VA: Demand exceeds resources

WASHINGTON (AP) — Veterans’ hospitals and clinics are beefing up staff and seeing more patients, but the number of appointments not completed within 30 days continues to grow, Department of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald said Friday.

Speaking at the National Press Club in advance of Veterans Day, McDonald described a VA that is doing much to address problems that investigators say caused chronic delays for veterans seeking care. McDonald said the VA completed 3.1 million more appointments in the latest fiscal year than the previous one. It also hired thousands of new doctors and nurses.

Still, the organization is struggling to keep up. McDonald said the number of appointments not completed in 30 days has grown from 300,000 to nearly 500,000.

McDonald said more veterans are coming to the VA despite often having access to Medicare, Medicaid or private insurance. He said the VA is more convenient, effective and cheaper. A veteran would have to pay a $5,000 co-pay to get a knee replacement through Medicare, but not at the VA. For veterans with hearing loss, going to the VA can save them about $4,000 compared to other coverage.

Justices hear new Obamacare suit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Religion, birth control and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul are converging in yet another high-profile dispute at the Supreme Court.

The justices on Friday stepped into the fourth legal challenge to the law since Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in 2010.

This time, the issue is the arrangement the Obama administration worked out to spare faith-based hospitals, colleges and charities from paying for contraceptives for women covered under their health plans, while still ensuring that those women can obtain birth control at no extra cost as the law requires.

The groups complain that the arrangement leaves them complicit in making available the contraceptives in violation of their religious beliefs because their insurers or insurance administrators assume responsibility for providing birth control.

Judge reopens ‘Serial’ case

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Maryland judge has agreed to reopen the case of Adnan Syed, whose conviction in the death of his ex-girlfriend became the subject of a popular podcast.

Syed was convicted in 2000 of killing Hae Min Lee and sentenced to life in prison. He was 17 at the time of her death and is now 35. Last year, the “Serial” podcast explored the case and questioned whether Syed got a fair trial, drawing millions of listeners.

The judge ruled Friday that Syed should be allowed to introduce the testimony of a potential alibi witness and evidence that calls into question the reliability of cellphone tower data. Prosecutors used the cellphone data to link Syed to the park where Lee’s body was found.

The hearing has not yet been scheduled.

2 cops charged in 6-year-old’s death

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana investigators are combing through evidence in the shooting death earlier this week of a 6-year-old autistic boy after authorities charged two law enforcement officers in the shooting.

Col. Mike Edmonson, in a late night press conference Friday, said the two officers were being booked on charges of second-degree murder and attempted second-degree murder in the Tuesday shooting death of Jeremy Mardis and the wounding of his father, Chris Few, in the central Louisiana town of Marksville.

Edmonson vowed to continue the investigation wherever it leads.

“Let’s make tonight about Jeremy Mardis. That little boy was buckled in the front seat of that vehicle and that is how he died,” Edmonson said. “He didn’t deserve to die like that.”

Speaking of the body camera footage that was recovered from the officers, he said: “It is the most disturbing thing I’ve seen, and I will leave it at that.”

The two officers are Norris J. Greenhouse Jr., 23, of Marksville and Derrick Stafford, 32, of Mansura, Louisiana. Both were working secondary jobs in Marksville as marshals when the shooting happened, Edmonson said.

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