Tag Archives: military

Media can make a difference in veterans’ health, #AHCJ16 panelists say

About Susan Heavey

Susan Heavey, (@susanheavey) a Washington, D.C.-based journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on social determinants of health and curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on resources and tip sheets at determinants@healthjournalism.org.

Photo: Susan Heavey/AHCJDr. Joseph Calabrese spoke at Health Journalism 2016 about veterans health issues.

Photo: Susan Heavey/AHCJDr. Joseph Calabrese spoke at Health Journalism 2016 about veterans health issues.

The irony was hard not to notice.

For more than an hour, an expert panel addressed a roomful of journalists at AHCJ’s annual Health Journalism 2016 on health barriers for military veterans.

An important one appears to be a reluctance among vets to talk about certain health problems, especially those seen as potentially stigmatizing.

Yet there we were talking about it: trauma. post-traumatic stress disorder, depression. Continue reading

Story about reconstructive surgery for soldiers was no ‘quick hit’

About Tara Haelle

Tara Haelle (@TaraHaelle) is AHCJ's medical studies core topic leader, guiding journalists through the jargon-filled shorthand of science and research and enabling them to translate the evidence into accurate information.

Photo: U.S. Army via FlickrLiza Gross looked at how war spurs innovation in medicine in a magazine piece about the state of the art in facial reconstructive surgery for badly wounded soldiers.

Photo: U.S. Army via FlickrLiza Gross looked at how war spurs innovation in medicine in a magazine piece about the state of the art in facial reconstructive surgery for badly wounded soldiers.

With thousands of soldiers having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, our country will be grappling with the short-term and long-term consequences of those wars for decades to come. That means health reporters will find no shortage of opportunities to explain the health ramifications of those tours, from PTSD’s effects and new treatments to battlefield medicine applied in emergency rooms. AHCJ offers several resources to reporters covering mental health issues concerning the military, but there also are many angles to take in looking at the physical consequences of war.

In a new How I Did It article for AHCJ, independent reporter Liza Gross describes how she decided to write about soldiers’ facial reconstruction for Discover and the challenges she encountered, from wading through a huge evidence base of medical research to approaching her interviews with sensitivity and empathy – but not too much. Continue reading

VA secretary addresses some of department’s challenges #ahcj15

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, has been AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curated related material at healthjournalism.org. Follow her on Facebook.

Photo: Pia ChristensenRobert McDonald

Pia Christensen/AHCJRobert McDonald

More than 140 journalists at Health Journalism 2015 gathered early Friday to hear Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald – and to question him about VA policies, including the agency’s notorious opaqueness with reporters.

McDonald readily acknowledged that the VA has had what he called a “Kremlin-esque” mentality, and told the roomful of journalists that he was trying to change it. The VA is publishing patient access data (waiting times for appointments) on the website every two weeks, and he said he’s trying to promote a culture of openness. Continue reading

‘Escape Fire’ movie tells powerful patient stories

About Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen, (@JoanneKenen) the health editor at Politico, has been AHCJ’s topic leader on health reform and curated related material at healthjournalism.org. Follow her on Facebook.

I wrote earlier this fall about several new documentaries about health care. I’ve now had a chance to watch one of them, “Escape Fire” and talk to the filmmakers Matthew Heineman and Susan Froemke.

Joanne Kenen

Joanne Kenen (@JoanneKenen) is AHCJ’s health reform topic leader. If you have questions or suggestions for future resources, please send them to joanne@healthjournalism.org.

The film has a fairly simple basic message: The American health care system is a mess. But solutions, at least partial solutions, are there for the taking.

Part of the film focuses on the payment and delivery of health care – what those of us who write about this a lot may think of as the Dartmouth Atlas message. The fee-for-service system rewards quantity over quality and encourages all sorts of stuff to be done that doesn’t make a lot of sense and isn’t necessarily right for the patients. A part of the film looks at the – related – issue of designing a health care system around people who are sick, rather than emphasizing investment in keeping people well; Dean Ornish, Andrew Weil and Wayne Jonas all appear. We know a fair amount about keeping people well. But that’s not what our system primarily pays for.

The filmmakers, Heineman and Froemke, whose interest in the health care system was stirred when they made a film a few years ago on Alzheimer’s disease, spent more than three years on this project. The more they learned about the health system, the more astonished they became at the scope of its flaws.

“We have worse outcomes but we’re spending twice as much as other nations, “ Heineman said. And despite all that money, we don’t have a “patient-centered preventive and safe system.” The system, as he put it, is “high-tech over high-touch.”

The filmmakers weren’t alone. “We found out that no one in the medical profession is happy” about much of American medicine, they said. Doctors who want to do primary care, or who want to have a more “whole patient” approach even as a specialist, encounter all sorts of barriers. “It’s the spending structure,” Froemke said. “Medicine became a for-profit industry; we lost our moral compass.”

The film has its share of experts, some of whom like Donald Berwick, M.D., will be (I hope!) familiar to health journalists. But the heart of the film, as Froemke put it, is the stories it tells about ordinary – or maybe not so ordinary—patients and doctors.Three stories in particular stood out for me: Continue reading

Military’s spotty recordkeeping hurts veterans

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

At the Center for Investigative Reporting, Aaron Glantz dug deep into the widespread recordkeeping errors and lapses that are bedeviling the VA’s disability claims system and making it difficult for veterans of Vietnam, the Gulf wars, and the war in Afghanistan to prove they were in combat, exposed to harmful substances, or even injured. A few days later, ProPublica and The Seattle Times published a similar investigation, which focuses most on more recent conflicts.

According to Glantz, “A Center for Investigative Reporting review of the VA’s performance data reveals chronic errors – committed in up to 1 in 3 cases – and an emphasis on speed over accuracy that clogs the VA system with appeals, increasing delays for all veterans.”

A few more numbers from Glantz’s work:

  • “The VA acknowledges it makes mistakes on 14 percent of disability claims.”
  • “A CIR analysis of 18 audits published this year by the VA’s inspector general shows the problem could be much worse, especially in high-profile cases. The analysis found a 38 percent average error rate for claims involving disabilities like traumatic brain injury and illnesses linked to the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange.”
  • One internal VA document … shows that during the first three months of 2008 … the agency failed to perform its duty to assist in nearly 11,000 cases.

Likewise, the Seattle Times/ProPublica reporters write that military historians found that “at least 15 brigades serving in Iraq at various times from 2003 to 2008 had no records on hand. The same was true for at least five brigades deployed to Afghanistan.”

Records were so scarce for 62 more units that served in Iraq and 10 in Afghanistan that they were written up as “some records, but not enough to write an adequate Army history.” This group included most of the units deployed during the first four years of the Afghanistan war.