DISAMBIGUATION NOTICE: This is the webpage for Veterans for Common Sense (VCS), a 501(c)(3) veterans service organization (VSO) based in Washington, DC – not to be confused with the Veterans Coalition for Common Sense or Florida Veterans for Common Sense or the Florida Veterans for Common Sense Fund.

Read more about us — VCS — here.  

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Attorney who led VCS lawsuit against VA for veterans honored in series of articles about his legacy

A series of articles on toxic exposures in the June issue of The American Legion Magazine pays tribute to attorney Gordon Erspamer, whose many landmark cases in his distinguished career  included leading the Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit in 2007 against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

The article by Ken Olsen, entitled, “Gordon Erspamer, a pro bono champion who improved benefits for generations of veterans,” describes the VCS vs. VA case and its significance for veterans.  Erspamer died of brain cancer in 2014.

Gordon Erspamer set out to fight for his father’s VA claim and changed the lives of millions of former servicemembers, winning disability benefits for atomic veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder care for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and treatment for Cold War veterans who were subjected to chemical weapons testing.

“‘He was tireless in fighting to make sure people who served their country got what they deserved,’ says Stacey Sprenkel, an attorney at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco, which worked with Erspamer on some of his pro bono lawsuits. ‘He inspired a generation of us to advocate for veterans.’

“Sprenkel worked with Erspamer on Veterans for Common Sense v. Shinseki, which challenged delays in mental health care, delays in PTSD compensation claim decisions, and other significant issues faced by returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who were taking their own lives at an unprecedented rate. They found evidence showing a veteran waited an average of about four years from the time they filed a VA claim to when they received a decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.

“They lost when the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the federal courts didn’t have jurisdiction to adjudicate the case. But the case focused media attention on the unmet mental health-care needs of post-9/11 veterans. VA created a national suicide hotline, placed suicide prevention coordinators in all VA medical centers, made it simpler for veterans with PTSD to file disability claims, and expanded care for returning veterans to five years.

“‘Gordy’s lawsuit resulted in improved VA care and benefits for millions of veterans, and that will last decades into the future – because he improved the system,’ says Paul Sullivan, who was executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, the lead plaintiff in the case, during the litigation. The lawsuit also forced VA to reveal that its own data showed 22 veterans a day were completing suicide.”

The full article is available in the June 2018 issue of The American Legion Magazine.  

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VCS Advocacy for Gulf War Veterans Highlighted in Three News Stories

A trio of Texas news articles highlights Gulf War veterans’ ongoing struggles with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the leading advocacy by Veterans for Common Sense on their behalf.

A pair of May 12, 2018 news stories reported:

“In a November meeting with [VA Secretary] Shulkin, veterans’ advocates said they were assured that improvements would be made. According to interviews with four people in the meeting, Shulkin agreed to set up a new VA-led working group to tackle longstanding problems related to claims. But Shulkin is gone and the VA leadership in flux. …

“Veterans for Common Sense director Anthony Hardie, a disabled Gulf War veteran, said Shulkin had agreed to everything asked of him.“He went for it all. I was surprised at what an easy sell it was. It’s really disappointing now because we thought we had a good shot at getting these things fixed,” Hardie said.

“VA spokesman Curt Cashour said in an email that there’s a plan for the working group veterans want. ”   [ READ FULL STORY (San Antonio Express-News) ] [Houston Chron version ]

And then a May 15 follow-on editorial by the San Antonio Express-News editorial board (“VA Should Pay More Heed to Gulf War Vets“) emphasized what VCS has been telling VA leaders and Congress for years:

“The nation is just shy of three decades since the 1991 Gulf War. Since then, there has been mounting evidence that unique events in that short war have had long-lasting health effects on the service members who served. …there shouldn’t be the [VA disability claims] rejection rates reported — higher than for other disabilities. It projects the appearance of foot dragging because the costs to treat may be deemed too high.”

There’s much that remains to be done to fix the 80 percent denial rate of Gulf War veterans’ VA claims, including legislation to fix unworkable “undiagnosed illness” claims, and fixing VA training programs and making them mandatory for all VA workers who have a role in denying them.

VCS and Gulf War veterans have found a strong ally in several national veterans service organizations, including The American Legion.  As stated in the May 12 news stories:

“Gulf War veterans by law are entitled to benefits if they have certain service-connected disabilities. They also may qualify under a “presumptive service connection” rule if they have multi-symptom diseases classified as undiagnosed.

“But, as Louis Celli, the American Legion’s director of veterans’ affairs, notes: “Doctors don’t want to say ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with you,’ so they will send you to somebody else. Getting an undiagnosed illness as a diagnosis is very difficult.””

 

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Veterans for Common Sense Opposes Torture, Haspel Nomination

 

(Washington – May 8, 2018)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a national veterans organization, today released the following letter opposing torture and the nomination of Gina Haspel to serve as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency:

*****

May 8, 2018

Senator Richard Burr, Chairman                                 Senator Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member
United States Senate                                                      United States Senate
Select Committee on Intelligence                              Select Committee on Intelligence
211 Hart Senate Office Building                                 211 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510                                              Washington, DC  20510

VIA FACSIMILE: (202) 224-1772

 

SUBJECT:  Opposition to Torture and the Nomination of Gina Haspel to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency

 

Dear Senator Burr, Senator Feinstein, and Members of the Committee,

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is in support of a well-qualified, long-term careerist, and first-ever woman being confirmed as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).  However, it is our position that this nominee, Gina Haspel, is disqualified from serving as Director of the CIA due to her recent past actions.

To be eminently clear, VCS has since its inception repeatedly demonstrated forceful support for the rule of law and equally forceful opposition to the use of torture.  Consistent with that history, we are strongly opposed to the U.S. Senate confirming the nomination of Gina Haspel to be the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency on the basis of her demonstrated record of helping to lead illegal torture, helping to lead the destruction of evidence of it, and failing to uphold the rule of law.

 

On VCS:

VCS was formed in 2002 and incorporated in 2003 by U.S. war veterans with deep concerns in the spirit of U.S. Revolutionary War patriot Thomas Paine regarding U.S. national defense, international relations, and veterans’ affairs.  Beginning shortly after our organizational inception, VCS has helped expose the actuality, extent, and impact of U.S. torture in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2003, VCS joined the American Civil Liberties Union and several other organizations in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit seeking the release of documents related to the U.S. use of torture.  Ultimately, as reported at the time by the Associated Press, the records released under the FOIA included 42 autopsy reports of detainees who died while in the custody of the U.S. military or another U.S. government agency.  The autopsy reports described in detail the preponderance of evidence of extensive, brutal torture.  The reports classified 21 of the deaths as homicides and the majority of the remainder as deaths from heart attack – evidently as the result of torture.

In 2004, VCS was one of the first veterans’ organizations to call for an investigation of U.S. torture and to call for holding accountable all those responsible including those who had command responsibility.  VCS co-led a multi-organizational campaign to “Honor the Legacy” of WWII veterans, including the achievement of the Geneva Conventions developed following the investigation and prosecution of WWII war crimes.  The campaign also rallied support for efforts by U.S. Senators John McCain and Patrick Leahy and others in Congress to investigate U.S. involvement in torture.  Ultimately, over 50,000 people signed the Honor the Legacy petition, with considerable support from military retirees.

We remain firm that we as a nation must honor our commitment to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT) signed and/or ratified by the U.S.  We also remain firm that torture of any detainee, regardless of whether or not he or she is a member of a nation-state’s military, is illegal under U.S. and international law – including these Conventions to which the U.S. is a party – and that waterboarding constitutes torture.

 

On the use of torture: 

1) The use of torture is counter-effective.  Intelligence and interrogation specialists consistently underscore the facts that torture is ineffective, is counterproductive, and other interrogation methods that do not involve torture are in fact effective.  As noted in the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2015 Law of War Manual: “the law of war’s prohibitions on torture and unnecessary destruction are consistent with the practical insight that such actions ultimately frustrate rather than accomplish the mission.”  Your own committee’s 2014 report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs found that waterboarding and other torture not only didn’t work in eliciting actionable intelligence or foiling terrorist plots but led to fabricated information.  War veterans know better than many that failure to heed past lessons learned can be expected to worsen the situation on the ground, potentially for years to come.

2) An important theme in the military’s 2006 counterinsurgency operations manual was that “…using force precisely and discriminately strengthens the rule of law that needs to be established.” [emphasis added].  By contrast, the use of torture circumvents and undermines the rule of law, becomes fodder for enemy and insurgent propaganda, and undermines long-term victory.

3) The U.S. use of torture encourages others to torture and puts Americans at greater risk of torture when captured, including U.S. military personnel, other U.S. government personnel, and U.S. civilians. Furthermore, the use of torture increases the risk of mental health conditions, including to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and moral injury, in the U.S. military or other government personnel conducting, involved in, and witnessing torture.

4) The use of torture by the U.S. diminishes the world’s view of the U.S. and jeopardizes U.S. operational capabilities.  According to a December 20, 2011 CIA disciplinary review memo involving Haspel and her superior officer, the “publication of the tapes [showing detainee interrogations and torture] would damage the domestic and international standing of the CIA, perhaps significantly degrading our operational capabilities. … the worldwide reaction to the leak of photos of the actions of US military personnel at Iraq’s Abu Ghuraib [sic] prison in April 2004 cemented his view that the tapes represented a threat to his officers and the Agency.”  Furthermore, torturing these detainees almost certainly destroyed any possibility of lawfully convicting them in a court based on the rule of law.

5) Most importantly, the use of torture is contrary to both U.S. and international law and is a war crime.  The U.S. led the way in establishing definitive anti-torture international law, to the extent of carrying out the execution of war criminals convicted during the Nuremberg trials.  The U.S. also established precedent in prosecuting Japanese military personnel for a form of waterboarding.  It remains our deep concern that U.S. personnel were not held accountable for their actions in the torture of detainees from operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and beyond.  Again, waterboarding is torture; indeed, after World War II, the U.S. prosecuted Japanese military personnel as war criminals for waterboarding U.S. prisoners of war, thereby setting a clear legal precedent that waterboarding is an illegal and punishable form of torture.

 

On the nomination of Gina Haspel:

In publicly released documentation, this nominee has been shown to not only condone the use of torture, but to have been directly involved in the use of torture by U.S. government personnel.

Furthermore, the 2011 CIA memo noted above documented her personal involvement in destroying evidence, including her role in the issuance of orders to destroy tapes of detainee interrogations, which included the use of torture.  That memo also describes an egregious failure to notify Congress of the tapes’ destruction.

Finally, despite U.S. and international law prohibiting the use of torture and despite the firmly established precedents of U.S. prosecution of the use of torture as war crimes, it is clear from Ms. Haspel’s recent past support for the use of torture that she will not put the rule of law first and will not challenge illegal orders.  As the 2011 CIA memo noted, there is no “good soldier” defense in the case of an act that violates the law.

We call on you and all members of the United State Senate to firmly oppose this nomination and to send a clear message to past, current, and future Administrations that the use of torture by the U.S. will not and must not be accepted, permitted, or condoned.

Sincerely,

VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE

Anthony Hardie,
National Board Chair & Director

Cc:
Senator John McCain
Senator Patrick Leahy
Senator Rand Paul

******

Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) was founded in 2002 by U.S. war veterans and with roots in the pragmatic ideals of Thomas Paine.  VCS works to raise the voices of veterans for the betterment of current and former military service members and the nation they protect.

 

# # #

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VCS Statement on Veterans Affairs Secretary

VCS Statement on Veterans Affairs Secretary

(Washington – March 22, 2018)  – Veterans for Common Sense, a Washington, DC-based veterans organization, today released the following 500-word statement in response to current public discussion regarding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary.

***

The battle over the Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary is about the future of caring for the nation’s veterans.  On one side are powerful interests aimed at privatizing and profiteering from VA healthcare, backed by the Koch Brothers and their front organization, Concerned Veterans for America (CVA).

On the other are the nation’s venerable Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) standing shoulder-to-shoulder to oppose privatization-profiteering and the injury it would inflict on our nation’s already service-disabled veterans.

Recent news stories help highlight some of this.  After a damaging Inspector General report emerged, VA Secretary David Shulkin, M.D., whose appointment had been confirmed by the Senate 100-0, moved quickly to fix the identified issues.

Perhaps most telling is the response by the four corners of the Congressional oversight committees.  Following the “damning” IG report, their seen-it-all-before quiet response was merely to sign a joint letter — all four of them, Republicans and Democrats, House and Senate united — that amounted to a tap on the wrist and a clarion call for renewed focus caring for the nation’s veterans.

Supported by the VSOs, Shulkin appeared to have crushed the coup, with professed White House support for both him and his vow to remove the conspirators from within VA.  They include a former CVA leader and a Wisconsin brewery scion with no VA or healthcare management experience.

Next, enter President Donald Trump.  In a made-for-reality-TV plot twist, one news outlet reported that Trump, in his Oval Office meeting with Shulkin, interjected on speaker phone none other than pro-privatization Pete Hegseth — head of the Koch-backed CVA and of Fox & Friends fame.

Rumors abound that Trump may yet fire Shulkin, who has reportedly been prevented from removing any of the conspirators.

A recent USA Today editorial by the Executive Director of AMVETS, one of the nation’s largest VSOs, makes clear the critical stakes of privatization if Trump fires the “embattled” VA Secretary in favor of the Kochs’ interests, their CVA brainchild, and their privatization-profiteering that is perhaps being made more attractive by offering to save a buck — on the broken backs of service-disabled veterans.

Veterans for Common Sense publicly supported Trump’s elevation and appointment of Dr. Shulkin, noting in light of privatization rumors we were “relieved”.  We publicly called on the new Administration to fully fund the VA, fix VA’s many challenges, and ensure veterans receive the assistance they need at the time they need it.

Many veterans believed Trump as President would improve their VA care.  When we met with Secretary Shulkin in Washington before Christmas, we found him amendable to positive change for serious problems facing our nation’s Gulf War veterans.

We should never stand for corruption in government.  But in Washington, as in Hollywood, things are often not what they seem.   Whatever the outcome of this latest scene, our service-disabled veterans are counting on the President to protect them from getting stuck with bills for denied healthcare services – which is the only way those pushing privatization will profit from their behind-the-scenes schemes for the VA.

Founded in 2002 by war veterans and with roots in the pragmatic ideals of Thomas Paine, Veterans for Common Sense works to raise the voices of veterans for the betterment of current and former military service members and the nation they protect.

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VCS fighting to protect Defense medical research

(Washington — February 28, 2018) — Veterans for Common Sense this week was among 111 organizations to send a letter to Congressional leadership of the Armed Services committees expressing concern about possible renewed efforts to that would have a detrimental impact on research at the Congressionally-Directed Medical Research Program (CDMRP) and other medical research conducted by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

According to the letter:

“Last year, the fiscal year 2018 NDAA reported by the Senate Committee on Armed Services and ultimately approved by the Senate included provisions that would have individually and collectively restricted, if not outright prohibited, medical research on diseases and disorders that affect our nation’s men and women who serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Services.  These provisions (sections 733, 891, 892, and 893 of the Senate bill) would have restricted the types of research that could be funded, and added burdensome contracting and auditing requirements designed for large weapons system contracts.  Moreover, one of these provisions (Section 733) would have affected all medical research at DoD, not just the CDMRP.”

Those provisions were ultimately rejected by Congress, but only after a sustained, all-out battle led by the Defense Health Research Consortium (DHRC), which advocates for medical research within the DoD, especially the CDMRP.  Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) is a charter and executive committee member of the DHRC.  This week’s letter was also led by the DHRC.

VCS  has led extensive, annual national advocacy efforts that result in Congress funding the unique, treatment-focused Gulf War Illness Research Program (GWIRP) — and more recently the Burn Pits Exposure topic area — within the DoD CDMRP.

The full text of the letter is as follows:

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81 Organizations Tell Congress They Oppose Attacks on Protections for Students and Taxpayers in House PROSPER Act

81 Organizations Tell Congress They Oppose Attacks on Protections for Students and Taxpayers in House PROSPER Act

On Friday, February 23, eighty-one organizations — representing students, consumers, veterans, servicemembers, faculty and staff, civil rights, and college access — including Veterans for Common Sense sent a letter to Congress opposing attacks on protections for students and taxpayers.

They support the gainful employment rule, the borrower defense rule, the 90-10 rule, and the ban on incentive compensation (commissioned sales). They shared that any movement forward on a bill that does not at the very least preserve these four commonsense safeguards is a nonstarter for their constituencies and will result in real harm to students.

Click here to read the letter the full text of which follows:

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New analysis by Brown University: Iraq War cost $5.6 trillion

An article by Brown University Costs of War project director Stephanie Savell reports a new comprehensive estimate for how much the war on terrorism has cost the U.S.: $5.6 trillion, “a counterpoint to the relatively limited estimates issued by the Pentagon…”

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36 Veterans & military organizations advocate with U.S. Senate regarding Higher Education Act

This week, thirty-six veterans service organizations (VSO’s) and Military Service Organizations (MSO’s) including Veterans for Common Sense avocated with the U.S. Senate regarding the Higher Education Act and provisions important to veterans and military service members.

The letter, with earlier letters as attachments, is below.

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VA launches welcome kit to guide Veterans to the benefits and services they’ve earned

SOURCE:  VAntage Point, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

This is where Veterans should start.

VA’s onboarding process can be overwhelming at times. Veterans who have visited a VA outreach booth, VA eligibility office, or have gone through a Transition Assistance Program know that VA has no shortage of technical handouts, benefits books and materials. But, even with all of these resources, Veterans are telling us “Where do I start?”

Now, VA can point all Veterans to the VA Welcome Kit.  Click on the link below to check it out:

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