How Do I Know? – An Update on the VA Mandatory Mask Policies and VA Leadership Failures

Question24 May 2021 – 1200-1500 I visited the Las Cruces Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.  Upon entry, I was asked to wear a mask.  I described I could not wear a mask, and the employee said I might be required to wear one but left the decision to those working more closely with me.  I waited in line and was called to the Team 2 window, where a gentleman was more than happy to assist me in getting the paperwork started to change VA hospitals after relocating.  About 45-minutes into my time in this CBOC, the gentleman asked me to wear a mask.  I told him I could not and had brought my VA Doctor’s note as proof.  The gentleman read the letter, confirmed I was good to receive care without the mask, and provided exceptional customer support.

After the past year at the Phoenix VAMC, where my every movement on the property was shadowed by VA Police officers looking for a reason to injure, arrest, cite, and force me from the property, the employees here in Las Cruces was a breath of fresh air.  However, the experiences in Las Cruces provide further evidence of the following facts:

      1. The Hospital Director has statutory authority for adapting and creating policies and procedures that benefit the safety of the employees and the patients. A point I stressed to the leaders of VISN 22 and the Phoenix VAMC to no avail.
      2. The Federal Mask Mandates can be situationally applied for the circumstances of the individual. Yet, another point I have repeatedly stressed since July 2020, and the first time I was injured, arrested, cited, and forced from Federal Property. At the same time, I was being denied emergency care under EMTALA and having my HIPAA information repeatedly violated by the VA Police Officers.
      3. The bombastic and unprofessional behavior of the Federal Police employed at the Carl T. Hayden VAMC is a problem of the leadership, and the failures of leadership to instill professionalism, proper attitudes and behaviors, training, and tactics in approaching and handling situations in the Phoenix VAHCS. At the behavior of the Federal Police Officers in the Phoenix VAHCS, Che Guevara, Mao, Stalin, and Fidel Castro would be proud!VA 3

How can a person be sure the problems caused are a direct result of leadership failures?

ApathyBy tracing behaviors, attitudes, and influence to their source, the police chief acts as he considers appropriate, but the underofficers generationally multiply and mirror his behaviors.  The same is true for the chief who takes his example from the assistant director, director, and hospital leadership.  Chains of command always have this consequence; the example of those above are mirrored, replicated, and multiplied to impress the higher officers to gain attention and promotion opportunities.  Want to take a measure of a leader; look to the most junior person in the chain of command and watch them for behaviors, attitudes, and actions that originate in the leadership.

GavelCase in point, long have I detailed and described the failures of leadership at the VA.  The latest is a wire fraud scheme in Jackson, Mississippi.  From the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), we find the following:

Anthony Kelley, the owner of Trendsetters Barber College in Jackson, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in a scheme to steal federal funds. From October 2016 through March 2019, the college offered a master barber course that was not accredited by the state’s board of barber examiners. Kelley fraudulently represented that this course was approved and, as a result, was allowed to collect GI Bill money from veterans enrolled in the program.”VA 3

As the lowest person in the chain of command, Mr. Kelly was allowed to attempt to commit fraud by the VA.  Never in these reports is the VA employee, their supervisor, and their manager, who were complicit in allowing fraud to occur, mentioned and held accountable.  Somehow, we, the taxpayer, must presume that those committing frauds could hoodwink the Department of Veterans Affairs without any inside help.  Help coming directly or indirectly from government employees charged with investigating, ensuring, and following proper protocols and procedures to protect against theft and fraud.

Angry Grizzly BearLet the US Attorney and VA-OIG special investigators crow about catching the person perpetrating fraud.  Before they break open the champagne, they need to be looking into the leadership that either overtly or covertly allowed this fraud to occur.  The elected officials need to be demanding why fraud opportunities are so rampant at the Department of Veterans Affairs that criminal proceedings are being reported almost every week and asking about the culture of corruption and leadership failures allowing these behaviors to thrive.

Is it a “Culture of Corruption?”

Absolutely; the VA is sick with a culture of corruption!  It is my sad duty to report on another employee who was able to steal from the VA, stealing hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions from the VAMC mailroom and mailboxes at some 40 locations in Kerrville, Ingram, and Center Point.

Scott M. Brown, a pharmacy technician at the Kerrville VA Medical Center in Texas, was charged with one count of theft of US mail for stealing hydrocodone and oxycodone prescriptions from the medical center’s mailroom as well as from residential mailboxes between March and April 2021.”VA 3

Currently, Mr. Brown is being held in custody and remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of his peers.  However, the fact that Mr. Brown has been charged and is in custody speaks volumes to the lax leadership that allowed these prescription thefts to occur.  Where is the VA-OIG in asking how the robbery was possible?  Where are the special investigators demanding answers from the leadership on policies and procedures that an employee could easily violate to obtain these drugs?  Who else was involved, or had to know, what was happening and said nothing?Plato 3

The Department of Veterans Affairs has been overtaken by those without skill, knowledge, and ability to understand cause and effect and properly interrupt the cycles of corruption.  Worse, these same people will bleat about how they need more money for technology solutions when their personal example, leadership failures, and human-to-human relationships are the actual problems.  The leaders will bleat like sheep in a corral about engagement, customer service, and industry buzzwords because they have no substance and even less desire to see things change.Plato 2

Recently I detailed the failures at the Department of Veterans Affairs on information technology.  The fallout from the deplorable designed incompetence in the IT/IS infrastructure at the VHA continues to represent just how incompetent the current leaders genuinely are.

To promote compatibility with the Department of Defense’s electronic health record system, VA is replacing its aging record system. This requires VA medical facilities to upgrade their physical infrastructure, including electrical and cabling. The OIG determined from its audit that the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) cost estimates for these upgrades were not reliable. VHA’s estimates did not fully meet VA standards for being comprehensive, well-documented, accurate, and credible. The audit team projected that VHA’s June and November 2019 cost estimates were potentially underestimated by as much as $1 billion and $2.6 billion, respectively. This was due in part to facility needs not being well-defined early on. The estimates also omitted escalation and cabling upgrade costs and were based on low estimates at the initial operating sites. Because cost estimates support funding requests, there is a risk that funds intended for other medical facility improvements would need to be diverted to cover program shortfalls. The Office of Electronic Health Record Modernization (OEHRM) also did not meet its obligation to report all program costs to Congress in accordance with statutory requirements. Specifically, OEHRM did not include cost estimates for upgrading physical infrastructure in the program’s life cycle cost estimates in congressionally mandated reports. Although VHA provided OEHRM with an approximately $2.7 billion estimate for physical infrastructure upgrade costs in June 2019, OEHRM did not, in turn, include them in life cycle cost estimate reports to Congress as of January 2021. OEHRM stated it did not disclose these estimates because the upgrades were outside OEHRM’s funding responsibility and that they represented costs assumed by VHA facilities for maintenance—including long-standing needs” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Angry Wet Chicken 2Did you catch that; the office specifically tasked with handling estimates intentionally low-balled estimates, did not include all necessary contractual requirements, and then lied to Congress to cover their hides, and fell back upon designed incompetence to skirt blame, responsibility, and accountability when the VA-OIG came investigating.  Lying to Congress is a CRIME!  Yet, these federal employees can break the law with impunity, and all the VA-OIG can do is make recommendations for improvement!  If you want to read the full report of shame, you can find it here.

Leadership is change; management is stagnation and corruption.  When will the VA start hiring leaders to enforce, demand, and execute change to benefit the taxpayer and the veteran community?  Where are the elected officials willing to work with newly hired VA leadership in establishing legal frameworks for evicting employees who refuse to change from the federal workforce?  When can the veteran community and the taxpayer expect to see real and tangible change at the VA?

Knowledge Check!I am not asking these questions and not expecting an answer!  I am asking these questions looking for and expecting real results to begin immediately, if not sooner!  This is a national embarrassment with a global impact, and it is time for the United States to lead in correcting their detestable government workforce!

© 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.

NO MORE BS: Revisiting the VBA and Spinal Claims Issues

VA SealOne of the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports I wrote about in 2019 was how the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) was inaccurately deciding spinal claims for veterans.  Apparently, the complexity of primary injuries and secondary problems was causing confusion at the VBA, and when the VA-OIG came around to investigate, 100% of the claims from 01 January to 30 June 2018 were inaccurate in some way, shape, or form.  The VA-OIG reviewed 62,5000 spinal injury claims in the designated window; 34,700 were incorrectly processed, with approximately 5000 receiving inaccurate decisions resulting in over or underpayments totaling $5.9 Million.  Thus, each of the 5000 veterans had about an over or underpayment of $1180; whether this is monthly or in total is not detailed.

Something to think about those 5000 veterans mentioned does not include the 29,800 veterans’ claims which contained processing errors that could have had a monetary effect on veterans.  The VA-OIG could not determine monetary over or underpayments on these 29,800 claims.  Hence, $35,164,000 in possible over or underpayments was still in question if the average per person holds from the 5000 mentioned above.VA 3

More details on the other 34,700 veteran claims incorrectly processed for these claims with processing errors, VBA staff decided on the claims before completing all required evaluation steps.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) conveniently designs its processes to fail, and this is referred to as designed incompetence.  Think I am wrong; check out what the VA-OIG discovered as the root cause of incorrect spinal claims processing.

The OIG found that all incorrectly decided veteran claims resulted from VBA’s inadequate process for ensuring accurate and complete evaluation. The disability rating schedule—the primary criteria for evaluating disability—contains minimal guidance on neurological and peripheral nerves. A procedures manual detailing the rating schedule is too subjective about peripheral nerve disability evaluations, which can lead to an inconsistent evaluation for a secondary service-connected condition” [emphasis mine].

Angry Wet ChickenThe manuals, designed and published by the VBA, are inadequate to decide spinal claims consistently.  The VBA created these books to be a ready-made excuse for cheating veterans with improperly decided claims on spinal injuries.  Why is this such an issue for me; I have been fighting chronic pain in my spine since 2002.  I fell multiple times onboard the ship after being pushed by a First-Class Petty Officer while carrying a load of D Cell batteries.  I experienced weakness and shortness of breath on the boat, went to medical; none of those records exist anymore.  The Chief made Senior Chief and was “encouraged” to retire shortly after I left the ship. After leaving the service, I discovered that the Independent Duty Corpsman, a US Navy Chief, was consistently sinking medical records for the Engineering Department to Davey Jones’ Locker.

Angry Wet Chicken 2Today, 10 May 2010, I had a Compensation and Pension appointment with LHI.  I discovered the VBA had edited my claim, and my C-Spine information again was missing from the evaluation.  Since my spine was inappropriately decided in 2014, I could not add the C-Spine problems into today’s appointment.  I was sent back to the VA to file a supplemental claim, using the VA-OIG report from 05 September 2019, as “New and Material Evidence” to have my 2014 claim reopened.  That 2014 claim, called bulging disks in C-Spine, bulging disks in L-Spine, and a trauma-induced S-Curve in my T-Spine as “lumbar strain with chronic pain.”  Today, I was asked how the peripheral nerve problems in my right arm were connected to my lumbar spine!  Not joking, a Nurse Practitioner asked me to explain the connection, without mentioning the C-Spine, the fact that my Right Shoulder is 1-1/2 -2” shorter than my left shoulder, not to mention the headaches at C-0, but all this has something magical to do with my lumbar spine.  After all the tedious bureaucratism I have experienced with the VA, I was not surprised; other adjectives fit, but not surprise!

Upon returning home, I filed a supplemental claim, as advised by a customer service representative at the VBA.  Best of all, the customer service representative confirmed I could use the VA-OIG report as my “New and Material Evidence.”  This is good because none of the MRIs since 2014 are allowed as “New and Material Evidence,” the neurological decision claiming I have an unknown neurological disease is not permitted. All the lost jobs, employer letters claiming a need for ADA Accommodation, or physical therapy notes are also not allowed as “New and Material Evidence.”  All because of those published books the VBA uses to make determinations, which continue to fail to accurately and consistently aid in deciding spinal claims for the VBA and for the VHA to treat.VA 3

The VA-OIG Report has the following to report, which also played a significant role in confusing the nurse practitioner interviewing me today.

“… The medical examiners did not always choose disability levels that were consistent with documented symptom details from the exam. Examiners told the review team that VBA did not provide any guidance on the definition of these disability levels. In addition, they are VBA terms, not medical ones, and there are no standardized criteria for the examiners to determine severity.”

The nurse practitioner could not explain the difference between mild, moderate, and severe.  The VHA uses a pain scale from 1-10; thus, confusion reigned during the LHI compensation and pension evaluation.  Imagine that; the VBA cannot train a third-party contractor on VBA-specific terms designed to create confusion between the language used in the VHA and the language used in the VBA.  Color me shocked; NOT!  VA 3

There have been no changes to these terms, and the confusion generated since the VA-OIG called out the VBA on their inability to communicate and accurately decide veterans claims.  Imagine my surprise when a reader claimed I was too harsh on the VA Administrators and their failures to lead, correct, and design anything that fundamentally fixes the VA.  The VA-OIG issues “recommendations,” the VBA, The VHA, and the National Cemetery ignore the recommendations and continue with business as usual.  Hey taxpayer, how would you rate the VA and evaluate their job in not wasting your tax dollars?

What blows my mind is that this is what the marketing department for the VA calls “Defining Excellence” in VA Healthcare!  The VA-OIG report continued claiming:

The same form also asks medical examiners to provide an opinion about whether the veteran’s range of motion is limited during flare-ups or after repeated use. The medical examiner can decline to provide an opinion, but a sufficient explanation is required if the medical examiner takes that route.  The VBA manual states the opinion may be insufficient if the conclusion is not adequately justified or implies a general lack of knowledge or an aversion to offering this statement on issues not directly observed.  Most of the errors the OIG team identified did not have the required and sufficient explanation about why the examiner could not express an opinion.”

Recognize a problem here; if I replicate a movement that causes me severe pain, I fall to the floor, insensate, and become an ER issue.  For the last spinal compensation and pension evaluation, the evaluator collapsed my legs four times in her office by placing her hand on my L-Spine where the disks are known to be bulging.  What did the VBA call this? Insufficient evidence for a secondary peripheral nerve problem.  I had to report to the Albuquerque ER for a shot of morphine and a shot of Toradol. Missing the next three days of work due to pain in my spine where the medication was insufficient to the task of relieving the suffering.  Those days missed directly led to my being dismissed from VA employment and spending the majority of the next two years unemployed!VA 3

So, not the VBA cannot communicate using medically acceptable terms.  They cannot understand when nerves have a primary, secondary, and tertiary issue causing a veteran loss of employment, severe pain, repetitive injuries.  Then the VBA has the gall to refuse to accept all VHA medical records as “New and Material Evidence.”  Do you know how hard it is to replicate a secondary or tertiary problem when it occurs intermittently on one side of the body but is a regular 24/7 injury on the other side of the body?  My right side is neurologically worse than the left side, but how do you communicate that to the interviewer?  How do they properly communicate that to the VBA when the VBA does not use medically recognized terminology?

LinkedIn VA ImageWorse, all the problems have a root cause in the technology forced upon the medical reviewer. There is an insufficient explanation to describe to a veteran what the VBA is asking for, so the veteran can answer the questions correctly.  The person who made my spinal claim originally had been writing VBA claims for 20+ years.  She was still disregarded by the VBA because the Veterans Service Representative reviewing the claim could not, or would not, interpret the doctor’s note correctly for an accurate decision.  Any fourth-grade biology student can tell you that the T-Spine is different from the L-Spine, and damage in one does not mean damage can be added to the other, and all the damage can be lumped together!  Yet, that is precisely the asinine decision I was handed and have been fighting!VA 3

If you want more details on this egregious example of leadership failure and VBA insanity, the whole report can be read here.  I am not joking, and adjectives are expended describing how deplorable the VBA processes are and the problems these decisions place the veteran into!  The rules are ineptitude hiding behind designed incompetence to the Nth degree, and that is an absolute disgrace!Apathy

I believe in the little rocks that start landslides.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes that create an avalanche.  I know that if enough veterans, their families, friends, and communities rise up, the elected politicians responsible for scrutinizing the government will be forced to make veteran safety and health at the VA a priority, and blessed change will finally arrive in the VA Administration and administrators.  Imagine how you would feel about learning a close friend or family member was being refused treatment at the VA because their claim was inaccurately decided.  Please respond accordingly!

© 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.

Patient Health and Safety Concerns – Phoenix, VA Medical Center

Alyshia Smith
Medical Center Director
Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital
650 E Indian School Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85012

08 July 2020

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury Ph.D.
10002 N 7th St
APT 1125
Phoenix, AX 85020

Subject: Healthcare policies that endanger patients.

Dear Ms. Smith,

I have been a patient of the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital since 1998 when my family first moved to Phoenix.  I was a witness to the award-winning days, and have been a witness to the dead veterans, paper waiting lists, and incredible fall of the Phoenix VA Medical Center.  I want to help fix this VA Medical Center and moved back to Phoenix specifically for this purpose.  As an organizational psychologist, I have made a careful study of the VA, as a patient, as a previous employee, and as a concerned citizen.  I blog about VA issues because “I-Care” about the VA.

One of the first lessons taught me in new hire orientation training, concerned the Emergency Room and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA; 1986), a federal law that requires anyone coming to an emergency department to be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay.  EMTALA was being abused in the hospital I worked at and I reported this issue.  EMTALA is being abused at the Phoenix, VA Medical Center.  Twice I have followed my primary care providers’ instructions to report to the VA ER for treatment, and twice I have been refused service.

30 June 2020, I was refused service at the VA ER because I cannot wear a mask due to breathing issues.  I was informed upon entering that I could hold the mask in front of my face and this is an acceptable workaround.  Upon entering the ER to be checked in, the office staff refused the information provided at the entrance, and said: “If the mask is not worn, we are refusing service.”  I have had shortness of breath, not lung-related, for many years now and cannot wear a mask.  This information is noted in my VA Medical records.  I have been through several rounds of breathing tests which confirm my lungs work great, but I remain short of breath, and when I wear any mask my problems breathing include lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea, and eventually my vision grays and I pass out.  The original problem was diagnosed at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center (2010/2011).

08 July 2020, I walked into the VA through the South Entrance.  Not wearing a mask and those performing the COVID check did not offer a mask, offer a face shield, or say anything.  I walked to the ER, the admitting person did not mention my need for a mask, nor did they ask why I was not wearing a mask, I was checked in to be seen in the ER.  I was triaged and the triage nurse did not say anything about a mask.  I sat in the ER for 3-hours and none of the medical staff, hospital staff, employees, or Federal Officers walking past ever mentioned the need for a mask.  I walked to the Patriot Store feeling sick because of diabetes and needing food.  On my way, an employee whines about me not wearing a mask, and I ignore this person as my medical information is private and I should not have to explain to every nosy-nelly about why I am not wearing a mask.  I go to complete my purchases and suddenly the VA Police, who were called by the unknown VA Employee, are there insisting I need to wear a mask.  I explained, for the first of at least 40-times that I cannot physically wear a mask to protect my health and safety.

I realize the VA Police are executioners of policies that they have no say in forming and I refused to be anything less than professional as we walked back to the ER.  By the time I arrive back in the ER, my police escort has grown from 2 to 7 or 8, led by one plainclothes person claiming to be a Lieutenant and the other was a uniformed Lieutenant.  My intransigence at wearing a mask was not disorderly conduct, but a patient safety issue. I have a hard time breathing and when I must speak, this exacerbates my breathing condition.  I was accused of yelling, and before I could explain, I am being threatened with being arrested, cited, and thrown out of the VA ER.  By this time, I am in trouble physically and neurologically, between diabetes and my need for food, and the neurological condition I suffer through, my stress levels are making a bad situation worse.

A person identifying themselves as a doctor handed me a face shield and my wearing of the face shield did not stop the harassment from the VA Police over not wearing a mask.  During my conversations with Timothy Mikulski from the Patient Advocates Office after the last time, I was refused care illegally at the VA ER, I was told wearing a face shield is acceptable.  Thus, when I put the face shield on, I was expecting to be left alone.  Instead, I was demanded to either wear a mask or be arrested.  My third threat in less than 5-minutes for not wearing a mask, even though I now had the face shield properly worn for the same 5-minutes.

Eventually, I am arrested, I experience a seizure where I fell to the floor and injured my knee, then was hit repeatedly in the spine while being “patted down,” which continued to collapse my legs and increase my pain.  I was handcuffed to a bench in a holding cell where I bruised my right wrist because my seizures include my arms jerking and with one arm handcuffed to an immovable bench, I could not control my body and the handcuff was not allowing my involuntary movements increasing patient harm.  I have a bruise and scratches from the handcuff on my right wrist.

Here is the problem, the policy for wearing a mask does not have exclusions for those of us who cannot wear a mask.  Thus, wearing a mask creates more health problems, the potential for injury, and issues for the medical staff who are already overworked.  If a face shield is acceptable as a replacement for a mask, why was my wearing the face shield insufficient to closing the police issue?  If a face shield is not acceptable as a replacement for the mask, why is the patient advocates claiming this is acceptable?  If wearing a mask is so important, why was no one bothered by my not wearing a mask until the nosy employee called the Federal Police?

I sat in the bench seat beside the bookshelf in the ER.  Multiple officers, staff, and more walked past and no one was bothered, no one said anything, no one made any fuss over my not wearing a mask for three full hours while I was waiting in the ER.  Even when I interacted with the employee’s passing nobody made any comments.  This is a failure of policy, or it is the unfair harassment of a single person by overzealous police officers.

Let us talk about access to medical records.  The Federal Officers harassing me, sent one of their own to view my medical record for a statement from my PCP regarding my inability to wear a mask for health reasons.  I told the officers what they would find, “Records pertaining to my being diagnosed with shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.”  They claimed that since those records were from my time in Albuquerque, I was “blowing rainbows up their butts.”  Hence, even if my medical records had reported a message from my PCP, I would still have been in the wrong.

From my time as an employee, Medical Support Assistant, VA ER, Albuquerque, I know that the police do not have a reason to be surfing my medical records.  Yet, in the holding cell, I heard them discussing my medical records, my mental health diagnosis and cracking wise about details in my medical folder.  How did they get my medical records?  Why did they have possession of my medical records?  What is the purpose of the police having access to my personal medical files?

I freely admit, by the time the VA Police handcuffed me, my “cherub-like demeanor” had melted away.  When I am in extensive pain, I cannot think clearly, speak coherently, and my ability to suffer fools and liars is non-existent.  But this entire affair was brought about by a policy that does not make sense, a nosy employee who does not need to know my medical history and two overzealous lieutenants who need their ego’s clipped!

Another issue, why is my full SSN, DOB, and Full Name printed on the triage wrist bands?  Why are all VA ER patient’s data displayed in human-readable data on the wristbands?  This is a HIPPA and PII security issue that was supposed to have been corrected back in 2014.  Human readable data being bandied about places patients at greater risk for having their identity stolen.  This is especially true on an item regularly thrown away.  As someone who has followed the VA problems with protecting veterans, protecting data, and adhering to rules and regulations, I find this lapse highly questionable.

The following is requested:

  1. Remove the arrest and cancel the citations.
  2. Correct the policy.
  3. Train so the policy is properly applied, fairly communicated, and a standard is set. Removing individual adaptation and personal interpretation.
  4. Correct the PII on the wrist bands and other printed patient documents to protect the identity of the veterans. This is a simple fix of programming and your IT department should be able to complete this task easily.

Thank you for your prompt response in this regard.

Sincerely,

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury Ph.D./MBA

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Tiger Teams – A Potential Solution to VA Issues: An Open Letter to Secretary Wilkie

I-CareTo the Honorable Secretary Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

For almost a decade, I have read and studied the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from the position of patient, employee, concerned citizen, and now as an organizational psychologist.  During this time, I have read many Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigation reports, and yearned to be of fundamental assistance in improving the VA.  I have an idea with potential for your consideration, “Tiger Teams.”

In the US Navy, we used “Tiger Teams” as “flying squads” of people, dedicated to a specific task, and able to complete work quickly.  The teams included parts people, technicians, specialists, and carried the authority of competence and dedication to quickly fixing whatever had gone wrong during an evolution, an inspection, or even in regular operation.  It is my belief that if your office employed a “Tiger Team” approach for speedy response, your job in fixing core problems the VA is experiencing would be easier.  Please allow me to explain.

Tiger TeamThe VA-OIG recently released a report regarding deficiencies in nursing care and management in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Coatesville VA Medical Center, Pennsylvania.  The inspection team validated some complaints and were unable to validate all complaints because of poor complainant documentation.  Having a Tiger Team able to dispatch from your office, carrying your authority, would provide expert guidance in rectifying the situation, monitoring the CLC, and updating you with knowledge needed to answer the legislator’s questions regarding what is happening.  The VA-OIG found other issues in their investigation that were not covered under the scope of the investigation, leaving the VA-OIG in a difficult position.  Hence, another reason for a Tiger Team being created, to back stop and support the VA-OIG in correcting issues found outside their investigatory scope.

Fishbone DiagramFor a decade now, I have been reading how the VA-OIG makes recommendations, but where is the follow-up from the VA-OIG to determine if those recommendations are being followed and applied?  Too often there is no return and report feature built into the VA-OIG investigation, as these investigators just do not have the time.  Again, this is what a Tiger Team can be doing.  Taking action, training leaders, building a better VA, monitoring and reporting, building holistic solutions, and being an extension of your office on the front lines.  Essentially using the tools from your office to improve the operations locally, which builds trust between the patients and the care providers, building trust between the families and the VA, and delivering upon the Congressional mandate and VA Mission.

Another recent VA-OIG report also supports the need for a fast response Tiger Team.  Coordination of care and employee satisfaction concerns at the Community Living Center (CLC), Loch Raven VA Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In geographic terms, this incident is in your backyard.  While the VA-OIG inspection was rather inconclusive, and recommendations were made, it appears some things are working in this CLC and other things are not working as well as they should.  By using a Tiger Team as a flying squad, intermittent and unannounced inspections by the Tiger Team can aid in discovering more than the VA-OIG could investigate, monitoring the situation, and reporting on progress made in improving performance.

As an employee, too often the director of HAS would claim, “That problem is too hard to fix because it requires too many people to come together and agree on the solution.”  Or, “The solution is feasible, but not worth the effort to implement because it would require coordination.”  Getting the doctors and nurses talking to and working with administration is a leadership role, providing support to leaders is one of the best tools a Tiger Team possesses one authority is delegated.  The Tiger Team presents the data, presents different potential solutions, and the aids the leadership locally in implementation.  As an employee I never found a problem in the VA that could not be resolved with a little attention, getting people to work together, and opening lines of communication.  Thus, I know the VA can be fixed.

Root Cause AnalysisThe Tiger Teams need to be led by an organizational psychologist possessing a Ph.D. and a personal stake in seeing the VA improve.  The organizational psychologist can build a team of like-minded people to be on the flying squad, and these team members should be subject matter experts in VA policies, procedures, and methods of operation, and should change from time to time.  I have met many people from the VA who not only possess the passion, but are endowed with the knowledge of how to help the VA, and I would see the VA succeed.  Yet, I am concerned that the VA is not changing, not growing, and not developing the processes and procedures needed to survive, and this is damaging the VA, which leads to wasted money and dead veterans.

Why not have a flying squad for each VISN, who can meet to benchmark, compare notes, and best practices.  Who work from home and visit the local offices in the VISN, reporting directly to your office with a copy to the VISN leadership.  Whose job is to build the Tiger teams needed to oversee, provide expert support, and practical analysis.  The idea is to help you gather real time data, improve implementation of VA-OIG recommendations, and meet the demands of Congress.  If a Tiger Team, with the functioning Flying Squad, can save one VA-OIG inspection in each VISN, by improving that VISN, medical center, CLC, etc. before it becomes a major problem on the sSix O’clock News, then the Tiger Teams have paid for themselves.

All veterans know of the Phoenix VA Medical Center debacle, where veterans died while waiting for appointments.  I fully believe that had the VA Secretary had a Tiger Team in place, the root causes of that incident would have triggered the necessary flags to save lives and avoid or mitigate the catastrophe.  Flying squads are the Tiger Team in action, and action should be the keyword for every member of the team.  The mission of the Tiger Team should be to find and fix root causes, repair trust, and implement change needed to improve VA operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemeteries.

The VBA is especially vulnerable, and in need of outside resources to support change.  Recently the VBA was involved in another scandal involving improper processing of claims for veterans in hospital over 21-days, resulting in millions of dollars either overpaid or underpaid to the veterans.  Training, managerial oversight, and proper performance of tasks was reportedly the excuse the VBA used, again, to shirk responsibility.  Tiger Teams can provide the support needed to monitor for, and encourage the adoption of, rectifying measures and VA-OIG recommendations, not just at the VBA, but across the full VA spectrum of operations.

Please, consider implementing Tiger Teams, from your office, assigned to a specific VISN, possessing the authority delegated to run the needed analysis, build support in local offices, and iron out the inefficiencies that keep killing veterans, wasting money, and creating problems.  I firmly believe the VA can be saved and improved, built to become more flexible, while at the same time delivering on the promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

I-CareThank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Salisbury
Veteran/Organizational Psychologist

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Symptoms Not Cause – Shifting the Paradigm at the Department of Veterans Affairs

I-CareFor Memorial Day (2020), the National Cemetery, through the directive of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), restricted the placing of flags at several national cemeteries, upsetting the plans of Boy Scouts, and angering countless veterans, survivors, dependents, and extended families.  However, the intransigence of the VA on this matter is but a symptom of a larger problem.

ProblemsThe Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) recently released two additional reports on behavior unbecoming at the VA.  The first report concerns the delays in diagnosis and treatment in dialysis patients, as well as patient transport at the Fayetteville VA Medical Center in North Carolina.  The second is another death of a patient, as well as deficiencies in domiciliary safety and security at the Northeast Ohio Healthcare System in Cleveland.

The VA report from North Carolina includes significant patient issues, especially since two veterans died while in the care of the VA.  Significant issues are generally code words for incredibly lax processes, and procedures that are easily avoided, provided people care enough to do their jobs correctly, succinctly, and thoroughly.  Where patients are concerned a dead patient is pretty significant.  Two dead patients are beyond the comprehension of a reasonable person to not ask, “Who lost their jobs over these incidents?”

Patient A, has leukemia, and from the VA-OIG’s report we find the following responsible parties:

“… A primary care provider failed to act on Patient A’s abnormal laboratory results and pathologists’ recommendations for follow-up testing and hematology consultation. Community Care staff did not process a consult and schedule Patient A’s appointment.

Patient A died from a gastrointestinal bleed while waiting for transport to a hospital from a (VA Contracted) [long-term] care facility.  Patient A’s delays in care led to death in hospital, and the failure of a hospitalist to initiate emergency procedures contributed to the veteran’s passing.  Patient A’s death is a tragical farce of bureaucratic inaction, compounded by the same symptoms as that allowed for Memorial Day (2020) to come and go without the honored dead of America being remembered.  Symptoms not cause.

Patient B, was also in a (VA Contracted) [long-term] care facility, in need of transport back to the hospital, and the administrative staff’s delays had Patient B arrive at the hospital in cardiac failure, where the patient subsequently died.  In the case of both patient’s facility leaders did not initiate comprehensive analyses of events surrounding the patients’ deaths or related processes. But, this is excusable behavior at the VA due to frequent executive leadership changes impeding the resolution of systemic issues.  I have been covering the VA-OIG reports for the better part of a decade and this excuse is always an acceptable excuse for bureaucratic inaction.  Hence, the first question in this madness is to the VA-OIG and it needs to answer, “Why is this an allowable excuse?”  Don’t the people remaining know their positions sufficiently to carry on when the executive team is in flux?  Again, symptoms not cause.

The patient death in Northeast Ohio, started with the domiciliary, on a VA Contract care facility.  Essentially, the patient died because of methadone being provided without first gaining an electrocardiogram.  Oversight of the contracted domiciliary did not include accuracy checks on paperwork, but the VA-OIG found that for the most part, the contracted domiciliary was following VA Contracting guidelines.  From the report, no gross negligence led to the veterans passing, and for the most part risk analysis and other post mortem analysis were conducted properly.  Why is this case mentioned; symptoms not cause.

When I worked at the New Mexico VA Medical Center (NMVAMC) I diagnosed a problem and was told, repeatedly, to not mention the problem as the director would be furious.  The problem is bureaucratic inertia.  Bureaucratic inertia is commonly defined as, “the supposed inevitable tendency of bureaucratic organizations to perpetuate the established procedures and modes, even if they are counterproductive and/or diametrically opposed to established organizational goals.”  Except, the bureaucratic inertia I witnessed daily was not “supposedly inevitable,” it was a real and cogent variable in every single action from most of the employees.

I spent 12 months without proper access to systems, but the process to gain access was convoluted, unknown, ever-changing, and so twisted that unraveling the proper methods to complete the process and gain access was never corrected, and this was a major issue for patient care in an Emergency Department.  Why was the process so bad; bureaucratic inertia.  Obtaining information about the problem took two different assistant directors, two different directors, a senior leader, and the problem was identified that licensing requirements were the sticking point in the problem.

InertiaBureaucratic inertia is the cause of too many issues, problems, and dead veterans, at the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The symptoms include delays in administrative tasks that lead to patients dying for lack of transport to a hospital.  The symptoms include cost overrun on every construction project the VA commences.  The symptoms include abuse of employees, creating a revolving door in human resources where good people come in with enthusiasm, and leave with anger and contempt, generally at the insistence of a leader who refuses to change.  The symptoms include a bureaucrat making a decision that has no logical sense, costs too much and is never held accountable for the harm because the decision-maker can prove they met the byzantine labyrinth of rules, regulations, and policies of the VA.

Veterans are dying at the VA regularly because of bureaucratic inertia.  Hence, as bureaucratic inertia is the problem, and the symptoms are prevalent, it must needs be that a solution is found to eradicate bureaucratic inertia.  While not a full solution, the following will help curb most of the problem, and begin the process for the eradication of bureaucratic inertia.

  1. Give the VA-OIG power to enact change when cause and effect analysis shows a person is “the” problem in that chain of events. Right now, the office of inspector general has the power to make recommendations, that are generally, sometimes, potentially, considered, and possible remediations adopted, provided a different course of action is discovered.
  2. Give the executive committee, of which the head is Secretary Wilkie, legislative power to fire and hold people accountable for not doing the jobs they were hired, and vetted at $110,000+ per employee, to perform. Background checks on new employees cost the taxpayer $110,000+, and the revolving door in human resources is unacceptable.  But worse is when the leaders refuse to perform their jobs and remain employed.
  3. Implement ISO as a quality control system where processes, procedures, and policies are written down. The ability for management to change the rules on a whim costs money, time, patient confidence, trust in leadership and organization, and is a nuisance that permeates the VA absolutely.  The lack of written policies and procedures is the second most common excuse for bureaucratic inertia.  The first being, the ability to blame changing leadership for dead patients!
  4. Eliminate labor union protection. Government employees have negotiated plentiful benefits, conditions, and pay without union representation and the ability for the union to get criminal complaints dropped, and worthless people their jobs back is an ultimate disgrace upon the Magna Charta of the United States of America generally, and upon the seal of the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically.

Leadership CartoonSecretary Wilkie, until you can overcome the bureaucratic inertia prevalent in the ranks of the leadership between the front-line veteran facing employee and your office, lasting change remains improbable.  Real people are dying from bureaucratic inertia.  Real veterans are spending their entire lives in the appeal process for benefits and dying without proper treatment.  Real families are being torn asunder from the stress of untreated veterans because the bureaucratic inertia cannot be overcome from the outside.  I know you need legislative assistance to enact real change and improve the VA.  By way of petition, I write this missive to the American citizen asking for your help in providing Sec. Wilkie the tools he needs to fix the VA.

The VA can be fixed, but the solution will require fundamental change.

Change is possible with proper legislative support!

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

As the Department of Veterans Affairs Goes, So Does America – A Warning!

I-CareWould the honorable elected representatives please answer the following question: “Are the veterans of America’s armed services the next ‘Tuskegee Syphilis Study?’”

While we await this answer, here is why the question is raised.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) just posted their investigation results of the Critical Care Unit Staffing and Quality of Care Deficiencies at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center in Augusta, Georgia, and the results remind me of the game musical chairs and the disaster caused by the Tuskegee Syphilis StudyTuskegee Syphilis StudyMusical chairs because the VA-OIG was unable to ascertain direct harm because of record screw-ups, gross mismanagement, and a detestable and despicable perception of the patient.  The Tuskegee Syphilis Study because real harm to real people was caused, and the leadership did not care enough to fix the problems without an official investigation.

More on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study – History can be viewed in the link.

The VA-OIG report begins with the following:

“Critical Care Unit Staffing and Quality of Care Deficiencies at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Augusta, Georgia discusses significant patient safety issues including events related to noncompliance with pressure injury policy, intensive care unit cardiac monitoring, and sitter availability for high-risk patients.”

Pressure Injuries
Bedsores/Pressure Injury Progression

But concludes with the following:

“Publication is warranted so that other facility leaders and healthcare practitioners can be made aware of OIG-identified problems applicable to their own facility.”

Leading me to ask, of the VA-OIG, is this warning to proactively fix, or retroactively hide the nefariousness of poor management and dead patients?

Pressure injuries are exceedingly painful, can become deadly very quickly, and leave scarring and pain.  Pressure injuries are the nice term for bed sores, which are caused by critically ill patients who are already unable to move and circulate blood properly to the skin.  Thus, the tissue dies, a sore develops, then the skin breaks, and by this time that patient who is already in trouble, is now in danger of death.

Pressure Injuries - Example
Bedsore

Bedsores, pressure injuries, are serious conditions; yet, the Charlie Norwood VAMC has record-keeping problems, staffing issues, and without outside impetus refrained from fixing the problems.  All reminiscent of the “Tuskegee Syphilis Study.”

Hence the articles originating question, “Are the US Military Veterans the next ‘Tuskegee Syphilis Study?’”

If so, I refuse, and those leaders who think this conduct is allowable need to be held personally responsible for the harm they are causing.  If the answer is no, why are so many VA-OIG reports of leadership and management’s nefarious deeds being allowed until the VA-OIG comes knocking?  Even after the VA-OIG investigates, is anything being done?  Are people being held accountable?  The leadership issues are repeated, and while those repeats might not be an exact match from VAMC to VAMC, the leadership problems are real, glaring, and real people are dying!

America was shocked and angry when the whistle and plug were finally pulled on the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, and rightfully so.

Tuskegee-Patient
Syphilis wounds

Yet, it appears that the VA learned nothing from the history of Tuskegee except to keep playing musical chairs on responsibility, paperwork, and hiding the evidence from accountability.

America, your medical system, which before President Obama was the best in the world, is now on the same train of failure the VA Medical System is on.  Are you paying attention to the harm caused to veterans?  Do you want the same?  I do not!

America, to correct the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs, and to reduce the costs to the taxpayers, as well as beginning to correct the damage done to your health care, the following is needed immediately.

  1. Legislation needs to be written and passed repealing ObamaCare.  Every single mandate, every single costly item, and sunder forever this socialism experiment.  The answers to the rising costs of medical care, including dental and vision, are not to be found in increasing the size of an already bloated government.
  2. Legislation needs urgent action to provide Secretary Wilkie the powers of any other CEO to clean the Department of Veterans Affairs. The leadership between the veteran facing employee and the Secretary’s office needs to be culled, and the only way to do this is through legislation.
  3. Demand accountability. The VA-OIG reports these issues constantly, the findings need to be on the news and be topics of conversation.  No longer should a bureaucrat be able to shift responsibility, harm patients, and keep their comfortable jobs and benefits.  Real harm to real people is being caused by the medical system paid for by your tax dollars, demand more!

Understand the following principle, know it well, and let us begin processing the reversal of this trend.  Charles Reich (1964) wrote a Yale Law Journal article describing “New Property.”  The new property Reich discusses is you and me, and how we are used by bureaucrats like property to be abused, harmed, and mistreated, all through the largess of the government we pay for.  Like a wheelbarrow or a hammer, we are the fodder upon which the bureaucrat steals money from one person to pay another person through government benefits, all to the enrichment and personal satisfaction of the bureaucrat.

Government Largess 2The actions of the nameless and faceless bureaucrat are unconstitutional, but allowed in the name of “government action.”  Every time you hear the government is acting on your behalf, it means that the power of the people has been stolen, and will be doled back to the taxpayer in infinitesimal amounts, while the bureaucrat keeps getting fatter.  Think Reich (1964) is wrong, here are some examples.

  • The government went to war against poverty, the poor have become poorer, poverty’s blight has spread, but the government offices “fighting” poverty are fat with people and taxpayer dollars.
  • The government went to war against drugs, the only winner so far has been the government.  The drug infestation has only gotten worse, and now states have begun selling harmful and illicit drugs for the tax money.
  • The government got into student loans, to “make the lending field fairer.” Students were harmed, colleges and universities tripled, or more, their tuitions, and students are saddled with increasing levels of debt.  But, the government officers in charge are living high on the debt and interest.
  • The government allowed labor unions to represent government workers, now the taxpayer is abused, treated like scum, taxes went up, but responsibility and accountability under the “Rule of law,” that all citizens are expected to live by, have all but disappeared for government workers.  Ever tried getting adjudication or remediation from a government worker?Government Largess 4
  • The government and some private citizens decided black health needed improvement. Planned Parenthood and the Tuskegee Syphilis Study are but two of the disasters that hit the black communities and have destroyed their community’s legacy, honor, and power, all for government largess, and the lining of private pockets.

Choose to stop being the property of the government; the US Constitution declares the government works for us, and we control them, not the other way around!

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

 

Relieve the Suffering – I-CARE: Shifting the VA Paradigms

I-CareDuring my tenure as a medical support assistant (MSA) in the emergency room of the Albuquerque, NM VA Hospital, I took a class being offered on the new direction the VA customer service was going to embody called I-CARE.  I-CARE became my objective, as a customer service professional. As a dual-service/service-connected disabled veteran, I saw the abuses prevalent in the VA Hospital and wanted to change myself and provide mentoring to my co-workers in adapting I-CARE principles into their daily efforts.  Unfortunately, because of labor union interference, leadership failures, and supervisor efforts to counter I-CARE implementation, my efforts were discounted, denigrated, and derided until I was discharged from VA employment.  But, I-CARE remains a part of my commitment, my professional outlook, and personal commitment to customer service was forever changed by implementing the principles of I-CARE.

Leadership CartoonI write harshly about the crimes of the VA because I-CARE and deeply desire to see the VA bureaucracy changed, to witness the adoption of I-CARE into the daily efforts of every VA employee, and to see the VA leadership teams develop policies and procedures that will benefit the veterans, and relieve the suffering of veterans, their spouses and children, and live the VA mission of bearing up those who have born the pains of battle.

ProblemsI have seen veterans blithely refused prompt care because of the frequency that veteran had been seen, the lifestyle choices of that veteran, or simply because a charge nurse or doctor did not like the politics of the veteran as displayed by their clothing.  I have seen illegal actions taken to turn people away from care at a VA Hospital Emergency room by VA Police officers, charge nurses, and other nursing staff, and been powerless to stop these crimes because the hospital leadership refused to act, and became hostile to the employee’s reporting the problems.  I have witnessed leaders delete emails reporting problems as those emails were proof and evidence of crimes cannot be allowed to remain at the VA.  I-CARE about these issues; I report these problems, but because I-CARE I also provide solutions, easy fixes that could be applied and adapted for the relief of suffering and reduction of risk to the hospital.  My reports all were ignored while an employee, from the team leader to the director of Hospital Administration Services (HAS), to the hospital director’s suite, all sorts of deaf ears and crickets were in attendance.  I reported issues to the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) which is a geographic group of VA Medical Centers under common leadership; also, to no avail, crickets, and deaf ears.

I-CareYet, I-CARE; still, I-CARE drives me and motivates me to see change occur at the VA.  To right the wrongs, and rebuild the VA.  One of my early leaders at the NM VA Hospital said something very prescient, “If a civilian hospital did half-the things the VA Hospitals get away with, they (the civilian hospital) would have been shut down and the leaders imprisoned.”  Having witnessed a year of crimes personally, seeing the inability for change to occur due to leadership, watching talent wasted, and monitoring the revolving door of employees in the VA, I concur with that statement.  The leader who spoke had 25-years of civilian hospital administration experience, before coming to the VA, and the VA would only hire this well-educated, highly experienced person as a GS-7, an entry-level employee.

Image - Eagle & FlagIn the coming days and months, I will continue to write about the VA.  Using personal experience, patient experiences related to or personally witnessed, and the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General investigation reports, as the reasons for the solutions I propose.  I-CARE, enough to stand as a witness that the VA in its current form cannot, and should not, be allowed to thrive any longer.  Change must come to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), including to the Veterans Health Administration (VHA; hospitals and clinics), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA; compensation and pension claims), and the National Cemeteries.  Thus, I witness my commitment to I-CARE and the VA.

© Copyright 2020 – 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 pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Department of Veterans Affairs – Xray Follies – Shifting the Paradigms

I-CareDuring the COVID-19 pandemic, I have been trying to give the benefit of the doubt to the VA; I was wrong to extend this kindness.  The Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was investigated by the Department of Veterans Affairs-Office of the Inspector General (VA-OIG) due to reports of leadership failure and manipulation of radiology reports.  The VA-OIG found gross errors in treatment delays, misleading reporting in records, and the leadership both knew and were tolerating this behavior.  From the report, we find that the VA-OIG, “… found evidence of manipulation and vulnerability of the electronic health record and mismanagement of the Medical Imaging Service. Facility leaders failed to successfully manage or address the impact of interpersonal conflicts within the Medical Imaging Service that included intimidation of staff radiologists.

Sadly, I am not surprised at the findings in this investigation; for a considerable time now, the VA has suffered from leadership irregularities, poor leadership, mismanagement, and over management in the majority of the local hospitals.  This situation remains highly frustrating to the veterans cursed with needing the VA’s services, and this madness must cease!  If it were not for another VA-OIG report declaring follies and leadership failure specifically in the radiological department, the dire situation would not have been so egregious.

The VA-OIG began their report of the VA Illiana Health Care System in Danville, Illinois, stating the following:

This report is compelling because it discusses significant patient safety issues including a radiologist’s error rate, the facility’s radiology quality assurance program, and a recommendation to the Under Secretary for Health regarding adopting national radiology guidelines.”

The VA-OIG inspection began due to radiological concerns and a high error rate.  The VA-OIG discovered such a poor error rate, a second investigation was required to expand upon the issues found in the first investigation.  A radiologist had an incredibly high error rate, and the facility leaders did nothing.  Does this not initiate a leadership cleaning of the house to remove the rot and begin to build community trust; if not, why?

To be clear, both the local hospital leaders and the Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) leaders are at fault for poor leadership decisions.  From the VA-OIG report, we find, “Veterans Integrated Service Network and facility leaders failed to conduct a thorough and impartial review related to the OIG request to evaluate the original allegations.”  Leading to another question, actually repeated now for multiple years, why are the local leaders, who created the problems, “conducting a review” during the VA-OIG investigation?  Isn’t this akin to placing a bank robber in charge of the criminal investigation into the bank robbery?

X-RayThe primary care doctor, emergency room doctors, and more all depend upon the radiologist report as the VA doctors no longer read x-rays, MRI’s, CT Scans, due to the complexity of the imaging.  Thus, any error in the radiological report causes significant patient care delays, harm, or death.  Yet, at two geographically separate VISN’s and Hospitals, the VA-OIG is reporting poor QA and high error rates in radiological reporting.  Compounded by leadership failure at both the local hospital and the VISN level.  The VA-OIG reports do not relate that anyone was fired, forced to change jobs, or other remedial actions taken beyond making “suggestions” for improvement at the federal, VISN, and local hospital levels.  What significantly increases the problem, these same radiological records form the backbone of the compensation and pension decisions.  Downstream issues were not in the scope of either radiological investigation. Still, every error in the VA bureaucracy has a significant downstream impact that always seems to be forgotten or overlooked.

Secretary Wilkie, lacking a downstream review from the VA-OIG investigations, places patients at significant risk and incredible harm.  Consider the following; the VA-OIG reported last year (2019) that radiological reports on spinal problems were not adjudicated correctly in compensation and pension claims from 2002-2006 roughly.  No downstream review occurred, and thousands of veterans’ claims are locked in the appeals process for decisions that should have triggered an automatic analysis and new radiological reports ordered immediately upon the conclusion of the VA-OIG’s investigation.  Where is the culpability and responsibility to the veterans harmed and suffering all because the VA did not do their collective job?

Problems

Now, at least two VA facilities are hindered by radiological errors and poor leadership at the hospital and VISN level.  Thus, the veterans need to know, can any radiological reporting be trusted with this blemish on the VA record?  Quality assurance (QA) is the backbone of the radiological imaging and reporting processes to assure the patient that proper diagnosing is happening.  Yet, QA is the problem in two different VA-OIG investigations of the radiological departments, and how many other VA Medical Centers have the same problem but have not been caught?  Where is the accountability for preventing these issues in other VA Medical Centers?

Here are five suggestions for rebuilding the reputation in the community, and in the VA Health Care System (VHA):

  1. Downstream investigations are critical and need initiation upon discovery by the VA-OIG of wrongdoing. Downstream investigating includes compensation and pension decisions, patient medical record discovery, and fixing the problems in the healthcare record.  Build an internal team of various professionals who can investigate and initiate these reviews.  Doing so will build trust, save millions of dollars in wrongly adjudicated compensation and pension claims, and saves lives in the VHA.
  2. Since the leadership failures are so common, so prevalent, and creating such an incredible talent drain, all while risking patient health, it is time for the VA to begin growing leaders through a VA University program. Do not allow leadership currently working for the VA to apply without good reasons; allow open applications where students can learn, can graduate with a degree, and can work in VA leadership roles as they gain a formal education.
  3. Begin weeding the leadership for the most disingenuous, detestable, and despicable leaders, replacing them with people who have never worked for the VA but are capable and willing from other industries. The VA needs new ideas, new leaders, and new methods if they are to fix the current problems.
  4. Put teeth into the VA-OIG investigations. These problems as so egregious and widespread that the VA-OIG needs tools to demand compliance and insist upon remediation.  In three VA Medical Centers in Albuquerque, NM., Salt Lake City, UT., and a VA Clinic in Ashtabula, OH., I have heard the following, or something similar, from employees regarding VA-OIG investigations, “Don’t worry.”  Never again should any VA Employee not worry about being investigated by the VA-OIG.
  5. ISO9001Start using an ISO 9001 for healthcare as a QA program where processes and procedures are written down and followed. QA should be a program that fits holistically and improves people.  Quality assurance should be a constant learning evaluation that never ends.  Yet, somehow the VA, including the VBA, the VHA, and the National Cemeteries, always seem to not have a quality program.  Implement the ISO 9001 one VA Medical Center at a time until a whole VISN is working under the ISO program.  This allows the VA to learn and use these learning moments to build anew that which has fallen into disrepute.

Leadership CartoonSecretary Wilkie, some will suggest these ideas are expensive, but how expensive has the revolving door in human resources been for talent drain?  How costly has failed training programs been?  How expensive is the appeals process to compensation and pension decisions both in green and blue money?  The short answer, too bloody expensive.  Thus, it is time to begin looking for innovative ideas, using new ideas, employing new talent, and demanding higher returns for the taxpayer investment in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

©Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

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The author has used images in the Public Domain and holds no copyright or intellectual property rights to the images used.

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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.