A Spanish-speaking Mexican colleague taught me this term, “pobrecito,” meaning “poor little one.” As I chronicle the VA ineptitudes, failures, criminal behaviors, and abusive actions, I am always conscious of the pobrecito, the poor little one, the poor victim who got harmed. Too often, the victims never receive any compensation, acknowledgment, or retribution, nothing for having become a victim of the VA. Too often, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigates long after the abuse has occurred, and the victims are not covered in the scope of the investigation, or worse, the victim was killed, and the family is left to mourn, and nobody can help.
Why chronicle the VA abuses; because the needs to be held accountable, speak the language, and have tougher skin and broader shoulders than the VA’s normal victims. The VA is slowly learning they can harm me, but they cannot shut me up! I will not stop fighting the VA for humane treatment, honorable service, and dedicated systems. The VA is sick because apathy and inertia were allowed to replace common sense and decency, leadership was replaced with cost accounting and bureaucratic red tape, and human kindness was eradicated and replaced with drones and robots. I know how to make the VA better; I do not have all the answers, but I know how to launch the revolution and begin cleaning the VA, and I will not stop calling upon those responsible for fixing the mess they created!
Starting this week’s VA-OIG headlines of crimes and inspections, we find a couple in South Florida who used the system to bilk more than $20 Million in purchase order scams.
“Earron Starks was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay over $2.4 million in restitution. Carlicha Starks was sentenced to three years of supervised release, including one year of home confinement, and ordered to pay $501,000 in restitution. They paid kickbacks to VA employees as part of a large-scale bribery scheme, which enabled the Starks couple and other corrupt vendors to receive over $20 million in purchase orders from VA medical centers in West Palm Beach and Miami. Fourteen additional defendants were charged for their roles in this scheme.”
Who’s the pobrecito in this case; the taxpayers, the veterans, and the United States. Federal Employees had to not only know the crimes occurring but be complicit in the crimes. Will they lose their retirement benefits, have to repay their wages, and face criminal charges and jail time for their culpability? Fourteen additional defendants, how many were supervisors in the know and on the payroll who were promoted during this scheme whose supervisors failed to do their jobs and scrutinize the work of their underlings? The shadiest part of this entire scheme is encapsulated in the following sentence:
“All VA Employees were either terminated or resigned.”
Name me one private-sector employer who could get away with a massive scheme and enjoy similar benefits!
We find another VA employee embroiled in theft of equipment which sold the stolen goods in Ohio.
“Kevin Rumph, Jr., of Fairburn, Georgia, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1.9 million in medical products while employed at a VA community-based outpatient clinic in Atlanta. Between 2013 and 2021, Rumph made hundreds of unauthorized purchases of equipment used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. He then stole and sold the equipment to a vendor in Ohio. Sentencing is scheduled for November 17, 2021.”
I have worked in purchasing in both the US Military and in the private sector. If I went to my bosses with “hundreds of purchase orders for supplies,” they would naturally be curious. Repetition of hundreds of similar requests would raise red flags and demand audits of my records and proof of need. Why did this not occur at the VA?
In the US Navy, I was in charge of ordering stock and saw requests for certain o-rings spike, as I knew the Chief Engineer would spot this and ask why, I asked why, went to the equipment records, dug up the maintenance reports, and asked questions of the mechanics and technicians. In doing so, we discovered an unreported problem with machinery. This is called due diligence; why was it not being practiced by the supervisor of Mr. Rumph? You cannot tell me a seven-year trend line is something that was an anomaly and easily missed in budget reporting year-over-year!
Let’s admit a truth for certain; COVID has been a farrago of gargantuan size from day 1. In acknowledging this, no blame is being proportioned to the front-line workers in any way, shape, or form. But, the administrators, policymakers, politicians, and government bureaucrats have certainly proved they could unscrew the inscrutable! Worse, the bureaucrats proved that their idiocy was highly contagious, infecting more people than COVID, spreading faster than COVID, and killing more people than COVID. Our proof of this concept arrives from Houston and the Michael DeBakey VAMC.
“The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted a healthcare inspection regarding allegations of incompletely screening for COVID-19 and treatment of a patient with serious mental illness who presented for same-day care at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (facility).”
- The VA-OIG substantiated that facility staff did not complete the patient’s COVID-19 temperature screening.
- The VA-OIG substantiated that facility staff failed to manage the patient with COVID-19 symptoms medically.
- Sent the patient to the drive-through testing area without medical evaluation, did not isolate the patient, complete a care plan, or follow the policy for transporting patients suspected to have COVID-19.
- The vulnerable patient disappeared while in the facility’s care, was found off-site four days later experiencing a medical emergency, taken back to the facility, and died the following day [emphasis mine]!
- The VA-OIG determined that the Mental Health Intensive Case Management team failed to address documentation discrepancies related to the patient’s surrogate and educate the family on COVID-19 visitor policy and screening processes.
- The VA-OIG identified the facility’s noncompliance with the missing patient policy.
- Facility leaders’ failure to report an adverse event and ensure a timely review of the patient’s episode of care.
- The VA-OIG identified facility leaders did not timely or accurately disclose to the patient’s family the medical mismanagement that led to the patient’s adverse clinical outcome, e.g., death!
- The VA-OIG concluded the failure to screen, isolate, and evaluate the patient resulted in potential COVID-19 exposure to staff, patients, and the public when the patient moved through facility grounds.
What was not covered in the scope of the VA-OIG investigation was whether the staff had proper training on the written policies or if training had been suspended due to the “pandemic health emergency.” Failure of training has been a running and recurring theme for the VA before the pandemic, and the failures of training have led to thousands of “adverse clinical outcomes” at the VA, up to and even including death. Yet, as evidenced in this example, small decisions lead to catastrophic events. The infected patient was mentally unstable and missing for four days; how many people interacted with the patient as a superspreader event? Who is at blame at this VAMC for this event, the leaders! They failed their people, failed this patient, and failed this family!
Before continuing, we must pause and take a moment to send heartfelt congratulations to two VA Health Care Systems (VAHCS) who passed their comprehensive healthcare inspections (CHIp), if not with flying colors with significant improvement, and are deserving of the highest praise. Would the leaders of the Fort Harrison VAHCS in Montana and the Western Colorado VAHCS in Grand Junction please stand and take a bow. Your improvements, conduct, and capacity to achieve reflect that success is possible with good leadership. Keep up the good work; find ways to improve daily, and may continual success be ever yours!
Finally, we come to a regular topic, the failure of the VA as a whole entity to manage to pass a simple audit on financial matters and the continuing debacle where hiring is concerned during the pandemic. Let me refresh your memories on the hiring debacle; first, the VA-OIG found that VISN leaders “were generally pleased with the “flexibility” provided during the pandemic for speedier hiring.” What did the American people get for reduced hiring practices at the VA? More criminal employees, more employees with shady pasts, more employees with sticky fingers, and more employees who could not find employment in public schools, now working for the federal government.
How did that relaxing of hiring practices work out for the American people and the veterans receiving care; not very well! But, let’s all relax; the VISN leaders are “generally pleased.” Frankly, I would be shocked if anything ruffled the VISN leaders’ feathers long enough for them to care; they are mostly at the top of their career ladders and failing a presidential appointment to Washington, know they are set for life. So, why rock the boat?!?!
As for financial audits, the VISN leaders know that money continuously is appropriated to carry them and their poor decisions forward. Just ask the Denver VAMC where the construction cost overruns are still costing the taxpayers, and no one was ever held liable for that boondoggle or any other crime and scheme for that matter.
Why? Why are victims left to rot, the assaulters and victimizers promoted, and the VA as an organization left in the hands of disreputable, dishonest, unethical, and immoral people? Why is the VA a culture of corruption, greed, envy, sloth, and disinterest when the US military is the exact opposite? America is not what is found in the halls of the VA, why has the VA been allowed to become something anathema to the American people?
Great Britain, you find similar in your halls of government. Your people are amazing; your government workers are just as despicable and deleterious as the American VA, IRS, and DMV. Australia, great people, absurdly detestable government workers. France, interesting people, but the government employee seems to have been drug from the bottom of the scum sucked from the Seine. I have met incredible people in Italy, Greece, Germany, South Korea, etc., but the story rings true everywhere; the government does not represent you. Pobrecito; what has happened?
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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