Video: The new ‘Veteran’s Choice’ program is a joke . . .




January 14, 2015


Don’t Tread On Me:

You’ve heard about the problems with the VA – secret wait lists, low-quality care, veterans dead because they couldn’t get treatment . . .

Uncle Sam decided to make a very public attempt at trying to improve.  The idea was to send out “Veteran’s Choice” cards to veterans who either have to wait over 30 days for appointments, or live over 40 miles from the nearest treatment facility.  I live over 40 miles from the nearest clinic, and have had to wait up to 6 MONTHS for an appointment, so I thought it was a slam-dunk for me.

Well, over the year-end holiday, I got the card in the mail.  It isn’t valid unless you call a special 1-800 number to activate it.  I called yesterday, and was told that they can’t activate my card because they don’t have me on an approved list from the VA.  The 1-800 number doesn’t go to a VA office, it goes to some outside agency who is only running the phone bank for the VA – for profit, of course.  They suggested I contact the benefits office at my local clinic, and ask them to submit my information.

Can you hear the merry-go-round?  The calliope music?  Let me put it another way.  Remember what I wrote in a previous blog about how the VA so promptly responds to requests for information from the Social Security offices?  That is actually another government agency – this isn’t.

I think this whole new program is just window dressing so Obama can say he did something about the VA mess, but nothing is actually improving at all.

By Vernon


Scathing report slams veterans’ care but says no definite link to deaths

imageedit_2_4345960397(CNN) — A lengthy report on wait times at VA health care facilities in Phoenix found that 28 veterans had “clinically significant delays” in care, and six of them died, but investigators couldn’t conclusively link their deaths to the delays.

The scathing report, released Tuesday by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Office of Inspector General, said the delays were because of scheduling issues.

There were also 17 patients — 14 of whom died — in the review who received poor care but not as a result of access or scheduling issues.

The majority of patient cases studied by investigators were on official or unofficial “secret” lists, according to the 133-page report, and experienced delays accessing primary care.

Investigators studied 3,409 cases, including those of the 40 patients who died while on the Electronic Waiting List between April 2013 and April 2014.

They outlined 45 separate cases in which veterans were negatively affected, including that of a man in his mid-60s who walked into the Phoenix VA with a massive lump on his chest. Despite tests being ordered, he was forced to wait nine weeks before he was given a biopsy and diagnosed with widely metastatic lung cancer. He later died.

Another patient visited the VA emergency room several times for different complaints, and each time his chart noted very high blood pressure and recommended immediate follow-up care. The man, who was in his late 70s, never received an appointment and died within weeks of complications from his condition.

“While the case reviews in this report document poor quality of care, we are unable to conclusively assert that the absence of the quality of timely quality care caused the death of these victims,” the executive summary of the report states.

VA response

Earlier Tuesday, the VA leaked Secretary Robert McDonald’s response to the report, highlighting the fact that there were no deaths directly linked to delays in care, but that statement lacked the context of the report’s negative findings.

Tuesday’s report includes 24 recommendations, including determining an appropriate response to veterans who’ve been injured and a complete overhaul of the way appointments are scheduled and tracked.

McDonald spoke at the American Legion’s National Convention in North Carolina later in the day, agreeing to all 24 recommendations.

He added that employees within the VA have been disciplined.

“Two members of the senior executive service have resigned or retired. Three members of the senior executive service have been placed on administrative leave, pending the results of investigations. Over two dozen health care professionals have been removed from their positions, and four more GS-15s or below have been placed on administrative leave,”

McDonald said, adding that the Office of Special Counsel is investigating 100 whistleblower allegations or retaliation complaints.

McDonald took over the Department of Veterans Affairs after former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned in May, following the release of the inspector general’s interim report.

CNN’s in-depth reporting

CNN has long reported about delays in getting care and scheduling problems at VA facilities nationwide. In November, a CNN investigation showed that veterans were dying because of long wait times and delays. In January, CNN reported that at least 19 veterans had died because of delays in simple medical screenings like endoscopies and colonoscopies, according to an internal document from the VA obtained exclusively by CNN.

In April, retired VA physician Dr. Sam Foote told CNN that the Phoenix Veterans Affairs Health Care system kept a secret list of patient appointments that was intended to hide the fact that patients were waiting months to be treated. At least 40 patients died while waiting for appointments, according to Foote, though it is not clear whether they were all on secret lists.

The Inspector General’s report says “we were able to identify 40 patients who died while on the EWL (Electronic Waiting List)” from April 2013 to April 2014.

It also confirmed that clerks were cooking the books to make the delays in wait times appear shorter. It said 69 members of staff admitted to hiding true wait times, “fixing” wait times and printing out requests for appointments and hiding them in desks instead of adding them to official wait lists.

Read more about what Foote said

In June, a VA scheduling clerk in Phoenix, Pauline DeWenter, told CNN that records of deceased veterans were changed or physically altered to hide how many people died while waiting for care at the Phoenix VA hospital.

Concerns about other facilities began emerging. Employees at VA centers in WyomingTexas and North Carolina alleged that there was a concerted effort to hide long wait times.

In May, the inspector general said it was going to investigate 26 VA facilities.

A June 9 internal audit of hundreds of Veterans Affairs facilities revealed that 63,869 veterans enrolled in the VA health care system in the past 10 years had yet to be seen for an appointment.

President signals changes

President Barack Obama pledged Tuesday at the American Legion conference in North Carolina to “get to the bottom of these problems.”

He called the issues “outrageous and inexcusable.”

The President announced measures designed to improve care for veterans including expanded research into brain injuries, suicide prevention programs and services to ease the transition into mental health services after leaving active duty.

Obama signs $16 billion VA overhaul into law

Veterans neglected for years, U.S. Office of Special Counsel report says

Learn more facts about the Department of Veterans Affairs

CNN’s Jim Acosta and Patricia DiCarlo contributed to this report.


By Lorra B. Chief Writer for Silent Soldier


The Feds Probe Allegations of VA Whistleblowers


(Photo: Nick Oza/The Republic

(Photo: Nick Oza/The Republic

There have been dozens of complaints of backlash against whistleblowers who have come forward concerning the conduct of VA hospitals. A federal regulator is investigating the allegations of reprisal at the Department of Veteran Affairs. These allegations come after a nationwide scandal stunned Americans in which 40 veterans allegedly died due to claims of secret waiting lists and backlog wait-time issues.

To date, there are 86 allegations of VA reprisal, though other reports suggest there are upwards of 1000 against whistleblowers in 19 states.

There are 37 out of the 86 staff members who are claiming “scheduling improprieties and other potential threats to patient safety,” that allege they have been retaliated against by the VA for exposing the abuse and other misconduct, according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel. This independent investigative organization is responsible for protecting all federal employees from any improper employment practices which include backlash against whistleblowers.

The VA has been under a tremendous amount of scrutiny of late for the delays in patient care but the Office of Special Counsel stated that not all 37 complaints are related to the VA scandal.

“We’ve definitely seen an uptick in whistleblowing complaints for scheduling and health and safety issues at the VA generally,” commented a representative of the Special Counsel. “They’re all related to patient safety, but not all have to do with appointment scheduling.”

As I previously reported, Sam Foote, a retired VA doctor, was instrumental in exposing secret logs of patient waiting lists that may have played a role in the deaths of many veterans at the VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. Foote worked for the VA for 24 years and retired, in large part, so that he could unveil the events being played out in the VA hospital system.

“When the Veterans Administration in Phoenix began to fall significantly behind on a policy stating that veterans should get the care they need within 30 days, workers devised a solution that involved entering information into a computer screen, printing the screen, and then not saving the record. This allowed them to hide the long wait times some veterans endured, sometimes longer than a year, from oversight. The nations veterans were denied healthcare they were promised, and the organization responsible for providing that care was hiding it’s failures with a scheme that apparently involved Arizona VA employees from front-line administrators all the way up to the top management. It turns out VA offices around the country were using similar tricks,” stated The Atlantic.

The Obama administration’s reaction and response to the scandal seems to have ruffled a few feathers. Many Americans believe Obama’s response should be swift and without hesitation, much the way his response to the disaster appeared to be. Though the two are drastically different, one being a technological malfunction and the other a human malfunction, speed is a necessity when lives are at stake.

“I feel very sorry for the people who work at the Phoenix VA, Foote stated. “They’re all frustrated. They’re all upset. They all wish they could leave ‘cause they know what they’re doing is wrong…But they have families, they have mortgages and if they speak out or say anything to anybody about it, they will be fired and they know that.”

The Atlantic reports, “Despite the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, the federal government during the Bush and Obama administrations has grown increasingly hostile to whistleblowers. Barack Obama campaigned on transparency and whistleblower protection; his transition agenda said, ‘”Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse is government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled.”’

Why then, President Obama, were only 62 out of 1000 whistleblower revelations of abuse, fraud, health and safety issues given back to the Office of Special Counsel for additional examination?

Regardless of the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989, whistleblowers are afraid of, and are, losing their jobs or facing retaliation in some form. But receiving blunt, straightforward information from staff members is absolutely crucial if problems are to be addressed and solutions found.

Head of the OSC, Carolyn Lerner, stated, “However, employees will not come forward if they fear retaliation.”

Employees at the bottom level will not feel led or comfortable exposing the truth until they are assured of zero reprisals and given pure amnesty. This assurance should be filtered down from the top to incorporate the over 5 million administrative personnel. If not, they may never feel secure in doing the right thing.

“From the prosecution of Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden to the woefully inadequate implementation of the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act, the Obama administration had helped to maintain an environment of fear among federal-government employees,” writes The Atlantic.

According to the OSC, a whistleblower was suspended for 7 days after telling the VA Inspector General of incidents of computer coding measures, and improper scheduling techniques. Not only was this employee reassigned to a different position, they also claimed their performance evaluation was lowered as well and that it was lowered immediately following the report given to the IG.

The OSC disallowed disciplinary actions, last month, against staff members while investigations are underway.

If reports of wrongdoing are being discouraged through fear, we may never know if or when the problems plaguing the VA hospitals are resolved and this simply won’t do.

“Unlike, there’s not a publicly visible website that anyone can try out. Whistleblowers are the only avenue for accountability.”

By Lorra B. Chief writer for Silent Soldier