DOT program heads off hazards

Georgia’s Interstate highways are safer today, thanks to what will soon be a statewide program launched Tuesday in two areas, including this one.

As reported earlier this week in the Ledger-Enquirer by Mike Owen, the Coordinated Highway Assistance and Maintenance Program (CHAMP) is a state Department of Transportation project to help travelers and deal with highway safety issues as they occur. It will involve some 50 specially equipped trucks on the road seven days a week, on the roads 16 hours a day and on call all 24. Travelers can report road problems or call for assistance by dialing 511.

Sam Wellborn of Columbus, the DOT board member for the Third District, said CHAMP reported 170 official responses in the first 24 hours its staff was on the job.

Those “contacts,” Wellborn said, can include such duties as notifying the DOT about roadway, roadside or bridge damage, or passing along such notifications from motorists, and taking care of some of those issues on the spot. They can also assist state troopers and other highway law enforcement officials with traffic flow and clearance after accidents and other motorway bottlenecks.

“CHAMP operators are Georgia DOT’s eyes on the road,” Georgia Traffic Engineer Andrew Heath told the Ledger-Enquirer. “By proactively responding to maintenance issues, as well as addressing incident clearance and motorist assistance, they will make Georgia highways safer.”

“Proactively” is probably the key word here. This is a program that will almost certainly prevent accidents as opposed to just responding to them. That adds up in human lives.

VA logjam

Three years ago, a system that had been put in place to “fast track” veterans’ health care applications was revealed to have done anything but. The VA was faced with an application backlog of almost 900,000 vets stuck in bureaucratic limbo.

Last year, the VA moved to contact waiting to be either enrolled or taken off the list. Well and good — except that a coding error at the Health Eligibility Center in DeKalb County reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution apparently resulted in hundreds of thousands of veterans getting the wrong information, meaning yet another backlog and more bureaucratic delay.

This week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs, sent notice that it’s past time to fix this. In a letter to new VA Secretary David Shulkin, Isakson wrote: “Given the enormity of the impact on veterans, we urge you to take additional steps to further ensure veterans receive every opportunity to complete their applications and that those applications are not improperly closed due to VA error.” The letter was co-signed by Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Reps. Phil Roe, R-Tenn., and Tim Walz, D-Minn., all of whom serve on the Veterans Affairs committees of their respective chambers.

Veterans have waited more than long enough for what their country owes them.