During new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee. Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee. Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?” The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action. The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back? Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?
What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!
On the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw. These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable! Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.
Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity. Why?
From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis. While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?” Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!
The VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.” The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing. However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training. These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level. Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay. How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?
The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry. This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance. Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs? If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.
The VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri. The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics. Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system. The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012. Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.
Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.” From the VA-OIG report we find:
“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”
No controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance. The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling! Where is the accountability? Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers? Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior? Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.
The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans. There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA. These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned. A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.
Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:
- Start a VA University. If you want better people, you must build them! Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
- Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
- Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures. Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies. Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.
There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry. Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein. Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA. I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches. However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.
© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn: