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Veterans Administration Tag

Is there a worse government entity than the Veterans Administration? Maybe, but it's virtually inconceivable how the VA consistently manages to outdo it's record of fail with even more fail. In seven states, supervisor fudged wait times to make it appear as though wait time requirements were being met. They were not.

Embroiled in scandal and mounting allegations of inefficacy, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doled out more than $142 million in bonuses. While VA executives and employees are rewarded for their performance, wait time for veterans needing medical attention has increased more than 50%. The issuance of bonuses is what helped shove the VA scandal into the spotlight. Veteran wait times were fudged by VA employees who were required to meet certain metrics to be bonus-eligible. And yet, the VA did it again. USA Today reported the generous bonus story earlier today:
WASHINGTON – The Department of Veterans Affairs doled out more than $142 million in bonuses to executives and employees for performance in 2014 even as scandals over veterans' health care and other issues racked the agency. Among the recipients were claims processors in a Philadelphia benefits office that investigators dubbed the worst in the country last year. They received $300 to $900 each. Managers in Tomah, Wis., got $1,000 to $4,000, even though they oversaw the over-prescription of opiates to veterans – one of whom died.

Last week on MSNBC's Rachel Maddow show, Hillary Clinton downplayed recent scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs which resulted in the deaths of vets who were waiting for care. Since then, a growing chorus is calling for Clinton to apologize. CNN reports:
Veterans' groups fire back at Clinton's VA comments Some veterans groups are firing back after a comment Hillary Clinton made about the Department of Veterans Affairs scandal. The former secretary of state suggested in an interview late last week that the controversy which shook the VA last year was overblown, and Republicans used it to serve their own agenda. "It's not been as widespread as it has been made out to be," Clinton said Friday on MSNBC's "The Rachel Maddow Show" when asked about the scandal and how she would fix the VA. Yet the federal government's own report contradicts Clinton's remarks.

The Obama administration spent billions to fix the Veterans Administration hospital system so that our nation's former military service personnel could actually receive the good quality healthcare they were promised---and it appears as though the Los Angeles unit used that money to buy shredders.
The embattled Veterans Administration may have another scandal on its hands, after investigators found at least eight benefits claims for veterans at the Los Angeles VA that were shredded instead of being properly processed, according to the Washington Times. The VA’s Office of the Inspector General conducted the internal investigation after receiving an anonymous tip that the staff at the Los Angeles regional office was shredding compensation claims. The 15-page report details what type of documents were allegedly shredded and how the office didn’t have a Records Management Officer, the position created in the wake of similar practices in 2008, for more than a year.
Perhaps the veterans can take some consolation in that fact that the failure of our state's healthcare exchange, Covered California, has left citizens relying on our version of Obamacare unable to access medical care.

It's another failure of the "Have a problem? Throw money at it!" strategy democrats know and love so well---but this time, it's happening at the expense of veterans. It's been nearly a year since Eric Shinseki resigned his role as VA Secretary, and yet things are no better for veterans than they were before the embattled bureaucrat finally relented to demands from Congress that he step down. Of course, lack of leadership wasn't (and isn't) the agency's only problem; reports last year unveiled not just one or two corrupt officials, but an entire network of people willing to sweep problems under the rug. House Speaker John Boehner made a speech today shedding light on the continuing problems at the VA, and calling the Obama Administration on the carpet for allowing disgraced VA officials to be rewarded for their failure.
The number of patients facing long waits is about the same, Boehner said, while the number of patients waiting more than 90 days has nearly doubled. The VA's problems are so deep it can't even build a hospital, Boehner said, referring to a half-finished project in Denver that is $1 billion over budget.

Yesterday afternoon, a man walked into the El Paso VA Health Care System clinic and shot a doctor before turning the gun on himself. Via Fox 14 El Paso:
At a press conference Tuesday evening, Maj. Gen. Stephen Twitty confirmed the shooter was killed along with one victim. Fort Bliss did not confirm the identity of the victim. As previously reported, El Paso police were assisting Fort Bliss with reports of an active shooter at the VA clinic adjacent to William Beaumont Army Medical Center. The incident was reported at 3:10 p.m., Twitty said. Fort Bliss Military Police, the El Paso Police Department and federal law enforcement officers immediately responded as the VA carried out its response plan.
One blogger with the Dana Loesch Radio Show caught the anti-gun left trying to make the most of things:
Much like the scene of the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, both WBAMC and the adjacent VA clinic are gun free zones. But that didn't stop the anti-gun crowd from diving in immediately to capitalize on the tragedy: Screen Shot 2015-01-07 at 2.36.06 AM

The Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee is scheduled to hold a confirmation hearing next Tuesday for Obama’s nomination for Veterans’ Affairs Secretary. From Politico:
The Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs will hold a nomination hearing next week for Robert McDonald, the White House’s choice to lead the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.,) the committee chairman, said his panel will hold a confirmation hearing on July 22 for McDonald. “At a time when we have unacceptably long waiting times for VA health care and when some 500,000 veterans have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder or traumatic brain injury, it is absolutely imperative that the VA move to provide quality care in a timely manner to all of our veterans,” Sanders said.
McDonald was identified late last month as Obama’s pick to run the troubled agency. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. in the top two percent of his class and served in the Army for five years, according to the Washington Post. McDonald was also a former CEO for Procter and Gamble, where he faced some challenges of his own. But many seem to be hoping that McDonald’s combination of military service and corporate experience will be the right mix to help fix some of the issues facing the VA. And those issues are plenty, as recent audits have revealed the secretive waiting lists in VA facilities that were intended to conceal actual waiting times, and reports have detailed the numerous veterans waiting months for their first appointments or not getting appointments at all.

Testimony from the VA Office of Inspector General released ahead of a House committee hearing on Monday indicates that the agency is still facing challenges in reducing a backlog of disability claims. From The Hill:
Despite claims by the Veterans Affairs Department that it has made significant progress in reducing its enormous disability claims backlog, the agency’s internal watchdog says the handling of such requests remains troubled. The VA Office of Inspector General found that thousands of cases were subtracted from the VA case log even though people were still working on them, according to testimony that will be provided to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee at a hearing on Monday night. Investigators also discovered that the VA did not follow up with veterans who were granted temporary 100 percent disability payments. The VA was supposed to follow up to see if their health had improved. Because it didn’t, the VA has overpaid veterans about $85 million since 2012, and could potentially over-pay another $370 million in the next five years. The agency’s Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA), the office responsible for providing various kinds of monetary compensation to those who served in uniform, “continues to face challenges to ensure veterans receive timely and accurately [sic] benefits and services,” Linda Halliday, an assistant inspector general at the department, will say in testimony to the panel.
This comes of course as the VA is already under fire after a recent audit revealed long wait times for many veterans’ first appointments with a VA facility, while even more veterans who enrolled never received appointments at all. And a previous review found that the practice of secret waiting lists to hide actual wait times was a problem that was systemic across the VA network of facilities.

At a House hearing last night, several Veterans Administration whistleblowers revealed the disfunctionality of the agency, and the retaliation they suffered when they raised concerns. MSNBC reports:
Transfers, harassment, altered personnel records, mysterious breaks between paychecks. Those are just some of the forms of retaliation described by four whistleblowers from four different regional VA systems, who testified Tuesday night before the House Veterans Affairs Committee.... Dr. Katherine Mitchell, who served as the Medical Director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Post-Deployment Center in the Phoenix VA Health Care System, testified on Tuesday that as head of the emergency department, she saw many serious errors due to understaffing, but that her concerns went unaddressed. ”It is a bitter irony to me that I as a physician could not guarantee [patients’] safety in the middle of cosmopolitan Phoenix,” she said. Mitchell said she was placed on involuntary administrative leave and investigated for including some patient information in confidential Inspector General complaints. Another witness, Dr. Christian Head who worked at the Los Angeles VA, spoke of attending a holiday party after testifying in a fraud case and seeing a Powerpoint slide mocking him, a photo of him giving the camera a middle finger with a VA IG phone number included. “I was labeled a rat,” he said, nearly choking up. Scott Davis, a worker at the Atlanta Health Eligibility Center, which processes applications to join the VA health system, also described facing harassment after contacting Deputy White House Chief of Staff Rob Nabors, who completed a comprehensive review of VA policies in June. Davis insisted that there be greater accountability for managers who have the power to punish employees who report possible wrongdoing.
AP further reports on the growing number of whistleblower complaints:

*Graphic courtesy of the Media Research Center
This past April, a whistleblower at the VA Medical Center in Phoenix revealed to the world that agency officials were falsifying their wait lists in exchange for bigger bonuses and the appearance of efficiency. The scandal gave birth to a flurry of media activity, and journalists, politicians, and the public joined together in their demand for answers--how could this have happened to the people who risk everything to protect us? That outcry was short lived. According to a report by the Media Research Center, the mainstream media has drastically cut back on how much screen time they're devoting to the ongoing crisis at the VA:
The coverage of this scandal, involving at least 40 veterans who died while awaiting care, has been problematic from the start. The story broke on April 23, but the networks didn't get around to it until 13 days later, May 6. But the 180 minutes of coverage in May faded substantially in June.

Obama made a public appearance in Minnesota on Friday which Neil Munro of the Daily Caller has described as a pity party:
President Barack Obama’s June 27 effort to boost the flagging morale of his supporters quickly devolved into a demoralizing pity party. Republicans “don’t do anything except block me and call me names,” he told supporters, only a few days after it was revealed that his economy shrank 2.9 percent in the first three months of 2014. “If we make some basic changes, we can create more jobs and lift more incomes and strengthen the middle class… I know it drives you nuts that Washington isn’t doing it,” he said. “It drives me nuts.”
The president also went back to dismissing the many scandals engulfing his presidency as phony. Susan Jones of CNS News:
President Obama warned people in Minnesota Friday not to believe what they hear on television: "They're fabricated issues, they're phony scandals that are generated. It's all geared towards the next election or ginning up a base. It's not on the level," the president insisted.
Here's the video: CNS News provided the full transcript of Obama's remarks:

A report from an independent federal agency on Monday sharply criticized the Department of Veterans Affairs for failing to adequately respond to information from whistleblowers to “address systemic concerns that impact patient care” at VA facilities. The report from the U.S. Office of Special Counsel blasted the VA for downplaying the severity of various identified problems at some of its facilities. It also outlined a number of examples of what it called “part of a troubling pattern of deficient patient care at VA facilities nationwide.” From CNN:
Two veterans in a Veterans Affairs psychiatric facility languished for years without proper treatment, according to a scathing letter and report sent Monday to the White House by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, or OSC. In one case, a veteran with a service-connected psychiatric condition was in the facility for eight years before he received a comprehensive psychiatric evaluation; in another case, a veteran only had one psychiatric note in his medical chart in seven years as an inpatient at the Brockton, Massachusetts, facility. Examples such as those are the core of the report released Monday by the OSC, an independent government agency that protects whistleblowers.
The OSC letter/report references issues at a number of VA facilities, including several previously reported problems at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Jackson, Mississippi that were noted in a September 17, 2013 letter. The OSC concluded in that earlier letter that “[T]he Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has consistently failed to take responsibility for identified problems. Even in cases of substantiated misconduct, including acknowledged violations of state and federal law, the VA routinely suggests that the problems do not affect patient care.” The report also goes on to note that OSC currently has over 50 pending cases of whistleblower disclosures from VA employees that “allege threats to patient health or safety,” 29 of which have been referred to the VA for investigation.

Lack of funding is not the problem at the Veterans Administration.  It's the government healthcare system, stupid. In a story published today, Dennis Wagner of Arizona Central reported new details about the Phoenix VA:
Phoenix VA officials knew of false data for 2 years Department of Veterans Affairs administrators knew two years ago that employees throughout the Southwest were manipulating data on doctor appointments and failed to stop the practice despite a national directive, according to records obtained by The Arizona Republic through a Freedom of Information Act request. A 2012 audit by the VA's Southwest Health Care Network found that facilities in Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas chronically violated department policy and created inaccurate data on patient wait times via a host of tactics. The practice allowed VA employees to reap bonus pay that was based in part on inaccurate data showing goals had been met to reduce delays in patient care, according to the VA Office of Inspector General. At the Phoenix medical center alone, reward checks totaled $10 million over the past three years.
Clearly, there are problems in the VA system which need to be addressed but is more spending the best solution? Congress seems to think so. Chris Edwards writes at the CATO Institute:

House lawmakers passed a bill Tuesday aimed at addressing some of the now high profile problems at Veterans Affairs facilities. From the Associated Press:
United and eager to respond to a national uproar, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation Tuesday to make it easier for patients enduring long waits for care at Veterans Affairs facilities to get VA-paid treatment from local doctors. The 421-0 vote was Congress' strongest response yet to the outcry over backlogs and falsified data at the beleaguered agency. Senate leaders plan debate soon on a similar, broader package that has also drawn bipartisan support, underscoring how politically toxic it could be for lawmakers to be seen as ignoring the problem. […] The House bill would let veterans facing long delays for appointments or living more than 40 miles from a VA facility to choose to get care from non-agency providers for the next two years. A relative few vets already have that option for outside care, and this would expand the offer. The bill also would ban bonuses for all VA employees through 2016 and require an independent audit of agency health care. An earlier House-passed bill would make it easier to fire top VA officials. [House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman] Miller said VA would save $400 million annually by eliminating bonuses, money the agency could use for expanded care at its centers.
The legislation comes after weeks of reports of various issues surrounding the Department of Veterans affairs. The latest details to emerge came from an audit released Monday which revealed, among other things, that 57,000 veterans have been waiting 90 days or longer for their first VA appointment, and another 64,000 never even got appointments. Some have urged for prosecution of some of the wrong-doing at the VA. At a House Veterans' Affairs Committee hearing Monday evening, this again became a topic of discussion. From the National Journal: