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Monday, October 26, 2009

Obama does something good - VA gets advance funding

Some people recognize my handwriting. Some can actually recognize the way I put sentences together.

Some would say I am a mouthpiece for the right. And in that, they would be correct, but not in the way they might think.

I am an old-school print reporter. That’s what I am at the bottom of it all. The first time I smelled the ink of that old offset press in Alamogordo, NM, I was in love with the whole thing. I loved being responsible for the weekend press-check – standing there at midnight and looking over the first batch to make sure there were no egregious errors.

And then the part that I loved – telling the press-men to run it. The building would vibrate as the sound of the massive web rig picked up speed. Catchers would scoop papers and inserters and all the rest of the crew in the back would bind them up and parcel them up and in an hour, it would be all over.

The story was delivered.

And if it was one of my stories, you could expect a couple things. First, it would be done right, it would cut deep but be respectful, it would provide every angle available – and some which could only be explored because the source knew you and trusted you.

I am a mouthpiece for the right – the “right” story, the “right” reasons, the “right” morality and the right people. I have always tried to do as little damage as possible – unless they deserved it. My only bias, near as I can locate, is a penchant for good rum, a little enjoyment found in riding a nice Harley, and a love for 70s model Stingrays.

But I wouldn’t trade for any of the above as payment to do some kind of lap-dog gig for anyone. I’m not sure of my genetic background (yet. I’m working on that), but I am sure that for some odd reason, I feel the need to spit in the general direction of some of these mincing, whimpering show dogs and glorified hairdo’s that read us the evening news off of teleprompters. They disgust me.

And the whole White House / press activities of late make me want to spit. We as a nation deserve better than this. We deserve real leaders and real reporters. Time will show whether we get either thing. But for now, it’s all very sad.

At least, it was until Thursday.

You see, the worst part of reporting is that you have to provide a complete story. Hatchet jobs and cut-n-paste plagiarism have become the norm in the new world of social networking and blogging, which I sadly find myself a part of. But that doesn’t mean you can’t actually provide the real story and do some real work – some real witing. That doesn’t mean the story, which may be out-of-line with your normal fare on your beat, is any less important or deserves any less play.

And so we come to this story – the one I have been waiting so long to write:

This is the point finally, where President Barack Obama actually did something fine and good. There was no hidden motives, no backtracking, no “dithering,” no glossy meaningless teleprompter words. There was nothing to gain politically – not really – and it was a moment which meant a lot to a certain section of the population.

Noticing that the Department of Veterans Affairs, who take care of wounded servicemen and women, is providing care without a Congress-approved budget, he signed into law a measure designed to keep funding for veterans steady – even in the midst of budget negotiations which are sure to become more heated as time goes on.

For the average Joe or Jane out there, this means nothing. But if either Joe or Jane wore the country’s uniform and served in her military and became disabled, the simple action means a lot. Congress has been late in passing a funding package in 20 of the last 23 years. Financial uncertainty has always meant programs could simply be reduced or eliminated and hiring replacement doctors might be put off indefinitely.

Those of us who need the VA to survive (they’ve saved my life at least once - and I will be under their care now for the rest of my life), know the ebb and flow of the tides of care and the way the system’s leadership operates and constantly works to change things for the benefit of the veteran. Most of the 23 million American veterans understand the long lines, slow pharmacy, odd bureaucratic policies and the occasional scheduling issue. But 23 million is a lot of folks to handle, because not only does the veteran generally qualify for health care, but their family members may, in some cases, as well.

Late budgets, which are always behind the curve for the VA, due to Washington’s in-fighting cause “rationing of care.” That can mean psychologists simply are not on hand – or hold meetings with group sessions as opposed to individually with a patient. It can also mean some departments remain low-staffed and so appointments – even important diagnostic tests - take weeks or months to happen.

I have been a patient in the VA system since 1994 and it has been a long, hard slog. But then I was diagnosed with a saddle pulmonary embolism, which is generally fatal within two weeks for most folks. The knowledgeable doctors at the Albuquerque VA and their care of me, is one of the only reasons I am typing this now. It is their work that allowed me to get another shot at my time here on Earth, and I am always grateful for that. But even with top-notch staff and capabilities like these, they are always stretched thin, and they never know how much money they will have to operate their programs next year.

Obama reportedly called this situation “inexcusable and unacceptable.” Then he pulled out a pen and signed the Veterans Health Care Budget Reform and Transparency Act into being.

The moment didn’t come easy. Nearly 20 years of constant pressure from veterans’ groups finally produced this result. The bill passed Congress with nearly unanimous support.

I suppose I could hunt down the names of those who did not support it, but why? We have here a single moment – one perfect, clear moment when the administration has done something really good. The only funding bill that did pass on time this year was the one that pays Congressmen their salaries. This new law will at least ensure that next year, vets will get their paychecks at the same time as the nation’s elite.

What a refreshing change of pace. I have just had the opportunity to write something positive.

Keep ‘em coming.

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