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The VA closes off treatment from outside hospitals

 November 1, 2021 at 8:19 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Monday, November 1st

The VA is preventing veterans from getting treatment at other hospitals. More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines….

US Customs and Border Protection say one person died and 13 people were pulled from the pacific ocean after attempting to swim around the barrier in San Diego– that’s according to a statement the agency issued on Saturday. CBP says US border patrol agents were notified on Friday night of about 70 people trying to swim from Tijuana to the US. Border patrol agents took 36 people into custody, including those pulled from the water by the US coast guard.


The city of San Diego is redrawing the lines for city council districts. A population boom in the northern coastal region of the city means there will be significant changes in some council boundaries. And some of those proposed changes are drawing criticism. Community leaders in Clairemont see their neighborhood divided up into 4 different districts.

Here is San Diego Union Tribune reporter, David Garrick.

"If your community is divided among 4 city council districts, then you have 4 city council people to talk to. And neither one of them cares all that much about you because you are only a small sliver of their district. So it just sort of dilutes the power and influence in the lobbying ability that the community would have”

The San Diego redistricting committee will make a final decision on new district lines when they vote on December 15th.


We have arrived at the end of breast cancer awareness month. And the family and friends of cancer survivors have had a chance to reflect on how to best support their loved ones.

Dr. Carrie Costantini is a breast medical oncologist with Scripps MD Anderson Cancer Center. She believes it’s a time for those impacted by breast cancer to ask for support.

“Also understanding that they are not alone in these feelings and they should reach out to other trusted support."


From KPBS, you’re listening to San Diego News Now. Stay with me for more of the local news you need.

An inewsource investigation has found that the V-A is preventing veterans from getting treatments outside its hospitals.

Here’s inewsource reporter Jill Castellano to share what she uncovered in the first part of her two-part series.

CASTELLANO: On a sunny afternoon in August, Navy veteran Christine Russell walked around her church in northern San Diego County.

RUSSELL: This is Saint Michaels by the Sea. It’s an orthodox episcopalian church.

CASTELLANO: Russell started coming here in 2016, around the time she first felt unbearable pain in her body. That year, she went to the emergency room more than a dozen times.

RUSSELL: Every time I went to the ER, they kept insinuating that my chest pain was psychosomatic, that it was anxiety and that it was depression, and it was not.

CASTELLANO: Because she’s a veteran, Russell gets her health care through the San Diego V-A. She says doctors there misdiagnosed her symptoms for almost three years. Finally, in late 2018, she was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer.

CASTELLANO: That’s when the V-A agreed to send Russell to experts at other hospitals.

RUSSELL: Having my doctor in the community allows me to have other options through other windows and doors that I wouldn’t have if my cancer doctor was in the VA hospital

CASTELLANO: Then, in February of this year, Russell got a letter from the San Diego V-A saying it would no longer pay for her treatments. She was already $30,000 in medical debt, so she couldn’t afford the treatment if the VA didn’t pay for it.

RUSSELL: It’s like they cut my legs off basically, you know, they cut off my lifelines. Because all those doctors are my integrated support team. They are why I’m still alive.

CASTELLANO: Russell is not the only one. An inewsource investigation has found that across the country, VA administrators are overruling doctors and preventing them from sending patients outside its hospitals. These efforts have ramped up following a 2018 landmark law called the Mission Act.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the president of the United States.

CASTELLANO: When the law was passed, President Donald Trump and Congress said it would ensure veterans have access to the health care they need. If the V-A can’t provide high quality treatment in a timely manner, they’ll pay for the veteran to go somewhere else.

TRUMP: Why can't they just go see a doctor instead of standing on line for weeks and weeks and weeks? Now they can go see a doctor. It's going to be great.

CASTELLANO: But the Mission Act has cost the V-A billions of dollars. So starting in 2019, the V-A created new rules that are supposed to save money and keep veterans inside the health care system.

CASTELLANO: Here’s Dr. Kathleen Kim, the chief of staff of the San Diego V-A.

KIM: Because of the nature of the Mission Act, V-A is sending a lot of care into the community and we’re worried that we’re not gonna be able to pay our bills

CASTELLANO: Kim defended the V-A, saying treatment plans are still based on veterans’ medical needs. She explained that it’s often better for patients to get their care at the V-A, so there are no problems coordinating paperwork or treatments with other hospitals.

CASTELLANO: But experts and advocates say the V-A could be preventing veterans from getting much-needed medical care.

SELNICK: It basically defeats the whole purpose of the Mission Act and why we set up the criteria.

CASTELLANO: That’s Darin Selnick, who helped write the Mission Act. We’re in Oceanside at the Veterans Association of North County, and he has keepsakes from his time working on the law laid out in front of us.

CASTELLANO TO SELNICK: What is that exactly?

SELNICK: Scorecard. Red, yellow, green. How are we on progress. When I implemented the Mission Act, I developed this scorecard and I rated everybody and they all thought they were green until I came in. And then they’re all red and yellow
CASTELLANO: Selnick says medical decisions should be left to patients and their doctors, not administrators.

SELNICK: It’s ludicrous to have anyone else review and say that the referring clinician who’s working with the patient doesn’t know best. It’s just ludicrous.

CASTELLANO: As for Christine Russell, when the V-A sent her that letter cutting off her cancer treatments, the decision was made by a group of people she had never met before.

CASTELLANO TO RUSSELL: Were these people in communication with you about your health care on a regular basis?

RUSSELL: No they were not. None of em.

CASTELLANO TO RUSSELL: But they were making the decisions.


CASTELLANO TO RUSSELL: How does that feel?

RUSSELL: Horrible.

CASTELLANO: After a lot of angry phone calls, Russell was able to restart her treatments outside the V-A. But it hasn’t been a smooth process. She recently got this voicemail from her V-A primary care doctor.

VOICEMAIL: Hi this is the V-A in Oceanside calling from Dr. Karuvannur’s office.

CASTELLANO: Russell’s doctor tried to send her to three specialists outside the V-A. But the requests were not approved.

VOICEMAIL: It wasn’t approved because they didn’t approve the community care

CASTELLANO: Russell is still fighting for her medical care. Every day is a physical and mental challenge.

RUSSELL: You know I have my psychologist and my psychiatrist, but it’s not enough. What I have is Jesus.

CASTELLANO: On difficult days, she turns to her church’s music for comfort.

And that was inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano. Tomorrow we’ll bring you part two of this investigation. inewsource is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.


Community advocates and faith leaders are hosting vigils across California for lives lost in immigration detention centers. KPBS Reporter Melissa Mae tells us about the vigil in San Diego.

Día de Los Muertos is Monday, November 1st. Ahead of the holiday, community groups are hosting vigils to remember those who passed while in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility.

Adriana Jasso // American Friends Service Committee

“We want to use the opportunity to bring awareness to the community and remind them that sadly COVID-19 has horrific consequences at these facilities.”

Adriana Jasso is the program coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego.

Her group held its own vigil at the Otay Mesa Detention Center on Thursday. A detainee at Otay Mesa was the first to die of COVID-19 in an immigration detention center… that was in May of 2020.

Jasso says the vigils are meant to provide healing for everyone.

Adriana Jasso // American Friends Service Committee

“If they want to remember someone who passed in their family, we know that COVID 2020 and 2021 has devastated some local families and overall our county, so we are also opening it up to the community.”

A virtual vigil is also planned, and will include family members who lost a loved one while in custody.

Adriana Jasso // American Friends Service Committee

“The vigil will be happening on November 1st, on Monday, is an opportunity for people from other places, from other communities to come and learn about what the impact that it has had on some of the families that have lost a loved one.”

We reached out to CoreCivic, the company that runs the Otay Mesa Detention Center. They sent us a statement saying “Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to anyone who's lost a loved one. The health and safety of the people entrusted to our care and our dedicated staff is our top priority.”

The vigils come a week after 24 members of congress, all from California, sent a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas urging the closure of three detention facilities in the state. Melissa Mae KPBS News.


As wildfires continue to burn longer and impact millions of acres of California land each year, the federal government is working on legislation aimed at helping to suppress the fires before they start. The California Report's Keith Mizuguchi explains.


Coming up.... Members of a black family in Sacramento would go and visit a property they say used to be theirs.

“I remember my grandfather's brother, he could no longer talk so he would just point and cry. Now as an adult, piecing this history together, I get why he was crying."

We'll hear the story of how one family is trying to get back some land they lost, and what it means for the discussion about reparations for African Americans. That’s next. Just after the break.

The state of California is grappling with a racist past and is considering the possibility of reparations for Black descendants of slaves.

There’s a new task force studying this issue. And families are coming forward to share their experiences. CapRadio’s Race and Equity Reporter Sarah Mizes-Tan has the story of a black Sacramento family and their fight to right history.

That’s it for the podcast today. Be sure to catch KPBS Midday Edition At Noon on KPBS radio, or check out the Midday podcast. You can also watch KPBS Evening Edition at 5 O’clock on KPBS Television, and as always you can find more San Diego news online at KPBS dot org. I’m Annica Colbert. Thanks for listening and have a great day.

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We have part one of a two part investigation by our partners at inewsource, that found that the Veterans Administration is preventing veterans from receiving treatment at hospitals outside the VA system. Also, community groups are hosting vigils across California for Día de Los Muertos to honor those who died at ICE detention centers. Plus, the story of one family trying to get back land they lost, and what it means for the discussion about reparations for African Americans.