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VA gives hilarious, infuriating response to Freedom of Information Act request


December 7, 2015

SaveVA6

The “most transparent administration ever” issues 4 pages of redacted material in answer to VA freedom of information request.

By Marjorie Haun

Journalists who seek information from federal agencies via Freedom of Information Act requests are a patient lot. Responses from the controlling authorities within these agencies usually consist of directions to go to another agency to obtain information, endless requests for “clarification” or worse.  Here is what worse looks like. But first, a little background:

In August I broke a story out of Grand Junction, Colorado in which the administrator of the regional Veterans Administration Medical Center inexplicably ordered a poster to be hanged in front of a mural with a depiction of a Civil War struggle. The covered portion of the mural contained an image of the Confederate Flag. The mural decorated the canteen of the facility, and paid homage to veterans of all American wars.

I interviewed the public information officer who indicated that “complaints” about the Confederate Flag had been logged, and in order to ensure that everyone visiting the medical center felt comfortable and welcome, the mural was partially hid by a poster pending its repainting by the original artist.

Numerous websites reposted the story and the administrator and his underlings were deluged with hundreds of phone calls and emails from people appalled by the selective censorship of American history. A group of local veterans launched a campaign, #SaveTheVAMural.  In late August, under tremendous pressure from people across the country, the VA administrator called a meeting with stakeholders in which he detailed his agreement with the mural artist to paint over the Confederate Flag and put the issue to rest. Which he did.

I quickly wrote a Freedom of Information act request to the Grand Junction VA asking for the number of and type of complaint(s) logged which lead to the decision to censor the Confederate Flag on the mural. In October I received a letter asking for clarification of my request. I clarified and resubmitted. In November I received a phone call asking for further clarification of my request, which I offered in verbal and written form. And on December 2, I received this response indicating that just ONE individual made a complaint, with all further details redacted:

Remember, every time a watchdog journalist breaks a story exposing government incompetence, corruption, or mismanagement, this is the kind of stonewalling they heroically confront and overcome.

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by Marjorie Haun  12/7/15

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