Site of Reference:
Brian Orloff writing for Editor and Publisher reports, “A team from Knight Ridder decided to look beyond the headlines of the U.S. military at war to see how we are treating our veterans here at home. Breaking through FOIA barriers, they packaged a remarkable portrait of unequal treatment. The finished project, called "Discharged and Dishonored: Shortchanging America's Veterans," ran last weekend in Knight Ridder newspapers, and is now part of an extensive online package, but it was months in the making. For the KR investigative team, comprised of reporters Chris Adams, Alison Young, and editor James Asher, reporting on the bureaucracy and getting all the necessary information proved challenging."We filed a bunch of FOIA requests with the Veterans Administration early on -- I think it was February of 2004 -- and got stonewalled by them," Asher told E&P. "Ultimately, in November, we sued them. It was very intriguing that once the suit was filed, they started coughing up every record we asked for."
Investigating the Veteran’s Administration, something every vet of every war has wished someone would do for years, has turned up inadequacies in the treatment of veterans and the way it goes about its business. How surprising. Sent to fight in a war that is clearly being fought for selfish and personal reasons, getting wounded and sent back to the U.S. for treatment and then standing in line on one leg or two our fighting men and women are continually mistreated by an army of paper that marches both on its dust pile and its shredder for all we know.
Editor and Publisher’s Brian Orloff continues, "We decided that since everyone was preoccupied with the military, we ought to look at how the nation takes care of its military," he said. "We did that by going to the first, direct place: the Veterans Administration. What we found was something very interesting, which was that nobody had ever done any substantial reporting on the benefits/ compensation side of the Veterans Administration,” as opposed to what happens in the V.A. hospital system.Despite being hampered early on by the department's unresponsiveness to Knight Ridder's FOIA requests, Asher said a related court that handles appeals on veterans' claims did provide a database with names of veterans whose appeals were protracted, or who waited many years for their appeals to be heard.The story describes inefficiencies and irregularities within various state offices which have no standardized method of assessing veterans' injury claims. Similarly, the amount of remuneration offered for the same conditions varies wildly from state to state and office to office. Asher noted that while it would be heartening if the government used the Knight Ridder stories to make reforms, he wasn't sure they would be so quick to act."It's always hard to predict how bureaucracy will respond," he said. "There is some study going on now about why this disparity exists and I suspect it's one of the tantalizing things in our reporting. "They've done some reports over the years -- not about the disability rating that we found -- but about the amount of money that they pass out each year by state," he continued. "They found a disparity there but they've never done anything about that. Once they've recognized that there's something intrinsically different about the way they give a rating on a particular illness or injury, and that changes by regional office, they're pretty intrigued to harmonize that." No standard way to process claims and it is open to each particular office to handle the cases as it sees fit? That is just another ay of saying that the bureaucracy has no reason to admit it is wrong. The line “they're pretty intrigued to harmonize that," really stands out as a pretty cold-blooded statement. Just think of all the veterans who have gone untreated, the veterans that have committed suicide in despair over their conditions, the once gung ho men who signed up to serve their country and threw their medals on the ground and at the White House. Do you think they could harmonize with that? The ability of an institution such as the Veteran administration to look into the eyes of a veteran and to simply say, “Sorry, we can’t help you. Next!” is beyond my understanding.
This next section of the story speaks for itself, “And, in another unique facet of the story, the Knight Ridder Washington bureau distributed materials from the story to its individual newspaper offices three weeks before the main story ran to give each newspaper the time, and the option, to write locally-focused, related stories to augment the main feature. Many of the Knight Ridder affiliates participated, according to Asher, including newspapers in Fort Worth, Texas, St. Paul, Minn., and Biloxi, Miss. "Some of them have editorialized about it," Asher said. "Some of them have written stories. Some of them made it into a longer series. They've all taken a different approach about how to make this as relevant to their communities as possible.” All in all it is the bleeding fighting against the red ink that does not come from wounds. This red ink infects the wound and sends it out into the germ filled air of despair and denial.
- Chris Mansel
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
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