“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.

NO MORE BS: The VA Chronicles of Shame Continue

VA SealWhile I have been fighting the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center for humane treatment (June 2020) and medical services, making no progress, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has undoubtedly been busy oppressing others, allowing their employees to skate responsibility, and avoiding accountability.  For the record, I have not deep-dived the legal proceedings reported below and would remind everyone that those charged are not guilty until a jury of their peers says so in a court of law.  I am not passing judgment and am only reporting from official VA-OIG reports, leaving the conclusions mainly to you, the reader.  The conclusions offered are mine alone, and you are free to draw your conclusions based upon the data delivered and your due diligence.

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) has been busy filling my inbox all week.  Here are the latest stories of shame from the VA Chronicles:

  1. VA Health Care System (VAHCS) Fort Harrison, Montana, the investigation began with two people calling for help to the Veterans Crisis Line (VCL). From the VA-OIG report, we find the following:

The VA-OIG substantiated a VCL responder failed to assess caller 1’s homicidal risk factors, address lethal means restriction, complete an adequate risk mitigation plan, communicate critical information to a supervisor, and take actions to prevent a family member’s death. VCL leaders did not consider an administrative investigation board to review the responder’s potential misconduct. The VA-OIG substantiated that two social service assistants (SSAs) failed to dispatch local emergency services for caller 2 following a responder’s rescue request. The VA-OIG identified deficiencies in SSA oversight.
VCL leaders did not fully adhere to Veterans Health Administration (VHA) policies related to reporting and disclosure of adverse events. A facility primary care provider failed to include caller 1’s mental health diagnosis in the assessment and plan of care. Also, the primary care provider did not submit caller 1’s non-VA medical records for scanning into the electronic health record or document a review of the records, as expected by VHA policy.

Angry Wet ChickenI have been trained in emergency psychological triage; this was part of my training as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the US Army.  When you work on a crisis line, you cannot not take immediate action to save a life!  When my friend called me all depressed and intimated he wanted to end his life, I called 911, explained the situation, and asked for help.  They provided help.  I was not acting in any official capacity; I was not working a crisis line; I was simply a concerned friend.  How can these crisis line employees, managers, and other staff escape accountability and responsibility?  The whole chain of events is a lurid report of failure to take action by people duty-bound and placed in positions to act, and they refused to take action; this conduct is inexcusable!

As a substitute teacher, I was a mandatory reporter.  If I heard anything untoward, I had to act!  As a Chaplain’s Assistant, I was a mandatory reporter, and I was empowered to act, even without my chaplain’s permission, which by the way, pissed off my chaplain; but he refused to see specific soldiers in crisis.  Not my fault, but I took my Article 15 with pride!  Taking us back to the VA employees who failed miserably the need to take action, and still escaped accountability and responsibility!

  1. Survived the VAOur next story is a back-slapping congratulatory declaration regarding a soldier committing fraud.

Shawn Pierre Hobbs, a soldier for the Connecticut Army National Guard and a Rikers Island correction officer employed by the New York City Department of Correction, was arrested yesterday in El Paso, Texas, on wire fraud and aggravated identity theft charges. VA Inspector General Michael J. Missal said, “The charges unsealed today are the result of the hard work and dedication of the VA-OIG’s special agents working with our law enforcement partners. The VA-OIG will seek to hold accountable those who perpetrate fraud and steal benefits that are intended for deserving veterans.”

LinkedIn VA ImageThere are still many details missing in this story that I bet the public will never see.  Since no VA Employees were mentioned, I can only surmise that they escaped accountability because the main perpetrator was caught, so according to the VA-OIG, no harm, no foul.  I believe that as much as I believe in buffalo wings originating from flying buffalo!Flying Buffalo

  1. Our next report is one of such supreme idiocy that words can barely describe the situation and the current findings. Consider the following, you arrive at your doctor’s office and need several routine shots.  If the doctor and nurse fail to document these shots properly were delivered, and you have an adverse reaction, they can be held liable for medical negligence under the law.  Why does the same not apply to the VA?  The following comes from a memorandum issued by the VA-OIG, declaring an investigation is ongoing on this issue, but problems have already been found!

While reviewing the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) plans to document receipt and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) determined that VHA facilities did not consistently document the COVID-19 vaccination status of veterans living in VA’s Community Living Centers (CLCs).
The VA-OIG determined that VHA could not know at a national level whether the vaccine was offered to some CLC residents, and if so, what their status was. Because CLC residents are in the highest COVID-19 vaccine priority group, they should be offered the vaccine, when possible, before other groups of veterans. With vaccine supplies limited, VHA should know which CLC residents still need to be vaccinated.
The VA-OIG found VHA has made important strides in distributing vaccines to CLC residents, but [needs to] move toward more comprehensive and consistent data collection to guide ongoing actions and protect this vulnerable population. Doing so would include making sure all CLCs routinely track refusals and contraindications in a consistent manner. Guidance should be clear that all communications should be consistently documented in accordance with VHA processes.
Similarly, clear guidance and consistent oversight should help ensure CLCs are properly tracking veterans who fall in the 23 percent of CLC residents missing information needed to determine their vaccination status. It was not possible by January 2021 to establish which of the 1,899 veterans in this cohort had been offered the vaccine. The VA-OIG will continue its oversight work on vaccinations within VHA and plans to issue a full report, including specific recommendations. In the meantime, the VA-OIG requests to know what action, if any, VHA takes to mitigate the potential risks identified in this memorandum and the outcome of those actions.”

Angry Wet Chicken 2Essentially, the VA-OIG is claiming the VHA cannot document in their long-term care facilities which residents have and have not been vaccinated against COVID.  Can you believe the incredible negligence being witnessed; I cannot!  In the US Army, due to chiggers and a violent allergic reaction to them, I spent several weeks in what is called the “Reception Battalion.”  My job was documenting who got vaccinated, what shots were received, and I was held responsible if the documentation was incorrect.  I have worked in long-term care facilities not owned by the VA and witnessed the time and energy spent documenting everything the patient experiences.  I have visited family members in long-term facilities and witnessed the documentation procedures.  Yet, miraculously, the VHA does not have to submit themselves to the same level of documentation requirements.  Where is that memo, policy guideline, or written procedure?  Where are the lawyers?  For the VHA to have a problem with documentation of a patient is 100% inexcusable, and people’s heads should roll over this failure to document!

  1. Our next chronicle of shame is both a good and bad report.

Muhammad Z. Aabdin, 30, of New York City, has been charged by complaint with offering a bribe to a VA contracting officer in September 2020. Specifically, Aabdin allegedly offered to share profits with the officer in exchange for her awarding VA contracts to Aabdin for personal protective equipment.”

That the VA employee reported, the bribe is a good thing.  That a contractor felt comfortable enough to offer a bribe is considerably less of a good thing.  Are there additional questions being asked and investigated in this procurement office regarding the offering of bribes and the potential of having previously taken bribes?  Where are the supervisors in this affair?  The VA persists in hiring from inside for the advancement of careers, not a bad thing, but when a contractor is comfortable offering bribes, there should be many questions being asked of supervisors, directors, and so forth.I-Care

The fact that the behavior of VA employees breaking the law is both widespread and well known should be a wake-up call to the leaders of the VA and the elected officials charged by law to scrutinize the government.  Except, this behavior has never been scrutinized sufficiently to end the behavior, only scrutinized enough to encourage the behavior, the negligence, and the extreme indifference.  Every American Citizen should be outraged and motivated to shout at their elected officials using all communication channels until this abhorrent behavior is sundered forever from the VA body!

ApathyExcept, I am preaching to crickets.  Your taxpayer dollars are funding the abuse of veterans at the hands of the government.  Shameful!  Inexcusable!  Outright blasphemous!  Yet, allowed to continue because of apathy; Plato was right!

© 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.