“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles from the VA (Ch 9)

I-CareThe Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) regularly crows about reducing the backlog, improving the veteran experience, and making changes to deliver on the promise.  Every so often, another article is spread, mainly by the VA Public Relations department (PR), about how they meet the legislated obligations.  Then, unsurprisingly the truth is revealed, the curtain thrown back, and the lie exposed.  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) is helping pull the curtain back, and the truth should infuriate every American.  In an investigative report dated 22 June 2022 and linked, we find the following:

“… The VBA disregarded privacy procedures so it could use a workload tracking system more quickly without receiving the appropriate security authorization.  The Mission Accountability Support Tracker (MAST) helps quantify the work VBA’s support services staff perform in response to employee requests for facility, equipment, and vehicle management; reasonable accommodation; and identification card issuance and renewal.  Because staff use personally identifiable information (PII) in their work, the information could be compromised in an unauthorized, unsecured application.  The VA-OIG found that VBA and the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) did not correctly follow privacy and security procedures.  VBA’s privacy threshold analysis was inaccurate, and OIT did not conduct a privacy impact assessment.  OIT’s misclassification of MAST as an asset resulted in insufficient security controls.  Further, VBA lacked the authority to operate MAST before using it in regional offices.”

Lacking authority equates to a leadership failure to follow their standard operating procedures (SOP).  PII being inappropriately released, nothing new at the VBA, or the VHA for that matter.  Losing veterans’ identities and taking advantage of systems for personal gain, regardless of the cost, is nothing new or surprising.  This should be where the VA organizational leadership should be focused; yet, what are they doing?  Where is Congressional oversight and scrutiny?VA 3

FY 2017, the VBA leaders devised a scheme to have third-party vendors conduct compensation and pension exams to deliver on the promise to clear the backlog on veterans’ claims.  Since FY 2017, the VBA has paid over $6.5 Billion on this scheme, and the VA-OIG found in a report dated 08 June 2022, “Some of the exams produced by vendors have not met contractual accuracy requirements.  As a result, claims processors may have used inaccurate or insufficient medical evidence to decide veterans’ claims.”  Is anyone surprised this is the result?  The compensation and pension exam is the key to accuracy in claim completion; yet, inaccurate claims are still being adjudicated wrongly, which is significantly damaging veterans and their families!

From the report, we find the following:

VBA’s governance of and accountability for the exam program needs to improve.  The identified deficiencies appear to have persisted, at least partly because of limitations with VBA’s management and oversight of the program at the time of the review.”VA 3

The VBA’s leaders designed this scheme, shackled the program with ineptitude, and hindered the improvement of the program.  Designed incompetence cannot get any better than this, and the leadership must be held accountable!  Fraud, waste, and abuse remain pillars in Federal Government governance, so why are these leaders not being held liable?

Michael Bowman, Director of IT and Security Audits, in recent Congressional Testimony, made the following claim:

Secure IT systems and networks are essential to VA’s fundamental mission of providing eligible veterans and their families with benefits and services.  VA’s information security program and its practices must protect the confidentiality, integrity, and access to VA systems and data.”

The audacity of this director to claim “confidentiality, integrity, and access” as being secure would be laughable if it weren’t so inept!  How would a non-VA Employee know the IT system is fraught with problems?  VA-OIG report regarding FISMA compliance, Dallas, Texas.  The Federal Information Security Modernization Act of 2014 (FISMA).  FISMA is a United States federal law that defines a comprehensive framework to protect government information, operations, and assets against natural and manmade threats.  FISMA OIG inspections are focused on four security control areas that apply to local facilities.  They have been selected based on their level of risk: configuration management controls, contingency planning controls, security management controls, and access controls.VA 3

What did the VA-OIG find?  “Without effective configuration management, users do not have adequate assurance that the system and network will perform as intended and to the extent needed to support the CMOP’s missions.  The access control deficiencies create risks of unauthorized access to critical network resources, inability to respond effectively to incidents, loss of personally identifiable information, or loss of life.”  All political speak for inept leaders and deplorable leadership actions.  IT/IS systems continue to fail, and the director claims the system has integrity; despicable and detestable!

Worse, the same FISMA inspection occurred at the same outpatient pharmacy mail facility in Tuscon, Arizona.  The same problems were found, in the same systems, manned by the same inept people and led by the same poor leadership.  Integrity, only if the word means sharing ineptitude between different facilities.  Access to systems and data protection, can anyone honestly trust that the IT system at the VBA or VHA is providing the fundamental tools to meet the mission?VA 3

On the topic of IT system integrity, can anyone forget the continuing problems in delivering a functional electronic health record system to the VHA?  How many billions of dollars must be wasted before Congress stops paying for this albatross?  The VA-OIG has substantiated that “… many quality, patient safety, and organizational performance metrics were unavailable, including metrics needed for hospital accreditation.  Additionally, the VA-OIG found that access metrics were largely unavailable.  The VA-OIG remains concerned that deficits in new EHR metrics may negatively affect organizational performance, quality and patient safety, and access to care.”  How’s that integrity doing?  Is it trustworthy?

05 May 2022, failures were discovered in a joint DoD and VHA review of the new electronic health record system.  The new EHR has no plan to create interoperability, yet interoperability was the main selling point for spending billions of dollars on a new EHR.  Would you believe the VA-OIG recommends the DoD and VHA review federal laws and direct the offices overseeing the EHR program to begin complying?  Would Congress please ask, why haven’t the program managers for the HER already been complying with Federal Law?  How about demanding action to recompense the taxpayers who have been defrauded?VA 3

In April 2022, VA-OIG Michael J. Missal addressed Congress in a statement entitled, “At What Cost? – Ensuring Quality Representation in the Veteran Benefit Claims Process.”  The VA-OIG’s mission is “preventing and addressing fraud and other crimes, waste, and abuse in VA programs and operations.”  General Missal then discussed the integrity of VA processes to “help ensure that veterans receive the benefits, health care, and services they have earned through their service to our country.”  Would Congress please ask how the VA-OIG is fulfilling its mission to prevent fraud, waste, and abuse?

The VA-OIG operates a hotline that receives approximately 30,000 complaints annually from veterans, family members, VA employees, and the public.”  If the 30,000 complaints are presumed to be stable, across just the years I have documented the VA’s abuses, then the VA-OIG has received upwards of 360,000 complaints over the last 12 years.  Would Congress please ask about the success in promoting change, reducing fraud, waste, and abuse, and curbing the veterans being actively harmed by the VA, the VHA, and VBA?VA 3

Congress receives these VA-OIG reports first; what is Congress doing to scrutinize the executive branch?  Where is the progress?  The VA-OIG reports annually to Congress, but improvement never occurs.  Permanent change never occurs.  The same people are making the same excuses, using the same flowery language, and nothing ever happens to improve things.  Worse, the same people maintain the same jobs, who pays, the veterans and their families, and the American taxpayer through the nose as the VA loses more and more money!

I do not know about any Congressional elected leader, but I am through buying the Kool-Aid the VA-OIG is selling:

The VA-OIG’s work is focused on protecting VA programs and operations from waste, fraud, and abuse as well as improving their efficiency and effectiveness.”

On a single topic that the VA-OIG has reported on multiple times and remains critically important to all veterans and their families, it is reporting needs for improvement in VHA and VBA suicide prevention.  From the report, we find the following:

“… Suicide prevention coordinators at VA medical facilities are required to reach out to veterans referred from the Veterans Crisis Line.  Coordinators provide access to assessment, intervention, and effective care; encourage veterans to seek care, benefits, or services with the VA system or in the community; and follow up to connect veterans with appropriate care and services after the call.”

The findings from the VA-OIG report are almost criminal in the negligence of leadership to perform the jobs they hold:

The VA-OIG found that coordinators mistakenly closed some veteran referrals because coordinators lacked the proper training, guidance, and oversight necessary to maximize chances of reaching at-risk veterans referred by the crisis line.  VHA lacked comprehensive performance metrics to assess coordinators’ management of crisis line referrals, and coordinators lacked clear guidance on managing crisis line referrals.  Until VHA provides appropriate training, issues adequate guidance, and improves performance metrics, coordinators could miss opportunities to reach and assist at-risk veterans.”VA 3

Why did the media bury this report?  Suicide prevention continues to be a significant military and veteran issue, but this program’s designed incompetence should be a major story on all media networks.  More, this VA-OIG report should be a talking point for every congressional representative seeking re-election.  Why is this not the case?  Integrity requires honesty, honesty and integrity requires action.  When will Congress take action?

How many dead veterans will it take before Congress takes action?  31 May 2022 VA-OIG report:

The VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) conducted an inspection to review the care of an unresponsive patient by Emergency Department staff and the subsequent response of leaders at the Malcom Randall VA Medical Center (facility) after the patient’s death at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital (Shands).  The OIG determined that facility Emergency Department nurses failed to provide emergency care to an unresponsive patient who arrived by ambulance.  Despite emergency medical services (EMS) personnel having relayed, while en route to the facility, the criticality of the patient’s condition and the limited patient identifying information available, Emergency Department nurses and an Administrative Officer of the Day wasted critical time concentrating efforts on whether the patient was a veteran (which the patient was, but not so identified by the nurses) versus patient care.  As a result, EMS personnel reloaded the patient into the ambulance for transport to Shands.”VA 3

The staff failed to follow EMTALA, and a veteran died due to the inaction and inappropriate focus of the medical providers.  This is not the first or second breach of EMTALA, the federal law requiring any patient presenting at an emergency department receiving federal funds to be treated; yet, what will it take to get Congress off their thumbs?

12 May 2022, deficiencies in care led to a patient dying at the Charlie Norwood VAMC, Augusta, Georgia.  The VA-OIG substantiated that:

medical-surgical unit nursing leaders did not have adequate quality controls or training to ensure the provision of safe and effective alcohol withdrawal nursing care.”  “Primary care staff failed to provide sufficient care coordination and treatment.  A provider failed to address the patient’s abnormal chest images and poor nutrition and failed to communicate test results to the patient as required.  A primary care nurse failed to respond to the patient’s secure message request for assistance two days before surgery.

Additionally, a barium swallow test was not scheduled.  The surgical team completed a preoperative assessment but failed to detect the patient’s overall poor health.  During the patient’s hospital stay after surgery, medical-surgical nurses did not consistently assess alcohol withdrawal symptoms or administer medications as required.”VA 3

My wife is fond of saying, these oversights and failures occur in non-Government hospitals, and this incident should not be considered indicative of the whole system lacking similarly.  Yet, civilian hospitals have lawyers by the dozen looking for a reason to sue providers for malpractice, and the government hospitals protect against accountability and responsibility.  Worse, you will never know the problems unless you track these incidents.

Do you know why I keep declaring there is a problem with designed incompetence; several veterans suffered T-12 burst fractures and multiple rib fractures, all because of poor documentation and even worse communication.  This is a life-changing injury, and the VA-OIG found the VA providers to have culpability but no responsibility due to a lack of documentation.  Delays in provider documenting in the electronic health record the provider’s notes delayed care for another veteran who also suffered life-changing spinal injuries after receiving non-care at a VA facility.  The VA-OIG cannot conclusively document the tie between poor care being received and the injuries sustained by the veteran, all because of delays in the provider documenting treatment.VA 3

Tell me, does anything discussed above reflect the words of Inspector General Michael J. Missal, who claimed the following in Congressional Testimony:

VHA continues to face enormous challenges in providing high-quality care to the millions of veterans it serves.  Despite these challenges, the VA-OIG has witnessed countless examples of veterans receiving the care they need and deserve—delivered by a committed, compassionate, and highly skilled workforce [emphasis mine].”VA 3

Does a provider killing a veteran reflect a committed, compassionate, or highly skilled workforce?  How many veterans must be permanently injured by the VHA providers to reflect a committed, compassionate, and highly skilled workforce?  How often will the electronic health record fail before highly skilled workers are displayed?

Plato 2Unfortunately, the VA-OIG reports discussed are not even the tip of the iceberg of what is happening.  My apologies, dear readers; I have been remiss in my reporting duties.  Why have I been remiss, because my health went sideways since April when I had a medical procedure completed that was advised but not appropriate.  The VHA and VBA are sick organizations and desperately need scrutiny and standards, new leadership, and written organizational policies.  Help me force these nefarious characters into the sunshine for a good dose of sunshine disinfectant, and let’s change the world for the better.

© Copyright 2022 – 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.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

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“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles from the VA Chapter 6

I-CareI promised a follow-up article after Chapter 5; it took me the better part of 48 hours to cool down sufficiently to write coherently to effect an update.  On 18 March 2002, I wrote about an appointment with my Primary Care Provider (PCP) being tardy, unprepared, and bureaucratese in supposedly holding a phone appointment with me.  01 April 2022, not an “April Fools Joke,” at 0731 hours, lasting 9 minutes, my PCP called me to get my approval to have me changed from her PACT team to another provider’s team.  Apparently, in the highly red taped world of PCPs at the El Paso VAHCS, there must be an hour-long handoff call when a provider initiates a change of PACT team.  I have my doubts and smell designed incompetence!

Let me pause here for a moment.  I generally need two hours to write an article after conducting research.  18 March 2002, it took a bit longer to draft that one due to the need to blow off steam with some choice words and choke down the urge to beat a few brick walls with my fists.  I am generally a very controlled person, and the fact that this PCP was so stunningly incompetent, rude, and HIPAA clueless, I admit I lost my cherub-like demeanor!  That the patient advocate was able to get my secure message, upload the comments into the electronic medical record, and contact the provider before the provider had even logged the patient notes, speaks volumes about the ineptitude of the PCP.  Worse, in the call on 01 April, the PCP was still on speakerphone, still disregarding HIPAA security, and quoted lines out of context from my message to the patient advocate.  Speaking volumes about the processes and procedures of the patient advocate’s office to investigate patient claims without breaching confidentiality.  Another topic for another day entirely!PACT_model

28 March 2022, I received the following from the patient advocates office, quoted completely:

We have received your secure message addressing your concerns.  I will be sending a Patient Advocate Tracking notification with your concerns to our Primacy Care Service for review.  They will be contacting you via telephone to discuss your concerns.”

I never heard anything from this mysterious “Primary Care Service” group/team.  01 April 2022 was the first response, and that was from the PCP.  Sourcing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG), the PCP is the second most important member of the Patient-Aligned Care Teams (PACT) at the VA; the patient is the essential member and an actively engaged and knowledgeable patient is preferred.  I promise the VA-OIG has not even scratched the surface of the problems with recalcitrant, snowflake, and bureaucratic PCPs endangering patient health with the VA.  Not my first run-in with an inept PCP; I sincerely hope it is my last!PACT 3

In returning to the 01 April call, we find another interesting piece of data.  The PCP affirmed that abdominal pain could radiate from, say a hernia, to other parts of the abdomen, but this is for a specialist to diagnose, not a Family Practitioner.  Get that; the PCP is directly reversing all the published documentation by the VA and the VA-OIG by declaring that a specialist is the only person who can adequately decipher and detail why pain is occurring—putting all the PCPs in the VA Health Administration under the bus as merely button pushers and drug dealers.  Then the PCP has the temerity, nay the chutzpah, to suggest a trust deficiency existing between myself and the PCP.  Is it any wonder that people are detested, forlorn, melancholy, madder than a wet chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids with the care they receive from VA healthcare providers?

Again, I repeat, only for emphasis, when any updates arrive on this issue, I will publish them in their entirety to allow the VA the opportunity to rebut, refute, or explain.  Like the ongoing saga with VISN 22, the Phoenix VAMC, and being arrested and injured three times by the VA Police, I am not holding my breath and awaiting a logical response.  If this were the only problem in the two weeks since the PCP shenanigans, the VA would be in pretty good shape.  Alas, we know, dear readers, that the VA is in dire condition, and the elected leaders need to be scrutinizing the VA a LOT more closely than they are.VA 3

We begin the latest chapter of VA-OIG reports with yet another physician bilking the government:

Robert Clay Smith, a Louisiana physician, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud, wire fraud, and illegal remunerations (taking kickbacks).  According to court documents, the scheme, which ran from 2013 until 2017, involved individuals associated with a medical supply and billing company recruiting Smith to dispense pain creams and patches to his workers’ compensation patients by offering him a split of the profits.  The company acted as the billing agent for Smith, handling all the paperwork and submitting the allegedly fraudulent claims to the US Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, and private insurers.  In exchange, the company paid Smith 50 to 55 percent of the profits collected from successfully billing insurers, at markups of 15 to 20 times what the medications cost.”

Plus the following:

Robert Schneiderman of Langhorne, Pennsylvania, admitted to participating in a massive compounded-medication kickback scheme that he and others ran out of a pharmacy in Clifton, New Jersey.  Schneiderman pleaded guilty in federal court to one count of conspiracy to commit healthcare fraud and one count of conspiracy to violate the Anti-Kickback Statute.  From 2014 through 2016, Schneiderman and his coconspirators used Main Avenue Pharmacy, a mail-order pharmacy with a storefront in New Jersey, to run a fraud and kickback scheme involving compounded drugs like scar creams, pain creams, migraine mediation, and vitamins.  Schneiderman was the president of Main Avenue Pharmacy and was a founder and CEO of its corporate parent.  Main Avenue Pharmacy received over $34 million in reimbursements from healthcare benefit programs on compounded medications alone.  Approximately $8 million of that total was paid by federal payers.  Schneiderman himself earned over $400,000 through the course of the scheme.  This case was investigated by the VA OIG, FBI, Department of Defense OIG, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and Department of Health and Human Services OIG.”

Don’t forget this one:

Dr. Harry Doyle, a psychiatrist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and his wife, Sonya Doyle, have agreed to pay $3 million to resolve alleged violations of the False Claims Act.  The alleged violations include submitting false billing to the US Department of Labor Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP) for psychiatric services that were not provided and upcoding and double-billing patient claims.  The Doyles have also agreed to be voluntarily excluded from federal healthcare programs for 25 years as part of the settlement.  This is the largest recovery against a single psychiatrist in the history of the OWCP.  A multiagency investigation of Dr. Doyle’s practice revealed that from January 2013 through April 2021, the Doyles allegedly billed for services not rendered, some of which occurred when they were not physically present in the United States.  This case was investigated by the VA OIG, the Department of Labor OIG, and the United States Postal Service OIG.”

More is coming on this one:

Ten Texas doctors and a healthcare executive have agreed to pay more than $1.68 million to resolve False Claims Act allegations involving illegal remuneration in violation of the Anti-Kickback Statute and Stark Law.  According to a multiagency investigation, from 2015 to 2018, the doctors allegedly received thousands of dollars in illegal remuneration from eight management service organizations (MSOs) in exchange for ordering laboratory tests from Rockdale Hospital doing business as Little River Healthcare, True Health Diagnostics LLC, and Boston Heart Diagnostics Corporation.  Little River funded the illegal remuneration to the doctors in the form of volume-based commissions paid to independent contractor recruiters, who used the MSOs to pay numerous doctors for their referrals.  The MSO payments to the doctors were disguised as investment returns but were based on and offered in exchange for the doctors’ referrals.  As part of their settlements, the defendants have agreed to cooperate with the Department of Justice’s investigations of other parties involved in the alleged law violations.  To date, 17 doctors and two healthcare executives involved in this scheme have agreed on settlements totaling more than $2.7 million.  The civil settlements resulted from a coordinated effort between the VA OIG, Department of Health and Human Services OIG, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, and the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Texas [emphasis mine].”

Elected officials, the next time you are asked about the incredible amounts of fraud in government-provided healthcare and insurance, do not buy the media talking points that the fraud is minimal, contained, or anything but designed incompetence on the part of the bureaucrats to act as a jobs program for investigators!  The same investigators who are refused sufficient tools to investigate shenanigans by employees in the Federal Government adequately.?u=http2.bp.blogspot.com-fGEUjJsJ2h4VcJgswaisnIAAAAAAAABcsoFqEewPF_E4s1600quote-if-the-freedom-of-speech-is-taken-away-then-dumb-and-silent-we-may-be-led-like-sheep-to-the-george-washington-193690.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

Frankly, all of these cases need the government workers to be held accountable, and the myriad of red tape loopholes CLOSED!  I remember an election; I forget who and the exact when, but a significant election plank in the platform was healthcare reform, promising to clean up the swamp and bring accountability to Washington and the government.  The public is still waiting, and I know enough of you have run on this topic from both parties to repaper the walls (inside and outside) of the White House.

Yet, even if only outside providers and executives were scheming, the VA might not be in too bad a condition.  Except for the employees of the VA, VHA, and VBA, which continue to be caught up in ethics violations at a minimum:

The VA-OIG conducted an administrative investigation that included a congressional request to look into allegations that Charmain Bogue, former executive director of the Veterans Benefits Administration’s Education Service, committed ethical violations arising from her spouse’s consulting work for Veterans Education Success (VES).  VES is a nonprofit advocacy group that regularly had business before the Education Service.  The allegations also pointed to possible incomplete financial disclosures by Ms. Bogue concerning her spouse’s consulting business.  In their work, investigators uncovered evidence of other potential conflicts of interest and related misconduct by Ms. Bogue [emphasis mine].”

VA-OIG finding:

    1. Bogue participated in Education Service matters involving VES without considering whether it raised an apparent conflict of interest and acted contrary to the ethics guidance she received from her supervisors.
    2. Bogue sought résumé feedback from the president of VES to aid in her search for career advancement without considering whether this raised apparent conflict of interest concerns in subsequent VES matters. VES also endorsed Ms. Bogue for presidential nominee positions.
    3. Bogue provided insufficient detail about her spouse’s business in 2019 and 2020 public financial disclosures; VA ethics attorneys had found them compliant. She remedied the subsequently identified deficiency in her 2021 disclosure.
    4. The OIG found that Ms. Bogue refused to cooperate fully in the OIG’s investigation by refusing to complete her follow-up interview. Her husband and VES president also refused to participate in OIG interviews, and the OIG lacks testimonial subpoena authority over individuals who are not VA employees.   Bogue resigned from VA in January 2022.VA 3

UPDATE: 14 April 2022Sen. Grassley was hoodwinked by the VA on this issue and The Daily Signal (linked) has more of this report.  I covered this before, I repeat only for emphasis, when you are discharged from the VA, you lose your ability to be a “whistle-blower.”  As a point of fact, this is how the VA is able to hide a lot of their shenanigans, get rid of the person rocking the boat, invent the paperwork, cover the whole incident over as a “bad-apple” and keep you collective heads down and mouths shut until the VA-OIG investigation concludes.  The VA’s ability to abuse whistle-blowers is further compounded by Federal Attorneys who cherry-pick the cases they know they can win.  Which further protects the VA’s shenanigans and disheartens and mystifies those who have been wrongly terminated.  The Daily Signal reflects this pattern of corruption perfectly citing the records obtained by Empower Oversight.

Some commentators have claimed that blaming elected officials for not scrutinizing or not providing tools to investigate entirely is unduly unfair to the congressional representatives.  Really?!?!?!  The VA-OIG conducts an investigation, the people being investigated refuse to comply, and the VA-OIG is toothless to enforce a full and complete investigation to initiate Attorney General and FBI investigations and actions to recompense the defrauded taxpayer.  Ms. Bogue and the VES have invalidated any trust the taxpayer should have in their respective activities, but this, like so many other investigations into VA employees, will die of apathy before anyone is held accountable.  Even though a congressional representative demanded an investigation, nobody is being held liable.  Nobody is forced to compensate the defrauded taxpayer, yet the taxpayer is still expected to elect the same old representatives to their jobs.  Blaming the congressional representatives (legislative branch) for not scrutinizing the executive branch, one of only two jobs these people have, is somehow unfair?  NO!Exclamation Mark

Remarkably, between the 18 March disaster with the PCP and 01 April’s compounding idiocy, the VA-OIG published an ironically titled investigation report.

Improved Governance Would Help Patient Advocates Better Manage Veterans’ Healthcare Complaints.”

Imagine that, more designed incompetence negatively impacting the veterans seeking care at a VA medical facility, stating the obvious by the investigators.  Who on earth would be responsible for seeing that regulatory agencies had the tools needed to scrutinize and demand corrective action?  Calling all elected officials, did you notice that one of the prima facia tools a veteran has to report problems, conveniently called “patient advocates,” does not have the sufficient authority, adequate oversight, and tools to execute their jobs?  The VA-OIG reports the following:

The Patient Advocacy Program helps advance the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) efforts to improve customer service, support veterans’ access to quality care, and provide a mechanism to resolve healthcare issues.  Patient advocates document veterans’ concerns, communicate the resolution, provide follow-up and feedback, and identify trends for potential opportunities to improve medical facilities.  In FY 2020, VHA tracked about 162,000 serious complaints in its patient advocate tracking systems.”

Angry Wet ChickenOn a side topic, VA-OIG, how do you define a “significant complaint” and separate it from other types of complaints?  Honest question, the information was, to quote my PCP, “remarkably” missing from your investigation report!  Would the VA-OIG like to know why so many veterans’ complaints have risen to a “serious” level?  You reported the exact problem:

A complaint is considered resolved when the complainant communicates the outcome, and the record is closed in the tracking system.”

Maybe, the VA-OIG merely overlooked the logic problem, but complaints increase when the solution pushed down the throats of the veterans does not fix the actual situation.  Honest question, no sarcasm involved.  Is a “serious” complaint one where significant harm or death to the patient has occurred?  Is a serious complaint one that breaks federal laws, EMTALA, comes readily to mind??u=https3.bp.blogspot.com-fYRTNk48SCwT8ua0IRDWPIAAAAAAAAFZUpexSmJsN2Kos1600overcoming-adversity-help-yourself-believe-cubby-motivational-1289878102.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

Having had “solutions” forced down my throat, speaking only for myself, I am thoroughly sick of having the patient advocates bureaucratize my complaint, then fail to act, and then compound the problem by quoting policy to me as a reason to close the complaint, when the VHA never have written policies and procedures!  Maybe, you might want to look into the root causes of some of those “closed” complaints and ask root causation questions!

What did the VA-OIG find when they investigated the patient advocates?

    • VHA lacked adequate governance of the Patient Advocacy Program.
    • VHA did not effectively issue and implement adequate policy, monitor complaint practices, and provide guidance to medical facility directors responsible for local program management.
    • Patient advocates did not always enter complaints into the system.
    • Even though complaint records generally appeared to be closed on time, patient advocates did not always document the communication of the outcomes to the complainants.
    • The VA-OIG substantiated an inadequate program policy to identify clear expectations and responsibilities.
    • The VA-OIG found that they (patient advocates) did not always adhere to the documentation requirements to show full complaint resolution.
    • At the local and VISN levels, responsible personnel did not consistently analyze patient advocate tracking system complaints about trends.

Feel free to read the complete abomination of designed incompetence for yourself.  Essentially the VA-OIG concluded that the VHA has been burning taxpayer money in a patient advocacy program, and the designed incompetence is so apparent it can be tracked from L2, where the James Webb telescope is located!  Worse, you won’t need the James Webb telescope to see the designed incompetence!James Webb Space Telescope

Unfortunately, I could have guessed the first three findings without looking.  Every VA program is designed so ineptly, reprehensibly led, criminally incompetent, and with such dastardly deceptive doings that fiction writers’ storylines have to be written better to sell books.  You cannot make this stupidity up and make a profit.  Hollywood would run screaming into the night if they made a true story about the ineptitude found at the VA!

Knowledge Check!Elected officials, where are you?  The VA-OIG presents copies of their findings to you, and I have yet to witness a single one of you holding the VA Leadership criminally responsible for the failures at the VA.  Even when the VA is killing hundreds of veterans, the US Congress refuses even to act upset, let alone scrutinize for a change!  Remember how many veterans were intentionally killed in Phoenix waiting for treatment?  How many VA employees lost their jobs and pensions or were forced in front of a judge for murder?  It is a fair question, where are the elected officials in the legislative branch working to end the criminal “fraud, waste, abuse,” and designed incompetence in the executive branch?

© Copyright 2022 – 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.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles from the VA Chapter 5

I-CareI had originally planned on writing something else today, but my mental train was derailed, caught on fire, and I had to change my plans.  18 March 2022, I received an email signed from Sonja Brown of the Albuquerque VAMCS, who discussed how it takes 10-20 years for the VA to make a decision about which clinics to close, how to build new clinics, and the possibility of change (not) occurring in the New Mexico VA Medical System.  Doesn’t that warm your heart; two decades is a maximum timeframe for ending unprofitable clinics to save the taxpayer money.  Now multiply this problem by every government agency, and we find the reason for reducing the government bloat!VA 3

Luckily, I still have VA-OIG reports to discuss, not that I got behind, but February and March have been especially prolific.  In January, the pace set appears to be sustained, at least for the first quarter of 2022.  Some have commented that I do not write very often about the National Cemetery side of the VA’s voluminous bureaucracy.  Your wish is granted; a whistleblower reported that the Houston National Cemetery was not being operated properly.  The VA-OIG substantiated “some of the claims made by the whistleblower.”  However, the leadership at the Houston National Cemetery had, for the most part, already begun making changes before the VA-OIG arrived.

Thus, I congratulate the Houston National Cemetery leadership for being almost proactive and 100% more responsible than any leadership in the VHA and VBA.  My heartiest gratitude to you and your staff.  May you continue to show initiative, forward-thinking, and attention to detail, and may the rest of the VA’s hegemonically impotent leaders learn from your example.VA 3

A Comprehensive Healthcare Inspection (CHIP) was conducted at the James J. Peters VAMC in the Bronx, NY.  While a lot of the report is cookie-cutter, similar to all the other CHIPs that cross my inbox, I remain fascinated with a frequently used term from the report, “Servant Leadership.”  From the website linked, we find the following to define “servant leadership” at the VA:

We are all leaders, all of the time.
Servant Leadership is an approach for optimizing the delivery of client-centered services by strengthening employees to be an engaged and empowered workforce.  The philosophy and practice of Servant Leadership is one that emphasizes caring, authenticity, and putting clients and employees first, and ahead of personal goals or leadership aspirations.  Servant Leaders strive to meet both organizational objectives and the growth / development of their workforce.”

Please note ALL the grammar and punctuation errors are included in that quote.  Far be it for me to pass along any advice on grammar, spelling, punctuation, and proper communication techniques.  But, even this quoted material reflects the fact that there is a Grand Canyon-like chasm between DC leadership and the worm’s eye-view in a VA Hospital, VBA operations center, or the National Cemetery.  Be a leader at the VA, and you will NOT last your probationary period after hire; I have experienced this personally!VA 3

Worse, try and help the VA from the worm’s eye to see the problems and fix the issues, and the VA Leadership will chop you into little tiny pieces and feed your carcass to the fishes.  Yet, every single CHIP report mentions problems with “servant leadership” as opportunities for growth and development.  More bureaucratese for designed incompetence as an excuse, the VA-OIG will believe.  How sick to death I am of these shenanigans!  Don’t believe me; check out the full CHIP report, it’s linked above, read a few of the other CHIP reports from the VA-OIG, and discuss the actual problems you think the VA is experiencing.

Servant Leadership is officially defined, by Purdue University, quoting Robert Greenleaf from 1970, as:

The servant-leader is servant first.  It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve first … a philosophy and set of practices that [enrich] the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.”

Notice a problem between the two definitions of servant leadership?  Recognize an issue yet with the entire concept of servant-leadership?  Let me give you a hint through a question, What does a “just and caring world” really define?  The whole concept of servant leadership is easily twisted, plasticized, and framed in a way that removes liberty, destroys justice, and wrecks havoc on a free society, all because the philosophy sounds good, but the practice leaves chaos and destruction in the name of creating a more just and caring world.Servant Leadership and Health Care: Critical Partners in Changing Times

I am not condemning anyone who wants to try and improve their leadership skills through learning servant leadership or applying some of the servant leadership philosophies in their leadership toolbox.  I am merely stating that care and caution should be used when trying to reshape the world on such ambiguous and amorphous terms as “just and caring.”  The VA is trying to force a leadership template for all leaders to follow.  This type of leadership philosophy warps the world and makes leaders into managers with excuses for failure, e.g., designed incompetence.

On a different topic, please read the following carefully:

The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reviews nonpharmaceutical proposals submitted to the VA National Acquisition Center (NAC) for Federal Supply Schedule (FSS) contracts valued annually at $10 million or more for high tech medical equipment, $3 million or more for all other FSS contracts, $100,000 or more based on manufacturer sales under dealers or resellers, or as requested by the NAC.”

Here is why the above is critical:

The VA-OIG determined commercial disclosures were accurate, complete, and current for only 24 of the 103 proposals reviewed.  This means 24 proposals were reliable for determining negotiation objectives and fair and reasonable pricing.  The remaining 79 could not reliably be used for negotiations until the noted deficiencies were corrected.  The OIG recommended lower prices than offered for 76 proposals.

If you, in your employment, had a 23% accuracy rate, and someone else had to come behind you, redoing all of your work, how long would you last in your job?  Note there are still 3 proposals that do not meet regulations and requirements out of 103 contract reviews.  Read the rest of this incredible report for yourself and know what your elected representatives are failing to curtail and control.  Then answer the following question: “Why should we re-elect ANY of the current elected officials?”VA 3

On the topic of designed incompetence of an almost criminal nature, we find the VBA still making headlines and breaking rules of ethics, morals, and logic with aplomb!  Before getting into the VA-OIG report, it is crucial to note that the VBA has exclusively gone to a third-party model for Compensation and Pension exams.  The most important part of the VBA’s operations, the comp and pen exam, is now conducted solely by third-party contracts companies.  A VA doctor sees a person trying to get their benefits from the VBA no longer but a third-party physician’s assistant at best, who is (supposedly) overseen by a medical doctor.  The lack of transparency and the complicated processes of the VBA are gordian, and transparency is hidden; read that as missing entirely.You know it's true - Imgflip

Here comes the VA-OIG, not to the rescue, but to rub salt into the wounds of veterans whose claims continue to be denied for lack of evidence.

“[The] VBA complied with the requirements of the law by reinstating 69 questionnaires on its public-facing website.  However, disability benefits questionnaires that were incomplete, inaccurate, or of questionable authenticity from non-VA medical providers were not always processed correctly when determining benefits entitlement—causing underpayments of about $13,900 and overpayments of $74,800 over the nine months studied.

Improper processing occurred because VBA lacked sufficient controls to ensure disability benefits questionnaires from non-VA medical providers were properly relied on when determining entitlement to benefits.”

Let’s let this sink in for a moment.  The VBA moved to a third-party model, then denied access to the VBA’s questionnaires to determine benefits, then had to be forced to reinstate the questionnaires.  Improper VBA processes and procedures led to over and underpayments of benefits, and claims processors still do not have the tools to make informed and logical decisions reliably.  Best of all, veracity (questionable authenticity) remains questioned in the process when the third-party contractor submits the forms for benefits.VA 3

You cannot make this stuff up; fiction writers can come nowhere close to creating a story this inane!  Is designed incompetence as a concept clear now?  The VBA developed a process using a more expensive model and then questioned the inputs for veracity from the contracted party, and the veteran suffered more!  Do you think the VBA intentionally designs its processes to help and create a more just and caring world (servant leadership)?  I think the VBA intentionally designed their processes to screw veterans in the hope they die before the government ever pays money on their claims.  Let me know what you think in the comment section, for this is a travesty of justice anyway I slice the data.

As a veteran who has been trying to get a compensation and pension decision corrected since leaving the service in 2004, having suffered both overpayments, which I had to repay, underpayments, and erroneous overpayments where the funds paid were (eventually) refunded, the news from the VBA designed incompetence is a particular form of hell for me to read and discuss.  I have had the third-party comp and pen exam doctors refuse to see me three times in the last two years.  Delaying a VBA decision repeatedly.  I have had the VBA reject the third-party data and a new comp and pen exam scheduled, rescheduled because I cannot wear a mask, and then conducted by a hostile and infuriating provider who refused to listen to the patient.Are you an Incompetent Developer? - Web Development & Web Design Blog

When veterans talk about fighting the VBA for a fair and honest decision, they mean a literal fight!  Don’t take my word for it; ask veterans how their comp and pen exam has gone; when you find those struggling with the VBA, listen carefully to their stories, and you will hear very similar stories.  The VBA represents government inefficiency, designed incompetence, and bureaucratic inertia to the Nth degree!

The following link might, or might not, work as intended; the link directs you to all testimony recorded from congressional hearings.  If it works, you will be able to read the statement of David Case, Deputy IG, who was testifying before the HVAC subcommittee on drafted legislation “Quality Education for Veterans Act of 2022”.  A brief synopsis from his testimony is included below:

This bill would significantly strengthen the OIG’s efforts to prevent fraud in VA’s education and training programs.  Given that more than $10 billion in taxpayer funds is expended on education and training programs each year and hundreds of thousands of veterans, service members, and family members receive these benefits, the OIG supports efforts to strengthen programmatic and beneficiary protections.  The statutory changes in the draft bill do not appear to be burdensome or costly to educational institutions or VA, and yet they have the potential to make a significant impact on the amount of education fraud that occurs.  The OIG agrees that these changes would work to lessen the harm suffered by veterans and beneficiaries and reduce losses to the government.”

Ever wonder how much a VA-OIG inspection costs or where and how the VA-OIG is funded; here is the answer and the problem.  Tell me, why is the VA-OIG not financed from the VA budget?  Simple question, not hard, and requires an explanation!  The explanation should be detailed, transparent, and I guarantee that the answer will reflect the designed incompetence and failure to scrutinize the executive branch adequately.  The VA is one of the few, if not the only, Federal Government Agency with a specialized inspectorate general, dedicated solely to independent oversight and continuous improvement of the VA.  I think the VA-OIG might be failing in its mission.VA 3

Fraud is rampant in the VA because the VA refuses to act, work, change, and improve.  How will throwing more money at VA programs alleviate the hurt, stop the fraud, and spur continuous improvement?  Almost every week, my inbox fills with accounts of fraud occurring, but the roots of the problems are never addressed, and people are not held accountable for failing to perform the work they were hired to complete.  Failing to hold people responsible promotes fraud, waste, and abuse.  Allowing whistleblowers to be fired promotes a discouraged whistleblowing culture, and the perpetrators are allowed to continue their nefarious misdeeds!  How is the VA-OIG going to tackle these systemic issues in the culture at the VA?  When will continuous improvement begin; I do not want to miss growth and development!

Knowledge Check!America, the VA is sick.  A symptom not a disease; the larger disease is a refusal to act morally upright.  The majority of those employed in the behemoth of government service have little to no moral compunction, are not servants of the taxpayer, and consider themselves “Too BIG to fail.”  We need a smaller government, and I hope this message helps enlighten and support shrinking the government!

© Copyright 2022 – 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.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

That’s Crazy!!! – More Chronicles from the VA (CH 5)

I-CareThe end of the year inundation continues unabated.  Unfortunately, so to does the failure of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) to inspire and motivate change.  Thus, my continual efforts in opening the transparency and demanding accountability for the VA leadership, and insistence that the American Congress do its job in scrutinizing the executive branch!  I repeat, only for emphasis, the US Congress (the US Senate and US House of Representatives collectively) only have two jobs.  1) write laws that are constitutional and for the benefit of all, themselves included, American citizens.  2) scrutinize the executive branch to protect the American Citizen from abuse and runaway actions.  Feel free to read the links to each story for more information, the failure of elected officials to act and prevent this behavior is abysmal, and these are just summaries, the full story is detestable!

In yet another fraudulent scheme, the fraudsters are penalized but the VA employees are left without penalty.

Thomas Farese, 79, of Delray Beach, Florida, and Domenic J. Gatto Jr., 47, of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, are charged in an 11-count indictment with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit health care fraud, health care fraud, conspiracy to transact in criminal proceeds, transacting in criminal proceeds, and conspiracy to violate the federal Anti-Kickback Statute.VA 3

Two VA employees, over the course of four years, caused the VA to lose $1.38 million in kickbacks.

Two Chicago-based VA employees were charged in connection with a fraud scheme that involved pocketing cash payments from vendors in exchange for steering orders for medical equipment to those vendors. Andrew Lee is charged with one count of wire fraud, while Kimberly Dyson is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit bribery and four counts of bribery. Lee and Dyson worked as prosthetic clerks in the VHA Prosthetics Service in Chicago, where part of their duties was to select vendors to order medical equipment for VA patients using government purchase cards. The charges allege that Lee and Dyson schemed with coconspirators who owned or operated medical supply and distribution companies, in some cases placing orders for unnecessary and more costly monthly rentals of medical equipment, rather than purchasing the equipment as VA physicians had ordered. The scheme fraudulently caused the VA to overpay one company by more than $1.38 million from 2016 to 2020. Lee and Dyson pocketed kickbacks of at least $220,000 and $39,850, respectively.VA 3

From fraud to theft, we find another VA employee improperly taking advantage of their position for personal gain.

Former VA-certified registered nurse anesthetist, Elizabeth Prophitt of Saline, Michigan, was sentenced to three years’ probation for stealing controlled substances, including several opioids, from hospital-dispensing machines. Prophitt pleaded guilty to five counts of obtaining controlled substances by fraud, misrepresentation, or deceit. She used her position as a surgical nurse to steal more than 2,000 vials of Schedule II and Schedule IV controlled substances, which included fentanyl, hydromorphone, morphine, and midazolam. Prophitt would use protected patient information and falsify medical documents to obtain the controlled substances. Instead of using the medication on patients, she diverted the drugs for her own personal use.VA 3

For all those people who shudder when they think of how porous the government is in protecting personal identifiable information (PII), the following should alert and provide more fodder to end the political ambitions of representatives who continue to refuse to do their jobs!

Five out of seven conspirators were convicted for their roles in a scheme to defraud the VA and the Social Security Administration of more than $1.8 million. A Florida jury found Omar Shaquille Bailey and Ronaldo Garfield Green guilty following an eight-day trial, while a third codefendant, Jamare Mason, pleaded guilty on the second day of trial. Two other codefendants, Kadeem Gordon and Mario Ricketts, had pleaded guilty prior to trial, while two remaining codefendants have yet to be apprehended. The members of this conspiracy obtained the personally identifiable information of disabled veterans and Social Security beneficiaries and used this information to fraudulently open bank accounts and prepaid debit cards. They also forged documents in the victims’ names that directed the VA and the Social Security Administration to deposit benefit payments into those fraudulent accounts. The defendants and their coconspirators withdrew these funds from ATMs and banks throughout South Florida and Georgia for their own personal use. Much of the funds were ultimately funneled to the architects of the scheme in Jamaica. The five guilty defendants are awaiting sentencing.VA 3

Please remember, an indictment is not a conviction, and every person is allowed their day in court, in front of a jury of their peers, before sentencing and judgment is passed.  With that said, the following indictment is pretty compelling.  If found guilty, may the defendant be forced to do community service in distinctive clothing, in a public place, and carrying a sandwich board detailing their crimes.  Inexcusable and unforgiveable are terms not used enough for some crimes!

Rosemary Ogbenna of Washington, DC, was named in a 35-count indictment for allegedly carrying out a scheme to steal more than $400,000 in government benefit funds provided by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and VA. According to the indictment, Ogbenna operated a rooming house business and perpetrated the scheme to target some of her tenants. She obtained and maintained control over SSA and VA benefit funds intended for the care of elderly, mentally ill, disabled, and veteran beneficiaries, and used the funds for her own personal use and benefit.VA 3

The Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center (VAMC) in Albuquerque, NM is in the news again.  No surprise if you, like me, are familiar with the conditions and leadership at this VAMC.  Unfortunately, another veteran has died due to the malpractice and malfeasance, abuse, and lack of leadership in the VA.

The VA-OIG determined that poor oversight of resident physicians (residents) likely contributed to the patient’s delayed lung cancer diagnosis. A resident ordered an abdomen and pelvis computed tomography (CT) scan. Although a follow-up chest CT scan was recommended within 90 days, it took 175 days to complete. The chest CT scan results included resolution of a spiculated lung nodule and worsening of opacities in the lung representing a cavitary infection or cancer, and a positron emission tomography/CT (PET/CT) scan was recommended. The follow-up PET/CT scan showed a lesion in the right lung, but a biopsy was not done. The patient was examined and diagnosed with cancer at a non-VA hospital.

The VA-OIG concluded that deficiencies in care coordination between Primary Care, Pulmonary, and Emergency Departments’ staff also contributed to delays. In addition, contract teleradiologists did not use available prior images for comparison.  The facility failed to use quality management and patient safety processes to evaluate the care of the patient.VA 3

Here’s the kicker, and it should infuriate every taxpayer in America.  The Raymond G. Murphy VAMC was recently found to be meeting all SAIL metrics in a comprehensive healthcare inspection completed by the VA-OIG.  SAIL metrics are how the VA leadership are measured in being knowledgeable and competent in these positions.  Check out the link on SAIL metrics for more information.  Leaving only one question, “How can the VA leadership be found competent, and still be killing veterans?”

Angry Wet ChickenWhen discussing the abuse of veterans and the failure of VA leadership, it never ceases to surprise me the utter half-truths, bloviations, and oratorial yoga, and logical pretzel twisting that is accepted by the US Congress.  The following link takes you to a list of witness testimony given by VA-OIG representatives to the US Congress.  If these “witness” statements leave you sick and mentally struggling, don’t say you were not warned.  The VA-OIG, like the VA, is replete with verbal contortion performers and nowhere is this most noticeable than in “witness” testimony!

Regarding verbal chicanery, oratorial yoga, and despicable verbal gymnastics to provide job security while taking zero action, here is the link to the Semiannual Report to Congress by the VA-OIG.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you, the bureaucrats are out in full force and are playing every card in the deck to protect themselves from Congressional Scrutiny, while attempting to pass themselves off as honest, fair, and doing a good job for the American People.  The problem is in Congress not properly scrutinizing these shenanigans and demanding compliance with the law!

VA SealThe remaining 15 notifications from the VA-OIG are the standard reports on comprehensive healthcare inspections (CHIp) where leaders are measured, never found wanting, even though too often the leaders are failing and useless.  Other notifications included the audit for data security and IT measures completed by a third-party auditor, and which the VA continues to fail but Congress refuses to hold people accountable.  The third and final series of notifications in this batch were several dealing with individual VISN level of local VAHCS/VAMC level inspections on specific topics, such as COVID response, supply chain failures, and other issues.

Unfortunately, the answer is always the same the leaders are inept, inadequate, and incapable of initiating change before a veteran dies, before fraud and abuse occur, or before the VA-OIG makes an attempt to inspire change.  Not that the VA-OIG is very capable or properly equipped to inspire change, simply that the VA-OIG made an attempt.  The root cause remains clear, Congress refusing to do their job has led to the US Military Veterans being actively abused by the Department of Veterans Affairs.  Lackadaisical scrutiny, politicization, and two recent presidents who allowed Congress to label the US Military Veterans as “domestic terrorists,” have had detestable consequences for the American Taxpayer and the US Military Veterans and their families.?u=http3.bp.blogspot.com-CIl2VSm-mmgTZ0wMvH5UGIAAAAAAAAB20QA9_IiyVhYss1600showme_board3.jpg&f=1&nofb=1

Are you sufficiently inspired to change how you vote, demand elected leaders to act, and improve how the government in America from the city/county to the US President operates?

© Copyright 2021 – 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.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

Chronicling the VA, One Ignominious Story at a Time!

I-CareAs we catalog the VA, occasionally, local services providers must be recognized for their service or their deficiencies.  In the spirit of fairness and transparency, it is time to discuss one of those community providers, Advanced Neurology Epilepsy & Sleep Center (ANESC), Dr. Aamr A. Herekar M.D.  Also, in the spirit of fairness and complete transparency, I have tried to settle my problems through the VA Community Services Offices and an appeal to the management and doctor of ANESC, all to no avail!  Regular readers know I have been in a multi-year battle with the VA over arresting me for not wearing a mask because when I wear a mask, I become a medical emergency.

I possess a note from my doctor, a VA Primary Care Provider, written to my employer on VA Letterhead with a wet signature, declaring my inability to wear a mask.  The VA did not accept this letter and arrested me three times.  Well, Dr. Herekar’s office was presented the same letter, and hassled me before both appointments for not wearing a mask, became hostile, argumentative, and a nuisance over the mask issue, even after I complied with putting on a face shield.  Today (23 September 2021), over Facebook messenger, I was informed that I would be invited to find a different provider due to my refusal to wear a mask.VA 3

Imagine that; Facebook Messenger has become the medium of choice for ending a patient relationship with a medical provider.  How very inappropriate!  How very unprofessional!  How very typical of some of the providers I have been sent to in the community by the VA.  Apparently, the abuse of veterans is spreading from the VA providers to the community providers.  If you are in the El Paso area and receive a referral to Dr. Herekar, please be cautious of his staff.  I have no idea of the efficacy and quality of the doctor, but his staff is absolutely third-rate or less!  The shame of the entire episode, the taxpayer is on the hook for my being abused by the staff.  How deplorable!Foghorn Leghorn - Medication

In reviewing different results reported from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (OIG) comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp) of VAMC’s, I am finding some interesting trends.

      1. Why the sudden, as of July 2021, focus on attendance and staffing in behavioral committees? More to the point, why are the behavioral committee’s processes and procedures so draconian?  More specifically, the following is a unique passage too often see in CHIps.
          • High-Risk Processes
            • Disruptive behavior reporting and tracking
            • Disruptive Behavior Reporting System
            • Order of Behavioral Restriction and patient notification documentation
            • Staff training – Isn’t this interesting, staff training is a “High-Risk Process?”
      1. When reporting that patient experience scores are similar to “VHA Averages,” isn’t this like saying a VAMC is as good as another pig in a pile of slop? Why accept averages that are comparable to other VAMC’s?  The leadership at the VAMC’s across the country is failing the veterans, yet the VA-OIG is accepting average performance compared with other VAMC’s.  It sounds like pathetic designed incompetence, wrapped in weak excuses, and deep-fried in a pity party!
      2. Training continues to be a fundamental excuse for failing, and even the VA-OIG seems to have given up and thrown in the towel.VA 3

An example of how training continues to be a fundamental excuse for failing and designed incompetence lies in another CHIp, specifically reporting reusable medical equipment (RME) and sterile processing services (SPS).  The VA-OIG reported the following weaknesses:

      • Standard operating procedures not aligning with manufacturers’ guidelines.
      • Annual risk analysis reporting to the VISN SPS Management Board.
      • SPS chiefs developing, implementing, and enforcing a daily cleaning schedule for all SPS areas
      • Equipment storage, cleaning, and usability.
      • Completion of Level 1 training within 90 days of hire, competency assessments for RME, and monthly continuing education for SPS staff.

All this after the VHA has already been caught with poor cleaning of reusable medical equipment on multiple occasions, where the training of cleaning staff was the primary reason for failing the CHIp from the VA-OIG.  The cycle continues unabated, and training is central to correcting and ending the process.  Yet, even the VA-OIG refuses to address the leadership failures and be part of the training corrective action behaviors.VA 3

In other CHIp reports, we find that completion of training is a high-risk process.  Leading to interesting questions about why and what is involved in staff training to make training high-risk.  What boggles my mind, much of last year, the CHIp reports found moral distress from leadership, this year, nothing; why?  Did the VA-OIG stop asking about this issue?  Certainly, the VA has not corrected this problem.  Am I merely suspicious, or is there a correlation between less focus on employees feeling morally distressed at work and increased focus on patient disruptive behavioral committees?

From other CHIp reports, we find more questions and logic that make no sense.  For example, how can patients be receiving care that meets VHA averages in acceptable care, but the employees reflect severe moral distress?  Does this not indicate that the averages for patient care are set too low?  Would not this be an indicator that leadership is not held to a sufficiently high enough standard of performance?  Worse, on these CHIp reports, we find greater mention of disruptive behavior committee actions, paperwork, training, and actions taken.  Thus, there appears to be a correlational data relationship between disruptive patients, moral distress in employees, failing leadership, and the abuse of the disruptive behavior committee process.  Where are the elected officials asking questions and drawing substantive conclusions regarding the data presented by the VA-OIG?  Heck, where are the VA-OIG data analysts raising alarms and red flags over correlational data points for investigators to act upon?VA 3

As a person who has been fallaciously labeled and erroneously called “disruptive,” this particular topic strikes home.  The system is ripe for abuse by egotistical leaders hell-bent on power-tripping!  When I asked how do you appeal the decisions, I was told lies, given wrong information, and forced to pay fines that I should not have had to pay.  Worse, the Federal Marshals at the courthouse remarked that there had been a significant uptick in veterans in the same situation as mine being fined erroneously by the VA.  Thus, the abuse of the veterans is both widespread and decidedly egregious!

Another recurring issue from the CHIp reports is remarkable from recent VA-OIG investigations, especially since multiple veterans have recently died over the issue, care coordination.  Care coordination includes completing paperwork, filling out the electronic health record, and signing the electronic health record, so the notes are available for other providers to use for follow-on patient treatment, nurse-to-nurse communication, and medication transmission, but most importantly, monitoring and tracking patient whereabouts on the facility’s grounds.  Yet, even with dead veterans with these issues as root causes, the VHA continues to fail in care coordination.  How do you define appalling, detestable, and disgraceful?  Where are the elected officials?  Where are the veteran service organizations in raising rhubarbs about the abuse of veterans at the hands of the VHA?VA 3

Finally, the most astounding and absurd continuous hit point from CHIp to CHIp report is found under the heading of “Quality, Safety, and Value.”  Under this heading falls a lot of topics, but imperative to improvement is the leadership failure to hold meetings attended by the primary audience.  Tell me, in the private sector; your boss calls a meeting of all department heads and their number two person.  If these people are no-shows, how long will they keep their jobs?  Yet, the VA-OIG finds repetitive missed meetings, no follow-up, no remediation, no punitive measures, no corrective actions, and these people are still employed!

Knowledge Check!One of the most bothersome things about reading three weeks’ worth of CHIp reports has been the consistency of the reports.  Too often, the reports read like they were copied.  Maybe this is due to the consistency of failed leadership; perhaps this is due to the lack of originality in thinking in the VHA, VBA, and the VA in general.  Regardless, the CHIp reports raise some concerning issues, specifically around the potential for abuses found in the disruptive behavior committee process and what disruptive behavior is at the VHA and VBA.  For example, if a patient is throwing furniture, this is obviously disruptive.  But, if a patient disagrees with a policy and is politely asking to speak to administration, this is not disruptive, but the patient is treated as disruptive, and that is abusive of the disruptive patient policies.

© 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: Memorial Day 2021 – Are you sure this is “proper” remembering?

Knowledge Check!It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is a sick and twisted organization.  It is no secret that the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) tries to recommend how the VA should be operating in accordance with currently established procedures, methods, and policies for the benefit of the veteran community.  It is no secret that I continue to write about the VA in the hopes of sparking interest in communities and obtaining more fair, honest, transparent, and humane treatment for veterans by the Government agency tasked with caring for veterans.

On this Memorial Day, as you sit down to barbecue, family, friends, sports, I would ask that you take a moment and consider if this were how you would like to be remembered?  Are the actions described proper for remembering those who sacrificed and came home?  Are these actions, which are adding to veteran funerals, an appropriate way for veterans to be leaving this world?  If the answer is no, I ask for your help changing the Federal Government by electing people who will scrutinize the government more stringently and demand change in all government agencies.  If you deem this behavior acceptable, please leave a comment detailing why you think so.  I want to hear your thoughts.Image - Eagle & Flag

From a VA-OIG report published on Wednesday 26 May 2021, we find the following announcement:

Phillip Hill, a former VA program analyst, was sentenced to 46 months in prison for stealing personal information from veterans and VA employees while employed at the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. The investigation revealed that Hill contacted another individual and attempted to sell personal identifying information to a buyer for approximately $100,000.”

Now, I am thrilled this guy was caught.  I am glad he will do time behind bars.  Yet, why did Assistant US Attorney Jana Harris allow a plea deal?  Where are the VA supervisors who should have been monitoring this employee’s work and behavior?  What are the details of the deal?  The VA continues to have nothing but IT/IS security, and these problems are decades old.  Still, the elected representatives allow the criminal behavior to exist until the criminal is caught, and then the elected representative’s crow about cleaning the swamp.  Is this how you correctly remember veterans, their sacrifice, and their memories?VA 3

I suppose the following VA-OIG report, released 27 May 2021, should begin with congratulations.  The Department of Veteran Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) mostly processed monetary proceeds records accurately.  However, the following continues to astound and amaze me:

Service and pension center staff do not have timeliness measures for proceeds incorporated in their performance standards. Setting a timeliness standard would help encourage the closing of these proceeds. The OIG also found that ineffective monitoring contributed to delays in handling proceeds. The Debt Management Center had only limited internal monitoring but instituted new practices for monitoring proceeds in February 2020, shortly after this audit began” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Why are government employees not held to a productivity and quality standard?  Being a veteran with regular concerns involving the VBA, I cannot help but wonder why quality and productivity are not required?  As an industrial and organizational psychologist, the first step in improving responsiveness to customers is to increase productivity and implement quality measures.  I know the Federal Government’s legislative branch, e.g., Congress, has insisted on developing quality measures.  Yet, the same tired excuses built upon designed incompetence are allowed to survive, and all the VA-OIG can do is issue more recommendations.  Consider something; proceeds include payments to dead veterans.  How much financial hardship occurs at the passing of a loved one?  How much more difficult can that death become when months down the road, money spent is suddenly being demanded back because some incompetent bureaucrat failed to do their job in a timely manner?

QuestionIs this properly honoring and remembering the veterans and their sacrifice?  Is this behavior acceptable in your workplace?  Why do we allow this behavior from government workers?

While never having been a patient at the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio, I have friends who are patients.  The stories they tell about care there would shock and amaze many.  What infuriates me, the VA-OIG just published their report of a comprehensive inspection of this VAMC, and the results are as tragic as a veteran’s death!  The information was released to the public on 27 May 2021.  Never forget, the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio was recently investigated for improper cleaning and sterilization procedures, as well as employee monitoring for compliance for medically reusable equipment, which for this case refers to endoscopes.  With this fact in mind, let us review the comprehensive inspection report.

Limitations on findings:

      • The VA-OIG held interviews and reviewed clinical and administrative processes related to specific areas of focus that affect patient outcomes. Although the VA-OIG reviewed a broad spectrum of processes, the sheer complexity of VA medical facilities limits inspectors’ ability to assess all areas of clinical risk” [emphasis mine].

VA 3The statement provided here is pretty standard and represents the first limitation to the scope of the investigation; complexity limits inspector ability.  Yet, who made the VAMC so complex, the VA.  Who has allowed the complexity to grow as designed incompetence, the VA? Why is the VA allowed to cheat their inspector general through complex operations which limit inspector ability and increase patient risk?

The Focus of Inspection (Investigation Scope):

      • The VA-OIG team looks at leadership and organizational risks, and at the time of the inspection, focused on the following additional areas:

WhyLong have I wondered why the second item in the comprehensive inspection is “Quality, Safety, and Value.”  When the VA continues to present the bare minimum of quality, disregards patient safety, and due to complexity, offers less value than a broken wrench to a mechanic, but I digress.

Finding One:  The VA-OIG issues 12 recommendations to the leadership team, and “selected results showed respondents were generally favorable the national VHA results.”  I have been accused of being cynical, which generally is wrong.  However, when I see words like “selected results” in an investigation into patient care and concerns, I have to ask, “How hard did the VA-OIG have to dig to find favorable results?”VA 3

Finding Two:  Strategic Analytics for Improvement and Learning (SAIL) represents a value model to help define performance expectations within VA.  This is the standard language for comprehensive inspections.  “In individual interviews, the executive leadership team members were able to speak in-depth about actions taken during the previous 12 months to maintain or improve organizational performance, employee satisfaction, or patient experiences.”  If we accept this as a true statement.  How was an employee able to fake documents, fail to clean reusable equipment properly, and repeatedly get away with this abysmal behavior at this VA?

VA 3Finding Three:  Under Quality, Safety, and Value, we find the following tidbit:

The VA-OIG noted concerns with protected peer reviews, utilization management, and root cause analyses.”

Essentially meaning there are problems with whistleblowers, privacy protection, retaliation against whistleblowers, proper utilization of policies and procedures, and the leadership could not find a problem using root cause analysis if their lives depended upon it.  The source for my interpretation of the VA-OIG results arrives from the following:

VHA Directive 1117, Utilization Management Program, 8 October 2020. Utilization management involves the assessment of the “appropriateness, medical necessity, and the efficiency of health care services, according to evidence-based criteria” [emphasis in the original report].

I have to ask the VA-OIG whether these findings were before or after the employee who endangered patient lives through improper cleaning and sterilization of reusable medical equipment were discovered?

VA 3Finding Four:  Under medication management, we find the following:

The VA-OIG team observed compliance with many elements of expected performance, including pain screening, aberrant behavior risk assessment, and documented justification for concurrent therapy with benzodiazepines. However, the VA-OIG identified opportunities for improvement with urine drug testing, informed consent, patient follow-up after therapy initiation, and quality measure monitoring” [emphasis mine].

VaccineIf you read any of the comprehensive inspection reports, you will see this is a common and recurring theme at the VA.  Some of the medication policies are being followed, but the same problem with drug testing, informed consent, patient follow-up, and quality measuring monitoring always remain a problem.  It is almost as if the SAIL learning matrices do not even exist as a quality improvement tool.

Finding Five:  Under High-Risk Processes, the VA-OIG report claims the following:

The medical center met the requirements for quality assurance monitoring and monthly continuing education. However, the VA-OIG identified deficiencies with standard operating procedures, an airflow directional device, and staff training and competency” [emphasis mine].

Are the SAIL metrics even accurate?  Where is the value in the “monthly training and monitoring if there are issues in following standard operating procedures, problems in staff training, as well as staff competency?  Do you get it?  The training sucks at the VA, and the SAIL metrics do nothing to fix the problem, address the deficiencies, or even improve competency?  The same question arises here, from quality, safety, and value; how was an employee able to successfully pencil-whip the paperwork while not doing their job in properly cleaning and sterilizing reusable medical equipment?  Where are the SAIL documents that should have identified a problem?  Where are the SAIL metrics in aiding in finding root causes for derelict employees?VA 3

Honestly, do you, the taxpayer, consider the Department of Veterans Affairs, which covers the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemeteries adequate to remember the veteran correctly?  Do you, the taxpayer find value in the leadership and investigative arms of the VA to correct and improve performance?  Do you, the taxpayer find that the VA employees are doing their level best to honor, remember, and pass on the legacy of veterans?

Image - Eagle & FlagOn this Memorial Day weekend, please consider the data in this and the other VA-OIG reports regularly relayed on this blog, and ask yourself, are you doing enough to help veterans?  I love Memorial Day, and I love my country, but America has some serious problems, and only when the electorate awakens to the issues can real change begin to be implemented.  We, the veteran community, need you!  We need your voice as we struggle against the incessant attacks from the VA.  We need your votes for the elected representative’s intent on scrutinizing the government and demanding action.  We need you!  Please help us!

© 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 2

Angry Wet ChickenOne of the first rules in overseeing junior people working is to make available someone to answer questions, immediately, and render support if needed.  I have had the pleasure of training junior people in a myriad of tasks over the years.  When I read this Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) report, a plethora of questions arise, and I deeply question the professionalism and competence of the doctor overseeing the work of residents in a VA Hospital who are performing procedures.

  • Ophthalmology Resident Supervision – Important to note, the patient did not experience any long-term loss of sight over this issue. Congratulations to the resident and the other ophthalmology doctors present!  From the VA-OIG report we find the following:

“… The subject ophthalmologist failed to provide adequate resident supervision and entered inaccurate documentation related to supervision for a single patient case.”  Essentially, the doctor charged with overseeing residents was AWOL, and then compounded his error by falsifying patient records.  The VA-OIG report continues by claiming this falsification was the result of an oversight when using pre-recorded notes for patient files.

Draw your own conclusions.  Personally, I think this doctor needs to be released of all duties where overseeing residents is concerned.  I would also question his ethics and morals for falsifying patient records.  You hold a double position of trust, first as a doctor, second as a teacher and leader of residents, and the behavior witnessed should come with steep repercussions professionally!VA 3

Knowledge Check!On the topic of professional duties, and steep repercussions, drug interactions killed a veteran at the Marion VAMC in Illinois.  Before launching into the VA-OIG’s report, please allow me a moment of your attention.  Drug interactions can arise due to vitamin usage, over-the-counter medications, and from illegal and legal but illicit drug use.  Often, I have claimed that people are walking chemistry experiments, and even vaccines need to be carefully evaluated for drug interaction potential.  Foods can cause drug interactions due to the chemicals in the food.  Drug interactions are a growing problem and every medical professional I have spoken to admits drug interactions are becoming worse by the day.  I do not say this lightly, but I do not hold the medical professionals as fully competent in fighting the drug interaction problem due to the amount of chemicals the average person interacts with daily.  The problem is Big-Parma and the continual push towards more specialized medicines, we are going to see more drug interaction issues.  Unfortunately, drug interaction issues come with the risk of death!

From the VA-OIG report we find the following:

The VA-OIG substantiated that high cholesterol contributed to the patient’s death; however, the death certificate indicated that the primary cause of death was accidental acute multi-drug intoxication. The psychiatrist and staff failed to document providing the patient with education during a telephone encounter regarding potential side effects or adverse drug-drug interactions of medication changes. Contrary to clinical guidance, the psychiatrist prescribed long-term benzodiazepine use for a patient diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. The psychiatrist also failed to address the patient’s two negative urine drug screens for a prescribed medication and failed to address a positive urine drug screen for cannabis. Due to COVID-19, the facility failed to launch the Psychotropic Drug Safety Initiative Phase Four Plan. The primary care provider did not comply with facility policy by failing to enter a return-to-clinic order following an appointment but could not determine if this affected the patient. Primary care and behavioral health staff did not comply with facility policy to telephone the patient or send a letter after the patient missed appointments” [emphasis mine].

The lack of staff to follow procedures and do their job, I will certainly hold them accountable for, especially since Cannabis is involved!  Please do not believe that Cannabis is a non-toxic drug, especially when mixed with other drugs, it can be the fatal trigger in a multi-drug intoxication!VA 3

At 18, low those many years ago, I took the EMT-Basic class, but left for US Army Basic Training before I could certify.  Since then, I have received certification as a combat medic and a Journeyman Firefighter (Any industry) which required a lot of hours studying emergency medicine.  I am experienced in drawing blood, starting IVs in difficult circumstances, and handling a myriad of injuries.  I am not a medical professional by any stretch of the imagination, I simply have a healthy desire to learn, and emergency medicine is a fascinating topic I regularly pursue.  I am not a chemist; I rely upon peer reviewed resources and legal and medical websites to stay current on a host of topics.  With this as my qualifier I am going to make several statements and you can judge their merit.  Feel free to comment.

      1. The first rule of medicine is document everything! My first lesson, first day of EMT training, this point was driven home.  If you do not write it down, it never happened!  Yet, what does the VA-OIG find time after time in reviewing cases at the VHA, lack of documentation of steps taken!  Can you say, “Asinine and abysmal behavior by credentialed professionals?” I know I can!
      2. Aspirin and Alcohol can cause a drug interaction that can be deadly. Both chemicals are readily available in the home and over the counter.  Why is spray paint now requiring proper ID, because people are huffing the stuff and getting a multi-drug intoxication.  Oven cleaner and spray pain can cause serious breathing issues and when mixed together can cause a cheap high, as well as a multi-chemical intoxication leading to breathing paralysis and death!
      3. Cannabis continues to be modified, changed, enhanced, and designed to trigger different chemical reactions in the body. Continuing work that began in earnest in the 1960s for the pot-smokers who wanted a more serious high.  Guess what, cannabis and aspirin along with vitamins can cause multi-drug intoxication problems leading to death!
      4. Vitamin D and Vitamin C have both caused serious drug intoxications during COVID-19. People became frightened and took too many of both or just one and wound up in the ER with life-threatening health problems from toxicity of these vitamins.  India has reported a spike in black mould that has caused serious long-term health problems for diabetics after recovering from COVID.  It is currently presumed that the chemicals used to fight COVID allowed for a natural mould to grow in the body, and that became life-threatening.

The VA-OIG conducted another virtual comprehensive healthcare inspection, and found the same problems continue at another VAMC.  Do you know how tired I am of reading these “comprehensive inspection” results and finding the same problems time after time?  When will the VA actually start enforcing some of these VA-OIG recommendations to effect change?  Better, when will the politicians who are charged with scrutinizing the government tire of seeing the same recommendations and not seeing any change?  Bloody frustrating reading these reports and not seeing improvement!VA 3

Broken RobotFinally, we come to what I was hoping to be a great report, where the politician’s heads were going to explode at the inefficiencies, the detestable behavior, and the horrendous responses to legally mandated IT infrastructure changes, and why those changes are not happening at the VA.  I was not disappointed; I was thoroughly disgusted that his report fell on plastic ears speaking plastic words from wax lips!  Statement of Michael Bowman, Office of Inspector General, Department of Veterans Affairs, Director of IT and Security Audits Division, Before the Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, Hearing on Cybersecurity and Risk Management at VA: Addressing Ongoing Challenges and Moving Forward May 20, 2021.  Notice something, the failures at the VA in the IT Department are being called “ongoing challenges.”

Millstone of Designed IncompetenceLet me remind you, FISMA was released on 29 April 2021, and I wrote about the abysmal findings of the VA-OIG.  This report is the accountability statement to the Congressional representatives who should have skewered this bureaucrat and roasted him on a spit with onions and peppers, then served him up for public ridicule after firing him!  For the Director of IT and Security Audits Division to make the following statement is flat out beyond comprehension, “The OIG’s conclusions in the FY 2020 FISMA audit are not new or revelatory—rather, they repeat many of the same concerns with VA’s IT security that the OIG has found for many years.”  What incredible chutzpah to make this comment after that scathing report showed just how deplorable the leadership of the IT and Security Audits Division revealed!  Director Bowman then goes on to downplay the band-aid solutions implemented while decrying the time for improvement is too short and there is not enough money.  Do not forget, “Of the 26 recommendations, 21 have been included in every FISMA audit dating back to at least 2017.”  With at least 15 of these recommendations dating back even further.  Want a full list, as well as how old these recommendations are; you will not find it in the Director’s report to Congress!  Is anybody incensed enough to demand a full accounting of just how old these IT recommendations are?

Detective 4The gall of this director to continue to blame legacy systems that were legislated to have been scrapped between 2000 and 2010 continues to highlight the incompetence of the director in conducting business and holding people accountable for failed projects and overspending of taxpayer monies!  The director went further and stated the following, at which time, every single Congressional Representative should have stood and demanded his head.  The “VA does not properly manage and secure their IT investments.”  Tell me director, why should you remain employed if the VA does not properly manage and secure their IT investments?  Is the failure to manage and secure IT investments the root cause for veterans to continue to suffer identity theft from the VA losing their identity?

The director’s next statement puts his other outrageous comments to sleep.  “Security failures also undermine the trust veterans put in VA to protect their sensitive information and can affect their engagement with programs and services” [emphasis mine].  Talk about such an obvious statement, it’s like the sun coming up on a cloudy day, you just cannot miss that sun rise; you also cannot miss the absurdity of making this statement!  Did some intern write his speech?  You are the director of IT Security and you make this type of comment, did you make this comment with a straight face?  I cannot find the video-record of this Congressional hearing so I can only guess he delivered his lines with a straight face!  Most detestable of all, he continued to make outrageous comments, his plan to move the IT security program at the VA forward is weak, lacking firm deadlines, and continues to allow him and his staff to escape accountability and responsibility.VA 3

Angry Grizzly BearAmerica, with these bureaucrats in charge, why shouldn’t we be weeping and wailing, and gnashing our teeth in frustration?  When will we, the owners of this atrocious government, finally scream ENOUGH and demand a full change of heads at the ballot box?  For until the elected representatives are forced out, the bureaucrats abusing us, will only continue!  The VA is sick, but the problem lies in the bureaucrats, administrators, and directors leading the VA at the Federal and VISN levels.  So many other government agencies are just as sick, or worse, and the same problem arises, the leadership refuses to act, but still expects a big titanium parachute when they leave office!  I say it is time to tell them NO!

© 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: Putting Shame in the Right Place at the VA – Administration

Angry Grizzly BearI have found great and good providers at the VA, as well as some truly awful and detestable providers.  The Doctors, Nurses, Medical Support Assistant (MSA), and the patient are supposed to form a PACT team to improve the health and welfare of the patient in the VA Health Care System (VAHCS).  The PACT Team is a VA organizational program to assist in improving care and stands for Patient Aligned Care Team (PACT), as an extension of patient care services.  The PACT Team also includes the Patient Advocate and several others, as detailed in the image below.PACT_model

I mention all this because I have heard from a veteran, we are going to call him “Boats,” a chief Boatswain mate for over 20-years in the US Navy, honorably discharged, and a disabled veteran of the Vietnam Era.  Boats’ doctor changed clinics, thus shaking the PACT team to its core.  Since the doctor was reassigned to a different clinic, the nurse has been changed but not explicitly assigned, so the coverage nurse cannot be reached by phone, and secure message falls on deaf ears and plastic lips.  Hence, reaching his PACT team has become a burden, his health has suffered greatly, and the mask mandate makes his safety in the VA Clinic doubtful at best, as the mask aggravates his ability to breathe.

PACT 1Because his clinic has no doctor, other doctors have been sharing their time in the clinic.  This means that if treatment requires time and interactions over multiple visits, the patient loses any type of continuing care and is left frustrated, with continuity of care hindered.  Here’s the rub, this has been an ongoing situation for a long time, and the continuity of care has become a root cause in the failing health of this veteran.  Unfortunately, this is not a new or rare problem for the VA, and as shortages in providers continue to increase, it will only worsen.

PACT 3Boats is in the same situation as many other veterans.  While misery loves company, this type of misery costs lives, and that is an administrative problem Congress legally bound the VA to fix, and they refuse to address.  Like the mask policy that does not include a face shield option or include the verbiage for approved medical conditions, the administration of the VA continues to market lofty and grand standards and fails even to meet minimum legal requirements.  I have witnessed the administrative officers, known by their online pictures, refuse to help veterans, pawn off veterans, and even go so far as to hide from veterans to avoid providing customer service.

The hospital administrators have been schooled in the VA; many have “come up through the ranks.”  These administrators have been taught how to avoid accountability, responsibility, and work the VA Bureaucracy to keep their jobs, even when veterans are dying from the administrative problems they created.  While an employee, I heard the tales of how my Hospital Administration Services Director got her job; draw your own conclusions, all I do know is someone was promoted to an exceedingly great height above her maximum level of incompetence!

Detective 4Consider the hospital director moved, at taxpayer expense, from Seattle to Phoenix.  She had been killing veterans in Seattle and took over an award-winning hospital, which very shortly became a national joke for where veterans go to die!  Her lessons are still being taught, veterans are still dying, and the administration is still the problem!  The mask mandate that has stopped my prescription from being refilled, my abusive PACT Team led by a doctor who invited me to find a new provider, refused to contact me for two months about needed blood work to refill diabetes medication.  After two weeks without diabetes medication, magically, diabetes medication arrives. No blood work ever occurred because I cannot access the VA due to my approved medical condition that makes wearing a mask impossible.

The administration of VA Hospitals is a crime!  I had an assistant director, while an employee, who said, “If a non-VA Hospital did anything like the VA does things, they would be shut down for malpractice.”  The assistant director is now a clinic director for the VA; her resume included 20-years in non-VA hospital administration.  She joined the VA to help veterans.  Where is the VA-Office of Inspector General in rooting out these administrative landmines of ineptitude that makes hiring more difficult and retaining talent near impossible?  Where is Congress in scrutinizing the VA and helping those working to change the VA to succeed instead of actively contending with them?

LinkedIn VA ImageBoats has serious problems.  The legacy of the VA is to kill him instead of fixing their administrative problems.  But, the VA’s mission statement is still, “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.
“Our department remains fully committed to fulfilling the sacred obligation that we have to those who serve in uniform.” ~VA Secretary Denis McDonough.

VA SealWhere is the VA acting in accordance with the mission statement and fulfilling its “sacred obligation?”  The answer, with the current leadership in administration, nowhere!  The VA has been purposefully designed to kill veterans and can be fixed.  The fix must include Congress, and we all know how Speaker Pelosi (D) feels about veterans; when she called them terrorists, it was clear her scrutinizing the government where the VA is concerned will not happen.

I-CareVA Secretary Denis McDonough signed onto the “I-Care” principles as core values in care for veterans in the VAHCS.  Well, when can we, the veterans, see that these core principles have been on-boarded and are correcting behavior?

“VA Core Values describe how VA will accomplish its mission and inform every interaction with our customers. These Core Values are: Integrity, Commitment, Advocacy, Respect, and Excellence — better known as “I CARE.” VA’s Core Values will continue to serve as the right guide for all our interactions and remind us and others that “I CARE.”

  • I care about those who have served.
  • I care about my fellow VA employees.
  • I care about choosing “the harder right instead of, the easier wrong.”
  • I care about performing my duties to the very best of my abilities.

DutyMr. Secretary…  The veterans are dying now!  We are waiting!

Like my enlistment oath, I signed onto the I-Care principles and even though I am no longer employed by the VA, I live I-Care!  Where is the VA in proving “I-Care?”

© 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: Responsibility

LookDale Renlund made a powerful point:

“… Blaming others, even if justified, allows us to excuse our behavior.  By so doing, we shift responsibility for our actions to others.  When the responsibility is shifted, we diminish both the need and our ability to act.  We turn ourselves into hapless victims rather than agents capable of independent action.”

Consider this statement with me as we observe and review recent events in America and the world.

  1. The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reviewed the administration of spina bifida benefits for children born to Vietnam veterans, found internal communication and data sharing were the root cause of administering the benefits program incorrectly. The Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA) and the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) blamed each other for administration failure.  Applying Renlund’s point, we find that blaming each other equally provided the excuse for neither bureaucratic administration to accept responsibility.  Blocking movement towards action in correcting the problem, and ultimately the victims will continue to be children born of Vietnam veterans who deserve better and cannot cut the red tape to reach help desperately needed.  Worse, the blaming has turned the VBA and VHA from independent administrations into victims who deserve pity, instead of a boot kicking for their customers’ abuse!
  2. The VA-OIG, in another inspection, found COVID to be the root cause for shortages and outages of personal protective equipment (PPE). Except none of the 42 facilities surveyed ran out of anything.  Stocks dipped low, but outages of supply never occurred.  The blame for the low stock was also found on data and lack of reporting data correctly.  While people were praised for acting to “shift supplies, create new processes, and order supplies promptly,” the people could not be blamed for the low stock levels and were made into victims of COVID and data mismanagement.

Detective 4Please allow me a brief public service announcement: in business, one finds Juran’s Rule.  Juran’s Rule states that when there is a problem, 80-90% of the time, the processes are blamed, not the people.  The processes, or the written (supposedly) directions to perform a task, are so convoluted in government that Juran’s Rule could slide into 98% of the problem and still not run out of process convolution before people can be blamed.  Yet, the leadership of the VBA, VHA, and every other government agency refuse to look at the processes and eliminate, change, correct or even take action to review the processes.

Thus, Renlund’s point steals potential from people, as people become hapless victims to processes and procedures, instead of the commander of their duties and roles as hired.  The shift of responsibility from people to processes is the danger found in Juran’s Rule, not the truth in Juran’s Rule.  Thus, action to correct is diminished because responsibility has been shifted from leaders to the processes they are already responsible for monitoring.  Hence, when I see the VA-OIG allowing data or business processes to be blamed for the failure of people to act, according to the roles they have been hired to fill, I doubt the ability to fix the right problem.

  1. Using Renlund’s point, here is a typical VA-OIG inspection summary. See if you can spot the responsibility shifting, the inaction, and the problems.
      • The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) examined whether the VHA had effective procedures for (1) purchasing, (2) inventorying, and (3) tracking biologic implants such as skin substitutes and corneal or dental implants. The VA-OIG found deficiencies in all three areas at four medical facilities it visited. The audit team determined that purchasing agents did not always record implant purchases correctly or use the appropriate funds. The purchasing agents did not register 2,931 of 10,305 purchased biologic implants in the proper system [emphasis mine]. Instead, agents documented the implants in various local spreadsheets, databases, and third-party systems. Purchasing agents improperly used logistics funds instead of prosthetic funds, making it difficult for VHA to account for biologic implant spending fully and effectively budget or use funds for other purposes. Due to inadequate guidance, the OIG found that the facilities visited had an inaccurate inventory of biologic implants, did not use a standardized system, and did not consistently review stock on hand. The staff could not locate 714 biologic implants in inventory at the four facilities visited, valued at almost $1.1 million [emphasis mine]. The audit team also found 288 additional unrecorded items, valued at nearly $433,000, in storage locations [emphasis mine]. Poor inventory management can jeopardize prompt care, as medical providers may need to delay or cancel procedures if implants are unavailable. The facilities visited failed to track at least 45 percent of implants reported as used from October 2017 through March 2019 [emphasis mine]. VHA did not designate responsibility for overseeing tracking, develop a national policy on how facilities should track biologic implants, or have a standard tracking system that meets accreditation requirements. Effective tracking is needed for facilities to notify veterans if the manufacturers recall their implants.
      • Are the problems of shifting responsibility and the magnitude of the problem more understandable? Feel free to use the comments to discuss this example.LinkedIn VA Image
  2. In the final example, we find another common problem at the VHA, the refusal to alert patients promptly about test results, with the same worn out and tired excuses, time, and refusal to employ and document according to standards. People did not do their jobs, and it took “several concerned members of Congress” to initiate a VA-OIG investigation to certify there was a problem. Still, the solution by the VA-OIG remains tepid at best!  Leading to questions for Congress to allow these problems to thrive and advance the issues that VHA hospital leadership intentionally designs incompetence into their processes and procedures, then dares the patients seeking care to find a solution to force the administration to do their jobs.  Irony strikes again in the VA-OIG reports; the same issue was investigated and reported with the same “recommendations” almost every month throughout the last two-years.  Why aren’t the VHA local leaders being held accountable by their VISN leadership teams for failure to act to fix their problems proactively?

DetectiveToo often, the pattern at the VA, is exemplified in every other government agency for the keen observer to witness; act in a manner unacceptable, hide behind broken processes intentionally designed to hide purposefully designed incompetence, and escape responsibility but retain their jobs into retirement.  Essentially, the leaders of government agencies have employed the pattern discussed by Renlund for personal gain at the expense of the frustrated taxpayer.

When responsibility has been dodged, the answer is not to allow retirement, but to demand correction, holding people accountable, and set performance standards that include penalties for failure.  Training will have to occur, but cannot happen until written directives, policies, and procedures appear, that form the standard for employees’ behavior not responsible for the designed incompetence created by leadership.

In a “Liberty First Culture,” the adults looking to demand change take the pattern offered by Renlund and recognize the behavioral issues that will need correcting.

“… Blaming others, even if justified, allows us to excuse our behavior.  By so doing, we shift responsibility for our actions to others.  When the responsibility is shifted, we diminish both the need and our ability to act.  We turn ourselves into hapless victims rather than agents capable of independent action.”

Gadsden FlagAmericans [A(h)-ME-I-CAN] are not hapless victims; we stare responsibility in the eye, accepting the responsibility, and choose to act in a manner that shows we have learned the lessons and are prepared to improve.  The time to correct the government that represents us is Right Now!  We must act, recognize the designers of incompetence for the traitors they are, and remove them from employment in government, promptly!

© 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.
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