As mentioned here, Congressman Jason Altmire was in Pittsburgh today and he had with him House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer. Altmire was in town to raise his own political profile and Hoyer was in town stumping for Altmire (who may be running against Missy Hart again, doncha know). With the staffs and a smattering of media, there were some invited veterans. Army, Navy and so on.
Ostensibly, the two were here to discuss legislation making its way through Congress; one ensuring early screening of Iraq war veterans for Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) and the other to strengthen the Family Medical Leave Act.
The press conference (my first, by the way, as a blogger) was held in the courtyard of the Family Court Division downtown. Right away, let me say how difficult it was to find the door to this place. Also, the walls were three or four stories high, with no windows. The place was like a prison or something. And it was hot, too hot. Tarzan couldn't take this kind of hot.
Ok, maybe I am over stating. But it was very hot. And muggy.
The press conference was to take place in front of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at the courtyard, though it was decided just before to have the press folks (myself included) huddle around the Congressmen
It was hot out. Even in the shade, it was hot.
5:00 and it was supposed to begin. Altmire was there with his staff chatting with a few invited veterans, Hoyer had not yet arrived. Cheerful hellos all around.
Did I mention yet how hot it was?
After some last minute police security bustle, Congressman Hoyer arrived with some of his staff. Introductions. back and forth. Hoyer, when I introduced myself as a "local blogger" (what else was I going to say?), joked about how bloggers were the newest thing. Though everything was very completely stress-free, I did notice a suit hanging back at the far doorway - a dark suit who's jacket didn't quite fit around the hips, speaking occasionally into a palm microphone. Interesting.
KQV was there as was Brown of the Trib.
Altmire went first. He pointed out how he considered the health care of the nation's veterans to be a "#1 priority" and talked a little about two of his bills incorporated into the Recommendations made by the Dole/Shalala Commission. They've increased funding to the VA by $15 Billion - a system, Altmire said, had been chronically underfunded. Someone had to be held accountable for Walter Reed.
Hoyer continued. After praising Altmire for having an extraordinary impact on The House, he expanded on the points Altmire began with. Honor the vets and honor the troops and so on. He then got down to some details. The reason that TBI is the "signature injury of the war in Iraq" is because (and here's the irony) medical science has progressed a great deal in the past few decades. Soldiers and Marines are surviving wounds in Iraq that would have killed 40 years ago in Vietnam. Hoyer had some statistics. In Vietnam, there was one death to every three injuries. In Iraq, the number is one to sixteen.
Unfortunately a great deal of those injuries are TBI. Sometimes diagnosis is missed. With early detection (which is mandated in Altmire's bill) much needed treatment can begin.
When asked about the cost of strengthening the Family Medical Leave Act, Hoyer answered by saying that with this Congress, the Democrats have instituted a "pay as you go" system. So whatever increase there'd be, it would not increase the already huge national debt.
On the war, Hoyer was quite clear in saying that the Democrats support the troops and are showing that support by working to get them out of harms way.
Some of the details that followed - eh, not so much.
"It's time to change course," he said. And troop withdrawal should be "sooner rather than later" beginning to move them at a "reasonable time" in under a year. All-in-all a political solution is necessary - not a military one.
When I asked what exactly Congressman Altmire meant by accountability for Walter Reed, he said that Congress has to ascertain why it happened and who's responsible - why it took an article in the Washington Post to bring the situation to light. Complaints, he said, had been raised for a long time he said - even in the Congress. Hoyer added that the previous Congresses exercised little oversight over many things. What happened at Walter Reed was going on for a long time. With no oversight.
And then with a few photos, it was done. The press conference was over.