The Public and Intergovernmental Affairs Office of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is very concerned.
No, the communications specialists in the agency are not concerned with veterans in need. They're not concerned with citizens and public officials requesting public information. They're not concerned with journalists seeking the truth.
What these entrenched government employees care most about, above all else, is the business of spin and stonewalling.
The VA mouthpieces are preoccupied with covering their ample bureaucratic backsides, withholding data, monitoring critics, fending off watchdogs and running constant interference for their corrupt, negligent agency.
In a string of internal email documents I obtained from last fall, several VA press staffers spent seven months dragging their feet on a Freedom of Information Act request filed in March 2013 by disabled vet and attorney Benjamin Krause. He and other vets wanted to know how exactly the VA's communications budget was being spent on public relations campaigns, advertisements, online publications and contracts.
VA spokesman Mark Ballesteros warned his colleagues in an October 2013 email that he had read Krause's veterans advocacy website, DisabledVeterans.org. As I reported last week, Krause's investigative site exposed and explained the VA's red-flag system for dissatisfied veterans and also blew the whistle on Federal Protective Service officers harassing sick veterans protesting shoddy care in San Diego.
Ballesteros wrote that Krause's website "appears to have a distinct anti-VA tone." He advised the VA's taxpayer-funded public affairs specialists: "We should proceed cautiously with this one."
What exactly did that mean? Ultimately, the office supplied data in response to Krause's request -- but not before Ballesteros imposed what appears to be a selective, pre-FOIA release policy based on viewpoint discrimination. "Let's ensure the material is socialized before we provide it to the organization," Ballesteros told his colleagues.
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