May 6, 2010
The mortar shell that wrecked Chuck Luther's life exploded at the base of the guard tower.
Luther heard the brief whistling, followed by a flash of fire, a plume of smoke and a
deafening bang that shook the tower and threw him to the floor. The Army sergeant's head
slammed against the concrete, and he lay there in the Iraqi heat, his nose leaking clear
"I remember laying there in a daze, looking around, trying to figure out where I was at,"
he says. "I was nauseous. My teeth hurt. My shoulder hurt. And my right ear was killing
me." Luther picked himself up and finished his shift, then took some ibuprofen to dull the
pain. The sergeant was seven months into his deployment at Camp Taji, in the volatile Sunni
Triangle, twenty miles north of Baghdad. He was determined, he says, to complete his
mission. But the short, muscular frame that had guided him to twenty-two honors --
including three Army Achievement Medals and a Combat Action Badge -- was basically broken.
The shoulder pain persisted, and the hearing in his right ear, which evaporated on impact,
never returned, replaced by the maddening hum of tinnitus.
Then came the headaches. "They'd start with a speckling in the corner of my vision, then
grow worse and worse until finally the right eye would just shut down and go blank," he
says. "The left one felt like someone was stabbing me over and over in the eye."
Doctors at Camp Taji's aid station told Luther he was faking his symptoms. When he insisted
he wasn't, they presented a new diagnosis for his blindness: personality disorder.
"To be told that I was lying, that was a real smack in the face," says Luther. "Then when
they said 'personality disorder,' I was really confused. I didn't understand how a problem
with my personality could cause deafness or blindness or shoulder pain."
For three years The Nation has been reporting on military doctors' fraudulent use of
personality disorder to discharge wounded soldiers [see Kors, "How Specialist Town Lost His
Benefits," April 9, 2007]. PD is a severe mental illness that emerges during childhood and
is listed in military regulations as a pre-existing condition, not a result of combat. Thus
those who are discharged with PD are denied a lifetime of disability benefits, which the
military is required to provide to soldiers wounded during service. Soldiers discharged
with PD are also denied long-term medical care. And they have to give back a slice of their
re-enlistment bonus. That amount is often larger than the soldier's final paycheck. As a
result, on the day of their discharge, many injured vets learn that they owe the Army
several thousand dollars.
According to figures from the Pentagon and a Harvard University study, the military is
saving billions by discharging soldiers from Iraq and Afghanistan with personality
In July 2007 the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs called a hearing to investigate PD
discharges. Barack Obama, then a senator, put forward a bill to halt all PD discharges. And
before leaving office, President Bush signed a law requiring the defense secretary to
conduct his own investigation of the PD discharge system. But Obama's bill did not pass,
and the Defense Department concluded that no soldiers had been wrongly discharged. The PD
dismissals have continued. Since 2001 more than 22,600 soldiers have been discharged with
personality disorder. That number includes soldiers who have served two and three tours in
Iraq and Afghanistan.
"[W]e have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy."
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., famously said that about President Obama's health care reform package. She was right. We are just finding out what was contained within that Obamacare law that Obama signed weeks ago.
Here are five things we've learned so far:
One: No sooner had Obamacare passed than the White House discovered that someone goofed. Despite all of Obama's promises and talking points, Obamacare as passed by Congress does not require insurers to cover children with expensive pre-existing medical conditions.
Immediately, the White House got an assurance from the insurers. After demonizing them for months as callous profiteers on others' misery (in fact, the entire industry is barely profitable), Obama now tells Americans that they can trust health insurance companies to do the right thing out of the goodness of their hearts.
Two: State governments discovered that they are no longer just required to guarantee payment for indigent patients' care under Medicaid. Obamacare changes Medicaid law so that now states must also guarantee treatment to the poor.
This is a thorny issue: Many doctors refuse to see Medicaid patients because the program doesn't pay enough for them to break even. (In some states, payments to doctors have been delayed for months or years.)
Some cash-strapped states expect this new definition to spawn court challenges, which will ultimately force them to pay exorbitantly high prices to doctors and hospitals for their existing patients.
Three: Even as Medicaid's costs increase because of the above, so will the number of Medicaid patients under Obamacare's coverage provisions. Thanks to the "Cornhusker Kickback" -- the special Nebraska provision that was extended to every state in the final version of the bill -- the federal taxpayer is on the hook for 90 percent of the new patients' expenses.
So remember those rosy budget projections about Obamacare reducing the deficit, or at least not costing too much? Forget it.
Four: Douglas Shulman, commissioner for the Internal Revenue Service, announced this week at the National Press Club that Obamacare means he can take your tax refund from you. Obamacare requires Americans to purchase insurance, but contains no serious enforcement mechanisms.
So, Shulman said, the IRS will collect penalties from those who fail to purchase "qualified" insurance by confiscating the interest-free loans that taxpayers make to the government throughout the year through employment withholding.
Five: The ski-tourism industry suddenly realizes that it is endangered by Obamacare. Ski resorts must now provide health care or else pay a fine for each employee who works more than 120 days out of the year -- and many of their employees do.
The bill had applied only at the 150-day threshold, until House Democrats changed it in reconciliation. They also cranked up the fine from $750 to $2,000 per employee, in order to pad their budget numbers.
Those are just five things we've learned, out of more than 2,000 pages. You can bet we'll learn a lot more in the seven months leading up to Election Day.
Speaking of which, on Monday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., explained away public opposition to this new health care law, shaped in large part by the special deals he made with reluctant senators last December.
"The loud minority made a lot of noise," Reid said. "Everybody acknowledges, with rare exception, that what we did with our immediate deliverables was terrific."
Reid's state defies the laws of math. Sixty-two percent of Nevadans somehow constitute a "rare exception." And it looks as though the "loud minority" will send Reid looking for a new insurance plan later this year.
David Freddoso is the Washington Examiner's online opinion editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"To become law- hence eligible for admentment via reconciliation- the Senate health-care bill must actually be signed into law. The Constitution speaks directly to how that is done. According to Article I, Section 7, in order for a "Bill" to "become a Law" it "shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate" and be "presented to the President of the United States" for signature or veto. Unless a bill actually has "passed" both Houses, it cannot be presented to the president and cannot become a law.
To be sure, each House of Congress has power to "determine the Rules of its Proceedings." Each House can thus determine how much debate to permit, whether to allow amendments from the floor, and even to require supermajority votes for some types of proceeding. But House and Senate rules cannot dispense with the bare-bones requirements of the Constitution. Under Article I, Section 7, passage of one bill cannot be deemed to be enactment of another.
The Slaughter solution attempts to allow the House to pass the Senate bill, plus a bill amending it, with a single vote. The senators would then vote only on the amendatory bill. But this means that no single bill will have passed both houses in the same form. As the Supreme Court wrote in Clinton v. City of New York (1998), a bil containing the "exact text" must be approved by one house; the other house must approve "precisely the same text."
These constitutional rules set forth in Article I are not mere exercises in formalism. They ensure the democratic accountability of our representatives. Under Section 7, no bill can become law unless it is put up for public vote by both houses of Congress, and under Section 5 "the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question... shall be entered on the Journal." These requirement enable the people to evaluate whether their representatives are promoting their interests and the public good. Democratic leaders have not announced whether they will pursue the Slaughter solution. But the very purpose of it is to enable members of the House to vote for something without appearing to do so. The Constitution was drafted to prevent that.