Military Connection: September Unemployment Stats: By Debbie Gregory

Sept employmentThe U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has released “The Employment Situation” for September, 2014. The monthly report details the current statistics of employment, and tracks current trends.

Military Connection studies the trends of employment and unemployment among military Veterans. Many employers, recruiters and staffing organizations utilize statistics found in the BLS data. Anyone interested in information concerning our nation’s employment should give the report a good read through.

September’s Employment Situation shows that for the second month in a row, employment statistics improved for all demographics of Americans. Veterans from nearly all age groups have lowered their unemployment rates by at least one point from September, 2013.

For September, 2014, Veterans saw a 4.7% unemployment rate. This number is down from 5.6% in August, and a significant drop from the 6.5% rate in September of 2013. The overall Veteran unemployment rate bested the rate for non-Veterans, which tallied in at 5.7%.

In the report, Iraq and Afghanistan era Veterans are referred to as “Gulf War-era II Veterans.” This generation of Veterans saw an unemployment rate of 6.2% for September, 2014. This number is down from 8.1% in August, and from the whopping 10.1% that it was at for September of last year.

But the Gulf War II era Veterans’ unemployment rate continues to be the demographic with the highest unemployment rate in the country, by half a point. Female Gulf War II Veterans saw their unemployment jump back up to 10% after months of steady improvement.

The unemployment levels among Gulf War II era Veterans fluctuates considerably, sometimes dropping and rising two points from month to month. The fact that a number of these Veterans are utilizing the Post-9/11 GI Bill could be impacting the data. The benefit is designed to sustain Veterans while they go back to school, so many of these Veterans don’t seek employment. There is also the question of whether the Veterans consider themselves employed on surveys while they are being paid to  attend college. Either way, there have been noticeable variations in Gulf War II employment stats, specifically in months that semesters are starting and ending.

Looking at the data that the BLS report provides, it is clear that Gulf War II era Veterans are still having difficulties on the job front. It is hard to believe that a generation of men and women who served in the world’s greatest military during a time of war would have any trouble getting hired. The best way that we, as a nation, can help this generation of volunteer warriors is to stand up for them as individuals in our own companies and our own communities. Make sure your HR professionals know that Veterans need our help. See if considerations can be made to fill open positions with the men and women who were deemed fit and capable of training for the hardest job anyone can perform, going to war.

Employers are encouraged to utilize conduits that link their openings to Veterans. The MilitaryConnection.com job board is an excellent tool that brings employers and Veterans together, and hopefully see an even lower unemployment rate next month.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Sept. Unemployment Rate Stats: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Peace Prize For Army Sgt.? By Debbie Gregory

NobelWere you aware that a U.S. Army soldier has been nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?

Army Sergeant Randy Sandifer deployed to Iraq with the 412th Theater Engineer Command. While he was there, Sandifer volunteered to work with a soil lab and environmental team that was cleaning up any pollutants left by U.S. forces. The team was testing the hydrocarbon levels in the soil at Abu Ghraib prison, very near to the local water supply.

When Sandifer returned home and resumed his education at the University of Mississippi, he used his experiences in Iraq for a class project that required public speaking. A former classmate of Sandifer’s, Jonathan Hutchins, is now a professor and assistant director of the Social Justice Initiative at Philander Smith College in Arkansas. Hutchins remembered the presentation that Sandifer had given six years previously, and submitted a nomination to the Nobel Committee.

“The environmental effects would have been horrific if it were not for the non-violent scientific dedication exhibited by Mr. Sandifer,” Hutchins wrote in his nomination letter.

The Nobel committee offers awards in six categories, nearly every year. The categories are: Physics, Chemistry, Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economic Sciences. The Nobel prize is considered among the world’s highest honor that any individual can receive.

The committee received 278 nominations for the 2014 Peace Prize, which was awarded to Kailash Satyarthi from India, and Malala Yousafzay from Pakistan.

Kailash Satyarthi gave up engineering studies to become a teacher. He left teaching to become a globally recognized advocate for education.

At age 17, Malala Yousafzay is the youngest Nobel Laureate. When she was 11 years old, Yousafzay began writing a blog for the BBC that detailed her life under Taliban control. Despite being a young adolescent female, through her blog and outreach, Yousafzay became an advocate for women’s education. Yousafzay was made globally famous after an October 9, 2012 assassination attempt. A gunman asked for the then-15 year old by name, and then shot her in the head. Two years and one day later, Yousafzay and her cause received one of the world’s most prestigious honors.

Due to complexities in the nomination process, it remains unclear exactly when Sandifer will be in the running. Sandifer told local news sources that he didn’t think that he had much of a chance of winning. But it was nice to be mentioned in the same circles as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Peace Prize For Army Sgt?  By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: USAA Offers Driving Tips and Reward: By Joe Silva

drivingI’ll never forget an experience I had while serving as a duty driver in Gulfport Mississippi, while I was waiting for my company to form up and ship out to Guantanamo. At Gulfport’s Navy Mobilization and Processing Site (NMPS), a lot of reservists processed through on their way to and from deployments. A lot of my driving was using a bus or a 16 passenger van to pick-up or drop-off reservists at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

One early morning, at around 0600, I was driving a single reservist to the airport for his final flight home after his year-long deployment. I turned onto Highway 49 in the van and began driving in the right-hand lane.

The reservist was a male E-6 that I had seen around NMPSbefore. In the office, he was mostly quiet, but I remembered him for making lame jokes and smiling a lot.

After driving less than a quarter mile, the E-6 began yelling at me.

“What are you, crazy? What are you doing?”

After a moment, the E-6 realized where we were and explained that in Iraq, you didn’t drive anywhere near the sides of the road for fear of IEDs.

For the rest of that drive, I tried to use middle lanes as best as I could, but the final road leading up to the airport had only a single lane going in each direction. The E-6 did not yell at me during the last few minutes on that road, but his posture and white-knuckle grip on his seatbelt betrayed his anxiety. I remember feeling that he was going to have a hard time adjusting when he got home.

That petty officer, and tens of thousands of other Veterans, would have to suffer through the anxiety of readjusting to normal driving when he got home.

In 2010, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) observed that service members returning from deployment were getting into more traffic accidents. To better understand the situation, USAA conducted a study that focused on accident trends among service members, before and after deployment. The study revealed a 13% overall increase in at fault accidents in the first six months post-deployment. The increase ranged from 12% to 36%, depending on the number of deployments a service member had.

Recently, USAA developed an online assessment tool that helps service members and Veterans stay sharp behind the wheel. USAA’s Tips for Driving After Deployment helps Veterans stay safe behind the wheel. The online resource is available to USAA members and their families only; family members can take a separate assessment based on their observations of the service member.

If taking more precautions for your safety and the safety of your family weren’t enough, USAA is offering an even bigger incentive to utilize their driving tool. USAA will pay $25 to eligible members who take the assessment at usaa.com within six months after returning from deployment.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: USAA Offers Driving Tips and Reward: By Joe Silva

Military Connection: CalVet Website Recognized: By Debbie Gregory

CalVet websiteOn October 9, 2014, the California Department of Veterans Affairs (CalVet) announced that their recently overhauled website received a Digital Government Achievement Award from the Center for Digital Government. The center issues annual awards in an effort to recognize exceptional city, county, state, federal, and international government websites and digital projects.

CalVet launched their revamped website in March, 2014. Improvements to the site included detailed information about state and federal benefits, as well as location-specific local services that are available to California’s Veterans and their families. The site even provides direct links for Veterans to apply for programs online.

The myCalvet site enables Veterans to easily navigate the technology to access their service-earned benefits. The web site provides CalVet with the opportunity to combine existing databases. The site also provides CalVet a platform for information exchanges with other federal and state agencies, as part of an inter-agency effort to provide the most holistic and efficient service to Veterans and their families.

“Our new site is much more user-friendly and intuitive,” CalVet Deputy Secretary Veterans Affairs, Keith Boylan, said.  “Our myCalVet feature allows our Veterans, Veteran family members and Veteran stakeholders to create a secure, personal profile. The next time the user logs onto our site, the information pushed to them is based on their profile and interests.”

The myCalVet tool is one of many current CalVet efforts designed to increase the number of California Veterans and family members that are connected to the benefits they have earned through their military service.

CalVet earned their award in the “Driving Digital Government State government” category. Other winners in that same category were Access Health CT (Connecticut’s Online Insurance Marketplace); and the California Department of Public Health (Health Information Exchange Gateway.)

To visit the CalVet web site and create your own myCalVet profile, go to www.calvet.ca.gov.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: CalVet Website Recognized:By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Key to Civilian Employment: By Debbie Gregory

Key to employmentVeterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have a higher unemployment rate than the civilian population. You would think that the extensive military training and combat experience would help Veterans land jobs after they transition out of the military, but that just hasn’t been the case. Why is that?

Data from the 2012 American Community Survey points out one glaring statistic: Veterans are less educated than their peers. According to the survey, only 30% of Veterans aged 25-30 had completed an Associate’s Degree or higher, compared to 44% of non-Veterans of the same age group. The same survey found that a mere 5.7% of Veterans aged 25-30 had earned a bachelor’s degree in the higher paying fields such as science, technology, engineering or mathematics, compared to 10.4% of their non-Veteran peers.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill was designed to reverse this trend and fill the gap in education for Veterans, in order to help them compete for jobs. The 2012 survey might not yet reflect the impact of the new GI Bill that started began in 2009, as the initial Post-9/11 GI Bill students hadn’t yet graduated.

But the study found other data that is troubling and may not have been remedied by the upgraded education benefits. The problem is not that Veterans have not enrolled in college after the military; the problem could be that they aren’t graduating. According to the survey, 74% of Veterans had attended at least some college, compared to 68% of their non-veteran peers aged 25 to 30.

Veterans that want to see the unemployment rate diminish and find high-paying, meaningful employment need to stay in school and see their programs through to completion. The difference between having some college credits and having a degree will often times be the deciding factor in getting an interview and getting hired.

It is for these reasons that Veterans need to take their education seriously. Make a plan for your Post-9/11 GI Bill, and see it through to completion. It doesn’t matter if it’s an associate’s degree, a bachelor’s degree, or a vocational certificate program; completing a course of study that prepares you for your next career is vital to your future employment.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Key to Civilian Employment: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Social Security for Veterans: By Debbie Gregory

DF-SC-84-11881Many articles talk about the sacrifices made by those who serve in the military. There are none who make a greater sacrifice than those who have become permanently and totally disabled as a result of their military service. We, as a nation, can never do enough to compensate these Veterans and their families for their sacrifices. But there are benefits available to disabled Veterans that they might not be aware of.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) began The Faces and Facts of Disability campaign, designed to raise awareness and provide information about disability programs.

One of the key talking points for the campaign is letting  disabled Veterans know that they can qualify for Social Security benefits on top of their benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Through the Faces and Facts of Disability campaign, the SSA hopes to educate Veterans about Social Security benefits.

Both the SSA and the VA can pay disability benefits to a Veteran. And VA compensation will not affect your Social Security benefits, and vice versa. But disabled Veterans should know that the two programs are very different, as are their processes and criteria for receiving benefits. Just because a Veteran was rated 100% permanently and totally disabled does not guarantee that they will be found eligible for Social Security Benefits. To be approved for Social Security benefits, Veterans must meet the SSA’s  definition of “disability,” which include:

  • The inability to do substantial work because of your medical condition(s); and
  • Your medical condition(s) must have lasted, or be expected to last, at least one year, or result in death.

Veterans that have been rated 100% P&T by the VA can receive expedited processing through the SSA for Social Security benefits. First, Veterans should apply online, or at 1 (800) 772-1213 or TTY 1 (800) 325-0778 for deaf or hard of hearing. Veterans can also apply in person at their local Social Security office, but you should call ahead and schedule an appointment.

To assist Veterans and members of the public better understand the Social Security disability process, the SSA has created a seven-part YouTube video.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Social Security for Veterans: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: VA Calls for More Town Halls: By Debbie Gregory

VA town hallWe seem to have become a very acronym-heavy country, especially as it pertains to the government. In an effort to make things more clear, VA stands for Veterans Administration,  and is the U.S. department whose secretary, Robert McDonald, reports to the president regarding programs and benefits for Veterans. Under the umbrella of this department, there are three divisions:

Veterans Health Administration (VHA) This division provides all of the healthcare and medical needs. The VHA is the entity that staffs and operates the medical facilities.

There is also the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) that processes and manages all benefits, including applications for claims and administering benefits payments.

The third is the National Cemetery Administration, responsible for the maintenance of VA cemeteries, as well as funeral and memorial benefits.

Veterans should know that these three administrations don’t always communicate very well with one another. This is why VA hospitals don’t always know when benefits have changed, or why, even though the VHA knows that you changed your address, your benefit check didn’t reach you at your new residence.

These and other communication issues have plagued Veterans and the VA. But it appears that the lines of communication are opening up.

On Wednesday, October 08, 2014, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced that VA Secretary Robert McDonald has directed all VHA and VBA facilities to continue to hold quarterly town-hall events. Mr. McDonald’s order is an attempt to improve service throughout all divisions of the VA, and to hear directly from Veterans nationwide.

“Every one of our medical centers and regional benefits offices held town hall meetings around the country in August and September, but we have more listening to do to better serve Veterans and their families,” Secretary McDonald said. “As part of our Road to Veterans Day, VA is taking a hard look at everything we do in order to reorganize the Department around the needs of Veterans. Direct feedback from Veterans, employees and stakeholders is an important component of that Roadmap, and key to improving our services and operations,” Secretary McDonald added.

Details of town hall events at each location will be made through each individual local facility.  Veterans are strongly encouraged to attend these meetings to ensure that each division of the VA knows what they need to do in order to better serve you!

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: VA Calls for More Town Halls: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Retaining Veteran Employees: By Debbie Gregory

Veteran retentionMost Americans are familiar with the deplorable Veteran unemployment rate of the last several years. Until recently, Veterans who served after September 11, 2001, were caught up in a long-standing unemployment rate that lingered around 10%. An element of that statistic could be the result of a troubling reality- that some Veterans who get jobs don’t stay employed, for various reasons.

A Veteran Job Retention Survey was recently conducted by VetAdvisor and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families. The study administered an online survey between December 16, 2013 and February 11, 2014. According to the report, there were 1,248 Veterans who completed a questionnaire about their post-military employment experiences, consisting of 167 questions.

The survey found that almost half of these Veterans don’t stay in their first post-military job for very long. The survey revealed that after separating, 43.88% of Veterans left their first job within one year. And nearly two-thirds of the Veterans surveyed, 65.27% to be exact,  left their first post-military jobs within the first two years.

These numbers can be slightly misrepresentative. The statistics of the entire Veteran population are raised by the experience that former military officers had in their first jobs. Only 13.37% of officers left their first civilian job within the first six months, compared to an enlisted total of 30.97%. And only 26.74% of officers left within their first year, compared to an enlisted total of 48.05%. These differences in statistics are most likely the result of the officers possessing at least a bachelor’s degree, compared to a marginal percentage of the enlisted Veterans.

The survey’s questionnaire also focused on reasons why Veterans left their first jobs. The number one reason was due to “a new employment opportunity,” according to 43.28% of the Veterans surveyed. Other reasons included lack of career advancement (31.07%), quality of work not meaningful/challenging (29.52%), inadequate compensation/benefits (27.98%), inadequate professional development opportunity (23.34%), dissatisfaction with manager/supervisor (20.40%), layoffs/dismissals (16.23%), and other factors. Veterans could choose as many factors as needed to explain their reasons for leaving.

The findings of the Veteran Job Retention Survey not only show the inability of employers to hold onto Veteran employees, but also a deficiency in how employers hire Veterans. The survey recommends that employers who wish to recruit and retain Veterans develop Veteran-centric recruitment strategies and benefit programs. This can include improving awareness of the translation of military skills among their HR teams, and helping create programs to assist Veteran employees in developing a post-military career path.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Retaining Veteran Employees: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: Caregiver Support: By Debbie Gregory

caregiverThe federal government provides support to family members who care for severely injured Post-9/11 Veterans under the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2010. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) provides support through their Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program.

To be eligible for this VA program, Veterans must have sustained a serious injury in the line of duty, on or after September 11, 2001. These injuries include traumatic brain injury, psychological trauma, or other mental disorders. Veterans must also be in need of personal care services due to an inability to perform one or more activities of daily living, and/or need supervision or protection based on their symptoms. This could also include neurological impairment or injury. They must also be enrolled in VA health service to qualify.

It should be noted that illnesses contracted in the line of duty do not qualify a Veteran, and any Veteran with injuries that occurred in the line of duty prior to September 11, 2001 does not necessarily make a Veteran eligible.

The VA’s Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program provides a multitude of benefits and services for Veteran families that require a spouse or other family member to serve as a caregiver. These benefits include a monthly stipend, access to healthcare insurance (if needed), mental health services, VA caregiver training, respite care, and, in some cases, travel expenses that can include lodging and per diem allotments while accompanying Veterans undergoing care.

While this program is a great resource for thousands of Veteran families, it cannot meet the demand. The VA has projected that it can support no more than 4,000 caregivers through fiscal year 2015. There are currently approximately 16,000 caregivers who have been approved for the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program.

With the program running at full capacity and only servicing 25% of those eligible, inefficiency and failures are rampant. A review of the program was recently conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the findings were dismal.

According to the GAO review, VA facilities are ill-equipped to meet the demands, especially when it comes to providing primary care physicians and nurses. These healthcare professionals are charged with forming teams to visit the homes of applicants in order to assess healthcare needs and determine appropriate levels of caregiver support.

Officials from the VA claim that their department does not have enough staff to successfully administer the program. In many regions, there is only one VA Caregiver Support Coordinator for every 250 caregivers. Participants in the program have complained about a lack of training as to how to handle their Veteran’s needs, not being visited by medical professionals, and a multitude of unreturned phone calls.

As it is with many VA programs, the Comprehensive Assistance for Family Caregivers program is being assessed for improvement. The VA agreed with recommendations made by the GAO to fix the program so that eligible caregivers get the services they need. It is unclear, at this time, where the improvements will be made, and how long it will take to get the program on track.

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: Caregiver Support: By Debbie Gregory

Military Connection: New Truth About “WMDs” in Iraq: By Debbie Gregory

WMDAmericans were led to believe that Iraq’s “Weapons of Mass Destruction” were the driving force for allowing U.S. troops to deploy to Iraq in 2003. When no such weapons were found, there were many who felt that they had been lied to about the existence of these weapons by then-President George W. Bush. Perhaps the American people were lied to, but we may discover that the lies were different than what we thought they were.

For the duration of the Iraq War, from 2003 to 2011 and beyond, both the American military and later the American-trained Iraqi troops have encountered chemical weapons remaining from Saddam Hussein’s rule. An estimated 5,000 chemical warheads, shells and aviation bombs have been recovered. While these may have not been the “Weapons of Mass Destruction” described by President Bush, they absolutely were and are weapons of mass destruction, including mustard and Sarin agents, as well as other chemical and nerve agents.

When found in abandoned stockpiles of munitions throughout Iraq, these weapons were destroyed in order to prevent them falling into the wrong hands. But at least 17 American service members and U.S.-trained Iraqi security force members were exposed to these chemical agents… and told to keep quiet about it.

The reason for any attempted cover-up is not yet known. In fact, it would have made more sense to tell the American public that these weapons were found in order for the Bush administration to save face. But with the revelation of this story, three things become apparent:

1)      There are Iraq War Veterans who may need additional care and treatment due to exposure.

2)      It is likely that there are more stockpiles of weapons still buried in Iraq.

3)      Someone may find these stockpiles and use them.

The question that begs asking is that with the likelihood of more weapons of mass destruction still remaining in Iraq, will the Obama administration use their existence as a reason to send American ground forces back into Iraq?

Military Connection proudly serves those who serve in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Guard and Reserve, Veterans and their Families. We are the go to site for Veteran Employment and information on Veteran education. Militaryconnection.com provides Veterans with and Directory of Employers, a Job Board, information on the Post-9/11 GI Bill, and a blog that offers Veterans boundless information. Be sure to visit Militaryconnection.com, the go to site.

Military Connection: New Truth About “WMDs” in Iraq: By Debbie Gregory