Darts and laurels
Dart to the number of train-related fatalities that have occurred around the state this year. As of this week, there have been 11 such deaths, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. If that pace continues, this year’s toll will soon surpass the 18 train-related deaths recorded in 2012. Contrary to what you might expect, only three of this year’s fatalities involved cars and trains colliding at crossings. The majority of victims were on foot or, on some occasions, lying on the tracks. Two of those killed, for instance, were teens who deliberately lay down in front of an approaching train in Charlotte. Last week, a 13-year-old Kinston girl died after apparently going to sleep on the tracks. These fatalities are a disturbing trend that runs counter to improvements that have made rail crossings safer and reduced the number of vehicle-train accidents in North Carolina.
Laurels to the announcement that the Department of Veterans Affairs will expedite disability claims decisions for veterans who’ve been waiting a year or longer. The delay in processing has been a chronic complaint among veterans in North Carolina and the nation. At the Winston-Salem VA office, where most N.C. claims are processed, more than 7,000 veterans have been waiting at least a year for the office to rule on their disability claims and more than 700 veterans have been waiting more than two years. Frustration with the logjam recently prompted Sen. Kay Hagan to recommend that VA Secretary Eric Shinseki dispatch senior officials to the Winston-Salem Regional Office. “I welcome any action by the VA to reduce the unacceptable backlog of claims that have prevented our brave men and women from accessing the benefits they’ve earned,” Hagan said in response to the VA announcement.
Dart to the number of North Carolinians who are likely going without health insurance because they don’t have employer-sponsored benefits. A new report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says that the portion of state residents under 65 with employer-sponsored insurance declined from 69 percent in 2000 to 56 percent in 2011. While other states also experienced declines, North Carolina was among the five states with the biggest percentage drops. Meanwhile, the legislature and Gov. Pat McCrory refused to partner with the federal government in running the state health-insurance exchange that will operate under the Affordable Care Act, and also refused federal funding to expand Medicaid. In turning their backs on “Obamacare,” politicians also appear to be turning away from the state’s 1.3 million uninsured residents.