Recently, guardianships have been in the news, and I doubt this story will make the lawyers very happy. The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports that an Albuquerque couple has been sentenced for defrauding guardians, which included veterans. The criminal report claims:
“Susan Harris acted as president and was the 95-percent owner of Ayudando, while Moore acted as chief financial officer and was a five-percent owner. They engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct from November 2006 to July 2017 that included unlawfully transferring money from client accounts to a comingled account without any client-based justification. They wrote and endorsed numerous checks, often of more than $10,000, from these comingled accounts to themselves, family members, cash, and other parties where payment would benefit their families.”
For the better part of 11 years, this couple has spent money not their own, abused their charges, and defrauded vulnerable clientele. While the federal attorneys and investigators crow about catching this couple and ending this situation; what about all the rest of the guardianships where abuse is occurring? I have read horrific stories about victims of guardianship abuse and hope more will be done on this topic very shortly!
For 11 years, where were the VA and the Social Security Administration? Where were the local hospital leadership, social workers, and other federal employees who had to have known something fishy was going on? Where are these Federal Employees now? Where are the politicians scrutinizing this incident to ensure that protection for vulnerable citizens never happens again through legal guardianships?
Now traveling to Eastern Oklahoma VAHCS in Muskogee where an audiologist provided poor care and billed for unrendered services. Pay close attention to the VA-OIG report; the leadership failures on this report alone are voluminous and unforgivable!
“A facility fact-finding review revealed the audiologist provided poor care to eight of 43 patients reviewed, including misinforming patients who needed hearing aids that hearing aids were not needed. Although the audiology leaders reported the fact-finding results to the OIG, they failed to evaluate whether patients needed clinical follow-up; determine whether additional patients were affected by the audiologist’s poor care; evaluate whether clinical disclosures were required for the affected patients; and communicate the fact-finding results to the Facility Director, who was, therefore, unable to initiate the process to determine the necessity of a large scale disclosure. The instances of poor care were also not reported to the Patient Safety Manager, who was, as a result, unable to assess the adverse events to determine if patient safety interventions were indicated. The VA-OIG also found that performance monitoring of facility audiologists was not conducted as required. Annual competency assessments and annual performance appraisals were not consistently completed and did not contain adequate performance standards. Audiology leaders failed to consider whether the audiologist’s actions warranted a report to the state licensing board due to a lack of understanding of the requirements for reporting and, therefore, the Facility Director was not informed of the need to initiate a state licensing board review” [emphasis mine].
Will, someone please tell me, were the audiology leaders who failed to perform their jobs removed from Federal Employment? What about the audiologists causing the problems? Are they removed from Federal Employment? Were their licensing practices curbed to protect other populations of patients? The leadership failures here read like a Steven King horror story but do not have the satisfaction of finishing the story.
Yet, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will continue to market that they are “defining quality in healthcare.” The jokes write themselves but cannot be fired from Federal Employment! Politicians, why can these jokers not be fired from Federal employment for such egregious abuse of their positions and failures to do their jobs?
Traveling further to North Carolina, we find that the perpetrator of this fraud has pled guilty, but again responsibility, accountability, and correction of the VA is being skirted.
“John Paul Cook, 57, of Alexander, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to defrauding the VA. After enlisting in the Army in 1985, Cook sustained an accidental injury and complained the injury worsened a preexisting eye condition. In 1987, Cook was discharged, and he began receiving benefits that would increase over the next 30 years due to Cook’s repeated false claims of increased visual impairment and unemployability. In 2005, the VA declared Cook legally blind, and he began receiving disability-based compensation at the maximum rate despite repeatedly passing vision screening tests to obtain or renew his driver’s license and purchasing vehicles that he routinely drove.”
1987 to 2020, we will be generous in counting the years here; regardless, we are looking at 30+ years this fraud continued. Where were the verification protocols? I have had to produce a valid driver’s license at the VA to obtain and keep current my VA identification card. How did this fraud go on for so long? What is the VA doing to stop, or at least hinder, those who would defraud the government before the problem becomes 10 years old, let alone 30?!?! I cannot fathom how this fraud went on for so long without a routine checkup, a routine exam, a follow-up exam, etc.
Going north from South Carolina, we find more fraud, this time in New Jersey, where a man did not report his mother had deceased and continued to claim her benefits for a total of over $200K.
“Melvin Greenspan, 72, of Perrineville, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to defrauding VA of over $200,000 in survivor’s pension benefits. After the death of his mother in 2006, who had received survivor’s pension due to his father’s prior military service, Greenspan failed to notify the VA about his mother’s death and made withdrawals of the benefits through 2018.”
Where was the leadership? Where are the leaders now? Another fraud case, older than a decade, and still the VA cannot be held accountable for facilitating the fraud. I am stunned! How did this one continue for so long? Doesn’t the VA check local newspapers, the Social Security Administration, other Federal Agencies? Since the culprit was not held on defrauding SSA, one can only presume the mother’s death was reported there. Why did the VA not get notified to ask the family questions?
On the topic of guardians and leadership, the following story makes me angry! However, I will withhold further elaboration since those accused remain innocent until proven guilty by a trial of their peers.
“Johnny Ray Gasca, 51, was arrested for allegedly abducting a 68-year-old woman with dementia from the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in California. A witness recognized Gasca and reported he might have previously taken money from the woman’s bank and retirement accounts. Following his arrest, Gasca described the victim as his girlfriend and told agents that they stopped at a bank where the victim made a $15,000 withdrawal after leaving the medical center.”
In the first report from the VA-OIG discussed, we found guardianship rules being violated to the Nth degree. In this story, we have no information of an assigned guardian, and we have a dementia patient being abused. The dementia patient was traveling with a friend; who is the legal guardian for a dementia patient? Where are the family or friends legally bonded to render aid for this patient and monitor finances to protect them from abuse? How can the VA operate one way in one locale and 180-degrees differently in another locale and the leadership not held accountable?
Speaking of missing leadership, the following VA-OIG report is a beauty! The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has a program to help homeless veterans, where contractors are used, and the VHA uses case management documentation to verify the veteran is receiving the assistance being paid for, the program is called the contracted residential services (CRS) program.
“The VA-OIG found facility staff did not consistently document case management and monitor the progress of veterans in the program. Further, four of the 14 CRS contracts reviewed had performance deficiencies, with one resulting in improper payments of $592,000. These deficiencies may affect the health and safety of veterans living in transitional settings. Moreover, VA lacks assurance that veterans received required services. There were also contract administration problems in 13 of 14 reviewed contracts. Contracting officers did not always properly delegate responsibilities to staff functioning as contracting officer’s representatives. Further, one facility’s representative did not ensure contractors provided meals or the means to purchase them, as required, and another lacked invoice supporting documentation for approval. The VA-OIG audit team estimated that 107 of 119 contracts had monitoring and administration deficiencies. Furthermore, the team estimated that VHA made $35.3 million in improper payments, of which approximately $21.6 million was technically improper because the individuals authorizing payment were not delegated authority to serve as contracting officer’s representatives.”
If your accomplishment rate in your employment was 48%, would you retain your job for very long? If 90% of your documentation claiming how well you do your job was missing or fabricated, how long would you maintain employment? If you delegated people to complete your work who were unauthorized and you were contractually culpable, how long do you think you would stay out of prison? How long would your boss stay out of jail? How long would your company exist? Now, answer me this riddler, why does the government get a pass on these questions?
Finally, we have Deputy Inspector General David Case’s testimony regarding the failure of VA leadership where the implementation of a new electronic health record (EHR) is being stalled. If you care, the VA leadership and the VHA leadership are failing the EHR initiative. Not that this was not expected, and not that this is not surprising, the IT and IS departments of the VA and VHA are so hopelessly lost it amazes me the VA is even using computers and not written records! But, do not take my word for it, Case himself claims,
“Detailed in this statement, we have repeatedly found unreliable and incomplete estimates for upgrades and costs, inadequate reporting affecting transparency to Congress, and stove-piped governance with decision making that does not appropriately engage Veterans Health Administration (VHA) personnel who are the end-users of the new EHR system.”
Get that; the leadership failures are obstructing Congress and hindering the EHR progress! What can we conclude from this batch of VA-OIG reports:
- The VA, VHA, VBA, and National Cemetery leadership are actively missing, like the Democrats from the Texas Legislature.
- If the leaders are present, the leaders are the problems in progressing.
- The leaders have created a system where fraud and abuse of the veterans and taxpayers can be achieved with ease.
- Nobody in the US House of Representatives or US Senate scrutinizes the legislative branch sufficiently to effect changes.
- When in doubt about where your leaders fall, check to see if they are in their offices. Oh, wait, that won’t help, their offices have locks on the doors!
If this is how the VA defines quality healthcare. In that case, the veterans are screwed, the taxpayer is sunk, and the leaders will enjoy their magnanimous federally approved retirement packages, ad nauseam ad infinitum!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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