Chronicling the VA – May We Remember the “Pobrecito!”

I-CareA Spanish-speaking Mexican colleague taught me this term, “pobrecito,” meaning “poor little one.”  As I chronicle the VA ineptitudes, failures, criminal behaviors, and abusive actions, I am always conscious of the pobrecito, the poor little one, the poor victim who got harmed.  Too often, the victims never receive any compensation, acknowledgment, or retribution, nothing for having become a victim of the VA.  Too often, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigates long after the abuse has occurred, and the victims are not covered in the scope of the investigation, or worse, the victim was killed, and the family is left to mourn, and nobody can help.

Angry Grizzly BearWhy chronicle the VA abuses; because the needs to be held accountable, speak the language, and have tougher skin and broader shoulders than the VA’s normal victims.  The VA is slowly learning they can harm me, but they cannot shut me up!  I will not stop fighting the VA for humane treatment, honorable service, and dedicated systems.  The VA is sick because apathy and inertia were allowed to replace common sense and decency, leadership was replaced with cost accounting and bureaucratic red tape, and human kindness was eradicated and replaced with drones and robots.  I know how to make the VA better; I do not have all the answers, but I know how to launch the revolution and begin cleaning the VA, and I will not stop calling upon those responsible for fixing the mess they created!

Starting this week’s VA-OIG headlines of crimes and inspections, we find a couple in South Florida who used the system to bilk more than $20 Million in purchase order scams.

Earron Starks was sentenced to 30 months’ imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, and ordered to pay over $2.4 million in restitution. Carlicha Starks was sentenced to three years of supervised release, including one year of home confinement, and ordered to pay $501,000 in restitution. They paid kickbacks to VA employees as part of a large-scale bribery scheme, which enabled the Starks couple and other corrupt vendors to receive over $20 million in purchase orders from VA medical centers in West Palm Beach and Miami. Fourteen additional defendants were charged for their roles in this scheme.”VA 3

Who’s the pobrecito in this case; the taxpayers, the veterans, and the United States.  Federal Employees had to not only know the crimes occurring but be complicit in the crimes.  Will they lose their retirement benefits, have to repay their wages, and face criminal charges and jail time for their culpability?  Fourteen additional defendants, how many were supervisors in the know and on the payroll who were promoted during this scheme whose supervisors failed to do their jobs and scrutinize the work of their underlings?  The shadiest part of this entire scheme is encapsulated in the following sentence:

All VA Employees were either terminated or resigned.”

Name me one private-sector employer who could get away with a massive scheme and enjoy similar benefits!Survived the VA

We find another VA employee embroiled in theft of equipment which sold the stolen goods in Ohio.

Kevin Rumph, Jr., of Fairburn, Georgia, pleaded guilty to stealing more than $1.9 million in medical products while employed at a VA community-based outpatient clinic in Atlanta. Between 2013 and 2021, Rumph made hundreds of unauthorized purchases of equipment used to treat obstructive sleep apnea. He then stole and sold the equipment to a vendor in Ohio. Sentencing is scheduled for November 17, 2021.”

I have worked in purchasing in both the US Military and in the private sector.  If I went to my bosses with “hundreds of purchase orders for supplies,” they would naturally be curious.  Repetition of hundreds of similar requests would raise red flags and demand audits of my records and proof of need.  Why did this not occur at the VA?VA 3

In the US Navy, I was in charge of ordering stock and saw requests for certain o-rings spike, as I knew the Chief Engineer would spot this and ask why, I asked why, went to the equipment records, dug up the maintenance reports, and asked questions of the mechanics and technicians.  In doing so, we discovered an unreported problem with machinery.  This is called due diligence; why was it not being practiced by the supervisor of Mr. Rumph?  You cannot tell me a seven-year trend line is something that was an anomaly and easily missed in budget reporting year-over-year!

Exclamation MarkLet’s admit a truth for certain; COVID has been a farrago of gargantuan size from day 1.  In acknowledging this, no blame is being proportioned to the front-line workers in any way, shape, or form.  But, the administrators, policymakers, politicians, and government bureaucrats have certainly proved they could unscrew the inscrutable!  Worse, the bureaucrats proved that their idiocy was highly contagious, infecting more people than COVID, spreading faster than COVID, and killing more people than COVID.  Our proof of this concept arrives from Houston and the Michael DeBakey VAMC.

The VA Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) conducted a healthcare inspection regarding allegations of incompletely screening for COVID-19 and treatment of a patient with serious mental illness who presented for same-day care at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center (facility).”

Findings:

      • The VA-OIG substantiated that facility staff did not complete the patient’s COVID-19 temperature screening.
      • The VA-OIG substantiated that facility staff failed to manage the patient with COVID-19 symptoms medically.
      • Sent the patient to the drive-through testing area without medical evaluation, did not isolate the patient, complete a care plan, or follow the policy for transporting patients suspected to have COVID-19.
      • The vulnerable patient disappeared while in the facility’s care, was found off-site four days later experiencing a medical emergency, taken back to the facility, and died the following day [emphasis mine]!
      • The VA-OIG determined that the Mental Health Intensive Case Management team failed to address documentation discrepancies related to the patient’s surrogate and educate the family on COVID-19 visitor policy and screening processes.
      • The VA-OIG identified the facility’s noncompliance with the missing patient policy.
      • Facility leaders’ failure to report an adverse event and ensure a timely review of the patient’s episode of care.
      • The VA-OIG identified facility leaders did not timely or accurately disclose to the patient’s family the medical mismanagement that led to the patient’s adverse clinical outcome, e.g., death!
      • The VA-OIG concluded the failure to screen, isolate, and evaluate the patient resulted in potential COVID-19 exposure to staff, patients, and the public when the patient moved through facility grounds.VA 3

What was not covered in the scope of the VA-OIG investigation was whether the staff had proper training on the written policies or if training had been suspended due to the “pandemic health emergency.”  Failure of training has been a running and recurring theme for the VA before the pandemic, and the failures of training have led to thousands of “adverse clinical outcomes” at the VA, up to and even including death.  Yet, as evidenced in this example, small decisions lead to catastrophic events.  The infected patient was mentally unstable and missing for four days; how many people interacted with the patient as a superspreader event?  Who is at blame at this VAMC for this event, the leaders!  They failed their people, failed this patient, and failed this family!

Detective 4Before continuing, we must pause and take a moment to send heartfelt congratulations to two VA Health Care Systems (VAHCS) who passed their comprehensive healthcare inspections (CHIp), if not with flying colors with significant improvement, and are deserving of the highest praise.  Would the leaders of the Fort Harrison VAHCS in Montana and the Western Colorado VAHCS in Grand Junction please stand and take a bow.  Your improvements, conduct, and capacity to achieve reflect that success is possible with good leadership.  Keep up the good work; find ways to improve daily, and may continual success be ever yours!

Finally, we come to a regular topic, the failure of the VA as a whole entity to manage to pass a simple audit on financial matters and the continuing debacle where hiring is concerned during the pandemic.  Let me refresh your memories on the hiring debacle; first, the VA-OIG found that VISN leaders “were generally pleased with the “flexibility” provided during the pandemic for speedier hiring.”  What did the American people get for reduced hiring practices at the VA?  More criminal employees, more employees with shady pasts, more employees with sticky fingers, and more employees who could not find employment in public schools, now working for the federal government.VA 3

How did that relaxing of hiring practices work out for the American people and the veterans receiving care; not very well!  But, let’s all relax; the VISN leaders are “generally pleased.”  Frankly, I would be shocked if anything ruffled the VISN leaders’ feathers long enough for them to care; they are mostly at the top of their career ladders and failing a presidential appointment to Washington, know they are set for life.  So, why rock the boat?!?!

As for financial audits, the VISN leaders know that money continuously is appropriated to carry them and their poor decisions forward.  Just ask the Denver VAMC where the construction cost overruns are still costing the taxpayers, and no one was ever held liable for that boondoggle or any other crime and scheme for that matter.

Question 3Why?  Why are victims left to rot, the assaulters and victimizers promoted, and the VA as an organization left in the hands of disreputable, dishonest, unethical, and immoral people?  Why is the VA a culture of corruption, greed, envy, sloth, and disinterest when the US military is the exact opposite?  America is not what is found in the halls of the VA, why has the VA been allowed to become something anathema to the American people?

Knowledge Check!Great Britain, you find similar in your halls of government.  Your people are amazing; your government workers are just as despicable and deleterious as the American VA, IRS, and DMV.  Australia, great people, absurdly detestable government workers.  France, interesting people, but the government employee seems to have been drug from the bottom of the scum sucked from the Seine.  I have met incredible people in Italy, Greece, Germany, South Korea, etc., but the story rings true everywhere; the government does not represent you.  Pobrecito; what has happened?

© 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.

Paul Harvey – Detestable VA Chronicles for Week Ending 07 Aug 2021

Bobblehead DollPaul Harvey is a hero of mine.  I miss his voice on the radio.  He exuded a calm demeanor, regardless of the terror, the trials, and the terribleness of the news reported and discussed.  I do not have Paul Harvey’s sense of calm.  When I heard about the beheading of a woman in America, in broad daylight, by an illegal immigrant who has been on a one-man crime spree from El Paso to Minneapolis since 2007, my cherub-like demeanor took a tremendous hit.

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports on a couple from Kansas who are flat out despicable, faking blindness to increase disability payments from the VA and Social Security.  Frankly, I hate liars and thieves and agree to the restitution ordered, but I do not agree that the couple deserved probation.  Stealing benefits should come with more than simple probation and restitution.  Where is the community service in distinctive clothing and sandwich boards declaring they are thieves?VA 3

However, this couple represents a symptom, not the disease of the VA and Social Security specifically, and the Federal Government generally.  When leaders act reprehensibly, criminals will test the system to find weaknesses and attempt to benefit from leadership failures.  The disease of poor leadership has far-reaching consequences, and criminal activity is not unexpected.  Who is addressing the disease?  When will the citizens of America receive justice to see the healing of the illness that has captured the government?

Military Sexual Trauma

I-CareImperative to understanding, Military sexual trauma (MST) experienced while serving in the military affects both women and men with potentially severe and long-term consequences. Psychological trauma, such as MST, also increases the risk of physical health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, and diabetes.  The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) requires that each facility has a designated MST Coordinator with at least 20 percent of their time dedicated to protected administrative time.  For the record, “protected administrative time” is the time required to be spent on administrative duties, writing clinical notes, ordering supplies, scheduling appointments, administrative responsibilities, and so forth.

In 2018, the VA-OIG discovered just how detestable and deplorable the VBA’s processes and procedures were for military sexual trauma (MST).  Having been a victim of MST, this issue is of particular interest to me, and I continue to follow this issue closely.  I wish I had some encouraging news on this issue, but the VA-OIG found:

“… Processors did not always follow the updated policies and procedures. VBA leaders did not effectively implement the VA-OIG’s recommendations and did not ensure adequate governance over military sexual trauma claims processing. The VA-OIG concluded that VBA was not properly implementing the recommended changes.”VA 3

In 2016, when claims were being improperly and prematurely denied, the problems were considered a lack of training, a lack of policy, a lack of procedures, and comprehensive guidance was needed.  In 2018, additional training and guidance were needed, time, and leadership were recommended, even though claims were still improperly and prematurely denied.  In 2021, it is now blatantly obvious we have a systemic failure of leadership at the VBA to process claims in a manner that is conducive to good order and discipline!

On the same day, this investigation was released, the VHA investigation results for MST coordinators were released to the public.  I bet you can guess what was found, but let’s allow the VA-OIG the opportunity to detail the failures:

The VA-OIG conducted a national survey and interviews to evaluate MST Coordinators’ duties and perceived challenges.

            • 80% of the respondents reported having been assigned at least 20 percent or more of protected time.
            • 39% reported inadequate resources to fulfill MST Coordinator administrative responsibilities.
            • The VA-OIG found that insufficient protected administrative time, role demands, insufficient support staff, and inadequate funding and outreach materials challenged MST Coordinators’ ability to fulfill role responsibilities.
            • The VA-OIG found that MST Coordinators who reported more dedicated time than other MST Coordinators did not necessarily serve at facilities with higher numbers of patients in MST related care.”VA 3

Did you catch that final point?  Resources are not being adequately provided based upon patient load to locations where veterans need care.  Another symptom of leadership failure, being designed into the organization as a policy and working procedure, meaning this is designed incompetence!

Knowledge Check!Here’s the biggest rub, a veteran can be receiving care from the VA for MST at the VHA and still be denied MST on a VBA claim.  I have not heard it working in reverse where a claim is being paid, but the VHA refuses care, but given the failures of the VA as an organization, I would not be surprised to learn this was occurring.  How do I know that care can be provided for MST and not be allowed on a claim?  I am among a number of MST victims, all-male, who have been regularly denied VBA claims but are receiving care for the psychological harm.  Veterans talk to each other.  I have heard the stories of fellow veterans being attacked, assaulted, molested, drugged, raped by male and female attackers, and heard how the VBA had revictimized them.

What’s worse, MST leads to PTSD, and people are suffering PTSD from a number of traumatic events not receiving care or benefits because the VA refuses to acknowledge these problems.  Admitting a problem is the first step in addiction programs; well, it is also the first step in healing leadership failure, and the VA is suffering from dynamic leadership failure at every level!  Know a veteran whose story needs to be told, refer them to me; let’s get this information out.  I am sick to death of the VA getting away with murder.

Programs and Inspections

VA SealThis week, the final three emails from the VA-OIG reflected a VISN wide comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp) conducted virtually, a VAMC/VAHCS CHIp conducted in Spokane, Washington, and a program report on the failures in the Veteran-Directed Care Program.  The most interesting finding in the CHIps was how short the leadership teams had worked together, a month, and how many open positions for leaders there were, more than half.  Talk about glaring symptoms of leadership failure, were the leadership teams broken up from employee turnover?  If so, did the employees retire, or were they retired to avoid criminal convictions?  With all the investigations for fraud, as discussed on these pages frequently, I can only guess how leaders churn in a VAMC/VAHCS/VISN.

Believe it or not, the Veteran-Directed Care Program is full of faults, problems and is suffering from a lack of leadership as the program balloons.  Color me shocked!  Surely, somewhere in the VA, if only to screw with the gods of perversity and Murphy their prophet, there must be a functioning and well-led program, department, office, etc.Angry Wet Chicken

It is so absurdly depressing to catalog these failures of leadership week after week and never see any improvement.  We see increasing failures, we observe heightened criminal activity, there is undoubtedly raised awareness of needs and moral distress in abusing veterans, but where is the improvement towards achieving excellence?  Where is Congress in scrutinizing the legislative branches, officers, and leaders?

If a congressional representative can order the VA-OIG to investigate the MST Coordinators, which they did, where is Congressional action on the results?  Surely this is not too difficult a question to ask.  Better still, where is Congress?  I have now reached out to all the elected Federal officials in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico.  Texas, because that is where I have been forced to receive care from.  New Mexico because I now live here.  Arizona because I was physically injured by VA employees there.  The amount of interest received has been less than zero!Angry Grizzly Bear

How can interest be less than zero, you ask.  Well, while I have not received any response to my original complaints, I have received a TON of marketing materials about how those congressional representatives “Care about veterans, the community, pets, animals, and America.”  Maybe, not always in that order, but absolutely with less sentiment than I have for the weeds growing on my sidewalk!  Thus, I ask again, with all sincerity, where is Congress in scrutinizing the government?  I demand to know the “Rest of the Story!”

© 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.

Sometimes, You Have to – More Repugnant VA Chronicles

Angry Wet ChickenIn looking back, it has been a long time since I wrote two scathing chronicles about the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in a single week.  But, I could not allow these Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports to age any longer in my inbox.  With the Fourth of July fast approaching, as you celebrate, please keep in mind what the VA is purposefully doing to the Veterans, Dependents, and Spouses under their care.  America would not be here without her military, and military service produces veterans.  But, the VA is producing bodies and bureaucracy instead of helping veterans as they are paid and legally charged to do!

When I first left the US Army, I found myself employed in a telemarketing call center and was never paid the correct amount.  18-months later, I was employed with an Internet Service Provider, who bounced multiple paychecks before going bankrupt underneath the employees.  When the VA-OIG reports part-time physicians not being appropriately paid, I can understand the issues this causes.

I-CareThe VA-OIG randomly selected 134 salary agreements for part-time physicians on adjustable work schedules and found 44% of the physicians were either over or underpaid.  One might ask how and why these pay errors occurred.  The answer is extreme designed incompetence, not that the physicians will feel any better that they were either overpaid and owe back monies or underpaid and are now owed a considerable check.

From the VA-OIG report, we find the following as causes for the discrepancies:

This occurred because key management controls were missing or not working. Officials did not make certain that medical facilities complied with policies and procedures. Consequently, the OIG estimated VHA medical facilities had about $8.3 million in questioned costs that year (2019) and an additional $8.3 million in 2020. VHA medical facilities also may have violated the prohibition against voluntary services, and potentially the Antideficiency Act, by not correcting underpayments or by having physicians working above the 1,820-hour cap because their agreements were not properly reconciled” [emphasis mine].VA 3

The government officials’ neglect, malfeasance, and misfeasance might be illegal, as they failed to do their jobs properly.  Yet, the VA-OIG only issued recommendations.  There is potentially $16.6 Million in over or underpayments at stake, plus illegal actions, and people have not been fired or perp-walked into custody.  How can government employees get away with behavior that would have seen class-action lawsuits, criminal investigations, media reporting feeding frenzies if similar had occurred anywhere in the private sector?

IronyYet, the marketing materials produced by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Health Administration, a division of the VA, claims this is “Defining Excellence in Healthcare in the 21st Century.”  If you believe that, then you must believe that buffalo wings come from flying buffaloes.  Unfortunately, the problems only continue to worsen.

The VA-OIG reports that a doctor had accumulated more than 4000 alerts from the electronic health record (EHR) system.  This means that the computer system notified the doctor that patients needed care, appointments, were seen in the ER, required treatment, pharmacy prescription renewals, and much more.  The alerts, called views, are a built-in measure to help patients not get lost or have “adverse clinical outcomes” while receiving care at the VHA.  The VA-OIG found that the entire medical facility at the Charlie Norwood VAMC in Agusta, Georgia had similar issues.  The doctors were not viewing the patient EHR views as indicated.VA 3

What’s worse, the VA-OIG could not tell if “adverse clinical outcomes” had occurred because once the EHR views are settled, there is no record of the patient or why the view was required.  Talk about accountability, responsibility, and transparency in the patient-aligned care team (PACT).  In reading this VA-OIG report, it looks like when the facility leadership was alerted the VA-OIG was coming, the leadership team did a massive clean-up of the records, knowing they would never get caught and held responsible for any “adverse clinical outcomes.”  As a side note, the VA-OIG report claims the doctor with 4000 views is no longer providing care at this VA facility.  Heaven help his patients wherever this doctor is now!PACT 1

So far in 2020, I have had two different primary care providers assigned, and since moving out of Arizona, I will shortly have a third assigned to me.  My first primary care provider retired, but before doing so, he set up many EHR problems for his replacement to handle.  Including refusing to renew prescriptions, some of which were mine, which caused weeks of not receiving the proper medications.  Upon learning of my impending move, my second primary care provider essentially wiped her hands of my care, leaving me without medications and a clinic to contact for help.  Great job if you can get it; get hired to treat patients, and then not treat patients.  Before you ask, no, knowing I am not alone in this ordeal does not help!

PACT 3Finally, the VA-OIG has completed a full VISN wide comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIp) for VISN 10.  VISN 10 covering Ohio, Indiana, Michigan and is located in Cincinnati, Ohio.  For all intents and purposes, the CHIp went well; the leaders are competent and knowledgeable.  Thus, I issue my sincerest congratulations to VISN 10 for their success.  The VA-OIG inspected the VISN’s ability to respond to the COVID pandemic appropriately, and the VISN performed well.

VA 3Except, this opens a few questions needing address.  At two VISN 22 and two VISN 17 facilities, I have experienced four utterly different responses to the COVID policy and masking mandates.  None of the facilities have written guidelines that are geographically specific to the patients and weather patterns in those areas.  None of the facilities have documented processes for veterans who cannot wear masks, with an approved policy supported, written statement for accommodating these veterans.  One facility insists that the veterans who cannot wear masks be arrested, cited, and fined.  One facility insists that if you have a letter from your doctor, you are okay.  One facility vacillates wildly from day-to-day and person-to-person, and the fourth facility doesn’t have a clue but is still very helpful, with supervisor approval.Question

Yet, somehow, VISN 10 has all their VAMC’s and VAHCS’ operating to the same sheet of music and behaving similarly.  How is this possible VA-OIG?  Better still, how does this spread out to other VISN’s and facilities?  May I hazard a guess, based solely upon the perceptions of veterans in VISN 10, the masking policy from COVID remains haphazard and improperly applied because Washington, DC, never issued proper guidance in the first place, the VISN leaders never issued written guidance.  The policy process on the local level is a quagmire of egos, bureaucracy, unions, all set into a cesspit of inaction and designed incompetence!  If COVID has taught any lessons, the number one lesson has to be that the leadership at the VISN and local levels remains inadequate to the task they were hired to perform!

© 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: Revisiting the VBA and Spinal Claims Issues

VA SealOne of the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports I wrote about in 2019 was how the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) was inaccurately deciding spinal claims for veterans.  Apparently, the complexity of primary injuries and secondary problems was causing confusion at the VBA, and when the VA-OIG came around to investigate, 100% of the claims from 01 January to 30 June 2018 were inaccurate in some way, shape, or form.  The VA-OIG reviewed 62,5000 spinal injury claims in the designated window; 34,700 were incorrectly processed, with approximately 5000 receiving inaccurate decisions resulting in over or underpayments totaling $5.9 Million.  Thus, each of the 5000 veterans had about an over or underpayment of $1180; whether this is monthly or in total is not detailed.

Something to think about those 5000 veterans mentioned does not include the 29,800 veterans’ claims which contained processing errors that could have had a monetary effect on veterans.  The VA-OIG could not determine monetary over or underpayments on these 29,800 claims.  Hence, $35,164,000 in possible over or underpayments was still in question if the average per person holds from the 5000 mentioned above.VA 3

More details on the other 34,700 veteran claims incorrectly processed for these claims with processing errors, VBA staff decided on the claims before completing all required evaluation steps.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) conveniently designs its processes to fail, and this is referred to as designed incompetence.  Think I am wrong; check out what the VA-OIG discovered as the root cause of incorrect spinal claims processing.

The OIG found that all incorrectly decided veteran claims resulted from VBA’s inadequate process for ensuring accurate and complete evaluation. The disability rating schedule—the primary criteria for evaluating disability—contains minimal guidance on neurological and peripheral nerves. A procedures manual detailing the rating schedule is too subjective about peripheral nerve disability evaluations, which can lead to an inconsistent evaluation for a secondary service-connected condition” [emphasis mine].

Angry Wet ChickenThe manuals, designed and published by the VBA, are inadequate to decide spinal claims consistently.  The VBA created these books to be a ready-made excuse for cheating veterans with improperly decided claims on spinal injuries.  Why is this such an issue for me; I have been fighting chronic pain in my spine since 2002.  I fell multiple times onboard the ship after being pushed by a First-Class Petty Officer while carrying a load of D Cell batteries.  I experienced weakness and shortness of breath on the boat, went to medical; none of those records exist anymore.  The Chief made Senior Chief and was “encouraged” to retire shortly after I left the ship. After leaving the service, I discovered that the Independent Duty Corpsman, a US Navy Chief, was consistently sinking medical records for the Engineering Department to Davey Jones’ Locker.

Angry Wet Chicken 2Today, 10 May 2010, I had a Compensation and Pension appointment with LHI.  I discovered the VBA had edited my claim, and my C-Spine information again was missing from the evaluation.  Since my spine was inappropriately decided in 2014, I could not add the C-Spine problems into today’s appointment.  I was sent back to the VA to file a supplemental claim, using the VA-OIG report from 05 September 2019, as “New and Material Evidence” to have my 2014 claim reopened.  That 2014 claim, called bulging disks in C-Spine, bulging disks in L-Spine, and a trauma-induced S-Curve in my T-Spine as “lumbar strain with chronic pain.”  Today, I was asked how the peripheral nerve problems in my right arm were connected to my lumbar spine!  Not joking, a Nurse Practitioner asked me to explain the connection, without mentioning the C-Spine, the fact that my Right Shoulder is 1-1/2 -2” shorter than my left shoulder, not to mention the headaches at C-0, but all this has something magical to do with my lumbar spine.  After all the tedious bureaucratism I have experienced with the VA, I was not surprised; other adjectives fit, but not surprise!

Upon returning home, I filed a supplemental claim, as advised by a customer service representative at the VBA.  Best of all, the customer service representative confirmed I could use the VA-OIG report as my “New and Material Evidence.”  This is good because none of the MRIs since 2014 are allowed as “New and Material Evidence,” the neurological decision claiming I have an unknown neurological disease is not permitted. All the lost jobs, employer letters claiming a need for ADA Accommodation, or physical therapy notes are also not allowed as “New and Material Evidence.”  All because of those published books the VBA uses to make determinations, which continue to fail to accurately and consistently aid in deciding spinal claims for the VBA and for the VHA to treat.VA 3

The VA-OIG Report has the following to report, which also played a significant role in confusing the nurse practitioner interviewing me today.

“… The medical examiners did not always choose disability levels that were consistent with documented symptom details from the exam. Examiners told the review team that VBA did not provide any guidance on the definition of these disability levels. In addition, they are VBA terms, not medical ones, and there are no standardized criteria for the examiners to determine severity.”

The nurse practitioner could not explain the difference between mild, moderate, and severe.  The VHA uses a pain scale from 1-10; thus, confusion reigned during the LHI compensation and pension evaluation.  Imagine that; the VBA cannot train a third-party contractor on VBA-specific terms designed to create confusion between the language used in the VHA and the language used in the VBA.  Color me shocked; NOT!  VA 3

There have been no changes to these terms, and the confusion generated since the VA-OIG called out the VBA on their inability to communicate and accurately decide veterans claims.  Imagine my surprise when a reader claimed I was too harsh on the VA Administrators and their failures to lead, correct, and design anything that fundamentally fixes the VA.  The VA-OIG issues “recommendations,” the VBA, The VHA, and the National Cemetery ignore the recommendations and continue with business as usual.  Hey taxpayer, how would you rate the VA and evaluate their job in not wasting your tax dollars?

What blows my mind is that this is what the marketing department for the VA calls “Defining Excellence” in VA Healthcare!  The VA-OIG report continued claiming:

The same form also asks medical examiners to provide an opinion about whether the veteran’s range of motion is limited during flare-ups or after repeated use. The medical examiner can decline to provide an opinion, but a sufficient explanation is required if the medical examiner takes that route.  The VBA manual states the opinion may be insufficient if the conclusion is not adequately justified or implies a general lack of knowledge or an aversion to offering this statement on issues not directly observed.  Most of the errors the OIG team identified did not have the required and sufficient explanation about why the examiner could not express an opinion.”

Recognize a problem here; if I replicate a movement that causes me severe pain, I fall to the floor, insensate, and become an ER issue.  For the last spinal compensation and pension evaluation, the evaluator collapsed my legs four times in her office by placing her hand on my L-Spine where the disks are known to be bulging.  What did the VBA call this? Insufficient evidence for a secondary peripheral nerve problem.  I had to report to the Albuquerque ER for a shot of morphine and a shot of Toradol. Missing the next three days of work due to pain in my spine where the medication was insufficient to the task of relieving the suffering.  Those days missed directly led to my being dismissed from VA employment and spending the majority of the next two years unemployed!VA 3

So, not the VBA cannot communicate using medically acceptable terms.  They cannot understand when nerves have a primary, secondary, and tertiary issue causing a veteran loss of employment, severe pain, repetitive injuries.  Then the VBA has the gall to refuse to accept all VHA medical records as “New and Material Evidence.”  Do you know how hard it is to replicate a secondary or tertiary problem when it occurs intermittently on one side of the body but is a regular 24/7 injury on the other side of the body?  My right side is neurologically worse than the left side, but how do you communicate that to the interviewer?  How do they properly communicate that to the VBA when the VBA does not use medically recognized terminology?

LinkedIn VA ImageWorse, all the problems have a root cause in the technology forced upon the medical reviewer. There is an insufficient explanation to describe to a veteran what the VBA is asking for, so the veteran can answer the questions correctly.  The person who made my spinal claim originally had been writing VBA claims for 20+ years.  She was still disregarded by the VBA because the Veterans Service Representative reviewing the claim could not, or would not, interpret the doctor’s note correctly for an accurate decision.  Any fourth-grade biology student can tell you that the T-Spine is different from the L-Spine, and damage in one does not mean damage can be added to the other, and all the damage can be lumped together!  Yet, that is precisely the asinine decision I was handed and have been fighting!VA 3

If you want more details on this egregious example of leadership failure and VBA insanity, the whole report can be read here.  I am not joking, and adjectives are expended describing how deplorable the VBA processes are and the problems these decisions place the veteran into!  The rules are ineptitude hiding behind designed incompetence to the Nth degree, and that is an absolute disgrace!Apathy

I believe in the little rocks that start landslides.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes that create an avalanche.  I know that if enough veterans, their families, friends, and communities rise up, the elected politicians responsible for scrutinizing the government will be forced to make veteran safety and health at the VA a priority, and blessed change will finally arrive in the VA Administration and administrators.  Imagine how you would feel about learning a close friend or family member was being refused treatment at the VA because their claim was inaccurately decided.  Please respond accordingly!

© 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: Revisiting the VA Wait Scandals

Angry Wet ChickenAs the case for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administrators being the number one problem continues, I wanted to revisit a topic that has been mentioned several times, but not been covered in-depth recently, the scheduling issues at the VA for veterans to obtain an appointment.  Back in 2012, the news media went ballistic over veterans dying while waiting to be seen, due to paper wait-lists, cherry-picking veterans to be seen, and employees being encouraged to practice discrimination.  I was a patient in the Phoenix VA during the first scandal, and the second scandal, and between these two scandals, nothing changed, but the medical center director.

The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) 02 May 2017, released a VISN wide inspection report on the topic of scheduling and VA Scheduling Wait Times.  Please note the date of the report, as this is a crucial data point, five (5) years after the Phoenix VA Wait Time Scandal, an entire Veterans Integrated Service Network (VISN) was inspected for compliance with the memos and recommendations after the two VA Wait Scandals at the Carl T. Hayden VA Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ.  The results of this inspection are staggering, detestable, and the practice remains unchanged in VISN 22 which includes the Carl T. Hayden VAMC.VA 3

VISN 6 was selected for the inspection, and includes the following VAMC’s:

      • Charles George VAMC (Asheville, NC)
      • Charlotte Health Care Center (Charlotte, NC)
      • Durham VAMC (Durham, NC)
      • Fayetteville Health Care Center (Fayetteville, NC)
      • Fayetteville VAMC (Fayetteville, NC)
      • Greenville Health Care Center (Greenville, NC)
      • Hampton VAMC (Hampton, VA)
      • Hunter Holmes McGuire VAMC (Richmond, VA)
      • Kernersville Health Care Center (Kernersville, NC)
      • Salem VAMC (Salem, VA)
      • G. (Bill) Hefner VAMC (Salisbury, NC)
      • Wilmington Health Care Center (Wilmington, NC)

The VA-OIG claims they interviewed more than 300 staff and referred 84 patients from the sample to the VA-OIG’s Office of Healthcare Inspections (OHI) for review “We referred the medical records for these veterans to OHI to determine whether inappropriate or untimely care resulted in any harm to the veteran.”  Please keep the following in mind, the findings are reported across the entire VISN, not just one single VAMC or care center.VA 3

Finding 1: “… 36 percent of the appointments for new patients at facilities within VISN 6 during the relevant time period had wait times longer than 30 days. We estimated that the average wait time for this 36 percent was 59 days. These numbers are significantly higher than the wait time data that VHA’s electronic scheduling system showed.”  The result, “The inaccurate wait time data resulted in a significant number of veterans not being eligible for treatment through Choice.”Apathy

Finding 2: The “veterans in VISN 6 who received their care through Choice, our audit estimated that 82 percent of the appointments had wait times longer than 30 days. We estimated that the average wait time for those who received their care through Choice was 84 days.”I-Care

Finding 3: “For veterans who did not receive care through Choice within 30 days, they waited an average of 98 days to receive their care, which ranged in our sample from 31 to 389 days.”

Finding 4: “VISN 6 Medical Facilities Did Not Consistently Provide Timely Access to Health Care Needs for New Patient Appointments and Did Not Have Accurate Wait Time Data.”  This is the section header for a finding so egregious, heads should have rolled.  Understand the basis for scheduling appointments, “We used 30 days from a veteran’s supported preferred appointment date, a referring provider’s clinically indicated date, or the appointment “create date” to determine whether an appointment was timely.”VA 3

“The VA-OIG statistical sample of 618 new patient appointments completed at VISN 6 medical facilities in the first quarter of FY 2016. We reviewed these appointments to determine whether medical facilities provided timely access for new patient appointments, as well as to assess the accuracy of VISN 6 wait time data. Based on this review, we estimated about 20,600 of 57,000 appointments (36 percent) had wait times greater than 30 days. For those 20,600 appointments, we estimated veterans waited an average of 59 days. This was notably higher than the 5,500 appointments (10 percent) that VHA’s electronic scheduling system showed were scheduled greater than 30 days” [emphasis mine].

Is the problem clear, the VA is cooking their own books to reflect lower numbers of appointments waiting to be seen, than they are willing to admit?  Hence, can any statistical data reported from the VA be trusted for veracity?  Here’s the rub, VISN 22, has the exact same problem in both Phoenix and the Albuquerque VAMC’s.  I know this from being an employee and listening to the appointment schedulers discuss how they “schedule” appointments.  I know from experiencing being cherry-picked, e.g., being told the provider needs to see me within 72-hours of a visit to the Emergency Room, but not being able to be scheduled, and placed on a waiting list or the best excuse I have been told, “I double book the appointments to ensure we keep the provider busy all day.”VA 3

I understand there is a provider shortage; but how much of that shortage is being exacerbated by the policies and procedures of the administration, the leadership of the VA?  Will someone please explain to me, how the pernicious veteran killing scandal of wait lists is still being allowed, fed, and supported by the VISN leadership across the entire country?

Finding 5: The VA-OIG broke down 57,000 appointments, per the policies and directives governing scheduling appointments and found:

  • Of 10,700 primary care appointments, 3,500 (33 percent) had wait times greater than 30 days, with an average wait time of 51 days for those 3,500 appointments. This compared to an estimated 1,900 of 10,700 primary care appointments (17 percent) VHA’s electronic scheduling system showed were scheduled greater than 30 days.
  • Of 4,800 mental health care appointments, 780 (16 percent) had wait times greater than 30 days with an average wait time of 59 days for those 780 appointments. This compared to an estimated 260 of 4,800 mental health care appointments (5 percent) VHA’s electronic scheduling system showed were scheduled greater than 30 days.
  • Of 41,500 specialty care appointments, 16,300 (39 percent) had wait times greater than 30 days with an average wait time of 60 days for those 16,300 appointments. This compared to an estimated 3,400 of 41,500 specialty care appointments (8 percent) VHA’s electronic scheduling system showed were scheduled greater than 30 days.
  • We found that VISN 6 did not capture accurate wait time data primarily because medical facility staff did not consistently enter correct clinically indicated or supported preferred appointment dates when scheduling new patient appointments. Requiring schedulers to document those occasions where a veteran has a preferred appointment date is an internal control that mitigates the opportunities for schedulers to routinely and inappropriately designate all scheduled appointments as preferred appointment dates in order to show substantially reduced wait times.
  • Of the estimated 20,600 appointments with wait times greater than 30 days, staff entered incorrect clinically indicated or unsupported preferred appointment dates for 15,300 appointments (74 percent) that made it appear as though the wait time was 30 days or less” [emphasis mine].
  • Root Cause analysis showed, “Because the medical facility did not consistently enter correct clinically indicated or supported preferred appointment dates when scheduling appointments, we estimated staff did not identify about 13,800 of these 15,3004 appointments (90 percent) where veterans should have been added to the Veterans Choice List (VCL)” [emphasis mine].

Angry Grizzly BearThe administration did notconsistently conduct scheduler audits, which have been required since January 2008.”  Memos, policies, guidelines, procedures, none of these are making any difference as the VISN and VAMC leadership simply refuse to do their jobs!  Where were the politicians from 2000 to 2010 when the policies and guidelines were changed to protect veterans from scheduling abuse and improve access to the VA/Choice?  Will someone please ask Speaker Pelosi where she has been as minority and majority speaker of the house since 2000 on protecting veterans from abuses at the hands of the VA!  Will someone grab speakers Boehner and Ryan and demand they return some of their “Titanium Parachutes” because they actively refused to protect veterans from abuse by the VA!  If this is the “VA Healthcare Defining Excellence in the 21st Century,” I would hate to see how the VA defines failure and ineptitude!VA 3

I have said this before and beg your forbearance as I repeat myself for emphasis.  VISN 22, and the Albuquerque and Phoenix VAMC’s are but one dead veteran from another major scandal for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  The administrators will be the 100% responsible, but they will weasel out of accountability, all because of designed incompetence.  I am sick of this abuse towards myself, and any veteran, it is shameful, detestable, and reprehensible.  There are no acceptable excuses for these managerial failures!  There are no justifiable reasons to have schedulers acting in this manner and not being held accountable by supervisors, who are directly held accountable to directors, who have to report to VISN leaders for accountability.  The leadership has failed the veteran and deserves full and complete replacement, as soon as possible!

Knowledge Check!I believe in the little rocks that start landslides.  I know the power of tiny snowflakes that create an avalanche.  I know that if enough veterans, their families, friends, and communities rise up, the elected politicians responsible for scrutinizing the government will be forced to make veteran safety and health at the VA a priority and blessed change will finally arrive in the VA Administration and administrators.  Imagine how you would feel to learn a close friend or family member died waiting for treatment at the VA.  Please respond accordingly!

© 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: The Leadership at the VA Continues to Shame Themselves!!!

Bird of PreyI do not believe in coincidences, I just started reporting the VA leadership as being the problem at the VA; the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) finally appears to be blaming Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) leadership.  In my inbox are two VA-OIG reports where the facilities’ leadership is being called out for the detestable behavior they continue to exhibit!  In one of the VA-OIG reports, please do not allow the “YUCK!” factor to distract from the problems at hand in the VA Leadership refusing to do the jobs they have been hired to perform!

        1. Bradley Lane Croft, the owner of Universal K-9 Inc. in San Antonio, Texas, was sentenced to nearly 10 years of imprisonment for scheming to defraud the federal government of more than $1.5 million in GI Bill benefits to train service canines and their handlers. In addition to the prison term, Croft pays approximately $1.5 million in restitution.”

November 2019, Judge Ezra found Croft guilty on eight counts of wire fraud, four counts of aggravated identity theft, two counts of money laundering, and two counts of making a false tax return.  Testimony during trial revealed that beginning in 2015, Croft provided false information in applications to the Texas Veterans Commission, including instructors’ names, certifications and training documents to receive GI Bill educational benefit payments.”

VA 3If you have access to more details, please share.  This story did not make a ripple in the news, and I want to know why!  Worse, who at the VA lost their jobs, lost their retirement package, or were sanctioned for allowing this fraud to occur?  2015-2018, three years of deception, where the VA leadership and lower-level employees were supposed to investigate and research documents submitted before awarding contracts?  The court records read like this was an IRS audit for fraudulent tax filing that discovered the school fraud of GI Bill benefits.  The VA never knew until the IRS alerted them.  Hence, I ask again, where was the VA in properly executing its duties to protect the government and the taxpayer from fraud?

      1. During a comprehensive healthcare inspection (virtual) of the Aleda E. Lutz VAMC in Saginaw, Michigan, the VA-OIG was pretty vanilla, except for the following. “Selected employee satisfaction survey results indicated opportunities for the Associate Director for Patient Care Services to improve workplace perceptions and for the Chief of Staff to support an environment where employees felt less moral distress” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Now, I have never personally been a patient in this VAMC or one of its clinics.  However, “moral distress” is a pretty universal phrase meaning that employees feel pressure to commit immoral activities.  The actual term “moral distress” is found in an “All Employee Survey,” where the employees stated that they felt pressured to commit an immoral activity at least once per day.

In the past year, how often did you experience moral distress at work (i.e., you were unsure about the right thing to do or could not carry out what you believed to be the right thing)?”

If an employee feels anywhere between 1.0 and 1.7 times (on average) a day they are being pressured to commit immoral activities, surely this should raise some eyebrows and a lot of questions about the propriety of the leadership team.  Did the VA-OIG take a sample of employees and gather quantitative data on exact actions employees feel they are pressured to commit?  If so, why is the conclusion bereft of actionable items for leadership to take?  If not, why not?  Employees claiming pressure to act in an immoral manner are a significant risk to any business organization.  The VA is already on record for having inferior to worthless administrators; now the veterans and the taxpayers get to know the Aleda E. Lutz VAMC and its clinics have morality issue problems.  Nobody in the VA leadership at the Federal or VISN level cares!

        1. The VA-OIG conducted a review to assess aspects of the care provided to a patient who was struck and killed by a motor vehicle following elopement from a community living center (CLC). The patient suffered from paranoid schizophrenia and was involuntarily civilly committed to the CLC.”

Administrative failures began the day the patient was admitted to the CLC, as discovered by the VA-OIG, “… the patient’s admission to the CLC was inappropriate as indicated by the CLC’s own screening process.”  Added to these concerns, the VA-OIG expressed the following concerns, “… regarding the appropriateness of CLC admission and elopement prevention.”

The OIG determined that interventions implemented by staff were inadequate to mitigate the patient’s risk for elopement. The patient eloped multiple times, and facility staff failed to provide individualized, progressive, mental health-driven interventions to prevent the patient from eloping. The OIG also found that facility staff assigned to care for the patient were inadequately trained in mental health care, and patient safety reports were not completed as required.”

On the day of the patient’s death, the OIG found that facility staff did not follow missing patient procedures after the patient eloped. Facility staff failed to detect that the patient was missing for nearly three hours, and once the patient was noted as missing, facility staff failed to follow policy to locate the patient. In addition, the OIG found that facility leaders did not ensure the facility had a missing patient prevention policy or that staff completed annual missing patient training. The OIG expressed concern that the CLC may not have been utilized as intended, given the lack of mental health standards applicable to CLCs and the complex mental health needs of this patient.”

VA 3Take a minute, imagine you are a family member of this patient.  How are you going to feel when you see the consistent and ongoing problems with the facility?  How helpless would you feel knowing that your family member was missing for hours before it became known to staff this patient, with a history of elopement, was gone?  How frustrated would you be with the administration when you read this report and see that from Day 1 admissions, this CLC was inadequate to the task of seeing to this patient’s needs?  Now, do you understand why I, as a veteran, become so aggravated and upset with the lack of leadership at the VA?  These are my brothers and sisters in arms, and they are being abused and killed by the VA’s lack of leadership.  The only recourse we have is to try and share these horrible tales with our fellow citizens in the hopes of improving the political leadership, to demand change of the executive branch’s VA leadership!  Another needless death at the hands of the VA leadership!

Let me preface this final story a little.  First, if you have a weak stomach, feel free to skip this next story.  Second, an endoscope is an illuminated optical, typically slender, and tubular instrument (a type of borescope) used to look deep into the body and used in procedures called an endoscopy.  Endoscopes are considered reusable medical equipment, and special training and procedures are required to clean and sterilize these scopes properly.  Third, an endoscopy is a procedure used in medicine to look inside the body. The endoscopy procedure uses an endoscope to examine the interior of a hollow organ or cavity of the body. Unlike many other medical imaging techniques, endoscopes are inserted directly into the organ.  Again, if you have a weak stomach, feel free to skip the rest of this article.

      1. Let us travel to the Chillicothe VAMC in Ohio, where we find the VA-OIG with “concerns” over “… responses by facility leaders to a Sterile Processing Services (SPS) employee’s failure to follow endoscope reprocessing [cleaning and sterilization] procedures.” The VA-OIG report stresses the following, “… the VA-OIG also identified concerns related to actions taken by Veteran Health Administration (VHA) leaders.”  Thus, we have one (1) employee and several VHA leaders from the local to the VISN whose actions are at best “questionable” in the cleaning and sterilization processes for an endoscope.

Three separate and similar complaints were raised at this facility for this exact issue!

“… VA-OIG investigations substantiated that the employee did not follow facility reprocessing procedures and falsely documented compliance. The VA-OIG determined that the Facility Director did not develop and implement an adequate plan to monitor the employee’s compliance with SPS procedures following reinstatement to SPS duty, particularly given concerns regarding the employee’s integrity and compliance. Because multiple patients were potentially affected, facility and VISN leaders notified the VHA Clinical Episode Review Team (CERT) for review and disposition. The CERT concluded there was minimal risk to patients and that a large-scale disclosure was not warranted; however, the VA-OIG found that the CERT’s determination may have been based on an inaccurate understanding of the reprocessing equipment’s capabilities” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Here is the other side to this problem. This is not the first time or first facility having problems with employees failing to reprocess medically reusable equipment, refusing to document correctly, or risk patient complications from dirty medical equipment!  This is not the first time the CERT team has made the wrong decision not to warn the patients involved; they might have been put at risk by dirty medical equipment!  The last episode involved colonoscopy equipment, and it was not that long ago I was writing about that incident!  YUCK!!!

Why was the employee not immediately fired for falsification of official documents?  Why did the facility’s and VISN separate investigations not see the directors of patient safety and hospital director fired for failure to perform their jobs?  The Chillicothe VAMC’s entire leadership should be fired in disgrace over this incident.

PACT 1While a patient in the VA Hospital here in Phoenix, I was in a clinic where a mother was trying to gather sufficient records to hold the VA accountable for her son’s permanent disability from sepsis.  The veteran caught sepsis when improperly cleaned scopes were used during a gall bladder removal surgery.  Her son, the veteran, spent 9-months in and out of non-VA hospitals; she had pictures of his bruised and swollen abdomen from the doctors trying to treat the sepsis and keep the veteran alive!  I have no idea whether this mother was successful or not getting the VA to cover the medical expenses and increase her son’s disability.  I only know I never saw her at the VA again, and the VA Police shadowed her as she moved from clinic to clinic, gathering records.  I do not know why records release could not release the proper documents to save this mother the hassle of visiting individual clinics.  I do know I can still see this veteran in the photos his mom showed me, and my blood continues to boil!  Yet, the CERT team asserts that mass notification is not needed in these situations; I demand to know why they can make this decision!

ApathyThe leadership at the VISN levels and the individual hospital levels is sick, inadequate, and desperately in need of a complete replacement to end the culture of corruption found inside the VA.  When employees record moral distress, this should be an automatic red flag, alerting the VISN leaders poor leadership practices are happening, but the VISN never does anything!  Failure of this magnitude would have gotten any non-VA hospital or clinic shuttered and class-action malpractice lawsuits launched.  Yet, when the VA gets caught, the media cannot even be bothered to report on the problem in the local news.  Maximum endurance has been breached, and these administrator problems need immediate attention from the politicians!

Dont Tread On MeHence, I will ask you, dear reader, to please share these VA articles far and wide.  Action is needed before the next veteran to die unnecessarily is a friend or family member of yours!

© 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.

Insane Abuse – The VA Edition: The Leaders of the VA Must Shift the Paradigm

I-CareDuring new hire training for working at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) New Mexico Medical Center (NMVAMC), the first day contains a lot of warnings about what you can and cannot do as a Federal Employee.  Annually, there are mandatory classes that must be passed to remind an employee of their obligations as a Federal Employee.  Leading to a question, “How could an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of General Counsel (OGC), be allowed to break the law for eight years?”  The department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigated after a second complaint about the same person was received, and only then did the OGC take action.  The attorney in question was released from government employment, but where is 8 years’ worth of wages being requested back?  Did the attorney lose anything other than an undemanding job and title where they could be paid for not working for the Federal Government while advancing their private practice, violating ethical laws, and breaking several Federal Statutes along the way?

What this attorney has done is insane, it is an abuse of trust, and for it to go reported and not acted by the senior leaders at OGC represents inexcusable abuse!

ProblemsOn the topic of insane and inexcusable abuse of the VA, the VA-OIG investigated the Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System in California and found a supervisor in an “other than spouse” relationship with a vendor and they used the VA property to improperly conduct business on contracts the supervisor oversaw.  These actions are a clear and blatant violation of the Federal Statutes on contracting as a Federal Employee, even if these consenting adults were married, it would remain illegal, unethical, immoral, and inexcusable!  Yet, because the supervisor quit during the investigation, the VA-OIG has no power to take any action.

Federal Employees are blatantly breaking the law, abusing the trust and honor of their stations, flagrantly flaunting ethical, moral, and legal regulations with impunity.  Why?

From the VA San Diego Healthcare System, California, we find another VA-OIG inspection. Staff manipulated time cards for seven fee-basis medical providers to pay these individuals on a salary or wage basis rather than a per-procedure basis.  While the medical center took appropriate action and no VA-OIG recommendations were made, the question remains, “Why was this behavior allowed in the first place?”  Another supervisor, improperly acting in their office, and abusing the VA; this behavior is inexcusable!

moral-valuesThe VA-OIG performed an audit, also referred to as a “data review.” “The data review consisted of a sample of 45 employees and found the employees were paid an estimated $11.6 million for overtime hours for which there was no evidence of claims-related activity in the Fee Basis Claims System in fiscal years 2017 and 2018, representing almost half of the total overtime paid. Significantly, 16 of the 45 employees each received more than $10,000 in overtime for hours during which there was no claims-related activity.”  The Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Community Care (OCC) is backlogged and this is leading to late payments to providers, delays in care, and is generally a bad thing.  However, the sole reason for the overtime being abused was due to a lack of processes, poor supervision, and training.  These are the same three excuses that are used by the Department of Veterans Affairs – Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and is designed incompetence at its most disdainful and egregious level.  Worse, this was a sample of employee misconduct on overtime pay.  How many more cases are floating in the OCC that were not included in the audit that will pass unresearched because the VA-OIG did not refer the cases for disciplinary recommendations?

The VA-OIG cannot be everywhere and clean every hole in the VA organizational tapestry.  This is why supervisors and leaders are in place to execute organizational rules, regulations, policies, and monitor employee performance.  Why are the supervisors and mid-level leaders not being held accountable for failing to perform their jobs?  If overtime pay is going to be clawed back from the employee, the managers, team leaders, and supervisors need first to write and train to a policy standard.

Root Cause AnalysisThe VA-OIG conducted a comprehensive inspection of the Eastern Kansas Health Care System, Kansas, and Missouri.  The findings are startling for several reasons, one of which being the deficient lack of leadership leading to poor employee satisfaction, patient care issues, lack of knowledge in managers and supervisors, and minimally knowledgeable about strategic analytics.  Essentially, there is a lack of leadership in this healthcare system.  The director has been working with a team for 2-months, but the director has been in charge in 2012.  Leading to questions about long-term staffing replacement, staff training, building the next generation of leaders, and why this long-term director can brush off the criticisms of leadership failure because the team has only been in place for two months at the time of the inspection.

Again, the VA-OIG audited a system and found a lack of training, lack of oversight, lack of leadership, and made recommendations to “close the barn door, after the horses got out.”  From the VA-OIG report we find:

“The VA-OIG found that VA lacked an effective strategy or action plan to update its police information system [emphasis mine]. In September 2015, the VA Law Enforcement Training Center (LETC) acquired Report Exec, a replacement records management system, for police officers at all medical facilities. Inadequate planning and contract administration mismanagement caused the system implementation to stall for more than two years [emphasis mine]. LETC spent approximately $2.8 million on the system by the fiscal year 2019 [emphasis mine], but police officers experienced frequent performance issues and had to use different systems that did not share information. As of April 2019, only 63 percent of medical facility police units were reportedly using the Report Exec system, while 37 percent were still using an incompatible legacy system. As a result, administrators and law enforcement personnel at multiple levels could not adequately track and oversee facility incidents involving VA police or make informed decisions on risks and resource allocations. The audit also revealed that information security controls were not in place for the Report Exec system that put individuals’ sensitive personal information at risk [emphasis mine].”

Behavior-ChangeNo controls, no direction, no strategy, no tactical action, losing money, and not even scraping an F in performance.  The repetition in these VA-OIG investigations is appalling!  Where is the accountability?  Where is the responsibility and commitment to the veterans, their dependents, and the taxpayers?  Where is the US House of Representatives and Senate in demanding improvement in employee behavior?  Talk about a culture of corruption; the VA has corruption in spades, and no one is taking the VA to task and demanding improvement.

The VA is referred to as a cesspit of indecent and inappropriate people acting in a manner to enrich themselves on the pain of veterans, spouses, widows, and orphans.  There have been comments on several articles I authored which would make a non-veteran blush in describing the VA.  These actions by supervisors and those possessing advanced degrees do not help in trying to curb or correct the poor image the VA has well and truly earned.  A behavior change is needed, culture-wide, at the VA for the tarnished reputation of the VA to begin recovering.

Only for emphasis do I repeat previous recommendations for a culture-wide improvement:

  1. Start a VA University.  If you want better people, you must build them!  Thus, they must be trained, they must be challenged to act, and they must be empowered from day one in the classroom to be making a difference to the VA.
  2. Immediately launch Tiger Teams and Flying Squads from the VA. Secretary’s Office, empowered to build, train, and correct behavior. These groups must be able to cut through the bureaucratic red tape and make changes, then monitor those changes until behavior and culture change.
  3. Implement ISO 9000 for hospitals. If a person does not know their job but has held that job for over a year, every person in that employee’s chain of command is responsible for training failures.  Employees need better training, see recommendation 1, need clearer guidelines and written policies.  Hence, with the VA University training, each process, procedure, rule, regulation needs written down, and then trained exhaustively, so employees can be held accountable.

There is a theory in the private sector called appreciative inquiry.  Appreciative inquiry is the position that whatever a business needs to succeed, it already has in abundance, the leaders simply need to tap into that reservoir and pull out the gems therein.  Having traveled this country and witnessed many good and great employees in the VA Medical Centers from Augusta ME to Seattle WA, and from Phoenix AZ to Missoula MT I know that appreciative inquiry can help and promote a cultural change in the VA.  I do not advocate a “one-size fits most” policy for the VA, as each VISN and Regional Medical Center has a different culture of patients, thus requiring differing approaches.  However, the recommendations listed above can improve where the VA is now, and form a launch point into the future.Military Crests

© 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/

Tiger Teams – A Potential Solution to VA Issues: An Open Letter to Secretary Wilkie

I-CareTo the Honorable Secretary Robert Wilkie
Department of Veterans Affairs
Washington D.C.

Dear Sir,

For almost a decade, I have read and studied the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from the position of patient, employee, concerned citizen, and now as an organizational psychologist.  During this time, I have read many Department of Veterans Affairs – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) investigation reports, and yearned to be of fundamental assistance in improving the VA.  I have an idea with potential for your consideration, “Tiger Teams.”

In the US Navy, we used “Tiger Teams” as “flying squads” of people, dedicated to a specific task, and able to complete work quickly.  The teams included parts people, technicians, specialists, and carried the authority of competence and dedication to quickly fixing whatever had gone wrong during an evolution, an inspection, or even in regular operation.  It is my belief that if your office employed a “Tiger Team” approach for speedy response, your job in fixing core problems the VA is experiencing would be easier.  Please allow me to explain.

Tiger TeamThe VA-OIG recently released a report regarding deficiencies in nursing care and management in the Community Living Center (CLC) at the Coatesville VA Medical Center, Pennsylvania.  The inspection team validated some complaints and were unable to validate all complaints because of poor complainant documentation.  Having a Tiger Team able to dispatch from your office, carrying your authority, would provide expert guidance in rectifying the situation, monitoring the CLC, and updating you with knowledge needed to answer the legislator’s questions regarding what is happening.  The VA-OIG found other issues in their investigation that were not covered under the scope of the investigation, leaving the VA-OIG in a difficult position.  Hence, another reason for a Tiger Team being created, to back stop and support the VA-OIG in correcting issues found outside their investigatory scope.

Fishbone DiagramFor a decade now, I have been reading how the VA-OIG makes recommendations, but where is the follow-up from the VA-OIG to determine if those recommendations are being followed and applied?  Too often there is no return and report feature built into the VA-OIG investigation, as these investigators just do not have the time.  Again, this is what a Tiger Team can be doing.  Taking action, training leaders, building a better VA, monitoring and reporting, building holistic solutions, and being an extension of your office on the front lines.  Essentially using the tools from your office to improve the operations locally, which builds trust between the patients and the care providers, building trust between the families and the VA, and delivering upon the Congressional mandate and VA Mission.

Another recent VA-OIG report also supports the need for a fast response Tiger Team.  Coordination of care and employee satisfaction concerns at the Community Living Center (CLC), Loch Raven VA Medical Center, in Baltimore, Maryland.  In geographic terms, this incident is in your backyard.  While the VA-OIG inspection was rather inconclusive, and recommendations were made, it appears some things are working in this CLC and other things are not working as well as they should.  By using a Tiger Team as a flying squad, intermittent and unannounced inspections by the Tiger Team can aid in discovering more than the VA-OIG could investigate, monitoring the situation, and reporting on progress made in improving performance.

As an employee, too often the director of HAS would claim, “That problem is too hard to fix because it requires too many people to come together and agree on the solution.”  Or, “The solution is feasible, but not worth the effort to implement because it would require coordination.”  Getting the doctors and nurses talking to and working with administration is a leadership role, providing support to leaders is one of the best tools a Tiger Team possesses one authority is delegated.  The Tiger Team presents the data, presents different potential solutions, and the aids the leadership locally in implementation.  As an employee I never found a problem in the VA that could not be resolved with a little attention, getting people to work together, and opening lines of communication.  Thus, I know the VA can be fixed.

Root Cause AnalysisThe Tiger Teams need to be led by an organizational psychologist possessing a Ph.D. and a personal stake in seeing the VA improve.  The organizational psychologist can build a team of like-minded people to be on the flying squad, and these team members should be subject matter experts in VA policies, procedures, and methods of operation, and should change from time to time.  I have met many people from the VA who not only possess the passion, but are endowed with the knowledge of how to help the VA, and I would see the VA succeed.  Yet, I am concerned that the VA is not changing, not growing, and not developing the processes and procedures needed to survive, and this is damaging the VA, which leads to wasted money and dead veterans.

Why not have a flying squad for each VISN, who can meet to benchmark, compare notes, and best practices.  Who work from home and visit the local offices in the VISN, reporting directly to your office with a copy to the VISN leadership.  Whose job is to build the Tiger teams needed to oversee, provide expert support, and practical analysis.  The idea is to help you gather real time data, improve implementation of VA-OIG recommendations, and meet the demands of Congress.  If a Tiger Team, with the functioning Flying Squad, can save one VA-OIG inspection in each VISN, by improving that VISN, medical center, CLC, etc. before it becomes a major problem on the sSix O’clock News, then the Tiger Teams have paid for themselves.

All veterans know of the Phoenix VA Medical Center debacle, where veterans died while waiting for appointments.  I fully believe that had the VA Secretary had a Tiger Team in place, the root causes of that incident would have triggered the necessary flags to save lives and avoid or mitigate the catastrophe.  Flying squads are the Tiger Team in action, and action should be the keyword for every member of the team.  The mission of the Tiger Team should be to find and fix root causes, repair trust, and implement change needed to improve VA operations at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the Veterans Health Administration (VHA), and the National Cemeteries.

The VBA is especially vulnerable, and in need of outside resources to support change.  Recently the VBA was involved in another scandal involving improper processing of claims for veterans in hospital over 21-days, resulting in millions of dollars either overpaid or underpaid to the veterans.  Training, managerial oversight, and proper performance of tasks was reportedly the excuse the VBA used, again, to shirk responsibility.  Tiger Teams can provide the support needed to monitor for, and encourage the adoption of, rectifying measures and VA-OIG recommendations, not just at the VBA, but across the full VA spectrum of operations.

Please, consider implementing Tiger Teams, from your office, assigned to a specific VISN, possessing the authority delegated to run the needed analysis, build support in local offices, and iron out the inefficiencies that keep killing veterans, wasting money, and creating problems.  I firmly believe the VA can be saved and improved, built to become more flexible, while at the same time delivering on the 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.”

I-CareThank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

Dave Salisbury
Veteran/Organizational Psychologist

© Copyright 2020 – M. Dave Salisbury

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