“I’m in the dark. I just have no idea when I’m going to hear anything.”
Army reservist Joseph Blunn came back from his first deployment to Iraq in 2004 a lost man, plagued by nightmares, frayed nerves and bouts of inexplicable anger. He tried to readjust to life at home, but couldn’t — and two years after his return, Blunn found himself sitting alone on the floor of his bedroom, playing a solo game of Russian roulette with his revolver. He called the police and asked them to take him away.
Counselors at Blunn’s local Veterans Affairs office diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder. His PTSD can be crushing: At times, Blunn is leveled by guilt or sadness; loud noises send him reeling. Working and studying are difficult, and in May of this year — after a second tour in Iraq — he filed a claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs in Denver asking for disability benefits. He hasn’t heard anything since.
“I’m in the dark,” he says. “I just have no idea when I’m going to hear anything.”
Like Blunn, American troops are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan only to wait in line. They’re joining a growing queue of veterans seeking compensation — payments and other support — from the Department of Veterans Affairs for service-related disabilities.
Across the country, local VA offices are having a tough time processing the backlog of more than 800,000 disability claims.
From a story I worked on with my colleague Samara Freemark (inspired by the work of Public Insight Network partner the Center for Investigative Reporting).
The (occasional) folly of reporting on the VA
So this happened: I’m reporting a story on the VA and I (finally) get a PIO on the phone. It turns out that there is another PIO that I should also contact, so the PIO on the phone gives me her number and says, “You didn’t get it from me.”
Another PIO expresses dismay when I tell her I got her number from a Google search.
I ask that same PIO for the name and number of their FOIA person. She hangs up to walk down the hall to ask him and then sends me an email saying it would be best if I just submitted the FOIA and waited for them to contact me with any questions.
All of this, really, says more about the VA than anything any PIO told me.
So there you go. Onward.
My new story package on medical interpreters is up…
There’s a web piece, a radio piece, and an interactive map all rolled up in one page.
It starts like this:
There are 25 million people in the United States who don’t know enough English to get them through a routine hospital or clinic visit.
That number has grown by 80 percent in just two decades. That’s big growth, but it’s nothing like what some individual states have seen.
Because of a rapid increase in the need for medical interpreters and no comprehensive national legislation governing interpreters or overseeing their work, health care providers are not always willing or able to meet the need.
Jennifer Farmer is a pediatric emergency room nurse in North Carolina, a state where the number of residents with limited English has grown by close to 400 percent since 1990.
In a typical work shift, Farmer will use a trained medical interpreter 20 times or more. The thought of working with her patients without the help of interpreters unnerves her. “It is absolutely terrifying, because that could be the difference between them just getting a medication and us observing them for a few hours and sending them home, versus us transferring them to a neurosurgeon for brain surgery,” she says. “I mean it is that vast of a difference.”
Steve Albini, in an interview with… GQ.
UPDATE: My friend Paul and a bunch of my Facebook friends were annoyed by this quote. I wanted to say a little more about why I posted it — and why I posted it on a Tumblr that is usually at least a little bit related to my trade.
The GQ interview I pulled this from was a web feature — a Q&A with recording engineer and Shellac front-fellow Steve Albini that was mostly about his area of expertise: The music business.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer asked Albini a throw away question. It was the kind of crap I can only imagine some editor told the interviewer to be sure to ask every interviewee. The question: “How would you describe your fashion?”
To Albini’s credit, he neither answered the question, nor blew it off. He gave a thoughtful answer — with his trademark wit, outrage, and references to pornography.
He wasn’t attacking people who dress to fit their own definition of looking good. Hell, his drummer wears beautiful sparkly blouses when he performs and runs a salon.
He was hoping out loud for the destruction of the fashion industry GQ serves. And he was hoping out loud for the death of GQ itself — and all of this on a GQ interview.
It was a rare moment of a sort of meta-candor and a rare instance of a throwaway question to fit some hollow online editorial vision actually amounting to something.
It’s remarkable in the most literal sense.
Having duly remarked, I take my leave.
- Richard Benzinger, a doctor in St. Louis who answered my questions for people earning above $250,000, responded to the question “What’s it like to be in the top 2 percent of earners?”
It’s all about where you’re standing, right? For perspective, I posted Benzinger’s quote with the thoughts of a pizza delivery driver in rural Kentucky, who I interviewed as part of a project on hard work.