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.

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.

Appeal Letter – DBC Decision

Please note, this letter is both an appeal and a summary of everything that has happened at the Carl T. Hayden VAHCS since March 2020.  This is probably the longest letter I have ever written.

Dr. B. Vela MD
Interim Chief of Staff
Phoenix VA Healthcare System
650 East Indian School Rd
Phoenix, AZ 85012

Director Michael W. Fisher
VA Desert Pacific Healthcare Network
300 Oceangate, Suite 700
Long Beach, CA 90802

02 January 2021

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury PhD.
10002 N 7th St
APT 1125
Phoenix, AZ 85020

RE: Appeal of DBC Decision 11 December 2020.

Greetings Dr. Vela and Mr. Fisher,

On 02 Jan 2021, I signed for and received a certified letter postmarked 21 Dec 2020, dated 11 Dec 2020.  Why all the delays?  If I have 30-days from the day the letter is dated, why did the VA steal 10-days?  The letter originates from the Disruptive Behavior Committee (DBC), which claims I have been warned of causing disruptive behavior at the Carl T. Hayden VA Hospital in Phoenix, AZ.  The letter received claims,

On December 09, 2020, a member of our DBC contacted you by phone to discuss these concerns, provide behavioral expectations while in the medical center, and to remind you of the importance of maintaining a safe and respectful environment of care.”

I received a call from Nurse Crawford on or about 09 December 2020, who listened politely to the problem and said nothing else.  The conversation was useless as the nurse relayed nothing but platitudes, agreed that I have the right to be safe in the medical center, and then harped about the COVID Mask policy.  No intention, no motivation to aid or support, no opportunities for progress, no ability to come to a solution, nothing.  I got off this call, and my wife, who has heard my entire side, asked, “Did that call solve anything?”  No, that call solved nothing, provided no information, and wasted everyone’s time!

11 December 2020, Dr. Moore, the chair of the DBC Committee, calls me complaining of my disruptive behavior, declaring that while I have a right to be safe in the hospital, I must wear a mask, and now suffer under the onerous DBC committee rules to enter and exit the VA Hospital because of a pattern of non-compliance witnessed as behavioral issues.  Dr. Moore indicated that I have the right to be safe.  I have the expectation of being treated professionally, but since there is a pattern of “disruptive behavior,” my rights have been canceled, and I now must obey DBC requirements.

In plain speak, I am in the wrong for insisting that I cannot safely wear a COVID mask, and the policy problems and leadership issues at the VA are all my fault.  I am being blamed for the VA Police being tyrannical and obscene in their actions of discrimination against those who cannot physically and safely wear a mask.  The VA Hospital in Phoenix is closed to me until I comply with wearing a mask, which I cannot physically and safely perform.

Using Dr. Moore’s and Nurse Crawford’s logic and the Phoenix VA Health Care System (Paragraph 1 of the DBC Letter), let us see if I understand the problem because, frankly, I have no clue.

The Phoenix VA Health Care System [VAHCS] is committed to providing an environment where everyone feels safe and respected.  Our goal is to provide exceptional care that improves the health and well-being of our veterans.  We also work diligently to maintain a safe environment for staff, veterans, and visitors to our facility.”

If I, as the patient, have the ability and right to be safe from harassment, HIPAA violations, and respect, but cannot physically wear a mask, I have no right to service at the VA Hospital.  But, if somehow, I can wear a mask, I am not harassed, denigrated, derided, and injured by federal employees; however, my HIPAA and legal rights under EMTALA remain in doubt.  Do I interpret this statement correctly from the point of view of the employees of the VAHCS?  Because this is precisely the problem, I cannot wear a mask safely or without causing additional harm to myself, and my first obligation in the PACT team is to protect what health I still have.

I cannot physically wear a mask.  I have a letter from my VAHCS Primary Care Provider for my employer to establish workplace accommodations where I do not have to wear a mask.  Yet, this same letter is insufficient for the VA Employees who keep refusing me access to the ED, refusing to honor appointments, refusing to schedule appointments, causing a scene by crying to the VA Police when I do not immediately comply with their mandates to wear a mask, and all because I cannot safely wear a mask.

30 June 2020, I was refused service at the VA ER because I cannot wear a mask due to breathing issues.  Before entering, in the courtyard where the COVID screening was occurring outside in Phoenix Summer night heat, I was informed that I could hold the mask in front of my face, and this is an acceptable workaround or wear a face shield.  There were no face shields available at this person’s station, and I was informed to ask inside at the ER check-in for a face shield.  Upon entering the ER to be checked in, the office staff refused the information provided at the entrance and said, “If the mask is not worn, we are refusing service.”  I have had shortness of breath, not lung-related, for many years now, which continues to worsen, and I cannot safely wear a mask.  This information is noted in my VA Medical records.  I have been through several rounds of breathing tests, which confirm my lungs work great. Still, I remain short of breath, dizzy, unstable when walking.  When wearing any mask, my breathing problems increase and include lightheadedness and nausea, until eventually, my vision grays, and I pass out.  The original problem was diagnosed at the Salt Lake City VA Medical Center (2010/2011).

I stumbled to my vehicle, at which point I am shortly surrounded by VA Police Officers who claim they were called because a patient was disruptive in the ER.  I was not disruptive in the ER.  When I saw the intransigence of the ER Staff and was refused service, I walked out!  No screaming, no swearing, no throwing furniture, no issues.  I did not have sufficient breath to walk, let alone commit the atrocities I was accused of, and yet, this is supposedly the first incident in a “pattern of disruptive behavior.”  It appears to me the VA Employees breaking the law (EMTALA) needed a reason, so they created a handy excuse and blamed the patient!

08 July 2020, I walked into the VA through the south entrance, not wearing a mask, and those performing the COVID check did not offer a mask, offer a face shield, or say anything.  I walked to the ER; the admitting person did not mention my need for a mask, nor did they ask why I was not wearing a mask; I was checked in to be seen in the ER.  Shortly, I was triaged, and the triage nurse did not say anything about a mask.  I sat in the ER for 3-hours, and none of the medical staff, hospital staff, employees, or Federal Officers walking past ever mention the need for a mask.  I sat away from other people to avoid having any problems.

At the 3-hour mark, I told the ER staff I must get food, and I walked to the Patriot Store feeling sick because of diabetes, pain, and nerve issues, needing food.  On my way, an employee whines about me not wearing a mask, and I ignore this person as my medical information is private, and I should not have to explain to every nosy-nelly about why I am not wearing a mask.  I complete my purchases and suddenly, the VA Police, who were called by the unknown VA Employee, are there insisting I need to wear a mask.  The nosy employee stood around, crowing about how he was available if the police needed more information.  For the first of at least 40-times, I explain that I cannot physically wear a mask to protect my health and safety.  No swearing, no disruptive behavior, I cannot wear a mask, and I was on my way back to the ER to wait to be seen.

I am met in the ER by Officer LT. Hicks and a plainclothes officer claiming to be a LT.  At which point, I begin again to explain that I cannot wear a mask.  I was not causing a scene before this; I was not causing a scene after this; however, when 8-10 VA Police Officers surround a person, a scene is created, and it is not the patient’s fault that a disruptive scene has commenced.  I was not screaming; I was not swearing; I was not disruptive as this 40+ minute harassment began.  In the end, I will admit fully, my cherub-like demeanor had evaporated, and swearing did occur.  When you spend 40+ minutes saying the same thing over and over to no effect, my aggravation level went up.  I contend the scene was started, provoked, antagonized, aggravated, irritated, and exasperated by the Federal Police Officers who more than once accused me of “Blowing rainbows up their butts,” lying about my breathing problems, and riling the situation.  The officers accused me of lying about my medical records, medical problems, and reasons for not wearing a mask.  Let me repeat when this scene began with LT. Hicks, I was told I needed to either wear a mask or a face shield.  Nobody in the ER had a face shield, and when I was handed a face shield and put the face shield on, the officers continued to harass, torment, and rile the situation.  I complied, they changed the “policy,” and I got arrested and cited.

I do not have the breath to be hostile!  Because of the nerve issues I have and diabetes still needing food, I do not have the strength to be disruptive.  I do not have the breath to be hollering and screaming!  I do fully admit that the tinnitus I suffer from has me speaking louder than many other people, especially as my breathing worsens.  I gasp out words and do not care about polite volume, and I need to be left alone during these episodes to catch my breath and calm the nerves.  But this incident on 08 July is the epitome of VA Police Officers aggravating a problem when they could have simply left well enough alone as I was NOT breaking any rules, policies, or committing a crime on Federal Property.  If a policy is not written down, it is not a policy, and it is not enforceable.  Had the VA Officers ended the scene when I put the face shield on, there would not have been another problem, and I would have been seen in the ER for my medical issues.

15 October 2020, I reported to the Federal Courthouse without a mask and had my fines adjudicated from the 08 Jul incident. I paid $80 for “disorderly conduct” when I wasn’t disorderly, I paid $10.00 in parking fees.  The person deciding my case said, “If I have trouble entering the building in the future, I need to ask the volunteers doing the COVID screening to call their supervisor, who will then shepherd me around the VA.”  I was assured three times that there is a procedure to deliver healthcare services to the veterans who cannot physically wear a mask.  The person handling my case claimed they would take care of the other ticket received from the 08 July incident and introduced themselves as a Lieutenant of the VA Police Force.

21 October 2020, I arrive at the south entrance to the Phoenix VA from the parking garage.  I am confronted by a hysterical employee, claiming they were a supervisor, demanding I wear a mask at the COVID screening desk.  I followed the instructions from 15 October and asked for a supervisor.  The employee then requires I wait “outside the VA Hospital for privacy reasons.”  When I asked why, and for specifics, the employee becomes more hysterical, calls the VA Police instead of answering questions, and erroneously claims I am causing a disturbance.  The supervisor arrives, negates what was told me on the 15th of October, and claims that wearing masks is a policy, then demands that mask-wearing is not a policy but a directive. When I asked for a copy of the policy, directive, guideline, etc., I was pointed to a sign.  I asked for the supervisor’s supervisor, called this person for assistance, and the VA Police interrupt my call and demand I finish my business off VA Property and then shadow me off VA Property, meaning I cannot return for 24-hours.  I had around 10-VA Police Officers attempting to intimidate me, again, because I asked questions and insisted upon logical answers that the VA employees refused to deliver.  No swearing, no screaming, no disruptive behavior of any kind, and I was outside the VA Hospital the whole time.  The traffic and witnesses were displaced for the VA Police Officers, not because of me.

The VA Police do not have a copy of the mask policy, directive, guideline, etc., to pass out to people who ask for one.  The supervisor does not have a copy or document with the mask policy clearly spelled out, except to point to a sign demanding obeisance.  Yet, the person needing VA medical or other assistance is expected to blindly follow an unwritten “policy” that continues to shift from draconian to obscene and back again on the bureaucrat executing policy’s whims.  This is immoral, unethical, and illegal, plus it makes the VA the laughingstock of every other hospital and care facility.

While I was able to speak to the supervisor’s supervisor, Jennifer Russoniello, and discuss the most recent incident and conduct some of the business I went to the VA Hospital for; I remain not pleased.  The failure to access the VA to obtain the medication needed is directly contributory to the ER visit on the 28th of October.  The continued confusion at the VA sees patients being refused service if they cannot wear a mask, at the expense of the patient’s health.  It is important to note that the director possesses statutory authority to accommodate Washington D.C.’s policies for the local hospitals’ operation and patient safety.  Yet, the director continues to fail to execute leadership, demonstrate a concern for patient safety, or even clarify operational guidelines, policies, procedures, or work standards by writing them down and training the staff on how to enforce policy properly and legally.

Important to note, Jennifer Russoniello affirmed what the supervisor claimed, there is no written policy regarding COVD masking at the Carl T. Hayden VAHCS.  A memo was received directing the mask “policy.”  She further elaborated that because the COVID situation changes dramatically from day-to-day, and the CDC mandates change from hour-to-hour, the Carl T. Hayden Hospital Leadership had tasked her to help draft an acceptable policy that would benefit all veterans.  She then asked if she could use my story as support for preparing a cohesive policy, to which I agreed.

When Jennifer and I finished our conversation at the Wendy’s across the street from the Phoenix VAHCS, it was agreed that if I held a mask close to my face, it would be acceptable, and I could be seen at the Phoenix VAHCS.  I was told to keep the mask near my face anytime I was within 6’ of other people, and I could drop the mask when not talking or interacting with people.

28 October 2020, I wake up in a crisis, I have to get medication that has not arrived, and my body is in trouble.  Using the information from Jennifer Russoniello, my wife called the Phoenix VAHCS to alert Jennifer, and I headed to the hospital ER.  Jennifer called me back, and I was unable to speak to her due to my nerve condition.  I arrived at the VA, held my mask to my face, went to the ER, and was treated without a problem.  No police harassment, no issues, nothing.

04 and 07 December 2020, I receive two text messages from the VA regarding my upcoming appointment.  I called the Radiology Department at the Phoenix VA specifically because I cannot physically wear a mask and wanted to make sure that I had waited four months to obtain this appointment and would not have any difficulties completing it.  The VA previously has refused service by providers because I cannot physically wear a mask; canceled only after I had traveled to the VA, waited in the waiting room, only to be told by the provider to go home or wear a mask.  Thus, I wanted to ensure this would not be the case with this MRI.

After five phone transfers, I finally spoke to Scott, who identified himself as the Radiology Supervisor.  I explained my predicament, explained who he could call to discuss the problem, and called him a second time to provide the name of the person I have been working with a Jennifer Russoniello, along with her extension.  Later that afternoon, Jennifer Russoniello returned my call and assured me all was in order.  The workaround we worked out was for me to hold a mask in front of my mouth and nose.  That way, the mask is not causing breathing difficulties, and I am then in compliance with the mask mandates.  This arrangement had worked previously during an Emergency Room (28 October 2020) visit; thus, I kept my appointment.

For the MRI, I was ordered no food or drink 4-6 hours before the appointment.  Two-hours was the scheduled time to be on the MRI table.  I planned my day, including my medications, food, and drink, around returning home quickly and relaxing.  Because history has proved that an MRI leaves me weak, hurt, and highly nerve sensitive, along with the usual sore muscles and other issues.

I arrived for my appointment, cleared the useless “COVID Screening” at the south entrance to the Phoenix VA, and proceed to Radiology.  At Radiology, I meet a supervisor (Paul?) who was to escort me around the hospital to ensure I did not get hassled by the VA Police, per Jennifer Russoniello.  I checked into Radiology.  When my name is called, I am met at the traffic control door by Scott, the Radiology supervisor, and an MRI Technician.  Scott refuses to allow me entrance because I am not physically wearing my mask.  I explain I cannot physically wear a mask; I walk with a cane, so one hand is full, and the other was full of cellphone, MRI paperwork, glasses, and floppy cloth mask.  I held the mask up to my face and claimed this is the best I can do to follow the “COVID Policy.”  Then asked if the MRI appointment was still on or not, repeated 5-different times.  Scott visibly has confusion written all over his face and cannot or will not decide.  No swearing, no disruptive behavior, no loud talking, and still the supervisor who had already spoken to Jennifer Russoniello about my mask problems is refusing service at the VA because of the mask mandate.  I am doing nothing wrong, nothing illegal, and nothing that could be classified as disruptive.  That other patients laugh as they observe Scott’s unprofessional behavior is not my problem; I did not laugh, I did not swear, I did not raise my voice, and did not cause a problem.  I simply stated my mask issue and asked if the MRI was going to occur.

After the sixth question regarding the MRI being canceled or not, the MRI tech turns slightly to Scott and says, “Why don’t we just do the MRI?”  At which point, Scott clears the door, and the process of changing clothes, answering pre-MRI questions and waiting for a room to open begins.  I walk to the MRI room without a mask, without problems, and without further questions about my mask-less face.  I suffer through the MRI.  After the MRI, I am told that “To get back to the dressing room, you have to be masked,” and I am offered a washcloth to hold close to my face.  I follow this request to the best of my ability while walking/staggering down an empty hallway, physically weak and exhausted from the MRI, the pain, the exertion, and the lack of food.

My trip to the dressing room is vital for two reasons: 1) I kept losing my leg strength, which is normal after MRI’s but coupled with the lack of food, and I am in trouble if I cannot get food soon.  2) Nothing else is said about my not wearing a mask.  I exit the dressing room, walk out through the traffic control door, and spot two VA Police Officers looking like they are involved in a long discussion with Peter, the supervisor dispatched from Jennifer Russoniello, to help me navigate the bureaucrats at the Phoenix VA.

I walk out, headed for the elevator, and the two VA Police Officers start calling my name.  I intend to go home!  Yet, the VA Police are delaying this because I cannot physically wear a mask.  Officer Interpreter places himself directly into my path, shouting about my need to wear a mask; when I politely try to sidestep him, he pushes back, physically pushing me backward.  The second officer is a Sgt. I think his name tag read “HUFF,” I am not sure, but calling him Sgt. Huff is acceptable, places himself beside Officer Interpreter, blocking my immediate path to the elevators.  Please note, I do not have the breath to be disruptive, scream, holler, rant, rave, or cause a scene.  I physically do not have the strength to argue or to carry on.  I have to get food immediately, or I will be unable to drive.  I attempt to explain all this to the VA Police Officers. Whose only reply is delivered in raised voices with great hostility, “We are not here to debate you,” “We are NOT here to discuss this with you; put a mask on!” and, “If you do not put a mask on immediately, we will arrest you on a felony.”  When I asked for specific the felony I am the officers are accusing me of, they redirect the conversation because they know they are on shaky and illegitimate legal grounds.

For the next 10-minutes or so, these two officers will yell, threaten, cajole, attempt to intimidate, and eventually will choose to place me in handcuffs, threatening me with felonious charges unspecified.  When Officer Interpreter finally decided to act and arrest me, he ordered me to turn around.  Not being able to turn around and knowing that Sgt. Huff was already behind me, I would not move.  I had previously almost collapsed during these officer’s tirades, more than once, and any movement at this point would be hazardous to my remaining upright and safe; my legs are shaking and weak already from the MRI.  But Officer Interpreter refuses to listen to any explanation on my part.  At this point, without knowing the extent of my injuries, Officer Interpreter places two hands upon me, thumbs in the armpits, mid-top of the biceps, and attempts to spin me to the left, towards the wall, in a standard police maneuver seen on every police show Hollywood produces.  After which, my legs collapsed!  My Thoracic Spine turned to the left, while my Lumbar and Cervical Spine remained stationary.  I hit the floor hard, cutting two fingers in four places, and I begin bleeding like mad!  I also scratched my right arm in two places while falling. I did not realize until showering the next day; neither scratch is deep enough to need medical attention, but they are all apparent injuries sustained when violently attacked by Officer Interpreter.

Officer Interpreter then tells me, “You collapsed on purpose; your injuries are faked.”  The supposedly superior officer, Sgt. Huff quickly picks up this mantra.  This attack (07 Dec 2020) has left me with increased pain in both knees, cramps in the L-Spine, a feeling of disconnection between my T- and L-Spines, and my cut fingers just keep bleeding.  Sitting and standing are more painful, and I have less stamina for sitting, standing, walking, and more problems breathing.  Every time the officers handled me and collapsed my legs, shots of pain went through my body; I can only guess I screamed out.  That generally happens when someone who is already suffering from chronic pain suffers more pain; check my medical records, and you see, I typically live in the land of 6 and 7 pain levels.  No swearing: I worked very hard during this incident to maintain a sense of professionalism even in my weakened state.  I fully admit my cherub-like demeanor evaporated when I got pushed, but I worked hard to control my tongue.

Collapsing my legs on 07 December 2020, like every time the VA Police have manhandled me, ignites a pain and nerve storm inside my body.  I jerk, spasm, twitch, stutter, eventually lose my ability to speak, and involuntary movements explode out my arms, legs, neck/head, hands, and feet.  My breathing problems intensify.  I try explaining this to the officers every time, and every time I am insulted, denigrated, accused of faking the injuries, and causing a disturbance to cover their ineptitude and unprofessionalism.  In Holding Cell 1, as Officer Huff is removing one handcuff, my arm spasms involuntarily, and he complains I am trying to hit him.  False accusations abound in this sordid saga!

My safety is placed at risk when I wear a mask, yet the VA is the only medical facility in the Phoenix Metro area with a problem of me not wearing a mask.  I have had MRIs, consultations, a gall bladder surgery, which involved a full day in the ER, then two days in hospital, all without a mask.  Thus, even though the first, and allegedly, most important SAIL Matrix is Safety, as in the patient’s safety, I am discriminated against because I cannot wear a mask. The Phoenix VA leaders cannot sufficiently establish policies and guidelines to protect my safety.

Once standing, with officer assistance, I was placed in a wheelchair where I struggled to breathe.  Sitting in a wheelchair is hard for me because I cannot straighten out enough to breathe fully.  My fight or flight response goes haywire when the nerve issues begin and does not conclude for days afterward.  Yet, on top of all my other cautionary statements about handling me and not inflicting more pain, the officers insisted I sit in a wheelchair.  Worse, the officers felt it was needed to handcuff me with my arms behind my back while sitting in a wheelchair.  My back is in immense pain every time it is touched.  Yet, the officers continued to think it was acceptable to handcuff me, behind my back, where the cuffs, the bracelets around my wrists, are digging into my spine.  Every time we hit a bump, more pain shoots through my already injured and highly nerve sensitive body!  Sitting in a wheelchair, with my hands cuffed behind my back forces me to sit hunched over, making breathing even more difficult.  Where are my rights to patient safety in the VA Hospital?

The Federal VA Police officers repeatedly informed me, “You are doing this intentionally,” “Stop making a scene, you are not in that much pain,” and “You cannot be injured that badly.”  Let me be clear; the officers started this confrontation by not allowing me to go home!  My appointment was at the end of the day, so there were significantly empty hallways when I was scheduled to leave, meaning that I would not be disturbing people by not wearing a mask.  Then they compounded their errors by directly laying their hands upon me.  These two officers, and the officers from July, both felt they could violently lay hands upon a patient who is not being violent, are not acting irrationally, and this is WRONG!  If the patient is not acting in a manner that causes harm or injury to themselves, other patients, threatening the VA Police Officers, or damaging the VA physical facility, the policy should be HANDS OFF!

10 December 2020, south entrance to the VA Hospital, I approach the VA to file a complaint about the treatment received on the 08th of December and visit the ER.  I am stopped by the same overzealous supervisor from 21 October 2020, at the COVID screening station between the two entrance/exit doors.  I explain I cannot wear a mask when asked to wear a mask, and before the COVID screener can reply, the supervisor demands I stand out of the way, and he acts in a hostile and combative manner.  I followed directions; I stand out of the way while he goes further away to obtain instructions about me; supposedly, I was on some warning list.  With more apparent and palpable glee and hostility, the supervisor returns, informing me Jennifer Russoniello is coming to speak to me; she never arrived.  At this point, the supervisor demands I leave the hospital entrance, claiming I am blocking the path of traffic; yet, it is raining outside, I am out of traffic, and not causing a scene.  When the supervisor becomes more agitated and hostile, he calls the VA Police to have me removed.  The VA Police officer signals to leave me alone while I wait and the supervisor returns to his post.  Not 2-minutes later, another officer arrives, and the supervisor tells the arriving officer I am disturbing traffic and not following his commands.

Yet, except for my inability to wear a mask and stand in the rain, I have followed his commands; I am not disrupting the inbound or outbound traffic, I am standing out of the way, and I am silently waiting.  Soon a LT arrives, I didn’t get his name.  I got his attitude, antagonism, malevolence, and malice, but never witnessed his professionalism or ability to listen.  The LT, along with a SGT. and several other officers, proceed to block the doors so nobody can get in or out of the VA and proceed to blame me for blocking traffic.  I was not blocking traffic; I was not causing a scene. I was not disturbing anyone.  The VA Police officers did all these things.

I explain why I am there.  I explain I cannot wear a mask; I explain without swearing, screaming, or disrupting anyone I am waiting and trying to get to the ER.  The LT and the SGT then decide it is time to arrest me.  They grab my arms and jerk at the wrists to get my arms behind my back.  My wrists are still visibly bruised from the 07th of December incident, and I scream in pain.  To which they claim I am “faking my injuries,” then declaring, “If my wrists were really injured, there would be bandages on them,” among other derogatory comments.  My nerves kick-off and my pain jumps to 15, as I am manhandled into a wheelchair, from which I cannot breathe properly, and then taken through the rain to Holding Cell 2.  Is this clear? I am bodily removed from the VA, injured, arrested, and all this after spending two days flat on my back due to pain from the 07th of December arrest and injuries.  Under EMTALA, the Federal Emergency medicine law, this is illegal.  As a patient with rights, whose primary job is to look after my safety, I am left amazed at the treatment I keep receiving.

Every curb hit, every bump hit, every single expansion line in the sidewalks hit, my pain spikes, and I holler out in agony.  Yet, every time I mention this, I am told to shut up, stop acting, stop faking, and that I deserve the trouble I am receiving at the VA Police’s hands.  But the irony of the entire saga of illegal actions, immoral treatment, and unethical behavior from the VA Police and immature VA Federal employees is encapsulated in being reported to the DBC for behavioral issues.

I have not been disruptive.  I have not exhibited behavioral problems worthy of this charge and action by the VA Police or the DBC.  I have in no way broken any law or refused any reasonable demand.  I have been seen at the Phoenix VA historically two other times, and never a problem.  I have been seen at various other VA facilities across the continental United States and never had a problem with the Federal VA Police, anywhere.  The VA at a VA Hospital has employed me, and I never had a problem with the VA Police.  Since March 2020, the third time I am a patient with the Phoenix VAHCS, I have nothing but problems as professionalism has shrunk and the bureaucratism has increased exponentially!

Ask yourself this, if you are in pain, and you go to a hospital ER for services and are refused service, are you a happy person?  If you are in constant pain, and someone pushes you, violently spins you, and causes your pain to elevate, do you cry out in pain?  If so, according to the DBC and the VA Police’s pretzel logic, you disrupted the hospital and caused a disturbance.  If you explain something 50+ times to a person, are you still a pleasant and friendly person to be around?  I have explained hundreds of times why I cannot wear a mask, where to find this data in my medical records, and been accused of lying, “blowing rainbows up a person’s butt,” and had other derogatory and insulting remarks made about me and to me.

Tell me, if you hear your private medical diagnoses bandied about as a joke, do you take offense?  Do you become upset when your safety is threatened and your personal space is violated for no cause?  If so, then you cannot allow this atrocious decision by the DBC to stand.  Nor should you allow another minute to pass before ending the policies creating the problems and safety issues.  Three times I have needed emergency care at the Carl T. Hayden VAHCS since my return in March 2020 and been refused.  Refusing emergency care at an emergency room receiving federal funds to operate is against the LAW (EMTALA); yet, the VAHCS in Phoenix is somehow exempt?  Twice, I have had additional injuries heaped upon the pain I am already suffering, and thrice I have been cited for being disorderly when the VA Police Officers were the ones causing the scene, disrupting traffic, and antagonizing situations.

10 December 2020, in Holding Cell 2, in front of at least eight other officers, Major Kratz barges into the holding cell, screaming, hollering, and shaking his sausage-like fingers in my face.  Making demands and acting irrationally, yet I face DBC consequences, which does not make sense.  While trying to leave the VA, sitting in my POV, the LT who started all the trouble on the 10th of December, places his hands upon my vehicle, leans against my door, and refuses to allow me to leave until he has finished insulting, denigrating, and making stupid accusations!

I fully admit, my cherub-like demeanor with the VA Police is gone, and I refuse to replace the cherub-like demeanor while I remain criticized, insulted, dismissed, injured, and falsely accused!  I have documented my treatment and my proactive approach to correcting the issues experienced very closely because the VA continues to claim I am “non-compliant” and claiming that my behavioral problems are causing disturbances in the hospital.  According to the officers, on the 10th of December 2020, I am “deserving the injuries I receive because of my rebelliousness in not conforming to wear a mask.”  Even after I have explained, I cannot physically or safely wear a mask.

30 December 2020, a person declaring themselves the assistant deputy director of the VA Police at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, called me.  When asked three times, directly, “Why are you calling me,” I received three different ambiguous answers that meant nothing and a redirection of the conversation.  Then the caller told me some “facts,” I stated the situation as declared above.  To which I was told, “Your evidence is not applicable because it is too old.”  Yet, he went on to claim his officer’s record of events was correct and factual, and the date did not matter.

But, like the Home Shopping Network claims, “Oh Wait, there’s more.”  The caller told me, “your non-compliance is what is causing the issues.”  Not the fact that zealot bureaucrats are enforcing a policy that endangers the patients.  Not that my safety concerns have any bearing on the issues or why I keep getting harassed by multiple VA Federal Police Officers who refuse to listen to the patient.  Not that I have legitimate physical problems with wearing a mask. He only informed me that I am not compliant, which is my problem, and the sole reason the VA Police Officers keep injuring me.

But “Oh wait, there’s more.”  After declaring I am non-compliant, the caller refused to listen to my rebuttal of why I am compliant.  Interrupting me constantly, and then claiming that I am “Riled up” and “not being professional” when conversing with him, an intransigent and openly hostile caller.  The caller then dared to declare that “Patients do not tell the hospital what they will and will not do.”  Seriously!?!?!  I have legitimate safety and health issues that have been recorded on the VA Medical records, and this caller duplicates what his officers did on the 10th of December when they declared they were smarter than my doctor and could know when someone was faking an injury or not!

But “Oh, wait, there’s more.”  In July 2020, I heard jokes and disparaging comments about me and my medical file while sitting in the holding cell.  On the 10th of December, more disparaging remarks were made that included details that can only be known had the VA Police looked at my medical diagnoses, mental health records, and other medical data.  Having non-medical personnel know this confidential data is a HIPAA violation, clear and straightforward.  The letter 644/00 dated the 13th of October 2020 from Dr. A. Smith, the Medical Center Director, claimed that the VA Police needed this data to do their jobs effectively.  But, the caller had the nerve to declare, “I am making this up, these allegations have no bearing on the 07th of December event, and I need to stop lying about my injuries and the verbal abuse of the arresting officers.”  Which is it, HIPAA claims that these officers are in direct violation of their duties when they know my private medical details and diagnoses.  The VAMC director claims it is legal.  The caller claimed they have never had this data.  I smell bureaucrats covering themselves, and it stinks!

I have now sat in Holding Cell 1 twice and Holding Cell 2 once at the Carl T. Hayden VA Police Offices.  I can tell you from my experience, the majority of these Federal Police Officers are unprofessional, unprincipled, unbefitting, unbecoming, and replete with the most egregious manners it has ever been my displeasure to encounter.  The Department of Motor Vehicles is more professional and dedicated than most of the Carl T. Hayden’s VA Police Officers – having this “leader” of VA Police Operations tell me I am lying is enough to boil my blood!

But “Oh, wait, there’s more.”  The caller then dared to accuse me of being hostile, not listening and refusing to comply.  How can I comply when you never told me why you were calling?  Why should I be anything but irate and wary when I have come to expect treatment that should shame any professional?  I listened very carefully to the bloviations and blather of this bureaucrat, which is why, at this point, I disconnected the call.

The call lasted 8 minutes, and was full of bureaucratic nonsense, and left me out of breath, gasping for air, and vehement to the Nth degree, and out of my mind with umbrage and indignation!  Why did the Assistant Deputy Director of VA Police call me?  What is his job?  Since his job does not include setting hospital policy at the VA, will this incident be referred to a policymaker at some future date, or do I have to be paralyzed first by a zealous VA Police Officer jerking my spine and cutting my spinal cord?  If patients cannot inform a police officer that what they are doing is causing injury, then the VA Police Officer is wrong!  If a patient who is not causing trouble, is continuously harassed, threatened, accused of lying, and injured, and then can be placed on DBC policies for unspecified behavioral issues, based solely upon the cowardly, unscrupulous, and disreputable conduct of the VA Police and the inadequate policies and directives of the hospital leadership, then the entire organizational leadership needs to be replaced, forthwith!

I fully admit, I got frustrated and swore!  I fully admit when my pain levels went up, and I got hit, spun, collapsed, and more, I screamed in agony.  I have repeatedly tried to be proactive and avoid being in a position where the VA Police are concerned. Still, I cannot safely and physically wear a mask, and this is NOT a crime worthy of all the bureaucratic lunacy and foolishness I keep suffering.  I have not caused a single-issue worthy of VA Police intervention, EVER!

I have been a victim of overzealous, hostile, inept, and incompetent supervisors who become ludibrium verius malum when someone asks them a question.  I have been a victim of unprincipled, unscrupulous, disreputable professionals gifted with a badge or authority above their competence who are policy tools off the VAHCS, whose policy is poorly dictated and inappropriately applied.  I have been illegally treated and mistreated to the pleasure of the ludibrium verius malum functionaries.  Thus, I refute the charges laid against my good name and character.  I refuse to be labeled as a “behavioral problem” when I have done nothing wrong!

In no uncertain terms, the decision from the DBC should be immediately rejected, and the entire record struck of all accusations. Immediately restitution needs to be made for causing me injuries by the hands of emotionally impassioned ludibrium verius malum tools!  I have committed no crime!

I have done nothing worthy of any of the treatment I have received since March 2020 at the hands of the VA.  I deserve justice, not accusations of behavioral misconduct.  I deserve justice for the misconduct, malfeasance, impropriety, delinquency, crime, and mistreatment I have suffered.  I deserve answers, and I intend to keep complaining until my rights are restored and my good name cleansed and scoured of the tyrannical, unjust, and oppressive actions of these disastrous federal employees.  There is NO excuse for what I have suffered!

As a professional organizational psychologist, I place my integrity and honor on what I have reported, observed, experienced, witnessed, heard.  I fully and unequivocally attest that the majority of the Federal Police Officers in the Carl T. Hayden VA Police Force need immediate retraining, except for those not fired for unprofessional behavior and misconduct!  There is NO EXCUSE for Officer Interpreter on the 08th of December 2020 to have grabbed me, after physically pushing me, and try to spin me into a wall.  There is no reason, at all, for a VA Police Lt. and a Sgt. to grab my wrists, bend my arms into positions they do not travel, aggravating the handcuff injuries from Monday, and then have the gall to tell me, “Well, how could I know you had painful wrists, you are not wearing a bandage.”  I told them about my injures before they started grabbing, jerking, yanking, and hurting me.  Then I get ordered to “Shut up; I was under arrest.”  But I never had my Miranda Rights read.  I complied on the 10th, I complied on the 8th, and I complied in July.

Let us be perfectly clear; hospital mandatory mask policies must have exceptions for patients who physically cannot wear a mask.  Patients unable to wear masks include some patients on cancer drugs, some asthmatic patients, people with breathing problems, and much more.  The Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center policy is the biggest problem I face when obtaining treatment after the COVID Pandemic Declaration from Feb. 2020.  I am certainly not alone in having breathing issues with the COVID Masking Policies, and with the zealotry, the policies are being enforced.  The VA has established an organizational design that requires a veterans business to be conducted face-to-face.  Hence, the VA is a Ghost Town; patients are canceling their appointments, FOIA’s are not being submitted, and so much more because of the masking policies that endanger patient health and place patients at risk of further injury!

I repeat, only for emphasis; that the only medical offices, radiological departments, emergency rooms, and hospitals in the Phoenix, Arizona area where mask policies are causing discrimination and refusal of service is at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Health Care System, and this is 100% wrong!  The Entire VA Leadership Team should be highly embarrassed and entirely held accountable!

Where is respect for me at the VA?  Where is my patient safety?  Where is my ability to conduct business in an atmosphere free of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination?  If the Phoenix VAHCS desires atmospheres free of harassment, intimidation, and discrimination, they first must provide what they desire.

Sincerely,

Dr. M. Dave Salisbury
Ph.D./MBA/MAET
Dual Service-Disabled Veteran

CC: Meyers & Telles Attorneys at Law
Senator Mark Kelly
Rep. Greg Stanton

The Carl T. Hayden Veterans Hospital – An Abomination of Bureaucrats!

Carl T. HaydenAugust 2020, I was informed that I had been hired with a September 2020 start date.  The same day, I contacted my Department of Veterans Affairs Primary Care Doctor for a workplace accommodation letter. The doctor and I discussed my problems and what aids and equipment  I need to be more productive in a work environment, which during COVID mandates includes my inability to wear a mask.  The doctor wrote a workplace accommodation letter, and the employer and I have worked out a workplace accommodation.  I hope to work for the company on the 11th of January 2021.

July 2020, I was arrested by the VA Police and charged with non-compliance to signage by not wearing a mask.  I spent more than 40-minutes declaring my problems and safety issues with wearing a mask.  I begged the VA Police, who were harassing me, witnessed by more than 8 VA Officers, and more than 30-employees and other veterans, to no avail.  I was injured when the VA Police hit my back and collapsed to the floor due to my spinal injuries; this is normal for my injuries.  It is important to note that I was wearing the face shield that I was informed had to be worn instead of a mask when I was arrested.  Yet, even the face shield was inaccurate information provided by the VA Police when they started to harass me and make a scene in the VA ED Waiting area.

On the 08th of December 2020, I am arrested, again injured. This time was the first time I was accused of “faking my injuries,” additional jokes were made about me collapsing, as well as many other disparaging comments made during the arrest.  All this abuse came after I had already worked out a solution to access care at the VA with Jennifer, the head of patient advocacy, which had worked for an emergency room visit in early November.  I had called the VA Hospital Radiology Department to ensure the deal was still acceptable, and I would not have any issues.  Yet, the radiology supervisor called the VA Police to report a patient causing problems in the radiological department.

On the 10th of December 2020, I approach the VA to file a complaint about the treatment received on the 08th of December and visit the ER.  I am stopped by a zealous supervisor of the COVID testing at the South Entrance to the VA.  I am bodily removed from the VA, injured, arrested, and all this after spending two days flat on my back due to pain from the 08th of December arrest and injury.  Under EMTALA, the Federal Emergency medicine law, this is illegal, as was the VA’s detention and removal in July 2020.

Survived the VAThese are all provable facts.  I have documented my treatment and my proactive approach to correcting the issues experienced very closely because the VA continues to claim I am “non-compliant” and claiming that my behavioral problems are causing disturbances in the hospital.  According to the officers, on the 10th of December 2020, I am “deserving the injuries I receive because of my rebelliousness in not conforming to wear a mask.”  Even after I have explained, I cannot physically wear a mask.

When I put on any mask, including CPAP masks for sleep, KN95 COVID masks, shirts, or other cloth masks, and during surgery three times the surgical masks, my volume of air per breath drops to a point where I feel like I am choking.  I begin gasping for air.  A killer headache begins and lasts for up to 72-hours after.  My vision grays, and I either drop to an unhealthy sleep or pass out using any mask.  Shortness of breath has been getting worse since 2006.  Shortness of breath was first noticeable after sustaining a significant spine injury in the US Navy in 2002.  I went to medical, the corpsman on my ship increased my ibuprofen prescription, and said, “Since there is no pain, there is no spinal injury,” and marked me fit for full duty.  My last two years onboard the ship are replete with falls, body weaknesses, gains of weight, loss of breath, increased pain levels, insomnia, and medical visits to the corpsman.  All visits to the corpsman resulted in me being marked “Fit for Full Duty.”  Fit for full duty meant carrying tools, parts, flammable gas containers, refrigerant, and Halon Firefighting Gases off the pier and onto the ship—wearing an SCBA regularly where my legs would collapse—handling HAZMAT, cleaning up HAZMAT, and much more.  All of this is documented and factual.

1247 hours, the 30th of December 2020, a person declaring themselves the assistant deputy director of the VA Police at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center in Phoenix, Arizona, called me.  When asked three times, directly, “Why are you calling me,” I received three different ambiguous answers that meant nothing and a redirection of the conversation.  Then the caller told me some “facts,” I stated the situation as declared above.  To which I was told, “Your evidence is not applicable because it is too old.”  Yet, he went on to claim his officer’s record of events was correct and factual, and the date did not matter.

Theres moreBut, like the Home Shopping Network claims, “Oh Wait, there’s more.”  The caller told me, “your non-compliance is what is causing the issues.”  Not the fact that zealot bureaucrats are enforcing a policy that endangers the patients.  Not that my safety concerns have any bearing on the issues or why I keep getting harassed by multiple VA Federal Police Officers who refuse to listen to the patient.  Not that I have legitimate physical problems with wearing a mask. He only informed me that I am not compliant, which is my problem, and the sole reason the VA Police Officers keep injuring me.

Theres moreBut “Oh wait, there’s more.”  After declaring I am non-compliant, the caller refused to listen to my rebuttal of why I am compliant.  Interrupting me constantly, and then claiming that I am “Riled up” and “not being professional” when conversing with him, an intransigent caller.  The caller then dared to declare that “Patients do not tell the hospital what they will and will not do.”  Seriously!?!?!  I have personal safety and health issues that have been recorded on the VA Medical records, and this caller has now duplicated what his officers did on the 10th of December when they declared they were smarter than my doctor and could know when someone was faking an injury or not!

Theres moreBut “Oh, wait, there’s more.”  In July 2020, I heard jokes and disparaging comments made about me and my medical file while sitting in the holding cell.  On the 10th of December, more disparaging remarks were made that included details that can only be known had the VA Police looked at my medical diagnosis, mental health records, and other medical data.  Having non-medical personnel know this confidential data is a HIPAA violation, clear and simple.  The letter 644/00 dated the 13th of October 2020 from Dr. A. Smith, the Medical Center Director, claimed that the VA Police needed this data to do their jobs effectively.  But, the caller had the nerve to declare, “I am making this up, these allegations have no bearing on the 08th of December event, and I need to stop lying about my injuries and the verbal abuse of the arresting officers.”  Which is it, HIPAA claims that these officers are in direct violation of their duties when they know my private medical details and diagnosis.  The VAMC director claims it is legal.  The caller claimed they have never had this data.  I smell CYA, and it stinks!

I have now sat in Holding Cell 1 twice and Holding Cell 2 once at the Carl T. Hayden VA Police Offices.  I can tell you from my experience, the majority of these Federal Police Officers are unprofessional, full of verbal diarrhea, and replete with the most egregious manners it has ever been my displeasure to encounter.  The Department of Motor Vehicles is more professional and dedicated than most of the Carl T. Hayden’s VA Police Officers – having this “leader” of VA Police Operations tell me I am lying is enough to boil my blood!

Theres moreBut “Oh, wait, there’s more.” The caller then had the audacity to accuse me of being hostile, not listening, and refusing to comply.  How can I comply when you never told me why you were calling?  At this point, I disconnected the call.

The call today lasted 8 minutes, and was full of bureaucratic nonsense, and left me out of breath, gasping for air, and madder than a soaked chicken with a raging case of hemorrhoids.  Why did the Assistant Deputy Director of VA Police call me?  What is his job?  Since his job clearly does not include setting hospital policy at the VA, will this incident be referred to a policymaker at some future date, or do I have to be paralyzed?  Because another zealous VA Police Officer jerks my spine and cuts my spinal cord.  If patients cannot inform a police officer that what they are doing is causing injury, then the VA Police Officers need better tactics, approaches, and policies.

LinkedIn VA ImageAs a professional organizational psychologist, I place my integrity and honor on what I have reported, observed, experienced, witnessed, heard, and I fully and unequivocally attest that the majority of the Federal Police Officers in the Carl T. Hayden VA Police Force need immediate retraining; except for those fired for unprofessional behavior and misconduct!  There is NO EXCUSE for Officer Interpreter on the 08th of December 2020 to have grabbed me, after physically pushing me, and try to spin me into a wall.  There is no reason, at all, for a VA Police Lt. and a Sgt. to grab my wrists, bend my arms into positions they do not travel, aggravating the handcuff injuries from Monday, and then have the gall to tell me, “Well, how could I know you had painful wrists, you are not wearing a bandage.”  I told them about my injures before they started grabbing, jerking, yanking, and hurting me.  Then I get ordered to “Shut up; I was under arrest.”  But I never had my Miranda Rights read.  I complied on the 10th, I complied on the 8th, and was in compliance in July.

LinkedIn ImageLet’s be perfectly clear; hospital mandatory mask policies must have exceptions for patients who physically cannot wear a mask.  Patients unable to wear masks include some patients on cancer drugs, some asthmatic patients, people with breathing problems, and much more.  The Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center COVID Mask policy is the biggest problem I face when trying to obtain treatment after the COVID Pandemic Declaration from Feb. 2020.  I am certainly not alone in having breathing issues with the COVID Masking Policies, and with the zealotry, which those policies are being enforced.  The VA has established an organizational design that requires business to be conducted face-to-face.  Hence, the VA is a Ghost Town; patients are canceling their appointments, FOIA’s are not being submitted, and so much more because of the masking policies that endanger patient health and place patients at risk of further injury!

I repeat, only for emphasis, the only medical offices, radiological departments, emergency rooms, and hospitals in the Phoenix, Arizona area where mask policies are causing problems is at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Administration Medical Center, and this is 100% wrong!  The Entire VA Leadership Team should be highly embarrassed and entirely held accountable!I-Care

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Department of Veterans Affairs Chronicles of Shame

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

Symptom, Not Disease – A VA Chronicle

Carl T. Hayden10 December 2020, The Carl T. Hayden Phoenix VA Medical Center (VAMC), I was arrested for the third time, hassled for the fifth time, and injured for the third time at the hands of the VA Police over my physical inability to wear a mask. The zealous supervisor of the COVID Screening staff threw a fit, for the second time (first in October, again in December), when I asked him about his authority to refuse me care at the VA under EMTALA. Thus, for the third time, I have been denied emergency care under EMTALA by the Phoenix VAMC. I was taken to Holding Cell 2, where multiple officers of the VA Federal Police Force decided that making jokes about my injuries, claiming I was faking my injuries, and insisting they knew more about my injuries than my doctors was an acceptable VA Policing policy. Major Kratz is the bitter cherry on this “crap sundae,” by entering the room, shaking his sausage-like finger in my face, and accusing me of lying about having created an action plan with Jennifer, the supervisor of Patient Advocacy. A symptom, not the disease!

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) has made some startling reports to Congress. Consider, “U.S. Attorney Justin Herdman announced on 20 November 2020, that a grand jury sitting in Cleveland has returned a 28-count indictment charging William H. Precht, age 53, of Kent, Ohio, with theft of government property, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and honest services fraud, wire fraud, and false statements relating to health care matters.” Let me stress; the defendant remains innocent until proven guilty in a trial of his peers. Still, I also stress this incident cost the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) more than $1,066,348. The scheme was in place from 2010 to 2019, is but another symptom, not the disease, endemic to the VA.

The VA-OIG continues to report, “the owner of a for-profit trade school has been charged with defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and student veterans, announced U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas Erin Nealy Cox.” The defendant, who remains innocent until proven guilty in a court of law by a jury of his peers, defrauded veterans seeking education to the tune of $71 million in GI Bill benefits from the VA and is facing up to 184 years in federal prison. Symptom, not disease, and the VA is full of this type of rot.

VA SealI would never expect a person to believe that the entire VA is full of these symptoms from three examples. Consider that electronic wait-lists, and wait-lists in general, has been a leading cause of death for veterans awaiting care and that the Phoenix VAMC has been in severe trouble on this single issue twice in recent years. Yet, the VA-OIG found, “… wait-list entries were not reviewed and validated as required. Patients were not removed from the wait-list when appropriate, indicating that employees at medical facilities did not review entries daily, and supervisors did not validate the wait-list weekly.” Supervisors not doing their job to oversee work is appropriately performed is the symptom that led to the first two incidents reported in this article. Again, symptoms, not disease.

Another recent example that was buried in “COVID-Media Hysteria,” “Ergonomic office furniture maker Workrite Ergonomics LLC, a Delaware company, and its parent, Knape & Vogt Manufacturing Co. (collectively, Workrite), have agreed to pay $7.1 million to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act that they overcharged the federal government for office furniture under General Services Administration (GSA) contracts, the Department of Justice announced on 3 December 2020.”  This settlement is over a contractual obligation clause to lower prices. “The settlement resolves allegations that Workrite did not fulfill its contractual obligations to provide GSA with accurate information about its commercial sales practices during contract negotiations and did not subsequently extend lower prices to government customers as required by the GSA contract’s price reduction clause.” Not mentioned here are the VA Employees whose job is to monitor the purchases made under the contract, ask questions during contract negotiations, and oversee the contractors and purchasing contracts. Fascinating that the employees responsible for catching these issues early never seem to be held liable for their failures to perform the jobs they have been hired to perform. Symptom, not the disease.

Speaking of symptoms, where supervisors and employees are not performing their jobs properly. “U.S. Attorney Andrew Murray announced on 2 December 2020 that John Paul Cook, 57, of Alexander, N.C. is facing multiple federal charges for defrauding the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (the VA) by receiving veteran benefits based on fraudulent service-connected disabilities from 1987 to 2017.” Thirty-years of VA Disability payments, but no VA employee ever asked if he had a driver’s license or other proof of disability. How is this possible; symptom, not disease!

Military Crests“A Florida attorney, on 1 December 2020, admitted his role in a scheme to extort $7.5 million from a California bank, Attorney for the United States Rachael A. Honig announced. Richard L. Williams, 73, of Miami, Florida, pleaded guilty by video-conference before U.S. District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to an information charging him with conspiracy to transmit an interstate communication with the intent to extort.”  Symptom, not disease!

“A Michigan woman was sentenced on 4 December 2020, to three years and five months in prison after pleading guilty to carrying out a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) of more than $1.7 million in veterans benefits, announced U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada.” Where were the IT and IS Controls to check for doubled veterans claims? Where were the employees asking for more information when blood types and other medical records mismatched? Administrative controls at the VA are a symptom, not the disease, and the VA Employees who have aided and abetted in allowing this type of trickery need to be held accountable.

Consider the following quote “VA employees are public servants with a solemn duty to care for our nation’s veterans,” said David Spilker, Special Agent in Charge of the VA OIG’s Southeast Field Office. This quote comes from the following case of fraud where the defendants have pled guilty. “Miller Wilson, Jr. (50, Sparr), his daughter, Myoshi Wilson (26, Citra), and his ex-wife, Erica Wilson (43, Ocala) were sentenced today by Senior United States District Judge James D. Whittemore for their roles in a scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health care benefits.” The VA Employee Miller Wilson, Jr., was in charge of VA Payments for non-medical transportation. He established a company to transport VA Patients, received kickbacks for steering work to other companies, and got the other two family members involved in the scheme. Where was his supervisor during all of this “irregular behavior?” Symptom, not the disease.

ProblemsThe VA’s disease comprises numerous large organizations, especially those in the government sector, disconnections between leadership and front-line service providers. This disease goes by several names, but all have the following characteristics:

    • Lack of training
    • Lack of supervision
    • Lack of interest
    • Lack of caring
    • A socially shared sense of entitlement

Frankly, the disease is apathy, compounded by generations of knowledge in protecting oneself to the detriment of all others, including other employees. For example, as an employee, I was physically and verbally assaulted by a senior employee. When another employee and I complained of the maltreatment, the assistant director gave patently false information on how to report the problem, promoted the employee doing the assaulting, and then castigated those who reported this employee’s malbehavior. As the behavior intensified, the director became involved and used other employees on a quid pro quo to remove everyone who reported the employee doing the assaulting.

I-CareBecause this behavior is so ingrained, it has become a defining characteristic and is part of the organizational design. Correcting this behavior requires the same tactic used in pruning trees. Start small, get a core group of people who can work, act, and lead.

  1. Start in the local clinics and hospitals, for the Veterans Benefits Administration and the National Cemetery. Start local, where the worst rot is the most visible.
  2. Write down processes, procedures, operational standards, and behavior guidelines. Once written, begin training, publishing, and speaking about this new managerially acceptable behavior by first living these behaviors.
  3. Start setting organizational examples as fraud and malfeasance raise their heads, remove those involved, promote from within, and train the new leaders using the small core group as mentors.
  4. Cut out the obviously poor growers, first. For example, remove employees for cause, and publicize why. While publicizing why they were removed, communicate the new standards of managerially acceptable behavior.
  5. Train, train, and train. That training is a powerful organizational behavior, cannot be stressed enough. Set exacting standards, do not deviate for the easy and quick, and train others to meet those standards. Training includes mentoring and coaching. Use this opportunity to train, mentor, and coach as tools for encouraging managerially acceptable behaviors that meet the new standards, which begins new growth when the old rot is removed.
  6. Be Brave! Change in an organization requires the same type of bravery that wins soldier medals in battle. Standing when you want to sit is key to pushing back against organizational cancer represented in the current leadership.
  7. Do not quit! Too often, the VA has good intentions, uses valuable marketing tactics, and then drops the delivery ball, and the desired organizational change fizzles. Why does the change fizzle; because the leaders tasked with implementation run out of steam before the entrenched management runs out of excuses. Ending this requires smaller steps and people invested in making the change happen.

Image - Eagle & FlagThe VA has become detestable and is absolutely failing in the VA’s mission, as President Lincoln provided. Get outside the regular hiring pool, demand legislation that allows for change, and begin to prune. The veterans in America are counting on you, the leaders of the VA, to act! Do not let these veterans die because of your apathy and fear!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein. The pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.
All rights reserved. For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:
https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

The Department of Veterans Affairs: The Liars and Thieves Edition

I-CareIn December 2019, I witnessed an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs, Hospital Administration, create rules to inconvenience a veteran, lie to a veteran, obfuscate, and generally mock a veteran.  The incident included the employee threatening the veteran with throwing away documentation, the primary care provider needed because the veteran was not mailing the forms to the doctor as the employee demanded of the veteran.  The veteran must travel and thought dropping off the forms would be acceptable; until he met this employee.  23 January 2020, I was the veteran being lied to, and my “cherub-like demeanor” evaporated faster than dew in a July sun.  For the December incident, I signed my name to a letter going to the Hospital Director Andrew M. Welch, written by the abused veteran, and testified that I witnessed the treatment this veteran received.  To the best of my knowledge, no action was taken by the hospital leadership where this employee is concerned, I asked.  A copy of this article will be sent to hospital leadership.  If any additional information comes available on this issue, I will write an addendum and update this article.

23 January 2020, 1505-1510, I went to my primary care provider’s clinic at the Albuquerque, New Mexico VA Hospital.  I had another appointment, was early, and went to ask why I am receiving letters claiming the primary care clinic is “having difficulty” contacting me.  The employee is titled “Advanced MSA,” which means they are a Medical Support Assistant who has been promoted.  For my other appointment, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three appointment emails.  For my next appointment, 24 January 2020, I have received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  For my appointment in December 2019, I received two text messages, one automated call, and three emails.  I regularly receive calls from other clinics in the VA Hospital.  My cellphone has voicemail, and the voicemail is regularly checked and responses made.  Yet, the MSA claims, “I have tried calling you, and you do not have voicemail.”  I checked my recent calls, and showed the MSA where I had not received any calls from the VA on the days indicated, and asked why I can receive all these other calls from the VA, including the text messages, but only his calls are not showing up.  The MSA then became intransigent, resolute, and adamant, raised his voice, and told me our conversation was done.  After observing the ways and means of this VA employee over the course of many months previously, I wonder, “how many other veterans are not being contacted in a timely manner, while this person lies, cheats, and steals?”

Quality of FindingsUnfortunately, this is the standard, not the exception for the MSA’s in the HAS (Hospital Administration Services) Department, led by Maritza Pittore, at the Albuquerque VA Hospital.  I have witnessed multiple MSA’s committing HIPAA violations through record diving, gossiping about veteran patients, acting rudely, ignoring veteran patients and their families to complete conversations, and refusing to do their jobs.  As a point of fact, one assistant director one told me, “if what the VA does was replicated by a non-government hospital, they would be closed down and sued.”  While employed from June 2018 thru June 2019, I brought this to the attention of the leadership, including multiple emails and voice conversations with Maritza Pittore, Sonja Brown, and several other high-ranking leaders and their assistants, all to no avail.  I have had nursing staff tell me confidentially that they cannot do anything where the MSA’s are concerned because “it’s none of their business and outside their job duties.”  Yet, the VA continues to proclaim the MSA, the Nurse, and the doctor, along with the patient, are a “healthcare team.”  Upon being discharged, without cause, reason, or justification, I brought this information to the OIG, my congressional and senate representatives, among many others, all to no avail.  The level of customer service, especially at this VA Hospital, is far below the pale because the leadership refuses to engage and set standards for customer service, with enforced penalties. I-CareMore to the point, the employees mimic the customer service they receive from the leadership team.  Thus, even though the Federal VA Office has launched “I-Care” as a customer service improvement initiative, the customer service in this hospital continues to fall and will continue to fail until the leadership exemplifies the standards of customer service expected.

As a dedicated customer service professional, I have offered multiple solutions to the continuing problems veteran patients experience in the Albuquerque VA Hospital at the hands of the MSA’s and other front-line customer-facing staff; but the suggestions all continue to fall upon deaf ears.  I do not paint all the MSA’s and staff as liars, thieves, and cheaters, because there are some great people working at this VA Hospital.  Unfortunately, the rotten apples far exceed the good workers by multiple factors and powers, to the shame of the leadership team who continues to ignore the problem, deleting emails, and generally lying when placed on the spot about the problems.

An example of this occurred recently where a member of the staff of a congressional representative asked about communications sent from an employee to the Director of VISN 18, with carbon copies being sent to Maritza Pittore HAS Director, Ruben Foster MSA Supervisor, and Sonja Brown Associate Director of the Hospital.  None of those emails “magically” exist when asked for, and the verbal conversation included outright lies, misdirection, and complete fallacies.

Since the VA-Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) continues to appear disinterested, I can only ask, “what does a person do to see action taken to correct the problems, right the abuses, and bring responsibility and accountability to the employees of the Federal Government?”  President Trump is providing great leadership, VA Secretary Wilkie is doing a good job and needs more help, but the elected officials in the House and Senate refuse to do their job, and the middle management of the VA is entrenched, obtuse, and inflexible.  The US Media treats veterans’ issues as a punchline to a bad joke.  Still, the problem worsens; still, the abusers maliciously treat people abhorrently; and still, those placed in leadership positions stall, obfuscate, and hinder.

My treatment at the VA Hospital in Albuquerque includes being physically assaulted by an employee, my medical records perused by, and then gossiped across at least four separate clinics, and still that MSA remains employed.  In fact, this employee was promoted for her “good work and dedication to helping veterans.”  I am sick and tired of the poor treatment, the harassment, and the vindictiveness served to veterans of all types, sizes, and colors, at the hands of petty bureaucrats as they visit the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The Albuquerque VA Hospital is one of the most egregious examples of bad behavior and nepotism in the country and it is past time the leadership was replaced and the assaults and crimes brought into the sunshine for some “sunshine disinfectant.”

cropped-snow-leopard.jpgUpdate to this article, 10 May 2020: By the first week in April 2020, the Advanced MSA in the clinic was moved to a less customer-facing post and a new MSA hired.  The quality of that individual was never experienced due to relocating.  The supervisor of the MSA was not very interested in correcting the problems and that showed when I visited with them while trying to obtain an appointment that the Advanced MSA refused to schedule.  Change must come to the VA!

© 2020 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the images displayed.

Uncomfortable Truths: Department of Veterans Affairs, are you listening?

It was surprising that the Department of Veterans Affairs will automatically share health information with third parties without the veterans written consent unless the veteran opts-out in writing or submit a revocation in writing submitted in person or by US mail.  Especially surprising is that the official form for opting-out is not legally active until October 2019, and the deadline for opting-out, in writing, is 30 September 2019.  While this news if significantly troubling, let us define the full problem, courtesy of the Department of Veterans Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG).

I-CareOn 12 September 2019, the VA-OIG completed their investigation into the Beneficiary Fiduciary Field system (BFFS), who handle benefits payments for veterans and other beneficiaries who, due to injury, disease, or age, are unable to manage their financial affairs and are thus vulnerable to fraud or abuse.  The veterans affected are those who are the most susceptible in the veteran population, and the government agency charged with protecting, helping, and supporting these veterans is vulnerable to fraud and misuse.  In fact, the VA-OIG found that the BFFS, “… lacked sufficient controls to ensure the privacy of sensitive data and prevent fraud and misuse. Specifically, finding the VA’s Office of Information and Technology inappropriately set the security risk level for BFFS at moderate instead of high. Risk managers did not follow established standards and did not consider whether information for beneficiaries and fiduciaries stored in the system’s database was sufficiently protected.”

Yet, the VA is now making available to third-parties, the health records of veterans.  Does anyone else see a problem?  Previously I have written about the continuing risk of veteran’s files from being accessed by persons unknown, and how this problem does not slow, simply how the VA has stopped reporting how bad the problem continues to be.  Personally, I have been a victim of ID Theft from VA Data breaches three times.  I have had VA Employees surf my medical records and then use this data to discriminate against me.  I have witnessed blatant HIPAA violations by VA Employees without hospital leaders taking any action.  Now, the VA is going to “share” my medical record access with “interested parties.”  I have some concerns!

Just in case your attention was drifting due to fallacious impeachment proceedings, the VA inappropriately sole-sourced contracts for ambulance services in three separate Veteran Health Administration Regional Procurement Offices (RPO).  The significance of this event is evidenced in the lack of competition for government contracts.  Designed incompetence was the origination of this issue, the contracting officer claimed, “I didn’t know.”  The contracting officer, who must go to school to obtain authority to enter into contracts for the Federal Government, somehow “didn’t know” about the regulations and rules for sole-sourcing a contract.  I have some doubts!

In further news from VA-OIG investigations, we find another contracting officer who claims, “I don’t know,” to hide behind designed incompetence in sole-sourcing contracts.  From the VA-OIG inspection report, “15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million, were inspected to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The contracting officers in RPO West, who “misunderstood who the proper approval authority was.”  Are you kidding me?

Blue Money BurningThe VA-OIG reports, “when contracting officers violate federal regulation by failing to obtain the required approval for sole-source contracts, they exceed their contracting authority.”  Contracting officers work with the approving authority, how can they not “know” who they work for and how to obtain proper authorization?  The excuses are weak and inexcusable; as an operation professional, the first step in getting to know the business is to know who answers the questions, who has the authority, and where that person is located.  For contracting officers, the approving authority is the boss, either the employees do not know who they are working for, or there are significant issues in lines of authority, and both situations speak of phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.

Just like the Home Shopping Network is always claiming, “But wait, there’s more!”  RPO East, not to be outdone by RPO West, had the VA-OIG inspect “20 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO East totaling $41.4 million. The OIG found RPO East contracting officers did not obtain required approval before awarding 10 contracts worth about $14.2 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  If RPO West is suffering from “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership,” then RPO East is beyond saving under the current leadership, and I call upon Secretary Wilkie and his team to scrub RPO East leadership and start over under strict quality review teams to ensure compliance and correction.  I repeat, only for emphasis, this situation is inexcusable.  The contracting officers must attend school, must know the regulations, and must not “individually interpret” the purchasing rules, and they know this from the first second on the job.  I was made aware of sole-source contracting regulations, and I was not a contracting officer.

RPO West has the follow-through needed to boil someone’s blood.  “The VA-OIG reviewed 15 sole-source contracts awarded by RPO West with a total value of about $19 million to determine whether they were properly justified and approved, and found that this was not done for five contracts worth about $6 million.”  The reason these contracts were not appropriately sole-sourced, “because officials did not follow the proper approval process, did not receive the correct guidance, and misinterpreted regulations.”  I rescind my earlier comments about the ability to save RPO West, I call upon Secretary Wilkie to personally ax the leadership at both RPO East and West, to start on a clean slate the contracting officers, leadership, and then strictly observe and implement a quality control mechanism to protect the taxpayer.

People ProcessesSpeaking of “phenomenal incompetence and failure of leadership.”  Please allow me to prepare the groundwork for the subsequent VA-OIG investigation.  To be a supervisor in the VHA, VBA, or National Cemetery, you first must work in the positions you will be supervising.  This information was passed during a job-interview by the hiring authority and confirmed by several VA directors since.  From the VA-OIG Report, we find, “a supervisor at the VA regional office in Boston, Massachusetts, incorrectly processed system-generated messages known as “work items.”  The supervisor, “incorrectly canceled 33 of 55 work items out of 110 reviewed (that’s a less than 50% accuracy), and improperly cleared another nine work items from the electronic record. Because of these incorrectly processed cases, VA made about $117,300 in improper payments to veterans or other beneficiaries, along with about $8,600 in delayed payments.”  Best of all, the supervisor claimed these work items were improperly handled because, “he did not intentionally process the work items incorrectly, and the errors were the result of working too quickly and misunderstanding procedures.”  You are the supervisor, you are in charge, you should know who to approach for guidance and clarification, you have caused significant harm to veterans who either are not being paid or now must repay funds improperly provided.  There is an obvious question here, “If the supervisor is less than 50% accurate, what is the accuracy of the supervisor’s team?”  While the VA-OIG cannot investigate this question, is the director investigating this question?

If the accuracy of claims handling personnel is less than 50%, how can any veteran be sure their claim has been handled properly?  Having been forced to repay funds to the VA, I can attest to the financial impact these over and underpayments cause for veterans.  When will these decision-making officers be held personally accountable for improper decisions?  Senators, members of the House of Representatives, what are you doing to support improving the VA, in conjunction with Secretary Wilkie?  From what I witness, not enough!

You're FiredFrom the files of “Not Enough,” comes another egregious example.  A patient in a psychological ward in the Philadelphia Pennsylvania VA Medical Center was killed because of a drug-to-drug interaction, were due to insufficient observation, insufficient monitoring, and inadequate action when the patient coded, and a veteran died at the hands of caregivers.  When a patient in a hospital ward, which is monitored electronically and physically, commits suicide, I become very agitated.  When any patient dies at the hands of the healthcare provider, I have officially lost my “cherub-like demeanor” and begin resembling a grizzly bear with a bum tooth, hemorrhoids, and woken too soon from my winter nap.  The VA-OIG Report states the following, “… providers did not monitor the patient for electrocardiogram changes or drug-on-drug interactions.  Staff and providers documented signs consistent with over-sedation but did not intervene, communicate directly with each other, or add team members on as additional signers to the electronic health record.  The facility did not comply with the Veterans Health Administration requirements for issue briefs, root cause analyses, and peer reviews.  The staff did not follow the facility’s observation policy.  Facility providers did not adhere to policies requiring discussion, documentation, and patient signed informed consents prior to initiating methadone treatment.”  The providers knew they had a problem, before the patient got into trouble, and did nothing!  In any civilian hospital, this is called malpractice; but in the VA Hospital system, “this is an unfortunate incident.”  While I am undoubtedly glad leadership acted to remedy this situation in the future; I am very displeased to note it ever occurred.  With all the publicity over the power of methadone as an opioid, with the technology to remedy these problems before the patient dies, I cannot accept this situation could occur in the first place!  This veteran’s death should never have happened and the fact that this veteran died at the hands of providers from over-sedation, is a testament to the incompetence designed into the VA processes that excuses accountability and rewards malfeasance.

Speaking of opioid medication problems, the VA-OIG inspected 779,000 VA patients prescribed opioids, and for 73% (568,670) of those patients there was an insufficient investigation by the primary care providers in consulting the state-operated prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) to ensure over-medication did not occur.  The VA-OIG estimated that 19% of those files improperly handled placed patients at risk because of medications prescribed outside the VA Medical System.  With the constant harangue from the mainstream media over opioid addiction and deaths from opioids, a person might ask, where is the concern?  Why isn’t this a talking point in a Congressional Investigation to understand why, and then begin to implement changes to ensure the VA is not stained with more veteran deaths over opioids.  Finally, with an accuracy rate of less than 25%, it appears to me this problem needs immediate rectification using technology and quality control measures at the local level to improve adherence.

blue-moneyI would like to take a moment and thank the VA-OIG for stepping up to the plate and correcting pre-award contract pricing to save the American taxpayer $515 million because the contracting officer on 16 of 22 proposed pharmaceutical contracts was improperly priced.  In case you are wondering, the accuracy of the contracting officers was less than 75%.  I know of no industry, business, or service organization that can have a 75% or less accuracy rate and remains in business.  As a business operation and purchasing professional, these numbers appear to suggest that the contract officers are either intentionally neglectful, or they are counting on pre-award review to protect them from price gouging; both situations are inexcusable for a contracting officer for the Federal Government.

Thank you!As the Los Angeles Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment program (LA VOCREHAB) was recently featured in an article, I am pleased to see that hiring additional staff has improved performance, per the findings of the VA-OIG.  The VA-OIG Report found accuracy in spending money had increased, compliance, and helping veterans to gain employment had all increased since the damning report from the VA-OIG; thus, congratulations to the LA VOCREHAB program!

© 2019 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.

 

Uncomfortable Truths – Where is the Accountability for Designed Incompetence?

I-CareThe Department of Veterans Affairs Office of the Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted a review and sent the following report on their findings, “… the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) incorrectly processed more than half of the 62,500 claims decided in the first six months of 2018.”  A less than 50% accuracy rate is unacceptable in every business, organization, and school; yet, the VBA gets a pass on designed incompetence?  Why?  Already veterans must scrounge, dig, and provide endless reams of supporting proof, or new and material evidence, to obtain a “service-connected rating” for injuries and disabilities stemming from military service.  For the most part, the veteran accepts this as the cost of receiving treatment, and for the VBA to incorrectly process less than 50% of the claims, where spines are concerned, is deplorable performance.

In support of the claim that this is designed incompetence, the following is quoted from the VA-OIG report, “… incorrectly decided claims resulted from VBA’s inadequate process for ensuring accurate and complete evaluation. VBA’s primary means of evaluating disability contains minimal guidance, and a procedure manual is too subjective in key areas, which can lead to an inconsistent evaluation for related conditions stemming from the primary disability.”  The VA designed the processes for the VBA to follow.  Hence the incompetence is designed into the system to create additional problems, issues, and pain for the veteran.  Leading to a question for the elected officials in Federal Service, “Why are you allowing this nightmare to continue?”

Spine AnatomyAs a business consultant and industrial-organizational psychologist, I counsel those hiring me to never allow a process to reach a second birthday without a full and complete review.  When training deficiencies are found, immediate action is required, and that action must be documented.  Why is the VBA getting a pass on not training, not designing competent and reliable working processes, and not held accountable for performance that meets a passing score?  Not mentioned in this VA-OIG report, due to being outside the scope of the investigation, is the longevity of this single issue.  Why is a Congressional Blue-Ribbon panel not demanding historical information, and detailing for the American Taxpayer, especially the veterans involved, the significance of the rating problems and holding accountable those who designed the incompetence into the process?  By the time the VA-OIG reports are released for public distribution, there is supposed to be an alert to the Congressional Committees overseeing these government agencies.  The media is often alerted at the same time the Congressional Committees are informed; yet, a failing score in rating the “Spinal conditions [accounting] for two of VA’s top 10 service-connected disabilities, doesn’t even merit crickets.  Media why not stop reporting junk, and start reporting problems needing rectification?

If you want the full report, use the following link.  The full report is design incompetence of the greatest magnitude.  Elected officials, it is past time for action on the issue of design incompetence that allows substandard performance in government service!

Where designed incompetence continues to be the applicable excuse for poor performance, look no further than the Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  The VA-OIG report on Hospice and Palliative Care (HPC) is a full-on description of design incompetence to rival the VBA and maintain their lead on abusing veterans for personal power.  Consider the following, “… The OIG determined that 10.3 percent of the reviewed patients had a formal HPC consult or an HPC-related interaction/conversation without a designated HPC consult or stop code.”  Of those records, the 10.3% who were appropriately handled, and the 87.3% handled improperly, 100% of the patients reviewed experienced issues where “… administrative data did not reflect all HPC services provided by VHA. Inaccurate administrative data indicate that VHA has an incomplete understanding of how much HPC service it is providing or how much is needed, which could affect [the] allocation of resources and planning.”  Design incompetence allowed for every patient to have problems with information related, services the HPC provided, and the “VHA has opportunities to ensure that HPC consults are documented and coded accurately to account for HPC services.”  “Opportunities,” 100% of the records had administrative issues, 89.7% were improperly handled, “opportunities” might be a slight understatement.  Show me a successful business where 89% of the customers are mishandled, and 100% of the customers are provided inaccurate information when contacting the company for answers, and I will show you the floating mountains of Pandora in reality!

Secretary Wilkie has his hands full, and entirely tied, by the bureaucracy, employee inertia, and the uphill battle with intentional design incompetence that allows people who have been in their jobs since Adam and Eve left the Garden of Eden, to still not know how to perform their job.  Federally elected officials, I must ask, “How can a VA employee qualify for retirement or continued employment, without knowing the job, or doing, the job they were hired or promoted for?”  Like fingers on a hand, the Federally Elected Officials have employees placed in leadership positions doing the business of the elected officials, if those employees cannot honorably do the jobs, they do not need to remain in your service, as you serve those who chose you on the ballot.  Is this pattern clear?  The voters hold you responsible for how well the government works, why are you not holding those in your service accountable and responsible for their inaction and their designed incompetence that promotes a ready-made excuse for dismal performance?

From personal experience, design incompetence is the only excuse many VA employees have, and the excuse is worthless.  There is a director of a major department of a statewide VA Health Care System, who refuses to write things down for fear of being held accountable.  Hence, every employee under this director’s leadership has adopted the same philosophy, no written guidance, written policy, no written procedures, and this situation is considered acceptable direction to this directors’ superiors.  Design incompetence is fought by holding individuals personally accountable, training, and using the performance management process to improve adherence and compliance.  For the VBA and the VHA to continue to allow design incompetence to excuse the inexcusable is a leadership issue which needs immediate Federal Elected Official intervention in support of Secretary Wilkie.  Please give him the tools needed to clean house, correct deficiencies, and establish sound policies to move the VA forward successfully!  The tools include a muzzle on the union, improved hiring, and support for eliminating thugs, criminals, and incompetence at every level of the VA hierarchy.

© 2019 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.

 

Tragedies, Travesties, and Uncomfortable Truths – Shifting the Paradigm at the Department of Veterans Affairs

For the uninitiated, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has three chief administrations the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), and the National Cemetery (NC).  The majority of the problems a veteran is going to experience originates in decisions from the VBA, which then influence care with the VHA.

I believe in giving credit where, and when credit is due; thus, please join me in congratulating the VBA for meeting a significant milestone.  From the VBA press release we find the following:

“On August 11th, VA updated portions of the rating schedule that evaluate infectious diseases, immune disorders and nutritional deficiencies. By updating the rating schedule, Veterans now receive decisions based on the most current medical knowledge of their condition.”

The reason this is good news stems from so many veterans leaving the military with problems caused in the service where the VBA has dictated there is no injury due to the rating scales, forcing the VHA into a treatment problem where the patient is concerned.  More on the rating scales issue momentarily.

I-CarePlease join me in mourning another death at the hands of the VHA, which is labeled by the Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) as “largely preventable.”  A patient in the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center was in a mental health unit and committed suicide.  Largely preventable is a vast understatement when hospital leaders only begin caring about the veteran committing suicide after the suicide, where training and policy adherence was not mandated prior to the suicide, and the lack of cameras and staff monitoring allowed for a patient, already having trouble and this trouble is known to the hospital providing treatment, to take their own life.  No staff monitoring every 15-minutes was occurring; why?  Why were the cameras non-functioning?  How long had these problems been known and nothing was being done to correct these discrepancies.

Let me emphasize a truth about suicide.  A person expressing desire to suicide is not weak or lazy, and they will not “find a way.”  Having had depression sufficient to consider suicide in the past, I can tell you from personal experience that friends help, talking openly and honestly helps, and the emotional burdens placed upon a family when a suicide is successful are tremendous, as well as the guilt the surviving family must overcome.  This veteran did not have to die, their death was “largely preventable,” and for their death to occur on VA property, in a mental health ward, remains a tragedy.  That the VHA dropped the ball and allowed, through leadership failures, non-working technical means, and training deficiencies, this veteran to die is disgraceful!

The VBA is committing travesties of justice every day.  Consider the following, in the past 15+ years since I left the US Navy, I have had discussions with veteran service officers (VSO’s) across the continental United States on my own claim, and while supporting other veterans with their claims.  A recent example serves to illustrate the problem.  A Spine Anatomyveteran has bulging disks in the cervical spine.  The MRI shows disk degeneration, stenosis, and other problems in the cervical spine.  The veteran has an “S-Curve” in the thoracic spine caused by carrying bottled gas containers from the pier into the ship.  There is stenosis and disk degeneration in the thoracic spine.  The lumbar spine has bulging disks, degeneration, and stenosis.  Three separate areas of the spine, three distinct injured areas, yet, the VBA calls the spine issues, “Lumbar strain.”

Any person who has taken human biology in K-12 education can tell that spine issues in cervical and thoracic are not “lumbar strain” and would not need “new and material evidence” to understand that the first decision was flawed.  Yet, for the veteran to obtain a rating for their spinal issues, they must find an orthopedic spinal specialist, not affiliated with the VHA, and get a letter of diagnosis detailing why these separate areas of the spine are not “lumbar strain.”  The current corporate medicine world, finding an orthopedic specialist will require a non-VHA doctor as a primary care provider (PCP) to refer the veteran to a specialist.  Without a significant cash investment, time investment, and replication of VHA completed tests, x-rays, and MRI’s, the veteran will not be able to obtain a letter detailing the issues sufficient to sway the VBA in correcting their initial judgment.

The veteran will be stuck between three bureaucracies, the VBA who is denying the claim for spinal injury, the VHA who cannot diagnose and document a problem sufficient to meet the VBA standards, and the corporate medicine outside the VHA.  Yet, anyone with a passing understanding of human anatomy and biology can logically make the leap that the spinal issues cannot all be lumped under “lumbar strain.”

I continue to ask, “What is a veteran to do?”  Many times, the veterans in this position are either unemployed or employed below their skill level because they are in pain, they have medical issues requiring treatment, and they cannot obtain the treatment needed because the VBA has not allowed a military service claim to be placed upon the medical records for the VHA to treat.  To chain medical professionals to a rigid and dead bureaucracy, by refusing their ability to diagnose a problem for another VA administration is, without a doubt, a terrible decision, and dangerous practice.  To refuse to investigate a medical problem, restricted breathing with chest pain because the pain is not related to heart and lungs remains a travesty and an abuse of the patient.

To the elected Federal officials, why are you not demanding improvement to the VHA and the VBA?  Why do veterans have to die in the care of the VHA before any improvement is made to the bureaucracy you created?  Where does a veteran go to obtain relief from the bureaucratic nightmare where the VBA and the VHA are refusing to help the veteran?  The tragedy in this entire article is that the VA cannot enforce policy adherence, controlling the risks to avoid incidents like those detailed, and demand better performance from the people and the systems that are supposed to help the veterans.  The travesty in this article is the policymakers between Secretary Wilkie and the front-line employees; who is helping the veteran navigate these rocky shoals and dangerous waters of government policy?

I have met some great VSO’s, employees of the VBA and VHA, and interviewed with phenomenal people working in the National Cemetery; yet, they all have the same problem, the millstone around their necks is the regulations, policies, procedures, and red-tape of the VA that has been designed to refuse help as the first response to every question posed.  Thus, as I have asked Senator Udall (D-NM) and Representative Haaland (D-NM), as well as countless other Federally elected officials between 1997 and the present, what is a veteran to do to obtain the help they need from the VA?  Who would the veterans approach for guidance and support?  When the VBA is demanding “new and material evidence” before acting to support a veteran, how does a veteran obtain this evidence?

I know of hundreds of veterans who were affected by an independent duty corpsman in the US Navy who threw records over the side of the ship to avoid being held accountable for bad decisions and patient abuse.  Because these records are not in the medical files, injuries sustained in the service are not documented, and the VBA will use this as an excuse to deny claims.  What is a veteran to do?  Where does the veteran go?  How does a veteran correct something that occurred beyond their control to obtain treatment for decades-old injuries?  You the elected officials allowed the bureaucracy to be built, you are responsible for correcting these issues experienced, what are you doing to affect change and support Secretary Wilkie in fixing the VA, and by extension the VBA, the VHA, and the NC?

The American people are watching how you treat veterans, and we are not pleased!

 

© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury

All Rights Reserved

The images used herein were obtained in the public domain; this author holds no copyright to the photos displayed.