Thursday, May 29, 2014

Lost & Found

July 1, 1980 I watched the first hours of what was known as Cable News Network. The sets were tacky, lighting bad, but real news was being reported. For a current-events junkie, it was nirvana. The 3 network newscasts were a joke in comparison. Today those newscasts continue to provide the majority of Americans with their news – 65% according to Pew Research.  Cable watchers are just 38% and most of it is recycled press releases and who can yell louder at the opposing viewpoint. I haven’t watched cable news regularly in nearly a decade, frustrated by the lack of depth and inquisitiveness in the coverage and the overreliance on opinion – whether it be CNN, Fox or MSNBC. The recently launched Al Jazeera America in a rare bright spot in the landscape. Last week CNN returned to its roots, albeit for a moment.

CNN spent weeks covering the disappearance of flight 370, including putting reporters in flight simulators and having anchors use toy airplanes to tell the story. Ratings soared with the theatrics. Last week CNN returned to its journalism roots and its reporting on the Veteran’s Affairs issues took center stage. The story went national and viral with disclosures that up to 40 veterans died while waiting for an appointment to see a doctor. The Inspector General just released an indictment of the current system – supporting CNN’s reporting. Its a powerful story that touches on many public policy areas.
It is surprising to learn that CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin who led the investigation credited the missing flight in the networks ability to cover the story. “The network’s focus on the plane allowed [Griffin’s] team to finalize the story, at which point they waited for a lull in the search.” Long gone are the days that scoops and breaking news actually needed to get into the public consciousness. Debris floating in the ocean counts as ‘breaking news’ but the lack of care for veterans can wait?

Shocking as the report is – the reality is that the problems with the Veteran’s Administration have been well-known and documented. My blog last Veteran’s Day Dishonoring Veterans outlined all of the ways that the U.S. Government was not fulfilling its obligations. The current report is just one more way.

U.S. House Speaker John Boener reiterated his 20-year plan to privatize the Veteran’s Administration. I am a free market capitalist who largely believes that the private sector can deliver services more effectively and at a better cost than the government. There are exceptions. Taking care of Veterans is one of them. Mr. Boener, along with nearly every other House member and Senator spent most of the years after the 9/11 attacks voting to take America to war and continuing to fund the wars and military conflicts. Funding rose during this period. “In the Obama era VA spending rose another 78 percent, the largest increase on a percentage level of any Cabinet agency in Obama's tenure. The annual VA budget rose $65.9 billion a year to $150.7 billion in FY2014.” The justification for increased funding was to better serve veterans directly from the VA.

Privatization is something the Republicans and the Obama Administration agree on. The administration over the weekend authorized veteran’s ability to obtain healthcare at private hospitals. The move may provide additional choices for care, but impacts an already overburdened healthcare system with more patients without the benefit of specialists trained in the impact of military service. The private healthcare system in the U.S. is currently trying to absorb millions of people who now have insurance coverage and are seeking medical care. The VA already spends $4.8 billion per year on outsourcing medical services. Now the dollars the VA has will go less far by using third parties.

Until such time that the United States separates the physical and mental health of its citizens from the cost-driven insurance approach to healthcare, there will continue to be harrowing stories and examples of people not getting the care they deserve. If the Government sends its men and women to war, it  must legally and morally fulfill its promise to take care of the injured. Hopefully that resolve will be found before the missing plane is.

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