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NBC Ignores VA Whistle-Blower Hearing; ABC Gives News Only 23 Seconds

On Tuesday morning, NBC’s Today refused to cover the latest news in the Veterans Affairs scandal as the House Veterans Affairs Committee heard testimony Monday night from additional whistle-blowers who faced punishment from superiors for identifying allegedly manipulated response times for veterans who filed benefit and disability claims.

Coverage of the latest news saw only two minutes and 26 seconds of air time total with only 23 seconds of that from ABC’s Good Morning America. Meanwhile, CBS This Morning spent two minutes and three seconds on the story during the 7:00 a.m. hour. [MP3 audio here]

The move by top VA officials to trim the droves of disabled veterans seeking claims led the department to botch “about one out of every 10 claims decisions,” according to The Washington TimesThe Times said whistle-blowers informed lawmakers that some claims documents were sent to be shredded and that they were immersed in “a culture of ignorance and retaliation among managers and pressure to quickly get through the backlog, which meant some veterans likely got shut out of benefits, while others may have scammed the system.”

While the agency is claiming that it has made progress in fulfilling claims, a Government Accountability Office (GAO) official testified that the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) “is producing imprecise estimates of accuracy” that are nonetheless “being used by program managers to guide improvement efforts.”

The coverage on Good Morning America occurred during the 7:00 a.m. hour in the form of a news brief from substitute news reader Dan Harris. He reported that: 

The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has made, quote, "tremendous progress reducing a backlog of disability claims," but at a combative hearing on Capitol Hill, members of Congress accused the V.A. of, once again, fudging the numbers. They also heard from more VA whistle-blowers who claim they were harassed, one even saying her car was dented as payback for speaking out about abuses of power.

Over on CBS This Morning, the VA scandal was the fifth story covered that morning after multiple segments on weather across the country and updates on a deadly train derailment in Moscow, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and a video from Osama Bin Laden before 9/11. 

The story from CBS News national correspondent Wyatt Andrews included testimony from one of the whistle-blowers who worked at the VA regional office in Philadelphia where “a room full of claims-related mail from veterans up to three years old and still containing documents not scanned into the system” was when officials with the VA Inspector General visited the facility last month.

Instead of covering this story dealing with our nation’s veterans, Today co-hosts Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie went to satellite radio host Howard Stern’s studio where he broadcasts his show on Sirius-XM.

Joining NBC with zero coverage were both The New York Times and The Washington Post as both papers failed to include even a news brief on the hearing in Tuesday morning’s print editions. USA Today did report on the story, with an article that was published on Monday in advance of the House hearing. 

The complete transcript from the July 15 segment on Good Morning America is transcribed below.

ABC's Good Morning America

July 15, 2014

7:06 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: New This Morning; V.A. Struggling With Benefit Payouts; Whistleblower: My Car Was Dented"]

DAN HARRIS: The Department of Veterans Affairs says it has made, quote, "tremendous progress reducing a backlog of disability claims," but at a combative hearing on Capitol Hill, members of Congress accused the V.A. of, once again, fudging the numbers. They also heard from more VA whistle-blowers who claim they were harassed, one even saying her car was dented as payback for speaking out about abuses of power.

In addition, the full transcript from the July 15 CBS This Morning segment is transcribed below.

CBS This Morning

July 15, 2014

7:15 a.m. Eastern

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Veterans Hospital Scandal; VA Accused of Hiding Disability Payment Backlog]

CHARLIE ROSE: The Department of Veterans Affairs is facing another growing scandal this morning after the crisis at its hospitals. 

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINES: USA Today - “Report Cites VA Struggles With Benefits Paid to Veterans,” The Washington Post - “House Panel to Examine VA’s Progress With Backlog of Disability Claims,” Chicago Sun-Times - “In Rush to Cut Benefits Backlog”]

The agency is now accused of covering up a backlog of disability payments to veterans. Wyatt Andrews is in Washington where V.A. officials face scrutiny. Wyatt, good morning. 

WYATT ANDREWS: Good morning, the V.A. scandal that was exposed earlier this year involved fake reports of how long veterans waited for health care, but last night, Congress heard testimony from a whistle-blower who says false wait times on handling disability claims are also being reported. 

KRISTEN RUELL: They were instructing us to change the dates of claims – on any claims -- regardless of the circumstances, if they were older than certain date.

ANDREWS: Kristen Ruell handles compensation claims at the V.A. regional office in Philadelphia. Appearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee, Ruell told lawmakers that, for the last year, wait times for disability claims have been changed to appear as if brand new, even though veterans were waiting for years. 

RUELL: I believe things are getting worse.

ANDREWS: Ruell's testimony led the Chairman of the committee, Republican Congressman Jeff Miller, to question if the V.A.’s claim of a 55% reduction in the disability backlog can be trusted. 

REPRESENTATIVE JEFF MILLER (R-Fla.): It has been made clear there is not a corner of the V.B.A. leadership that will not cut, nor a statistic that they will not manipulate to lay claim to a hollow victory. 

V.A. UNDERSECRETARY FOR BENEFITS ALLISON HICKEY: I know you that don't trust what we're saying. 

ANDREWS: The head of the V.A.’s benefits division, Allison Hickey, said her office is investigating charges of false reporting, but she strongly denied the V.A. has been deceiving the committee.

HICKEY: I want every veteran in this country and all of you to believe us when we say we're making good decisions not because of us, but because we care so much those veterans. 

ANDREWS: When the V.A.'s Inspector General visited Philadelphia last month, inspectors found a room full of claims-related mail from veterans up to three years old and still containing documents not scanned into the system. The V.A. has promised veterans immediate action. Margaret?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Wyatt, thank you.

— Curtis Houck is News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Curtis Houck on Twitter.