The Year-End Maelstrom! – More VA Shenanigans! (Where is the accountability?)

2021 has finally ended, but before it ended, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) increased the pace, and the following is but a taste of the year-end insanity foisted into my inbox.  With more than 45 emails to sift thru, some of the topics had to be culled, and I regret that I had to cull the emails.  Each and every VA-OIG report deserves to be scrutinized, evaluated, and the actors punished, many times with criminal court.  I don’t know what’s worse, summating these stories or getting hit with a truck; seeing as I have been hit by a truck, I think the truck is easier.

We begin the recount of VA-OIG stories with another veteran, deceased because the VA Medical Center refused to do their job and provide continuity of care after a 33-day hospital stay.  Leaving me wondering if this was intentional malpractice due to the cost of the veteran to the VA.  Listen to the findings of the VA-OIG, then make your own decision.

The Malcom Randall VAMC’s interdisciplinary team (IDT) failed to develop a discharge plan that adequately ensured patient safety and continuity of care.  The Malcom Randall VAMC did not have a discharge planning policy that outlined IDT membership, communication expectations, or roles in discharge planning.  The OIG found that the occupational therapy provider did not verbally communicate a new recommendation for a home safety assessment or take action to stop the discharge until the safety concerns were addressed.  Additionally, an attending physician failed to review written recommendations for home healthcare services from consultative and ancillary providers before composing the discharge plan for the patient.  The social worker, who had significant responsibility for ensuring the adequacy and safety of the patient’s discharge plan, also failed to incorporate recommendations by the occupational therapy provider and failed to discuss and offer home health services to manage the patient’s venous leg ulcer and monitor infection of the right leg.  The OIG also found that social workers did not consistently complete thorough and detailed psychosocial assessments that would be pertinent to discharge planning.

Remember when the media became hysterical when then VP Candidate Gov. Sarah Palin suggested ObamaCare would institute “Death Panels?”  Bureaucrats decided that the government had invested sufficient money into a patient and was going to stop providing medical care.  When this media hissy-fit was going on, I claimed that the VA had been exercising this right to discontinue care for a long time.  Several people took umbrage at this commentary; yet, what do we find from the VA-OIG, a dead veteran, five recommendations by the VA-OIG to do the job these “providers” were already hired to perform, and I am left thinking, “Death Panel in action.”

What else should I conclude with no accountability, responsibility, and consequences?

On the topic of holding a job with responsibility and not being held accountable, we find another hit to the VA and their lack of IT/IS security.  Desiring brevity but passing along factual information, the following summary has been condensed:

The Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) standardizes security and risk assessments for cloud technologies for federal agencies, including VA.  In April 2019, the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) received allegations that VA’s Office of Information and Technology’s (OIT’s) Project Special Forces (PSF) was not following FedRAMP policies or VA policy for deploying software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications.

      • The VA-OIG found that OIT granted security authorizations for applications FedRAMP did not authorize.
          • Eight of the nine applications cited by the complainant were used on the VA network—some without FedRAMP or VA authorization.
          • Another three applications were approved to operate on VA’s network without FedRAMP authorization.
      • The OIG did not substantiate that PSF-developed applications were improperly managed outside the VA Enterprise Cloud group.
      • PSF did not follow VA security requirements in developing interfaces that allow third parties to “plug into” the VA to send and retrieve data.
          • OIT personnel stated, “no formal OIT authorization process until April 2019.” After that date, the review team did not find instances of VA-authorized applications without FedRAMP authorization.
      • OIT staff “apparently” misunderstood the FedRAMP authorization requirements for SaaS applications containing data classified as less sensitive.

Please note if you think the VA IT/IS performance has improved since April 2019.  You are sadly mistaken, as in 2021, there have been three major VA-OIG reports declaring how IT/IS systems at the VA remain insecure, failing legislative mandates for basic security, and are hopelessly too expensive and useless.  I have two VA-Apps on my phone, both of which work “sometimes,” and never sufficiently support the end user.  Worse, these apps do not interface with the old software the VA is helplessly tied to while the new software continues to prove its uselessness and security problems in real-world beta testing.

Tell me, would you trust the government, any of the alphabet agencies, with your child to babysit?  If not, why do we trust the government to secure our identity?  If so, please elaborate, for I would love to know of a government/NGO operating with trust and efficiency.

Continuing under the heading of failure to perform the job hired for, we find the VA-OIG issuing a total of 20 recommendations to Vet Centers.  The Vet Centers included record keeping of suicidal veterans seeking mental health support as a point of reference.  Not for the first time, but I keep hoping it’s the last.  The VA continues to fail veterans, abuse veterans actively, and take advantage of veterans, and I remain unconvinced this torture of their customers is not intentional.  Maybe not all employees, for I have met some great employees, but the leadership appears hellbent on killing as many veterans as possible.

Why isn’t this big news, huge headlines, and a major story to the corporate media?  Where is the coverage?  You cannot convince me that 1)You are not aware of this story and 2) That you are unfamiliar with its implications.

VA statement on GPO printing and mailing delay

WASHINGTONDue to supply chain and staffing shortages, the vendor contracted by the Government Publishing Office to provide printing services for the Department of Veterans Affairs is experiencing delays in printing and mailing notification letters to Veterans and claimants.  The disruption may impact the ability of some claimants to meet required deadlines via written correspondence with the VA.

In response to the mailing delays and to protect the best interest of claimants, the Veterans Benefits Administration is extending its response period by 90-calendar days for claimants with letters dated between July 13, 2021, and Dec. 31, 2021.

For those not aware, everything in the bureaucracy abbreviated as the VA is time-sensitive.  Miss a deadline, and you have no opportunity to recoup lost time without investing significant amounts of resources.  Since I continue to be in an embroiled battle with the VA over not receiving a proper decision in 2004, time delays represent problems untold due to budget cuts and bureaucracy, and the VBA and VHA bureaucracies will do everything they can not to help you.  Then we add the time delays, and the consequences can be disastrous.  Think veterans dying with an active application for benefits, and you come close to how big this story is, and not covering it with wall-to-wall coverage is the epitome of lackluster asininity!

It took dead veterans on waiting lists to get bad press through the Media fawning over President Obama; what will it take to penetrate the media quilt for Biden?  Continuing under the heading of failing to do the job you were hired to perform, we find another VA-OIG comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp).  Guess what; this one is beyond utterly dismal and flagrantly reprehensible!

The administration and delivery of care to female veterans continues at its expected and atrocious, slovenly pace, being outstripped by one-winged butterflies.  How can the VA Leadership continue to keep their jobs when they allow such incorrigible behavior from lower staff members?  Would the elected Representatives and Senators address this question?  You were hired to scrutinize the government; that is the only other job you have after writing fair and equitable legislation to all citizens.  Why should you be re-elected when this behavior abounds, and you refuse to scrutinize the executive branch officers?

Consider the following,  “The VA-OIG audit team estimated that improper payments for acupuncture and chiropractic care amounted to about $136.7 million during fiscal years 2018 and 2019.”  Continuing, “The audit team also found that VHA did not always follow guidance when reauthorizing acupuncture and chiropractic care.  Not documenting assessments of prior treatments before authorizing additional care may interfere with veterans’ treatment.”  Failure to ensure your underlings have established proper processes and procedures that are effective and followed is a prerequisite to holding a leadership position.  Where is the leadership at the VA?  Where is elected representative scrutiny?  What are the consequences for doing a poor job of cleaning the house and protecting the taxpayer?

How big is this problem?  Try upwards of $341 Million, on top of the $136 Million already discussed, and before the full force and cost are known on delays in properly notifying veterans in a timely and efficient manner.

The VA-OIG audit team found that some providers are billing VA at a significantly higher rate for high-level evaluation and management services than their peers in the same specialty.  The team determined that in fiscal year (FY) 2020, more than 37,900 non-VA providers billed and were paid for significantly more high-level evaluation and management codes than were all providers in that specialty on average.  These non-VA providers received about $39.1 million (13 percent) of the approximately $303.6 million paid for all non-VA evaluation and management services.

Additionally, some providers billed separately for evaluation and management services when the global surgery package was in effect.  This package is supposed to cover all surgery-related services for a set period.  The review team identified more than 45,600 providers were compensated about $37.8 million in FY 2020 for these evaluation and management services.

Improper payments were not easy to detect because VHA staff did not retrospectively audit medical documentation as required.  Additionally, the OIG found no evidence that VHA or contractors trained non-VA providers on documenting evaluation and management services, similar to how VA providers are qualified.  The OIG determined VHA risked overpaying for evaluation and management services by about $19.9 million in FY 2020.”

While discussing audits, failed processes, and the lack of consequences for senior leadership, we must break and wish a “Happy Birthday” to the audit hits turning 10, 12, 15, 21, and older.  It never ceases to amaze me how these financial failures can continue to age, and nobody is held accountable!  May you age out and finally be corrected!  Would the elected leaders of America like to know why the VA is consistently failing financial audits?

VA continued to be challenged in consistently enforcing established policies and procedures throughout its geographically dispersed portfolio of outdated applications and systems.”

Now, explain why we should re-elect any elected official to office?

Elected officials, your job is to scrutinize and write legislation; that is what we, the electorate hired you to do.  Do you realize the far-reaching consequences of your failure to perform your job?  Let me introduce you to an example:

Anthony Medrano, a veteran of the US Marine Corps and former employee of VA, admitted that between approximately November 2015 and May 2020, he submitted claims to VA in which he purported to be disabled to obtain caregiver benefits for his wife, when he was actually able-bodied and even participated in fitness challenges and coached youth sports.  Medrano was sentenced in federal court to eight months in custody for defrauding VA out of more than $183,000.  He executed this scheme while employed by VBA as a veterans service representative, a position in which he explained benefit programs and entitlement criteria to veterans applying for VA benefits.”

Or the following:

Barry Wayne Hoover of Tampa, Florida, a veteran of the United States Navy, exaggerated the extent of his visual impairment to receive VA disability benefits to which he was not entitled.  Specifically, Hoover manipulated the results of subjective tests of his peripheral vision to reflect that he had only a five-degree visual field and was legally blind.  VA found that Hoover was 100 percent disabled based on those manipulated tests.  Hoover was found guilty of theft of government funds and making a false statement to a federal agency.  He faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in federal prison.  His sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 2022.”

How about this:

Professional Family Care Services, Inc. (PFCS), a home health services company based in Fayetteville, North Carolina, has agreed to pay more than $45,000 to settle civil False Claims Act allegations related to fraudulent billings for work by a recently convicted felon under their employ.  During 2015 and 2016, PFCS billed VA for home health services provided to W.R., an Army veteran, even though, at that time, W. R. was residing with the company’s employee, Certified Nurse Aide Tracey McNeill.  PFCS based its billing for those services on falsified timesheets provided by McNeill, who failed to provide both the time and quality of care required under the VA program.  After several months living with McNeill, purportedly receiving home health services provided by McNeill through PFCS, W. R. had to be admitted to the hospital.  He was extremely malnourished and ultimately died within a few days of admission.  Earlier in 2021, McNeill was convicted of wire fraud for her misconduct related to W. R., sentenced to 12 months and one day in federal prison, and ordered to pay over $90,000 in restitution.”

Morality is exemplified by leadership and then exercised under scrutiny.  Because you, the elected officials, refuse to be morally upright and scrutinize the government, the executive branch officers and employees have become careless, irresponsible, and taken the American Taxpayer for a ride!

Each time the VA-OIG reports an investigation beginning with the death of a veteran, the root cause is always a failure of people to do the job they were hired or contracted to perform, and the casualty is a dead or severely injured veteran.  The culling of the email included a urologist who performed procedures, puncturing internal organs, and not notifying the patient.  Several other CHIp summaries reflected the egregious and despicable leadership hidden at VHAs and VAMCs across the country.  Other Vet Centers possess failing bureaucrats just trying to hide until they reach retirement and escape.

America, you deserve better from the alphabet agencies representing the executive branch!  Fellow veterans, please do not give up hope; we can still help protect this country from those enemies domestically located who make your lives a living hell.  Please pass the word, these VA-OIG investigations deserve to be read, and questions asked!  Elections are coming; join the fight as a citizen and run for office.

© 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.

NO MORE BS: The VA Chronicles of Shame Continue

VA SealWhile I have been fighting the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center for humane treatment (June 2020) and medical services, making no progress, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has undoubtedly been busy oppressing others, allowing their employees to skate responsibility, and avoiding accountability.  For the record, I have not deep-dived the legal proceedings reported below and would remind everyone that those charged are not guilty until a jury of their peers says so in a court of law.  I am not passing judgment and am only reporting from official VA-OIG reports, leaving the conclusions mainly to you, the reader.  The conclusions offered are mine alone, and you are free to draw your conclusions based upon the data delivered and your due diligence.

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) has been busy filling my inbox all week.  Here are the latest stories of shame from the VA Chronicles:

  1. VA Health Care System (VAHCS) Fort Harrison, Montana, the investigation began with two people calling for help to the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). From the VA-OIG report, we find the following:

The VA-OIG substantiated a VCL responder failed to assess caller 1’s homicidal risk factors, address lethal means restriction, complete an adequate risk mitigation plan, communicate critical information to a supervisor, and take actions to prevent a family member’s death. VCL leaders did not consider an administrative investigation board to review the responder’s potential misconduct. The VA-OIG substantiated that two social service assistants (SSAs) failed to dispatch local emergency services for caller 2 following a responder’s rescue request. The VA-OIG identified deficiencies in SSA oversight.
VCL leaders did not fully adhere to Veterans Health Administration (VHA) policies related to reporting and disclosure of adverse events. A facility primary care provider failed to include caller 1’s mental health diagnosis in the assessment and plan of care. Also, the primary care provider did not submit caller 1’s non-VA medical records for scanning into the electronic health record or document a review of the records, as expected by VHA policy.

Angry Wet ChickenI have been trained in emergency psychological triage; this was part of my training as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the US Army.  When you work on a crisis line, you cannot not take immediate action to save a life!  When my friend called me all depressed and intimated he wanted to end his life, I called 911, explained the situation, and asked for help.  They provided help.  I was not acting in any official capacity; I was not working a crisis line; I was simply a concerned friend.  How can these crisis line employees, managers, and other staff escape accountability and responsibility?  The whole chain of events is a lurid report of failure to take action by people duty-bound and placed in positions to act, and they refused to take action; this conduct is inexcusable!

As a substitute teacher, I was a mandatory reporter.  If I heard anything untoward, I had to act!  As a Chaplain’s Assistant, I was a mandatory reporter, and I was empowered to act, even without my chaplain’s permission, which by the way, pissed off my chaplain; but he refused to see specific soldiers in crisis.  Not my fault, but I took my Article 15 with pride!  Taking us back to the VA employees who failed miserably the need to take action, and still escaped accountability and responsibility!

  1. Survived the VAOur next story is a back-slapping congratulatory declaration regarding a soldier committing fraud.

Shawn Pierre Hobbs, a soldier for the Connecticut Army National Guard and a Rikers Island correction officer employed by the New York City Department of Correction, was arrested yesterday in El Paso, Texas, on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges. VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal said, “The charges unsealed today are the result of the hard work and dedication of the VA-OIG’s special agents working with our law enforcement partners. The VA-OIG will seek to hold accountable those who perpetrate fraud and steal benefits that are intended for deserving veterans.”

LinkedIn VA ImageThere are still many details missing in this story that I bet the public will never see.  Since no VA Employees were mentioned, I can only surmise that they escaped accountability because the main perpetrator was caught, so according to the VA-OIG, no harm, no foul.  I believe that as much as I believe in buffalo wings originating from flying buffalo!Flying Buffalo

  1. Our next report is one of such supreme idiocy that words can barely describe the situation and the current findings. Consider the following, you arrive at your doctor’s office and need several routine shots.  If the doctor and nurse fail to document these shots properly were delivered, and you have an adverse reaction, they can be held liable for medical negligence under the law.  Why does the same not apply to the VA?  The following comes from a memorandum issued by the VA-OIG, declaring an investigation is ongoing on this issue, but problems have already been found!

While reviewing the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) plans to document receipt and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) determined that VHA facilities did not consistently document the COVID-19 vaccination status of veterans living in VA’s Community Living Centers (CLCs).
The VA-OIG determined that VHA could not know at a national level whether the vaccine was offered to some CLC residents, and if so, what their status was. Because CLC residents are in the highest COVID-19 vaccine priority group, they should be offered the vaccine, when possible, before other groups of veterans. With vaccine supplies limited, VHA should know which CLC residents still need to be vaccinated.
The VA-OIG found VHA has made important strides in distributing vaccines to CLC residents, but [needs to] move toward more comprehensive and consistent data collection to guide ongoing actions and protect this vulnerable population. Doing so would include making sure all CLCs routinely track refusals and contraindications in a consistent manner. Guidance should be clear that all communications should be consistently documented in accordance with VHA processes.
Similarly, clear guidance and consistent oversight should help ensure CLCs are properly tracking veterans who fall in the 23 percent of CLC residents missing information needed to determine their vaccination status. It was not possible by January 2021 to establish which of the 1,899 veterans in this cohort had been offered the vaccine. The VA-OIG will continue its oversight work on vaccinations within VHA and plans to issue a full report, including specific recommendations. In the meantime, the VA-OIG requests to know what action, if any, VHA takes to mitigate the potential risks identified in this memorandum and the outcome of those actions.”

Angry Wet Chicken 2Essentially, the VA-OIG is claiming the VHA cannot document in their long-term care facilities which residents have and have not been vaccinated against COVID.  Can you believe the incredible negligence being witnessed; I cannot!  In the US Army, due to chiggers and a violent allergic reaction to them, I spent several weeks in what is called the “Reception Battalion.”  My job was documenting who got vaccinated, what shots were received, and I was held responsible if the documentation was incorrect.  I have worked in long-term care facilities not owned by the VA and witnessed the time and energy spent documenting everything the patient experiences.  I have visited family members in long-term facilities and witnessed the documentation procedures.  Yet, miraculously, the VHA does not have to submit themselves to the same level of documentation requirements.  Where is that memo, policy guideline, or written procedure?  Where are the lawyers?  For the VHA to have a problem with documentation of a patient is 100% inexcusable, and people’s heads should roll over this failure to document!

  1. Our next chronicle of shame is both a good and bad report.

Muhammad Z. Aabdin, 30, of New York City, has been charged by complaint with offering a bribe to a VA contracting officer in September 2020. Specifically, Aabdin allegedly offered to share profits with the officer in exchange for her awarding VA contracts to Aabdin for personal protective equipment.”

That the VA employee reported, the bribe is a good thing.  That a contractor felt comfortable enough to offer a bribe is considerably less of a good thing.  Are there additional questions being asked and investigated in this procurement office regarding the offering of bribes and the potential of having previously taken bribes?  Where are the supervisors in this affair?  The VA persists in hiring from inside for the advancement of careers, not a bad thing, but when a contractor is comfortable offering bribes, there should be many questions being asked of supervisors, directors, and so forth.I-Care

The fact that the behavior of VA employees breaking the law is both widespread and well known should be a wake-up call to the leaders of the VA and the elected officials charged by law to scrutinize the government.  Except, this behavior has never been scrutinized sufficiently to end the behavior, only scrutinized enough to encourage the behavior, the negligence, and the extreme indifference.  Every American Citizen should be outraged and motivated to shout at their elected officials using all communication channels until this abhorrent behavior is sundered forever from the VA body!

ApathyExcept, I am preaching to crickets.  Your taxpayer dollars are funding the abuse of veterans at the hands of the government.  Shameful!  Inexcusable!  Outright blasphemous!  Yet, allowed to continue because of apathy; Plato was right!

© 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.

Uncomfortable Truths: Department of Veterans Affairs, are you listening?

It was surprising that the Department of Veterans Affairs will automatically share health information with third parties without the veterans written consent unless the veteran opts-out in writing or submit a revocation in writing submitted in person or by US mail.  Especially surprising is that the official form for opting-out is not legally active until October 2019, and the deadline for opting-out, in writing, is 30 September 2019.  While this news if significantly troubling, let us define the full problem, courtesy of the Department of Veterans Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).

I-CareOn 12 September 2019, the VA-OIG completed their investigation into the Beneficiary Fiduciary Field system (BFFS), who handle benefits payments for veterans and other beneficiaries who, due to injury, disease, or age, are unable to manage their financial affairs and are thus vulnerable to fraud or abuse.  The veterans affected are those who are the most susceptible in the veteran population, and the government agency charged with protecting, helping, and supporting these veterans is vulnerable to fraud and misuse.  In fact, the VA-OIG found that the BFFS, “… lacked sufficient controls to ensure the privacy of sensitive data and prevent fraud and misuse. Specifically, finding the VA’s Office of Information and Technology inappropriately set the security risk level for BFFS at moderate instead of high. Risk managers did not follow established standards and did not consider whether information for beneficiaries and fiduciaries stored in the system’s database was sufficiently protected.”

Yet, the VA is now making available to third-parties, the health records of veterans.  Does anyone else see a problem?  Previously I have written about the continuing risk of veteran’s files from being accessed by persons unknown, and how this problem does not slow, simply how the VA has stopped reporting how bad the problem continues to be.  Personally, I have been a victim of ID Theft from VA Data breaches three times.  I have had VA Employees surf my medical records and then use this data to discriminate against me.  I have witnessed blatant HIPAA violations by VA Employees without hospital leaders taking any action.  Now, the VA is going to “share” my medical record access with “interested parties.”  I have some concerns!

Just in case your attention was drifting due to fallacious impeachment proceedings, the VA inappropriately sole-sourced contracts for ambulance services in three separate Veteran Health Administration Regional Procurement Offices (RPO).  The significance of this event is evidenced in the lack of competition for government contracts.  Designed incompetence was the origination of this issue, the contracting officer claimed, “I didn’t know.”  The contracting officer, who must go to school to obtain authority to enter into contracts for the Federal Government, somehow “didn’t know” about the regulations and rules for sole-sourcing a contract.  I have some doubts!

In further news from VA-OIG investigations, we find another contracting officer who claims, “I don’t know,” to hide behind designed incompetence in sole-sourcing contracts.  From the VA-OIG inspection report, “15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million, were inspected to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The contracting officers in RPO West, who “misunderstood who the proper approval authority was.”  Are you kidding me?

Blue Money BurningThe VA-OIG reports, “when contracting officers violate federal regulation by failing to obtain the required approval for sole-source contracts, they exceed their contracting authority.”  Contracting officers work with the approving authority, how can they not “know” who they work for and how to obtain proper authorization?  The excuses are weak and inexcusable; as an operation professional, the first step in getting to know the business is to know who answers the questions, who has the authority, and where that person is located.  For contracting officers, the approving authority is the boss, either the employees do not know who they are working for, or there are significant issues in lines of authority, and both situations speak of phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.

Just like the Home Shopping Network is always claiming, “But wait, there’s more!”  RPO East, not to be outdone by RPO West, had the VA-OIG inspect “20 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO East totaling $41.4 million. The OIG found RPO East contracting officers did not obtain required approval before awarding 10 contracts worth about $14.2 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  If RPO West is suffering from “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership,” then RPO East is beyond saving under the current leadership, and I call upon Secretary Wilkie and his team to scrub RPO East leadership and start over under strict quality review teams to ensure compliance and correction.  I repeat, only for emphasis, this situation is inexcusable.  The contracting officers must attend school, must know the regulations, and must not “individually interpret” the purchasing rules, and they know this from the first second on the job.  I was made aware of sole-source contracting regulations, and I was not a contracting officer.

RPO West has the follow-through needed to boil someone’s blood.  “The VA-OIG reviewed 15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  I rescind my earlier comments about the ability to save RPO West, I call upon Secretary Wilkie to personally ax the leadership at both RPO East and West, to start on a clean slate the contracting officers, leadership, and then strictly observe and implement a quality control mechanism to protect the taxpayer.

People ProcessesSpeaking of “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.”  Please allow me to prepare the groundwork for the subsequent VA-OIG investigation.  To be a supervisor in the VHA, VBA, or National Cemetery, you first must work in the positions you will be supervising.  This information was passed during a job-interview by the hiring authority and confirmed by several VA directors since.  From the VA-OIG Report, we find, “a supervisor at the VA regional office in Boston, Massachusetts, incorrectly processed system-generated messages known as “work items.”  The supervisor, “incorrectly canceled 33 of 55 work items out of 110 reviewed (that’s a less than 50% accuracy), and improperly cleared another nine work items from the electronic record. Because of these incorrectly processed cases, VA made about $117,300 in improper payments to veterans or other beneficiaries, along with about $8,600 in delayed payments.”  Best of all, the supervisor claimed these work items were improperly handled because, “he did not intentionally process the work items incorrectly, and the errors were the result of working too quickly and misunderstanding procedures.”  You are the supervisor, you are in charge, you should know who to approach for guidance and clarification, you have caused significant harm to veterans who either are not being paid or now must repay funds improperly provided.  There is an obvious question here, “If the supervisor is less than 50% accurate, what is the accuracy of the supervisor’s team?”  While the VA-OIG cannot investigate this question, is the director investigating this question?

If the accuracy of claims handling personnel is less than 50%, how can any veteran be sure their claim has been handled properly?  Having been forced to repay funds to the VA, I can attest to the financial impact these over and underpayments cause for veterans.  When will these decision-making officers be held personally accountable for improper decisions?  Senators, members of the House of Representatives, what are you doing to support improving the VA, in conjunction with Secretary Wilkie?  From what I witness, not enough!

You're FiredFrom the files of “Not Enough,” comes another egregious example.  A patient in a psychological ward in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania VA Medical Center was killed because of a drug-to-drug interaction, were due to insufficient observation, insufficient monitoring, and inadequate action when the patient coded, and a veteran died at the hands of caregivers.  When a patient in a hospital ward, which is monitored electronically and physically, commits suicide, I become very agitated.  When any patient dies at the hands of the healthcare provider, I have officially lost my “cherub-like demeanor” and begin resembling a grizzly bear with a bum tooth, hemorrhoids, and woken too soon from my winter nap.  The VA-OIG Report states the following, “… providers did not monitor the patient for electrocardiogram changes or drug-on-drug interactions.  Staff and providers documented signs consistent with over-sedation but did not intervene, communicate directly with each other, or add team members on as additional signers to the electronic health record.  The facility did not comply with the Veterans Health Administration requirements for issue briefs, root cause analyses, and peer reviews.  The staff did not follow the facility’s observation policy.  Facility providers did not adhere to policies requiring discussion, documentation, and patient signed informed consents prior to initiating methadone treatment.”  The providers knew they had a problem, before the patient got into trouble, and did nothing!  In any civilian hospital, this is called malpractice; but in the VA Hospital system, “this is an unfortunate incident.”  While I am undoubtedly glad leadership acted to remedy this situation in the future; I am very displeased to note it ever occurred.  With all the publicity over the power of methadone as an opioid, with the technology to remedy these problems before the patient dies, I cannot accept this situation could occur in the first place!  This veteran’s death should never have happened and the fact that this veteran died at the hands of providers from over-sedation, is a testament to the incompetence designed into the VA processes that excuses accountability and rewards malfeasance.

Speaking of opioid medication problems, the VA-OIG inspected 779,000 VA patients prescribed opioids, and for 73% (568,670) of those patients there was an insufficient investigation by the primary care providers in consulting the state-operated prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to ensure over-medication did not occur.  The VA-OIG estimated that 19% of those files improperly handled placed patients at risk because of medications prescribed outside the VA Medical System.  With the constant harangue from the mainstream media over opioid addiction and deaths from opioids, a person might ask, where is the concern?  Why isn’t this a talking point in a Congressional Investigation to understand why, and then begin to implement changes to ensure the VA is not stained with more veteran deaths over opioids.  Finally, with an accuracy rate of less than 25%, it appears to me this problem needs immediate rectification using technology and quality control measures at the local level to improve adherence.

blue-moneyI would like to take a moment and thank the VA-OIG for stepping up to the plate and correcting pre-award contract pricing to save the American taxpayer $515 million because the contracting officer on 16 of 22 proposed pharmaceutical contracts was improperly priced.  In case you are wondering, the accuracy of the contracting officers was less than 75%.  I know of no industry, business, or service organization that can have a 75% or less accuracy rate and remains in business.  As a business operation and purchasing professional, these numbers appear to suggest that the contract officers are either intentionally neglectful, or they are counting on pre-award review to protect them from price gouging; both situations are inexcusable for a contracting officer for the Federal Government.

Thank you!As the Los Angeles Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (LA VOCREHAB) was recently featured in an article, I am pleased to see that hiring additional staff has improved performance, per the findings of the VA-OIG.  The VA-OIG Report found accuracy in spending money had increased, compliance, and helping veterans to gain employment had all increased since the damning report from the VA-OIG; thus, congratulations to the LA VOCREHAB program!

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

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