Exclusive: Inside The VA’s Spin-’N-Stonewall Machine

Photo credit: Digital Magic Photography (Flickr)

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.

As Krause explained it to me, the VA “is using systems that allow it to track the influence of Congress and negative reporting” across traditional and social media. Color-coded weekly and monthly “media analysis briefs” cheer on the VA’s spin-control penetration on Twitter and Facebook. Bar charts, maps, and ratings track congressional critics and activists. Last fall, the office kept paranoid tallies of pro and con statements on the ever-growing backlog of VA cases. Last fall’s media analysis reports obsessed over “mitigating” widespread criticism — from social media to “Fox and Friends” to “The Daily Show” — of VA bonuses and shoddy care.

It was in the course of probing those monitoring efforts that Krause discovered that “the VA Public Affairs thinks my website is ‘anti-VA’ instead of ‘pro-Veteran’ and is using viewpoint-centric censoring within its FOIA office,” he told me.

It certainly may not be the first time.

House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Rep. Jeff Miller, whose statements are tracked by the VA propaganda machine, also has run into the stone wall. As of last week, the VA was sitting on nearly 100 separate requests for information from the House panel. Sixty-eight of those requests have been pending for more than 60 days. There are three outstanding requests from 2012.

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The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by WesternJournalism.com.

This post originally appeared on Western Journalism – Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom

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