NO MORE BS: Bureaucratic Fiat, a Veteran Suicide – Scrutinizing the Government

ApathyThe Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is in trouble due primarily to the employees’ lack of written directions, procedures, and processes to complete work.  Of the poor Veterans Health Administration (VHA), there is none worse than the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital system in Phoenix, AZ.  I support this conclusion with both personal observations and through comparative analysis.  Much research has gone into this conclusion, and while there are other VHA’s that compete for the bottom, the clear winner remains the Phoenix VA Medical Center (VAMC).

What is bureaucratic fiat?

Bureaucratic fiat is government employees who make decisions in their positions who rigidly adhere to any rule not to perform their job, inconvenience the customer, or thwart responsibility, accountability, and maintain their positions.  Bureaucratic fiat survives sections from the Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) through designed incompetence, lack of training, confusing processes, unwritten rules and guidelines, and simple negligence.

LinkedIn VA ImageVeteran Suicide!

Outside of first responders and active military, the suicide rates of veterans are too high and rising.  The suicide rate is disgusting to behold and tragic beyond words.  Of all the topics I discuss, veteran suicide remains my pet topic.  When veterans or military members (Reserve, National Guard, or Active) commit suicide, this rips a hole in communities, families, and the guilt the family and friends carry is so intense, they struggle not to commit suicide themselves.

Scrutinizing the Government!

DetectiveThe VA-OIG reported on a veteran who committed suicide, with ties to the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix.  The veteran reported to the hospital, asking for help.  The VA-OIG found that processes were intentionally not followed.  Help was not forthcoming, and the veteran committed suicide before the VA got their thumbs out and offered this veteran help.  The VA-OIG found the following:

      • “While the patient awaited the testing, facility staff failed to offer mental health treatment.
      • The social worker did not complete a suicide risk assessment and relied on another social worker’s suicide risk assessment completed eight months prior.
      • A family member called and left a voicemail message for the social worker. However, the social worker’s documentation did not include essential information, specifically that the patient died by suicide.
      • Upon learning of the patient’s death by suicide, a Suicide Prevention Coordinator failed to complete timely documentation of outreach to the patient’s family… the mental health delegate did not approve the community care psychology consult within three business days, as required by VHA.
      • The third-party administrator scheduled the patient for therapy rather than psychodiagnostics testing.
      • The facility scheduling staff did not complete required outreach efforts when the patient missed a primary care appointment one day before the patient’s death by suicide.
      • The Suicide Prevention Coordinator did not complete the patient’s behavioral health autopsy within 30 days, as required.”

One incident, one VAMC, one veteran, and nothing from the VA will protect veterans and improve the adherence to the policies and procedures moving forward; why even investigate by the VA-OIG?.  I weep with this family who lost their loved one to suicide.  I scream in frustration that the VA can continue to kill veterans struggling with suicide with impunity.

Detective 3Do not be deceived; this is not the only incident in Phoenix or all of the VA Healthcare System.  A veteran reaches out for help with suicide ideation, receives bureaucratic nonsense instead of support, and is treated to the red tape that becomes the noose in the suicide of that veteran.  One event a year is a tragedy of epic proportions.  The list never seems to end, nor do the bureaucrats ever get held accountable for their inactivity, contributing to veteran suicide.

12 November 2020, The Military Times reported that from 22005 through 2018, veterans committing suicide had risen dramatically, to a high in 2014 of 6,587.  Is the epicness of this tragedy more apparent?  Presuming that each of these veterans had two parents who came together and invested time to create the child that became the veteran,  13,174 parents now weep to lose their son or daughter who committed suicide.  According to the US Census, families in America had 1.9 children per couple (2014), rounding up to 26,348 is the potential parents and grandparents affected by suicide, and 52,696 is the pool when siblings are added.  If each of these suicides had a significant other, with two parents and two siblings, the potential affected by suicide is now approximately 105,392.  Add employers, friends from employment, communities, and educational or academic acquaintances, and the number of people affected by suicide can quickly reach a million people.  I used 2014 as the year to base the numbers upon as this was the highest number currently available, but 2020 saw a dramatic increase in suicide among all age groups and those with the Census delays; I doubt America will learn the full impact from COVID government madness any time soon.

LookNow, consider the following, each of those veterans who committed suicide in 2014 (6,587) had a suicide prevention team in place at the VA who failed to act.  6,587 people who deserved better treatment at the hands of the government employees, who have pledged to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.  Failed the veteran and played a role in the suicide of the veteran.  Rarely do the veterans who commit suicide, in VA parking spots, on Federal property receive the attention they deserve.  I am intimately aware of one such issue with the VA Medical Center in Albuquerque.  The veteran could not get help, became frustrated, walked to his car, and killed himself.

2019, The Washington Times, who proudly continues to declare that “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” ran a story about veterans who take their lives on VA Campuses, is a “form of protest” against the VA Healthcare system.  No, this is not generally the case; the veteran is not protesting; they are fed up with the fight to be respected, noticed, and receive assistance from people who have pledged to fulfill the Department of Veterans Affairs Mission Statement.  To fulfill President Lincoln’s promise “To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan” by serving and honoring the men and women who are America’s Veterans.”

DutyI demand to know where are the legislative branches of government in scrutinizing the operations at the VA?  Why are suicide rates allowed to climb without significant input from the legislative branch?  Why are veterans, directly after an encounter with the VA bureaucracy, committing suicide without in-depth investigations where heads roll for failing to perform the most basic customer service in fulfilling the VA’s Mission Statement?

While an employee of the VA, to get to the directors of the hospital’s offices, I had to walk past this mission statement that hung on brass letters, and all my attempts to aid in change fell on brass ears and plastic lips!  Every time the VA-OIG reports another death by suicide, death by negligence, with ties directly to VA employees not performing their jobs, I want to scream in frustration!  Veteran suicide rates are egregiously high, and for veterans to commit suicide within 96 hours of a visit to the VA is 100% unacceptable!  Why 96 hours; because to date, this is the longest time between actions by the VAMC and the death by suicide the VA-OIG has reported where VA employees should have been held accountable for their refusals to act in a manner to prevent a veteran from committing suicide.

Millstone of Designed IncompetenceAfter over a decade of reading and reporting VA-OIG reports and investigations, the deaths by suicide and negligence are the ones that raise my ire the most!  I would see the VA improve, but until the VA admits, or is forced by elected representatives to admit, they have a problem, nothing will change.  But the horror in that sentence is that veterans will continue to commit suicide and die through VA Employee negligence, and their deaths are as unremarked as if these heroes were common criminals who died in a prison brawl.  This remains an abysmal testimony to the incompetence and uncaring bureaucrat found in the VA’s vaunted halls!

© 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.

July Updates: OIG Reports That Should SHAME the VA!

Survived the VALate last week, I received a call from the Chief of police at the Phoenix VA Medical Center.  In July, I had been arrested for not wearing a mask.  By late August, I had figured the Phoenix VA Medical Center Director was going to just “forget me” and hope I go away, then the call comes in.  The Chief of police begins by stating, “I do not know why I am calling you, but I was requested to call and see what I can do to help.”

This response of the chiefs can be viewed two ways, he honestly does not know and needs to be updated, or he is using this as a conversation starter and does know.  I choose to see the best in people and gave the chief the benefit of the doubt.  I explained the situation, the multiple different stories regarding “VA Policy on Mask Wearing,” my multiple visits where I was not hassled about not wearing a mask, the confusion with the face shield, and the behavior of his officers in trying to implement poor policy.  To which the chief replied, I cannot help here and will return this issue to the director’s office where I had initially filed the complaint.

I do not blame the VA Police for arresting me.  They are tools of policy, as I have discussed previously and you can review here.  The police in my situation are stuck in the middle between a ridiculously inept hospital director, and the need to enforce the policies which issue forth.  At the beginning of COVID-19 hysteria, the director received a memo from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) regarding how to handle COVID-19.  The director did not adapt the policy to the local hospital, placing patients at risk who wears a mask in Phoenix summer conditions; nor, did the director include the ability for individual adaptation to individual patient health concerns, SAIL Metrics.  Thus, the VA Police are stuck, they cannot allow exceptions, they cannot allow for individual accommodations, and this places more burden upon the veterans seeking and requiring care at the Phoenix VA Medical Center and clinics.

The VA provides the rating of VA’s and the following website: Why not the best VA which will easily explain in a numeric format the indicators of problems with each VA.  What I find interesting is how many times the worst VA hospitals find themselves on the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) for egregious breaches of common sense, customer service, and common decency.  The Phoenix VA Medical Center is in VISN 22, and knowing the various hospitals intimately in VISN 22, the only conclusion possible in reviewing the data is that the 8 different hospitals in VISN 22 are in a dead heat race to the bottom, and the Albuquerque NM VA Medical Center is the best of the worst.

Carl T. HaydenThe VA-OIG conducted a healthcare inspection at the Atlanta VA Health Care System (VAHCS) in Decatur, Georgia, and found they had a backlog of open community care consults, and the OIG found deficiencies in processing, scheduling, and timeliness of these consults. Important to note, the contributory factors included but were not limited to, inconsistent scheduling processes, inconsistent oversight, and deficiencies with third-party administrator scheduling oversight, shortages of scheduling staff, and lack of training and supervision for scheduling staff. The facility did not consistently meet facility process requirements for scheduling audits and lacked a process to identify consults that were missing documentation after administrative closure.  While the Decatur VAHCS should be praised for not having any critical patient concerns due to the scheduling failures, this appears to be more luck on the patient’s part, than efficiency on the scheduling staff part.

The VA-OIG conducted a healthcare inspection at the Nashville VA Medical Center in Tennessee to evaluate alleged deficiencies in cardiac telemetry monitoring services including policies, staffing, and communication.  The facility should be praised for its progress in fixing deficiencies without the recommendations of the VA-OIG investigatory team.  The facility leaders also deserve praise for their attention to details, improvements in communication, and other facility improvements made since Feb 2019.  The last time this facility made the VA-OIG inspection report, the investigation was not pretty and their improvement needs to be praised; while more progress is needed, congratulations on the progress made.

Speaking of providing praise where praise is due, the VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive healthcare inspection of the Kansas City VA Medical Center (VAMC) and multiple outpatient clinics in Kansas and Missouri.  While this VAMC and outpatient clinics still have significant growth in improving SAIL metrics, they have progressed and growth is happening.  I send my regards, and sincere congratulations on the progress made.  I also wish them the best in continuing to improve.  This VAMC has a long road to recovering, but I know with patience, improved organizational design, and better staff training, they can get where they need to be.

ProblemsImagine you’re a patient, or worse a family member escorting the patient, with suicidal ideation, and you hear the doctor say, “the patient can go shoot themselves. I do not care,”  How would you feel about the 12-hour stay in the Emergency Room, after seeing seven different providers who did not read the notes, complete adequate patient handoff between the ER and outpatient mental health, which also includes deficiencies in the hand-off processes, and providers’ failure to read the outpatient psychiatrist’s notes, which led to a compromised understanding of the patient’s medical needs and a failure to enact the outpatient psychiatrist’s recommended treatment plan.  Completing six-days later in the veteran taking their life.  This exact scenario should NEVER have occurred but did at the Washington DC VA Medical Center.  Now, the physician making that detestable comment had previously made similar comments about other patients; crickets from leadership.  The ER physician making this incredibly obtuse statement has a history of making “inappropriate comments” about patients in the ER, and this has been known to leadership since Feb 2019.  No action, no investigation, no remediation, and now we have a dead veteran because the representative of the VA had the gall to say, “the patient can go shoot themselves. I do not care.”

I-CareWhen any veteran dies by their own hand, it is a tragedy.  But, when the VA has any responsibility in that veteran committing suicide, heads should roll, individual people should be held accountable, and in this case, especially, criminal proceedings should commence!  I worked in the VA ER, I know what the providers, nurses, and other staff providing patient interactions say.  I have reported several inappropriate comments that the patients heard to no avail, no recourse, and no action by hospital leadership.  I know, intimately, the political chicanery that occurs at the VA, and I can tell you, this IS a pet issue with me, and I am unapologetic in calling for criminal charges on these providers who are abusing veterans and their families!

Leadership CartoonThe VA-OIG inspected the VA Illiana Health Care System (VAHCS) and multiple outpatient clinics in Illinois.  The VA-OIG also inspected the William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital and multiple outpatient clinics in Illinois and Wisconsin.  I have been in both and I can say unequivocally, more progress is needed and the leadership desperately needs to improve professionalism among staff, improve patient safety from the bureaucrats not providing care, staff competencies, and staff training.  All of which were among deficiencies mentioned by the VA-OIG.  There is great potential in these VAHCS’ for achieving greatness, but the bureaucrats need deep cleaned, and removed!

What continues to astound me is the replication of excuses and issues between VAMC’s and VAHCS’ when these comprehensive healthcare inspections are conducted.  On average, I can expect 3-5 comprehensive healthcare inspection results from VA-OIG per week in my email box.  Yet, the same exact issues and excuses are used time after time, location after location.  Those VAMC’s and VAHCS’ who are failing know they are failing, and the lack of care witnessed by the inaction of the hospital leadership infuriates this veteran.  Leaving me asking, “Who will care enough to demand change and cease allowing these tepid and weak excuses to be allowed?”  Are the elected officials even looking at the repetitive nature of the issues and asking follow-up questions, demanding answers, or even bothered by failures in comprehensive healthcare inspections?

I have not personally visited or been a patient in the following VAMC; however, the stories I hear from my friends and colleagues tell me the VA-OIG might have missed a few indicators of problems in this inspection and bought the excuses for designed incompetence.  The VA-OIG conducted a review at the Ioannis A. Lougaris VA Medical Center in Reno, Nevada. The review proactively identified and evaluated declining performance metrics that could affect the quality of care and patient safety.  The staff blamed the falling metrics on “losing focus, staff pay, other change initiatives, inefficient processes, which all contributed to performance deficits.  These are standard excuses for designed incompetence and I refuse to accept these conclusions by the VA-OIG.  Will the Ioannis A. Lougaris VA Medical Center in Reno, Nevada be the next Phoenix, AZ VAMC to kill a couple hundred veterans before these excuses are no longer accepted?

VA SealThe behavior of the VA as recorded in these VA-OIG investigations and inspections continues to reveal significant problems with staff, where the staff has designed processes and procedures to allow a ready excuse for any problems that arise and continues to prove that a veteran takes their life in their hands when visiting the VA.  These actions must cease forthwith.  There is no excuse for the behavior investigated and reported.

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

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