If Everyone Cared – More Detestable VA Stories

I-CareAs I went to catalog more of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports, Nickelback’s song, “If Everyone Cared,” was playing.  I cannot think of a better title to proclaim the need for raising awareness and what is needed to fix the VA.  Until everyone is aware and the scab hiding the infection inside the walls of the VA are ripped away to be exposed to the sunlight disinfectant, nothing will change, and taxpayers will continue to pay for the abuse of veterans who deserve so much more.

We begin with an indictment and a reminder.  An indictment does not indicate guilt or innocence, and the parties mentioned are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of their peers.

Scott Mitchell Brown, John Henry Swiencki, and David Jeffery Hughes, Jr., were all charged with one count of conspiring to distribute hydrocodone, oxycodone, and amphetamines. Brown was also indicted for stealing prescription medications, possessing stolen mail, and obtaining unauthorized health information from the Kerrville VA Medical Center in Texas.”VA 3

I am a big fan of punishing liars and thieves of all stripes and support justice served in this case.

David Naylor, 59, of Spring Hill, Florida, was sentenced to two years and three months in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release, for theft of government funds. Naylor made false representations regarding his physical limitations in connection with his application for VA disability compensation.”VA 3

While the following perpetrator has been caught and sentenced, she represents but the tip of the iceberg.

Rita Copeland, 59, of Portsmouth, Virginia, was sentenced today to nine and half years in prison for wire fraud and aggravated identity theft in connection with schemes to defraud veterans. She operated Veteran Services of the Commonwealth, which claimed to provide veterans with caregiving, contracting, and rental assistance services. In total, from at least 2017 through 2020, Copeland’s schemes impacted at least 29 victims and resulted in a combined loss of approximately $430,000.”VA 3

Again and again, the following questions are asked and never answered; yet, the questions remain pertinent.   Who at the VA had to have known this abuse of veterans was occurring and did nothing to stop the abuse?  There are too many checks and balances, too many hands, and too many inspectors for fraud of any magnitude to exist for very long without raising flags needing investigating.  Where were the VA employees?  Who knew?  What did they not do?  Are they still Federal Employees?

Another veteran died, needlessly at the hands of VA providers, due to ineptitude, failed management, poor training, and a series of unfortunate events that cascaded.  I weep for the family of this veteran and mourn for their loss.  I am sorry you have had to experience this tragedy and wish there was something more I could do than simply spread the story of this deleterious behavior and hope for sunshine disinfectant.  The patient died from “presumed anoxic brain injury (his brain failed to receive enough oxygen).”

The VA-OIG found that physicians’ failure to provide adequate benzodiazepine dosing to address the patient’s delirium tremens, review the patient’s abnormal electrocardiogram before haloperidol administration, and transfer the patient earlier likely contributed to the patient’s deterioration and ultimate death.  The VA-OIG substantiated that a non-VA paramedic documented that the oxygen flow was not active.  Facility leaders and staff reported a lack of knowledge about the failed oxygen delivery. The nursing staff did not complete all required alcohol withdrawal assessments.  A physician improperly ordered restraints, nurses failed to obtain full vital signs while the patient was in restraints, and nurses did not receive restraint training as expected.  The VA-OIG substantiated that facility leaders and staff did not communicate initiation of emergency detention with the patient’s family; however, notification is not required.  Leaders did not conduct an institutional disclosure with the patient’s family timely or in person and did not provide a relevant update.”VA 3

Did you catch that last sentence; while the patient was dying, the facility leaders and providers, including the nursing staff, were more concerned with CYA (covering their own acts) than notifying the family they had screwed up, and their family member had died.  If the nursing and staff did not have the training, why and how could they use restraints on a patient? This is blatantly illegal!VA Seal

Let’s cover one more egregious item from this summary of unfortunate events; I visited a doctor who is transitioning out of medicine who made the following comment, “Medicine has changed, practicing medicine has changed, and the practice of medicine is no longer about treating people, but checking boxes, the patient be damned!”  The patient was a “walking chemistry experiment, and no single nurse or provider took a minute to stop providing care, assess the patient, and stop administering drugs!  Instead, they just kept pumping more drugs in until the patient died and then covered their tracks with designed incompetence to protect their failed inadequacies.  This is not “practicing medicine,” you would not treat an animal in this manner; at least not and keep your license!

A death row convict is not allowed to die from anoxic brain death, as it is considered incredibly painful and a cruel and unusual method of death, which is why the gas chamber has been banned as a legal means of causing death for death row inmates.  Yet, under a medical team’s care, a patient in a VA hospital is allowed to die in this horrific manner, and nobody is held accountable.  Is it any wonder why this article is suitably titled “If Everyone Cared?”LinkedIn VA Image

Not many outside of the veterans affected and their families know that the VA has been pushing opioids for decades down the throats of veterans.  At the height of the opioid crisis, the VA shut off all opioid drugs and told the veterans to seek help for addictions to pain medications.  The VHA did not evaluate the individual patients for need, did not seek alternatives, did not try to reduce dependency over time, simply cut off all opioids, and told the veterans to deal with the problems.  Unfortunately, opioids were not the only drug series that the VHA cut off suddenly on veterans without notice, cause, or individual patient consideration, and deficiencies in coordination for the care of patients and drug mandates from VHA has lead to suicides, murders, and other violent problems as addictions cause social problems.VA 3

When discussing failures to coordinate care for patients, abuse of patients, and the need for patients to be housed in the proper treatment centers for their needs to receive the right care, the following should boil your blood and comes from Fayetteville VAMC in North Carolina.

The VA-OIG identified that the psychiatrist used the involuntary commitment process in a manner that was inconsistent with the state’s established parameters and failed to adequately assess and document the patient’s capacity to make informed decisions and determine whether the patient had a healthcare agent. In addition, the patient’s primary care providers and psychiatrist missed an opportunity to coordinate specialty care needs for the patient.”VA 3

Essentially, a bureaucrat incarcerated a veteran against their wishes, without a trial, an appeal process, and proper medical care.  Now, imagine you are the family of this veteran or a friend, and you see this occur and feel powerless to help, impotent to intercede.  Every avenue you approach is blocked because of the authorities, the bureaucrat in charge who wields their power illegally.  How do you feel?  What do you do?  Where do you turn?  Is it any wonder why this article is suitably titled “If Everyone Cared?”

I-CareAmerica, we need to care about what is happening in our representative government, in our name, with our tax dollars, and to our neighbors, family, and friends.  There are no excuses for the abuses witnessed!  There are no excuses for medical providers to get away with this outrageous behavior in private hospitals or government-paid-for-care.  Let us all heed Nickelback’s song and the intent; let us be the “everyone” who cares!

© 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.

The Department of Veterans Affairs: The Liars and Thieves Edition

I-CareIn December 2019, I witnessed an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Hospital Administration, create rules to inconvenience a veteran, lie to a veteran, obfuscate, and generally mock a veteran.  The incident included the employee threatening the veteran with throwing away documentation, the primary care provider needed because the veteran was not mailing the forms to the doctor as the employee demanded of the veteran.  The veteran must travel and thought dropping off the forms would be acceptable; until he met this employee.  23 January 2020, I was the veteran being lied to, and my “cherub-like demeanor” evaporated faster than dew in a July sun.  For the December incident, I signed my name to a letter going to the Hospital Director Andrew M. Welch, written by the abused veteran, and testified that I witnessed the treatment this veteran received.  To the best of my knowledge, no action was taken by the hospital leadership where this employee is concerned, I asked.  A copy of this article will be sent to hospital leadership.  If any additional information comes available on this issue, I will write an addendum and update this article.

23 January 2020, 1505-1510, I went to my primary care provider’s clinic at the Albuquerque, New Mexico VA Hospital.  I had another appointment, was early, and went to ask why I am receiving letters claiming the primary care clinic is “having difficulty” contacting me.  The employee is titled “Advanced MSA,” which means they are a Medical Support Assistant who has been promoted.  For my other appointment, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three appointment emails.  For my next appointment, 24 January 2020, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  For my appointment in December 2019, I received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  I regularly receive calls from other clinics in the VA Hospital.  My cellphone has voicemail, and the voicemail is regularly checked and responses made.  Yet, the MSA claims, “I have tried calling you, and you do not have voicemail.”  I checked my recent calls, and showed the MSA where I had not received any calls from the VA on the days indicated, and asked why I can receive all these other calls from the VA, including the text messages, but only his calls are not showing up.  The MSA then became intransigent, resolute, and adamant, raised his voice, and told me our conversation was done.  After observing the ways and means of this VA employee over the course of many months previously, I wonder, “how many other veterans are not being contacted in a timely manner, while this person lies, cheats, and steals?”

Quality of FindingsUnfortunately, this is the standard, not the exception for the MSA’s in the HAS (Hospital Administration Services) Department, led by Maritza Pittore, at the Albuquerque VA Hospital.  I have witnessed multiple MSA’s committing HIPAA violations through record diving, gossiping about veteran patients, acting rudely, ignoring veteran patients and their families to complete conversations, and refusing to do their jobs.  As a point of fact, one assistant director one told me, “if what the VA does was replicated by a non-government hospital, they would be closed down and sued.”  While employed from June 2018 thru June 2019, I brought this to the attention of the leadership, including multiple emails and voice conversations with Maritza Pittore, Sonja Brown, and several other high-ranking leaders and their assistants, all to no avail.  I have had nursing staff tell me confidentially that they cannot do anything where the MSA’s are concerned because “it’s none of their business and outside their job duties.”  Yet, the VA continues to proclaim the MSA, the Nurse, and the doctor, along with the patient, are a “healthcare team.”  Upon being discharged, without cause, reason, or justification, I brought this information to the OIG, my congressional and senate representatives, among many others, all to no avail.  The level of customer service, especially at this VA Hospital, is far below the pale because the leadership refuses to engage and set standards for customer service, with enforced penalties. I-CareMore to the point, the employees mimic the customer service they receive from the leadership team.  Thus, even though the Federal VA Office has launched “I-Care” as a customer service improvement initiative, the customer service in this hospital continues to fall and will continue to fail until the leadership exemplifies the standards of customer service expected.

As a dedicated customer service professional, I have offered multiple solutions to the continuing problems veteran patients experience in the Albuquerque VA Hospital at the hands of the MSA’s and other front-line customer-facing staff; but the suggestions all continue to fall upon deaf ears.  I do not paint all the MSA’s and staff as liars, thieves, and cheaters, because there are some great people working at this VA Hospital.  Unfortunately, the rotten apples far exceed the good workers by multiple factors and powers, to the shame of the leadership team who continues to ignore the problem, deleting emails, and generally lying when placed on the spot about the problems.

An example of this occurred recently where a member of the staff of a congressional representative asked about communications sent from an employee to the Director of VISN 18, with carbon copies being sent to Maritza Pittore HAS Director, Ruben Foster MSA Supervisor, and Sonja Brown Associate Director of the Hospital.  None of those emails “magically” exist when asked for, and the verbal conversation included outright lies, misdirection, and complete fallacies.

Since the VA-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) continues to appear disinterested, I can only ask, “what does a person do to see action taken to correct the problems, right the abuses, and bring responsibility and accountability to the employees of the Federal Government?”  President Trump is providing great leadership, VA Secretary Wilkie is doing a good job and needs more help, but the elected officials in the House and Senate refuse to do their job, and the middle management of the VA is entrenched, obtuse, and inflexible.  The US Media treats veterans’ issues as a punchline to a bad joke.  Still, the problem worsens; still, the abusers maliciously treat people abhorrently; and still, those placed in leadership positions stall, obfuscate, and hinder.

My treatment at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque includes being physically assaulted by an employee, my medical records perused by, and then gossiped across at least four separate clinics, and still that MSA remains employed.  In fact, this employee was promoted for her “good work and dedication to helping veterans.”  I am sick and tired of the poor treatment, the harassment, and the vindictiveness served to veterans of all types, sizes, and colors, at the hands of petty bureaucrats as they visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Albuquerque VA Hospital is one of the most egregious examples of bad behavior and nepotism in the country and it is past time the leadership was replaced and the assaults and crimes brought into the sunshine for some “sunshine disinfectant.”

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgUpdate to this article, 10 May 2020: By the first week in April 2020, the Advanced MSA in the clinic was moved to a less customer-facing post and a new MSA hired.  The quality of that individual was never experienced due to relocating.  The supervisor of the MSA was not very interested in correcting the problems and that showed when I visited with them while trying to obtain an appointment that the Advanced MSA refused to schedule.  Change must come to the VA!

© 2020 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.