I have received feedback that I write about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) too much. Please allow me to explain why. As a veteran, I am duty-bound to help my fellow brothers and sisters in arms. As the son of veterans, mother (USN), and father (USN, USARNG), I know the hardships of being dependents of active duty, reserve, and National Guard members of the military. The enlistment contract doesn’t end when the contract says so for the military member; the families and spouses contract is forever.
The final two reasons I write about the VA are most critical; NO body should be treated like the VA treats the veterans; the actions of the bureaucrats in the VA are not representing me and what I stand for in a representative government. As I can easily have the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General Reports (VA-OIG) delivered to my inbox, it makes writing about the VA much easier, benchmarking how the government has insulated themselves and forgotten who holds the reigns of power in a representative government. While not a reason to write about the VA, this final explanation should help you judge whether your representative government appropriately represents you and what you stand for.
The VA-OIG reports today begin with behavior that is intolerable and worthy of public shaming. While the defendant remains innocent until proven guilty, the criminal complaint represents behavior inexcusable! “Daniel Devaty of Elyria, Ohio, was charged with influencing a federal official by threatening a family member. Devaty allegedly sent a text message to the cell phone of a VA social worker threatening to kill his daughters.”
Anytime anyone threatens the family members, their behavior is beyond the pale and deserves public shaming and the harshest of criminal penalties. I do not care if the perpetrator is a politician, a judge, the media, or a private citizen. Leave the families out of any business dealings! Hollywood, take note, I am sick to death of you threatening family members in movies, TV shows, or simply as private citizens/influencers. For too long, you have shirked your public responsibility, and families are OFF LIMITS! Learn this lesson well!
On the topic of conduct reprehensible, the following VA-OIG report leaves me running out of adjectives to describe the behavior of this VA Employee. “Robert Sampson of Gulf Breeze, Florida, pleaded guilty to charges of video voyeurism and disorderly conduct. Sampson secretly recorded eight fellow VA employees using a hidden camera, disguised to look like a cell phone charger power adapter, that he placed in a restroom at the VA Joint Ambulatory Care Center in Pensacola on multiple occasions from August 2019 to June 2020.” May the judge through the book at him and his punishment be creative and sentence well earned!
In another VA-OIG report, we have more leadership missing problems, where a fraud scheme existed for 11 years without discovery. “Erik Santos of Georgia was sentenced to over 11 years in federal prison for defrauding Tricare of approximately $12 million through a compounding pharmacy fraud scheme. In January 2021, Santos pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to commit healthcare fraud and wire fraud.” While the US Attorney beats his chest and proclaims they will catch everyone involved in the fraud, how many managers and supervisors inside Federal Government employ will lose their jobs, pensions, and freedom over allowing this fraud to occur? What processes and procedures will be changed to protect against another fraud scheme? Who is personally accountable for contracting that permitted this scheme to bloom for more than a decade?
The following VA-OIG report details how clowns and patients run the IT program for the VA and not professionals! The VA was tasked explicitly by legislation to meet several IT deadlines on a program for family caregivers as part of the VA MISSION Act of 2018. Unfortunately, not only did the VA fail to get the IT program up and running on time, miss mandatory reporting deadlines, and deliver a software solution 2-years past due, but the “VA did not establish the appropriate security risk category and fully assessed the system’s privacy vulnerabilities.” Amazing, with all the IT problems the VA suffers from, with all the IS problems the VA suffers from, one would think that, where new technology was concerned, the VA would be practicing better security and the lessons learned previously.
Would someone please tell me why private industries would be sued to the Nth degree criminally and civilly for these IT failures, but the government can evade accountability and responsibility; why? In a representative government, the citizens can, and should, hold the elected representatives and their minions accountable for failing to uphold basic security protocols. So how did the government vote themselves a “Get out of Jail Free” card?
While writing this article, three additional VA-OIG reports have been delivered to my inbox. The newest VA-OIG report discusses a topic that the VA continues to struggle with, namely transparency. Apparently, the goblins in Goblin Town still cannot stomach sunlight and prefer to keep their nefarious deeds hidden. Unfortunately, the lack of transparency in hiring practices leads to more VA-OIG investigations into employee wrongdoing, cost the taxpayers phenomenal fees to rid the government of poor hiring decisions, and all this before the union becomes involved. From the report, we find the following:
“… VHA delegated much of its data reconciliation to its local facilities, which introduced variability in the process and did not allow for consistent creation, maintenance, and verification of information. VHA also had inadequate business processes to ensure quality data were available to support effective medical facility staffing oversight. Without consistent methods and reliable source documents for managing information, VHA cannot be sure HR Smart data accurately reflect VA’s budget and workload requirements.”
Did you catch that local facilities were given authority, which increased risks in hiring, all while management cannot perform their functions properly? I remain convinced that the VA built designed incompetence into every action to protect themselves from ever being forced to take action. But, unfortunately, like always, the news only gets worse!
A little background is needed to appreciate the problem in the following VA-OIG report fully. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act required the VA to report to the OMB how they spent money appropriated for America’s Veterans and the VA during the pandemic. The following is what the VA-OIG found:
“VA met monthly reporting requirements to OMB and Congress on supplemental fund obligations and expenditures. VA also submitted required weekly obligations and expenditures from supplemental funding to OMB by program activity. Of approximately $17.3 billion in medical care supplemental funds, VA reported it had obligated about $7.11 billion and had spent about $5.67 billion by December 29, 2020. The VA-OIG team noted three concerns where VA’s reporting was not complete and accurate: • Obligations were at risk of not being included in VA’s reports. • VA initially delayed the reporting of reimbursable obligated amounts for two months. • VA’s reports contained negative dollar amounts in data fields that should have only positive amounts, which misstated VA’s overall reported obligations. Those concerns indicate weaknesses in how VA and VHA internal controls are structured to meet reporting requirements. Despite the risks identified, VA performed only a limited review at the summary fund level of its COVID-19 obligations and expenditures before reporting. A review of summary funds is not detailed enough to identify potential anomalies and ensure the reliability of externally reported information” [emphasis mine].
I did not find this in the VA-OIG report. Did anyone ask why the VA failed to meet the reporting for the first two months? After the FISMA Congressional hearings, everyone knows the VA sucks at information technology and information security (IT/IS). So why was the VA given more money and told to budget it using existing failed software, processes, and procedures? My work in the finance field is limited; however, when a company cannot handle its finances properly and meet legal obligations, a third-party accounting firm can be hired to handle this for the organization. OMB, why are we not using this solution at the VA? OMB, why is a third-party auditing company not conducting in-depth analysis and audits of the VA? With all the missing taxpayer dollars at the VA and Department of Defense, it seems that you are just as negligent as the agencies you are supposed to monitor.
As they say on the Home Shopping Network, “But wait! There’s more!” Unfortunately, the same holds of the VA, just without the enthusiasm! Each VA Medical Center in the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA) is expected to have supplies, also referred to as caches, on hand at all times to handle local emergencies and national health care incidents. For example, a pandemic! The VA-OIG investigated these prepared caches and found that only 9 of 144 supply stockpiles were ever mobilized. The excuses, oh these excuses, are like butt holes, everyone has one, and they stink!
- “Medical facility directors reporting supplies were not needed or caches lacked sufficient quantity for meeting pandemic demands.”
- “The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) changed the process for mobilizing caches during the pandemic, but without clearly communicating it to medical facility directors” [emphasis mine]. – We have the blind leading the blind, in a darkened room, in a London fog!
- The VA-OIG, not the VHA, not the local VAMC, but the inspectors “identified problems with cache maintenance and monitoring.” – Never forget, this is a job of several people, overseen by a director, who reports to facility leaders, and inspectors had to find the maintenance and monitoring problems. Just let that sink in for a minute!
- “Most caches contained some expired or missing personal protective equipment, diminishing their ability to support pandemic preparedness.” – This is an example of how the VHA is “Defining Excellence in Healthcare!”
- The “VHA had incomplete documentation on cache activations, making it difficult to know which caches would need to be restocked.” – See item number 3 above.
- “Medical facility leaders were not always able to accurately report if their facility’s cache was activated during the pandemic.” – Is the proof sufficient that the VA leadership IS the problem with the VA; yet?
In the US Navy, a significant part of my job was to maintain and monitor emergency supplies. Additionally, to use and cycle through reserves during drills and replenish those supplies quickly and efficiently not to impair the ship’s ability to protect itself 24/7. I did my job well enough to earn three people Navy Accommodation Medals. I took over the emergency stores, and all consumable supplies were expired or consumed. Within 3-months, I was winning accolades and awards. Yet, 144 caches of emergency supplies for the VHA need more procedures, more documentation, and more oversight to fulfill the mission correctly.
I beg to differ!!! We need leadership, active, engaged, enthused, leadership! We need the medical facility leader to stop designing incompetence and do the job they have been hired to perform. We, the taxpayers, need the oversight instruments of the Federal Government to become a lot more effective at demanding results. We desperately need the elected officials we have hired to scrutinize the government! Just imagine if you hired someone to perform a mission-critical job, and in the middle of needing emergency support, the person hired reveals, “Oops, I might not have done my job properly.” How fast would that person be fired? Now, why can we not do the same to the government employees?
So, ask yourself, do you feel represented by your government?
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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