When is Enough… ENOUGH? – More Chronicles from the VA

QuestionHonest question.  I surpassed my ultimate threshold in waiting for the VA to improve in 2010 and stopped accepting the excuses, the platitudes, and the whiny discourse from the VA.  Elected officials charged with scrutinizing the US Government, when has patience been surpassed, and you will cease allowing this nefarious Kabuki?  The veterans are waiting, the taxpayers are fed up, and you need to make a decision and act.

Consider the following investigation by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).  The scenario:

The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted an audit to determine how effectively the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) billed private insurers. [Billing private insurance is a piece of legislation that the VA has haphazardly followed.  The VA remains the first party payer and is authorized under 38 USC 1729 to bill and collect reasonable charges for nonservice-connected care where such veterans have other private health insurance.]  Prior OIG investigations have shown that VHA has missed opportunities to recover funds that could be used to help finance care for other veterans.  VHA’s Office of Community Care (OCC) manages community care programs and bills private insurers when needed.  OCC must submit reimbursement claims before insurers’ deadlines are reached, or they may be denied.”

The legislature passed laws demanding action, and the result was:

      • OCC did not establish an effective process to ensure staff billed veterans’ private health insurers as required
      • OCC did not collect an estimated $217.5 million that should have been recovered, a figure that could grow to $805.2 million by September 30, 2022
      • OCC’s billing and revenue collection process also was not synchronized with insurers’ filing deadlines, and claims information was not always available for billing
      • Pending workload volume and staff shortages hindered effective billing
      • OCC was broadly aware of challenges to its process to bill and collect revenue from private insurers; its responses were insufficient to correct these issues.

Hundreds of millions of dollars are sitting on the table, and the VHA – OCC still cannot properly follow the law.  Worse, they are slower than molasses running uphill in Michigan in January to pay community providers, inventing hoops and red tape nonstop for providers, which increases the cost of healthcare.  This is not the first VA-OIG investigation on this issue in 2022, let alone since 2000; with the same findings, the same recommendations are issued, and nothing improves.  Thus, I have two questions:

  1. When is enough ENOUGH?
  2. How does this reflect the VA Administration’s commitment to the vision of the VA?VA 3

Consider the following; the VA-OIG regularly conducts comprehensive healthcare inspections of VHA facilities.  The findings of these investigations are supposed to spur institutional improvement.  Regularly the VA-OIG places the following comments into the reports of these investigations, hoping nobody will ever read the report and find these facts.

The VA-OIG found deficiencies in identifying sentinel events and conducting institutional disclosures.  Additionally, there were repeat findings from the June 2017 comprehensive healthcare inspection related to inter-facility transfers.”

Imagine a private company being inspected by the government for a moment where previous investigation findings were not improved; what would happen?  An army of lawyers would descend on the customers looking for those harmed/injured, legions of lawyers would pour through employee records looking for injuries and other potential claims, the government would seize assets and halt production, all this and more.  The media would be covering 24/7 news cycles on the slightest allegations of wrongdoing.  Elected officials would be hurrying to write legislation and find a media talking head to bloviate to.

What do we hear where the VA is concerned; not even crickets!  The VA has played complicit roles in veteran deaths, and still not a peep, word, or even crickets.  Remember, these findings occur frequently enough that not finding these remarks is a cause for celebration and is exceedingly rare.  Thus, I have two questions:

  1. When is enough ENOUGH?
  2. How does this reflect the VA Administration’s commitment to the vision of the VA?VA 3

Other oft findings from comprehensive healthcare inspections include the following:

      • Medical center leaders were generally knowledgeable about selected data used in Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning models (SAIL Metrics). – What does “generally knowledgeable” indicate? Why have we accepted general knowledge from those who should have specialized, detailed, and comprehensive knowledge and use this knowledge in daily practice?
      • Outpatient satisfaction survey results were generally higher than VHA averages but revealed opportunities to improve specialty care experiences for female veterans. – Please note beating the VHA average is good but nothing to brag about. Beating the VHA averages is akin to claiming to be the biggest pig in a pig wallow.  Sure, you’re big, but you are still covered in mud!
      • Employee satisfaction survey scores for the medical center were lower than VHA averages. – Not a surprising finding in any way, shape, or form. Employee morale is scathingly low, and it shows in every customer interaction!  More comparing pigs by size in a pig wallow, and it’s not like the VA would punish whistleblowers, fire productive people, castigate, denigrate, deride, and treat employees like chattel… Oh, wait, yes, it is!

Interestingly, I receive 3-10 of these monthly investigation reports from the VA-OIG, and too often, they read like someone is cutting/pasting the findings from one report to the next.  Thus the conclusions of these findings occur frequently enough that not finding these remarks is a cause for celebration and is exceedingly rare.  Therefore, I have two questions:

  1. When is enough ENOUGH?
  2. How does this reflect the VA Administration’s commitment to the vision of the VA?VA 3

Let us consider another VA-OIG investigation, which, unfortunately, recurs too frequently where inappropriate conduct is a norm, not an exception.  VA facility leaders’ response to inappropriate relationships.  Regular readers will know how common it is to find inappropriate relationships and sexual misconduct by VA Employees to other employees, underlings, and veterans.  The scenario:

The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted a healthcare inspection to evaluate leaders’ response to the knowledge of inappropriate provider-patient relationships.  The VA-OIG determined that while facility leaders initially addressed three inappropriate relationships between mental health providers (Providers A, B, and C) and mental health patients (Patients A, B, and C), multiple factors affected the effectiveness of those actions.”

Finding the following:

      • The OIG found that effective facility leader actions to investigate and address the inappropriate relationships of Provider A and Provider B occurred only after an Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection complaint.
      • Facility leaders ineffectively addressed Provider C’s inappropriate relationship before Patient C died by overdose.
      • Facility leaders failed to report Providers B and C to their state licensing boards promptly.
      • Failed to report Provider A to the appropriate professional certification board.
      • Facility leaders did not take actions to address the circumstances that contributed to the death of Patient C, who was involved in an inappropriate romantic relationship with Provider C.

Regrettably, the VA-OIG could not determine if an adverse patient event occurred when finding that the inappropriate relationship played a role in a veteran’s suicide by overdose.  I understand investigative scope creep, but this is ridiculous.  You have a dead veteran in an inappropriate relationship with a provider, and you cannot investigate if this was an adverse event.  What type of bureaucratic inertia sponsored this madness?

Some items in this investigative report stand out, beginning with the fact that the facility leaders who refused to take action remain employed by the VA!  Knowing about problems and not taking prompt and decisive action is negligence in performing one’s duties.  Possessing authority and refusing to implement policies and procedures, ensuring compliance by professionals, defies description and should result in VISN leaders losing their jobs!  Unfortunately, these inappropriate relationships are not rare; even if the VA-OIG has not gotten around to investigating the problems, ask the VA employees, and you will find the proof of concept and incredibly high frequencies.  Hence, I have two questions:

  1. When is enough ENOUGH?
  2. How does this reflect the VA Administration’s commitment to the vision of the VA?VA 3

In the annals of government fraud, waste, and abuse, the following VA-OIG investigation must rank in the top 20 somewhere.

The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) initiated this review to evaluate whether purchases of iPads and iPhones for veterans met mission needs while minimizing waste during fiscal year (FY) 2020 and through the first two quarters of FY 2021.  In July 2020, Connect Care officials purchased 10,000 iPhones with unlimited prepaid data plans for the homeless veterans enrolled in the HUD-VASH program.  However, 8,544 of the 10,000 iPhones remained in storage as of July 2021, as demand for the iPhones was much lower than anticipated.  The OIG found that this resulted in an estimated $1.8 million wasted data plan costs.  The OIG also identified opportunities for improvement regarding data plans for nearly 81,000 iPads purchased.  Because Connected Care did not have strong enough oversight procedures for reducing or eliminating data plan waste, it incurred approximately $571,000 in additional wasted data plan costs.”

When I was offered telehealth, I was responsible for providing the equipment and maintaining an Internet connection.  This was made clear by the VHA Administrators before they signed off on allowing me telehealth and reiterated by my providers when they renewed permission.  How can the VHA and VA leadership and contracting officials imagine this is acceptable?  How many of these devices are still in the hands of veterans?  How many have broken, been pawned, or otherwise not survived?

Again, not casting aspersions, merely asking questions, namely the following:

  1. When is enough ENOUGH?
  2. How does this reflect the VA Administration’s commitment to the vision of the VA?VA 3

I could weep from the frustration felt in reporting another veteran’s death by suicide, receiving care from mental health providers with the VA, and being investigated by the VA-OIG, where the providers are complicit.  The scenario:

The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted a healthcare inspection to evaluate VA-OIG-identified concerns related to the assessment and documentation practices of a behavioral health certified registered nurse practitioner (BHNP) and leaders’ completion of BHNPs’ ongoing professional practice evaluations (OPPEs).

The findings:

      • The BHNP did not perform thorough suicide risk assessments for a patient who died by suicide.
      • Identified multiple deficiencies in a BHNP’s assessment and documentation practices, including the absence of comprehensive suicide risk assessments, failure to complete abnormal involuntary movement and metabolic assessments for patients prescribed particular antipsychotic medication, missing informed consent or a risk-benefit discussion when prescribing off-label medications, failure to resolve rule-out diagnoses, and substantial copy and paste use.
      • Finding adverse clinical outcomes for one of eight patients for whom the BHNP did not document a comprehensive suicide risk assessment, as required by The Joint Commission.
      • Finding the Nurse Manager evaluated BHNPs as satisfactory in the OPPE elements of copy and paste use for the fiscal year 2018 through the first half of the fiscal year 2021 and safety plan completion for high-risk suicide patients for February 2020 through the first half of the fiscal year 2021, without these elements being evaluated.

Is it clear why I am asking about where the limitations of patience are?  The supervisor was directly responsible for leading the BHNPs and failed, and while it is not mentioned, we can presume this person remains employed.  Failed to train staff, failed to supervise staff, refused to do your job.  Yet, you remain employed (probably) and (potentially) were promoted, as this is the regular pattern for VA employees caught but who are politically acceptable or connected.  The supervisor is directly connected to a dead veteran, a family is weeping this holiday season, friends are missing, and all I can do is keep asking the politicians:

  1. When is enough ENOUGH?
  2. How does this reflect the VA Administration’s commitment to the vision of the VA?VA 3

Do you also feel the weight of responsibility; your tax dollars fund this abuse.  Representatives of your government are complicit in adverse patient events, including death, and they refuse to engage, holding government employees accountable and fixing the mess.  Veterans signed a check, telling the government we will perform duties and obligations.  Why aren’t the veterans honored for their sacrifice and respected by elected officials and government employees, especially at the VA?

America WeepsThe VA’s mission statement is “to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s veterans.”  The statement is meant to echo the reverence given to the men and women who serve in the American military with honor.  Reflecting that this body (the Department of Veterans Affairs) is tasked with serving them respectfully, similar to how they served their nation.  One final question is, “Does killing, abusing, and harming veterans equate to honoring the VA mission statement?”

© Copyright 2022 – 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.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

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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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