Friday, August 31, 2012


Thankfully, helping people with HIV/AIDS has for the most part transcended party lines over the last decade or so. In fact, George W. Bush has been hailed by many, if not all, as the president who did more for AIDS sufferers and AIDS prevention worldwide than any other president.

But oh how things have changed in the GOP in just a few short years.

AIDS, which had been recognized as a health epidemic since 1981, was not an issue at either major political party’s national convention until 1992, when Elizabeth Glaser and Bob Hattoy, both HIV positive, spoke at the Democrats' confab in New York, and then Republican Mary Fisher spoke about her HIV-positive status at the GOP convention in Houston.

Fisher, a staff member in the Ford White House, got a warm reception during her poignant 13-minute speech at the convention, which interestingly is also remembered for Pat Buchanan's infamous culture war speech. It has been said that Fisher’s speech changed the way many Republicans looked at the disease and led to more funding and support for AIDS research.

But can you imagine if the Republicans of 2012 had put Mary Fisher, who is still alive, or anyone else who is HIV positive on the convention stage in Tampa this week?

Several AIDS activists think a Romney-Ryan White House would be a disastrous setback for the national and worldwide HIV/AIDS community. They could be right.

While a study released in May showed that the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), created by Bush in 2003, prevented 741,000 deaths worldwide between 2004 and 2008, Mitt Romney told reporters during the primary campaign that he would be "very reluctant" to fund this or any other HIV/AIDS global program because of the deficit.

As for Paul Ryan, in 2008 he voted against a bill that would reauthorize funding for Bush's AIDS relief program, and 66 percent of the time he has voted against programs related to the AIDS Drugs Assistance Program, which provides HIV treatments to low-income Americans

To his credit, Sen. John McCain mentioned AIDS during his speech this week at the convention. But it’s not an issue that resonates with many in the GOP in 2012. This is a very different party than the one I grew up admiring. It’s a different party even than it was eight years ago when Bush was re-elected.

AIDS remains an epidemic in many places worldwide, including the American South, the site of both political conventions this year. According to a recent Los Angeles Times piece, the South has the highest rate of AIDS deaths of any U.S. region, the largest numbers of adolescents and adults living with HIV, and the fewest resources to fight the epidemic. 

Timothy Brown, the first person to be "cured" of HIV and founder of The Timothy Ray Brown Foundation of the World AIDS Institute, said in a recent statement:

 “In 1992, the political establishment began taking HIV and AIDS seriously when Mary Fisher, Elizabeth Glaser, and Bob Hattoy took the courageous step to address a prime-time audience at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. America suddenly had three proud, wonderful faces to see that AIDS does not discriminate; AIDS was no longer 'just' a San Francisco disease or a gay disease.”

Brown continued, “I honor these three heroes on this 20th anniversary for their bravery and wish all three were still with us to see that a cure is in sight. These historic speeches served as one of the transformational milestones on the path toward AIDS awareness. I want all HIV-positive people to be cured. But we must all insist that we dramatically strengthen cure research so that I no longer stand as the first, perhaps only, person cured of this horrific disease.”

Brown continues to do all he can to keep HIV/AIDS in the national spotlight. To borrow a quote from George W., who blew it on Katrina but who was and remains a champion for AIDS patients, "You're doing a heck of a job, Brownie."

Thursday, August 30, 2012

VA Phone Calls Won’t Solve Massive Problems

Despite the presumably sincere efforts of the Obama Administration and good intentions of at least some leaders at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the waiting time for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans seeking their disability benefits from VA is getting longer, according to a report released this week from the Berkeley-based Center for Investigative Reporting

Despite the shame of VA's ongoing disability backlog, the department distributed another self-congratulatory press release this week announcing that a brief therapeutic phone conversation they’ve dubbed “motivational interviewing” is more effective than a simple “check-in” call in convincing veterans with mental health diagnoses to begin getting treatment.

The results produced by this telephone interviewing technique were revealed as part of a study led by Dr. Karen Seal, a psychiatrist and director of the Integrated Care Clinic at the San Francisco VA Medical Center

“We’ve gone to great lengths to provide these veterans with state-of-the-art mental health treatment,” Seal said in a statement this week. “The irony is that they are not necessarily engaging in this treatment. Our study was designed to try to connect our veterans with the treatments that are available to them. A simple telephone conversation, if done correctly, seems to go a long way in getting these veterans into treatment.”

That all sounds nice, but this study reached out to just 73 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who screened positive for one or more mental health issues but were not currently in treatment. Not exactly a substantial sampling of the massive numbers of veterans who’ve not been treated. 

The real irony here is that even if some of these veterans have agreed to be treated, the problems at VA are getting worse. The waiting lists are getting horrifically long.

VA’s own data shows that the number of veterans still waiting for a decision on their disability claims has grown to more than 900,000 as of the beginning of this August. And of those, 832,000 are waiting for disability or survivor benefits, while many others await word on their pensions of GI Bill educational benefits.

There is no way VA has the resources to contact the literally millions of veterans of wars dating back to Korea who've not been screened for mental health issues.

Seal said, “We’re planning a follow-up study involving veterans at VA outpatient clinics in rural communities. I think we might be on to something really good here.”

Perhaps. But it seems unlikely this effort will have a significant impact. VA has not detailed how such a program would be implemented nationwide, or how many of these veterans at these rural clinics will be contacted. 

Will VA hire people who simply make phone calls all day? VA is understaffed as it is. If these kinds of phone calls get more veterans to seek treatment, that’s obviously a good thing. But many of these vets are in for a rude awakening when they seek this treatment. This is a strange case of the VA urging more people to come in… and then wait! 

VA is in a crisis right now, with nearly a million veterans waiting for their disability claims to be processed. This study seems to me like just another case of PR over substance.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Welcome to The Reno Dispatch

Welcome everyone to The Reno Dispatch, my brand new blog/online magazine.

In the coming weeks, months and, hopefully, years, I'll be writing here about anything and everything that I think might be of interest to you. Stay tuned for plenty of scoops, exclusives, news, commentary, links, photos, and more.  

The Reno Dispatch will cover a wide variety of topics and issues about which I've written in my 25-year journalism career. Those include pop culture, politics, the media, war, the military and our veterans, music, terrorism, healthcare, biotech, cancer treatment and survival, alternative medicine, sports, books, movies, the border and immigration, crime, education, business, nostalgia, fitness, travel, the CIA and FBI, the environment, technology, and humor - just to name a few.

I hope to keep you consistently entertained and informed, and I want your feedback, always. I'm looking forward to interacting with all of you. Please take a moment to post a comment below and tell me what you would like to see on this blog. What would you like me to cover here?

Please sign up and become a follower of The Reno Dispatch. And by the way, I plan on making some big noise here, so while reading this blog, earplugs are suggested… but not required.
Jamie Reno