Symptom, Not Disease – A VA Chronicle

Carl T. Hayden10 December 2020, The Carl T. Hayden Phoenix VA Medical Center (VAMC), I was arrested for the third time, hassled for the fifth time, and injured for the third time at the hands of the VA Police over my physical inability to wear a mask. The zealous supervisor of the COVID Screening staff threw a fit, for the second time (first in October, again in December), when I asked him about his authority to refuse me care at the VA under EMTALA. Thus, for the third time, I have been denied emergency care under EMTALA by the Phoenix VAMC. I was taken to Holding Cell 2, where multiple officers of the VA Federal Police Force decided that making jokes about my injuries, claiming I was faking my injuries, and insisting they knew more about my injuries than my doctors was an acceptable VA Policing policy. Major Kratz is the bitter cherry on this “crap sundae,” by entering the room, shaking his sausage-like finger in my face, and accusing me of lying about having created an action plan with Jennifer, the supervisor of Patient Advocacy. A symptom, not the disease!

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) has made some startling reports to Congress. Consider, “U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced on 20 November 2020, that a grand jury sitting in Cleveland has returned a 28-count indictment charging William H. Precht, age 53, of Kent, Ohio, with theft of government property, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, wire fraud, and false statements relating to health care matters.” Let me stress; the defendant remains innocent until proven guilty in a trial of his peers. Still, I also stress this incident cost the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more than $1,066,348. The scheme was in place from 2010 to 2019, is but another symptom, not the disease, endemic to the VA.

The VA-OIG continues to report, “the owner of a for-profit trade school has been charged with defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and student veterans, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox.” The defendant, who remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of his peers, defrauded veterans seeking education to the tune of $71 million in GI Bill benefits from the VA and is facing up to 184 years in federal prison. Symptom, not disease, and the VA is full of this type of rot.

VA SealI would never expect a person to believe that the entire VA is full of these symptoms from three examples. Consider that electronic wait-lists, and wait-lists in general, has been a leading cause of death for veterans awaiting care and that the Phoenix VAMC has been in severe trouble on this single issue twice in recent years. Yet, the VA-OIG found, “… wait-list entries were not reviewed and validated as required. Patients were not removed from the wait-list when appropriate, indicating that employees at medical facilities did not review entries daily, and supervisors did not validate the wait-list weekly.” Supervisors not doing their job to oversee work is appropriately performed is the symptom that led to the first two incidents reported in this article. Again, symptoms, not disease.

Another recent example that was buried in “COVID-Media Hysteria,” “Ergonomic office furniture maker Workrite Ergonomics LLC, a Delaware company, and its parent, Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Co. (collectively, Workrite), have agreed to pay $7.1 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that they overcharged the federal government for office furniture under General Services Administration (GSA) contracts, the Department of Justice announced on 3 December 2020.”  This settlement is over a contractual obligation clause to lower prices. “The settlement resolves allegations that Workrite did not fulfill its contractual obligations to provide GSA with accurate information about its commercial sales practices during contract negotiations and did not subsequently extend lower prices to government customers as required by the GSA contract’s price reduction clause.” Not mentioned here are the VA Employees whose job is to monitor the purchases made under the contract, ask questions during contract negotiations, and oversee the contractors and purchasing contracts. Fascinating that the employees responsible for catching these issues early never seem to be held liable for their failures to perform the jobs they have been hired to perform. Symptom, not the disease.

Speaking of symptoms, where supervisors and employees are not performing their jobs properly. “U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced on 2 December 2020 that John Paul Cook, 57, of Alexander, N.C. is facing multiple federal charges for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) by receiving veteran benefits based on fraudulent service-connected disabilities from 1987 to 2017.” Thirty-years of VA Disability payments, but no VA employee ever asked if he had a driver’s license or other proof of disability. How is this possible; symptom, not disease!

Military Crests“A Florida attorney, on 1 December 2020, admitted his role in a scheme to extort $7.5 million from a California bank, Attorney for the United States Rachael A. Honig announced. Richard L. Williams, 73, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty by video-conference before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to an information charging him with conspiracy to transmit an interstate communication with the intent to extort.”  Symptom, not disease!

“A Michigan woman was sentenced on 4 December 2020, to three years and five months in prison after pleading guilty to carrying out a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of more than $1.7 million in veterans benefits, announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada.” Where were the IT and IS Controls to check for doubled veterans claims? Where were the employees asking for more information when blood types and other medical records mismatched? Administrative controls at the VA are a symptom, not the disease, and the VA Employees who have aided and abetted in allowing this type of trickery need to be held accountable.

Consider the following quote “VA employees are public servants with a solemn duty to care for our nation’s veterans,” said David Spilker, Special Agent in Charge of the VA OIG’s Southeast Field Office. This quote comes from the following case of fraud where the defendants have pled guilty. “Miller Wilson, Jr. (50, Sparr), his daughter, Myoshi Wilson (26, Citra), and his ex-wife, Erica Wilson (43, Ocala) were sentenced today by Senior United States District Judge James D. Whittemore for their roles in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care benefits.” The VA Employee Miller Wilson, Jr., was in charge of VA Payments for non-medical transportation. He established a company to transport VA Patients, received kickbacks for steering work to other companies, and got the other two family members involved in the scheme. Where was his supervisor during all of this “irregular behavior?” Symptom, not the disease.

ProblemsThe VA’s disease comprises numerous large organizations, especially those in the government sector, disconnections between leadership and front-line service providers. This disease goes by several names, but all have the following characteristics:

    • Lack of training
    • Lack of supervision
    • Lack of interest
    • Lack of caring
    • A socially shared sense of entitlement

Frankly, the disease is apathy, compounded by generations of knowledge in protecting oneself to the detriment of all others, including other employees. For example, as an employee, I was physically and verbally assaulted by a senior employee. When another employee and I complained of the maltreatment, the assistant director gave patently false information on how to report the problem, promoted the employee doing the assaulting, and then castigated those who reported this employee’s malbehavior. As the behavior intensified, the director became involved and used other employees on a quid pro quo to remove everyone who reported the employee doing the assaulting.

I-CareBecause this behavior is so ingrained, it has become a defining characteristic and is part of the organizational design. Correcting this behavior requires the same tactic used in pruning trees. Start small, get a core group of people who can work, act, and lead.

  1. Start in the local clinics and hospitals, for the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Cemetery. Start local, where the worst rot is the most visible.
  2. Write down processes, procedures, operational standards, and behavior guidelines. Once written, begin training, publishing, and speaking about this new managerially acceptable behavior by first living these behaviors.
  3. Start setting organizational examples as fraud and malfeasance raise their heads, remove those involved, promote from within, and train the new leaders using the small core group as mentors.
  4. Cut out the obviously poor growers, first. For example, remove employees for cause, and publicize why. While publicizing why they were removed, communicate the new standards of managerially acceptable behavior.
  5. Train, train, and train. That training is a powerful organizational behavior, cannot be stressed enough. Set exacting standards, do not deviate for the easy and quick, and train others to meet those standards. Training includes mentoring and coaching. Use this opportunity to train, mentor, and coach as tools for encouraging managerially acceptable behaviors that meet the new standards, which begins new growth when the old rot is removed.
  6. Be Brave! Change in an organization requires the same type of bravery that wins soldier medals in battle. Standing when you want to sit is key to pushing back against organizational cancer represented in the current leadership.
  7. Do not quit! Too often, the VA has good intentions, uses valuable marketing tactics, and then drops the delivery ball, and the desired organizational change fizzles. Why does the change fizzle; because the leaders tasked with implementation run out of steam before the entrenched management runs out of excuses. Ending this requires smaller steps and people invested in making the change happen.

Image - Eagle & FlagThe VA has become detestable and is absolutely failing in the VA’s mission, as President Lincoln provided. Get outside the regular hiring pool, demand legislation that allows for change, and begin to prune. The veterans in America are counting on you, the leaders of the VA, to act! Do not let these veterans die because of your apathy and fear!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

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msalis1

Dual service military veteran. Possess an MBA in Global Management and a Masters degree in Adult Education and Training. Pursuing a PhD in Industrial and Organizational Psychology. Business professional with depth of experience in logistics, supply chain management, and call centers.

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