Friday, April 28, 2017

Draining the VA Swamp

Draining the VA Swamp
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President Trump signed a new EO [Executive Order] entitled 
"Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection"
at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

This EO addresses a portion of the myriad of bureaucratic issues, and particularly the widespread and embedded corruption documented and reported on for the past eight years, and historically, with no action taken by Congress to reform these problems.

The EO addresses endemic problems in the 150+ VA hospitals throughout the country, many of which have been cited for corruption, incompetent or belligerent staffs, and generally, a failure to provide treatment and support for Veterans.  It also addresses the unwieldy and seemingly ineffective VA bureaucracy which routinely delays and denies legitimate claims because the claims reps simply don't feel like doing their job.  It appears it is much more fun for bureaucrats denying these claims and frustrating Veterans than actually doing their job

VA Waiting List Scandal

One of the biggest opponents of reform in this process has been Senator McCain, but we'll address that issue in a separate blog post as his position on Congressional Committees impacts the Active Military, and importantly, his blocking of data on countless US POWs reportedly alive and officially abandoned in Vietnam.

This EO, to be employed and enforced by the VA Secretary, Dr David Shulkin, will consist of three primary issues:

1)  Creates an office at VA dedicated to "accountability and whistleblower protection", reporting directly to the Director to identify barriers that are "... preventing us from removing employees and people we have identified that should no longer be working at VA".

-- In effect, it's a "You're Fired policy" which would reverse the embedded hatred policy evident in a number of VA regional offices, and at the VA Hospital in Washington, DC where we have witnessed outright hostility by administrative personnel driving Veterans into a rage to force them out of the system -- based on the Veteran's "instability".

    a)  It will also terminate the endless bureaucratic delays by which the VA administrators have created countless barriers to a Veteran claiming benefits.  A personal example involves the VA's demand that we show "documentation of 'BOOTS ON THE GROUND" to claim benefits for Agent Orange, in spite of a four year tour "on the ground" which included a variety of combat medals as well as Vietnam Service medals, and deployment medals.

    b)  Since our Officer Efficiency Reports did not specifically state that we engaged in classified Special Operations in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, VA administrators initially denied benefits.  We requested they obtain our records, and they then sent us a five page document  with the entire content, including VA document number and date redacted.

    c)  Eventually, we overcame much of this bureaucracy, but noted that fellow Veterans without our persistence were left high and dry.  In this process, we spoke with a VA shrink who described a homeless Vet who was denied treatment judged to be crazy because he claimed to have operated in Cambodia; we provided the shrink with a full description of the individual and the classified operation that he worked under -- and he now receives benefits.

    d)  Basically unresolved is the issue of how to guarantee benefits for all combat Vets who operated in covert or classified status since their records do not specifically state [for a reason] where they were operating or when [e.g., Laos, Cambodia, various places in the Middle East and Africa, and on special assignment to deal with Special Weaponry].

22 Suicides per day
   e)  Also yet to be addressed is the massive death toll among Veterans committing suicide, an issue essentially dismissed by the VA, which should be held accountable.

   f)  A footnote, as yet unreported in any detail is the issue of the overworked, understaffed psychiatric doctors and specialists who suffer from overwhelming depression when they are unable to
address the needs of their suicidal patients.
The issue here is that there is a large number of these psychiatrists who themselves commit
suicide when beaten down by an uncaring VA bureaucracy.

  g)  A final issue to examine is what appears to be a VA DEATH PANEL, in which treatment  Veterans is denied or not recommended based on age or severity of illness/injury.  These decisions are made via private contractor consultants who are hired by VA to "... establish claims eligibility"; the "physician" conducting these evaluations are often foreign and have no concept whatever of the Veteran's ailments, and their contract is for simply filling out a VA form.  Among these contractors are Quest and LHI, with which we have had personal experience in this process.

2)    Effective 28 April 2017, the VA will partner with the Department of Health and Human Services to supplement VA medical personnel with medical professionals drawn from the Public Health Service.

3)  An initiative to detect and prevent fraud, waste, and abuse in the VA Department.  

Demoted, but not fired
This initiative follows an 18 month Comey-led FBI investigation which produced no progress in the face of blatant fraud in the VA.

It will be employed and enforced by professionals brought in from both the Private Sector and other components of the government to examine -- with a fine-tooth comb -- major construction contracts, pharmaceutical contracts, track records of questionable health care providers, and administrative delivery of benefits to Veterans.

These professionals will examine the fraudulent contracts which enriched regional directors and hospital administrators, leaving operational equipment and facilities severely lacking.
Some examples found by the new Inspector General so far:

   a)  VA Medical Center in Washington, DC put the 98,000 Veterans it serves at risk stemming from the use of Dirty Equipment, lack of necessary medical supplies, and the possible use of recalled equipment.

   b)  Since 2014, the DC VA had 194 Patient Safety Reports regarding "the unavailability of equipment or supplies."

   c) In June, 2016, surgical staff used expired equipment during a procedure because of "...the lack of an inventory management program".

   d) More than 27,000 items purchased by the facility -- at a cost of more than $150 million -- were unaccounted for as of March, 2017.

e)  The Carl T Hyden VA Medical Center in Phoenix reportedly allowed patients to die while awaiting appointments, while bureaucrats falsified "wait-time" data to collect performance bonuses.  The director of that Center was Sharon Helman, who admitted taking at least $50,000 in contractors' gifts [aka: bribes], was tried, convicted, and placed on two years probation.

Helman accepted these "gifts" from Dennis Lewis, a former VA executive who retired and became a lobbyist, securing millions of dollars in VA contracts from Helman.  Although charged with falsified appointment data, whistleblower retaliation, and falsified conflict-of-interest statements, the Merit System judge dismissed the criminal charges, leaving the US District Judge, Steven Logan, only able to convict/sentence her on the administrative charge.

   f)  In a variety of cases, to include Wisconsin and Texas, administrator violations and corruption have been tied to the deaths of a number of Veterans.

4)  The long range target of this EO is the capacity to hold the three million VA employees and administrators accountable for criminal actions, to include corruption, fraud, negligence, and incompetence -- and to perhaps reform the Civil Service system which provides shelter for these criminals.

We encourage President Trump to fully implement his EO and to pursue all his options.  We quote Jarrett Stepman's American Legislative Exchange Council policy paper.

"By stripping the bureaucratic class of their special protections that few 
other americans enjoy through comprehensive Civil Service reform, 
Trump can fulfill his Inaugural promise, and ensure that when 
the People speak, Washington has to listen!"