That’s Crazy!!! – More Chronicles from the VA (CH 4)

Angry Wet ChickenHave you ever been so embarrassed by something that any mention seems to depress you?  I am in this position right now; the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) has released more investigation reports and analyses of the VA.  Analyses that should be cause for the most profound concern by congressional representatives, and instead, they act like nothing is wrong, nothing to see here, go away.  Well, I am too embarrassed to “go away,” and I demand action to clean house and curb this atrocious behavior!

Courage involves pain and is justly praised, for it is harder to face what is painful than to abstain from what is pleasant.” – Aristotle

Too often, I am left asking where the Federal Government Employees are and what their responsibility is in fraudulent schemes.  For example, we begin with a $50 Million scheme that had to have been suspicious to employees at Medicare, TRICARE, CHAMPVA, and many other health benefit programs.

  • Nicholas Defonte and Christopher Cirri, both of Toms River, New Jersey, and Pat Truglia of Parkland, Florida, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud. Each defendant played a role in defrauding healthcare benefits by offering, paying, soliciting, and receiving kickbacks and bribes in exchange for completed doctors’ orders for durable medical equipment, specifically orthotic braces. The defendants then fraudulently billed Medicare, TRICARE, the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA), and other healthcare benefit programs. Cirri, Defonte, and their conspirators owned and operated multiple call centers where they obtained prescriptions for compound medications and other medical products reimbursable by federal and private healthcare benefit programs. The defendants caused losses to Medicare, TRICARE, and CHAMPVA of approximately $50 million.VA 3

Next, we see another case where Federal employees should have been aware, vocal, and the problems fixed before the scheme turned three years old.

  • Matthew Camera of Erie, Pennsylvania, pleaded guilty to violating federal drug laws. From January 2017 to June 2020, while employed as the pharmacy chief at the VA medical center in Erie, he unlawfully obtained multiple dosage units of hydrocodone and oxycodone from pill bottles awaiting delivery to VA patients. Sentencing is scheduled for March 22, 2022.
  • Michael Nolan of Tampa, Florida, and Richard Epstein, of Aurora, Colorado, were sentenced in a conspiracy to defraud two federal health benefit programs, Medicare and the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the Department of Veterans Affairs (CHAMPVA). From October 2016 through April 2019, Epstein and Nolan ran a telemarketing company in Tampa called REMN Management LLC that targeted the elderly to generate thousands of medically unnecessary physicians’ orders for durable medical equipment and cancer genetic testing. Epstein and Nolan also created and operated Comprehensive Telcare LLC, a telemedicine company through which they illegally bribed physicians to sign the orders regardless of medical necessity. They then illegally sold the signed physicians’ orders to client-conspirators to support false and fraudulent claims submitted to Medicare and CHAMPVA. The conspiracy resulted in the submission of at least $134 million in fraudulent claims and approximately $29 million in payments. Nolan was sentenced to six years and six months in federal prison, followed by three years supervised release and was ordered to pay $2.1 million. Epstein was sentenced to five years and three months in federal prison, followed by three years supervised release and was ordered to pay $3 million. The court ordered Nolan, Epstein, and other conspirators to pay over $29 million in restitution.
  • Twenty people, including the two founders of Hertel & Brown Physical & Aquatic Therapy and 18 of its employees, were indicted in Erie County, Pennsylvania, of conspiracy to commit wire and healthcare fraud and healthcare fraud. According to the indictment, the defendants engaged in a multifaceted conspiracy from January 2007 to October 2021 that involved a range of fraudulent activities. These included allegedly using unlicensed technicians to provide therapy and then billing for the treatment as though licensed therapists had performed it, regularly billing for treatment using the name and credentials of physical therapists who were on vacation, recording, and billing for time that exceeded the actual treatment time, among several other allegations.
  • Robin Calef of Brockton, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to one count of theft of public funds. Calef shared a bank account with her sister, a veteran receiving monthly benefits from the VA. Her sister passed away in 2006, and Calef failed to report her death to the VA. Through September 2017, Calef stole approximately $102,289 in VA funds from the shared bank account. Sentencing is scheduled for March 1, 2022.
  • Lisa Hoffman, a former pharmacy procurement technician at the East Orange VA Medical Center in New Jersey, pleaded guilty to theft of government property. From October 2015 to November 2019, Hoffman was responsible for ordering medication, including large quantities of HIV medication, for the center’s outpatient pharmacy. She stole approximately $10 million worth of HIV medication and sold it to Wagner Checonolasco of Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Hoffman is scheduled to be sentenced on March 9, 2022. Checonolasco previously pleaded guilty and is expected to be sentenced on December 15, 2021.
  • Thirteen defendants, including three compounding pharmacy owners, three physicians, two pharmacists, and three patient recruiters, pleaded guilty to a years-long, multistate scheme to defraud the Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) and TRICARE. The defendants submitted false and fraudulent claims to the OWCP and TRICARE for prescriptions for compounded and other drugs prescribed to injured federal workers and armed forces members. The defendants paid kickbacks to patient recruiters and physicians to persuade them to prescribe the drugs. Medications were selected based on the reimbursement amount and not on the patients’ needs. The drugs were then mailed to patients, even though they often never requested, wanted, or needed them. The defendants were indicted in June 2018 and are scheduled to be sentenced in February 2022.
  • Andrew Ziacik of New Kensington, Pennsylvania, was sentenced to one day of imprisonment followed by three years of supervised release and was ordered to pay $4,000. Between 2013 and 2017, Ziacik was an appointed federal fiduciary for his older brother, a service-disabled veteran. Ziacik was responsible for receiving his brother’s VA income and paying his brother’s debts. However, Ziacik admitted that he violated the terms of his fiduciary agreement by using the VA funds to purchase a Harley Davidson motorcycle, a diamond ring, and a GMC Sierra truck. As part of his sentence, Ziacik will pay restitution to his brother of $75,000.I-Care

When it comes to incompetence, neglect of duties, and abuse of veterans, the final entry in today’s chronicles of shame reflects blatant criminality, and repercussions and remunerations are only a small part of serving justice.  Never forget the following fact, “overpayments should have been considered an administrative error and the debt waived since veterans are not responsible for repaying overpayments that are found to be the result of administrative errors” [emphasis mine].  The VA-OIG investigation reflects the following:

        • April 2021, the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) discovered the VBA had incorrectly created a debt of about $210,000 for a veteran.
        • Because of the size of the debt and VA’s plan to withhold the veteran’s entire monthly compensation benefits (over $1,100), and given the veteran’s history of treatment for mental illness, a prior suicide attempt, and suicidal ideation, the VA-OIG review team promptly contacted VBA for corrective action.
        • When contacted by the veteran at four different VA offices, staff assured the veteran all was good, the overpayment was not his to pay, and it would be worked out administratively.

These are the investigation facts; to get this administrative error corrected, the problem had to percolate to the VA-OIG instead of any number of the checks and balances, quality assurance measures, and other in-house processes to catch the VBA from damaging a veteran.  The VBA failed!  How many hundreds of employees were responsible for this disaster and leadership failure?  When will those employees be held accountable?  The case presented is but one of thousands of cases every year where the VBA makes a mistake.  The veteran, their family, and the taxpayer are abused, robbed, cheated, and responsibility shirked and avoided by the employees.VA 3

Imagine for a moment, you wake up, got to the mailbox.  You find the VBA will take your monthly benefit, the money you need to live on because they made an error, but you have to pay for their mistakes unless a power greater than the local agency exerts sufficient force to correct the problem.  Assurances from the VBA are pie-crust promises, easily made, easily broken, and crumby!  The final statement in this charade from the VA-OIG is priceless.

VBA should consider steps to avoid this type of error in the future.”

Angry Grizzly BearSeriously, the VBA’s internal processes failed and would have continued failing if the VA-OIG had not stepped in and demanded immediate action on the veteran’s behalf!  How many other veterans are not so lucky; too many!  America, the shame of the VA is beyond the pale, and a complete reckoning and corrective action should be the action of Congress as the President refuses to clean house in the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch MUST step up and do their constitutional duties!  The legislative and the executive branches must answer to us, the taxpayers and citizens, for the continual debacles displayed by recalcitrant and intransigent federal employees.  In front of real judges, real people must answer and be held accountable for the crimes of neglect of duty demonstrated!

© 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.

Absurdity so Repugnant it Takes Your Breath Away – More VA Chronicles

Angry Grizzly BearThe Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG)-released six investigation reports in the last two days.  Each one is mentally breathtaking at the egregious behavior of bureaucrats!  Stupidity that is so repugnant it breaches the laws of morality and leaves the reader stupefied.  Every year, for the last decade-plus, the behavior of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has become more obscene, more outlandish, more detestable, and more openly hostile towards veterans; it sickens me to read the investigation reports, write, and catalog these abuses!

Beginning in Queen’s, New York, we find another dead veteran that should never have died the way they did.  Improper feeding by a registered nurse (RN) at the New York Harbor Health Care System’s Community Living Center (CLC) contributed to the death of a patient.  Let that sink in for a moment, for the rest of the report only goes downhill from this point.  My time in medical training was replete with the following aphorism, “If it is not written down, it NEVER happened.”  The nursing staff failed to document meals properly. The electronic health record (EHR) was inaccurate and flawed, hindering resuscitation, which was poorly documented, and institutional disclosure acted more like CYA than a medical file.  People should have been fired and up on trial for this type of scandalous behavior, especially since a veteran died from this abuse and neglect.  But the VA-OIG made their recommendations, the leadership accepted the recommendations, and nothing else will happen.  Nobody but the family cares the veteran died needlessly and at the hands of the medical professionals.VA 3

Adjectives elude me.  The behavior in Queen’s is appalling, even for the VA.  Unfortunately, the list of ineptitude only gets worse!

VA SealNext, we travel to Austin, Texas, and discover yet another office of information technology (OIT) failing to work, secure data correctly, and protect veterans’ information, as demanded by legislation!  The VA-OIG and the local OIT used the same tools, and the local OIT only identified 150 problems, whereas the VA-OIG OIT inspectors found 246.  Improper sanitization of media was a pronounced issue, where patient load is upward of 300,000 annually.  Inventory practices were noticeable and apparent.  Worse, patch and vulnerability programs were practically non-existent if I understand this report correctly.VA 3

If you have read any of these VA Chronicles, you will know that the VA has not passed a Federal Information Security Modernization Act (FISMA) audit, ever!  The head of IT was recently in front of Congress to testify why, and the explanations were milk toast adequate at best!  But, the elected officials bought the excuse, hook, line, and sinker, as always, and the president wants to spend more money on the VA.  What a cathartic example of why elections matter!

Next, we travel to Detroit, Michigan, where a “comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp)” was performed at the John D. Dingell VAMC.  Before I even read the report, I knew it would say; opportunities exist to improve employee and patient experience.  Knowing veterans who are “served” at this VAMC, this was an obvious guess!  Again, we find “moral distress” in the workforce, signifying that the employees feel pressured to do everything but what is ethical, legal, moral, and appropriate for the patient at this VAMC.  Yet, the leadership team was rated as stable and doing a good job!  Quoting Colonel Potter from M*A*S*H here, “HORSE HOCKEY!”VA 3

I will be explicitly clear if a single employee feels “moral distress,” there is a leadership problem, and the leadership is criminally negligent in their duties to oversee staff leaders, supervisors, team leads, and training personnel!  This is not the first time “moral distress” was a point of discussion in a CHIp; but, the fact that this problem remains widespread and apparent does mean the problems are originating at a level higher than the VISN, and all the VA and VHA leadership should be losing their jobs!  Enough is enough, and the elected officials need to be scrutinizing the government before they lose their next election!

Survived the VAHaving been an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, working in the Emergency Department of the Albuquerque, NM., VAMC, this next story is exceptionally aggravating and extremely distressing.  The VA-OIG determined that the entire Veterans Health Administration (VHA) needs to better monitor, record, and document the timeliness of care and patient flow in the emergency department.  Having waited for more than 14 hours in a VA Emergency Department while waiting for care, I know first hand the problems of the Emergency Departments, and I know a lot of the reasons why the documentation is fouled and the flow of patients is amateurish, at best!

Raymmond G. MurphyI worked the shift where a regular, homeless veteran, wheelchair-bound, had fallen and broken his leg.  He waited with his broken leg swelling, stuck at an odd angle, and in obvious distress for more than 6-hours because the head nurse that day had a personal grudge against the veteran!  I saw how the charts were “adjusted” for timeliness of care, and I reported the problems up the chain to no avail!  I had witnessed nurses harangue patients, gossip about them, chart surf in violation of HIPAA, and never was anything done by leadership when it was reported.  A patient sat in an expedited treatment room for four hours, listening to the nurse’s gossip and joke, awaiting stitches for a bleeding wound, and never was treated.  All because the day shift was getting off and didn’t want to be bothered to treat the patient.  The patient’s family reported this behavior to me as they were leaving for a better hospital.  I reported the whole incident, included the family’s description, added my observations.  The leadership shook the whole incident off as a disgruntled employee (blaming me) making a less than desirable situation worse.VA 3

Thus, when I read this particular VA-OIG report about the inadequacies of the VA Emergency Departments across the entire VHA, it infuriates me into a mindless stupor!  Want more data on the failures of the VA Emergency Department; read the rest of the VA Chronicles.  I describe my experiences in detail and have logged other veterans who have had the same or worse problems at the VA Emergency Department!  I have witnessed doctors treat patients in a dissimilar manner based upon the political clothing the veterans wore into the Emergency Department!  So, no, I am not surprised at the record inadequacies of the VHA; if anything, I expect the problem is a lot worse than the VA-OIG was willing to report!VA 3

The VA-OIG collected data on an issue of grave significance from 58 VHA outpatient clinics’ regarding emergency preparedness for the delivery of telemental health care as of November 1, 2019. The review focused on clinic-specific emergency procedures, emergency procedure roles and responsibilities, emergency contact information of staff, and patient safety reporting methods.  Not included in the scope of the review was the quality and quantity of telehealth appointments.  I mention this oversight as the technical problems in receiving telehealth appointments are sub-par, at best, which would have seriously skewed the data.

The VA-OIG sent out 333 questionnaires, receiving a total of 187 responses, from the 58 identified clinics, and identified the following:

      1. Missing telehealth emergency plans and procedures.
      2. Emergency procedures are not specific to telehealthcare or the patient-clinic location.
      3. Lack of a process for annual updates to telehealth emergency procedures.
      4. Undefined emergency procedure roles and responsibilities for telehealth staff
      5. Missing or insufficient emergency contact information.
      6. Lack of a process to verify and communicate emergency contact information
      7. Lack of a consistent process to designate the telehealth setting in patient safety reporting methods.VA 3

Consider for a moment; you are a family member of a veteran needing telehealth mental support.  Now, how do you feel to know there are no written processes or procedures to support the telehealth provider if your family member gets into a mental health emergency.  Time is critical in mental health emergencies; I know this from personal experience as both a provider and a patient, and for these plans, procedures, and processes to be missing is the height of malpractice!  Would someone please tell me why elected officials and the media are not screaming mad at this particular report?  Especially since the proposed budget from the president wants to double suicide prevention spending at the VA.  I read this report and see that the VA-OIG made five recommendations.  Are you freaking kidding me?!?!?

Finally, we go to Hawaii and confront the most detestable, outside of the dead veteran, issue possible, failure of the National Cemeteries Administration (NCA) to properly care for the remains of veterans, qualified spouses, and dependents.  The NCA awards grants to states to build cemeteries where a veteran, qualifying spouse, and dependents can be laid to rest outside a national cemetery.  From the VA-OIG report, we find the following, emphasis mine:

Grants may be used to establish, expand, or improve veterans cemeteries. The VA-OIG audited the program to assess NCA’s governance and oversight. The audit team also assessed whether critical non-compliance issues at two cemeteries in Hawaii were addressed. The VA-OIG found grants program staff did not rank and award some cemetery grants as regulations required. After grants were awarded, program staff generally ensured cemeteries used grants for their intended purpose. However, NCA did not ensure cemeteries with grants met all national shrine standards for installing permanent markers, maintenance, and safety. The audit team observed non-compliance issues at eight state cemeteries, including critical issues in Hawaii’s Hilo and Makawao cemeteries. As a result, NCA lacks assurance that veterans and family members buried in state veterans cemeteries have been appropriately honored with timely and accurate grave markings, burial locations, and maintenance.VA 3

NCA, you have one job, ensure the remains of veterans and qualifying spouses and dependents are adequately remembered, safely entombed, and marked appropriately.  Yet, you fail at even this simple and easy job; how utterly disgraceful, disgusting, and detestable!  How many cemeteries in the Philippines are being adequately cared for?  At the last report, none of them were adequately maintained and respected.  Even here in the US, you refuse to do your jobs with competency, dignity, and professional pride.

Knowledge Check!The VA is one sick organization, where the mission is being denied, the veterans abused before and after death, and none of the elected representatives can find enough time in their day to even offer a mild rebuke or maintain sufficient interest to scrutinize.  America, we have gotten better as a culture in remembering and honoring those who serve and have served, and I, for one, am very grateful for your change of heart.  We, the voting citizens of America, need to demand the same culture change from the politicians representing us!  As a country, we have come a long way since Vietnam in honoring the military.  But those same people who spat and urinated on our troops in Vietnam are now in the Halls of Congress, and their attitudes have not changed in the interim!

© 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.

Do You Feel Represented? – Your Government In Action!

Detective 4I 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.Why

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.”

Angry Grizzly BearAnytime 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 throw the book at him and his punishment be creative and sentence well earned!

VA 3In 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?

VA 3The following VA-OIG report details how clowns and asylum 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, missed mandatory reporting deadlines, and delivered 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 using the lessons learned previously.

VA 3Would 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.”VA 3

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!Plato 2

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].VA 3

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.

Theres moreAs 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!

      1. “Medical facility directors reporting supplies were not needed or caches lacked sufficient quantity for meeting pandemic demands.”
      2. “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!
      3. 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!
      4. 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!”
      5. 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.
      6. 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?VA 3

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.

Knowledge Check!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
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

NO MORE BS: Memorial Day 2021 – Are you sure this is “proper” remembering?

Knowledge Check!It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a sick and twisted organization.  It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) tries to recommend how the VA should be operating in accordance with currently established procedures, methods, and policies for the benefit of the veteran community.  It is no secret that I continue to write about the VA in the hopes of sparking interest in communities and obtaining more fair, honest, transparent, and humane treatment for veterans by the Government agency tasked with caring for veterans.

On this Memorial Day, as you sit down to barbecue, family, friends, sports, I would ask that you take a moment and consider if this were how you would like to be remembered?  Are the actions described proper for remembering those who sacrificed and came home?  Are these actions, which are adding to veteran funerals, an appropriate way for veterans to be leaving this world?  If the answer is no, I ask for your help changing the Federal Government by electing people who will scrutinize the government more stringently and demand change in all government agencies.  If you deem this behavior acceptable, please leave a comment detailing why you think so.  I want to hear your thoughts.Image - Eagle & Flag

From a VA-OIG report published on Wednesday 26 May 2021, we find the following announcement:

Phillip Hill, a former VA program analyst, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for stealing personal information from veterans and VA employees while employed at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. The investigation revealed that Hill contacted another individual and attempted to sell personal identifying information to a buyer for approximately $100,000.”

Now, I am thrilled this guy was caught.  I am glad he will do time behind bars.  Yet, why did Assistant US Attorney Jana Harris allow a plea deal?  Where are the VA supervisors who should have been monitoring this employee’s work and behavior?  What are the details of the deal?  The VA continues to have nothing but IT/IS security, and these problems are decades old.  Still, the elected representatives allow the criminal behavior to exist until the criminal is caught, and then the elected representative’s crow about cleaning the swamp.  Is this how you correctly remember veterans, their sacrifice, and their memories?VA 3

I suppose the following VA-OIG report, released 27 May 2021, should begin with congratulations.  The Department of Veteran Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) mostly processed monetary proceeds records accurately.  However, the following continues to astound and amaze me:

Service and pension center staff do not have timeliness measures for proceeds incorporated in their performance standards. Setting a timeliness standard would help encourage the closing of these proceeds. The OIG also found that ineffective monitoring contributed to delays in handling proceeds. The Debt Management Center had only limited internal monitoring but instituted new practices for monitoring proceeds in February 2020, shortly after this audit began” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Why are government employees not held to a productivity and quality standard?  Being a veteran with regular concerns involving the VBA, I cannot help but wonder why quality and productivity are not required?  As an industrial and organizational psychologist, the first step in improving responsiveness to customers is to increase productivity and implement quality measures.  I know the Federal Government’s legislative branch, e.g., Congress, has insisted on developing quality measures.  Yet, the same tired excuses built upon designed incompetence are allowed to survive, and all the VA-OIG can do is issue more recommendations.  Consider something; proceeds include payments to dead veterans.  How much financial hardship occurs at the passing of a loved one?  How much more difficult can that death become when months down the road, money spent is suddenly being demanded back because some incompetent bureaucrat failed to do their job in a timely manner?

QuestionIs this properly honoring and remembering the veterans and their sacrifice?  Is this behavior acceptable in your workplace?  Why do we allow this behavior from government workers?

While never having been a patient at the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio, I have friends who are patients.  The stories they tell about care there would shock and amaze many.  What infuriates me, the VA-OIG just published their report of a comprehensive inspection of this VAMC, and the results are as tragic as a veteran’s death!  The information was released to the public on 27 May 2021.  Never forget, the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio was recently investigated for improper cleaning and sterilization procedures, as well as employee monitoring for compliance for medically reusable equipment, which for this case refers to endoscopes.  With this fact in mind, let us review the comprehensive inspection report.

Limitations on findings:

      • The VA-OIG held interviews and reviewed clinical and administrative processes related to specific areas of focus that affect patient outcomes. Although the VA-OIG reviewed a broad spectrum of processes, the sheer complexity of VA medical facilities limits inspectors’ ability to assess all areas of clinical risk” [emphasis mine].

VA 3The statement provided here is pretty standard and represents the first limitation to the scope of the investigation; complexity limits inspector ability.  Yet, who made the VAMC so complex, the VA.  Who has allowed the complexity to grow as designed incompetence, the VA? Why is the VA allowed to cheat their inspector general through complex operations which limit inspector ability and increase patient risk?

The Focus of Inspection (Investigation Scope):

      • The VA-OIG team looks at leadership and organizational risks, and at the time of the inspection, focused on the following additional areas:

WhyLong have I wondered why the second item in the comprehensive inspection is “Quality, Safety, and Value.”  When the VA continues to present the bare minimum of quality, disregards patient safety, and due to complexity, offers less value than a broken wrench to a mechanic, but I digress.

Finding One:  The VA-OIG issues 12 recommendations to the leadership team, and “selected results showed respondents were generally favorable the national VHA results.”  I have been accused of being cynical, which generally is wrong.  However, when I see words like “selected results” in an investigation into patient care and concerns, I have to ask, “How hard did the VA-OIG have to dig to find favorable results?”VA 3

Finding Two:  Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) represents a value model to help define performance expectations within VA.  This is the standard language for comprehensive inspections.  “In individual interviews, the executive leadership team members were able to speak in-depth about actions taken during the previous 12 months to maintain or improve organizational performance, employee satisfaction, or patient experiences.”  If we accept this as a true statement.  How was an employee able to fake documents, fail to clean reusable equipment properly, and repeatedly get away with this abysmal behavior at this VA?

VA 3Finding Three:  Under Quality, Safety, and Value, we find the following tidbit:

The VA-OIG noted concerns with protected peer reviews, utilization management, and root cause analyses.”

Essentially meaning there are problems with whistleblowers, privacy protection, retaliation against whistleblowers, proper utilization of policies and procedures, and the leadership could not find a problem using root cause analysis if their lives depended upon it.  The source for my interpretation of the VA-OIG results arrives from the following:

VHA Directive 1117, Utilization Management Program, 8 October 2020. Utilization management involves the assessment of the “appropriateness, medical necessity, and the efficiency of health care services, according to evidence-based criteria” [emphasis in the original report].

I have to ask the VA-OIG whether these findings were before or after the employee who endangered patient lives through improper cleaning and sterilization of reusable medical equipment were discovered?

VA 3Finding Four:  Under medication management, we find the following:

The VA-OIG team observed compliance with many elements of expected performance, including pain screening, aberrant behavior risk assessment, and documented justification for concurrent therapy with benzodiazepines. However, the VA-OIG identified opportunities for improvement with urine drug testing, informed consent, patient follow-up after therapy initiation, and quality measure monitoring” [emphasis mine].

VaccineIf you read any of the comprehensive inspection reports, you will see this is a common and recurring theme at the VA.  Some of the medication policies are being followed, but the same problem with drug testing, informed consent, patient follow-up, and quality measuring monitoring always remain a problem.  It is almost as if the SAIL learning matrices do not even exist as a quality improvement tool.

Finding Five:  Under High-Risk Processes, the VA-OIG report claims the following:

The medical center met the requirements for quality assurance monitoring and monthly continuing education. However, the VA-OIG identified deficiencies with standard operating procedures, an airflow directional device, and staff training and competency” [emphasis mine].

Are the SAIL metrics even accurate?  Where is the value in the “monthly training and monitoring if there are issues in following standard operating procedures, problems in staff training, as well as staff competency?  Do you get it?  The training sucks at the VA, and the SAIL metrics do nothing to fix the problem, address the deficiencies, or even improve competency?  The same question arises here, from quality, safety, and value; how was an employee able to successfully pencil-whip the paperwork while not doing their job in properly cleaning and sterilizing reusable medical equipment?  Where are the SAIL documents that should have identified a problem?  Where are the SAIL metrics in aiding in finding root causes for derelict employees?VA 3

Honestly, do you, the taxpayer, consider the Department of Veterans Affairs, which covers the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemeteries adequate to remember the veteran correctly?  Do you, the taxpayer find value in the leadership and investigative arms of the VA to correct and improve performance?  Do you, the taxpayer find that the VA employees are doing their level best to honor, remember, and pass on the legacy of veterans?

Image - Eagle & FlagOn this Memorial Day weekend, please consider the data in this and the other VA-OIG reports regularly relayed on this blog, and ask yourself, are you doing enough to help veterans?  I love Memorial Day, and I love my country, but America has some serious problems, and only when the electorate awakens to the issues can real change begin to be implemented.  We, the veteran community, need you!  We need your voice as we struggle against the incessant attacks from the VA.  We need your votes for the elected representative’s intent on scrutinizing the government and demanding action.  We need you!  Please help us!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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