In the less than 10-days since I last wrote on the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) has dumped more than ten inspection results over the last three days into my inbox. Not a record, but the recorded actions are certainly hitting record lows. Worse, the culture of the VA remains unchanged, even through all the recorded crimes and indignities the veterans suffer under. Recording and summating the crimes of the VA is so depressing, mainly because of the failure to reform. But, a little depression will not slow or halt the reporting of these detestable actions of the VA!
The first VA-OIG investigation is more of a report on criminal proceedings concluding with sentencing. A total of five people, including one VA Employee, have been stung in this investigation. How thrilling to see accountability and justice served cold!
“Francis Engles of Bowie, Maryland, was sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution for defrauding a VA program dedicated to rehabilitating military veterans with disabilities. As the owner of Engles Security Training School, Engles falsely represented to the VA that his company was providing veterans with months-long courses when, in fact, the school offered veterans far less.”
“February 2019, four other individuals were sentenced in related cases following their guilty pleas. First, James King, a former VA employee, was sentenced to 11 years in prison for committing bribery, defrauding the VA, and obstructing justice. Second, Albert Poawui, the owner of Atius Technology Institute, was sentenced to 70 months in prison for committing bribery. Third, Sombo Kanneh, Poawui’s employee, was sentenced to 20 months in prison for conspiracy to commit bribery. Finally, Michelle Stevens, the owner of Eelon Training School, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for committing bribery.”
Apparently, bilking the GI Bill is a regular fraud opportunity, and the VA employees need to be held more accountable for the loss of these funds! The GI Bill is a precious commodity and sometimes the only lifeline for a soldier for retraining while awaiting the VBA’s decisions. Therefore, stealing these funds should come with more substantial sentences, more accountability for the employees in the know of fraud, and scrutiny from elected officials!
For the next story, we have several crimes co-occurring; the most egregious is reporting to have been a veteran, fraudulently obtaining benefits, and then trying to use veteran status for preferential contract awarding. The VA-OIG reports:
“Robert S. Stewart, the former owner of Federal Government Experts LLC in Arlington, Virginia, was sentenced to 21 months in prison with three years of supervised release for making false statements to multiple federal agencies in order to fraudulently obtain multimillion-dollar government contracts, COVID-19 emergency relief loans, and undeserved military service benefits.”
I know the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has declared that lying about military service is a freedom of speech issue and not a crime. However, stolen valor continues to make me sick, and the liars should lose all US Constitutional Rights, as well as be sentenced to punishment most vile! Having served twice (US Army and US Navy), having been deployed to S. Korea (US Army) and the Persian Gulf (US Navy Multiple Times), stealing valor infuriates me into a raging juggernaut! I hate liars and thieves, but to steal valor from those deserving goes above and beyond being just a liar and thief, and the conduct deserves punishment most vile! No, I am not apologetic in taking this stance either! Burn the American Flag; I disagree with SCOTUS again and becoming a raging juggernaut! There are lines you do not cross with impunity, and if you cannot scream fire in a crowded theater as “Free Speech,” then acts of stealing valor or burning the American Flag are reasonable restrictions!
I do agree with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes’ statement:
“The ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas — that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out.”
But stealing valor and burning the American Flag is not “free trade in ideas,” and I support social shaming as part of the punishment most vile for these lepers of society! Before you burn the Flag or steal valor, serve in uniform, watch a military funeral as a dependent, and then let’s talk about reasonable and valid restrictions upon “free speech!”
Another case, another criminal act, only this time, I am left asking, “How long has this individual been doing business with the VA?” Regardless, as this is an ongoing case, the following firstly applies: “The charges in the indictment are merely accusations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.” From the VA-OIG report:
“Muhammad Z. Aabdin of Bronx, New York, was indicted for offering bribes to a VA contracting officer in exchange for the award of VA contracts for personal protective equipment.”
It will be interesting to watch this case and future (potential) investigations occur. However, I have several questions needing to be answered, and the report does nothing to aid in answering the questions raised in the defendant’s arrest and the grand jury indictment. More to come as the VA-OIG and the US Attorney produce information. May the US Attorney NOT allow a plea deal!
The VA-OIG has often investigated improper fiscal practices at several VA sites for the VBA, the VHA, and the National Cemeteries. I could almost quote the following investigation results, only differing on how much money is involved.
“The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted a review to examine whether VA’s Maryland Health Care System appropriately managed purchases and payments for medical equipment and supplies. Fiscal oversight of purchase cards and internal controls governing the use of overtime were also reviewed. The VA-OIG found ineffective processes, internal control weaknesses, and inadequate oversight in five areas: 1. The healthcare system and the Enterprise Equipment Request (EER) portal need improved controls for approving equipment purchases. 2. Healthcare system staff and the prime vendor should prepare timely and accurate planning information to ensure adequate supplies are on hand to fill orders. 3. Even though no inaccurate inventory payments were identified, VA’s inventory system needs controls to ensure correct recording of supply units and costs. 4. The healthcare system purchase card program requires closer monitoring to ensure purchases are authorized and supported by documentation. 5. The healthcare system should strengthen its overtime payment controls to ensure supervisors verify overtime hours were completed before approving timecards for payment. The VA-OIG team also identified more than $5 million in questioned costs related to identified issues such as undocumented or unapproved purchases” [emphasis mine].
I have heard the term “Criminal Stupidity” and often wonder when “Criminally Designed Incompetence” will become adopted into common vernacular. I am so fed up with the excuses, the missing money, and the abuse of taxpayer forbearance by bureaucrats; I could rip my hair out and scream until my voice gives out! But, unfortunately, both actions do absolutely nothing to correct the problem and would make me miserable. The VA has problems with criminals without and stupidity masked as “designed incompetence” within, and the solution continues to be leadership!
What adds fire to my mental processes on criminally designed incompetence, the VA-OIG has two other investigations in my inbox on the need to strengthen fiscal controls, , and more correctly track accounting practices. Under current legislation, if a private business accounted for their money like the VA, they would be shuttered, and criminal charges levied! Yet, somehow, the elected representatives cannot apply the same accounting behavior standard to a government agency, as they mandate for private companies! Anyone else thinks we need stronger demands for scrutiny of government agencies?
Adding more fuel to the fire for the IT/IS Departments of the VA, the VA-OIG discovered that the VA still cannot regularly and appropriately log records into its own electronic health record systems! Are you surprised; as a patient, I know I am not surprised at all. Worse, the lack of medical records being properly handled influences (negatively, of course) how the VBA makes decisions on claims!
“The Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) evaluated whether VA’s community care staff accurately uploaded records for non-VA medical care to veterans’ electronic health records. Veterans receive non-VA care based on certain criteria, such as the distance from the veteran to the nearest VA facility or the wait time for a VA facility appointment. Records for non-VA care enable Veterans Health Administration (VHA) providers continuity of care and inform treatment decisions. The audit team found that staff at six of the seven VA medical facilities reviewed did not always index, or categorize, these records accurately. Inaccurate indexing of medical records poses a risk to veteran care. It increases the burden on the VHA staff who locate and correct the errors, reducing their time for other tasks. The team reviewed 209 veterans’ mental health medical records that VHA community care staff indexed between April 1, 2019, and September 30, 2019, and found 108 indexing errors for 92 veterans. (Some veterans’ records had more than one error.) Errors included using ambiguous or incorrect document titles, indexing records for non-VA care to the wrong referral or veteran, and entering duplicate records. These errors occurred, in part, due to inadequate procedures, training, quality checks, and quality assurance monitoring and a lack of local facility-level policies.”
Of course, training and local policies were blamed for the failure to log records properly! These are automatic designed incompetence excuses that appear every single time the VHA fails, the VBA fails, or they both make significant life-altering decisions for veterans, and the VA-OIG investigates! The VBA claims it is my duty to ensure outside providers send records to the VA in a timely manner. The VHA claims they have the documents the VBA wants, and they should read the file. Who is inconvenienced, not the VHA and the VBA, the veteran? The person who cannot even look at his digital file without a “Freedom of Information Act” (FOIA) request and 30-45 days of waiting, and even then, the document is heavily redacted for privacy! Whose privacy, I wonder, the providers, the employees, or the veterans? Because I guarantee the VA is conducting serious CYA on the records produced! Let alone IT’s continued failure to protect the veteran from identity theft or IS to protect the files from being accessed without reason by employees.
May 2021 was a tumultuous month for the VA and the VA-OIG. If you would like to review how tumultuous or think you might have missed an article or two reporting the VA’s designed incompetence, feel free to review using the following link. Frankly, I want to see action taken based upon the investigations to clean house, more fully scrutinize the VA, and improve the veteran experience at the VA. But, I do not tell you how to think or feel about an issue. Instead, I report and summate and leave the rest to you!
As always, I report and summate upon the good and bad. If you are a citizen of Indiana or receive your care from either Fort Wayne, Marion, or through the Northern Indiana Health Care System, please count yourself lucky, and pass on the praise to the VAHCS employees. The VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive Healthcare Inspection and found, “The VA-OIG’s review of the system’s accreditation findings, sentinel events, and disclosures did not identify any substantial organizational risk factors” [emphasis mine]. While improvements can still be made, this is HUGE news, and the Northern Indiana VAHCS leadership team needs to be back-slapping and congratulating their employees.
Thus, my sincerest congratulations go to the Northern Indiana VAHCS, and heaps of shame and scorn remain served cold to the ineffective leadership and useless employees of the VA in general! America, we should weep, for the VA is not alone in the government agencies in providing world-class detestable service, abuse of the customer (taxpayer), and skirting accountability and responsibility through designed incompetence! But, when we are done weeping, it is time for action! Changing the elected representatives, demanding higher scrutinization with actual penalties for failure, and insisting upon fiscal restraint equivalent to the private sector!
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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