Today is our 299th day back in Iraq.
There has been a new casualty in Afghanistan - more on that in a minute.
We find this morning's Cost of War
passing through: $ 1, 618, 598, 900, 000. 00
We'll head to nearby Whitinsville, MA. It's a small town in the middle part of the state - essentially a southern suburb of Worcester. Last Wednesday, Specialist John Dawson was killed in Afghanistan
after an Afghan soldier opened fire on his US escorts while on a mission.
NORTHBRIDGE – Flags around town are at half-staff and yellow ribbons hang from utility poles on the street where Army Spc. John Dawson grew up. The 22-year-old soldier from Whitinsville was killed during an attack in Afghanistan Wednesday, according to the Department of Defense.
The lowered flags and ribbons are a community's expression of condolences and appreciation to Spc. Dawson and his family.
Spc. Dawson, 22, died in Jalalabad from wounds suffered when his group was attacked by small arms fire while on an escort mission, according to the Defense Department. At least seven others were wounded in the incident that happened about 1 p.m. Wednesday.
Spc. Dawson is a graduate of Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School. He was a student in the electrical program and graduated in 2010.
This morning, Town Manager Theodore D. Kozak said the town leaders and local veteran groups will be meeting next week to discuss how the town will formally honor the fallen soldier.
“All we can do right now is offer our condolences to the family and let them know the community is here to support them,” Mr. Kozak said. “There is no question about it that the family has our condolences and the community definitely wants to support them.”
Superintendent-Director Michael Fitzpatrick said a crisis committee will be meeting and school officials will be collaborating with Northbridge officials.
“We are all taken aback by the loss of our graduate, young John Dawson,” Mr. Fitzpatrick said this morning. “it just breaks your heart.”
Spc. Dawson is survived by his parents, Rhonda Dawson and Michael Dawson, both of Whitinsville, the military said.
We'll next shift gears slightly and take a look at how the VA is doing. It's been in the news a little bit recently, as we recently had the anniversary of the wait-time scandal, and a few places wanted to see if anything changed. Sad to say, it doesn't seem to be
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. -- A year after Americans recoiled at new revelations that sick veterans were getting sicker while languishing on waiting lists -- and months after the Department of Veterans Affairs instituted major reforms costing billions of dollars -- government data shows that the number of patients facing long waits at VA facilities has not dropped at all.
No one expected that the VA mess could be fixed overnight. But The Associated Press has found that since the summer, the number of vets waiting more than 30 or 60 days for non-emergency care has largely stayed flat. The number of medical appointments that take longer than 90 days to complete has nearly doubled.
Nearly 894,000 appointments completed at VA medical facilities from Aug. 1 to Feb. 28 failed to meet the health system's timeliness goal, which calls for patients to be seen within 30 days.
That means roughly one in 36 patient visits to a caregiver involved a delay of at least a month. Nearly 232,000 of those appointments involved a delay of longer than 60 days -- a figure that doesn't include cancellations, patient no-shows, or instances where veterans gave up and sought care elsewhere.
A closer look reveals deep geographic disparities.
Many delay-prone facilities are clustered within a few hours' drive of each other in a handful of Southern states, often in areas with a strong military presence, a partly rural population and patient growth that has outpaced the VA's sluggish planning process.
Of the 75 clinics and hospitals with the highest percentage of patients waiting more than 30 days for care, 12 are in Tennessee or Kentucky, 11 are in eastern North Carolina and the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, 11 more are in Georgia and southern Alabama, and six are in north Florida.
Seven more were clustered in the region between Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Those 47 clinics and hospitals represent just a fraction of the more than 1,000 VA facilities nationwide, but they were responsible for more than one in five of the appointments that took longer than 60 days to complete, even though they accounted for less than 6 percent of patient visits.
That has meant big headaches for veterans like Rosie Noel, a retired Marine gunnery sergeant who was awarded the Purple Heart in Iraq after rocket shrapnel slashed open her cheek and broke her jaw.
Noel, 47, said it took 10 months for the VA to successfully schedule her for a follow-up exam and biopsy after an abnormal cervical cancer screening test in June 2013.
First, she said, her physician failed to mention she needed the exam at all. Then, her first scheduled appointment in February 2014 was postponed due to another medical provider's "family emergency." She said her make-up appointment at the VA hospital in Fayetteville, one of the most backed-up facilities in the country, was abruptly canceled when she was nearly two hours into the drive from her home in Sneads Ferry on the coast.
Noel said she was so enraged, she warned the caller that she had post-traumatic stress disorder, she wasn't going to turn around -- and they better have security meet her in the lobby.
"I served my country. I'm combat wounded. And to be treated like I'm nothing is unconscionable," she said.
I will turn AAV's lens on this Commonwealth. Massachusetts prides itself on our medical facilities - the research, the colleges, and even the for-profit hospitals and commercial insurances are consistently ranked near the top in any national poll. But what about our veterans?
BOSTON —In a state that prides itself on access to great health care, wait times at Veterans Affairs hospitals and clinics vary widely, with some of the longest in central and western Massachusetts.
Statewide nearly 9,000 medical appointments, about 2 percent of the total, were delayed at least a month during a recent six-month period between September and February.
But government data show the state's facilities performed better than the national average for seeing veterans within the department's 30-day goal.
The Associated Press reviewed appointment data for 940 VA facilities nationwide and found that 2.8 percent of appointments were delayed a month or more.
In Massachusetts, those facilities that exceeded the national average included the Central Western Massachusetts VA in Leeds, where 5.5 percent of appointments exceeded 30 days.
My read on this is that it's a resource problem. Looking over the list, there's a number of veteran's facilities scattered around the state. But only 6 "real" hospitals. There's more hospitals than that in a two-block area in the Fenway in Boston. Of the 6 VA facilities, 5 of them are located in Eastern Massachusetts...and only one "out west" in Leeds. So revisiting Whitinsville, any veteran in that area has two choices - drive 40 miles to the VA center on Huntington Avenue (Downtown Boston), or drive 71 miles west to the facility in Leeds. Worcester itself only has an outpatient clinic.
There's more work to be done. It's been a year since the scandal broke...but it's never been high on anyone's radar. Soon we'll be examining candidates for President again - one wonders where any of them will rate veterans on their priorities list.