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Feed the Kids 

Spokane considers free lunch for everyone; plus, the U.S. House changes its tune on cannabis

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As Veterans Affairs weathers national outrage over treatment delays, the Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center in Spokane has faced renewed scrutiny over 2012 findings on waiting periods and "adverse" care outcomes. VA officials say the Spokane center has addressed those issues and adheres to national guidelines.

Investigators with the VA Office of Inspector General reviewed local care practices in 2012, examining records and interviewing VA staff. They found routine confusion or miscommunication led to improper delay or cancellation of some specialized consultation services.

"Delays in care did result in the adverse patient outcome of increased or unrelieved pain or an exacerbation of symptoms," the report found in seven of 15 cases reviewed.

Spokane VA spokesman Bret Bowers recently addressed the findings via email, explaining the center strives to operate based on national guidelines for timely patient care within 30 days. Officials also updated policies and training following the 2012 findings.

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday amid national outcry over veteran deaths tied to care delays. Inspector General investigators mentioned the 2012 Spokane findings in a report released last week on significant scheduling manipulations at the VA hospital in Phoenix. The director of the Arizona facility previously oversaw the Spokane VA center from 2008 to 2010.

— JACOB JONES

A Free Lunch

Learning isn't easy when your stomach is rumbling. That's why the federally funded National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program exists to give free or reduced-price school lunches and breakfasts to kids from low-income families.

But since free lunch is associated with poverty, it can carry a stigma. "I know a lot of kids that don't even eat at lunch because of that," says Danny Postlewait, a student sitting at a cafeteria table at Rogers High School.

There may be a solution. This fall, the "Community Eligibility Provision" of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act goes into effect in Washington state, making it easier for schools to offer free meals to every student regardless of income. About 4,000 schools nationwide already use it, and Spokane Public Schools is considering joining them.

Any school with at least 62.5 percent of its students identified as "low-income" will have its meal program completely compensated with federal funds. Spokane Public Schools plans to consider allowing schools with 50 percent or higher low-income students to be a part of the CEP group. The district predicts quicker serving times, shorter lunch lines, less paperwork and, most importantly, fewer students who go hungry.

But there's a catch. Poverty rates, gathered from meal applications from parents who want free or reduced lunches for their kids, are currently used for a slew of grants, federal funds and scholarships. CEP doesn't allow schools to continue taking meal applications.Instead, Spokane Public Schools has designed a "Family Economic Survey" to gather that information. The question, however, is how many parents will complete those surveys if lunch is already free.

— DANIEL WALTERS

Protecting Pot?

In a historic move last week, the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives voted to prevent the federal government from interfering with state medical marijuana markets.

The move was an amendment to a bill funding several federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, and must still be approved by the Senate and signed by President Barack Obama.

Washington is one of more than 20 states with legal medical marijuana and one of two with legal recreational pot. The state's six Democratic representatives and one Republican — Doc Hastings, who represents a strip of central Washington that includes Yakima — supported the amendment. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R) and both of Idaho's representatives voted no.

In his closing remarks, California Republican Dana Rohrabacher, who introduced the amendment, told the House, "State governments have recognized that a doctor has a right to treat his patient any way he sees fit."

— HEIDI GROOVER

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