Wednesday, May 01, 2013


An e-mail insisted that how ever much damage Nouri al-Maliki does in Iraq, there's nothing that the US can do.  There's plenty.

AFP reports, "Kuwait has received $2.43 billion in war reparations from Iraq since the start of the year and is still owed another $11.2 billion, a senior official in the Guly emirate said on Tuesday."

The US sits on the UN Security Council which gives it a veto vote.  Right there is one influence it has, it can keep Iraq in Chapter VII at the UN if Nouri can't start respecting human rights.

Or it can deny him the 18 F-16s he wants.

It should deny that anyway, why are we arming a man we know attacks his own people?

We also give billions in aid each year.  So that's another thing we could use to pressure Nouri.

There are many, many things that can be done.

Granted, we're trained to think are options are just: Go to war or do nothing.

But there are always peaceful alternatives.

In entertainment news, this new trailer of  "Superman: Man Of Steel" finally has me interested in the film.  The others didn't do anything for me but this one has me curious.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, May 1, 2013. Chaos and violence continue, not since 2009 has Iraq seen as many monthly deaths as were seen in April, the Hawija massacre continues to resonate, the US State Dept fields a question about Iraq (so rare, it qualifies as news), IHEC appears to accuse several parties (including State of Law and Iraqiya) of something akin to vote tampering, an Iraq War veteran is verbally attacked by the president of a corporation who also allegedly broke the veteran's jaw, elsewhere American corporations attempt to hire veterans, Aaron Glantz uncovers still more backlogs at the VA, and much more.

Iraq Body Count announces April violence claimed 561 lives.  Not since August 2009 has a monthly death toll been higher in Iraq (614).  And the violence continues today.  National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baquba roadside bombing left two people injured, a Falluja bombing has claimed 5 lives and left twelve injured, a Mosul roadside bombing claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and left two more injuredthree people were injured by a Falluja sniper, a Husayniaya ("northeast of Baghdad") car bombing injured five people1 person was shot dead in Baquba, and a police officer's home was blown up in Hilla.   All Iraq News adds an attack on the Tarmiya Police station left 4 members of the police dead and eight more injured, a Falluja suicide bomber took his own life and that of 6 Sahwa and "many others" were injured, and a Ramadi car bombing claimed the life of 1 police officer.  Of the Falluja suicide bombing, Mohammed Tawfeeq (CNN) explains the Sahwa were gathered to collect their paychecks at the time of the attacks.   Zhu Ningzhu (Xinhua) notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing injured three police officers and that "gunmen using silenced weapons shot dead a cleric of a Sunni mosque" in Baquba.  (This is not the civilian noted earlier by NINA -- Xinhua also notes the civilian shot dead.)

Of the violence, WG Dunlop (AFP) observes, "The majority of the deaths came during a wave of unrest that began on April 23 when security forces moved on Sunni anti-government protesters near the northern Sunni Arab town of Hawijah, sparking clashes that killed 53 people.  Dozens more people died in subsequent violence that included revenge attacks on security forces."  Tuesday, April 23rd, Nouri al-Maliki's federal forces stormed a sit-in in Hawija, Kirkuk. Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.  Last night, Kat reminded, "As things get worse daily in Iraq, we need to remember who kicked off the destruction: Nouri al-Maliki."  She noted UPI's anlaysis:

The gloves came off April 23 when Maliki's Shiite security forces stormed a Sunni protest rally in the northern village of Hawija in Kirkuk province. More than 50 Sunnis were killed and 110 wounded.
"Retaliatory assaults against the security apparatus threaten to trigger an even tougher reaction from authorities," observed the International Crisis Group, a conflict resolution organization in Brussels.
"Only by credibly addressing the protesters' legitimate demands -- genuine Sunni representation in the political system -- can ... Iraq stem a rising tide of violence that, at a time of growing sectarian polarization throughout the region, likely would spell disaster."
Sunni protests have been building since late 2012 as Maliki displayed an increasing authoritarianism but the massacre at Hawija ended what was seen as a period of restraint.

On the Hawija massacre, Trina wondered last night why, yet again, the Christian Science Monitor can't get the basic facts right (Ryan Lenora Brown being the latest to miss the facts).   Betty pointed out harmful Nouri is: "He's in his seventh year as prime minister and has repeatedly failed to provide security, to improve public infrastructure (drinkable water is not a given, electricity still goes off and on), he can't provide jobs, he can't provide relief.  He is completely useless.  Worse than useless, he is destructive and harming Iraq." Betty noted this from RT:

SOS Iraq coordinator Dirk Adriaensens echoes the London-based expert. “I think the situation in Iraq will go from bad to worse and it’s only the fault of Mr al-Maliki,” he says before adding: “The government should be held to account. After ten years of occupation there are still no basic services. People are randomly arrested, locked up without charge, tortured, women, children and men are being raped. The talk about sectarianism is wrong. These are not sectarian protests. These are protests against the unbearable situation for the Iraqi people. There is poverty, there is unemployment, there is no healthcare, the education system has collapsed.”
“I think it’s a war between the people of Iraq and the government. There were elections last week, but one third of the provinces couldn’t vote because of the so-called security reasons. How can this vote be legitimate? Al-Maliki is always talking about unity but he is the one, who forces people into sectarian activities. Iraqi people say it’s not the protesters who go into the streets and plant bombs. The people of Iraq suspect that the government itself and the militias that are linked to the political parties are planting the bombs themselves. I don’t know whether it’s true or false, but I tend to believe it,” Adriaensens argues.

On the protests, Ruth noted the superficial summary Patrick Cockburn offered and wondered  why the western press keeps avoiding the issue of rape but "on Inside Story (Al Jazeera), Salah Hashimi was describing the protesters goals and names this one second:  'to free the women prisoners because the government of Iraq has proven itself not to be worthy of holding women prisoners because while they were in detention, they were raped and tortured. And within Iraqi society which can be actually described as a conservative society this thing cannot go on because people are very, very sensitive towards women's issues'."

Thug and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki tasked Deputy Prime Minister Saleh al-Mutlaq with heading a committee to investigate the massacre.  al-Mutlaq attempted to get off the committee last week but, after strong words were exchanged with Iraqiya leader Ayad Allawi (who wanted al-Mutlaq on the committee), he agreed to stay on it.  Adam Schreck (AP) interviewed Saleh al-Mutlaq.   al-Mutlaq is quoted stating, "We have found that extra and extensive force was used, and it was not needed."  As for the government's claim that the massacre was in response to a soldier killed not at the sit-in but 'near' the sit-in, al-Mutlaq is quoted stating, "To lose one soldier, or one officer, that does not mean that you kill such a huge amount of people."

Nouri's forces slaughtered citizens participating in a sit-in.  They did so with training provided by the US government.  The US government is also providing the thug with weapons.

Jim Fuquay (Fort Worth Star-Telegram) is in a state of bliss as he declares today, "Lockheed Martin Aeronautics in Fort Worth will keep building F-16s a bit longer, thanks to an $839 million contract to suppy 18 of the jeft fighters to Iraq.  According to the announcement this week from the Air Force, the contract is expected to run through April 30, 2014."

A lot of people lost blood and life in the Iraq War but a lot of companies cleaned up.  A friend who was on the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan always expresses disbelief that "the chump change" of the former Blackwater became the obsession of so many on the left while the corporations that really got rich were allowed to remain largely uncriticized.  They got rich, Iraq got destroyed.

The ICRC's Pierre Reichel notes, "Today, the situation remains very volatile and we are worried that tensions could escalate further and lead to more casualties."  Arwa Damon (CNN) offers an analysis which includes:

For those closely following what has been happening in Iraq, this is not a surprise. To a certain degree the Iraqi government and other parties have been trying to dial back these tensions, but some steps taken by the Iraqi government serve only to aggravate them. Tensions are higher now than they have been for years.

Iraq's underlying problems have never been adequately addressed. There is a growing discontent within the Sunni minority and a growing number demonstrations against the predominantly Shia government.

Last week, the US Congressional Research Service published "Iraq: Politics, Governance, and Human Rights."  The report was written by Kenneth Katzman.

Ten years after the March 19, 2003 U.S. military intervention to oust Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, increasingly violent sectarian divisions are undermining the fragile stability left in place after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq will collapse.  Sunni Arab Muslims, who resent Shiite political domination, are in increasingly open revolt against the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.  The revolt represents an escalation of the Sunni demonstrations that began in December 2012.  Iraqi Kurds are increasingly aligned with Sunnis, based on their own disputes with Maliki over territorial, political, and economic issues.  The Shiite faction of Moqtada Al Sadr has been leaning to the Sunnis and Kurds, and could hold the key to Maliki's political survival.  Adding to the schisms is the physical incapacity of President Jalal Talabani, a Kurd who has served as a key mediator, who suffered a stroke in mid-December 2012 and remains outside Iraq.  The rifts have impinged on provincial elections on April 20, 2013, and will likely affect national elections for a new parliament and government in 2014. Maliki is expected to seek to retain his post in that vote.

There's a great deal in the report.  A lot of it covered here already and we'll note some of it throughout the week.  But with regards to unrest, the report was raised in today's US State Dept press briefing by State Dept spokesperson Patrick Ventrell.

QUESTION: Yes. On Iraq, the congressional study number RS21968 that was submitted to the Congress on the 26th of April paints a very bleak picture of Iraq and it calls what’s going on in Iraq – their words – an open rebellion by the Sunnis and the Shias.

MR. VENTRELL: Who are their words?

QUESTION: That the congressional study RS21968, okay? Maybe you want to take a look at it. It’s a lengthy study. But it draws a very bad – I mean, a very bleak picture of what’s going on in Iraq and closed an open road between the Sunnis and the Shias. Have you been able to sort of look at the study and perhaps hone your policy as a result of such drastic allegations or statements?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, Said, I haven’t seen this particular congressional study. But let me just say that the current situation in Iraq is concerning, and it’s a reminder of the formidable challenges Iraq continues to face. As I said yesterday, U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad – we’ve been in constant contact with a wide range of senior Iraqi leaders to help resolve ongoing political and sectarian tensions. And these talks have focused on specific steps to avoid further violence and resolve key issues peacefully and through constructive engagement in the political process.
And I do want to highlight a couple of specific things. We were encouraged to see over the weekend this constructive meeting senior federal and Kurdistan KRG government officials on Monday – I guess this was not over the weekend; this was on Monday – and reports that the Kurdish ministers will return to the cabinet tomorrow in Baghdad. So we urge all parties to build on this positive step by promptly addressing issues raised in a constructive and effective manner. And in addition, we’ve seen positive and encouraging statements from both Baghdad and Sunni leaders on the need to work together to isolate violent extremists whose only goal is to make – is to stoke sectarian tensions, to make it worse.

QUESTION: Mr. Maliki is accusing two of your closest allies in the Arab world, Qatar and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, of fomenting sectarian struggle and aiding Wahhabi sects and (inaudible) types in Iraq. Would you sort of lean on your friends to stop whatever aid, if you agree that there is aid in terms of arms and money going to these groups?

MR. VENTRELL: I’m not familiar with those particular allegations, but we’ve been clear where we stand in terms of sectarian violence and extremism in Iraq, and the support that we are providing as facilitators for the political process so that Iraqis can resolve their issues through the political process.

Dropping back to Monday's snapshot:

In addition, Alsumaria noted that MP Iman al-Moussawi (also with the Sadr bloc) statement that Nouri pressured the Electoral Commission to change the votes. These charges were made during the 2010 recounts and there was validity to them. If a few votes were changed this go round, this is major because in all but one province State of Law won, it did not win huge majorities.  In Wasit, for example, it beat Amar al-Hakim's Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq by 2% -- Wasit had charges of voter fraud and had a huge number of voters turned away when security forces were doing early voting.    There's even dispute as to whether State of Law comes in first in eight provinces.  Some outlets are claiming it's only seven.  If the IHEC would publish their totals -- as they were supposed to already do -- it would eliminate a great deal of confusion.  Deutsche Welle points out:

 There is a political North-South divide on the horizon for Iraq. The eight provinces that Maliki's rule-of-law-coalition won are all located south of Baghdad and include the capital. In the northern provinces, Maliki hardly has any supporters. On the contrary: protests against him have been raging there for months, but are beaten down violently by the army. In the village Hauwija, close to Kirkuk, almost 50 people were killed in one day, and 26 more two days later in Suleiman Beg.

IHEC still can't publish the results at their website [. . .]

Today the IHEC released the following statement:

The IHEC Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), Mr. Mukdad al Sharify announced on 30 April that the IHEC will set the official date to declare the final results for the provincial council elections (PCE) which took place on 20 April.
Mr. al Sharify said that the final results for the PCE will be announced once all procedures are finalized and complaints have been adjudicated.
The IHEC will communicate the date, time and venue for the results announcement in due time to political entity representatives and media.
 Preliminary results for the PCE were announced by IHEC at a press conference in Baghdad on 25 April.

The IHEC still can't get their act together.  All Iraq News reports that Katea al-Zubaei, Deputy Chair of the IECH Electoral Commissioners Board, "Some of the IHEC employees were referred to the judicial authorities after investigating with them for committing violations during the elections of the provincial councils.  More details will be announced after the announcement of final results of PCs elections. The IHEC received four red type complaints against the State of Law Coalition, six against Ahrar Coalition and two against the United National Iraqiya Alliance."  When the IHEC was truly independent, a red type complaint could have resulted in loss of votes.  That may not happen since it's no longer truly independent and since Nouri's State of Law saw only a very slim lead in the elections held last month in 12 of Iraq's 18 provinces.

From yesterday's snapshot:

December 6, 2012, the Memorandum of Understanding For Defense Cooperation Between the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Iraq and the Department Defense of the United States of America was signed.  We covered it in the December 10th and December 11th snapshots -- lots of luck finding coverage elsewhere including in media outlets -- apparently there was some unstated agreement that everyone would look the other way.  It was similar to the silence that greeted Tim Arango's September 25th New York Times report which noted, "Iraq and the United States are negotiating an agreement that could result in the return of small units of American soldiers to Iraq on training missions.  At the request of the Iraqi government, according to [US] General [Robert L.] Caslen, a unit of Army Special Operations soldiers was recently deployed to Iraq to advise on counterterrorism and help with intelligence."

Mike and Elaine covered Iraq at their sites last night.  They're addressing an important topic, US forces still in Iraq.  We'll cover that topic in tomorrow's snapshot. 

Yesterday Joe Stephens and Justin Jouvenal (Washington Post) reported on Iraq War veteran Mohamed Salim who drives a cab and was verbally assaulted (documented by cell phone footage) by Ed Dahlberg who is also alleged to have struck Mohamed Salim and broken his jaw (broken jaw documented by medical records -- the cell phone has audio of an altercation but not video, that's what a court would have to sort out).  Today CAIR issued a statement which includes:

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 5/1/13) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today said it is seeking hate crime charges for an alleged assault on a Muslim U.S. Army reservist and Iraq veteran reportedly attacked by a passenger who compared him to those who carried out the Boston Marathon bombings and threatened to kill him.

[MEDIA AVAILABILITY: The victim, Mohamed A. Salim will be available for media interviews at 12:30 p.m. today at CAIR's Capitol Hill headquarters, 453 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington D.C. CONTACT: CAIR Staff Attorney Gadeir Abbas, 202-742-6410, 720-251-0425,]
CAIR said the alleged attacker has been charged with misdemeanor assault, but the Washington-based civil rights group is asking prosecutors to instead bring felony charges based on Virginia's hate crime law.
In a cell-phone video taken by the driver, 39-year-old Mohamed A. Salim of Great Falls, Va., the alleged attacker is heard asking the victim if he is Muslim and claiming that most Muslims are terrorists.

James Cullum (Patch) carries a statement from Dahlberg.  I'm weighing in on one aspect.  I'm tired of what passes for an apology these days.  Cullum quotes Dahlberg's attorney on the verbal harassment (which Dahlberg does admit to), "Mr. Dahlberg's comments to Mr. Salim were regretful, and he apologizes to anyone who found them offensive."  What is that?  Anyone?  Meaning most people don't?  You made offensive remarks you apologize for them.  You don't add the weasel words of "to anyone who found them offensive."  That you admit to the remarks but can't issue a sincere apology says a great deal about your character (of lack of it).  He denies the physical assault and some believe that but probably most won't.  Cullum notes that "Dahlberg is president of Emerald Aviation, Inc."

Emerald Aviation insists (at its website)

We're specialists in the business of aircraft sales and acquisitions.  As owners, operators, and pilots we have an intimate understanding of the many facets of aircraft ownership and operations.  Armed with this knowledge and using our extensive network of industry resources, we ensure that the sales and acquisition process is smooth and seamless for our clients.

Our Mission
With over 20 years of experience successfully negotiating complex transactions, we're dedicated to building and maintaining lasting client relationships based on trust and integrity.  We are committed to meeting the needs of our clients, producing results over a wide spectrum of aviation services.

Our Clients
Below are just some of the clients we have proudly served:

* Sundt Air AS, Oslo Norway
* Frontline, A/S Seateam, Oslo, Norway
* Under Armour, Inc., Baltimore, Maryland
* Springfield Financial Services, Springfield, Virginia
* International Paper Company, White Plains, New York
* Retlaw Inc. Mrs. Walt Disney, Beverly Hills, California
* Quest Diagnostics Inc., Reading, Pennsylvania

Their "Our Team" webpage offers profiles on Leonardo Canas and Mitchell Gadsby (who are both "Sales Director"s -- and, that is how you spell it, "Gadsby"), as well as "Ed Dahlberg, President."

Ed Dahlberg, President of Emerald Aviation Inc., has more than 20 years experience in the field of business and commercial aviation.  He began flying in 1978.  After obtaining his commercial, instrument and multi engine certificates he served as a pilot for a regional commuter airline.  In 1988 he began his career in aircraft sales at Jettech, Inc and later went on to manage the company.  In 1995 Ed left to establish his own company Emerald Aviation.  His aviation experience is complimented with a Bachelors Degree in Marketing from the University of South Florida. 
Gaining trust and confidence of customers over the last two decades, he has the admiration of many in the marketplace.  Through transparent business transactions and always effectively representing the best interests of his clients, Ed has developed business relationships worldwide that have endured through the years.  Straightforward plane sales and multifaceted transactions; King Airs to Gulfstreams and everything in between, they are all handled with one objective in mind, his clients.

Yesterday, while Emerald Aviation's president was making news as a business leader allegedly assaulted an Iraq War veteran, the White House was holding an event to note businesses that were reaching out to veterans and their spouses:

Today, the First Lady [Michelle Obmama] announced that America's businesses nearly tripled the goal set by President [Barack] Obama and did so eight months early. The private sector has already hired or trained 290,000 veterans and military spouses.
The First Lady also announced that American companies have committed to hire or train another 435,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years.
For example:

  • BNSF Railroad committed to hire 5,000 veterans and military spouses in the next five years.
  • UPS committed to hire 25,000 in the next five years. 
  • Home Depot committed to hire 55,000 in the next five years.
  • McDonald’s committed to hire 100,000 in the next three years.
  • Walmart committed to hiring any veteran that served honorably the year after they separate from the service.
  • Deloitte will double its veteran hiring over the next three years.
  • USAA pledged that 30% of its new hires will be a veteran or military spouse. 
  • The Blackstone Group challenged each of the 50,000 managers at its affiliated businesses to hire at least one veteran. 
  • AT& T committed to creating an online military talent exchange.
  • The International Franchising Association has helped more than 4,300 veterans own their own business since 2011.
  • The U.S Chamber of Commerce just held its 400th hiring fair since last March for veterans.

Ricardo Lopez (Los Angeles Times) notes that 2012 saw the jobless ratefor post-9/11 veterans is 3.3% higher  than unemployment figures for the general population.  Lopez adds that Target, Wal-Mart and Home Depot have also committed to hiring veterans.  Pacific Gas and Electric Company notes they are committed "to hire or train more than 290,000 veterans and military spouses, nearly tripling the initial goal well ahead of schedule.  PG&E is supporting further veteran hiring and placement by committing to increase its own hiring and placement of veterans by 10 percent through the end of this year." This is a problem that happens after every war and it's a problem that needs attention because the numbers seeking jobs is only going to increase.  Trevor Shirley (WWSB) speaks with Florida Suncoast Workforce's Joshua Matlock who explains "that as the wars overseas wind down, the number of job seekers is going up, putting the onus on veterans to make a hard sell with potential employers."

In other veterans news,  Ivey DeJesus (Patriot-News) reports on  Gulf War veteran Mona Johnson who has a chronic lung condition as a result of her service and she filed her claim in 2010 but is among the many lost in the VA's claims backlog:

Since then, the Susquehanna Twp. resident has been negotiating a system plagued with one of them most chronic backlogs of any federal agency.
“What other agency do you know that takes this long just to process claims?” Johnson said.
Nearly a million veterans have disability claims pending with Veterans Affairs. About 70 percent of those claims are 125 days or older. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America claim that on average, veterans wait 273 days - or about nine months - for benefits. Copious other reports citing considerably longer waits, in some cases, upwards of five years, have prompted a bipartisan call in Washington for reform.
Estimates put the number of Pennsylvania veterans waiting for resolutions on claims to more than 10,000.

Earlier this week, CBS St. Louis reported on US Senator Claire McCaskill's continued efforts to call on the VA to address the backlog, "McCaskill says the average wait time for a first time disability claim ranges between 316 and 327 days."  That's unacceptable unless you're Senator Tim Kaine who could be found making excuses for the VA at the Senate Budget Committee and, when the hearing had drawn to a close, having us all wait so that he could offer a round of "compliments" (his term) to VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  It sure is nice of the citizens of Virginia to vote someone into the US Senate to act as Shinseki's personal defender and bodyguard.  Pity they didn't feel that seat would be better used by sending someone to the Senate to act as an advocate for veterans.

While Tim Kaine was busy praising Shinseki, veterans were waiting for their claims to be rated and veterans' surviving spouses were waiting for the claims process to pay what was owed.  As Aaron Glantz' latest report --  The Daily Beast carries it here and you can read it at the Center for Investigative Reporting here -- demonstrates, the VA is not doing their job there either.

Glantz opens by sharing the story of how Vietnam veteran Jack Cornelius was honorably discharged and attempted to seek Post-Traumatic Stress treatment "in July 2009, the Department of Veterans Affairs denied his widow's request to help pay for his burial and declined to grant the monthly compensation intended for survivors of veterans with deaths linked to military service."  It would take a year for the VA to correct its mistake and, by then, Sheryl Cornelius "had lost her home to foreclosure and racked up $700 in interest on a high-interest loan she'd taken out to pay for the funeral."

April 11th, the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard from VA Secretary Eric Shinseki.  In the hearing, US House Rep Phil Roe raised the topic Glantz is reporting on.

US House Rep Phil Roe:  An issue I brought to you, six weeks ago, was when a veteran dies -- and there's no discussion about that.  You have a death certificate. This veteran dies and their spouse sometimes takes months or as much as a year to get their benefit. That is absolutely unacceptable.  When you've got a veteran out there -- a spouse, a man or a woman -- and they're -- especially the older veterans that are out there, that are living on a very meager income and then to have them wait?  And they have a house -- as we talked about -- they have a house payment, they have food to buy, they shouldn't miss a check.  That should not even be questioned.

It's very easy for someone like Sheryl Conrelius, faced with funeral bills she shouldn't have to be paying and denied the spousal support check she should be receiving, to lose close to everything because of the VA.  That's why it's such a serious issue.

Aaron Glantz reports:

Those documents also show that the bureaucratic logjam follows veterans to the grave. The ranks of widows, widowers, children and parents waiting for a nominal burial benefit—between $600 and $2,000—nearly tripled during Obama’s first term: from 23,000 to 65,000.

The average wait time for a funeral subsidy had reached 207 days in December, from two months four years before.

In addition, 50,000 survivors were waiting an average of 229 days to find out whether they qualified for a pension—twice as long as in 2009. That part of the backlog is especially tragic, observers say, because most of the survivors are elderly widows who depended on their husbands’ VA pensions before their deaths.