“That’s Crazy!!!” – More Chronicles from the VA Chapter 8

I-CareI fully admit I got behind in April.  Dear reader, my apology.  I have been whipsawed between emergency room visits, depression, extreme pain, and other issues.  Not offering an excuse but a tiny peek into my world as a disabled veteran.  Luckily, I have maintained employment because my employer allows me to work from home.  My driving privileges are threatened again with removal due to the neurological issues I suffer, and this will dynamically change my life, but this article is not about me, but the continued catastrophe called the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports published.

We begin with a financial efficiency review reported from the inspection of the Durham VAHCS of North Carolina.  I know the jokes write themselves when we discuss any government agency and financial efficiency, but I digress.  This is a head exploding report of leadership failure in the observation and governance of employees who did not perform the functions they were hired to perform.  The VA-OIG found the following from October 1, 2020, through March 31, 2021:

    • The healthcare system had 309 inactive obligations totaling $81.7 million.
    • Of these 309 obligations, 200 (totaling over $74 million) had no activity for 181 days or more.
    • In a subsample of 20 obligations, VA staff had not reviewed 17, as required.
    • Contrary to VA policy, healthcare system staff used purchase cards instead of contracts for 21 of 40 sampled transactions (53 percent), totaling approximately $328,000. These 21 transactions were missing required supporting documentation to verify that the transactions were approved and payments were accurate, resulting in $308,000 in questioned costs.
    • 105 more administrative full-time equivalent staff than the expected number, all not doing their jobs as required under Federal Law!

While not all of the findings, those mentioned are the most egregious and in need of corrective action.  Would the citizens of Durham, North Carolina, please tell me, has this been reported in the local news?  Has anyone lost their jobs as the VAHCS right-sizes the financial department?  I can find no additional information that this problem has been corrected, and I am really curious!VA 3

Oh, the irony is thick; consider the following:

The Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General Training Act of 2021 would help ensure that VA employees continue to be empowered to assist the OIG in improving VA’s operations and using taxpayer dollars to the greatest effect; helping protect patients and improving their care; and ensuring veterans and others receive services and benefits for which they are eligible.”

The above-quoted material originates from Chris Wilber, who testified to Congress’s HVAC Subcommittee on oversight and investigations.  What is the number one failure on every comprehensive healthcare inspection (CHIP); the lack of staff training, the inadequacy of staff training, or adequately trained staff.  Yet, the statement by the VA-OIG indicates that training has met a threshold for providing adequate training.  Let’s talk about a specific action, “the VA secretary signed a directive in September 2021 mandating that all employees complete a one-time training within one year—an important step in improving VA’s culture of accountability.”  It is now May 2022; the VA-OIG is pushing for training directives to be legislated, not dependent upon any single VA Secretary.  Are you freaking kidding me?  Where is the congressional oversight and scrutiny that allows VA training to continue to be subpar and threaten the lives of veterans?

Long have I wondered how the VA could frustrate VA-OIG actions, investigations, inspections, etc.  Guess what; the answer has become available:

“… there have been instances in which the OIG has been informed that staff have been told that they cannot share information with OIG investigators without first clearing it through supervisors or leaders—contrary to the Inspector General Act of 1978 (the IG Act), as amended.  Under that authority, VA employees at all levels have a duty to cooperate with OIG personnel, including providing information and assistance in a timely manner.”

Employees have been caught lying to the VA-OIG regularly, and what action is taken to remove those employees promptly and efficiently from government service?  From direct observation and employee conversations, it is clear that plans are carefully laid before a scheduled VA-OIG visit to present what the VA-OIG wants, but to gloss over the problems, and nothing ever happened to the managers, supervisors, and employees who lied and misdirected the VA-OIG.  All contrary to established Federal Law!VA 3

Want a specific example of employees intentionally misrepresenting information to the VA-OIG?  Look no further than the statement by Chris Wilber, and this incident was covered as a failure of leadership in a previous article.

Hospital staff at a VA facility in Fayetteville, Arkansas, had concerns about potential substance abuse by the chief of pathology that were not heard and promptly acted on by local management, which allowed him to work while impaired for years.  He misdiagnosed about 3,000 patients with errors resulting in death or serious harm and is currently imprisoned.  The OIG found a culture in which staff did not report serious concerns about the chief pathologist, in part because they assumed that others had reported him, or they were concerned about reprisal.”

From personal experience, I reported problems to the VA-OIG concerning patient abuse, fraud, waste, and other issues.  Never were my concerns acted upon promptly, and I was removed from employment for being a whistleblower.  The culture of corruption at the VA is incredible.  The examples mentioned by the VA-OIG only further sustain the problem with leadership and how sick the VA truly is as an organization!VA 3

We next turn our attention to the VA-OIG report on the inspection of information technology security at the VA Financial Services Center, another head exploding example of leadership failure bordering on criminal!  The findings include:

    • component inventory
    • vulnerability management
    • flaw remediation
    • Identifying 252 vulnerabilities, of which 228 the local IT team could not identify.
    • the VA-OIG team identified access control deficiencies, as 107 of the 278 FSC systems failed to generate or forward audit logs for analysis.
    • the video surveillance system was not fully functional. Ineffective monitoring and recording facility activities supporting information systems minimize the FSC’s incident response capabilities.

How do you spell failure; these findings spell failure to me rather pointedly and dramatically!  Want to laugh; staff training remains a concern, but not a finding, of the VA-OIG inspection team.  Frankly, with this level of incompetence, staff training should have been a finding.VA 3

To be concise and illustrate further the poor leadership, convoluted processes, and brazen noncompliance of VA officials, the following discussion is about two different VA-OIG reports that reached similar conclusions.  First, we have the VA-OIG report on “Noncompliant and Deficient Processes and Oversight of State Licensing Board and National Practitioner Data Bank Reporting Policies by VA Medical Facilities.”  Second is the VA-OIG report on “Concerns with Consistency and Transparency in the Calculation and Disclosure of Patient Wait Time Data.”  Nothing says convoluted processes more than having two written policies, both originating from Washington DC.  The superseded policy does not have an expiration date.  This means that employees have a designed incompetence excuse ready for not adhering to the most current and applicable policy.  Don’t believe me; one of the key findings was, “VHA has presented wait times to the public without clearly and consistently disclosing the basis for their calculations.”  Designed incompetence does not come more blatant than this, and who suffers, the veteran.  Worse, wait time correction and policy clarification has been stalled by COVID-19, the neverending excuse paying dividends to bureaucrats everywhere!Timelines for Wait Time Calculations

However, both reports are substantially summated by the VA-OIG; thus, “The lack of programmatic oversight contributed to the failure of VHA leaders to detect and intervene upon facility noncompliance.”  Meaning that due to COVID-19, the VHA has refused to do their jobs in deference to the pandemic, and since this is a good enough excuse, the VA-OIG has bought the designed incompetence, lock, stock, and barrel.  The VHA leadership is failing; doctors or dentists let go for poor performance were not reported to state and federal boards, so these providers lacking can continue to harm patients.  It is a federal law (42 US Code § 11151, US Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Health Workforce, NPDB Guidebook, October 2018, chap. A., 8 USC ⸹ 7462(a), 38 USC ⸹ 7401(1), among others) that providers let go for cause must be reported within 7-days to the regulatory boards at the state and federal levels.  Wait times are hidden because they are so bad; the VHA is embarrassed, so the leaders fall back on designed incompetence to shield themselves while looking for another excuse for poor performance!  In both reports, the ramifications of noncompliance are putting people at risk for sentinel events (death, injury, disability, etc.), and the leadership is at best lackadaisical in the performance of their duties.  VA 3

Where are the congressional overseers in ending the abuse?  When will this insanity and bureaucratic inertia end?  How many “sentinel events,” including deaths and permanent injuries, will it take until those tasked with scrutinizing the executive branch finally take committed action and hold people accountable?  When will the elected representatives stop throwing good taxpayer money at problems that money cannot fix?  If these questions are too difficult to answer, please stop running for elected office, for the citizenry is not happy!

We conclude with two related reports so astoundingly obtuse they defy logic and sanity.  The first is the annual CliftonLarsonAllen LLP (CLA) audit of the VA’s information security for 2021.  The second is the continuing failure of the new electronic health record modernization (EHRM) program.  The VA has failed the CLA audit for more than a decade, with many of the hits repeated year-over-year.  In fact, the CLA audit is so bad this year; it has taken my mental breath away and stunned me into a gibbering idiot!  Reading this report was infuriating; describing it as my head exploding is akin to comparing an M-80 to a nuclear bomb.  How in Dante’s Inferno can this level of incompetence be allowed to remain employed?  But, as bad as the CLA audit is, the continued failure of the new electronic health record system pales in comparison.  The new EHRM continues to suffer from reliability weaknesses, which is polite speak from the VA-OIG for the new system fails to do the job.  We are three years from the new extended deadline, we are already past the original deadline, and the system is worthless today than it was a year ago.  With this success rate, the new EHRM will be utterly bereft of value and need replacement before the year’s end.  How many millions (billions, or trillions) of good dollars must chase this ineptitude before the plug is pulled and those involved held accountable?VA 3

Join me in having your head explode:

Additional deficiencies included known tasks not being reflected on schedules, no risk analysis, lack of longer-term actions scheduled, and no complete baseline schedule or overall schedule that fully integrated individual project schedules. VA also did not comply with federal regulations when it paid its contractor for deliverables before accepting them (reviewing compliance with contract requirements).”

Consider this other gem from the VA-OIG report, “$1.95 billion in cost overruns per year” are estimated, meaning the final tab will be significantly higher and compounded year-over-year.  In plain speak, the contractor is being paid for products delivered that fail, the products offered are not usable, there is no schedule of completion, there is no schedule for deliverables, many of the products paid for have never been delivered, and costs are overrunning like a plugged toilet. Worse, no one is being held personally liable for these problems, which were apparent in the last EHRM update from the VA-OIG a year ago!  Like the CLA Audit, I am thrilled the VA agrees with the VA-OIG findings, but what are they DOING to fix the problems?

FYI: the image below is a year old, and comes from the last major update to the EHRM.EHR-VA-OIG

?u=https1.bp.blogspot.com-aqaqk18MHoEWRHHsCi_TyIAAAAAAAAAXc7hY4JQuyylIQHYudoR8sbezGZntic4SSwCLcBs640Betrayal2BSayings2Band2BQuotes2Bwww.mostphrases.blogspot.be.jpg&f=1&nofb=1There is no excuse for behaving like the VA’s bureaucratic legions behave.  Bureaucrats, from the city government (including the school board) to the Federal Government, you hold a sacred trust to act better than you are currently performing.  I refuse you any leeway for acting like pompous overlords when you are paid through forced taxation!  You have trespassed upon my patience and kindness long enough, and the day of reckoning has arrived.  You work for me; you work for every taxpayer and citizen in this country, and you have violated our trust, charged us too much and too often, and if you do not begin to show yourself worthy of the sacred trust, we will force you from your cushy jobs and hold you liable for the monies you have squandered!  The law is on our side; you need to begin showing you honor our trust and investment forthwith!

© Copyright 2022 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plus the following:

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

Don’t forget this one:

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

More is coming on this one:

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

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

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

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

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

VA-OIG finding:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Copyright 2022 – M. Dave Salisbury
The author holds no claims for the art used herein, the pictures were obtained in the public domain, and the intellectual property belongs to those who created the images.  Quoted materials remain the property of the original author.

Ineffective Governance – Chronicling the VA

I-CareIn a scheme fit to fully infuriate patients and pad wallets, the VA providers prescribe medications; generally, the medication provided is a cheap knock-off, a generic mixture, or drugs with rebate incentives where the hospital providers are “encouraged” to use one drug more than another and the “higher cost” is rebated back the hospital in a profit-sharing scheme.  All these schemes and more play out at your local hospital and VA facilities, so please do not think this is industry-specific to the government.  However, as proved by the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) – Office of Inspector General (VA-OIG) reports, t improper controls and governance wastes the rebates, harms patients, and still cannot get the programs correct.

Angry Wet ChickenI have three prescriptions hindered by the pharmacy practices of the VA, where the knock-off drug is useless, the mixture of the medication does not do as well as the original medicines prescribed, and where the cost of an ingredient has changed one medication to another and made the prescription less effective to the point where more medication is required for less overall effectiveness.  If the patient has to take more medication, does that mean that the cost savings never happened or that the cost savings were pushed down to the customer?  Does the patient even have a voice in the pharmaceutical decisions?  Why?

We begin the VA-OIG reports with a New Jersey man, who from 2017 thru 2020 stole more than $8.2 million in HIV medication from the VA.  Where were the supervisors when procurement officers for the VA over-ordered medication, stole the excess, sold the stolen goods, and pocketed the profits?  Where were the oversight accountants?  Where were the hospital directors?  People had to know, yet somehow the scheme could exist and thrive; this is as much a failure of leadership as it is ineffective governance, poor inventory control, and useless organizational controls.  Truly a pathetic example of VA leadership!VA 3

On the topic of ineffective governance of pharmaceutical contracts, and diversions of drugs, the VA-OIG report the following:

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) spent about $6.6 billion on prescription drugs in fiscal year (FY) 2019. Most were dispensed to veterans by medical facility pharmacies. VHA pharmacies can return drugs that become damaged or expire before use through a reverse distributor for credit or destruction. In FY 2019, VHA expected to receive about $52 million from drug returns.  The VA-OIG found VHA pharmacy chiefs did not effectively implement the program and did not follow requirements in VA’s contract with the reverse distributor, Pharma Logistics. These issues increased the risk of drug diversion and ultimately put about $18.1 million at risk. Pharmacy chiefs did not always secure, and track drugs held for return or complete required analyses to maximize returns. They also failed to meet contract requirements to return for credit-only drugs due to expire within 120 days. VA’s National Contract Service and network contracting officers needed to do more to ensure contract terms were met. The Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Policy and Services and the Office of the Deputy Under Secretary for Health for Operations and Management did not effectively govern the program or communicate requirements to medical facilities” [emphasis mine].

VA 3Someone help me out, for I cannot understand how incompetence can be designed into these systems, policies, procedures, and responsible parties retain their positions of power.  What happened in 2018, 2017, 2016, and earlier?  We have a single fiscal year (FY) snapshot at a program that is an absolute failure.  By any measurable standard, that should have ignited a full audit of previous years until finding a successful year when the program worked.  Will there be a follow-up to this investigation to see if the VA-OIG’s recommendations are followed and implemented?  The VA-OIG has the leadership caught dead to rights on ineffective governance of a program worth $6.6 Billion to the American Taxpayer, and no accountability or responsibility of personnel is to be found anywhere.  Why?

Plato 2In a separate investigation, the VA-OIG found:

In October 2020, VA ended its contract with Pharma Logistics.  The vendor continues to process and issue final invoices to facilities as the returned drugs become eligible for and receive manufacturer credit. The final invoice process will continue until at least April 2022.  VHA medical facility pharmacies lost at least an estimated $2.1 million worth of drug return credits because pharmacy chiefs did not always effectively monitor or review job settlement statements before Pharma Logistics issued final invoices.  In addition, although the vendor established a dashboard that provided information on the status of drug return credits at the facility level, it cannot provide a national report on all outstanding credits.  This hurt VHA’s ability to maximize potential drug return credits and minimize the risk of lost credits.  VHA will continue to be unable to ensure it is receiving all credits for drugs returned by medical facilities if pharmacy chiefs do not routinely monitor preliminary invoices, reconcile job settlement statements to identify outstanding credits, and request extensions to final invoices to allow additional time for credit processing. This risk will persist for any future drug return contract(s)—whether awarded nationally or locally—if the reimbursement structure remains the same” [emphasis mine].VA 3

Did you catch that; the vendor created software to help track medications, making it easier to return medicines, and the VA pharmacy chiefs could not follow the dashboard and increased the risk of losing money for the VHA.  You were hired to perform a job; a collateral duty of your job is inventory management, tools are provided and supported to aid you in making decisions, and you refuse to use these tools.  How is this the vendor’s fault?  Why do you still retain your position?  Ineffective governance is barely the tip of the VA’s problematic iceberg created the good ship America has hit!

Liars, Thieves, and Fraud Artists Beware

GavelA Norwood, Massachusetts woman has been indicted, remains presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, by a jury of her peers, for stealing social security and workman’s compensation benefits.  The Norwood woman’s actions are continuing to support the claim that complexity breeds criminal abuse.  Unfortunately, also proving that the government is not doing their jobs in checking tax records before providing benefits.

A man from Georgia has pled guilty to running a Ponzi scheme and defraud the American government during the COVID pandemic.  Frankly, I am thrilled to see another fraudster being stopped before his crimes become astronomical in scale.  I remain convinced that the government procurement system is wide open to abuse, and the complexity of the procurement system is too costly, cumbersome, and risk inviting.  The criminals see too much opportunity in the government procurement system, and the complexity breeds the ability to lie, steal, cheat the American taxpayer.

QuestionThe following remains a case where there are too many lawyers and not enough truth to ascertain what in the world is going on.  If you have further insight, please weigh in.  “Sunrhys LLC, a landlord and property management company, headquartered in Tacoma, Washington, agreed to pay $16,618 to resolve allegations that it violated the False Claims Act by overcharging a tenant and by fraudulently obtaining federal funds from a federal program designed to provide housing to homeless Veterans. The United States alleged that Sunrhys violated the agreement and the HUD-VA Support Housing program requirements by fraudulently overcharging a veteran for monthly rent between July 2019 and April 2020.”

Highlights, Audits, and Inspections

July 2021 – Highlights:

Each month, the Office of Inspector General (OIG) publishes highlights of our investigative work, congressional testimony, and oversight reports. Each month’s highlights are meant to provide a brief overview of the most significant OIG work conducted in that period.”

blue-money-burningThe VA-OIG conducted a financial efficiency review of the Miami VAHCS.  From the findings, the VHA, VBA, National Cemeteries, specifically, and the VA generally, could learn much about fiscal responsibility.  But this was already well documented!  The VA has never successfully passed an audit with transparency, accountability, and responsibility; why am I the only person demanding to know why?  Want to laugh; the VA-OIG recommends “more scrutiny” for financial transactions to the VA as a recommendation.  Like the current system for scrutiny is working, and just a bit more effort will help.  Go ahead and read the report for more specifics; my stomach cannot handle writing about the gross inefficiencies, the actual harm, and out-of-control governance failures.  Fiscal insanity is one thing; what is occurring at the Miami VAHCS is beyond insane and bordering on the unbelievable!  Almost the beginning of the Twilight Zone.

Survived the VAThe Sheridan VAMC in Wyoming continues to be performing well and deserves hearty congratulations for the results of their latest comprehensive healthcare inspection.  I prefer to issue congratulations than butt-kickings, and the congratulations are well deserved.  Keep up the good work moving forward.

© 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.

Gasoline Taxes – The Epitome of Forced Taxation and Government’s Broken Promises

Exclamation MarkI do not care that Alaska has not increased its gasoline taxes in 50-years.  Frankly, the fact that the Federal Government has gone 27.4 years without increasing the Federal Fuel Taxes is not a problem.  Nor that the Federal Government has to either get the current taxes renewed, or the Federal Gas Tax goes to $0.042 a gallon is not a tragedy, but a good thing.  Gas taxes are not the problem; the problem is that the fuel taxes, excise taxes, surcharges, and fees built into a gallon of gas that equals more than $1.00 per gallon, are never prioritized to the infrastructure projects the tax was collected initially to pay for!

IronyI find the following ironic; the Federal Gasoline Excise Tax is actually two taxes combined.  $0.01 per gallon is paid as the Leaking Underground Storage Tank (LUST) fee.  Why is this ironic; because the government LUSTs after all types of money to misappropriate.  Before creating acronyms, one would think that the government would consider how much of a joke those acronyms will make.  One of the seven deadly sins that are constantly causing scandals for politicians, LUST!  Yes, I find this tax acronym very ironic and applicable to the discussion on why the roads and other infrastructure is rated as a C- and falling.  I find LUST very appropriate to the discussion on the misappropriation of funds and how the government wants to increase taxes to pay for something already well funded but where the money is consistently diverted.

QuestionPlease note that each state will have additional taxes, fees, surcharges, and tax projects built into the cost of a gallon of gas or diesel, aviation, or propane.  Fuel taxes are a tax scheme that seems to always pay for anything but roads, bridges, and infrastructure.  Some basic facts regarding gas taxes:

      1. The average state gas tax is $0.3006 per gallon of gas.
      2. The Federal Government gets $0.184 per gallon of gas.
      3. States have added other fees to a gallon of gas, including:
          • Environmental
          • Underground storage (payable even if the tanks are above ground)
          • Inspection fees
          • Certification and other weights and measurement fees
      4. If your state taxes Ethanol, your gas taxes include the Ethanol tax, as well as a fuel tax.
      5. All fuels are hit with taxes, and some of those taxes are disproportionately assigned to heavier vehicles. For example, diesel has a different formula for taxes due to the trucking industry using roads and bridges more; at least, this is the excuse used to tax diesel differently.

Gas Tax Revenue – Poor Roads and Infrastructure

Since I was a kid in Maine, who closely observed the gas tax debate, I have wondered the same question.  “Why are the roads so poor if the government is collecting all these taxes on gasoline?”  Now, keep in mind the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. “Taxes are the price of civilization.”  Meaning that to “enjoy” the pleasure of a free society, the government will levy taxes.  But, the money collected does not have to go for what the tax was intended to pay.  Hence the broken promises of gasoline taxes.

Plato 2Fuel taxes are used for a myriad of uses, and the priority is all confused about how to spend fuel taxes:

        1. Schools
        2. Pay down the National Debt
        3. Mass Transit
        4. Cleaning up underground fuel leaks
        5. Law Enforcement
        6. Environmental Protection
        7. Pension Shortfalls
        8. State Debts
        9. Federal Highway Trust Fund Deficits of all types
        10. Enforcement Costs, including weights and measurement certification
        11. Roads
        12. Bridges

Now, do not forget the other obstacle in fixing roads and bridges, the labor costs, especially if the workers are unionized.  The government bidding processes for projects, especially in all forms of construction, are obscenely complicated, which increases costs long before a shovel hits the dirt.  If unions are involved, the time for the project and expenses will, at a minimum, double before the project completes, creating deficit spending.  I am not cynical here; I have witnessed this occur too often not to admit the truth.

Working DollarChris LeDoux sings a song, “Working Man’s Dollar,” which tells the story and details the difference between a working man’s dollar and the dollar in other places.  The fuel tax was first adopted in Oregon, and the proceeds were earmarked only for fixing, maintaining, and building roads, bridges, and other travel infrastructures, like tunnels.  Except, the money never is prioritized to the failing roads, bridges, and infrastructure costs.  The working man’s dollar, collected through forced taxation, is not respected by the government authorized through the ballot box to allocate spending.

I was in Maricopa County when a stadium was pitched to the residents to be located in Scottsdale.  A gas tax hike was proposed as part of an overall tax plan to pay for the stadium.  I asked, “If the stadium was worth the investment, why not just sell bonds?”  I never got an answer.  Not every citizen was interested in the stadium, not all citizens were going to benefit from the stadium, but every citizen was being asked to help pay for a stadium.  The stadium in that election failed, but the ideas did not die; a new location was proposed, and the voters there accepted the stadium’s tax hikes.  Want a surprising non-surprise, the stadium is built, but the taxes have never gone away, including property, sales, and fuel taxes!  Where is that money going?

Bait & SwitchNow, the Federal Government has a bunch of fuel taxes and surcharges (taxes called a fee) about to expire.  The question every voter in America needs to ask themselves is this, “Did the government properly use the funds dedicated to infrastructure?”  If so, then the fuel taxes should continue at the Federal level.  If not, then the fuel taxes should cease, for the government refuses to spend money according to the purpose it was collected.  Every single state in the union should be asking the same question and answering accordingly.

I lived in Albuquerque, NM., for several years.  To get potholes fixed, you had to ruin your car in an accident involving the street, then sue the city, county, state, whatever for the insurance costs.  Only then was that particular patch of road deemed important enough to repair.  There are bone-jarring, teeth-rattling, car-destroying potholes all over Albuquerque.  These never get fixed because the city has been too busy dumping tax money into a rapid transit project that is barely used, overly expensive, and desperately not desired by the taxpaying citizens.  They had “ART” (Albuquerque Rapid Transit) crammed down their throats by a judge.  ART has been a disgrace from Day 1.  Yet, money keeps pouring into ART instead of the many roads, bridges, overpasses, and other infrastructure that desperately needs repair.  A friend of mine hit a pothole, doing 35mph, dented his rim almost 2”, ruined his front alignment, and cost him a considerable sum.  That pothole is still there, still causing dents, still eating tires, and the city cannot fix it, the state will not fix it, the county was supposed to fix it, the Indian reservation owns it, and the federal government makes the pothole worse every day by traffic of federal employees going to work.

Tax BurdenHence the reason why fuel taxes are considered a tax scheme!  If you pass the buck enough, nothing gets done, and the money collected can be used in other projects while responsibility is determined.  Except, there is no money to fix the problem when the responsibility is determined, and the wheel just keeps spinning around.  Are you sick and tired of the games politicians play, yet?  Now, imagine your electric bill going up to pay for the fuel taxes not paid for by electric car owners, and tell me about proper government action and accountability.  My friend could not sue because responsibility cannot be determined; his insurance would not pay for the damages because the road damaged his vehicle; guess who was out almost $10,000.

Tax Scheme 2Some states are changing how the gasoline and other fuel taxes, including electricity due to the rise in electric vehicles on the road, are being priced and collected.  However, the problem is not the tax; it’s the fact that the tax never pays for what it was intended to when collected.  Some states got an increase in fuel taxes through their state legislatures this year.  Other states and the Federal Government are taking fuel taxes up in the coming months or the next legislating session.  But, not a single politician, anywhere in America, has stepped up to state the obvious, the current taxes collected are sufficient to pay for roads and bridges; we have to allocate more of the current money collected to roads and bridges.

Broken Promises – Broken Roads and Bridges

Question 3Is the problem apparent?  How many of your state taxes, lotteries, and other fees are supposed to pay for education?  Yet, education always seems never to have enough money.  How many taxes and fees go into the Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Transportation, all of which are supposed to pay for infrastructure, e.g., roads, tunnels, bridges, overpasses, highways, etc.?  How much is the pension crisis costing your state, driving taxes and fees upwards, but the money never is delivered to pay down and lessen the pension crisis?

I repeat, only for emphasis, “America does NOT have a cash collection problem; it has a spending problem.”  At all levels of government, the elected officials are acting worse than drunken sailors on a seven-day binge, and this behavior needs to cease!  We cannot spend our way out of the hole dug through deficit spending!  The answer is not allowing the government to steal more money from our pockets, but to demand the money taken is used for the purposes intended!

Tax SchemeWe must tie political decisions to misappropriate funds to the legislators and executives making the decisions.  Thus, holding accountable the people who are being poor managers of the people’s money.  More importantly, when re-election decisions are made, the media, the influencers, and the political parties need to report this information.  Being able to hide funding shenanigans and criminal activities should never occur; businesses cannot do this, the government should not be able to do this.  Audits, investigations, and transparency are critical to putting the right people out of office and into prison, and keeping the honest and faithful stewards in office and working.

Knowledge Check!The size of government must shrink to an affordable level, from the city to the Federal; every government body in America, including those non-Government agencies acting like government agencies (USPS), need to be forced onto a diet of less money!  There is no excuse for the government to be the size it has become.  There is no excuse why we, the owners of the government, cannot demand government shrink, become efficient, and keep the promises made regarding money collected, used appropriately, and ended at the time promised.

Angry Wet ChickenAs sure as carts to horses and ducks to water, a Federal tax, fee, or surcharge, will be found shortly on your electric bill to cover the costs of electric vehicles on the roads.  When the Federal government does this, the state, county, and city will jump in with both feet, claiming “fairness” and “equality” so everyone is “paying their fair share” of the costs for infrastructure.  It doesn’t matter that you do not own an electric vehicle; the government will help you finance one through increased taxes and misappropriated fees collected.  Just like the “Obama Phone” scheme being abused by many people and paid for by a small minority.  Broken promises indeed!

© 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.