“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles from the VA Chapter 4

Last week, my primary care provider informed me that the VA is no longer responsible for providing my prescriptions as an outside provider that the VA Community Services team sent me to has increased my dosage.  My primary care provider pulled a Pontius Pilot and washed her hands, and I am swinging in the wind with more bureaucracy and less service.  The best part of the news delivered this last week, the fallacious, seditious, and felonious attack on my character, the behavior problem flag, is controlled by the primary care provider.  Boy, I am sick of the bureaucracy of the VA; if only this were the worst of the bureaucratic baloney, the VA is pushing out.

From many VA-OIG reports during COVID, the following, or something close, was a regular statement:

During COVID-19, VHA’s Office of Community Care (OCC) took steps to ensure veterans continued to have expanded access to health care in the community, as required by the VA MISSION Act of 2018.  OCC issued policies to VA facilities to postpone non-urgent appointments and offer alternatives to in-person care, such as telehealth.”

The VA-OIG inspected to see how closely this statement was adhered to during the height of the COVID pandemic.  What surprises no one is how badly the VA managed community care during the pandemic.

Findings:

    • The VA-OIG found that routine community care consults were unscheduled, averaging 42 days, not meeting VHA’s timeliness goal of 30 days.
    • Community care staff faced significant challenges beyond their control that contributed to the scheduling delays, such as the lack of availability of appointments in the community.
    • Some patients were hesitant to schedule appointments during the pandemic, failed to return phone calls, or declined care once it was offered. – While some of this is definitely patient-driven, what is not discussed is the abrupt shift, the lack of trust, and the confusion about the need to pay the community providers, among other things, faced by veterans forced into community care. As a reference point, it has been 24-months, and I am still facing requests to pay several community providers due to the VA not paying the bill due to a technicality.  The VA claims the provider has to “eat the costs,” but I keep getting statements and calls from collection agencies.  Guess the direction of my credit score, the direction of my insurance costs, and how happy I am with community care providers.
    • The VA-OIG found community care providers and staff did not consistently comply with requirements to manage routine consults, and leaders lacked tools to sufficiently monitor program operations that could have identified the problems.
    • Deficiencies emerged in documenting when patients were contacted about scheduling appointments, designating patients eligible for alternative care, and ensuring staff was trained in ways that would address those weaknesses. – Not to mention that pertinent medical records still haven’t been transmitted, received, and alerted the primary care provider. I had gallbladder removal surgery; no records ever made it to the VA.  I have MRIs, CT scans, and ER notes that, even after being hand-delivered, have not been added to my VA electronic health record and presented to the primary care provider to discuss, dating back to 2010.

How’s that community service program working for you?  In any other industry, this performance would represent an abysmal failure; but community care represents a healthy opportunity for improvement at the VA.  The findings listed are a mere drop in the conclusions discussed in the report.  I have a suggestion for the VA, stop overpromising and underdelivering.  How about you under-promise and then over-deliver?

The following VA-OIG inspection report focused on the Veteran Health Administration facility’s adherence to guidelines for medication management, and the following explanation is quoted from the report:

This report describes medication management findings from healthcare inspections initiated at 36 VHA medical facilities from November 4, 2019, through September 21, 2020.  Each inspection involved interviews with facility leaders and staff and clinical and administrative processes reviews.  The results in this report are a snapshot of VHA performance at the time of the fiscal year 2020 OIG reviews.”

Before we get into the findings, let me elaborate on that statement.  The VA-OIG cherry-picked/hand-selected call it what you will, the facilities to inspect.  No criteria discuss how these facilities were selected.  More, the processes chosen for review were also cherry-picked/hand-selected.  Appearing to represent that, the VA-OIG stacked the deck to obtain success, and the VHA still failed, or rather showed weaknesses.

Generally, the VA-OIG rated the VHA facilities as “compliant.”  But “weaknesses” were identified; read that as the VHA cannot follow established guidelines, protocols, and processes, even though they wrote and established these guidelines and medication protocols.  I call this designed incompetence of a criminal nature, but I am not half as lenient and politically astute as the VA-OIG!

Findings:

    • Aberrant behavior risk assessments
    • Concurrent benzodiazepine therapy
    • Urine drug testing
    • Informed consent
    • Patient follow-up
    • Quality measure oversight.

The following, also from the medication’s adherence inspection, remains significant:

“The OIG examined the following indicators of program
oversight and evaluation:

      • Performance of pain management committee activities
      • Monitoring of quality measures
      • Following the quality improvement process”

For the weaknesses represented in the findings to be prevalent, the “Pain Management Committee activities” represent a general failure of the committee to function!  For quality processes to be a finding, monitoring quality signifies that the bureaucrats are NOT doing the jobs they were hired to perform!  A quality process fails when the humans tasked with oversight refuse to engage, and the VA-OIG findings testify to the truth of humans actively refusing to do their jobs individually and collectively!

Having read and written about the VA-OIG reports for almost ten years, I swear sentences containing the following represent a majority stake in why the VA-OIG cannot be trusted.

VA-OIG inspections… underscored the value of independent oversight of care received in these settings to help VA make continuous improvements.”

Really?  Are you sure the VA-OIG inspections provide “independent oversight” and spur “continuous improvement” at the inspected VA facilities?  I have significant doubts the inspections do anything more than highlight the problems as the VA-OIG inspectors have no teeth, and lying has zero repercussions for the humans defrauding the taxpayer!  How do I know this; the VA-OIG reports generally go on to make a claim similar to the following:

The OIG’s findings show that immediate attention is needed in several critical areas….”

Do you, the dear reader, understand better the frustration of veterans and their families?  When the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) covering the National Cemeteries, Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and Veterans Health Administration (VHA), can be deluded, distracted, and duped by conniving and conspiring people, what else can the veterans and their families do BUT become frustrated?  This is behavior unacceptable in every industry.  In fact, legislation overseeing non-government healthcare is strict in outlawing the conduct observed in government-provided healthcare, but somehow the VA is exempt.  Yet, the VA continues to make claims such as the following:

This is how the VA is delivering on its promise to care for the veteran who has borne the battle, his widow, and his children.”

But don’t take my word for it; the VA-OIG conducted several more Comprehensive Healthcare Inspections (CHIPs), resembling cookie-cutter inspections.  Staff training continues to be a major delinquency labeled as “High-Risk.”  Behavior Committee continues to be a central sticking point and inspection problem.  Cleanliness, tagged under “Quality, Safety, and Value,” continues to represent an area for growth and development.  Nurse-to-Nurse communications remain constant as a problem, and electronic medical records are not helping to improve on this problem.  Inter-facility transferring of patients, policy, and documentation also resemble a constant issue.  I feel like I could summarize a CHIPs report with my eyes closed; tell me, when does the “independent oversight” spur “continuous improvement?”

On the topic of “independent oversight” spurring “continuous improvement,” the VA-OIG conducted a VHA inspection of mental health activities for FY 2020.  Declaring:

This report describes mental health-related findings from healthcare inspections initiated at 36 Veterans Health Administration medical facilities from November 4, 2019, through September 21, 2020, and electronic health record review at five additional facilities.  Each inspection involved interviews with facility leaders and staff and clinical and administrative processes.”

Again, how the facilities were selected and the items reviewed appears to have stacked the deck in the VHA’s favor.  The VHA is still failing, showing weakness while generally being compliant.

Findings:

    • Completion of four follow-up visits within the required time frame
    • Appropriate follow-up of veterans with high-risk patient record flags who do not attend mental health appointments
    • Suicide prevention training
    • Completion of five monthly outreach activities.

Under these four categories, recommendations for improvement included:

    • Registered Nurse Credentialling – Source verification of licenses.
    • Staff training on Suicide Prevention
    • Care Coordination – Especially in transferring the patient, form completion, and evaluating transferred patients
    • Medication list transmission during transfers
    • Staff Training
    • Patient notification
    • Attending the Disruptive Behavior Committee

For anyone else keeping record, most of the list above is a repeat from the last several years the mental health inspection has occurred.  Color me shocked that the VA would still have issues remaining year-over-year, and if you cannot hear the sarcasm in that statement, I have some suggestions for you!

I am thoroughly sick to death of the VA failing in its mission, then bragging they are providing “Excellence in Healthcare.”  If the staff is not trained, they cannot perform their jobs, representing a leadership failure.  This is a truth for all industries, occupations, businesses, organizations, etc.  Nobody is exempt from this statement of fact, yet the VA-OIG keeps on swallowing this excuse year-over-year, and NO PROGRESS is EVER made!

America, are you aware of what the various government agencies are doing with your money, on your time, and with your consent?  If your neighbor took your checkbook and wrote checks you are legally responsible for paying, would you want better services rendered?  Elected officials (yes, I am including those at the city, county, state levels of government), why are you NOT scrutinizing the government more effectively and rigorously?  You, the elected officials, are the neighbor writing checks; why are YOU NOT doing the job we hired you to perform?

Elected officials, did you know that VA is not required to maintain records of returned bills, as a matter of policy, but those returned bills mailed to veterans are causing hardship for veterans.  I cannot recount how many times I have changed my address and my spouse’s address with the VA, on the VA-approved websites, and in-person with VA representatives, and still have had mail not delivered for months due to a wrong address in a legacy system.  Yet, the VA is not policy mandated to check returned mail, track that mail to a veteran, and check the different legacy and non-legacy systems for address veracity.

Elected officials, do you read the VA-OIG reports?  Honest question, as the following is directly from a VA-OIG report.

“[VHA primary care] providers did not consistently

        • Identify a surrogate should the patient lose decision-making capacity
        • Address previous advance directives, state-authorized portable orders, and/or life-sustaining treatment plans
        • Address the patient or surrogate’s understanding of the patient’s condition.”

The VA designed the PACT Team to improve care and deliver on the VA’s mission, yet the primary care provider has the following failures weaknesses showing.  The VA-OIG can do nothing to improve this glaring oversight, but you were elected to force change and spur “continuous improvement” in the executive branch officers and employees.  Well, where are you?  The VA-OIG substantiated that a failure in the PACT team led to a delay in a cancer diagnosis, causing increased pain, problems, and resource loss for a veteran; where are the elected officials, and the media for that matter, in raising a holy rhubarb on the PACT Team failing this veteran?

Elected officials, did you catch that statement in the VA-OIG report on the cancer diagnosis?

Facility leaders have an unwritten expectation that primary care providers conduct a thorough historical review of the patient’s electronic health record starting with the most recent annual note; however, the OIG found that not all of the patient’s providers conducted historical reviews, but instead focused on current issues and problems identified by the patient.”

Having transferred between PACT teams inside the VHA and state-to-state, I can affirm this is exactly what is transpiring in the PACT team; the second most important player, behind the patient, is the primary care provider.  When the primary care doctor fails in their job, like dominoes falling, the care of the patients rapidly cascades into a dynamic failure of healthcare in a VHA facility.  What are YOU doing to stop this madness and demand accountability?

The electronic health record has a section near the top of the record for “Problem List.”  Guess what; when providers fail to keep this section updated, current, and accurate, the healthcare of the patient borders on malpractice requiring only a slight push to arrive with a dead veteran.  The VA-OIG found providers and nursing staff failures to update the problems list accurately, keep the problems list current, and regularly discuss the problems list with the most critical member of the PACT team, the patient!  Providers failed to comply with sound science, good business practices, and act appropriately for the patient’s health; do you think this might be a slight problem in the PACT team?

I have offered the VA several suggestions for plotting a path forward.  Yet, the VA cannot and will not take advice without stern and reproachful measures taken by Congress.  Elected officials, it is time for you to act and groundswell the changes needed in every government agency, even if it means reducing the size of government!

© 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.

That’s Crazy!!! – More Chronicles from the VA (CH 5)

I-CareThe end of the year inundation continues unabated.  Unfortunately, so to does the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) to inspire and motivate change.  Thus, my continual efforts in opening the transparency and demanding accountability for the VA leadership, and insistence that the American Congress do its job in scrutinizing the executive branch!  I repeat, only for emphasis, the US Congress (the US Senate and US House of Representatives collectively) only have two jobs.  1) write laws that are constitutional and for the benefit of all, themselves included, American citizens.  2) scrutinize the executive branch to protect the American Citizen from abuse and runaway actions.  Feel free to read the links to each story for more information, the failure of elected officials to act and prevent this behavior is abysmal, and these are just summaries, the full story is detestable!

In yet another fraudulent scheme, the fraudsters are penalized but the VA employees are left without penalty.

Thomas Farese, 79, of Delray Beach, Florida, and Domenic J. Gatto Jr., 47, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, are charged in an 11-count indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud, conspiracy to transact in criminal proceeds, transacting in criminal proceeds, and conspiracy to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.VA 3

Two VA employees, over the course of four years, caused the VA to lose $1.38 million in kickbacks.

Two Chicago-based VA employees were charged in connection with a fraud scheme that involved pocketing cash payments from vendors in exchange for steering orders for medical equipment to those vendors. Andrew Lee is charged with one count of wire fraud, while Kimberly Dyson is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and four counts of bribery. Lee and Dyson worked as prosthetic clerks in the VHA Prosthetics Service in Chicago, where part of their duties was to select vendors to order medical equipment for VA patients using government purchase cards. The charges allege that Lee and Dyson schemed with coconspirators who owned or operated medical supply and distribution companies, in some cases placing orders for unnecessary and more costly monthly rentals of medical equipment, rather than purchasing the equipment as VA physicians had ordered. The scheme fraudulently caused the VA to overpay one company by more than $1.38 million from 2016 to 2020. Lee and Dyson pocketed kickbacks of at least $220,000 and $39,850, respectively.VA 3

From fraud to theft, we find another VA employee improperly taking advantage of their position for personal gain.

Former VA-certified registered nurse anesthetist, Elizabeth Prophitt of Saline, Michigan, was sentenced to three years’ probation for stealing controlled substances, including several opioids, from hospital-dispensing machines. Prophitt pleaded guilty to five counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit. She used her position as a surgical nurse to steal more than 2,000 vials of Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances, which included fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, and midazolam. Prophitt would use protected patient information and falsify medical documents to obtain the controlled substances. Instead of using the medication on patients, she diverted the drugs for her own personal use.VA 3

For all those people who shudder when they think of how porous the government is in protecting personal identifiable information (PII), the following should alert and provide more fodder to end the political ambitions of representatives who continue to refuse to do their jobs!

Five out of seven conspirators were convicted for their roles in a scheme to defraud the VA and the Social Security Administration of more than $1.8 million. A Florida jury found Omar Shaquille Bailey and Ronaldo Garfield Green guilty following an eight-day trial, while a third codefendant, Jamare Mason, pleaded guilty on the second day of trial. Two other codefendants, Kadeem Gordon and Mario Ricketts, had pleaded guilty prior to trial, while two remaining codefendants have yet to be apprehended. The members of this conspiracy obtained the personally identifiable information of disabled veterans and Social Security beneficiaries and used this information to fraudulently open bank accounts and prepaid debit cards. They also forged documents in the victims’ names that directed the VA and the Social Security Administration to deposit benefit payments into those fraudulent accounts. The defendants and their coconspirators withdrew these funds from ATMs and banks throughout South Florida and Georgia for their own personal use. Much of the funds were ultimately funneled to the architects of the scheme in Jamaica. The five guilty defendants are awaiting sentencing.VA 3

Please remember, an indictment is not a conviction, and every person is allowed their day in court, in front of a jury of their peers, before sentencing and judgment is passed.  With that said, the following indictment is pretty compelling.  If found guilty, may the defendant be forced to do community service in distinctive clothing, in a public place, and carrying a sandwich board detailing their crimes.  Inexcusable and unforgiveable are terms not used enough for some crimes!

Rosemary Ogbenna of Washington, DC, was named in a 35-count indictment for allegedly carrying out a scheme to steal more than $400,000 in government benefit funds provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and VA. According to the indictment, Ogbenna operated a rooming house business and perpetrated the scheme to target some of her tenants. She obtained and maintained control over SSA and VA benefit funds intended for the care of elderly, mentally ill, disabled, and veteran beneficiaries, and used the funds for her own personal use and benefit.VA 3

The Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Albuquerque, NM is in the news again.  No surprise if you, like me, are familiar with the conditions and leadership at this VAMC.  Unfortunately, another veteran has died due to the malpractice and malfeasance, abuse, and lack of leadership in the VA.

The VA-OIG determined that poor oversight of resident physicians (residents) likely contributed to the patient’s delayed lung cancer diagnosis. A resident ordered an abdomen and pelvis computed tomography (CT) scan. Although a follow-up chest CT scan was recommended within 90 days, it took 175 days to complete. The chest CT scan results included resolution of a spiculated lung nodule and worsening of opacities in the lung representing a cavitary infection or cancer, and a positron emission tomography/CT (PET/CT) scan was recommended. The follow-up PET/CT scan showed a lesion in the right lung, but a biopsy was not done. The patient was examined and diagnosed with cancer at a non-VA hospital.

The VA-OIG concluded that deficiencies in care coordination between Primary Care, Pulmonary, and Emergency Departments’ staff also contributed to delays. In addition, contract teleradiologists did not use available prior images for comparison.  The facility failed to use quality management and patient safety processes to evaluate the care of the patient.VA 3

Here’s the kicker, and it should infuriate every taxpayer in America.  The Raymond G. Murphy VAMC was recently found to be meeting all SAIL metrics in a comprehensive healthcare inspection completed by the VA-OIG.  SAIL metrics are how the VA leadership are measured in being knowledgeable and competent in these positions.  Check out the link on SAIL metrics for more information.  Leaving only one question, “How can the VA leadership be found competent, and still be killing veterans?”

Angry Wet ChickenWhen discussing the abuse of veterans and the failure of VA leadership, it never ceases to surprise me the utter half-truths, bloviations, and oratorial yoga, and logical pretzel twisting that is accepted by the US Congress.  The following link takes you to a list of witness testimony given by VA-OIG representatives to the US Congress.  If these “witness” statements leave you sick and mentally struggling, don’t say you were not warned.  The VA-OIG, like the VA, is replete with verbal contortion performers and nowhere is this most noticeable than in “witness” testimony!

Regarding verbal chicanery, oratorial yoga, and despicable verbal gymnastics to provide job security while taking zero action, here is the link to the Semiannual Report to Congress by the VA-OIG.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you, the bureaucrats are out in full force and are playing every card in the deck to protect themselves from Congressional Scrutiny, while attempting to pass themselves off as honest, fair, and doing a good job for the American People.  The problem is in Congress not properly scrutinizing these shenanigans and demanding compliance with the law!

VA SealThe remaining 15 notifications from the VA-OIG are the standard reports on comprehensive healthcare inspections (CHIp) where leaders are measured, never found wanting, even though too often the leaders are failing and useless.  Other notifications included the audit for data security and IT measures completed by a third-party auditor, and which the VA continues to fail but Congress refuses to hold people accountable.  The third and final series of notifications in this batch were several dealing with individual VISN level of local VAHCS/VAMC level inspections on specific topics, such as COVID response, supply chain failures, and other issues.

Unfortunately, the answer is always the same the leaders are inept, inadequate, and incapable of initiating change before a veteran dies, before fraud and abuse occur, or before the VA-OIG makes an attempt to inspire change.  Not that the VA-OIG is very capable or properly equipped to inspire change, simply that the VA-OIG made an attempt.  The root cause remains clear, Congress refusing to do their job has led to the US Military Veterans being actively abused by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Lackadaisical scrutiny, politicization, and two recent presidents who allowed Congress to label the US Military Veterans as “domestic terrorists,” have had detestable consequences for the American Taxpayer and the US Military Veterans and their families.?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

Are you sufficiently inspired to change how you vote, demand elected leaders to act, and improve how the government in America from the city/county to the US President operates?

© Copyright 2021 – 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.