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The VA refuses to pay for treatments

 November 2, 2021 at 9:11 AM PDT

Good Morning, I’m Annica Colbert….it’s Tuesday, November 2nd.

The VA cancels treatments for veterans against its own doctor’s orders...More on that next. But first... let’s do the headlines…

Enrollment is now open for Covered California. the state health exchange created under the Affordable Care Act. Officials say health insurance is cheaper than ever before because of federal subsidies through the Biden administration’s COVID-19 stimulus package. The plan included about $3 billion dollars for Covered California through 2022.


Flu season is here and the numbers show an increase in cases from last year. San Diego County's department of public health is making the flu vaccine free and accessible throughout the county.

Here’s Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the county’s public health director.

“it’s really always hard to predict flu seasons, i mean last year we were very worried that there would be a collision between flu and covid-19 and that just simply didn’t happen it turns out that social distancing and masks work pretty well for other communicable diseases besides covid-19.”

According to CDC guidelines it’s safe to get the flu shot with the covid-19 vaccine shot or booster.


The city of San Diego is launching a survey to measure public perception of the police. Questions include what a person's top safety concerns are, and whether they think police in their neighborhood treat people with respect. Khalid Alexander is president of the nonprofit Pillars of the Community. He says the questions are superficial.

KA: The idea that these conversations are happening without the people who have been demanding change is a clear example that this is only an attempt to change the perception and not actually change the institution.”

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

Nine million veterans in the U.S. get medical care through the V-A each year.

inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano is back with the second of her two-part series on the federal health care system.

And a warning, this story you are about to hear contains mention of thoughts of suicide.

CASTELLANO: This is Kiowa Wolfe’s happy place. He used to come here with his service dog Marlow twice a week.

WOLFE: You’re crying for treats. Are you serious?

CASTELLANO: Wolfe is a Marine Corps veteran who was deployed to Afghanistan in 20-11. He struggles with depression, thoughts of suicide and post-traumatic stress. No traditional medications or therapy seem to help.

WOLFE: It starts making me real edgy and, you know, always looking at people and checking for exits, and um, pretty irritable.

CASTELLANO: Because Wolfe is a veteran, the V-A health care system paid for him to try a special treatment called ketamine therapy here at this private doctor’s office. Sitting in the courtyard outside the clinic, Wolfe and his wife call the drug infusions lifesaving.

WOLFE: You know I could just actually relax and put my arm around my son and talk to him and act like a human, not like T101 the terminator.

CASTELLANO: But last year, the San Diego V-A stopped paying for the treatments, impacting Wolfe and 27 other mentally ill veterans. Emails show the V-A’s own doctors warned that cutting the veterans off from these treatments could put their lives at risk, but hospital personnel did it anyway.

CASTELLANO: Since losing regular ketamine therapy, Wolfe has spent more and more of his time lingering in bed.

Kiowa: Suicidal ideations and those thoughts and stuff are staying longer in my head... It’s like I’m just another number. Again.

CASTELLANO: An inewsource investigation has found that across the country, V-A administrators and staff are overruling doctor’s orders about what their patients need.

CASTELLANO: Here in San Diego, an inspector general’s report found that hospital staff stopped paying for ketamine treatments because they had trouble keeping track of paperwork -- it was not a medical decision.

ST. CLAIR: I think the million dollar question is who, who, who, who makes this decision now?

CASTELLANO: To help get his treatments back, Wolfe has enlisted Renee St. Clair, a lawyer working for the veteran pro bono.

ST. CLAIR: He’s come to know this treatment that gets him by week to week. And when you take that away from someone and you leave them with nothing... It’s crushing, it’s soul crushing.

CASTELLANO: During a recent visit, St.Clair reviewed stacks of communication sent to the V-A over the past year.

MONTAGE/ST.CLAIR: May 7th, 2021 … the clock is counting down toward veteran Wolfe’s fate… The life of a good man and a good Marine is at stake… April 30th, 2021. I assure you I will harness the resources and get to the bottom of this deprivation of rights to vets… March 12th… The issue is bigger than Kiowa. The fury and fear of these vets will not be ignored forever.

St.CLAIR: Is that okay?

CASTELLANO: St.Clair catches her breath and thinks about all the work she’s done to help Kiowa Wolfe.

ST.CLAIR: I can feel it in my gut because I haven’t gone back and read them since I wrote them... I want there to be at least one day a week that they know Kiowa’s still out there and he still needs help and that they shouldn’t forget because we’re not forgetting.

CASTELLANO: The San Diego VA has started offering a low-dose version of the drug that many patients have not found therapeutic, including Wolfe. Dr. Kathleen Kim, the hospital’s chief of staff, says these veterans can’t return to the private clinic because of legal concerns. She cited St.Clair’s emails as the reason.

KIM: And one of the former administrators of that clinic every Friday sends what I would call a nasty email complaining about this issue. And so at this point, we’ve turned it over to legal counsel.

CASTELLANO: For Wolfe, the VA’s decision to stop paying for ketamine has felt like a betrayal.

WOLFE: It feels like I’m getting stabbed in the back with a bowie knife and getting it twisted.

CASTELLANO: The veteran’s home is full of keepsakes from his time in the Marine Corps - pictures in uniform, insignias lining the walls and a folded retirement flag in a shadow box.

WOLFE: A lot of our brothers and sisters, they don’t always get this. Cause you know, they don’t always make it back from downrage. And, um, it’s an honor to even be, have had this in my hands.

CASTELLANO: When he has the strength to get out of bed, Wolfe spends his time in the living room with his wife and kids, cooking meals and watching TV.

CASTELLANO: These moments of joy are some of the best medicine Wolfe can get.

And that was inewsource investigative reporter Jill Castellano. If you are having thoughts of ending your life, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. inewsource is an independently funded nonprofit partner of KPBS.


A new report shows Islamophobia continues to threaten the security and mental health of Muslim students across the state.

The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations... known as CAIR... has released its latest report that documents cases of bullying and discrimination against Muslim students in California. KPBS Education Reporter M.G. Perez has more on it’s findings.

The PBS NewsHour introduced us to HAFSA ABDI, a high school student in Minnesota. Though born in the US she was bullied because of her Somali and Muslim heritage. She says classmates were relentless.

“They’d be like why are you making the bathroom sticky Somali...are you a terrorist...they’d say stuff like that or go back to where you came from.”Education Week videoIslamophobia continues to confront students across the country. In California, there’s a new report that shows it’s especially prevalent. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, also called CAIR, just released results of a survey conducted with more than 7-hundred 11-to-18 year old Muslim students across the state.The survey found more than 47-percent of them reported being bullied by classmates for being Muslim... 55.7-percent felt unsafe in their schools...and about a third of them report having their traditional Hee-jab head garment offensively touched.

“The kids that are being surveyed are right here. They go to school with your children and my children.”Tazheen Nizam is Associate Executive Director of CAIR San Diego which participated in the survey. She says responsibility rests with parents and other adults who model behavior.

CG: Tazeen Nizam/Associate Executive Director CAIR San Diego “If a child shows up to school eating a falafel instead of a PB and J sandwich, that acceptability starts there. If a child shows up and the mother is wearing a hijab when she drops them off. Acceptance of parents looking different also starts at a young age.”

Here’s a response from a 12 year old San Diego student that was included in the survey --quote--"Some person had told me that 'Donald Trump is going to kick you out of the United States and send you back to where you came from." -end quote-Another student from Fremont in the Bay Area said -quote- “"My science teacher told me that 'my type' likes flying planes into buildings." --end quote–.

“A lot of people feel like somebody who looks like me can’t be an American because of my skin color or the hijab I’m wearing and that makes me NOT American.” HAFSA and so many others are determined to shatter those stereotypes.MGP...KPBS News.


A proposal to merge schools in the Oceanside School District has left some parents feeling blindsided. KPBS North County reporter Tania Thorne tells us some parents feel the district is targeting schools serving Latinos.

Enrollment in Oceanside schools has declined and some of their schools are in need of upgrades.

The district has proposed plans to merge some of their schools in order to repair and rebuild some campuses. But this could mean closing schools also.

Nataly Sanchez is a parent at Libby Lake Elementary and the president of the school’s Parent Teacher Organization.

She says the proposals targets the schools serving mostly Latino and low income families.

“Were the furthest brown school from the district so its easier to target. Our parents aren’t very vocal, we have a lot of parents that don’t speak English, aren't very high techy so we’re easier to target.”

The school board has a special meeting to vote on the proposals Tuesday at 6pm.

Parents are planning a rally outside of the district at 5.



Day of the Dead celebrations kicked off across the county on Monday, including at the County Administration Center where an altar commemorating lives lost in San Diego was set up.

KPBS reporter Alexandra Rangel has more on the special meaning behind this year’s community altar.

Paola Martinez-Montes, Community engagement director

“Some of the stories that we hear are of son and mother that have passed away.”

Nearly 100 photos were submitted by community members who lost a loved one during the pandemic.

Their photos now grace the 2nd annual covid-19 altar de muertos presented by county and community leaders.

Community engagement director, Paola Martinez-Montes, received this year’s submissions.

Paola Martinez-Montes, Community engagement director

“Last year we represented all lives lost to covid-19 , this year we’re at 42-hundred 42-13 to be exact.”

42-hundred candles were lit and placed on the altar to represent each life that was lost.

Chair Nathan Fletcher says he’s been touched by the countless stories he’s heard of people who have died.

Nathan Fletcher , County Supervisor Chair

“So this is taking a cultural significant holiday in the latino and mexican culture for centuries and use it to celebrate their lives, to commemorate everything that they lived for.”

As Montes helped put the altar together she honored her grandmother, Maria Fregozo, who’s picture adorns the altar.

She died from COVID last year. Although a devastating loss for her family, Montes knows her Grandmother is somewhere rejoicing on this day.

Paola Martinez-Montes, Community engagement director

“Earlier this morning we were playing music as we were setting up. I hope that as she comes she hears that. I remember at one of her parties she was singing with the family so I hope she enjoys that.”

A special ceremony will be held in front of the altar on Tuesday November 2nd at 6:30 pm to honor each life lost.

And that was reporting from KPBS’ Alexandra Rangel. A special ceremony will be held in front of the altar tonight at 6:30 pm to honor each life lost.


Coming up.... SANDAG announced a proposal to tax people for each mile they drive in San Diego. We’ll have more on how that plan’s supposed to work, next, just after the break.

As many of the world’s leaders gather in Scotland for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, the fight against climate change is taking center stage.

Here’s President Biden addressing the conference on Monday morning….

"We’re standing at an inflection point in world history. We have the ability to invest in ourselves and build an equitable clean energy future…. Around the world."

Late last week- closer to home- the San Diego Association of Governments, better known as SANDAG, announced a bold transportation proposal to reduce the region’s greenhouse gas emissions,... a step in its fight against climate change. It could have a major impact on how San Diegans travel day-to-day.

KPBS Metro reporter Andrew Bowen spoke with our Midday Edition host Jade Hindmon to talk more about how this proposal would work and its potential impacts in the region. Here’s that interview...

Can you tell us about what was proposed last week and how it would impact San Diego?
Speaker 3:
Well, on Friday, the SANDAG board discussed several updates to its regional transportation plan. This is the roadmap that the county uses to show state and federal authorities that they've got a plan for how to meet everyone's transportation needs far into the future. We're talking out to 2050 and the state has required SANDAG to significantly reduce both the number of miles that people drive in their automobiles day to day and overall greenhouse gas emissions. This plan was first announced earlier in the year in the spring. Uh, and the updates that they were proposing or discussing on Friday were mostly small tweaks to the plans, or maybe a little bit more detailed to things that they had already discussed earlier. There is an emphasis on traffic safety, uh, trying to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries on our roadways. Uh, there was a plan to, uh, try and incorporate more bathrooms at public transit stops, uh, language on the importance of preserving habitat and open space. And the area that got the most amount of discussion and controversy was some changes to how this whole plan will be funded including this road, user charge that would be imposed on people for every mile that they drive in their cars.
Speaker 1:
And there was a great deal of reaction from the announcement of, of a pair of those mild taxes for drivers that you mentioned, how would that work? Well,
Speaker 3:
First a bit of background. So for many years, the gas tax has not been paying for all of our transportation infrastructure needs revenues from the gas tax funds have been declining from for decades, really as more people drive, uh, more fuel efficient vehicles, hybrids, and electric vehicles. And so the idea is that by 2030 drivers, uh, according to this plan would pay 4 cents for every mile that they drive on the roads. Uh, 2 cents would go to the states. This is just kind of the sandbags way of assuming, you know, started picking a number of saying, let's say the charges 2 cents for every mile, and we will charge another 2 cents on top of that. And the idea is that this, uh, road charge would actually replace the gas tax or, uh, some adjustment would be made to the gas tax. So people aren't paying twice. It's just kind of a change in the way that we calculate the cost of driving, because right now, uh, electric vehicles are, uh, using the roads. They're, you know, putting stress on the roads, which, you know, ultimately over time causes potholes and deterioration of the infrastructure, but they're not paying any money in gas taxes. So, uh, how do we capture those, uh, you know, uh, the, the cost of that, um, stress on the infrastructure in a way that's kind of fair to everybody,
Speaker 1:
What effect will this have on how public transportation works and operates in the region?
Speaker 3:
Well, the regional transportation plan that SANDAG is discussing includes a very significant investment in new public transit infrastructure. There are multiple commuter rail lines that will be running across the county. We're talking new lines that are separated from traffic. So either a, you know, a subway system, uh, or an above ground, uh, you know, elevated railway. Uh, and the idea again is to not just charge people for driving for every mile that they drive, but also to make public transit free by 2030. So, uh, you know, the same year that this, uh, road user charge would come into effect, and this really gets at the, uh, strategy of a carrot and stick approach. We've heard a lot of criticism, particularly as Congress is debating the build back better act and the, you know, uh, social spending and climate change funding for, um, you know, reducing our carbon footprint.
Speaker 3:
You hear a lot of criticism from climate activists and climate scientists that we rely too much on carrots, uh, or incentives to get people to say, put rooftop solar panels on their roofs or drive electric vehicles. And we don't have enough sticks, you know, ways to sort of like nudge people a little bit further in that direction. So pricing the system, pricing the transportation system so that everyone can see in real dollars and cents that it's in their interest in everybody else's interest to drive a whole lot less and take more sustainable modes of transportation, I think is really at the heart of this strategy of making transit free and also pricing driving more
Speaker 1:
San Diego mayor, Todd Gloria announced support for the plan. He has also made equity, a key part of San Diego's actions on climate here. He is speaking about the cities, our climate, our future plan,
Speaker 4:
Our response to the climate crisis must take into account the disproportionate impacts on historically underserved communities and appropriately address those existing inequities.
Speaker 1:
So how does the SANDAG plan address issues of
Speaker 3:
Equity? SANDAG officials have described their plan to me as trying to solve for a couple of different things. Uh, one of them is just meeting the obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, you know, creating a legally compliant transportation plan. But another thing that they're trying to solve for is this issue of social equity. They've done quite a bit of data analysis on access to opportunity and different parts of the county. And, you know, they can get down to the minute essentially how much time it takes for a person to get to work in, say one neighborhood like a national city or a city Heights or a San Marcos compared to another neighborhood, like somebody who lives downtown or in Kearny Mesa or anywhere. And so they're taking all of that data, trying to incorporate it into their long-term transportation planning, and just making real decisions about where they're going to build this rail line or, you know, how much, uh, funding they're going to dedicate to a new high, high speed bus, uh, line, um, that go through different neighborhoods, unsurprisingly, uh, low income people have some of the most difficult commute times. Many of them, uh, perhaps don't have access to a car to get to work. So they're using public transit, which takes a whole lot longer. And so the plan really aims to make improvements to those less, uh, affluent or, uh, areas with less access to opportunity first. And so one example, a real sort of example is the alignment of one of their commuter rail lines that they're planning, uh, puts a station in city Heights instead of north park. So what
Speaker 1:
Has to happen for this plan to be
Speaker 3:
Implemented a lot? The first thing that has to happen is on December 10th, the SANDAG board of directors has to vote to approve it. Uh, but then, you know, the actual implementation of the plan relies on many different things. First of all, voters would have to approve new tax measures. You know, the state and federal governments would probably have to step up their funding of infrastructure. There are lots of different things that have to happen in order for this plan to become a reality. Um, many of them are, you know, multiple decisions, many, many years into the future. Uh, but you know, the, the next step I would say is just, uh, December 10th, the final vote at the SANDAG board of directors

That was KPBS Metro andrew bowen speaking with midday edition host jade hindmon.

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.

The VA is preventing veterans from receiving outside medical treatments–that’s in part two of an inewsource investigation. In San Diego, the VA refused payments for ketamine treatments for dozens of veterans with severe depression because it couldn’t keep track of paperwork. Meanwhile, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has released its annual report on bullying of Muslim children in California schools – and the news is not good. Plus, SANDAG’s mile by mile tax proposal explained.