24 May 2021 – 1200-1500 I visited the Las Cruces Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico. Upon entry, I was asked to wear a mask. I described I could not wear a mask, and the employee said I might be required to wear one but left the decision to those working more closely with me. I waited in line and was called to the Team 2 window, where a gentleman was more than happy to assist me in getting the paperwork started to change VA hospitals after relocating. About 45-minutes into my time in this CBOC, the gentleman asked me to wear a mask. I told him I could not and had brought my VA Doctor’s note as proof. The gentleman read the letter, confirmed I was good to receive care without the mask, and provided exceptional customer support.
After the past year at the Phoenix VAMC, where my every movement on the property was shadowed by VA Police officers looking for a reason to injure, arrest, cite, and force me from the property, the employees here in Las Cruces was a breath of fresh air. However, the experiences in Las Cruces provide further evidence of the following facts:
- The Hospital Director has statutory authority for adapting and creating policies and procedures that benefit the safety of the employees and the patients. A point I stressed to the leaders of VISN 22 and the Phoenix VAMC to no avail.
- The Federal Mask Mandates can be situationally applied for the circumstances of the individual. Yet, another point I have repeatedly stressed since July 2020, and the first time I was injured, arrested, cited, and forced from Federal Property. At the same time, I was being denied emergency care under EMTALA and having my HIPAA information repeatedly violated by the VA Police Officers.
- The bombastic and unprofessional behavior of the Federal Police employed at the Carl T. Hayden VAMC is a problem of the leadership, and the failures of leadership to instill professionalism, proper attitudes and behaviors, training, and tactics in approaching and handling situations in the Phoenix VAHCS. At the behavior of the Federal Police Officers in the Phoenix VAHCS, Che Guevara, Mao, Stalin, and Fidel Castro would be proud!
How can a person be sure the problems caused are a direct result of leadership failures?
By tracing behaviors, attitudes, and influence to their source, the police chief acts as he considers appropriate, but the underofficers generationally multiply and mirror his behaviors. The same is true for the chief who takes his example from the assistant director, director, and hospital leadership. Chains of command always have this consequence; the example of those above are mirrored, replicated, and multiplied to impress the higher officers to gain attention and promotion opportunities. Want to take a measure of a leader; look to the most junior person in the chain of command and watch them for behaviors, attitudes, and actions that originate in the leadership.
Case in point, long have I detailed and described the failures of leadership at the VA. The latest is a wire fraud scheme in Jackson, Mississippi. From the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), we find the following:
“Anthony Kelley, the owner of Trendsetters Barber College in Jackson, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in a scheme to steal federal funds. From October 2016 through March 2019, the college offered a master barber course that was not accredited by the state’s board of barber examiners. Kelley fraudulently represented that this course was approved and, as a result, was allowed to collect GI Bill money from veterans enrolled in the program.”
As the lowest person in the chain of command, Mr. Kelly was allowed to attempt to commit fraud by the VA. Never in these reports is the VA employee, their supervisor, and their manager, who were complicit in allowing fraud to occur, mentioned and held accountable. Somehow, we, the taxpayer, must presume that those committing frauds could hoodwink the Department of Veterans Affairs without any inside help. Help coming directly or indirectly from government employees charged with investigating, ensuring, and following proper protocols and procedures to protect against theft and fraud.
Let the US Attorney and VA-OIG special investigators crow about catching the person perpetrating fraud. Before they break open the champagne, they need to be looking into the leadership that either overtly or covertly allowed this fraud to occur. The elected officials need to be demanding why fraud opportunities are so rampant at the Department of Veterans Affairs that criminal proceedings are being reported almost every week and asking about the culture of corruption and leadership failures allowing these behaviors to thrive.
Is it a “Culture of Corruption?”
Absolutely; the VA is sick with a culture of corruption! It is my sad duty to report on another employee who was able to steal from the VA, stealing hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions from the VAMC mailroom and mailboxes at some 40 locations in Kerrville, Ingram, and Center Point.
“Scott M. Brown, a pharmacy technician at the Kerrville VA Medical Center in Texas, was charged with one count of theft of US mail for stealing hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions from the medical center’s mailroom as well as from residential mailboxes between March and April 2021.”
Currently, Mr. Brown is being held in custody and remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of his peers. However, the fact that Mr. Brown has been charged and is in custody speaks volumes to the lax leadership that allowed these prescription thefts to occur. Where is the VA-OIG in asking how the robbery was possible? Where are the special investigators demanding answers from the leadership on policies and procedures that an employee could easily violate to obtain these drugs? Who else was involved, or had to know, what was happening and said nothing?
The Department of Veterans Affairs has been overtaken by those without skill, knowledge, and ability to understand cause and effect and properly interrupt the cycles of corruption. Worse, these same people will bleat about how they need more money for technology solutions when their personal example, leadership failures, and human-to-human relationships are the actual problems. The leaders will bleat like sheep in a corral about engagement, customer service, and industry buzzwords because they have no substance and even less desire to see things change.
Recently I detailed the failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs on information technology. The fallout from the deplorable designed incompetence in the IT/IS infrastructure at the VHA continues to represent just how incompetent the current leaders genuinely are.
“To promote compatibility with the Department of Defense’s electronic health record system, VA is replacing its aging record system. This requires VA medical facilities to upgrade their physical infrastructure, including electrical and cabling. The OIG determined from its audit that the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) cost estimates for these upgrades were not reliable. VHA’s estimates did not fully meet VA standards for being comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible. The audit team projected that VHA’s June and November 2019 cost estimates were potentially underestimated by as much as $1 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. This was due in part to facility needs not being well-defined early on. The estimates also omitted escalation and cabling upgrade costs and were based on low estimates at the initial operating sites. Because cost estimates support funding requests, there is a risk that funds intended for other medical facility improvements would need to be diverted to cover program shortfalls. The Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM) also did not meet its obligation to report all program costs to Congress in accordance with statutory requirements. Specifically, OEHRM did not include cost estimates for upgrading physical infrastructure in the program’s life cycle cost estimates in congressionally mandated reports. Although VHA provided OEHRM with an approximately $2.7 billion estimate for physical infrastructure upgrade costs in June 2019, OEHRM did not, in turn, include them in life cycle cost estimate reports to Congress as of January 2021. OEHRM stated it did not disclose these estimates because the upgrades were outside OEHRM’s funding responsibility and that they represented costs assumed by VHA facilities for maintenance—including long-standing needs” [emphasis mine].
Did you catch that; the office specifically tasked with handling estimates intentionally low-balled estimates, did not include all necessary contractual requirements, and then lied to Congress to cover their hides, and fell back upon designed incompetence to skirt blame, responsibility, and accountability when the VA-OIG came investigating. Lying to Congress is a CRIME! Yet, these federal employees can break the law with impunity, and all the VA-OIG can do is make recommendations for improvement! If you want to read the full report of shame, you can find it here.
Leadership is change; management is stagnation and corruption. When will the VA start hiring leaders to enforce, demand, and execute change to benefit the taxpayer and the veteran community? Where are the elected officials willing to work with newly hired VA leadership in establishing legal frameworks for evicting employees who refuse to change from the federal workforce? When can the veteran community and the taxpayer expect to see real and tangible change at the VA?
I am not asking these questions and not expecting an answer! I am asking these questions looking for and expecting real results to begin immediately, if not sooner! This is a national embarrassment with a global impact, and it is time for the United States to lead in correcting their detestable government workforce!
© 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.