It IS ALL About Leadership – More Shameful VA Chronicles

I-CareRecently, guardianships have been in the news, and I doubt this story will make the lawyers very happy.  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports that an Albuquerque couple has been sentenced for defrauding guardians, which included veterans.  The criminal report claims:

Susan Harris acted as president and was the 95-percent owner of Ayudando, while Moore acted as chief financial officer and was a five-percent owner. They engaged in a pattern of criminal conduct from November 2006 to July 2017 that included unlawfully transferring money from client accounts to a comingled account without any client-based justification.  They wrote and endorsed numerous checks, often of more than $10,000, from these comingled accounts to themselves, family members, cash, and other parties where payment would benefit their families.”

For the better part of 11 years, this couple has spent money not their own, abused their charges, and defrauded vulnerable clientele.  While the federal attorneys and investigators crow about catching this couple and ending this situation; what about all the rest of the guardianships where abuse is occurring?  I have read horrific stories about victims of guardianship abuse and hope more will be done on this topic very shortly!VA 3

For 11 years, where were the VA and the Social Security Administration?  Where were the local hospital leadership, social workers, and other federal employees who had to have known something fishy was going on?  Where are these Federal Employees now?  Where are the politicians scrutinizing this incident to ensure that protection for vulnerable citizens never happens again through legal guardianships?

Now traveling to Eastern Oklahoma VAHCS in Muskogee where an audiologist provided poor care and billed for unrendered services.  Pay close attention to the VA-OIG report; the leadership failures on this report alone are voluminous and unforgivable!

A facility fact-finding review revealed the audiologist provided poor care to eight of 43 patients reviewed, including misinforming patients who needed hearing aids that hearing aids were not needed. Although the audiology leaders reported the fact-finding results to the OIG, they failed to evaluate whether patients needed clinical follow-up; determine whether additional patients were affected by the audiologist’s poor care; evaluate whether clinical disclosures were required for the affected patients; and communicate the fact-finding results to the Facility Director, who was, therefore, unable to initiate the process to determine the necessity of a large scale disclosure. The instances of poor care were also not reported to the Patient Safety Manager, who was, as a result, unable to assess the adverse events to determine if patient safety interventions were indicated. The VA-OIG also found that performance monitoring of facility audiologists was not conducted as required. Annual competency assessments and annual performance appraisals were not consistently completed and did not contain adequate performance standards. Audiology leaders failed to consider whether the audiologist’s actions warranted a report to the state licensing board due to a lack of understanding of the requirements for reporting and, therefore, the Facility Director was not informed of the need to initiate a state licensing board review” [emphasis mine].

Will, someone please tell me, were the audiology leaders who failed to perform their jobs removed from Federal Employment?  What about the audiologists causing the problems?  Are they removed from Federal Employment?  Were their licensing practices curbed to protect other populations of patients?  The leadership failures here read like a Steven King horror story but do not have the satisfaction of finishing the story.VA 3

Yet, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will continue to market that they are “defining quality in healthcare.”  The jokes write themselves but cannot be fired from Federal Employment!  Politicians, why can these jokers not be fired from Federal employment for such egregious abuse of their positions and failures to do their jobs?

I-CareTraveling further to North Carolina, we find that the perpetrator of this fraud has pled guilty, but again responsibility, accountability, and correction of the VA is being skirted.

John Paul Cook, 57, of Alexander, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to defrauding the VA. After enlisting in the Army in 1985, Cook sustained an accidental injury and complained the injury worsened a preexisting eye condition. In 1987, Cook was discharged, and he began receiving benefits that would increase over the next 30 years due to Cook’s repeated false claims of increased visual impairment and unemployability. In 2005, the VA declared Cook legally blind, and he began receiving disability-based compensation at the maximum rate despite repeatedly passing vision screening tests to obtain or renew his driver’s license and purchasing vehicles that he routinely drove.”

1987 to 2020, we will be generous in counting the years here; regardless, we are looking at 30+ years this fraud continued.  Where were the verification protocols?  I have had to produce a valid driver’s license at the VA to obtain and keep current my VA identification card.  How did this fraud go on for so long?  What is the VA doing to stop, or at least hinder, those who would defraud the government before the problem becomes 10 years old, let alone 30?!?!  I cannot fathom how this fraud went on for so long without a routine checkup, a routine exam, a follow-up exam, etc.VA 3

Going north from South Carolina, we find more fraud, this time in New Jersey, where a man did not report his mother had deceased and continued to claim her benefits for a total of over $200K.

Melvin Greenspan, 72, of Perrineville, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to defrauding VA of over $200,000 in survivor’s pension benefits. After the death of his mother in 2006, who had received survivor’s pension due to his father’s prior military service, Greenspan failed to notify the VA about his mother’s death and made withdrawals of the benefits through 2018.”

Where was the leadership?  Where are the leaders now?  Another fraud case, older than a decade, and still the VA cannot be held accountable for facilitating the fraud.  I am stunned!  How did this one continue for so long?  Doesn’t the VA check local newspapers, the Social Security Administration, other Federal Agencies?  Since the culprit was not held on defrauding SSA, one can only presume the mother’s death was reported there.  Why did the VA not get notified to ask the family questions?VA 3

On the topic of guardians and leadership, the following story makes me angry!  However, I will withhold further elaboration since those accused remain innocent until proven guilty by a trial of their peers.

Johnny Ray Gasca, 51, was arrested for allegedly abducting a 68-year-old woman with dementia from the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center in California. A witness recognized Gasca and reported he might have previously taken money from the woman’s bank and retirement accounts. Following his arrest, Gasca described the victim as his girlfriend and told agents that they stopped at a bank where the victim made a $15,000 withdrawal after leaving the medical center.”

In the first report from the VA-OIG discussed, we found guardianship rules being violated to the Nth degree.  In this story, we have no information of an assigned guardian, and we have a dementia patient being abused.  The dementia patient was traveling with a friend; who is the legal guardian for a dementia patient?  Where are the family or friends legally bonded to render aid for this patient and monitor finances to protect them from abuse?  How can the VA operate one way in one locale and 180-degrees differently in another locale and the leadership not held accountable?VA 3

Speaking of missing leadership, the following VA-OIG report is a beauty!  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has a program to help homeless veterans, where contractors are used, and the VHA uses case management documentation to verify the veteran is receiving the assistance being paid for, the program is called the contracted residential services (CRS) program.

The VA-OIG found facility staff did not consistently document case management and monitor the progress of veterans in the program.  Further, four of the 14 CRS contracts reviewed had performance deficiencies, with one resulting in improper payments of $592,000. These deficiencies may affect the health and safety of veterans living in transitional settings. Moreover, VA lacks assurance that veterans received required services. There were also contract administration problems in 13 of 14 reviewed contracts. Contracting officers did not always properly delegate responsibilities to staff functioning as contracting officer’s representatives. Further, one facility’s representative did not ensure contractors provided meals or the means to purchase them, as required, and another lacked invoice supporting documentation for approval. The VA-OIG audit team estimated that 107 of 119 contracts had monitoring and administration deficiencies. Furthermore, the team estimated that VHA made $35.3 million in improper payments, of which approximately $21.6 million was technically improper because the individuals authorizing payment were not delegated authority to serve as contracting officer’s representatives.”

If your accomplishment rate in your employment was 48%, would you retain your job for very long?  If 90% of your documentation claiming how well you do your job was missing or fabricated, how long would you maintain employment?  If you delegated people to complete your work who were unauthorized and you were contractually culpable, how long do you think you would stay out of prison?  How long would your boss stay out of jail?  How long would your company exist?  Now, answer me this riddler, why does the government get a pass on these questions?VA 3

Finally, we have Deputy Inspector General David Case’s testimony regarding the failure of VA leadership where the implementation of a new electronic health record (EHR) is being stalled.  If you care, the VA leadership and the VHA leadership are failing the EHR initiative.  Not that this was not expected, and not that this is not surprising, the IT and IS departments of the VA and VHA are so hopelessly lost it amazes me the VA is even using computers and not written records!  But, do not take my word for it, Case himself claims,

“Detailed in this statement, we have repeatedly found unreliable and incomplete estimates for upgrades and costs, inadequate reporting affecting transparency to Congress, and stove-piped governance with decision making that does not appropriately engage Veterans Health Administration (VHA) personnel who are the end-users of the new EHR system.”VA 3

Knowledge Check!Get that; the leadership failures are obstructing Congress and hindering the EHR progress!  What can we conclude from this batch of VA-OIG reports:

        1. The VA, VHA, VBA, and National Cemetery leadership are actively missing, like the Democrats from the Texas Legislature.
        2. If the leaders are present, the leaders are the problems in progressing.
        3. The leaders have created a system where fraud and abuse of the veterans and taxpayers can be achieved with ease.
        4. Nobody in the US House of Representatives or US Senate scrutinizes the legislative branch sufficiently to effect changes.
        5. When in doubt about where your leaders fall, check to see if they are in their offices. Oh, wait, that won’t help, their offices have locks on the doors!

If this is how the VA defines quality healthcare. In that case, the veterans are screwed, the taxpayer is sunk, and the leaders will enjoy their magnanimous federally approved retirement packages, ad nauseam ad infinitum!

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

 

Glory and Gore go Hand in Hand – Stating the Obvious

Bait & SwitchLorde, from the “Pure Heroine” album, sings the song “Glory and Gore.”  From which both this title and the principle for this article originated.  The obvious is stated many times a day, oftentimes in an ironic accident, and today was no exception.  The headlines on several stories help prove this point and highlight some serious problems facing America.

From The Daily Signal, we find our first instance of stating the obvious when Lindsey Burke announces that “Unions are doubling down on inserting critical race theory (CRT) into education.”  Of course, the labor unions of teacher associations would be doubling- and tripling- down on applying political pressure to advance America, destroying malarkey for K-12 Educators.  Show a single instance when a Marxist labor union has ever done anything to support America, and I will show you the inner workings of liars, thieves, and cheats who will tell a thousand truths to convince you a lie is a truth.

Exclamation MarkCRT is dangerous, it is a lie thought up by academics, and the only people who will benefit from CRT are liars, thieves, cheats, and politicians.  Tell me, of all the people in history who have been enslaved, forced into indentured servitude, harassed, belittled, and betrayed by a different society, why are American Black populations the only ones ever targeted for pampering and coddling?  When you answer this question, you will discover that this population is being treated this way by racist antagonists who know they can rely upon this population for agitation, anger, and terrorism without thought, concern, and care about the consequences.  Why; because they have been intentionally groomed and carefully taught to act in this manner for the political ambitions of the same people pushing CRT.

Ever notice how President Biden and Hillary Clinton only talk at the American Black Populations, and even then only address the leaders of groups dedicated to rousing the population’s emotions, and not the population themselves?  When was President Biden ever in Harlem for a political rally?  When was Hillary ever in Compton, Philly, or Chicago?  What about a visit to Atlanta for a political rally down by the riverside?  The politicians talk to the NAACP and the Black Caucus, who then speak to the religious leaders and social justice minions. They talk to the local neighborhoods, reflecting the cowardice and true colors of the politicians as race agitators and race hustlers, not interested in the population unless it is election time.  What is CRT; trouble!

Theres moreThe Daily Signal also carried a story authored by Hans von Spakovsky, who declared that a former Justice Department lawyer testified that lawyers abuse their power at the Department of Justice.  What a revelation; lawyers were acting unethically, immorally, and illegally for personal gain in government employment.  Color me shocked!  Ever wonder why lawyers and attorneys have the most jokes written about them of any other profession; I never have!  Worse, I cannot believe how many can get elected!

Under the heading of stating the obvious, and how you cannot color me shocked, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to blame inadequate training as the go-to excuse when the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) comes investigating.  In the almost two decades I have been chronicling poor behavior at the VA, VBA, VHA, and National Cemeteries, the number one most often cited excuse for failure is “poor or inadequate training.”  As a point of reference, this lack of training drove my desire to work in training at the VA to improve the training delivered.

Raymmond G. MurphyAs an adult educator with more than 20 years in distance learning and classroom training, I thought I would be a shoo-in for the positions.  Nope, I had not served in pay grades lower to “learn the VA.”  Even though I had more education and experience, was Schedule A, and more skilled than any other candidate, I was deemed not qualified, and internal people filled the open roles.  How do I know these facts, I asked those hired, and they were glad to relate their stories, experience, and time served in the VA to get into a plushy training position where they were grossly inadequate.  Only after leaving was the other reason revealed, the HR Director at the Albuquerque VAMC claimed too many veterans were in employment at the VA and refused to hire a single veteran while she directed the HR department.

Do the VA Leaders ever think that this is the problem? Only the worst of the worst can survive the mental depravity and mind-numbing bureaucracy at the VA to obtain promotion into higher leadership positions.  Worse, those who achieve these positions have agendas, lists of enemies to crush, and power empires to build, so they are never interested in doing the job!

GearsThe result, designed incompetence is bred, excuses that could not hold reality become the accepted verbiage to deflect responsibility and accountability, and if all else fails, make sure your union dues are paid, and the union will defend your pension, your job, and your benefits.  Then you can lie, cheat, steal, and terrorize without prejudice and escape without any problems.

If you ever think that something is too far-fetched to believe, the VA will prove you wrong.  The VA-OIG continues to inspect five VAMC’s for inadequate and improper processes, procedures, and leadership where financial controls and payments to third-party or affiliated non-profit corporations are concerned.  In 2021, two additional VAMC’s have failed sufficiently to make the eternally under investigation list, Albuquerque, NM and Palo Alto, CA.  The original five are Boise, ID., Boston, MA., Cincinnati, OH., Nashville, TN., and San Francisco, CA.

The Albuquerque and Palo Alto medical centers made about $17.9 million in improper payments to affiliated non-profit corporations. The reason for improper payments was the same for all seven VA medical centers reviewed. Specifically, procedures for approving invoices did not satisfy VA policy requirements because they did not require verification that the services were provided. The audit team also noted an absence of required periodic reviews by VA supervisors of approved invoices at all seven medical centers.”

Now, here’s the other side of the coin, the internal controls at both the VA and the non-profits did not identify that their problems were internal or even an issue.  When I have worked in finance, the rule is, “no evidence, no payment!”  When the non-profit I volunteered at failed an audit with 27-pages of audit inconsistencies, I was called in and charged with fixing the problems.  Of those 27-pages of audit findings, 26 pages were for payments where documentation was missing.  Four months later, a follow-up inspection cleared all 27-pages.  Yet, no evidence continues to be the single most glaring problem at seven separate VAMC’s, and nothing has changed since this issue first reared its head in FY 2017-2018.  The VA-OIG has collected reports beginning in Boston, MA VA_OIG report number 18-00711-211, published 02 December 2019, where more than 3700 payments totaling more than $23 Million were made without evidence proving services rendered.Apathy

From the VA-OIG Report:

Of the estimated $1.6 million overpayment, about $1.5 million paid to the Boston non-profit was included in the total $35.7 million improper payments due to lack of evidence that services were received. The entire $1.6 million overpayment was for unallowable or prohibited reimbursements to the non-profit.”

The OIG previously reported a total of about $35.7 million improper payments to five affiliated non-profit corporations as shown in this report.”

VA 3Is it too obvious to declare the leadership in charge at both the non-profits and the VA needs immediate removal, transparent audits conducted, and those leaders held accountable for the money that has been lost?  Recently an author claimed the VA is more of a crime syndicate than the mob.  After reading that two additional VAMC’s have failed gloriously to prove services rendered for payments made, I can agree with this sentiment!

Our final entry today originates, unsurprisingly, with the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and a VA-OIG inspection where 88% of the claims processed involved lengthy delays in making decisions.  Tell me, if you had an 88% failure rate at your job, how long would you keep your job?  How long would it be before your bosses were shown the door, the company shuttered, and investigated for fraud?  Now, why are government employees treated differently than private-sector employees?  The inexcusable delays have led to more than $232 Million in questionable payments projected for the next two years, while the VBA is “encouraged” to fix the delay problems and “catch up.”

Knowledge Check!For the record, stating the obvious, the entire US Government is sick.  The legislative branch keeps abdicating responsibility to the judicial and executive branches. Bureaucrats and bureaucracy have overcome common sense. The whole process has been rigged to keep the dregs of society in power while the taxpayer suffers.  Let us, the owners of representative governments, remind those supposed to be in charge that they have cause to fear the electorate.  Politicians should fear the ballot box, and they should fear having the electorate hold them personally accountable for the mess they have perpetrated.

© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Weep America! – The VA Leadership is Becoming Worse! – Part 3

I-CareIn 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.”VA 3

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.”VA 3

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.”Angry Grizzly Bear

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.”VA 3

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].VA 3

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!

Gravy Train 2What 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?

Plato 2Adding 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.”VA 3

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.Apathy

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!VA 3

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.

Knowledge Check!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
All Rights Reserved
The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Weep America! – The VA Leadership is Becoming Worse! – Part 1

Angry Wet ChickenThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has really outdone themselves this week.  I am used to being ashamed of what passes for leadership and administrators at the VA, but this week, they have surpassed themselves.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) filled my inbox with seven investigations results, and the reports of leadership failure should leave every American weeping and madder than wet chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids!

  • A Hope Mills, North Carolina man, Daniel Bruce Ross, was sentenced today to 24 months in prison for conspiring to accept bribe payments in exchange for the performance of official acts while working as a federal government employee. Ross previously pled guilty to the charge.  He was also ordered to pay $21,520.00 in restitution.”

Accepting bribes, shameful misconduct, and while I certainly agree with the need for punishment, why does this sentence appear light?  Did the bribe recipient make a deal?  If so, as Paul Harvey would say, “Where is the rest of the story?”

VA 3The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), had their quality assurance program inspected, and the results, oh these results… the VBA administrators should be fired!  There are no excuses sufficiently valid to hide this behavior!

  • To ensure claims decisions are accurate and consistent so veterans receive the benefits to which they are entitled, VBA established a multifaceted quality assurance program. The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reviewed the quality assurance program and identified a systemic weakness in oversight and accountability… The VA-OIG found that while VBA’s quality assurance program routinely identified claims-processing deficiencies and communicated results to internal and external stakeholders, the Office of Field Operations did not ensure that regional office employees took adequate corrective actions to address the deficiencies identified” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Did you catch that, the leadership who set up the quality assurance program, built into the program a loophole to allow them to not act upon the deficiencies discovered.  Talk about designed incompetence, ineptitude, and outright fallacious behavior!  When a bad decision is made by the VBA, especially due to poor quality assurance, the veteran is out time, money, and resources to gather “new and material evidence” to ask the VBA to review their original decision!  Never are the VBA employees who cost the veteran, ever held accountable, responsible, or made to suffer in kind for their atrocious behavior, and I want my elected representatives to start asking why!

VA SealThe failures of the quality assurance team are not new, 22 July 2020, the VA-OIG found:

    1. …QRT specialists did not identify a significant number of claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Based on a statistical sample, the OIG estimated that 9,900 of the 28,400 quality reviews (35 percent) completed during the review period contained missed claims-processing errors that should have been identified. Quality reviews with identified errors are routed to another QRT specialist for peer review to help ensure the cited errors are The OIG determined that the current peer review process was not adequate to identify errors missed during the initial quality review. In addition, performance reviews of QRT specialists did not promote competency, resulting in missed claims-processing errors.”
    2. Worse, in direct violation of VBA procedures errors identified by QRT specialists, were overturned by regional office managers with 870 errors found where 430 were overturned (49.43%). Why were the regional managers not fired for violating policy?  The VA-OIG continued, stating:

Reconsiderations are requested by employees when they disagree with a cited error. Errors affect employee quality for performance review purposes. The OIG found that VBA’s current procedure regarding requests for reconsideration did not promote objectivity or contribute to accuracy of decisions. In addition, incorrectly overturned errors resulted in inaccurate performance quality for employees.”  Can someone say, Quid Pro Quo?  Should not questions arise about cherry-picking results and holding people accountable?  What about the veterans affected by these quality errors?  Who fights for them when the VA-OIG reports these obscene details and failures in leadership?  Each incorrectly decisioned claim is going to hurt real people, where are the elected representatives?

    1. In reading this report, my favorite quote is made:

The OIG estimated that during the review period 2,000 of 4,400 identified errors (45 percent) were not corrected in a timely manner and 810 of 4,400 identified errors (18 percent) were not corrected at all. In addition, there is no process to confirm that corrective action was taken on error corrections. To maximize the effectiveness of the QRT program, additional oversight, objectivity, and accountability should be established.”  Can you say, “DUH!”  Talk about designing incompetence into a procedure to ensure no responsibility ever hits you, the process can identify errors, but cannot ensure the errors were corrected.  What an asinine and inane bureaucratic trick!

VA 3The following has been a review of the VBA’s quality assurance program, investigated in 2020, for failures of such immense magnitude that the VA-OIG returned, less than a year later asking questions about the VBA’s quality assurance oversight, and the problems only worsened as a deeper dive was made into what governs the quality program at the VBA.  Further supporting that the leadership IS the problem in every branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs!

Plato 2The following is a recap of findings by the VA-OIG regarding the continued mistreatment of VA Employees who report allegations of misconduct, retaliation, or poor performance of senior leaders, and other issues to the whistleblower program at the VA.  This topic is of particular interest to me, as when I called the VA-OIG regarding criminal misconduct by senior VA leaders, I was told since I was no longer an employee whistleblower protection do not apply and an investigation cannot proceed.  Since I had been reporting problems since 2018, I asked if those investigations would continue, and was told no, as I was no longer employed.  Hence, a loophole is built into the rules and policies, you have to somehow remain employed to be considered a whistleblower, but not just an employee.  You must be an employee who is not under probationary periods which can last from 1-5 years depending upon the position from date of hire.

Plato 3The following are findings highlighted from the report on the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) and delivered to Congress:

    • Finding 1: The OAWP Misinterpreted Its Statutory Mandate, Resulting in Failures to Act Within Its Investigative Authority
      1. The lawyers were reading the policies and interpreting their intent too strictly and this was chilling whistleblowers at all levels of the VA.
    • Finding 2: The OAWP Did Not Consistently Conduct Procedurally Sound, Accurate, Thorough, and Unbiased Investigations and Related Activities
      1. The OAWP lacked comprehensive policies and procedures suitable for its personnel given that individuals’ reputations are at stake and whistleblowers’ identities must be protected.
      2. The OAWP did not have quality control measures. While some inadequacies were found by disciplinary officials and VA’s Office of General Counsel, this de facto oversight was not an effective or sustainable solution.
      3. The OAWP had failed to provide the staffing and training necessary to ensure it has the expertise, experience, and commitment that yield objective and thorough investigations.
      4. The OAWP had fallen short of its commitment to conduct “timely, thorough, and unbiased investigations” in all cases within its investigative jurisdiction.
    • Finding 3: VA Has Struggled with Implementing the Act’s Enhanced Authority to Hold Covered Executives Accountable
    • Finding 4: The OAWP Failed to Fully Protect Whistleblowers from Retaliation
    • Finding 5: VA Did Not Comply with Additional Requirements of the Act and Other Authorities
    • Finding 6: The OAWP Lacked Transparency in Its Information Management Practices

VA 3Is the problem clearer; the official investigative arm of the VA has the same leadership problems as the rest of the VA, and those leaders cannot, or will not, properly train staff to do their jobs!  How many employees have been unfairly dismissed by the VA because they reported to the OIG, like they are supposed to do, and retaliatory actions by senior leadership has cost them a job, their professional reputation, and the VA a chance to improve?

Knowledge Check!I can find no media discussion on this report to Congress where the elected officials took any action to hold anyone accountable.  The speech being reported is milk-toast solid and should have led to public remonstrations and it did not even cause a ripple in a toilet bowl.  Meaning that the legislation from 2017 and earlier is still being thwarted by the VA administration and administrators to the detriment of the VA and the employees discharged who did their job and reported on problems witnessed.

© 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.

NO MORE BS: VA Leadership IS the Problem!!!

Angry Grizzly BearPSA:  If you have a weak stomach, please feel free to not read this report.  This article is discussing the ongoing and continual problems of the VA leadership to ensure clean medically reusable equipment is available for practitioners use.  While the YUCK factor is high, the issue remains a leadership failure, and worse, it was purposefully designed into the VA organization to spread infectious diseases between veterans!

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted an investigation and reported its findings 16 June 2009.  While still not the first-time endoscopes and colonoscopes being dirty have caused patience significant risks, this report clearly details the failure of VA Leadership as an organizational design flaw.  From page i of the report, we find the following:

Facilities have not complied with management directives to ensure compliance with reprocessing of endoscopes, resulting in a risk of infectious disease to veterans. Reprocessing of endoscopes requires a standardized, monitored approach to ensure that these instruments are safe for use in patient care. The failure of medical facilities to comply on such a large scale with repeated alerts and directives suggests fundamental defects in organizational structure” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Also, from page i the scope of the investigation and those requesting the investigation are detailed:

The VA Office of Inspector General received requests from the Secretary, Chairmen and Ranking Members of VA oversight committees, along with individual members of Congress, regarding the reprocessing of endoscopic equipment at several specific VA medical centers (VAMCs), and to assess the extent of related problems throughout the Veterans Health Administration (VHA). The purpose of the review is to describe the pertinent events at VAMCs where problems were reported, assess VHA’s response to the events, and conduct a system-wide evaluation of current reprocessing practices” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Let us be perfectly clear, since 2009, the VA Federal Officers have been informed and kept abreast of the problems with properly cleaning, sanitizing, and documenting reusable medical equipment, specifically endoscopes and colonoscopes, and have done nothing to fundamentally correct the direction of the VA, the VHA, or the offending VAMC’s.  What good is a memo when it is not applied as a standard operating procedure, where consequences are involved?  How is a memo going to be effective against a culture trained to not do their jobs, no matter the cost to patient safety?  To fully comprehend the problem with reusable medical equipment not being properly cleaned and sterilized (repurposed) see pages seven and eight of the following report linked.  There are a lot of acronyms, but the general sentiment is clear, the VA has an enormous problem with properly cleaning reusable medical equipment!

In a VA-OIG report dated 06 May 2021, we find an employee, after having been caught once, still not being properly supervised, not doing their job, and remaining employed.  This employee was caught falsifying legal documents on the cleanliness of endoscopes, and dirty equipment was used on multiple patients.  The facility conducted an investigation, the VISN conducted another investigation, neither investigation led to any type of fundamental organizational change to protect the patient.  Even the VA-OIG investigation has not led to fundamental organizational changes and improvements in cleaning and sterilizing reusable medical equipment.  Frankly, this should scare the daylights out of every veteran going in for any type of care at the VA.VA 3

Trust is hard won and easily lost.  Right now, can any provider at the VA assure any patient that the reusable medical equipment has been properly cleaned and sterilized before being used on that patient?  Since the VA-OIG report in 2009, the direct answer to this question is a resounding NO!  Again, I ask only for emphasis, if a non-VA hospital, clinic, or provider’s office was caught not properly cleaning, sterilizing, and documenting medically reusable equipment, how could they remain in operation?  The short answer is, they could not; unless they are an abortion clinic, but that’s and entirely different subject.  The Federal Government and the lawyers would descend en masse to shut down the facility, hold the administration accountable, and demand retribution for the patients involved.  Why is the VA Administration and VHA Administration, and the VAMC and VISN Administrations able to escape culpability in risking a patient’s health with dirty medical equipment?

Angry Wet ChickenEvery single Federally elected politician should be up in arms about the double standards between VA hospitals and non-VA hospitals.  If a non-VA hospital is caught with dirty medically reusable equipment, can they use the VA as an example in court as a defense?  NO!  Yet, here is a legal double-standard and precedence that opens the door to more questions.

Returning to the 2009 VA-OIG report, we find how the investigation was methodologically carried out.  The methodology reveals just how widespread and in-depth the investigation is, and how deeply this problem is organizationally wide for the VA.

We visited the facilities which had been the subject of considerable media attention: the Bruce W. Carter VAMC (Miami) in Miami, FL; the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System-Murfreesboro campus (Murfreesboro); and the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center (Augusta) in Augusta, GA. We reviewed applicable regulations, policies, procedures, and guidelines. Furthermore, 26 inspectors conducted unannounced onsite visits for the total of 42 probability-based randomly selected VHA facilities to examine pertinent endoscope reprocessing documentation.

Because of the unannounced nature of the inspections and for cost-efficiency, a stratified clustering sample design was employed to maximize the number of facilities that could be inspected in a single day. Two probability-based random samples of VHA endoscope reprocessing facilities were selected from the study populations for the unannounced onsite inspection: one for colonoscope reprocessing and another for ENT endoscope reprocessing. With probability sampling, each unit in the study population has a known positive probability of selection. This property of probability sampling avoids selection bias and allows use of statistical theory to make valid inferences from the sample to the study population.”VA 3

Back in 2009, the media was very cognizant of VA issues, then the dead veteran scandal of 2012 and 2017, turned the media’s attention away from how the VA conducts business.  Let me direct your attention to the final sentence of the quoted material above.  As a researcher, this is a gold standard methodology statement for researching a complex organization like the VA, to pick proper probability samples, and to reduce individual inspector bias in the combined report of findings.  Thus, from this quoted material we can presume both that the methods of conducting the research were sound and conclude that the egregious behavior by administrators is VA wide!VA 3

If dirty medical equipment is how the VA defines excellence in the 21st Century, America’s veterans are in trouble deep!  I am now in my eleventh year of writing about the behavior of the VA and how they intentionally treat veterans.  I have witnessed detestable behavior by providers as an employee, and brought this behavior to the administrator’s attention, for which I was discharged without cause!  I have written about instances of negligence so terrible that there should have been a Congressional Blue-Ribbon panel assigned to demand correction and conduct and investigation, but nothing ever transpired.  I have personally experienced providers so inept, their qualifications should be questioned.  I have observed VA employees abuse, harass, threaten, and intentionally hinder treatment.  The behavior of the VA Administration where reusable medical equipment is concerned is so far beyond the pale, words escape me to describe.

Dont Tread On MeI 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 to learn a close friend or family member caught an infectious disease during treatment at the VA.  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.

The Perils of a Toxic and Inert Workplace Culture

DutyDandira (2012), in an epic discussion on the origins of organizational cancer, discussed how communication, among other things, breeds organizational cancer.  The author stated what should be obvious, but the government remains oblivious to government agencies and the body’s organizational cancer.  “Responsibility and authority: (the CEO/Executive Chief) he should have the power to hire and fire, especially those who continue to follow the old system of playing political games at the expense of the organization” (Dandira, 2012, p. 191).  Again, while the following is using the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), the examples spread like thick peanut butter, or bathtub scum, across all government agencies and NGOs.

Wasting TimeFrom the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector of General (VA-OIG) reports, we find:

Michael Wibracht of San Antonio, Texas, the former owner of several construction companies, defrauded the United States by obtaining government contracts under programs administered by the Small Business Administration for which neither his nor his co-conspirators’ companies were eligible. One co-conspirator, Ruben Villarreal, also of San Antonio, pleaded guilty on Nov. 20, 2020, to participating in the same conspiracy. “The defendants conspired to fraudulently obtain multi-million dollar government contracts under a program designed to benefit service-disabled veterans,” said VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal. “These guilty pleas send a clear message that individuals and companies who defraud the government contracting process for service-disabled veterans will be held accountable.”

VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal, you are 100% incorrect!  Holding third-party contractors responsible for defrauding the VA does not “send a clear message,” nor will any of the actual problems be addressed; hence the fraud will continue, and the taxpayer and veterans will continue to suffer.  A little research into this story reflects that no VA Employees, who had to have been aware of the schemes and aided and abetted the schemes, have been held accountable for dereliction of duty.  Thus, the fraud will continue, and frankly, I wish you would learn this particular lesson!

VA SealDandira’s (2012) point is the hinge upon which fraud will or will not continue, does the executive heads at the hospital, VISN, and D.C. levels have the power and authority to act?  No; they do not, because Congress refuses to grant this power, while also refusing to scrutinize the government properly!  A convoluted mess that should have already been resolved, but the bureaucrats prefer designed incompetence and inertia to perform any work to improve the culture and accountability to the American Citizen and veterans.

Speaking of a culture needing work, the VA-OIG reports:

Matthew Pizarro, 32, of Stoughton, Massachusetts, was sentenced to 10 years in prison and eight years of supervised release for distribution of fentanyl, one count of distribution of 40 grams or more of fentanyl, and one count of possession with intent to distribute 28 grams or more of crack cocaine. Pizarro was indicted in October 2018 and has been in custody since his arrest in August 2018.”

LookSpeaking to the cultural problems allowing for criminal behavior to be accepted as part of the VA’s normal daily operations, consider visiting the following link.  That link will take you to incidents of failure to correct the criminal and toxic culture at the VA starting from 2013.  Not that the culture began in 2013, but that is as far back as the VA is willing to admit the culture extends from.  For example:

Lisa M. Hoffman, 48, a former pharmacy technician at East Orange VA Medical Center in New Jersey, was charged with stealing more than $8.2 million worth of HIV medication. Hoffman used her position to order, then steal, large amounts of HIV medication, which she later sold to an associate for cash.”

Detective 3While the last two examples of toxic culture include individuals, I am always impressed with the lack of integrity and the language games to spin a VA-OIG investigation report to more favorably report a Charlie-Foxtrot!  The VA-OIG investigated the use of virtual appointments for primary care during the COVID Pandemic.  Here’s the issue, before the pandemic, the only people regularly using virtual appointments were the psychologists treating individual patients who had the technology.  My Primary Care Provider (PCP) refused to use virtual appointments until last March.  Even then, my current PCP refuses to diagnose, treat, or even answer general health questions using virtual appointments.  The last three appointments using virtual technology have been technological disasters where the sound cut off and on, the picture cut off and on, random noise was broadcast, and nobody can explain how secure the technology is and how it meets HIPAA requirements.  The VA-OIG is crowing and magnanimous about the growth of virtual care appointments using VA Video Connect (VVC) in the VA.

Worse, the virtual appointments using the VVC technology do not come with technical support, so the veteran is left trying to fix connection issues without guidance and assistance.  Training for the VVC technology is either missing or obsolete, and frustration is the only regular VVC technology product.  Go ahead and crow VA-OIG; the veterans stuck using this garbage should have been part of your survey, and the fact that you refused to obtain the veterans’ input tells much about how respectful the VA is about their patients!

InertiaHere is a real-life example of a toxic culture with inert actors in action. It is reminding me of those “Priceless” MasterCard commercials from a few years back!

This management advisory memo identifies potential risks associated with the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) efforts to expedite adding new staff to meet increased demand caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) recognizes the tremendous pressure to hire staff to meet unprecedented needs quickly. To achieve VHA’s goal of bringing all new employees on duty within three days of making a tentative offer, VHA has modified or deferred tasks such as fingerprinting, background investigations, drug testing, credentialing, and preplacement physicals. The potential risks identified by the OIG may threaten VHA’s ability to safeguard veterans’ sensitive information and ensure its workforce is suitable for serving patients at VA medical facilities. The OIG organized these potential risks into three categories: (1) employees who do not have a completed fingerprint-based criminal history check may gain access to sensitive information and controlled substances; (2) delays in processing fingerprints add to a backlog of investigations; (3) onboarding tasks are deferred—such as drug testing and credentialing—that is not being centrally monitored to ensure completion. If realized, these risks could damage the trust veterans have in VA, keeping their information secure and meeting employee suitability standards; this memorandum raises issues for VHA to consider in determining whether vulnerabilities and related processes warrant further review. These include possible changes to centralize governance of deferred actions to improve oversight.”

Scared Eyes!Who says the veterans trust the VA to keep their data secure?  I am amongst thousands of veterans who annually have to track our identity because the VA continues to lose data through the most elementary methods.  Worse, the government is a sieve of escaping personal data from the VA to the OPM; the government keeps losing data.  These VA articles keep mentioning designed incompetence, want to see designed incompetence in action, “VHA has modified or deferred tasks such as fingerprinting, background investigations, drug testing, credentialing, and preplacement physicals… which is not being centrally monitored to ensure completion.”  Change processes, probably never even wrote down the procedures, and then refuse to monitor for completion.  Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot on that Charlie Foxtrot, over!  Please excuse the military axiom; I am mentally blown away that this was approved, put into operation, and then left alone to fester!  When it is discovered that more criminals and nefarious people were hired, who gets the blame; nobody!  It will be COVID-19’s fault, not a mindless and spineless drone!

Detective 4I am personally aware and have reported both on this blog and to the proper authorities (not that they ever cared or did anything), the HIPAA, EMTALA, and other legal abuses of veterans in several VA Hospitals.  Without improvements in operations and providing authority to clean house for those in leadership positions, the VA’s problems will only worsen.  Please be aware; it is not for the lack of money or technology to pinpoint abuses and problems with employees; it is all the inertia of the leadership towards action and the toxic culture which allows and encourages pushing the boundaries that are killing the VA.  The VA requires a cancer operation, where the potential killing growths are removed and the body allowed to heal—healing through better leaders, better-written procedures and policies, and improved communication chains that promote catching the problems before the VA-OIG!

Reference

Dandira, M. (2012). Dysfunctional leadership: Organizational cancer. Business Strategy Series, 13(4), 187-192. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17515631211246267

© 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.

More VA Insanity – COVID Mask Policy – Denial of Service

I-Care02 March 2021 – Today, I got a secure message from the pulmonologist at the VAMC in Phoenix; he needs me to go to the hospital for a series of tests to understand why I cannot breathe.  Except, when he tried to get me into the hospital, he was told the VA Mask Policy would not be allowed to be “adjusted,” and the administration is the problem.  Worse, the local administration refuses to engage in discussion, refuses to write a cohesive and legal policy, and absolutely continues to deny service to veterans illegally.

I desperately need answers as to why the VA Hospital is allowed to act in this manner.  The denials of service are more than just a mask policy issue where COVID is concerned.  The actions of the Phoenix VAMC since June 2020 extend beyond simple bureaucratese where COVID masking is concerned.  Where are the elected representatives in scrutinizing the Phoenix VAMC?  Where is the media in demanding answers to the abuses being witnessed?  Where are the police in protecting the innocent?

InertiaTo actively work to refuse service, shut down dissenters, and muzzle those who honestly want to help and change the Phoenix VAMC into something worthy of respect and improve the care of the patients who try and obtain healthcare at the facility is atrocious behavior worthy of the harshest condemnation.  My medical chart clearly states I cannot wear a mask, the pulmonologist needing me to receive tests to understand why, is unable to obtain community care due to administrative fiat, and unable to get the VA to stop needlessly harassing, injuring, and arresting me because I cannot safely wear a mask.  All because the administrators would prefer to refuse service, deny care, and then complain that nobody is making their appointments.

2004, I started this journey with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); I had spinal problems, I was short of breath, I had neurological issues, and a host of other issues.  Yet, for more than 10-years, the VA refused care after I left the service with injuries because of the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) treatment.  As soon as I finally get the VBA to act, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) begins to act like I am scum that was drug in off the streets.

LookWhat drives me crazy, I have been across the United States and seen the inhumanity of the VA Administration up close and personal too many times to think the problems are limited to only one VISN or another.  I have witnessed veteran patients and dependents worthy of the highest care denied service and then further abused by the VAMC refusing these people’s future care.  I have witnessed VA employees create rules to inconvenience a veteran patient, slow care, and deny service to a patient who had to travel 4-6 hours to the VA.  The VA-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) relates more and more abuses by VBA and VHA staff monthly, where accountability is lost, responsibility rarely accepted, and the cycles of abuse continue because nobody in VA leadership will act!

Does anyone understand what this entails?  A patient, not me, with chronic pain and incredible service-connected injuries, is denied the ability to drop off a letter for his primary care provider, and the VA employee who would handle the letter anyway refused to accept the letter unless the letter was mailed.  The veteran drives four-hours to the VA Hospital every time he needs care and he works to maximize his time while at the VA taking care of as much business as possible.  The employee claimed that if the patient left the letter on that employee’s desk, the employee would throw it away.  The VA employee refusing to help a veteran was shortly promoted, moved to a less visible clinic, and the veteran who needed the help still has not received the support he needs.  Even after writing to the hospital administrator, the VISN administrator, and his congressional representative.  Why do I know so much about this case, I witnessed the scene and have been kept abreast of the trouble this veteran is having.

Survived the VAI met a veteran on social media who is in my same boat and cannot physically and safely wear a mask.  He has been actively denied service, even while bleeding, at the ER.  If President Trump had not signed the Community Care Act, which forces the VA to allow patients the VA refuses to see to access community-provided care, both of us would have been much worse than we are today.  Monday (01 March 2021), a nurse from my primary care provider called to relay information. The nurse refused to provide service, refused to answer questions, and then chose to become offended and disconnected the call.  Worse, I still have no idea why the nurse called, the purpose for the call, or what outcome will be derived from the call.  Why; because you cannot directly call your clinic and receive answers.  The phone chain games mean I call the clinic and get routed to a call center, they leave a message for the provider, and possibly within a week, I might obtain an answer from the provider.

Want to reach your clinic directly; send a secure message through the MyHealtheVet portal.  Then wait for an answer that can take as little as 24-hours, or as long as 3-months, if you get a response at all.  I have asked simple questions through both phone and secure messages and received atrocious answers, answers not fit to print, and answers that are a logical pretzel-making no sense but are regarded as “the policy of this hospital.”  A non-veteran I was casually talking to asked, “Why do you use the VA at all?”  The short answer is because if you do not use the VA, the billing nightmare to get the VA to pay for healthcare from military-connected injuries is a bloody nightmare!

VA SealCase in point, 30 June 2020, I checked into an ER for care.  January 2021, I receive a collections notice for the visit.  I called and asked why; apparently, the hospital submitted the statement to TriCare instead of TriWest, causing confusion and denial of service.  But, the VA “due to HIPAA” policies could not speak directly to the hospital, only to me.  I had to call the hospital and inform them of what the VA said.  The hospital’s billing department, the collections agency, and I are stuck between two bureaucracies at the VA, and I have an active collections problem hammering my credit.  These shenanigans are, but a small part of the regular issues all veterans are handed because the VA refuses to do their jobs creates rules and policies at whim to inconvenience, and flat out refuses to do their jobs!

Patients seeking care at the majority of VA Hospitals face no customer care, worse customer service, refusal to honor the job, disrespect of the patients, dependents, and veterans, and worse service for active personnel.  I have seen the VA’s actions, and I refuse to stay quiet about the illegal behavior, unethical actions, and the immoral treatment of veterans, active service members, and the qualified dependents seeking care and finding crass bureaucratic red tape.  There is no reason for this abuse of the patient, except as previously mentioned, the VA Hospitals can “get away” with bad behavior where non-government hospitals cannot.

Where do we go from here?

DetectiveWith the government being less than enthused with ending the COVID-Farce, with the media refusing to recognize a problem and assist in advocating for a reprieve, and with the elected officials failing to scrutinize the workings of the executive branch’s operations properly, I am not sure of the proper answer to this question.  Insanity, according to Einstein, is doing the same things over and over, expecting different results.  The paradigm of government-provided healthcare is a pernicious fraud and desperately needs to be corrected.  But the answer is more than simple bureaucratic inertia found in many other government agencies.  The VA has built a special case for itself, and the solution will necessarily require new approaches and new thinking.

The belief that government is good for anything but injuring others remains an idea that needs to spread far and wide in an effort to reduce the harm caused by the government.  The American people require a higher return on their investment in the government through forced taxation.  Yet, the administers of government and the elected representatives hired to scrutinize the government fail to act, believe the bureaucrats over the citizen, and are part of the problem.

Fishbone DiagramRoot cause analysis points to inertia as being a prime candidate in the failures experienced and witnessed.  Inertia is a comfortable blanket to wrap yourself in when change is supposed to occur, but change scares you.  The hospital administrators refused to act because that would require a spine and written records scare the hospital administrators; especially those in Phoenix after two dead veterans’ scandals where responsibility pointed to people who possessed written records.  Hence, besides inertia is the fear of being held accountable because the written records exist.  Yet, because policies, directives, and processes are not being written down, behavior can worsen where the veteran patient is abused, and there is nothing that can be pointed to claiming the actions taken were inappropriate.

Detective 3Logic claims that if the VA denies service to a class of veteran patients, then another option for receiving care should automatically open.  However, the lack of written policies and the inertia of the employees causes the veteran patient a nightmarish cycle of needing care but not being able to access care.  Because the employees are following spineless leaders and inertia is better than sticking one’s neck out and acting differently from the pack.  Thus, plotting a path forward requires leadership and a willingness to document, change, and adapt, all of which appear anathema to the VA generally and the Phoenix VAMC particularly.

The VA-OIG just recently finished an audit of community care claims being handled by 3rd party contractors.  The results are fairly typical of the VHA and VBA using designed incompetence.

The OIG audit found that inadequate contract terms and VA’s lack of effective oversight contributed to claims processing inconsistencies and errors. The VA’s contract did not include standardized criteria for contractor employees to use when distributing and processing claims. Furthermore, the contract did not require contractor employees to follow VA’s Office of Community Care (OCC) claims-processing guidance. Although the contractor cannot be faulted for acting inconsistently with OCC guidance not required in its contract, the resulting inconsistencies mean VA lacks assurances that proper processes were used. VA also did not have an official quality reporting mechanism in place before February 2019.”

The VA-OIG report quoted above discussed how 13% of the claims were handled inappropriately, causing veterans’ problems and delays in processing for providers.  In Albuquerque, NM., I saw this firsthand.  The VA sent me to a community provider; the community provider filed all the proper paperwork and kept gathering more paperwork for the next three years.  Finally, when all the red tape was satisfied, ¾’s of the bills were too old to receive payment.  That provider went bankrupt trying to provide services to veterans because he could not get paid in a timely manner.  I was there for the full and abysmal treatment of this provider by the VA.

Detective 4The designed incompetence is galling and getting worse.  The VBA is the portion of the VA that makes claims decisions.  Recently the VA-OIG investigated the VBA specifically to check consistency to comply with skills certification for compensation and pension claims processors.  The results are a horror story of designed incompetence, failure to do the job, and trainers’ failure to train properly.  Of the 10,800 claims processors required to certify their jobs, 4700 were never tested from 2016-2019.  Of the 2,500 who failed the certification test, 1,900 did not have any repercussions, training plans, identified corrective action, or employer counseling.  Worse, the VBA failed to take any personnel actions on 98% of the population surveyed (10,800).  2018, as in the entire fiscal year of 2018, the certification tests were unavailable due to technical issues on the VBA’s intranet.  Meaning that effectiveness in 2019 to measure and certify was virtually useless!  Does anyone wonder why veterans are refusing to trust the VBA and the VHA?  Is the problem clearer that congressionally elected officials’ failures to scrutinize the government influence the employees’ behaviors for the worst?  How many claims have been improperly decided, wasting taxpayer time and money and the veteran’s time and money since 2016 by failing to certify to fill the roles and duties the American Taxpayer is paying them to fulfill?

Wasting TimeIt is imperative for profound and fundamental organizational change at the Department of Veterans Affairs to begin as soon as practical.  Worse, scratch the surface of any other government agency on the Federal or State level, and the same problems arise.  The same abuse of taxpayers, the same refusal to do the jobs hired to perform, and extensive cultures of inert slugs just punching time and wasting money until they can retire!

© 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.

Department of Veterans Affairs Chronicles of Shame

I-CareAs a veteran who struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stemming from military sexual trauma (MST), where a first-class petty officer jumped on my back and tried to rape me.  When I see the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports on PTSD from MST, I pay close attention.  Since the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) continues to deny my MST claim because MST does not happen to men, I get agitated when I see these VA-OIG reports repeating year-over-year with the same excuses and designed incompetence.  Designed incompetence is all about creating ready-made excuses for failing to perform correctly the role one has been hired or promoted to perform.  Consider the following:

“In 2018, the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) reported that nearly half of disability benefit claims that were denied service connection for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and were related to military sexual trauma were not processed properly.”

That is the first sentence of the VA-OIG report released on 08 December 2020 declaring that the improvements suggested by the VA-OIG in 2018 had not occurred.  The following statistics come directly from the report issued.

      • 18,300 claims or approximately 16% were processed incorrectly in Fiscal Year 2019
      • 118,000 claims were submitted

Why were the claims processed incorrectly; because of designed incompetence by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).  From the report, we find the following five root causes, or excuses: emphasis mine.

    1. Most errors occurred because claims processors did not verify or ask veterans to provide the disorder’s cause, known as an in-service stressor.
    2. In other cases, claims processors did not request a medical examination, medical opinion, or clarification of inconsistencies in the examination as required.
    3. Claims processors made these errors because they did not fully understand PTSD stressor types and the stressor verification process.
    4. VBA’s Compensation Service did not mandate any national training for claims processors on these subjects except during the first year in the position.
    5. In addition, VBA’s procedures manual was not effectively organized to allow staff to locate this information and lacked specific guidance for some aspects of PTSD claim processing.

VA SealWhy are the causes of the problems considered designed incompetence, because they never change!  At the VBA, the processors all need constant training to remain current in their positions; but never receive the training.  The VBA never holds value-added training sufficient to train the employees on their jobs, but this remains the number one excuse to justify poor performance in VA-OIG inspections.  Failure to perform the job is also not a new excuse, where the VA-OIG reports are concerned.  Not understanding how to ask for help is also not new, and frankly astounds and mystifies observers that those hired remain employed when their performance clearly remains insufficient to the job expectations.  While it is unique to the VA to see a procedure manual, it is only natural and expected that the manual is poorly organized, poorly executed, hard to follow, difficult to find, and generally useless.  The VA is famous for this designed incompetence trick.

You say, “Big Deal;” everyone knows the VA is messed up, full of failures, and is generally known for poor performance.  Why this is a “Big Deal” stems primarily from the costs associated with poor performance.  An annual salary is paid for the processors, the adjudicator, and the entire chain of command, totaling in the hundreds of millions of dollars.  The veteran has to pay for lawyers and other services to appeal the original decisions, which take time.  The veteran has to pay for a third-party Nexus Letter to accompany the claim to declare the original claim was faulty.  All of this requires substantial time investments and other resources, all because the original work has to be duplicated.  How many times the claim is duplicated depends upon the processors’ abilities to do the job they were hired to perform.

Your car breaks down; the tow truck driver only secures your vehicle 84% before driving to the auto repair facility, is this satisfactory performance?  Your surgeon has an 84% success rate where his patients will live after surgery for tonsil removal, is this satisfactory performance?  You are in hospital; your nurse only gets your pain medication to you 84% of the time or is only 84% accurate in providing the right patient the proper medication; is this satisfactory performance?  Of course not, but for government employees, this level of performance is “award-winning.”

Military CrestsCongress mandates VBA claim error rates; there is supposed to be a quality assurance check to reduce the error rates.  Yet, with all the checks, the balances, and the quality assurance programs, the VBA continues to surpass the error rates and physically harms veterans due to their inefficiencies.  Yes; a failure rate of 16% is a “Big Deal!”

Want to know how bad the VA is managing your taxpayer monies; read the audit released 14 December 2020.  In that audit, you will find comments like the following:

      • The material weakness involving information technology security controls has been reported for more than 10 years.
      • VA did not substantially comply with federal financial management systems requirements and the United States Standard General Ledger at the transaction level, as required by the Federal Financial Management Improvement Act.
      • [The] VA’s complex, disjointed, and legacy financial management system architecture no longer supports stringent and demanding financial management and reporting requirements.
      • VA continued to be challenged [with] consistently enforcing established policies and procedures throughout its geographically dispersed portfolio of outdated applications and systems.

In light of the recent computer hacking issues the Federal Government is experiencing, knowing that the VA has dumped hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to patch and repair, and sometimes replace (sort of), legacy (old, expired, useless, insecure, unreliable, etc.) technology over the last 20-years, how is the VA able to keep getting away with these designed incompetence excuses?  Congress, when will you hold the administrator’s feet to the fire for making progress on these glaring issues?  Congress receives these VA-OIG reports and audits before they are made public, yet the elected representatives cannot take a moment to check this poor behavior.  Why not?

Police and Government Lines of CongruenceFor the first time in more than a decade of chronicling the VA-OIG reports, I am mentioning a monthly highlight (lowlight) condensed report.  This report is unique due to the insanity of criminal investigations mentioned, the results of audits, and the healthcare inspections.  When you have 18 defendants in a bribery scheme, where 15 plead guilty, who defrauded untold Millions of dollars in Florida, the problem is not so much with the employees, but the organization that allowed this to occur since 2009!  A noteworthy criminal investigation indeed.

The highlights (lowlights) of November 2020 also include a VA physician from West Virginia being indicted for abusive sexual contact and simple assault and a surgical supervisor in Northern Ohio who defrauded the VAMC of approximately $3.2 Million in two separate schemes.  Regarding financial audits and the importance of improving that ancient technology, a VA Fiduciary has been indicted for misappropriating government funds from Pennsylvania to the tune of more than $155,000.  Best of all, a husband and wife team from California, technical school owners, bilked the GI-Bill of more than $29 Million since 2015.

The criminal issues the VA is facing regularly are not a one-off issue, but an organizational design problem as the frauds, thefts, and malfeasance reported is ever only the very top 1% of the problem that is ongoing and systemic in the Department of Veterans Affairs!  The November 2020 report discussed an incredible number of canceled patient appointments because veterans and COVID mask mandates do not play well together.  Yet, the VA Federal Police cannot stop persecuting veterans for their physical inabilities to wear a mask.

Thus, where are the elected officials from the legislative bodies who possess oversight and funding responsibilities?  Where is the executive branch of government in correcting and demanding specific action from the legislative branch?  Where are the administrators at the Federal, VISN, and Local levels in performing their jobs?  The designed incompetence must cease forthwith to allow for practical changes to be made and the organizational design to be corrected.  For the VA-OIG to be forced to accept the same tired, lame, and detestable excuses, year-over-year is the epitome of abuse to the taxpayer and veteran alike!

The Duty of AmericansWorst of all, this condensed version did not even scratch the surface of the issues reported in just three VA-OIG reports.  Shame!  Shame! Shame!  Shame on the elected officials, Republican, Independent, and Democrat, who have allowed this problem to grow and done nothing!  Shame on the myriad of presidents who have done nothing but throw good money after bad, without demanding progress and holding real people responsible for real results!  Shame on every single VA employee who shirks their job for easiness to the pain and suffering of a veteran, dependent, or spouse!

© 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 images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

August VA-OIG Updates: More SHAMEFUL VA Conduct.

I-CareDue to personal issues with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), specifically the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Phoenix, AZ I fell a little behind in June/July/August of 2020.  As I work to clear the backlog of completed Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports from August, please keep in mind solutions to these problems are available. The failure of leadership to be held accountable, by the elected officials is staggering, and the lack of accountability and responsibility boggles the mind.  Without exception, I know the VA can be improved, developed, and saved.

August 2020 begins with an individual employee making a decision regarding healthcare decisions for a veteran at the Robley Rex VAMC in Louisville, Kentucky.  The VA has a process where individuals can be allowed to be surrogate decision-makers for a veteran who needs additional assistance.  This process works is legal and is a great tool for family and friends of veterans to play a significant role in the healthcare process of the veteran.  In this instance, the process failed, not because the process was bad, but because people did not do their jobs properly.

The VA-OIG assessed an allegation that providers permitted an individual with no legal authority to make medical decisions on behalf of a patient, and a host of other patient rights were trampled as documented.  “The patient experienced a three-week medical and mental health hospitalization with repeated episodes of confusion, agitation, and combative behavior. The patient was transferred to hospice care and died five days later.  The VA-OIG found that facility staff did not take the required appropriate steps to identify and confirm the eligibility of this surrogate.  The VA-OIG determined records did not contain sufficient documentation of physicians’ clinical assessments to support diagnoses and treatment decisions. Clinical communication and collaboration were inconsistent, insufficient, and negatively impacted the patient’s continuity and quality of care. Providers did not consistently document medication monitoring and oversight activities to ensure safe patient care. The patient’s transfer to hospice was completed without fully pursuing other diagnoses and treatment options and staff did not ensure the patient’s rights were upheld regarding involuntary admission and behavioral restraints. Facility leaders did not complete a thorough quality of care review to understand the reasons for the patient’s atypical hospital course and outcome” [Emphasis Mine].

Many times, the VA-OIG reports do not clarify all root causes due to employee privacy; however, from the report, the employees who repeatedly allowed the neighbor to make healthcare decisions were exceeding their legal bounds and made decisions that harmed the patient.  This veteran died and from the report, it is clear the veteran died confused, possibly due to medication changes, and the family was not notified in a timely manner because the neighbor, without legal and written authority, was allowed to make healthcare decisions for the veteran, even though there was written healthcare directives on file for a family member to make these decisions.  Utterly shameful behavior!

PatriotismThe Veteran Integrated Service Network (VISN), is a geographical grouping of VA Healthcare Systems, e.g. hospitals and clinics, under a combined leadership plan.  One of the tools the VA-OIG uses to monitor the quality of patient care inside VISN’s is called a “Comprehensive Healthcare Inspection Program (CHIP).  CHIP covers selected clinical and administrative processes all of which are deemed consistent with promoting quality patient care.  The CHIP occurs on a rotational 3-year periodicity and the focus is shifted slightly each 3-year cycle to, theoretically, encompass all administrative processes over time.  The VA reports the following are the specific areas that lead to quality patient care through administrative practices:

  1. Quality, safety, and value;
  2. Medical staff privileging;
  3. The environment of care;
  4. Medication management (specifically the controlled substances inspection program);
  5. Mental health (focusing on military sexual trauma follow-up and staff training);
  6. Geriatric care (spotlighting antidepressant use for elderly veterans);
  7. Women’s health (particularly abnormal cervical pathology result notification and follow-up); and
  8. High-risk processes (specifically the emergency department and urgent care center operations and management).

All of which is mentioned as an explanation providing details for the following VA-OIG inspection reports of CHIP received in August 2020.  A total of seven CHIP reports were received in August recording performance from inspections carried out.  These reports, while somewhat individualized for the specific VAHCS, reads like a carbon copy.  Repeatedly written procedures for standard operation are missing, staff training is inadequate or antiquated, risk analysis is not able to be competently and correctly conducted, patient safety issues abound, and the proper utilization of management processes remains glaring!

Root Cause AnalysisThe CHIP reports are so repetitive in nature, the VA-OIG recommendations are grouped, conveniently, into the eight administrative areas listed above.  According to proper management techniques, the VA-OIG then “encourages” the leadership team to select one or two areas for improvement and focus their efforts on leading change in those areas.  For example, if the VAHCS wants to improve in risk analysis, the leaders can begin by promoting training on properly conducting risk analysis online, hold meetings to review risk analysis procedures and begin to train and develop staff on improving n this area.

However, here is where reality meets theory, without written standard operating procedures risk analysis cannot be completed properly.  The bureaucracy protects itself and will thwart the implementation of written standard operating procedures as this removes designed incompetence that keeps the bureaucrat in power at the VA.  Thus, the root cause of improving root cause analysis is the lack of written procedures that measure performance against a single written standard.

CHIP Report after CHIP Report the same issues arise, are noted, recommendations from the VA-OIG are documented, and the same response is supplied; this represents the epitome of designed incompetence and the root of the problem the VA is facing.  Recommendations for improvement have been repeatedly provided and change can occur; but, not without dedicated leadership, not management, to thwart the bureaucratic quagmire that the VA has fallen into.

Leadership CartoonAnother regular entry on the CHIP reports is the following: “Employee satisfaction scores revealed opportunities for the Associate Director for Patient Care Services to improve employee attitudes towards senior leaders.”  Here is the problem, how many of the “senior leaders” are less than managers, promoted beyond their maximum level of incompetence, solely because they were the next warm body in line; too many!  When staff training is a repeated issue on CHIP reports, one must ask how employees are being measured?  Where are the written scorecards that reflect a process that was used to measure employee performance fairly and equitably?  Was the employee trained on how to perform their role according to the standards published?  Do the scorecards reflect that all employees have been trained, measured, and reported equally?

Guess what, since staff training remains a consistent problem, the staff leaders are the problem!  A major part of “Quality, Safety, and Value” is “Leadership and Organizational Risks.”  A lack of training in properly, timely, and correctly performing one’s role as hired is both a leadership and an organizational risk.  Failing to train employees is the absolute worst comment a leader should be informed of by a third-party inspection team.  Yet, the training of staff is consistently the root cause after a lack of standardized operating procedures.  Every mid-level supervisor, trainer, manager, director, etc. titled individual at the VA should be embarrassed when told their staff is untrained; but, it appears these same leaders do not care!

The Duty of AmericansHow can a person draw the conclusions that the VA appears to not care about improvement, or that the lack of caring is rampant across the entire VA structure; look no further than the site visit VA-OIG inspection report of the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).  The deputy undersecretary for field operations expected regional office managers to be aware of issues raised in other regional office site visit reports, but there was no written policy for addressing frequently identified errors.  So, the mid-level regional office managers must be told to investigate internal websites to gather lessons learned and apply those lessons in their regional offices.  What an incredibly inept excuse; shameful conduct by a senior leader, and how much worse does this attitude become as it filters down to the troops?  The behavior that claims a new policy is needed to improve performance is utterly bereft of logic and demonstrates the lackadaisical attitude being discussed.  Then these same leaders wonder why their staff is disengaged, disconnected, and distrusting of leadership; unbelievable!

One of the first lessons I learned in becoming a business professional was, “If you have to write your ethics down, you have already lost.”  The VA policies on ethics, ethical conduct, and ethical behavior are voluminous, trying to cover every detail, every loophole, every issue, and mostly the VA-OIG reports on ethical breaches reflect individual poor judgment at best, and designed incompetence at worst.  Yet, still, the VA tries to implement ethics without a source, moral behavior without a purpose, and the individual employee is left with plenty of excuses for not behaving in a properly ethical manner.  This is the topic of another article; but it must be made clear here and now, ethical lapses continue to abound at the VA.  From the nurse not giving drugs to patients and selling the drugs on the street, to hospital directors not disclosing what appears to be a conflict of interest, the VA remains afloat on a sea of ethical violations.

The remaining reports in August reflected an investigation that the VA-OIG was unable to substantiate due to a lack of reports filed in a timely and proper manner.  More designed incompetence on the part of the VA.  Also included in these final reports were more repetitions of issues discussed where staff training was the root cause for ethical violations, failure to properly perform duties as hired, and staff training was the problem with adherence and compliance issues.

The disconnect is obvious, and the direction forward is clear.  Hospital Directors, write the standard operating procedures, using the resources of how the work is performed currently as the baseline.  Then begin correcting and amending the written procedures over the following year to improve performance to a written standard.  Once the written standard is completed, e.g. the baseline, begin training of staff.  You cannot measure individual performance without standards, and standards cannot be followed without written operating procedures for conducting business.

Behavior-Change© 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/