Ineffective Governance – Chronicling the VA

I-CareIn a scheme fit to fully infuriate patients and pad wallets, the VA providers prescribe medications; generally, the medication provided is a cheap knock-off, a generic mixture, or drugs with rebate incentives where the hospital providers are “encouraged” to use one drug more than another and the “higher cost” is rebated back the hospital in a profit-sharing scheme.  All these schemes and more play out at your local hospital and VA facilities, so please do not think this is industry-specific to the government.  However, as proved by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports, t improper controls and governance wastes the rebates, harms patients, and still cannot get the programs correct.

Angry Wet ChickenI have three prescriptions hindered by the pharmacy practices of the VA, where the knock-off drug is useless, the mixture of the medication does not do as well as the original medicines prescribed, and where the cost of an ingredient has changed one medication to another and made the prescription less effective to the point where more medication is required for less overall effectiveness.  If the patient has to take more medication, does that mean that the cost savings never happened or that the cost savings were pushed down to the customer?  Does the patient even have a voice in the pharmaceutical decisions?  Why?

We begin the VA-OIG reports with a New Jersey man, who from 2017 thru 2020 stole more than $8.2 million in HIV medication from the VA.  Where were the supervisors when procurement officers for the VA over-ordered medication, stole the excess, sold the stolen goods, and pocketed the profits?  Where were the oversight accountants?  Where were the hospital directors?  People had to know, yet somehow the scheme could exist and thrive; this is as much a failure of leadership as it is ineffective governance, poor inventory control, and useless organizational controls.  Truly a pathetic example of VA leadership!VA 3

On the topic of ineffective governance of pharmaceutical contracts, and diversions of drugs, the VA-OIG report the following:

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) spent about $6.6 billion on prescription drugs in fiscal year (FY) 2019. Most were dispensed to veterans by medical facility pharmacies. VHA pharmacies can return drugs that become damaged or expire before use through a reverse distributor for credit or destruction. In FY 2019, VHA expected to receive about $52 million from drug returns.  The VA-OIG found VHA pharmacy chiefs did not effectively implement the program and did not follow requirements in VA’s contract with the reverse distributor, Pharma Logistics. These issues increased the risk of drug diversion and ultimately put about $18.1 million at risk. Pharmacy chiefs did not always secure, and track drugs held for return or complete required analyses to maximize returns. They also failed to meet contract requirements to return for credit-only drugs due to expire within 120 days. VA’s National Contract Service and network contracting officers needed to do more to ensure contract terms were met. The Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services and the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management did not effectively govern the program or communicate requirements to medical facilities” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Someone help me out, for I cannot understand how incompetence can be designed into these systems, policies, procedures, and responsible parties retain their positions of power.  What happened in 2018, 2017, 2016, and earlier?  We have a single fiscal year (FY) snapshot at a program that is an absolute failure.  By any measurable standard, that should have ignited a full audit of previous years until finding a successful year when the program worked.  Will there be a follow-up to this investigation to see if the VA-OIG’s recommendations are followed and implemented?  The VA-OIG has the leadership caught dead to rights on ineffective governance of a program worth $6.6 Billion to the American Taxpayer, and no accountability or responsibility of personnel is to be found anywhere.  Why?

Plato 2In a separate investigation, the VA-OIG found:

In October 2020, VA ended its contract with Pharma Logistics.  The vendor continues to process and issue final invoices to facilities as the returned drugs become eligible for and receive manufacturer credit. The final invoice process will continue until at least April 2022.  VHA medical facility pharmacies lost at least an estimated $2.1 million worth of drug return credits because pharmacy chiefs did not always effectively monitor or review job settlement statements before Pharma Logistics issued final invoices.  In addition, although the vendor established a dashboard that provided information on the status of drug return credits at the facility level, it cannot provide a national report on all outstanding credits.  This hurt VHA’s ability to maximize potential drug return credits and minimize the risk of lost credits.  VHA will continue to be unable to ensure it is receiving all credits for drugs returned by medical facilities if pharmacy chiefs do not routinely monitor preliminary invoices, reconcile job settlement statements to identify outstanding credits, and request extensions to final invoices to allow additional time for credit processing. This risk will persist for any future drug return contract(s)—whether awarded nationally or locally—if the reimbursement structure remains the same” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Did you catch that; the vendor created software to help track medications, making it easier to return medicines, and the VA pharmacy chiefs could not follow the dashboard and increased the risk of losing money for the VHA.  You were hired to perform a job; a collateral duty of your job is inventory management, tools are provided and supported to aid you in making decisions, and you refuse to use these tools.  How is this the vendor’s fault?  Why do you still retain your position?  Ineffective governance is barely the tip of the VA’s problematic iceberg created the good ship America has hit!

Liars, Thieves, and Fraud Artists Beware

GavelA Norwood, Massachusetts woman has been indicted, remains presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, by a jury of her peers, for stealing social security and workman’s compensation benefits.  The Norwood woman’s actions are continuing to support the claim that complexity breeds criminal abuse.  Unfortunately, also proving that the government is not doing their jobs in checking tax records before providing benefits.

A man from Georgia has pled guilty to running a Ponzi scheme and defraud the American government during the COVID pandemic.  Frankly, I am thrilled to see another fraudster being stopped before his crimes become astronomical in scale.  I remain convinced that the government procurement system is wide open to abuse, and the complexity of the procurement system is too costly, cumbersome, and risk inviting.  The criminals see too much opportunity in the government procurement system, and the complexity breeds the ability to lie, steal, cheat the American taxpayer.

QuestionThe following remains a case where there are too many lawyers and not enough truth to ascertain what in the world is going on.  If you have further insight, please weigh in.  “Sunrhys LLC, a landlord and property management company, headquartered in Tacoma, Washington, agreed to pay $16,618 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by overcharging a tenant and by fraudulently obtaining federal funds from a federal program designed to provide housing to homeless Veterans. The United States alleged that Sunrhys violated the agreement and the HUD-VA Support Housing program requirements by fraudulently overcharging a veteran for monthly rent between July 2019 and April 2020.”

Highlights, Audits, and Inspections

July 2021 – Highlights:

Each month, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) publishes highlights of our investigative work, congressional testimony, and oversight reports. Each month’s highlights are meant to provide a brief overview of the most significant OIG work conducted in that period.”

blue-money-burningThe VA-OIG conducted a financial efficiency review of the Miami VAHCS.  From the findings, the VHA, VBA, National Cemeteries, specifically, and the VA generally, could learn much about fiscal responsibility.  But this was already well documented!  The VA has never successfully passed an audit with transparency, accountability, and responsibility; why am I the only person demanding to know why?  Want to laugh; the VA-OIG recommends “more scrutiny” for financial transactions to the VA as a recommendation.  Like the current system for scrutiny is working, and just a bit more effort will help.  Go ahead and read the report for more specifics; my stomach cannot handle writing about the gross inefficiencies, the actual harm, and out-of-control governance failures.  Fiscal insanity is one thing; what is occurring at the Miami VAHCS is beyond insane and bordering on the unbelievable!  Almost the beginning of the Twilight Zone.

Survived the VAThe Sheridan VAMC in Wyoming continues to be performing well and deserves hearty congratulations for the results of their latest comprehensive healthcare inspection.  I prefer to issue congratulations than butt-kickings, and the congratulations are well deserved.  Keep up the good work moving forward.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

It IS ALL About Leadership – More Shameful VA Chronicles

I-CareRecently, guardianships have been in the news, and I doubt this story will make the lawyers very happy.  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports that an Albuquerque couple has been sentenced for defrauding guardians, which included veterans.  The criminal report claims:

Susan Harris acted as president and was the 95-percent owner of Ayudando, while Moore acted as chief financial officer and was a five-percent owner. They engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct from November 2006 to July 2017 that included unlawfully transferring money from client accounts to a comingled account without any client-based justification.  They wrote and endorsed numerous checks, often of more than $10,000, from these comingled accounts to themselves, family members, cash, and other parties where payment would benefit their families.”

For the better part of 11 years, this couple has spent money not their own, abused their charges, and defrauded vulnerable clientele.  While the federal attorneys and investigators crow about catching this couple and ending this situation; what about all the rest of the guardianships where abuse is occurring?  I have read horrific stories about victims of guardianship abuse and hope more will be done on this topic very shortly!VA 3

For 11 years, where were the VA and the Social Security Administration?  Where were the local hospital leadership, social workers, and other federal employees who had to have known something fishy was going on?  Where are these Federal Employees now?  Where are the politicians scrutinizing this incident to ensure that protection for vulnerable citizens never happens again through legal guardianships?

Now traveling to Eastern Oklahoma VAHCS in Muskogee where an audiologist provided poor care and billed for unrendered services.  Pay close attention to the VA-OIG report; the leadership failures on this report alone are voluminous and unforgivable!

A facility fact-finding review revealed the audiologist provided poor care to eight of 43 patients reviewed, including misinforming patients who needed hearing aids that hearing aids were not needed. Although the audiology leaders reported the fact-finding results to the OIG, they failed to evaluate whether patients needed clinical follow-up; determine whether additional patients were affected by the audiologist’s poor care; evaluate whether clinical disclosures were required for the affected patients; and communicate the fact-finding results to the Facility Director, who was, therefore, unable to initiate the process to determine the necessity of a large scale disclosure. The instances of poor care were also not reported to the Patient Safety Manager, who was, as a result, unable to assess the adverse events to determine if patient safety interventions were indicated. The VA-OIG also found that performance monitoring of facility audiologists was not conducted as required. Annual competency assessments and annual performance appraisals were not consistently completed and did not contain adequate performance standards. Audiology leaders failed to consider whether the audiologist’s actions warranted a report to the state licensing board due to a lack of understanding of the requirements for reporting and, therefore, the Facility Director was not informed of the need to initiate a state licensing board review” [emphasis mine].

Will, someone please tell me, were the audiology leaders who failed to perform their jobs removed from Federal Employment?  What about the audiologists causing the problems?  Are they removed from Federal Employment?  Were their licensing practices curbed to protect other populations of patients?  The leadership failures here read like a Steven King horror story but do not have the satisfaction of finishing the story.VA 3

Yet, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will continue to market that they are “defining quality in healthcare.”  The jokes write themselves but cannot be fired from Federal Employment!  Politicians, why can these jokers not be fired from Federal employment for such egregious abuse of their positions and failures to do their jobs?

I-CareTraveling further to North Carolina, we find that the perpetrator of this fraud has pled guilty, but again responsibility, accountability, and correction of the VA is being skirted.

John Paul Cook, 57, of Alexander, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to defrauding the VA. After enlisting in the Army in 1985, Cook sustained an accidental injury and complained the injury worsened a preexisting eye condition. In 1987, Cook was discharged, and he began receiving benefits that would increase over the next 30 years due to Cook’s repeated false claims of increased visual impairment and unemployability. In 2005, the VA declared Cook legally blind, and he began receiving disability-based compensation at the maximum rate despite repeatedly passing vision screening tests to obtain or renew his driver’s license and purchasing vehicles that he routinely drove.”

1987 to 2020, we will be generous in counting the years here; regardless, we are looking at 30+ years this fraud continued.  Where were the verification protocols?  I have had to produce a valid driver’s license at the VA to obtain and keep current my VA identification card.  How did this fraud go on for so long?  What is the VA doing to stop, or at least hinder, those who would defraud the government before the problem becomes 10 years old, let alone 30?!?!  I cannot fathom how this fraud went on for so long without a routine checkup, a routine exam, a follow-up exam, etc.VA 3

Going north from South Carolina, we find more fraud, this time in New Jersey, where a man did not report his mother had deceased and continued to claim her benefits for a total of over $200K.

Melvin Greenspan, 72, of Perrineville, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to defrauding VA of over $200,000 in survivor’s pension benefits. After the death of his mother in 2006, who had received survivor’s pension due to his father’s prior military service, Greenspan failed to notify the VA about his mother’s death and made withdrawals of the benefits through 2018.”

Where was the leadership?  Where are the leaders now?  Another fraud case, older than a decade, and still the VA cannot be held accountable for facilitating the fraud.  I am stunned!  How did this one continue for so long?  Doesn’t the VA check local newspapers, the Social Security Administration, other Federal Agencies?  Since the culprit was not held on defrauding SSA, one can only presume the mother’s death was reported there.  Why did the VA not get notified to ask the family questions?VA 3

On the topic of guardians and leadership, the following story makes me angry!  However, I will withhold further elaboration since those accused remain innocent until proven guilty by a trial of their peers.

Johnny Ray Gasca, 51, was arrested for allegedly abducting a 68-year-old woman with dementia from the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in California. A witness recognized Gasca and reported he might have previously taken money from the woman’s bank and retirement accounts. Following his arrest, Gasca described the victim as his girlfriend and told agents that they stopped at a bank where the victim made a $15,000 withdrawal after leaving the medical center.”

In the first report from the VA-OIG discussed, we found guardianship rules being violated to the Nth degree.  In this story, we have no information of an assigned guardian, and we have a dementia patient being abused.  The dementia patient was traveling with a friend; who is the legal guardian for a dementia patient?  Where are the family or friends legally bonded to render aid for this patient and monitor finances to protect them from abuse?  How can the VA operate one way in one locale and 180-degrees differently in another locale and the leadership not held accountable?VA 3

Speaking of missing leadership, the following VA-OIG report is a beauty!  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has a program to help homeless veterans, where contractors are used, and the VHA uses case management documentation to verify the veteran is receiving the assistance being paid for, the program is called the contracted residential services (CRS) program.

The VA-OIG found facility staff did not consistently document case management and monitor the progress of veterans in the program.  Further, four of the 14 CRS contracts reviewed had performance deficiencies, with one resulting in improper payments of $592,000. These deficiencies may affect the health and safety of veterans living in transitional settings. Moreover, VA lacks assurance that veterans received required services. There were also contract administration problems in 13 of 14 reviewed contracts. Contracting officers did not always properly delegate responsibilities to staff functioning as contracting officer’s representatives. Further, one facility’s representative did not ensure contractors provided meals or the means to purchase them, as required, and another lacked invoice supporting documentation for approval. The VA-OIG audit team estimated that 107 of 119 contracts had monitoring and administration deficiencies. Furthermore, the team estimated that VHA made $35.3 million in improper payments, of which approximately $21.6 million was technically improper because the individuals authorizing payment were not delegated authority to serve as contracting officer’s representatives.”

If your accomplishment rate in your employment was 48%, would you retain your job for very long?  If 90% of your documentation claiming how well you do your job was missing or fabricated, how long would you maintain employment?  If you delegated people to complete your work who were unauthorized and you were contractually culpable, how long do you think you would stay out of prison?  How long would your boss stay out of jail?  How long would your company exist?  Now, answer me this riddler, why does the government get a pass on these questions?VA 3

Finally, we have Deputy Inspector General David Case’s testimony regarding the failure of VA leadership where the implementation of a new electronic health record (EHR) is being stalled.  If you care, the VA leadership and the VHA leadership are failing the EHR initiative.  Not that this was not expected, and not that this is not surprising, the IT and IS departments of the VA and VHA are so hopelessly lost it amazes me the VA is even using computers and not written records!  But, do not take my word for it, Case himself claims,

“Detailed in this statement, we have repeatedly found unreliable and incomplete estimates for upgrades and costs, inadequate reporting affecting transparency to Congress, and stove-piped governance with decision making that does not appropriately engage Veterans Health Administration (VHA) personnel who are the end-users of the new EHR system.”VA 3

Knowledge Check!Get that; the leadership failures are obstructing Congress and hindering the EHR progress!  What can we conclude from this batch of VA-OIG reports:

        1. The VA, VHA, VBA, and National Cemetery leadership are actively missing, like the Democrats from the Texas Legislature.
        2. If the leaders are present, the leaders are the problems in progressing.
        3. The leaders have created a system where fraud and abuse of the veterans and taxpayers can be achieved with ease.
        4. Nobody in the US House of Representatives or US Senate scrutinizes the legislative branch sufficiently to effect changes.
        5. When in doubt about where your leaders fall, check to see if they are in their offices. Oh, wait, that won’t help, their offices have locks on the doors!

If this is how the VA defines quality healthcare. In that case, the veterans are screwed, the taxpayer is sunk, and the leaders will enjoy their magnanimous federally approved retirement packages, ad nauseam ad infinitum!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Moral Distress IS a Leadership Problem – More Shameful VA Chronicles!

Survived the VAA surprise occurred in this week’s Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports; the Boise VAMC in Idaho performed well in their comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp).  Even though 10 recommendations were left, the VAMC as a whole is performing above average, with no significant complaints found by the VA-OIG.  Congratulations to the Boise VAMC!

VA 3Let me stress something; leadership is the reason why a VA Healthcare System (VAHCS) or VA Medical Center (VAMC) performs well or poorly!  Yet, too often, the leadership IS the root cause of the problems in a VAHCS or VAMC.  The Boise VAMC just proved this point precisely; are any Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leaders in Washington DC paying any attention?

The VA-OIG performed a CHIp in Portland VAHCS and found moral distress in the employees, again!  This means that the Eastern end of the state is receiving better care than the western end of Oregon State!  Yet another VAHCS or VAMC with employees feeling morally distressed by the commands and directives of their leadership in how they treat veteran patients!  The VA-OIG report makes everything sound like rainbows and lollipops at the Portland VAHCS, but if employees feel “morally distressed,” there are problems, just not those included in the CHIp scope!VA 3

Where problems outside the scope of an investigation are concerned, the following is GREAT NEWS!

Robert Seifert, 63, of Utica, New York, pleaded guilty to making telephonic threats to Albany Stratton VA Medical Center employees. Seifert, who has been convicted twice before of threatening VA employees, admitted that on 14 January 2021, he made three calls to employees for no reason other than to harass and threaten them.”

I am going to repeat it, only for emphasis, “Leave the families out of your anger!”  Never, EVER, attack, threaten, or speak against the families.  They are OFF LIMITS!  I become very frustrated with the VA Leadership, but violence is not the answer, and threatening families is repulsive and counterproductive!  Seifert is scheduled for sentencing on 06 October 2021; may the judge throw the book at him, for this is his third conviction for threatening families of VA Employees.VA 3

On the topic of frustrating leadership who need to lose their jobs and reimburse the government for all wages, the following VA-OIG report is the epitome of failed leadership in action!

The VA’s Office of National Veterans Sports Programs and Special Events (NVSPSE) granted $47 million to organizations with experience in managing adaptive sports programs from fiscal year (FY) 2017 to FY 2020. … The VA-OIG found that the NVSPSE was not effectively managing the program.  The NVSPSE’s director had not established adequate internal controls, including developing standard operating procedures for managing adaptive sports grants.  As a result, the NVSPSE could not effectively evaluate risks from grant recipients, did not reimburse some recipients’ expenses on time, did not always close out grants on time, and did not appropriately authorize extensions for using funds.  By not closing out grants on time, the NVSPSE failed to free up about $346,000 that could have been used for other purposes.  It also improperly allowed recipients to spend $328,000 in FY 2017 appropriations outside the approved period and improperly reimbursed 19 recipients a total of about $247,000.”

The VA-OIG recognizes that these failures to audit and control the adaptive sports program properly potentially violate both the Purpose Statute and the Antideficiency Act, federal laws with direct consequences for Federal Employees.  I am taking bets.  Will anything come out of the director being referred to the lawyers; I doubt any action will ever be taken!  That’s not just my cynicism speaking; that is the experience in watching directors at the VA skate accountability and responsibility better than gold-winning Olympic figure skaters.VA 3

In reporting the following VA-OIG report, do not rationalize that every suicidal person will eventually find a way or means to commit suicide.  I ask you do not think this for two reasons: one, it is a lie lazy people tell themselves to disregard the act; two, helping people with suicide ideation is not cut and dried textbook medicine. Assisting people with suicide ideation takes time, effort, getting to know the person, and a lot of interlocking care from professionals.

“The patient, who was over 70 years old at the time of death, had diagnoses that included post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. After approximately 15 years of care at a California VA facility, the patient transferred care to the Las Vegas facility in summer 2019. The VA-OIG substantiated that the patient died by suicide from a VA resident mental health clinic on the day of dischargeThe emergency department social worker documented an incomplete comprehensive evaluation. The suicide prevention team did not assign the patient a high risk for suicide patient record flag despite the patient’s stressors and history of suicide behaviors. Staff did not adequately assess the patient’s substance use, incorporate relevant history into the treatment plan, or address the patient’s change in demeanor and concerning statements. The discharge safety plan had not been modified for approximately eight months despite significant life changes. Leaders had not established a mental health treatment coordinator (MHTC) policy. Staff assigned the patient an MHTC at the patient’s tenth visit and four MHTCs over nine months. Staff did not coordinate care with a geropsychologist, with whom the patient had nine appointments. Leaders did not effectively address the patient’s expressed complaints. The VA-OIG substantiated that leaders did not conduct an institutional disclosure” [emphasis mine].

The last sentence is the dead giveaway that the leadership knew there were problems and designed processes intentionally to have an excuse when a patient died!  This veteran was suffering to a great degree, and I hope that with his passing, his family and friends can find peace in the knowledge that the veteran is now pain-free.  But, the VA leadership should be held legally responsible for this death, they failed this patient, and the world is worse for the veteran’s passing.VA 3

Suicides are hard on family, friends, communities; suicides at any age are the ultimate declaration that failure occurred, the pain was missed, and the medical community and support systems failed.  Survivors often feel a great degree of guilt and carry that guilt to their graves.  But, when medical providers go out of their way to hide the problems, refusing to document, and declare, it means that the medical community had written the patient off as too costly to save.  Who speaks for the loss of intelligence and potential of the failed patient; I do!I-Care

I will continue to speak to the failures of the VA to provide the care they promised, and demand leaders are held accountable and responsible.  This was preventable, and the leadership must be held accountable if the system is to be changed!  This veteran did not have to die by his own hand, and the medical community at the VA in Southern Nevada HCS, located in Las Vegas, should be ashamed!

Follow this link if you would like to see a recap, with links, to the shenanigans reported by the VA-OIG in June.  June 2021 has been a month of incredible and horrendous behavior documented by the VA-OIG of the leadership failures at the VA.  The elected leaders of America either need to begin scrutinizing the VA more closely or vacate office.  There is no excuse for the continued irrational and detestable behavior at the VA.VA 3

The last two items are testimony recorded before a Senate and a House of Representatives Committee.  Statement of deputy inspector general David Case Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs before the US Senate Committee on veterans’ affairs hearing on VA electronic health records: modernization and the path ahead 14 July 2021Statement of Leigh Ann Searight deputy assistant inspector general for audits and evaluations Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General before the subcommittee on oversight and investigations committee on Veterans’ Affairs US House of Representatives hearing on modernizing the VA police force: Ensuring accountability 13 July 2021.  Frankly, both statements are pure vanilla because the subcommittees refused to act, which was known before making the statement and the hearings.  Hence, why should the VA-OIG prepare action plans if the Senate and House will not take action?

Knowledge Check!Repeating, only for emphasis, “Until the US Legislative Branch will do their jobs, and scrutinize the Executive Branch with the intent to demand accountability, no single government agency will ever change.”  Want to help veterans?  Contact your elected representatives and send them these articles, demanding they take action in support of legislation and scrutinization, demanding accountability and responsibility of government employees who are currently active in refusing to change!  Want to help veterans?  Share these stories far and wide.  Everyone should know what the VA is doing and realize that every government agency from the city to the President is employing tactics to steal liberty, rob freedom, and murder veterans!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Sometimes, You Have to – More Repugnant VA Chronicles

Angry Wet ChickenIn looking back, it has been a long time since I wrote two scathing chronicles about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in a single week.  But, I could not allow these Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports to age any longer in my inbox.  With the Fourth of July fast approaching, as you celebrate, please keep in mind what the VA is purposefully doing to the Veterans, Dependents, and Spouses under their care.  America would not be here without her military, and military service produces veterans.  But, the VA is producing bodies and bureaucracy instead of helping veterans as they are paid and legally charged to do!

When I first left the US Army, I found myself employed in a telemarketing call center and was never paid the correct amount.  18-months later, I was employed with an Internet Service Provider, who bounced multiple paychecks before going bankrupt underneath the employees.  When the VA-OIG reports part-time physicians not being appropriately paid, I can understand the issues this causes.

I-CareThe VA-OIG randomly selected 134 salary agreements for part-time physicians on adjustable work schedules and found 44% of the physicians were either over or underpaid.  One might ask how and why these pay errors occurred.  The answer is extreme designed incompetence, not that the physicians will feel any better that they were either overpaid and owe back monies or underpaid and are now owed a considerable check.

From the VA-OIG report, we find the following as causes for the discrepancies:

This occurred because key management controls were missing or not working. Officials did not make certain that medical facilities complied with policies and procedures. Consequently, the OIG estimated VHA medical facilities had about $8.3 million in questioned costs that year (2019) and an additional $8.3 million in 2020. VHA medical facilities also may have violated the prohibition against voluntary services, and potentially the Antideficiency Act, by not correcting underpayments or by having physicians working above the 1,820-hour cap because their agreements were not properly reconciled” [emphasis mine].VA 3

The government officials’ neglect, malfeasance, and misfeasance might be illegal, as they failed to do their jobs properly.  Yet, the VA-OIG only issued recommendations.  There is potentially $16.6 Million in over or underpayments at stake, plus illegal actions, and people have not been fired or perp-walked into custody.  How can government employees get away with behavior that would have seen class-action lawsuits, criminal investigations, media reporting feeding frenzies if similar had occurred anywhere in the private sector?

IronyYet, the marketing materials produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration, a division of the VA, claims this is “Defining Excellence in Healthcare in the 21st Century.”  If you believe that, then you must believe that buffalo wings come from flying buffaloes.  Unfortunately, the problems only continue to worsen.

The VA-OIG reports that a doctor had accumulated more than 4000 alerts from the electronic health record (EHR) system.  This means that the computer system notified the doctor that patients needed care, appointments, were seen in the ER, required treatment, pharmacy prescription renewals, and much more.  The alerts, called views, are a built-in measure to help patients not get lost or have “adverse clinical outcomes” while receiving care at the VHA.  The VA-OIG found that the entire medical facility at the Charlie Norwood VAMC in Agusta, Georgia had similar issues.  The doctors were not viewing the patient EHR views as indicated.VA 3

What’s worse, the VA-OIG could not tell if “adverse clinical outcomes” had occurred because once the EHR views are settled, there is no record of the patient or why the view was required.  Talk about accountability, responsibility, and transparency in the patient-aligned care team (PACT).  In reading this VA-OIG report, it looks like when the facility leadership was alerted the VA-OIG was coming, the leadership team did a massive clean-up of the records, knowing they would never get caught and held responsible for any “adverse clinical outcomes.”  As a side note, the VA-OIG report claims the doctor with 4000 views is no longer providing care at this VA facility.  Heaven help his patients wherever this doctor is now!PACT 1

So far in 2020, I have had two different primary care providers assigned, and since moving out of Arizona, I will shortly have a third assigned to me.  My first primary care provider retired, but before doing so, he set up many EHR problems for his replacement to handle.  Including refusing to renew prescriptions, some of which were mine, which caused weeks of not receiving the proper medications.  Upon learning of my impending move, my second primary care provider essentially wiped her hands of my care, leaving me without medications and a clinic to contact for help.  Great job if you can get it; get hired to treat patients, and then not treat patients.  Before you ask, no, knowing I am not alone in this ordeal does not help!

PACT 3Finally, the VA-OIG has completed a full VISN wide comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp) for VISN 10.  VISN 10 covering Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and is located in Cincinnati, Ohio.  For all intents and purposes, the CHIp went well; the leaders are competent and knowledgeable.  Thus, I issue my sincerest congratulations to VISN 10 for their success.  The VA-OIG inspected the VISN’s ability to respond to the COVID pandemic appropriately, and the VISN performed well.

VA 3Except, this opens a few questions needing address.  At two VISN 22 and two VISN 17 facilities, I have experienced four utterly different responses to the COVID policy and masking mandates.  None of the facilities have written guidelines that are geographically specific to the patients and weather patterns in those areas.  None of the facilities have documented processes for veterans who cannot wear masks, with an approved policy supported, written statement for accommodating these veterans.  One facility insists that the veterans who cannot wear masks be arrested, cited, and fined.  One facility insists that if you have a letter from your doctor, you are okay.  One facility vacillates wildly from day-to-day and person-to-person, and the fourth facility doesn’t have a clue but is still very helpful, with supervisor approval.Question

Yet, somehow, VISN 10 has all their VAMC’s and VAHCS’ operating to the same sheet of music and behaving similarly.  How is this possible VA-OIG?  Better still, how does this spread out to other VISN’s and facilities?  May I hazard a guess, based solely upon the perceptions of veterans in VISN 10, the masking policy from COVID remains haphazard and improperly applied because Washington, DC, never issued proper guidance in the first place, the VISN leaders never issued written guidance.  The policy process on the local level is a quagmire of egos, bureaucracy, unions, all set into a cesspit of inaction and designed incompetence!  If COVID has taught any lessons, the number one lesson has to be that the leadership at the VISN and local levels remains inadequate to the task they were hired to perform!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.