- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 1, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Sept. 24

Wilmington StarNews on approval of rules for health care for Marine families sickened by Camp Lejeune water:

The lag time between the passage of the law and approval of rules governing coverage for Marine dependents who were sickened by the polluted water is yet another symptom of the dysfunction within the Veterans Administration, and an apparent lack of urgency on the part of the White House agency that reviews rules before they become final.

Sure, government wheels always turn slower than the private sector, because there are more i’s to dot and t’s to cross. But this situation has been unacceptable since the discovery of the contaminated water supply back in the 1980s.

For years the Marines dragged their feet, loath to acknowledge any responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of people who lived in the Tarawa Terrace and Hadnot Point apartments on base between 1957 and 1987, when the wells supplying water to the complexes were active.

Numerous reports failed to note prominently the presence of benzene, a known carcinogen, in the water supply.

Many of the Marine families have reported cancers that are associated with benzene and other carcinogens. The VA also has been faulted for taking so long to process claims filed by Camp Lejeune families.

If that sounds like a familiar complaint, it should. The VA is under fire for inexcusable delays in providing care to veterans and long wait times for appointments.

Congress has allotted additional money to help ease the backlog, and a recent change of command was intended to shape up this out-of-shape agency.

But for Camp Lejeune families, news that the rules for their health care have finally been completed is the light at the end of a very long tunnel. It has been nearly 30 years since the wells contaminated by chemicals from an off-base dry cleaner and pollutants related to spills and base activities were closed.

Thanks to a truly bipartisan push by North Carolina’s two senators, Republican Richard Burr and Democrat Kay Hagan, Congress finally approved a bill in 2012 guaranteeing health care coverage for Lejeune Marines and family members who acquired one of the specific conditions connected with the toxic chemicals found in the water. Those diseases include lung, bladder, kidney, breast and esophageal cancers, leukemia, birth defects and infertility.

But the VA initially required dependents to wait to be reimbursed for required copayments. The new rules specifically cover the copayments, taking a huge burden off families facing chronic illnesses that are expensive to treat.

It certainly took long enough.




Sept. 30

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the need to fix the state’s medical examiner system:

Aldona Wos, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services, has sounded the appropriate degree of impatience with the flawed medical examiner system she inherited.

It is mind-boggling that this long after a 2001 report cited ways that examinations needed to be improved, virtually none of the recommendations has been implemented.

How can that be?

“The system,” Wos told a legislative group looking at ways to improve death investigations, “has been ignored and diminished.”

That is putting it mildly.

The Charlotte Observer investigated and reported on the woeful state of medical examinations in North Carolina earlier this year. The findings were shocking.

They included the fact that pathologists in the state’s chief medical examiner’s office in Raleigh were doing more than 250 autopsies a year. Experts said that’s a number almost guaranteed to lead to mistakes, and it has.

In addition, with most medical examiners being doctors and nurses, the pay of $100 per case is much too low. Not surprisingly, medical examiners don’t even go to death scenes in 90 percent of the cases and in at least 1 of every 9 deaths don’t fulfill a state requirement that they view the bodies of the deceased.

That can mean wrong diagnoses on causes of death, which can lead to families not being able to collect insurance payments they are due. And a bad determination on the cause of death obviously can result in a faulty criminal investigation in the case of a homicide.

But there are other problems.

Dr. Deborah Radisch, the state’s chief medical examiner, says some examiners are not trained well because there is not enough money to provide training. “No matter who you appoint,” she said, “I don’t care how smart a doctor or how smart a nurse you are, you have to be trained to do this.”

It must drive Radisch, an outspoken and admirably determined official, up the wall when she compares North Carolina’s underfunded, training-deprived system with a state such as Virginia, where there are four regional examiner centers that oversee investigations and perform autopsies.

Another headache for Radisch: Some 19 percent of North Carolina autopsies are done by general pathologists, who deal mainly with natural disease and not violent deaths that always are more complicated to investigate. She wants every autopsy performed by a board-certified forensic pathologist. That’s how it works with systems that are nationally accredited, which North Carolina’s is not.

And no wonder. The state spends 93 cents per capita on death investigations, when the average in state systems is $1.76 per capita. The higher average enables state offices to send people adequately trained to virtually every suspicious death scene to look for clues. North Carolina is a long way from being able to do that.

The Charlotte Observer’s investigative series did push the General Assembly to seek an independent investigation, the results and recommendations of which are supposed to be ready early next year.

Wos has had her troubles at DHHS, but this is a situation in which she had a problem of too long-standing dropped into her lap. She deserves credit for trying to raise awareness of it and for not pulling any punches in talking about how dire the problems are.

It also would be worthwhile, for DHHS and other agencies, to try to find out where in the state bureaucracy earlier recommendations for improvements stalled. When the state spends the money and time to come up with a report on how to improve something like medical examiners’ offices and it just falls by the wayside for 13 years, an explanation is needed.




Sept. 27

Asheville Citizen-Times on city’s policy for dealing with police video of protest rallies and other public gatherings:

Asheville police should have a policy to dispose promptly of any videos they make of public gatherings, especially political gatherings, unless there is a clear criminal-justice reason to retain them.

For a decade, police have recorded various gatherings without making their actions public. Some gatherings were of political movements, ranging from Mountain Moral Monday to the Tea Party. This has outraged some people, and rightly so.

“That’s a legal First Amendment-protected activity and if law enforcement is going to have this database of every First Amendment event that takes place that can have a chilling effect if they are able to then keep track of an individual’s politics or what types of rallies or events they like to go to,” said Mike Meno of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina.

Police Chief William Anderson told City Manager Gary Jackson the recordings were made for training purposes, according to records obtained by the Citizen-Times. “This footage will be stored for future reference for planning future events,” Anderson said in an email. “We have no other use for the video.”

But, when the Citizen-Times asked to see the recordings, the city Attorney’s Office said they were not public records, citing exemptions in the law for criminal intelligence and criminal investigations.

“I think it’s frightening actually,” said Jonathan Robert, who was at the Mountain Moral Monday rally and complained about police recording the event. He said calling the recordings criminal intelligence “basically means that all 7,000-and-change in people who attended Moral Monday are under criminal investigation.”

City spokeswoman Dawa Hitch could not say whether police recorded various rallies, including the large Tea Party tax day rally in 2009, the Occupy rallies in 2011 and 2012, the gun rally in 2013 or any of the annual topless rallies.

In fact, police couldn’t say much of anything about the practice. A Citizen-Times investigation established that there is no system for filing the recordings, that none of them have been purged and - most significantly - no actionable criminal evidence ever has been produced.

John DeCarlo, coordinator of police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York, a leading school in the field, said police should make public the events they recorded, and that policies on disposal should be in place beforehand.

We suppose we could be pleased that surveillance targets range across the political spectrum from left to right - equal-opportunity spying, so to speak - but we aren’t. Neither are the targets.

“They will have a record of everyone who is expressing their opinions on a political issue,” said Barry Summers, who has participated in Moral Monday rallies and has spoken out on other issues. “That’s wrong. That’s fundamentally wrong.”

“I think there’s a transparency issue,” said Asheville Tea Party chair Jane Bilello. “If they are taking these pictures in a public place we have a right to know where are they being stored, who’s storing them, why aren’t they being destroyed.”

Hitch said the recordings are “a public-safety tool … to have a record if something goes wrong.” Okay, but why keep them after it is clear nothing has gone wrong?

Recordings from cameras in patrol cars are purged after 30 days unless needed for an investigation. That seems to be a good standard for recordings of rallies as well.



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