VA coverage driven by special interests

Report details how corporate funders influenced mass media, ignored evidence behind veterans’ health care

Oakland (October 22, 2018) — The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute has released a new report detailing how corporate-funded media personalities and organizations have shaped the narrative around the Veterans Health Administration as a troubled and ineffective agency – even in the face overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

“I spent five years interviewing veterans and reporting from inside the VA,” said VHPI Senior Analyst Suzanne Gordon, who co-authored the report with VHPI Analyst Jasper Craven. “The failing healthcare system portrayed by many politicians and the news media ignores the evidence and many veterans’ experience at the Veterans Health Administration.”

Numerous studies that show the VA provides the same or better level of care than the private health care system yet comparisons to the private sector rarely makes it into news reports about the VA. Nor does coverage of VA research and treatment innovations.

"In analyzing media coverage of the VA, we found journalists often promoted anecdotal scandals and ignored agency-wide triumphs," Craven said. "While accountability journalism is a vital tool of democracy, reporters also bear a responsibility to frame their stories with the the proper context, and data. Otherwise, an agency's reputation can be unfairly tarnished."

VHPI’s report begins with the Concerned Veterans for America, an arm of the Koch Brothers’ political network, that drove the widely-publicized Phoenix wait-time scandal. Then, as the VA’s public relations response withered under the criticism, news organizations like CNN and USA Today – and many others –  continue to amplify negative coverage. Media outlets even create ‘scandals’ when there is little evidence of wrongdoing and/or evidence of efforts to remedy problems that exist throughout American healthcare, not just in the VHA.

“Veterans’ health care is used as an effective wedge issue by corporate powers and politicians,” said Gordon, whose new book Wounds of War: How the VA Delivers Health, Healing, and Hope to the Nation’s Veterans, extensively document’s the VA’s inner-workings and through the eyes of veterans who have received care. “In this case, lawmakers and the media failed to acknowledge the powerful forces driving the conversation.”

“At the Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute, we believe that to improve veterans’ healthcare you’ve got to do two things,” said Brett W. Copeland, VHPI’s executive director. “Listen to veterans and follow the evidence. Both the media and politicians have fallen short when it comes to reporting on VA-provided care.”

The full five-part article can be read at veteranspolicy.org/media-critique.

This article was expanded from an original article published in the Washington Monthly in the July/August 2018 issue.

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The Veterans Healthcare Policy Institute, a non-partisan, 501(c)3 non profit organization, tank that empowers veterans and provides clear, fact-based information to decision makers that leads to better healthcare outcomes for veterans.  VHPI was founded by veterans and their caregivers, healthcare providers and professionals, and healthcare journalists in 2016. Learn more at veteranspolicy.org/about.

Brett Copeland