Schmitt & Coletta, P.C.

Veteran Attorneys Fighting For Veterans and Their Families

My Blog

Blog

Medicaid Expansion Helped Vets

Posted on April 30, 2017 at 9:43 PM Comments comments (53)
The number of uninsured veterans in the U.S. declined by nearly 40% from 2013 to 2015, but that number could drop even more if more states opt to expand Medicaid, according to a
.

The Urban Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the number of uninsured veterans ages 19-64 dropped from 980,000 in 2013 to 552,000 in 2015, according to a study published Wednesday.

The majority of the coverage gains occurred in states that decided to expand Medicaid coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The uninsured rates among veterans averaged 4.8% in expansion states compared to 7.1% in non-expansion states in 2015.

The study estimated that an additional 110,000 veterans could gain coverage if states that opted not to expand Medicaid reversed course.

Sexual Assault Banned

Posted on December 8, 2012 at 9:35 PM Comments comments (13)
Yesterday, the Senate unanimously passed Senator Barbara Boxer's amendment banning anyone convicted of a felony sexual assault from joining our armed forces. Defense Secretary Robert Gates established the policy
administratively in 2009, but Sen. Boxer’s amendment is an important first step in codifying the ban into law. The National Defense Authorization Act is still being debated in the Senate, but if it passes (as it is expected to in the next few days), the change will be made official and permanent.
 

Military Rape and Abortion

Posted on December 5, 2012 at 6:16 PM Comments comments (13)
 
In a historic bipartisan vote on Tuesday, the Senate passed Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's (D-N.H.) amendment to the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act that would extend abortion insurance coverage to victims of rape in the military. If the House of Representatives decides to include the measure in its version of the defense bill, military servicewomen who have become pregnant from rape will no longer have to pay out of pocket for an abortion procedure for the first time over 30 years.
Army veteran Ayana Harrell, 34, has been closely watching the progress of the amendment. Harrell says she was drugged and gang-raped in February 2001 by a group of soldiers and Marines at the Redstone Arsenal base in Huntsville, Ala. It took her three months to drum up the courage to report the rape, she says, because she had been trained to believe that soldiers are not allowed to feel or behave like victims. By the time Harrell told her senior drill sergeant what had happened, she had discovered that she was pregnant from the assault.
"The only thing he said to me was, 'This is your thing. I don't want to hear it. You need to deal with it however you're gonna deal with it. Go off post and get an abortion,'" Harrell told The Huffington Post in an interview.
Harrell says she made an appointment at a local Alabama abortion clinic, but ended up backing out of the procedure in part because she couldn't afford the "$200-something" fee. If she had been a civilian employee of the federal government, a recipient of Medicare or Medicaid, or even incarcerated in a federal prison, her insurance plan would have paid for her abortion. But military servicewomen receive health care and insurance through the Department of Defense's Military Health System, which is prohibited by law from covering abortions except when a woman's life is in danger.
"It shouldn't be that a woman joins the military and she loses her rights to make choices about her body," she said, "or that she has to make the choice to foot the bill out of her pocket for something that wasn't her choice in the first place."
Sen. Shaheen told The Huffington Post that the issue of fairness for military women -- not the abortion rights issue -- is the reason for her amendment, and the argument she is making to her Republican colleagues in the House. Regardless of whether certain members have an ideological opposition to abortion, she says, military women should be given the same level of health care coverage as civilians after they have been sexually assaulted.
"It's simply unfair that we've singled out the women who are putting their lives on the line in the military," she said. "We have young women who are starting out making $18,000 a year, and they just are not able to deal with this situation on the private side when it happens to them."
Because the House version of the NDAA does not have a similar amendment attached, a bipartisan conference committee will be charged with deciding whether to include the measure in the final version of the bill. Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) both support Shaheen's amendment, and Shaheen said that House Armed Services Committee ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) has indicated that he would support it as well. House Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) has not indicated whether he would support the measure's inclusion, but three out of four ranking conferees would make for strong odds.
Claude Chafin, communications director for the House Armed Services Committee, said the committee's policy is not to comment on issues that may be the subject of conference negotiations.
Greg Jacob, policy director of the veterans activist group Service Women's Action Network, says the amendment has better chances now that it did in previous years, because of the results of the November elections. Some Republicans in the House may still dislike the policy for ideological reasons, he said, but voters clearly rejected candidates like Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) and Richard Mourdock of Indiana who opposed abortion rights for rape victims.
"Politically, it comes at a good time for us," Jacob said. "Clearly, those folks [like Akin and Mourdock] lost. The constituents and electorate have mixed feelings about abortion in cases of rape and incest, so it would be a difficult decision to maintain for you to deny that this is a necessary change in policy."
For Harrell, the trauma of having been raped and forced to continue her pregnancy continues to negatively affect her life more than a decade later. In the month after she reported the rape, she says she could not stop crying through her basic training activities. The other soldiers harassed her and called her a "slut," she says, and the military honorably discharged her for having a "personality disorder."
After she gave birth to her daughter, she says, she struggled for three years to connect with her. Today, she struggles with severe depression and cannot even go to the grocery store without constantly looking over her shoulder. "I'm fighting a war everyday in my mind," she said. "Every day it's hard for me to get up, just like that solider that went to Iraq."
If Shaheen's amendment passes, Harrell says, it will feel like a personal victory. "When I was in the military, if you wanted that choice, you had to pay for it yourself or just deal with it," she said. "And you're being a slut, you're being the loose female. That's what they tell you.
"I was 'the slut' for so many years, so it's amazing just to see this now. It's bittersweet."

An Insult to Disabled Veterans

Posted on December 4, 2012 at 10:10 PM Comments comments (16)
  Senator John F. Kerry made an impassioned but ultimately futile plea for ratifying a treaty aimed at advancing the rights of the blind and disabled across the globe, urging Congress to do for the world what has already been accomplished in the United States to protect Americans with disabilities.
In the end, Kerry and other supporters fell five votes short of the 66 needed for ratification of the international pact known as the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities — hailed by advocates as a human rights effort to transform how nations across the world treat those with long-term physical, mental, and intellectual impairments, particularly children who face a future of bleakness because of their disabilities.
“We will keep fighting till we win for disabled vets,” Kerry tweeted after the vote.
It was a clear disappointment for the senior senator from Massachusetts, who pushed the bill as an extension of the work of the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, a champion for expanding rights for the disabled and a cosponsor of the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act, which served as a model for the treaty.
 
“This is not about politics, it is not about ideology,” Kerry said on the Senate floor before the vote. “It’s about people.”
The treaty had already been approved by the European Union and 125 countries, including China and Russia.
Eight Republicans, including Senator Scott Brown of Massachusetts, and the Senate’s two independents joined Democrats in voting 61-38 in favor of ratification. The Constitution requires a two-thirds majority of the Senate for a treaty to be ratified.
Proponents argued that the treaty would help further advance rights for the disabled, including Americans already protected by the landmark antidiscrimination law.
The treaty was supported by President George W. Bush, who helped negotiate it and whose father, President George H.W. Bush, signed the Americans With Disabilities Act into law in 1990. The United States became a signatory to the treaty in 2009 under President Obama, a move signaling the country’s intent to ratify the agreement.
Bob Dole, former Senate majority leader, looking frail and requiring a wheelchair, returned to the chamber on Tuesday in a symbolic show of support for the treaty.
Senator John McCain, a Republican from Arizona and staunch supporter of the treaty, read from a letter written by Dole.
But McCain’s fellow Republican from Arizona, Senator Jon Kyl, helped defeat the bill.
“Just as with many treaties before this one, the CRPD would offer cover to regimes that have no intention of actually helping their citizens, while needlessly tying the hands of countries like the United States that have actually made great strides in this area,” Kyl said in a floor speech.
Kyl said the treaty would be toothless in forcing countries to adopt measures that would reduce the physical barriers that keep the disabled from having the same access to public facilities as able-bodied people.
Last week, former senator Rick Santorum convened a news conference to take issue with wording in the treaty alluding to reproductive rights, which some conservatives take as code for abortion. Santorum and other opponents say the treaty risked the usurping of US sovereignty and the rights of parents with disabled children.
In a statement released by his office after the vote, Kerry called the vote one of the saddest in his 28 years in the Senate, “a wakeup call about a broken institution that’s letting down the American people.”
“Today the dysfunction hurt veterans and the disabled, and that’s unacceptable. This treaty was supported by every veterans group in America and Bob Dole made an inspiring and courageous personal journey back to the Senate to fight for it,” Kerry said.
Veterans, many maimed in combat, joined business groups, advocates for the disabled, and a few high-profile Republicans in attempting to change enough minds among a solid bloc of GOP members who thwarted passage of the bill because of their concerns over abortion, US sovereignty, and timing.
“I could not sleep tonight if I were one of the senators who did not vote for this today,” said Steve Rothstein, president of the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, which is working in 67 countries to better the lives of the blind by building schools, training teachers, and advocating for civil rights of the sight-impaired. Some 4.5 million children worldwide, he said, don’t go to school because they are blind.
The Obama administration also criticized the outcome.
“We are disappointed that the overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans today blocked the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities,” said press secretary Jay Carney in an e-mail. “We hope the Senate will reconsider this treaty soon in the next Congress.”

0