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: Bureaucratic Fiat, a Veteran Suicide – Scrutinizing the Government

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

What is bureaucratic fiat?

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

LinkedIn VA ImageVeteran Suicide!

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

Scrutinizing the Government!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Perils of a Toxic and Inert Workplace Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reference

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

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

More VA Insanity – COVID Mask Policy – Denial of Service

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do we go from here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 – Round 2

Survived the VAIn reading the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports, it never ceases to amaze me the designed incompetence the leaders will stoop to use to thwart criticism.  For example, the length of time a leadership team has served together is an acceptable excuse for not making changes.  Yet, this same excuse is employed year-over-year, and location after location.  It was reported on one inspection summary that the leadership team had been together for 10-years, but recent changes in roles was to blame for the continued lack of compliance.  These are the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees who would rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic to obstruct passenger evacuation and blame the passengers for failing to get out of the way of the chair!

In recent reports from the VA-OIG, leaders have been apprised of problems, admitted they were “engaged in finding solutions,” and the VA-OIG gave the leaders a pass along with several additional recommendations to consider.  Yet, given the height and breadth of malfeasance at the VAMC’s where health problems occur, can anyone trust that the leadership team is actually working to resolve the problems?  If the VA-OIG returned unannounced in 3-6 months after the initial complaint, would progress have been made?

The problem with designed incompetence is that these excuses do not just evaporate, the excuses either survive long enough to become organizational design errors, or they are purposefully addressed until resolved.  There is no magic wand, potion, or witches brew that erases designed incompetence; but that is exactly what a person is led to believe when reading the VA-OIG reports.

VA SealThe VA-OIG performs comprehensive healthcare inspections as a regular inspection for the medical treatment facilities of the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration (VHA).  I have personally reviewed hundreds of these reports over the last 10-years of monitoring the VA.  The regular nature of the inspection report indicates some VA healthcare facilities can perform like trained seals for their inspections.  Always, I am left to wonder what the reality in those same facilities looks like.

Albuquerque is a great VAMC to exemplify this point.  One ER room, on the inside of the door, held a blood spot for more than 18-months.  The spot was there and noticed, and reported to the doctor and nurse, when I was in that treatment room in the spring of 2016, and the same spot was still there in the spring of 2019 when chance had me in the same room for another exam.  But cleanliness was never a problem for this VHA facility in the VA-OIG inspection reports.

At the Albuquerque Hospital, in the Emergency Department, it was common to witness homeless veterans be abused by the staff.  The staff justified their actions, beliefs, and biases, where never censured, and physical harm was delivered to the veterans.  No one on the ED leadership team, or on the hospital leadership team, when notified of the problems, ever acted to remedy the situation.  When reported to the OIG, the OIG found no basis for the complaints, but the abuse continues.

LinkedIn VA ImageThe VA-OIG has published an end of year survey of COVID preparation and response to the COVID pandemic by the VHA.  68 separate facilities responded to the invitation.  These same facilities who brag about how quickly they adapted processes and procedures, are the same facilities bemoaning a considerable increase in cancelled appointments and severe reductions in patients served.  Not a single respondent mentioned the draconian measures taken to keep veterans from accessing care or the zealous employees who are enforcing those draconian measures.  No single respondent is discussing the failure to follow EMTALA when patients seeking care are turned away for not wearing a mask.  There is a correlation between patients not being served by the VA and how many are using non-VA facilities, but that is a data point outside the COVID survey, and that data point might not support the hand clapping and cheering by the providers and administrators of VHA facilities.

I cannot see any reason to cheer and clap over the COVID response by the VHA.  When I have accessed the VA Hospitals from Feb to present, the empty halls are a testament to the absurdity of the government response to a viral disease.  Being turned away by a provider for not wearing a mask, after waiting for 45-minutes is a testament to the futility of mask mandates and the uselessness and ineffectiveness of the draconian operating procedures for a virus.  Watching patients coughing their lungs out sitting beside a patient bleeding, and another patient throwing up does not cause me to celebrate the “COVID Response” by the emergency room administrators.  Watching empty treatment rooms sit empty while the waiting room is packed full of people waiting to be seen in an ER is not a cause to celebrate employee retention plans and patient treatment options.

Carl T. HaydenThe Carl T. Hayden facility in Phoenix, has had every one of the same issues in care as any other VHA facility in America, and frankly, the leadership team should be ashamed, disbarred, and unemployed!  Since 1996, I have crisscrossed the continental United States.  I have observed nurses drawing blood or giving shots without gloves, or with fingers ripped off the gloves.  I have witnessed patients with broken bones forced to wait for hours on end because they were homeless, and the nursing staff didn’t want to see that homeless patient one more time.  I have watched dependents turned away from receiving treatment which under EMTALA is illegal.  I have been turned away from treatment multiple times, still illegal under EMTALA.  I have made countless suggestions on how to improve, I have written letters to hospital administrators, VISN leaders, and the Federal VA Leadership all to no avail.  Yet, the VA has the audacity to cheer and congratulate each other on the “fine response to COVID the VA has made.”  Worse, the complaints fell on deaf ears, attached to plastic lips, and hiding vindictive hearts.

Before the VA’s cheers again for their great job fighting a flu virus, remember this, there is nothing to cheer about!  No activity made by the VA from Feb 2020 to present is worthy of cheering, clapping, or congratulations.  No business process has been laudable.  No daily operating procedure is worthy of acclaim.  Not a single event is worth even an honorable mention or a participation trophy.  Your job is to serve the veterans, spouses, and dependents and you are failing your first and only mission!

I-CareShame!  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 detriment, 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/

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/

Updated Inspector General Reports – Department of Veterans Affairs: These Actions Must Cease!

I-CareLong have I written about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports which cross my inbox.  Long have I been utterly disgusted with the waste, fraudulent behavior, and the utter disregard for the patient witnessed in the VA Medical Centers across America.  As a veteran and taxpayer, it is past time to begin to see action to rectify these types of issues.

The VA-OIG conducted an inspection to evaluate concerns related to a Virtual Pharmacy Services (VPS) pharmacist’s discontinuation of antidepressant medication for a patient of the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, which resulted in the patient not having prescribed antidepressant medication for approximately six weeks before dying by suicide.  The VA-OIG found that the pharmacist never notified the psychologist, never checked the patient’s record, simply discontinued the medication.  While the VA-OIG found process and procedure issue, the fact that a medication could be arbitrarily discontinued without a “Red Flag” being raised with the provider and the patient is deeply troubling.  Worse, the quality control processes in the pharmacy did not trigger a problem when a medication was discontinued without a provider order; why?

There is a dead veteran, and a pharmacist who claimed they did not know they could access a patient file; and the excuses do not hold water!  This incident is a tragedy of epic proportion and I must ask, how many more veterans will die because medications are arbitrarily turned off?

ProblemsThe next VA-OIG inspection is a bit of a pretzel, there is another dead veteran by suicide, and processes and procedures were recommended by the VA-OIG to correct some small issues in bariatric surgery patients.  Reading this report, it appears that this veterans’ suicide was not directly connected to preoperative counseling for bariatric surgery which was essentially the scope of the VA-OIG investigation.  If there is a connection between the bariatric surgery and the suicide, it was beyond the VA-OIG investigatory scope.  Hence, the VA might not be at fault for the suicide, but the VA-OIG recommendations indicate more can and should be done in the future to decrease the risks postoperatively.

Let me be clear, room for improvement to decrease risk does not assign or negate blame in this situation.  The death of a veteran through suicide remains a tragedy and the VA can and should be doing more to help reduce veterans committing suicide.  With the convoluted processes and the contradictory bureaucracies inside the VA, much more can be done as an organization to streamline and bring efficiency, transparency, and responsibility to the employees making patient decisions.

Chinese CrisisAnother VA-OIG report does clearly reflect the responsibility and lack of care a patient received at the VA.  The Tennessee Valley Healthcare System in Nashville is responsible for test results still not being properly communicated to the veteran in a timely manner, which delays treatment and care.  Fall 2018, a patient went undiagnosed and untreated for pancreatic cancer due to failures in communicating test results, collaborating with the primary care providers, and for the electronic health records not containing a system of alerting providers that an adverse test result occurred.  Hence, this patient’s problems have three root causes:

  1. Failure to notify the patient.
  2. Failure to collaborate between different hospital units for patient care and safety.
  3. Failure of the electronic health records programming to include alerts.

From personal experience, I must wonder if any patient notification would have made a difference.  The patient notifications are simply the results, not definitions, no descriptions, just ranges, and results.  Hence, the patient notification process must include clarity of the results so non-medical people can understand what was found and the implications.

While I applaud the VA-OIG for insisting that an internal review is conducted and problems rectified, I have significant doubts that change will occur.  It appears that unless the VA-OIG is following up on their recommendations; which is outside the VA-OIG’s authority, the change will not occur.  A truly unfortunate series of events occurred in this patient’s life and the bureaucracy of the VA will prevent anyone from being held accountable for the failures, nor will change occur to protect another veteran.

The W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina, was recently inspected for concerns regarding anesthesia provider’s practice.  While no issues were found under the VA-OIG scope regarding the provider’s practices, other issues were discovered.  The problems found were all administrative in nature and included the usual training, timely record keeping, following the policies established by VHA, etc.  Juran’s Rule states that “When there is a problem, 90% of the time the problem lies with policies and procedures, not people.”  How, and when, a person does their job is more often the root of the problem and is evidenced again with this VA-OIG investigation report.  The fact that this problem continues at all VA Medical Centers (VAMC) across America is indicative of a systematic issue in poor organizational design, then in the individual employee.  The VA must address these organizational issues that breed complacency in employee adherence!

LinkedIn VA ImageWith confirmed cases of nepotism still occurring in the VA, this time in Miami.  With continued issues regarding ethics violations and the proper use of time and materials for teleworking employees.  With the continued employee obstruction witnessed in so many cases of records not being readily available to VA-OIG inspectors.  The VA desperately needs to have a deep cleaning and reorganization.  Why has the VA not adopted ISO-9001 for Hospitals?  Why hasn’t the VA adopted ISO-9001 for the VBA or National Cemetery as a coherent process for organizational change and improvement?

Consider that there remains a dearth of written processes, procedures, and policies in the VA.  So much so that more than one VA Hospital operates on “Gentlemen’s Agreements” between departments, instead of official policy statements and procedural plans.  This lack of written policies and procedures is the excuse and the general recommendation of so many VA-OIG inspection reports that I am shocked Congress has not begun asking about this single issue.  The first rule I learned as an EMT was, “If it is not written down, it never happened.”  I was told this is the first rule of medicine; yet, somehow the VA can escape without writing down how to perform work.  Doesn’t that seem strange to anyone else?

Where the lack of written procedures is most noticeable, is at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), where the quality control people missed 35% of the errors routinely, never checked each other’s work, never learned lessons to improve performance, and were not properly supervised.  Yet, training, communication, and written procedures are routinely used as excuses, and corrective action is outside the VA-OIG investigatory scope.  So, while the problems are being identified, the leaders are refusing to do their jobs!  From the VA-OIG report comes the following details:

“The VA-OIG estimated that during the review period, regional office managers inappropriately overturned errors in 430 of 870 quality reviews (about 50 percent) where claims processors requested a reconsideration from a quality review specialist- identified errors. The VBA has not established adequate oversight or accountability to ensure the timeliness of error corrections. The OIG estimated that during the review period 2,000 of 4,400 identified errors (45 percent) were not corrected in a timely manner and 810 of 4,400 identified errors (18 percent) were not corrected at all.” [Emphasis Mine]

Again, I ask, where are the written procedures that form the standards of work which are used to hold employees accountable?  With an 18% error rate never being addressed by quality control, this means that veterans are being underpaid or overpaid for their benefits, and the VBA does not care that these issues are killing veterans.

Survived the VAPersonally, I experienced a VA overpayment that took more than 3-years to payoff.  Three years where my benefits were docked for an administrative mistake that was not found until the next decision was made on my claim several years after the original mistake was made.  What is worse, the mistake I paid for, was not a mistake at all, and the funds were later returned as another quality person found the error and corrected the documents accordingly, but the discovery took another VBA claim decision to catch, from beginning to end this issue of overpayment took three different decisions by the VBA and more than 8 calendar years from beginning to end.

Every single taxpayer in America has a personal stake in seeing the VBA do their jobs timely, efficiently, and correctly.  Every single veteran in America has a vested interest in seeing the VBA perform their roles with fewer rates of error than those reported by the VA-OIG.  Every elected official in America benefits in some way from the decisions of the VBA and should be able to demand higher quality decisions, better performance, and more transparency from the VBA.  Consider, if the problems of performance are this bad for a spot check analysis by the VA-OIG, how bad are the real numbers?

The VBA was also investigated for improper payments to schools through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program (VR&E) to the tune of $554,998.  Most of the errors were in transcribing numbers and the electronic program did not raise any alerts or attempt to rectify the problems, and no quality control system is in place to protect against human error.  The VA-OIG investigatory scope included 1.8 million payment transactions from 01 Jan 2014 to 30 Dec 2019.  While this is a much better error rate; the fact that the technology and the work processes were not catching these errors timelier, which means more billing issues, more wasted resources, and more problems for the VA, the VBA, the VR&E program, the taxpayer, the colleges and universities, and the impact goes on and on.

The VBA was also recently inspected for failing to accurately decide service-connected heart diseases.  The root cause was the questionnaire developed to ascertain what and when regarding the heart diseases experienced.  Six months, 01 Nov 2018 through 30 Apr 2019, were selected and 12% of the claims were improperly decided which totals $5.6 Million in improper payments where a veteran either received too much or too little for their claim.  Necessitating repayments or backdated payments once new and material evidence was procured to force the VBA to make a new determination.  Inaccurate decisions on claims involve a lengthy appeals process, expenses for testing, and the veteran is always responsible for the mistakes made on their claim.  Thus, the exasperation of these mistakes on the families, friends, and communities of the veteran involved in a VBA mistake.

When the VA-OIG finds errors made by the VBA the veterans affected are not notified that the VBA made an error in their determinations.  The VBA does not form a task force to evaluate these errors and correct them internally unless money is owed and then the collections department is left to muddle through the decision, not the VBA.  Thus, when veterans ask for transparency in the VBA processes, we are asking for the VBA to own their mistakes, fix the problems they are creating, and correct the errors in a timely fashion.  It should not require new and material evidence to trigger the VBA to make a new determination when the VBA made the original mistake in determining eligibility in the first place!

All because the quality controllers do not have written procedures to measure standards of performance against.  All these errors are due to improper organizational design and old computer systems, which are ready-made excuses for not performing work in a timely and efficient manner.  All because the leadership fails to delegate, monitor, observe, and function.  Why are the leaders missing, because they are all in meetings, all day, every day, and not at their desks!

Military CrestsJust like the labor union provided bumper sticker proclaims, “SAVE the VA!” [Emphasis in original], it is time to “SAVE the VA!”

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/

The Power of Tiger Teams – Shifting the VA Paradigms

I-CareA key aspect of Tiger Teams is their ability to stress test, beta test, and routinely check how operations are performing and recommend changes from the position of the customer.  Recently the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA_OIG) investigated a critical piece of the Mission Act of 2018, the health information exchanges.  While the VA-OIG received useful and valuable information from the VA and the community provider side, the customer/patient side was not included. From experience, I can affirm this is broken!

Recently, a veteran needed emergency care and received that care through the community providers under the Mission Act of 2018.  The records from the community care provider never transferred to the VA, the billing has been a mess of letters and notifications, and the patient’s issues were never followed up with the VA provider until the patient called and made it an issue.  One of the main selling points for community providers was to share electronic health information easily with the VA, which included notifying the primary care providers when a patient was seen in the community.  This aspect remains a “pie-crust promise” as well as a frustrating issue for patients and VA providers alike.

Before the Mission Act of 2018, if the veteran patient was sent to a community provider, the patient transferred manually all records to and from the VA and the community provider.  Allowing for lost records, duplicated records, and a host of problems in bureaucracy.  One of the issues the veteran experienced in seeking community care was the historicity of medical records to reduce costs and not duplicate tests; however, the community provider was never able to obtain that historicity and the emergency room costs were greater for the VA.

Thus, the need to operationally check the system, processes, and patient experiences using Tiger Teams.  A Tiger Team is a group of experienced people who interact with the business as customers, who have been granted the authority to make changes and see those changes implemented.  These are a selected group who work from a central office and are dedicated to improving business performance.  While I applaud the progress made with conforming to the Mission Act of 2018, there remains significant work in the patient experience to be completed and currently, the situation is not the roses and rainbows the VA-OIG is portraying.

ProblemsTiger Teams are also helpful in another way, that of “bird-dogging,” or acting as the researchers, and developers of ideas towards making improvements.  The VA-OIG recently brought to light that the VA needs to expand retail pharmacy drug discounts.  With the number of prescriptions filled by the VA hourly, the fact that the VA does not have volume discounts was surprising, but unfortunately, not unexpected.  The VA-OIG estimated that of the $181 million spent on retail drugs in fiscal year (FY) 2018, $69 Million would have been saved.  From the VA-OIG report:

“VA is one of four federal agencies eligible by law to receive at least a 24 percent discount for prescription drugs purchased for its facilities and dispensed directly to patients. However, for prescription drugs purchased through retail pharmacies for beneficiaries, VA pays the higher average contracted wholesale price because it does not have the authority to require drug manufacturers to provide the drugs at discounted prices.”  [Emphasis Mine]

Unfortunately, the program inspected for savings on retail pharmacy prescription was but one of several VA drug programs lacking statutory authority to save the taxpayers from being gouged on prescription drugs dispensed through retail programs at the hands of the VA.  Hence, the findings are surprising, but not unexpected.  How long before the VA secretary will collaborate with the Office of Regulatory and Administrative Affairs to pursue whatever changes are required to give VA the appropriate legal authority to purchase all prescription drugs through retail pharmacies at discounted prices?  At the tune of one program saving $69 Million a year, the benefits add up in a hurry.

How would Tiger Teams help in this situation; by doing the legal leg work, establishing relationships, initiating inquiries, and discovering all the other programs where the statutory authority is missing to close a gap and save money.  While the VA Secretary is responsible, delegating this authority to a Tiger Team saves time and improves the patient and taxpayer experiences.  This is why the Tiger Team must work from the VA Secretary’s Office, endowed with the power of the secretary, to make and affect change for the good of VA.

Leadership CartoonFinally, the power of Tiger Teams is also manifested to the VA in another way, returning to a situation after the VA-OIG has made recommendations to ensure compliance occurs.  Another recent VA-OIG report shows that after a scathing VA-OIG inspection, the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), was still out of compliance in their internal quality control procedures, systems, and processes.  While some improvement had been made to spot errors, the procedures and processes that allowed those errors to occur were receiving zero attention by the internal quality inspectors.  Which is akin to noticing the horse is out of the barn, but not shutting and locking the door to keep the horse in the barn.  There is no valid excuse for the VBA quality controllers to not have been doing their jobs since the last VA-OIG Inspection.

The Tiger Team, with sufficient and specific authority, has the power to cut through the excuses, the red tape, and the intransigence of federal employees to root out the why, and establish a path to correction.  Yet, the VA Secretary is not using the Tiger Team concept as a tool to effect change, power compliance, and intervene to improve the veteran experience with the VA, the VBA, the VHA, and the National Cemetery.

Suggestions for improving the processes at the VA continue to include:

  1. Establish forthwith a roving Tiger Team, provide these employees with proper authority, and set them to work fixing the VA.  Allow the Tiger Team to establish flying squads inside the agency, hospital, medical center, etc. to report back on compliance issues, and any pushback they receive in correcting errors.
  2. Cut the bureaucracy that intransigent employees are using as a tool to stop or slow down change. The VA’s internal bureaucracy is the tail that wags the dog and since it is out of control, it requires an external force to regain control and proper order.
  3. Imbue the Tiger Team with an active mission statement, purpose, and organizational design. The Tiger Team is an active, not passive, tool that requires people dedicated to making change and seeing results.

VA SealNever has the axiom, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it,” been less true.  The VA is broken and desperately needs fixing.  With the help of those dedicated VA Employees, the proper leadership, and a Tiger Team to aid, the VA can be fixed and fixed quickly!

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the pictures.

All rights reserved.  For copies, reprints, or sharing, please contact through LinkedIn:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/davesalisbury/