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.

Weep America! – The VA Leadership is Becoming Worse! – Part 2

Angry Wet ChickenOne of the first rules in overseeing junior people working is to make available someone to answer questions, immediately, and render support if needed.  I have had the pleasure of training junior people in a myriad of tasks over the years.  When I read this Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) report, a plethora of questions arise, and I deeply question the professionalism and competence of the doctor overseeing the work of residents in a VA Hospital who are performing procedures.

  • Ophthalmology Resident Supervision – Important to note, the patient did not experience any long-term loss of sight over this issue. Congratulations to the resident and the other ophthalmology doctors present!  From the VA-OIG report we find the following:

“… The subject ophthalmologist failed to provide adequate resident supervision and entered inaccurate documentation related to supervision for a single patient case.”  Essentially, the doctor charged with overseeing residents was AWOL, and then compounded his error by falsifying patient records.  The VA-OIG report continues by claiming this falsification was the result of an oversight when using pre-recorded notes for patient files.

Draw your own conclusions.  Personally, I think this doctor needs to be released of all duties where overseeing residents is concerned.  I would also question his ethics and morals for falsifying patient records.  You hold a double position of trust, first as a doctor, second as a teacher and leader of residents, and the behavior witnessed should come with steep repercussions professionally!VA 3

Knowledge Check!On the topic of professional duties, and steep repercussions, drug interactions killed a veteran at the Marion VAMC in Illinois.  Before launching into the VA-OIG’s report, please allow me a moment of your attention.  Drug interactions can arise due to vitamin usage, over-the-counter medications, and from illegal and legal but illicit drug use.  Often, I have claimed that people are walking chemistry experiments, and even vaccines need to be carefully evaluated for drug interaction potential.  Foods can cause drug interactions due to the chemicals in the food.  Drug interactions are a growing problem and every medical professional I have spoken to admits drug interactions are becoming worse by the day.  I do not say this lightly, but I do not hold the medical professionals as fully competent in fighting the drug interaction problem due to the amount of chemicals the average person interacts with daily.  The problem is Big-Parma and the continual push towards more specialized medicines, we are going to see more drug interaction issues.  Unfortunately, drug interaction issues come with the risk of death!

From the VA-OIG report we find the following:

The VA-OIG substantiated that high cholesterol contributed to the patient’s death; however, the death certificate indicated that the primary cause of death was accidental acute multi-drug intoxication. The psychiatrist and staff failed to document providing the patient with education during a telephone encounter regarding potential side effects or adverse drug-drug interactions of medication changes. Contrary to clinical guidance, the psychiatrist prescribed long-term benzodiazepine use for a patient diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. The psychiatrist also failed to address the patient’s two negative urine drug screens for a prescribed medication and failed to address a positive urine drug screen for cannabis. Due to COVID-19, the facility failed to launch the Psychotropic Drug Safety Initiative Phase Four Plan. The primary care provider did not comply with facility policy by failing to enter a return-to-clinic order following an appointment but could not determine if this affected the patient. Primary care and behavioral health staff did not comply with facility policy to telephone the patient or send a letter after the patient missed appointments” [emphasis mine].

The lack of staff to follow procedures and do their job, I will certainly hold them accountable for, especially since Cannabis is involved!  Please do not believe that Cannabis is a non-toxic drug, especially when mixed with other drugs, it can be the fatal trigger in a multi-drug intoxication!VA 3

At 18, low those many years ago, I took the EMT-Basic class, but left for US Army Basic Training before I could certify.  Since then, I have received certification as a combat medic and a Journeyman Firefighter (Any industry) which required a lot of hours studying emergency medicine.  I am experienced in drawing blood, starting IVs in difficult circumstances, and handling a myriad of injuries.  I am not a medical professional by any stretch of the imagination, I simply have a healthy desire to learn, and emergency medicine is a fascinating topic I regularly pursue.  I am not a chemist; I rely upon peer reviewed resources and legal and medical websites to stay current on a host of topics.  With this as my qualifier I am going to make several statements and you can judge their merit.  Feel free to comment.

      1. The first rule of medicine is document everything! My first lesson, first day of EMT training, this point was driven home.  If you do not write it down, it never happened!  Yet, what does the VA-OIG find time after time in reviewing cases at the VHA, lack of documentation of steps taken!  Can you say, “Asinine and abysmal behavior by credentialed professionals?” I know I can!
      2. Aspirin and Alcohol can cause a drug interaction that can be deadly. Both chemicals are readily available in the home and over the counter.  Why is spray paint now requiring proper ID, because people are huffing the stuff and getting a multi-drug intoxication.  Oven cleaner and spray pain can cause serious breathing issues and when mixed together can cause a cheap high, as well as a multi-chemical intoxication leading to breathing paralysis and death!
      3. Cannabis continues to be modified, changed, enhanced, and designed to trigger different chemical reactions in the body. Continuing work that began in earnest in the 1960s for the pot-smokers who wanted a more serious high.  Guess what, cannabis and aspirin along with vitamins can cause multi-drug intoxication problems leading to death!
      4. Vitamin D and Vitamin C have both caused serious drug intoxications during COVID-19. People became frightened and took too many of both or just one and wound up in the ER with life-threatening health problems from toxicity of these vitamins.  India has reported a spike in black mould that has caused serious long-term health problems for diabetics after recovering from COVID.  It is currently presumed that the chemicals used to fight COVID allowed for a natural mould to grow in the body, and that became life-threatening.

The VA-OIG conducted another virtual comprehensive healthcare inspection, and found the same problems continue at another VAMC.  Do you know how tired I am of reading these “comprehensive inspection” results and finding the same problems time after time?  When will the VA actually start enforcing some of these VA-OIG recommendations to effect change?  Better, when will the politicians who are charged with scrutinizing the government tire of seeing the same recommendations and not seeing any change?  Bloody frustrating reading these reports and not seeing improvement!VA 3

Broken RobotFinally, we come to what I was hoping to be a great report, where the politician’s heads were going to explode at the inefficiencies, the detestable behavior, and the horrendous responses to legally mandated IT infrastructure changes, and why those changes are not happening at the VA.  I was not disappointed; I was thoroughly disgusted that his report fell on plastic ears speaking plastic words from wax lips!  Statement of Michael Bowman, Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, Director of IT and Security Audits Division, Before the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, Hearing on Cybersecurity and Risk Management at VA: Addressing Ongoing Challenges and Moving Forward May 20, 2021.  Notice something, the failures at the VA in the IT Department are being called “ongoing challenges.”

Millstone of Designed IncompetenceLet me remind you, FISMA was released on 29 April 2021, and I wrote about the abysmal findings of the VA-OIG.  This report is the accountability statement to the Congressional representatives who should have skewered this bureaucrat and roasted him on a spit with onions and peppers, then served him up for public ridicule after firing him!  For the Director of IT and Security Audits Division to make the following statement is flat out beyond comprehension, “The OIG’s conclusions in the FY 2020 FISMA audit are not new or revelatory—rather, they repeat many of the same concerns with VA’s IT security that the OIG has found for many years.”  What incredible chutzpah to make this comment after that scathing report showed just how deplorable the leadership of the IT and Security Audits Division revealed!  Director Bowman then goes on to downplay the band-aid solutions implemented while decrying the time for improvement is too short and there is not enough money.  Do not forget, “Of the 26 recommendations, 21 have been included in every FISMA audit dating back to at least 2017.”  With at least 15 of these recommendations dating back even further.  Want a full list, as well as how old these recommendations are; you will not find it in the Director’s report to Congress!  Is anybody incensed enough to demand a full accounting of just how old these IT recommendations are?

Detective 4The gall of this director to continue to blame legacy systems that were legislated to have been scrapped between 2000 and 2010 continues to highlight the incompetence of the director in conducting business and holding people accountable for failed projects and overspending of taxpayer monies!  The director went further and stated the following, at which time, every single Congressional Representative should have stood and demanded his head.  The “VA does not properly manage and secure their IT investments.”  Tell me director, why should you remain employed if the VA does not properly manage and secure their IT investments?  Is the failure to manage and secure IT investments the root cause for veterans to continue to suffer identity theft from the VA losing their identity?

The director’s next statement puts his other outrageous comments to sleep.  “Security failures also undermine the trust veterans put in VA to protect their sensitive information and can affect their engagement with programs and services” [emphasis mine].  Talk about such an obvious statement, it’s like the sun coming up on a cloudy day, you just cannot miss that sun rise; you also cannot miss the absurdity of making this statement!  Did some intern write his speech?  You are the director of IT Security and you make this type of comment, did you make this comment with a straight face?  I cannot find the video-record of this Congressional hearing so I can only guess he delivered his lines with a straight face!  Most detestable of all, he continued to make outrageous comments, his plan to move the IT security program at the VA forward is weak, lacking firm deadlines, and continues to allow him and his staff to escape accountability and responsibility.VA 3

Angry Grizzly BearAmerica, with these bureaucrats in charge, why shouldn’t we be weeping and wailing, and gnashing our teeth in frustration?  When will we, the owners of this atrocious government, finally scream ENOUGH and demand a full change of heads at the ballot box?  For until the elected representatives are forced out, the bureaucrats abusing us, will only continue!  The VA is sick, but the problem lies in the bureaucrats, administrators, and directors leading the VA at the Federal and VISN levels.  So many other government agencies are just as sick, or worse, and the same problem arises, the leadership refuses to act, but still expects a big titanium parachute when they leave office!  I say it is time to tell them NO!

© 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 – Procedural Breakdown and Leadership Failures

I-CareOn the 5th of August 2019, a VA-OIG report was delivered, but I was unable to comment due to the tragic incident documented in that VA-OIG report.  A veteran died, and while this of itself is troubling, the tragedy was how that veteran died.  Thus, the delay in writing about this veteran’s death and the VA-OIG report.

For the record, I worked at the Albuquerque VA Medical Center from 2018-2019.  From my first day to my last, I asked for, begged, pleaded, and reported that a lack of written procedures opens the VA to avoidable risks.  I was instructed several times by employees who had a minimum of five years in the administration of the hospital, who led the hospital mainly after hours, that writing anything down means responsibility.  But, responsibility is avoided at all costs by the leadership who are keen to keep from losing their power and job if something went wrong.  I countered that written procedures, where training on those procedures is documented, means that responsibility and accountability do not, automatically, result in lost employment, all to no avail.  Thus, the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque operates by gentlemen’s agreements, verbal directives, gossip, and personal opinion.

How is this accountable leadership?  What will it take to change this culture of irresponsibility?

The VA-OIG report documents that a nurse inappropriately labeled the patient as dead and did not commence resuscitation efforts.  Documentation was not completed, appropriate processes and procedures were not followed, and proper training was not conducted.  The crash cart, for a Code Blue emergency, was unlocked and deficient.  The leadership teams and committees did not correctly follow procedures and review the incident.  Reprehensible, detestable, and criminal are just some of the adjectives I have been using on this incident; but, the VA-OIG made nine recommendations.  Why does this not comfort me, comfort the family who lost a loved one, or suggests to America the problem will not be repeated?

I know the written procedure problem exists in the Phoenix Arizona VA Medical Center, the Cheyenne Wyoming VA Medical Center, and the Albuquerque New Mexico VA Medical Centers as I have been a patient of all three.  From the VA-OIG report, I must presume this problem is VA-Medical Center-wide, and I have to ask, why?  The military believes in writing everything down, redundancies, and accountability for records and documentation are taught from day one.  How is the VA able to operate without documentation, written processes, and documented procedures?

A running theme in the VA-OIG reports delivered since I began tracking VA-OIG reports in 2015, continues to be that documents are not properly completed, not maintained correctly, not audited timely and appropriately, or missing entirely.  Missing written procedures detailing how to perform tasks, and leadership were not forthcoming with the written procedures and policies needed to complete the tasks appropriately assigned.  A hospital in the private sector with these problems would be inundated with malpractice lawsuits, Federal inquiries, and threatened with closure; yet, the VA can operate without document controls, written processes and procedures, and escape any consequences, why?

The VA-OIG report detailing the death of a veteran in a behavioral health unit is not the first, nor will it be the last; but it should be!  This veteran’s death should be a clarion call for every hospital director in the Department of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Health Administration, to demand an immediate correction, that leads to written procedures, clearly defined directions, and training in following those procedures — then monitoring those procedures for updates and shelf-life.  This veteran’s death doesn’t even raise the eyebrows or curiosity of the lowest congressional staffer, and that is shameful!

Senators and Congressional Representatives, what are you doing to support Secretary Wilkie and his team in demanding answers and implementing corrective action?  Hospital directors, what are you doing to fix this abhorrent behavior in your hospitals?  Hospital directors, what are your directors, supervisors, and leaders doing to improve performance and follow Secretary Wilkie’s leadership to enhance the VA?  There is no excuse for another dead veteran at the hands of the providers and nursing staff in the VA Health Administration.

America, please join me in mourning another veteran’s passing.

This veteran did not have to die!

 

© 2019 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.