Veterans Affairs and Death by Bureaucracy

600x3968There may finally be a scandal engulfing the Obama administration that even Democrats and their media collaborators can’t obfuscate. What happened at the VA facility in Phoenix, AZ, where employees created two sets of waiting lists to make it seem patients were being treated in a timely manner—and as many as 40 veterans allegedly died while languishing on the secret list—is an anomaly. Six more whistleblowers from around the nation have stepped forward, alleging the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities they worked at also “cooked the books.”

The despicable subterfuge, allegedly occurring in at least seven VA Medical Centers in Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Texas, North Carolina and Illinois is as simple as it was heartless. The official waiting list is the one that ostensibly met the VA’s policy, implemented by Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in 2010. It set a 14-day time limit to provide care for a veteran making an initial application for an appointment. Yet by the agency’s own admission, only 41 percent of new VA medical patients were seen within that period in 2013, down from 90 percent in 2012.

Hence, the secret lists, which contained the names of veterans waiting to get on the official list. In Phoenix, as many as 1,400 to 1,600 veterans were forced to wait for months before they could see a doctor. “The scheme was deliberately put in place to avoid the VA’s own internal rules,” said Dr. Sam Foote, a 24-year Phoenix VA physician who blew the whistle on the scam in that facility. He and other sources further noted that VA officials instructed the staff to avoid using the computer system to make appointments. When a veteran requested an appointment, staff were instructed to do a screen capture, print out the info, and dump the computer file “so there’s no record that you were ever here,” Foote explained.

A second VA in Fort Collins, CO also falsified their lists, according to findings by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector. But there, where as many as 6,300 veterans waited months to be seen, if clerical staff allowed records to reveal veterans waited longer than 14 days for an appointment, they were placed on a “bad boy list” as punishment.

Sadly, none of this is new. During last Thursday’s Senate Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) quoted from a previously undisclosed nine page memo written in 2010. In it, a VA administrator described the various ways healthcare officials “gamed the system” to hide delays in medical treatment. And according to an Army Timeseditorial, a December 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) revealed that “four VA medical centers nationwide hid wait times, fudged data and backdated appointments for the purpose of fabricating compliance with department timeliness goals.” The paper further notes in the 18 months since that report was released, the VA “is still widely failing in its charge to provide timely medical care for the nation’s veterans as demand for those services grow.” 

The AT editorial also called on Shinseki to “step down,” noting that despite his selfless service to the nation, his “behind-the-scenes” leadership style makes him the wrong person to engineer the “comprehensive, system-wide rebuild” the VA desperately needs. 

Last Thursday, in his own testimony before the Committee, Shinseki buttressed the paper’s contention, characterizing the current state of VA healthcare as “a good system,” and denying the link between long waits and the deaths of veterans. “It’s one thing to be on a waiting list, and it’s another thing to conclude that as a result of being on the waiting list, that’s the cause death,” he contended.

Perhaps so, but mathematical probability suggests otherwise. Over 300,000 claims to the VA have been pending for 125 days or longer, meeting the VA’s official definition of “backlogged.” Nonetheless, the VA, and the White House as well, are apparently staying with the “no causal connection” motif for now. Thus, Shinseki’s assistant, Dr. John Daigh, echoed his boss’s contention, insisting the “conclusion between patient harm and death has so far been a tenuous connection.” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney was equally skeptical regarding the Phoenix scandal. “You’re saying there’s a suggestion that something terrible happened in Phoenix, and that’s under investigation; all we know is it’s a suggestion,” he said during a Friday press briefing. “We should just accept allegations as true without investigating them?”

Yet even as Carney was speaking, it was announced that Under Secretary for Health in the Department of Veterans Affairs Dr. Robert Petzel had tendered his resignation. Some in the media tried to portray that resignation as a “political casualty,” but a 2013 press release on the VA’s website revealed Petzel was due to retire this year, “as planned.” 

That’s probably a good thing. Like Shinseki, he also refused to commit to firing anyone responsible for maintaining the secret waiting lists, telling Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) at Thursday’s hearing that he didn’t know “whether that’s the appropriate level of punishment or not.” 

His and Shinseki’s contentions were seemingly at odd with those of Richard Griffin, the department’s acting inspector general. He admitted that a review of the VA’s seeming indifference towards veterans could lead to criminal charges. “My staff is working diligently to determine what happened in Phoenix and who should be held accountable,” Griffin said, adding that the investigation is expected to be completed sometime in August.

Veterans groups have no interest in waiting to see what unfolds. On Thursday, the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) and the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) took matters into their own hands. They launched VAOversight.org, a website aimed at giving VA officials and veterans the opportunity to expose any other scandalous behavior occurring in the system. “It takes a lot of courage to step forward and put one’s career at risk,” said POGO’s executive director Danielle Brain in a statement. “Whistleblowers shouldn’t have to go it alone. We can help whistleblowers hold the VA accountable, and keep the focus on solutions rather than attempts to hunt down those who voiced concerns.”  

The site contains detailed training regarding how to get around the Obama administration’s intense anti-leak efforts. POGO communications director Joe Newman explained the necessity for such training. “What we’ve seen with the Obama administration is the lengths they will go to try to keep things in house,” he said.

Newman continued. “The thing that makes the Obama administration really stand out is the use of the Espionage Act. They’ve invoked it seven times [against leakers] and that’s more than every other administration combined when it comes to going after people who have leaked to the media,” he explained.

In fairness to the VA, the problems it is dealing with are monumental in scope. It has 152 hospitals and 817 outpatient clinics attempting to service an unprecedented amount of claims resulting from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the Obama administration’s 2010 expansion of eligibility criteria for veterans of all wars. A record-setting 1 million new claims were filed in Obama’s first year in office, a number that climbed to 1.3 million in 2011, before falling to 1.04 million claims received last year. The more than 970,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have filed disability claims have taken the total number of veterans enrolled in the VA system to 8.57 million, and the number of outpatient visits at its facilities has increased from 46.5 million in 2002 to 83.6 million in 2012.

On the other hand, budget outlays appear to have kept pace with the surge, rising from $73.1 billion in 2006 to $153.8 billion this year.

“I am amazed this is still happening, given the big increase in resources that the department has received,” said Phillip Carter, a former army officer who researches veterans’ issues at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

What hasn’t kept pace is the bureaucracy itself, especially with regard to technology. Until last year, it had no way to process claims digitally. And as U.S. News and World Report revealed, the same kind of sclerotic bureaucracy that has dogged ObamaCare was in play here as well. “Since 2008, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs have spent over $1 billion to create an integrated electronic health record. Four years and $1 billion later, not a single line of code has been implemented,” the magazine revealed.

Moreover, the coding system they do have for processing claims is unnecessarily complex. Ronald Abrams, joint executive director for the National Veterans Legal Services Program gave lawmakers a hint how complicated last year. “The regulation dealing with [traumatic brain injury] is so complicated that some people call it the ‘Da Vinci Code,’” he said. More workers were hired to address the issue, but training them takes two years—due to the complexity of the process.

And then, there are the bonuses. In this case, there’s a strong possibility that bonuses based on performance created a perverse incentive to lie. Germaine Clarno, employed as a VA social worker and employee representative in Chicago, alleges there are multiple secret waiting lists at the Hines VA Medical Center used by officials there “to make numbers look better for their own recognition and for bonuses.” In Phoenix, $843,000 in bonuses was awarded to approximately half the system’s 3,170 workers from 2011 to 2013, despite the aforementioned deaths of veterans unable to get treatment in a timely manner. 

If two Democratic senators are any indication, that party is fully intending to distance itself from any obfuscation by the VA or the Obama administration. At Thursday’s hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), said there was “solid evidence of wrongdoing within the VA system,” and Patty Murray (D-WA) told Shinseki that “the standard practice at the VA seems to be to hide the truth.”

Republicans are even blunter. Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX) has filed a resolution urging President Obama to fire Shinseki, due to his “poor oversight” and “an unwillingness or inability to change the culture of falsifying documents at the Department of Veterans Affairs.” 

What the president plans to do is unknown at this point, but if Attorney General Eric Holder is any indication, the administration seemingly believes it can weather yet another burgeoning scandal. Last Tuesday, Holder announced he has no plans to investigate the allegations against the VA. “Well, obviously these reports if they’re true are unacceptable, and the allegations are being taken very seriously by the administration. But I don’t have any announcements at this time with regard to anything that the Justice Department is doing,” Holder told reporters at a press conference.

In the meantime, two more whistleblowers came forward on Friday. “What really bothered me was that this delay was a direct result of this extremely low sense of caring for the patient,” said Dr. Jose Mathews, chief psychiatrist for the VA Medical Center in St. Louis starting in Nov 2012. He alleged that doctors treating veterans with post-traumatic stress disorders and other acute mental health issues were only working a few hours a day, even as the facility was reporting that its productivity was the highest in the nation. “They all got bonuses — that’s the sad part. Because in reality we were not really doing a good job, but it shows up on paper as if we are,” Mathews told Fox News. 

Dr. Richard Krugman accused the VA facility he oversaw in southeast Texas of cutting costs—by delaying life-saving colonoscopies. 

Both men were fired from their jobs. I was treated like an animal. I was treated like a leper. I was treated like, how dare you attack me, or how dare you say what you’re saying,” said Krugman. The Office of Special Counsel found none of Krugman’s claims to be substantiated, but noted that they were forced to rely on an internal investigation—conducted by the VA itself.

In the end, one reality cannot be denied: while the political machinations, the hearings, the media stories and the investigations play themselves out, men and women who served this nation—and in many cases paid an extremely heavy price for that highly honorable commitment—are getting the short end of the stick. The very least this nation owes our veterans is timely healthcare, not a litany of excuses and stonewalling from a dysfunctional and very likely corrupt bureaucracy. One like every other government bureaucracy, where self-preservation matters above all else. 

If there is little else Americans learn form this scandal, it should be noted that this is the true face of government-run healthcare, in all its “individual be damned” glory. If the government can treat 8.57 million veterans this shabbily, imagine how they will treat Americans forced to enroll in ObamaCare.

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  • http://vato21stcentury.blogspot.com/ Jim S.

    Veterans’ Administration ‘scandal’??

    ‘Veterans Administration ‘scandal’ Is The Country, Representatives of, Served’, Always Has Been!!!

    Damage Left by Bush Administration: ‘Incoming Obama administration was warned of VA waitlists in 2008′

    “May 19, 2014 | President Barack Obama has not addressed the widening VA scandal, despite allegations that more than 100 veterans have died waiting for treatment. CBS News obtained a memo that indicates the president’s advisers were warned about the problem in 2008, months before Obama took office.”

    Just much more of what the Bushco and controlled Conservative Congresses left and dumped into the New Administration and Country to clean up, obstructing all since, country has yet to Sacrifice nor demanded to!!

    Where were those American (conservative) Legion and Conservatives (long seeking to privatize for corporate profit) calls to fire Principi, 2001–2005, Nicholson, 2005–2007, James Peake, 2007– change of Executive Administrations, who did absolutely nothing as two more wars/occupations raged, oh wait they were being highly praised (even by rolling thunder) because they were theirs!! The problems weren’t even being reported and insider VA whistle blowers were no where to be found, there were many reports of lost records in lost or stolen computers though!! Out of all the extremely dedicated workers, and volunteers, find those bringing the politics into their government jobs, especially the VA where individual politics have no place, only takes a very few with agenda’s and not caring who’s hurt!

    This Obama Administration, the whole cabinet, are the only Government Branch doing for Veterans, consistently since coming in, Federal and States!! Brother McCain, giving his conservative speak 17 May 2014 Saturday, you and especially your party, along with most of the country, have done zip, especially under the bush! Nor have any yet paid for these wars nor the results from!!

    “Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

    WHY? GOOD QUESTION THOSE SERVED SHOULD ANSWER, added to the past decades and wars of the ignoring of many issues along with the denying they exist! Think PTS, Agent Orange and Desert Storms Gulf War Syndrom, to name but only a very few, most now being addressed under This VA and Executive branch even though grossly, decades and wars from, under funded!!

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71 – Independent**

    • vnamvet1969

      Now then, if the Bush Administration warned the Obama Administration about it, why did the Obama Administration not act. This is not about Bush, it is about Obama and he should have addressed the problem. Are you people not confident that Obama is a better president? If he is, then he should have taken care of this years ago. You guys apparently don’t believe that Obama is capable of fixing what you say that Bush broke.

  • solly

    “is an anomaly”

    i think you mean:

    “isn’t an anomaly.” or probably more grammatically correct:

    “wasn’t an anomaly.”

    big difference in meaning between ‘is’ and ‘isn’t’ in the second sentence of this article.

  • Cappy1437

    Another General drank the Obama kool-aid and became a puppet. Shame and dishonor he has brought to his military title and career.

  • http://vato21stcentury.blogspot.com/ Jim S.

    Veterans’ Administration ‘scandal’??

    ‘Veterans Administration ‘scandal’ Is The Country, Representatives of, Served’, Always Has Been!!!

    Damage Left by Bush Administration: ‘Incoming Obama administration was warned of VA waitlists in 2008′

    “May 19, 2014 | President Barack Obama has not addressed the widening VA scandal, despite allegations that more than 100 veterans have died waiting for treatment. CBS News obtained a memo that indicates the president’s advisers were warned about the problem in 2008, months before Obama took office.”

    Just much more of what the Bushco and controlled Conservative Congresses left and dumped into the New Administration and Country to clean up, obstructing all since, country has yet to Sacrifice nor demanded to!!

    Where were those American (conservative) Legion and Conservatives (long seeking to privatize for corporate profit) calls to fire Principi, 2001–2005, Nicholson, 2005–2007, James Peake, 2007– change of Executive Administrations, who did absolutely nothing as two more wars/occupations raged, oh wait they were being highly praised (even by rolling {conservative leaders of} thunder), for doing nothing, because they were theirs!! The problems weren’t even being reported and insider VA whistle blowers were no where to be found, there were many reports of lost records in lost or stolen computers though!! Out of all the extremely dedicated workers, and volunteers, find those bringing the politics into their government jobs, especially the VA where individual politics have no place, only takes a very few with agenda’s and not caring who’s hurt!

    This Obama Administration, the whole cabinet, are the only Government Branch doing for Veterans, consistently since coming in, Federal and States!! Brother McCain, giving his conservative speak 17 May 2014 Saturday, you and especially your party, along with most of the country, have done zip, especially under the bush! Nor have any yet paid for these wars nor the results from!!

    “Why in 2009 were we still using paper?” VA Assistant Secretary Tommy Sowers “When we came in, there was no plan to change that; we’ve been operating on a six month wait for over a decade.” 27 March 2013

    WHY? GOOD QUESTION THOSE SERVED SHOULD ANSWER, added to the past decades and wars of the ignoring of many issues along with the denying they exist! Think PTS, Agent Orange and Desert Storms Gulf War Syndrom, to name but only a very few, most now being addressed under This VA and Executive branch even though grossly, decades and wars from, under funded!!

    USN All Shore ’67-’71 GMG3 Vietnam In Country ’70-’71 – Independent**

    • http://vato21stcentury.blogspot.com/ Jim S.

      Congress does the ‘will of the people’, and the people like ‘free wars’, so patriotic, and to ignore the results from, unless it’s so patriotic to slam, conservative ideology, the VA their responsibility, use Military and us Veterans for their ‘patriotic’ meme’s, like they care!!!

      “Lets not treat these Vets like Vietnam Vets”

      That’s what the whole country served said about us Vietnam Veterans and the now OEF and OIF Veterans right from the beginning!!

      Then they quickly cheered on abandoning the missions and those sent to accomplish after 9/11! They started slapping on magnetic ‘support the troops’ symbols all over which quickly just plain disappeared! Then the talk was about everyone, elected officials especially, should be wearing lapel flag pins, I don’t even pay attention whether they do or don’t knowing they’re not ‘supporting’ anyone who Actually Sacrifices, and that includes public servants of all stripes! They loves waving them ‘patriotic’ flags and think they’re more ‘patriotic’ then many others! Then they want Parades and complain because we have yet had a Ticker Tape NYC parade, even though the abandoned 9/11 missions is still ongoing but finally winding down! They loves passing around the cute video’s of returning soldiers surprising their kids and families! And on and on and on!

      But None Of That Is Sacrificing as in Paying For Wars and Especially the Decades To Follow Results From!!!

      DeJa-Vu all over again!!!!

  • Capt Bob

    While you are trying to fix the VA how about getting the Homeless Vet’s off the streets

    There are 62,619 Homeless American Veterans on the streets on any night in the United States of America according to HUD. We need to get the free loaders in Washington to get off their Ass’s and go out and look for them. Check the ally ways and vacant buildings. Maybe in junk cars or under bridges. Look for fires where they are trying to get warm.

    It takes a Veteran over a year to process a Disability claim at the VA. I know this for a fact because I have a claim into the VA and that is what they told me. This might be why some are Homeless. It took two years for a friend of mine to get his Disability claim processed. Sometimes it takes a couple of years or
    more.

    The Founding Fathers would be ashamed of all of us if they knew that 62,619 Homeless Veterans were cold and hungry on the streets of the United States. See the research I have done below. You can find all kinds of organizations, including the Veterans Administration, that have committees and programs watching over Homeless Veterans, however we still have 62,619 Homeless Veterans and some families cold on the streets of the US WHY Obama
    said that he will have all the Homeless Vets off the streets by 2015. He can’t
    even fix a computer bug so how can he fix the Homeless Vets.

    Last month I had the honor to escort the remains of a Homeless Veteran from downtown Atlanta, Ga. to his final resting place. Between the VA and a local funeral home the expenses were covered. I belong to a group that is called Patriot Guard Riders. Much similar to the American Legion Riders. (Look them up on the Internet and find out how they formed you will be shocked. There was a church protesting at military funerals.) The PRG use their own time and money to form processions to escort military members to their final resting place. For the Atlanta Homeless Veteran we had almost 80 motorcycles in the procession. We escorted the Homeless Veteran to the Georgia National Cemetery in Canton, GA While there, a cemetery person told me that they buried a 3 Star General the week before and he didn’t have half the people we had for the Homeless Veteran. People do care especially other vets. You don’t have to be a vet to be a member just have Veterans in your Heart.

    Sense then I have done a lot of research and found that the American Legion and other Military Service Organizations have committees addressing this problem however we still have, according to HUD No. 12-191, on a single night 62,619 Homeless Veterans and many of their families cold on the street in the United States. 2,000 in New York City alone. 1,500 In Atlanta. In the HUD report it stated that we had a seven percent drop in the Homeless Vet’s in 2012. The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, stated: “While this is encouraging news, we have more work to do and will not be satisfied until NO Veteran, has to sleep on the street.” I wonder how many of the 7% reduction died of old age or starvation. One just died in his NYC Cell that was 100 degrees. He got arrested for trying to get warm

    HUD said the US Government gave 75 million to the Homeless Project for 2013. What happen to the money. The Government gives 50 BILLION to
    other countries each year., The top 10 Countries are: Tanzania, Ethiopia,
    Nigeria, Kenya, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Israel. And
    some don’t even like us.

    I feel the main reason we have Homeless Veterans is nobody goes out to find them .

    What happened to: “WE TAKE CARE OF
    OUR OWN!” and “We Stand up for those that Stood up for
    US.”

  • Lanna

    If Obama and Shinseki are mad as hell about the mistreatment and lack of services provided to our heroes who served their country, they have a funny way of showing it…You don’t allow the abuse to go on for years after you know its happening…

    • truebearing

      I would like to see the entire list of those put on waiting lists to see if there is any discernable racial patterns. Obama has dumped on veterans, conservatives, Christians, business owners, and they are all predominantly white. He sent the IRS after the Tea Party, again, mostly white. He has DHS demonizing returning vets or anyone who believes we need to rein in spending. Mostly white. It wouldn’t surprise me in the least to see a pattern of white soldiers getting denied more often.

  • David

    http://www.thenation.com/blog/179937/how-medias-va-scandal-coverage-making-same-old-mistakes
    Arnold Ahlert, Is this a partisan brawl or can anyone join in?

  • catherineinpvb

    /“It’s one thing to be on a waiting list, and it’s another thing to conclude that as a result of being on the waiting list, that’s the cause death,” he contended./
    ************

    There were ‘faked’ lists; and double-lists; and lists, now destroyed so as to protect the guilty. The Whistle blowers’ are being fired. . .and threatened; and not by – or because ‘of’ – ‘bureaucracy’. This crime; has more than a few ‘faces on it’ – as opposed to the exclusive scapegoating per the faceless – and mindless – that which, the guilty are hiding behind; and with a great deal of help.

    (Where there is a ‘pattern’; there is a ‘plan’. And there is the willful ‘condoning’ of such). All to say, this crime against our Veterans needs immediate investigation; before all the evidence destroyed and the Commander-in-Chief; once again. . .has only to wipe the smile of his face.

    As to Obama’s excuse that ‘wars; put hospitals on ‘overload’ – perhaps to a point – but not a killing point.Not a ‘deliberate torture’ point. . .

    We have already heard how many of these Doctors, would see only ‘one patient’ a day; or just a few in a weeks time. So why the wait. . .to actually ‘cull’ the patients; or allow more time for Golf/extra-curricular activities on ‘salaried time’, for those ‘Directing these MO’s’. . .or both?

    [“Right now,” the doctor said, “there is an eight-month waiting list for ... per day, so on average there are only 36 veterans seen per week.] link:

    VA Scandal Just Got Much Worse – Yahoo News
    news.yahoo.com/v-scandal-just-got-much-worse-0320008…

  • skf1999
    • Drakken

      You and many of your leftist ilk are a prime example of why peoples patience is wearing thin. You and the left are why maybe Heinlein’s theory of only Veterans should be citizens time has come, because it is obvious that you are to effing ignorant to be trusted with citizenship

      • skf1999

        Your patience is wearing thin, huh? Why aren’t you voting out the righties who opposed VA funding?

        • Drakken

          Hey dumbazz, I am a goddamn Veteran and your hero Obummer has made it ten times worse than what the repugs have ever done, but ignorance and blind stupidity for libtards is your mantra and policy. Keep up the great work, your doing a bang up job of sending this country down like the Titanic.

          • skf1999

            How did Obama make it worse? Please explain in detail.

          • Drakken

            If I have to spell it out for you, your too ignorant and too obtuse to explain it.

          • truebearing

            The list is too long. This is a comment section, not an encyclopedia. What say we just list the things he’s done to improve anything, including the VA horror show? Here is that list:

        • American Patriot

          This is ridiculous. The radical left has never expressed any kind of respect for our brave veterans, uptownsteve. Conservatives respect our veterans and all of their hard work to this country. What work have you contribute to this country? Anyway, quit posting lies.

  • umustkidding

    I think Mark Stein was correct. This scandal – which is absolutely inexcusable and horrifing – is getting the press because it does not lead to Obama. Not like Benghazi, Obama care and the IRS scandals.

    It reminds me that all things work to the good of those that love Him.

    I hope and pray for our vetrans. They deserve nothing but the best care.

    My humble thanks to all of you.

    • skf1999

      Benghazi and the IRS are scandals that exist only in the minds of resentful, vindictive righties. Affordable Healthcare is a success. Scream on, nobody is listening.

      • Drakken

        Yeah, the VA is a prime example of how great that Government Health care and what a Great success it is, your a effing dumbazz!

      • umustkidding

        Apparently even ostriches are listening.

  • http://blaze.com/ mathchopper

    In light of WHO were the victims, is it time for some firing squads?

  • Danny

    Let’s see if this teflon regime can get past this one.

  • Ralph

    Anything you expect from this Muslim Communist President will be nothing but LIES…