forces May 31. Bergdahl is now recovering at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where he is also expected to be debriefed. Soon thereafter, Bergdahl will likely go to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. It was still unclear where his parents might see him first—in Germany or Texas.

"His process of repatriation has begun, and reintegration into society," said White House spokesman Jay Carney. "I'm sure it will not be an easy one, but we're overjoyed on behalf of his parents and his friends and family that he's returning home."

But controversy continues to creep around Bergdahl's captivity. When asked June 1 whether Bergdahl had left his post without permission, or possibly even deserted, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would not answer directly.

"Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family," said Hagel. "Other circumstances that may develop and questions, those will be dealt with later."

But a senior Defense official told CNN on condition of anonymity that "Five years is enough," and Bergdahl would not likely face any punishment.

"Here's what matters," said Carney. "He was a prisoner in an armed conflict, a member of the military, and in that situation, the United States does not leave its men and women behind."

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Widely Differing Reactions From GOP on Bowe Bergdahl's Release

Posted By on Sun, Jun 1, 2014 at 10:18 AM

While Idahoans cheered the news Saturday that U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl had been freed in a precedent-setting prisoner of war swap with the Taliban, some of the nation's top Republicans took the opportunity to use the event to score political points.

Residents of Hailey, who claim Bergdahl as one of their own, were anxious to put up signs Saturday that read, "Bowe is Free at Last!" alongside the miles of yellow ribbons that had been draped throughout the Wood River Valley since June 2009, when Bergdahl went missing near the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. But those yellow ribbons will need to stay up a couple of more weeks. Bergdahl was flown from Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany to tend to his immediate medical needs. He'll then be flown to a U.S. military base in San Antonio, Texas, where he'll undergo a psychological review. Pentagon officials say they're also anticipating a lengthy conversation with Bergdahl over his ordeal.

Speaking from Afghanistan early Sunday morning, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said that the U.S. dialed up efforts to free Bergdahl due to the fact that Bergdahl's health was deteriorating and that his life might have been in jeopardy.

"Our first priority is assuring his well-being and his health and getting him reunited with his family," said Hagel. "Other circumstances that may develop and questions — those will be dealt with later."

Idaho's congressional delegation, all Republican, cheered the news, with U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo saying, "Our prayers have been answered," and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch saying, "I can only imagine the joy and relief that Bowe and his family are feeling at this moment." Rep. Raul Labrador added that he "was thrilled," and Rep. Mike Simpson said, "I couldn't be more pleased."

But other Republicans, specifically leadership from the House and Senate armed services committees, went as far as claiming President Barack Obama had broken the law while crafting the POW swap.

"America has maintained a prohibition on negotiating with terrorists for good reason," Rep. Howard McKeon and Sen. James Inhofe said in a joint statement. "In executing this transfer, the president also clearly violated laws which require him to notify Congress 30 days before any transfer of terrorists from Guantanamo Bay and to explain how the threat posed by such terrorists has been substantially mitigated."

Rep. Mike Rogers, chairman of the House intelligence committee, added that he was "extremely troubled" that the U.S. had negotiated with terrorists.

"This fundamental shift in U.S. policy signals to terrorists around the world a greater incentive to take U.S. hostages. I believe this decision will threaten the lives of American soldiers for years to come."

And Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said this morning on ABC's This Week that he agreed that the deal was "very disturbing."

"How many soldiers lost their lives to capture those Taliban prisoners that we just released?" asked the senator, who is widely believed to be considering his own run for the White House. "I do not think that the way to deal with terrorists is releasing other violent terrorists. It's not the only way. We can go in and use military force as needed to rescue our fallen compatriots. Can you imagine what (Bergdahl) would say to his fallen comrades who lost their lives to stop these people who were responsible, either directly or indirectly, for threatening or taking innocent U.S. civilian lives?"

The five Taliban detainees at Guantanamo who were selected to be swapped for Bergdahl include two senior militant commanders said to be linked to operations that killed American and allied troops, as well as implicated in murdering thousands of Shiites in Afghanistan, according to The New York Times.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is Free

Posted By on Sat, May 31, 2014 at 11:06 AM

Idaho native and U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American prisoner of war from the conflict in Afghanistan, is a free man.

The White House confirmed Saturday morning that Bergdahl was in U.S. custody following an exchange for five Taliban prisoners who had been held at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Bergdahl, a native of the Wood River Valley, was handed over to American Special Operations forces inside of Afghanistan early Saturday. American officials on the scene confirmed that Bergdahl appeared to be in good condition and was able to walk of his own accord.

President Barack Obama telephoned Bergdahl's parents early Saturday to confirm their son's freedom. The Bergdahl family had been in Washington, D.C., to participate in a Memorial Day service.

Bergdahl went missing in June 2009, when he reportedly was captured in a tribal area of northwest Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border.

The New York Times reports that, because of the noise of the American military helicopter that was flying him to freedom, Bergdahl scratched out a piece of paper: "S.F.?" wanting to know if his escorts were U.S. Special Forces.

"Yes," answered an American soldier. "We've been looking for you for a long time."

Bergdahl reportedly cried at the response.

The following is a statement by President Obama on Bergdahl's release:

Today the American people are pleased that we will be able to welcome home Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, held captive for nearly five years. On behalf of the American people, I was honored to call his parents to express our joy that they can expect his safe return, mindful of their courage and sacrifice throughout this ordeal. Today we also remember the many troops held captive and whom remain missing or unaccounted for in America’s past wars. Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery is a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield. And as we find relief in Bowe’s recovery, our thoughts and prayers are with those other Americans whose release we continue to pursue.

This week the United States renewed its commitment to the Afghan people and made clear that we will continue to support them as their chart their own future. The United States also remains committed to supporting an Afghan-led reconciliation process as the surest way to achieve a stable, secure, sovereign, and unified Afghanistan. While we are mindful of the challenges, it is our hope Sergeant Bergdahl’s recovery could potentially open the door for broader discussions among Afghans about the future of their country by building confidence that it is possible for all sides to find common ground.

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Monday, May 26, 2014

AP: Montana Base Botched Nuclear Silo Drill

Posted By on Mon, May 26, 2014 at 9:14 AM

A stunning revelation this morning about security at the region's nuclear silos has more than a few people in the Intermountain West more than a little concerned.

The Associated Press reports that a U.S. Air Force security team botched a nuclear silo drill last summer at Malmstrom Air Force Base near Great Falls, Mont. The AP obtained a copy of a U.S. Air Force report that indicates "security forces were unable to speedily regain control of the captured silo, and called this a critical deficiency."

As a result, the 341st Missile Wing out of Malmstrom flunked its overall safety and security inspection.

The AP reports that the bungle was only the latest in a string of problems at the 341st, including an exam-cheating scandal that led its commander to resign in March.

According to the AP, security personnel at the Malmstrom nuclear silo were tasked with responding to a simulated capture of the silo by hostile forces. But the Malmstrom team failed to take "all lawful actions necessary to immediately regain control of nuclear weapons," according to internal documents, which were redacted.

The Air Force's 450 Minuteman 3 silos contain intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with at least one nuclear warhead and are always ready to launch on short notice on orders from the president, according to the AP.

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