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No link found for deaths and veterans’ care delays

An investigation by the watchdog office for the Department of Veterans Affairs has been unable to substantiate allegations that 40 veterans may have died because of delays in care at the veterans medical center in Phoenix, according to a letter from the new secretary of Veterans Affairs.

The allegations of deaths created a national scandal that eventually led to the ouster of the previous secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric Shinseki.

Outrage over the manipulation of waiting list data in Phoenix and other veterans medical centers also led to passage by Congress of a $15 billion plan to improve access to medical providers. The director of the Phoenix hospital, Sharon Helman, has been placed on leave and the department has begun the process of firing her.

A report by the department’s office of inspector general is expected to be released this week that will describe findings from its investigation into Phoenix.

However, a letter sent from the new Veterans Affairs secretary, Robert A. McDonald, to the inspector general was unable to prove a link between the deaths of 40 veterans and delays in care.

“It is important to note that while O.I.G.’s case reviews in the report document substantial delays in care, and quality of care concerns, O.I.G. was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the deaths of these veterans,” says the letter from McDonald and the interim under secretary for health, Dr. Carolyn M. Clancy.

The two also vowed to continue to get veterans off waiting lists and to hold administrators accountable “for willful misconduct or management negligence.”

In an interview, the deputy Veterans Affairs secretary, Sloan D. Gibson, cautioned that even though the report did not suggest that deaths of veterans in Phoenix were linked to long delays in care, the agency remains culpable for covering up those long waiting times, in Phoenix and other medical centers.

“I’m relieved that they didn’t attribute deaths to delays in care, but it doesn’t excuse what was happening,” Gibson said. “It’s still patently clear that the fundamental issue here is that veterans were waiting too long for care, and there was misbehavior masking how long veterans were waiting for care.”

—Richard A. Oppel Jr, The New York Times

Facebook takes steps against ‘click bait’ articles

Facebook announced Monday that it had adjusted the way users see articles on its site to reduce what it called “click bait” — items that tempt readers with a beguiling headline, but don’t deliver much more.

The move, announced on Facebook’s news blog, is the latest development in a battle between the company, which can drive an enormous amount of traffic to news sites, and those sites, which try to use the Facebook algorithm that ranks articles to their advantage.

“Click bait” headlines were once favored by the algorithm, wrote Khalid El-Arini a research scientist at Facebook, and Joyce Tang, a product specialist, simply because people tended to click on the links. But when the company surveyed readers, it found that 80 percent “preferred headlines that helped them decide if they wanted to read the full article before they had to click through.”

Facebook says its algorithm will now consider how long users spend reading an article as a way of judging the importance. The company will also examine how many users discuss or share an article.

Facebook, which has 829 million daily active users worldwide, has the power to make or break some sites with such seemingly minor changes.

A previous switch in its algorithm dried up traffic to some so-called viral sites, which specialize in lists and in online memes.

—Ravi Somaiya, The New York Times