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‘Breach of Trust’ to Veterans ‘Irresponsible, Indefensible, and Unacceptable’

Acting VA secretary tells Congress that more money is needed to fix the problems, though.

by
Bill Straub

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July 19, 2014 - 12:02 am
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WASHINGTON – The short-term leader of the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs offered an apology to former service members on Wednesday for the poor level of care many have received at the agency’s medical facilities.

Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson acknowledged to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the healthcare system has been plagued by “unacceptable, systemic problems and cultural issues” resulting in too-long waiting periods for some who take advantage of the facilities.

“That breach of trust — which involved inaccurate reporting of patient wait times for appointments – is irresponsible, indefensible, and unacceptable to the department,” Gibson said. “We apologize to our veterans, their families and loved ones, members of Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and to the American people.”

Gibson asserted that the VA “can and must” solve the myriad problems within the system “as we work to earn back the trust of veterans.”

The quality of medical service provided by the VA has come under heavy criticism in recent weeks in wake of an inspector general’s report that unearthed evidence showing that 40 patients died waiting for care at a Phoenix facility where employees kept a secret list of patients who faced prolonged delays in receiving necessary treatment. Investigators theorized those VA workers hid those wait times in hopes of enhancing the perception of the facility’s performance.

Similar problems were subsequently uncovered at other VA medical facilities that serve almost 9 million veterans. The revelations led to the resignation of VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and Gibson’s appointment as acting secretary. President Obama has nominated Robert McDonald, the former CEO at Procter and Gamble, to assume the role full time.

An audit released in June by the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that more than 57,000 veterans nationwide have been forced to wait 90 days or more for medical appointments at the agency’s facilities. About 64,000 more were included on the agency’s electronic waiting list for doctor appointments they requested. The VA’s stated goal is to arrange appointments within two weeks or less.

The audit scanned more than 730 VA hospitals and clinics and determined that supervisors were encouraging clerks to falsify records in 13 percent of cases.

The Veterans Health Administration operates the nation’s largest integrated healthcare delivery system, managing 150 medical centers, 820 community-based outpatient clinics, 300 Vet Centers, 135 community living centers, 104 domiciliary rehabilitation treatment programs and 70 mobile Vet Centers. The agency schedules about 236,000 healthcare appointments every day — approximately 85 per year.

More than 300,000 workers at various levels offer services to almost 6.5 million veterans and other beneficiaries annually.

Gibson told the panel the department needs about $17.6 billion in additional revenue to address requested medical services through the end of the 2017 fiscal year. The funding would go toward clinical staff, space, information technology and the processing of veterans’ benefits.

“We understand the seriousness of the problems we face,” Gibson said. “We own them. We are taking decisive action to begin to resolve them. We can turn these challenges into the greatest opportunity for improvement in the history of the department.”

Gibson said the department already has taken steps to address the system’s failures. Veterans Health Administration facilities are extending clinic hours, recruiting physicians to fill existing vacancies and dispatching mobile medical units. The department also is expanding its use of private-sector care, making more than 543,000 referrals — 91,000 more than in the comparable period a year ago.

The department, Gibson said, has contacted more than 160,000 veterans to get them off waiting lists and into clinics and is moving rapidly to update the existing scheduling program while simultaneously moving to purchase a state-of-the-art system. An audit of scheduling practices throughout the Veterans Health Administration has been ordered.

Medical center directors will be conducting monthly personal inspections of their facilities to assess the state of scheduling practices and identify obstacles to timely care. More than 1,100 inspections thus far have been conducted.

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All Comments   (20)
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I just recently stayed with a WWII vet while he prepared to meet his death. He was a 100% disabled from the USMC, but flew commercial planes for most of his life.

He had been under VA care for years and he loved the system, but the system was bad and it betrayed him. They treated him with pain medication instead of testing to find the real problem. Yes, the problem was cancer and it could have been treated, but that would have required conscientious doctors and real medicine.

In the end, I took him to a real hospital; after spending a fortune and putting him through Hell for a few days, it was determined that he had the cancer and there was no hope.

He spent his final days in a hospice with family by his side. It was a good death.

Since then, I have spoken to several doctors and they are disgusted with the incompetence and lack of work ethic at the VA. The problem is not just a few hospitals, it is endemic and a national disgrace.

Paying buffoons more money won't correct the system: the system needs to be dismantled and these brave warriors should be cared for in real hospitals by competent doctors.
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you, Skook.
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bill45 hits the nail on the head....I am a retiree so I have not faced the despicable treatment that many veterans have, but I remain in contact with several of my former soldiers, who were wounded in battle, and desperately need the medical and financial assistance of the VA. I have given from my own pocket many times to help "my boys" when I am able to do so. There are no "unacceptable systemic problems and cultural issues" at play here, as Sloan ridiculously attempts to deceive others into believing. The problem is very simple and easy to recognize: it's called CORRUPTION. The upper echelon managers are in line for CASH BONUSES if 'they' show a reduction in wait times for treatment and/or benefits allowances. Therefore, 'they' simply fudged the numbers to show an improvement in services to secure their precious CASH BONUSES while veterans CONTINUE doing without; they do without medical care, medication(s), and especially financial assistance to help compensate their inability to make a living in an increasingly competitive yet anemic jobs market. Veterans used to receive preference when applying for government jobs.....not anymore - only blacks, hispanics and assorted sexual perverts (gays, bi, lgbt, and mooslim clerics) receive consideration in hiring. The only way to fix this abomination is to fire immediately all VA 'managers' who received performance bonuses for screwing veterans last year and replace them with VETERANS in need of jobs who truly understand veteran's needs and issues. Did you know that the vast majority of "decision makers" regarding veteran's benefits claims ARE NOT EVEN VETERANS THEMSELVES? They are career civil service pukes protected by the govt employees union. Aaaaah, screw it anyway - it will disappear from the news and go back to business as usual before too long. Bryan Preston once said that (paraphrase) "No matter how bad you think the situation is (VA), it is much, much, much worse." Mr. Preston is absolutely correct. The saddest part of this sick scenario is that the politicians (republicans and neo-commies) both know they only have to pay lip service in an election year to assuage the public; they know that combat veterans are the most loyal, patriotic, America-loving group of Americans alive....we've proven it time and time and time again. We will always defend our nation, no matter what, until our last breath - "they" use that against us at every turn.....how sick is that?

Remember BENGHAZI!
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
No more money goes into the VA. Are they kidding. Vets died because of denial of service, phantom lists and interminable wait times. And these criminals awarded themselves BONUSES? Immediately fire everybody associated with whistleblower retaliation and phantom lists. Congress needs to expand the voucher system for Veterans to free them from the predatory grasp of the corrupt VA. Begin privatizing all VA functions immediately.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

Can't help but wonder if Bruce Springsteen will be singing that bit in "Born in the U.S.A. that went, "Went down to my VA man; he said, son, you don't understand." anymore.

Yeah, probably not.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
Bruce Springsteenovich is a commie sympathizer who has made millions in a free market capitalist nation which guarantees his freedom of speech and expression....like most successful entertainers, he then uses his platform to pay 'lip service' to America and her veterans in songs while trashing them publicly as baby killers and domestic terrorists. He should be ashamed, but he sleeps comfortably on his pillowcase full of $100 bills and laughs at the suckers who buy his albums.....a hypocrite of magnificent proportions. He may have been born in the USA, but he wants to die in the USSA.....as long as he keeps HIS money; screw you and your money. A$$hole

Ron White, Jeff Foxworthy, Charlie Daniels, Toby Keith, Gary Sinise (and a few others) put their money where their mouths are and God Bless Them for it - true Patriots.

Remember BENGHAZI!
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
"The President’s 2015 Budget includes $163.9 billion for VA in 2015. This includes $68.3 billion in discretionary resources and $95.6 billion in mandatory funding. Our discretionary budget request represents an increase of $2.0 billion, or 3.0 percent, over the 2014 enacted level."

http://www.va.gov/budget/products.asp
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
"systemic problems and the corrosive culture"

Not wrong, just not useful. That culture is not so much "corrosive" as "criminal". Which is not a euphemism for "unhelpful", but a statement that criminal operations have been allowed to start and flourish within the VA. And the solution for that is the criminal justice system, not "more cowbelle".

The Civil Service system is broken. A comparison is to biological health. If the civil service system was instituted to fix a 19th century infection, consider that infections have arisen which have evolved to actually use and take advantage of that same civil service environment. Now the civil service is feeding the infection that it was supposed to thwart.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
Personal observations of the VA center in White River Junction, VT:

The past several years have seen some major construction at this facility, some of it needed (an entire new floor was added to one building, housing mental health care facilities and surgical services space) some not needed (new doors on one building, reconstruction at the entrance gate).

Currently, major excavation going on in the former employee parking lot, but I cant tell if it is for a new building or expansion of the parking lot.

I have been in the VA system since 2003, and have not experienced any unreasonable delays in getting appointments or medical help, but have seen and heard of things happening to other veterans that were "troubling".

Judging by recent reports, this facility is distinctly in the minority, and the question "where has all the increased funding gone" is entirely valid and deserves close examination, and needs to answered before more money is thrown at the problem.

Linus: Congress accepted at face value those senior administrators' reports that "all is well", and the few problems could be easily solved my more cash- unfortunately, the cash did not go to address the problems, but instead went into their pockets and....?? Input from actual veterans within the system, not veteran/politicians is sorely needed.

Another suggestion is a completely independent audit, with veterans included on the audit committee, of each facility by local CPA firms. Any Big national firm would be too close to the government to be truly independent.

Well, enough time spent on this soapbox for today. Thanks to PJM for giving me this opportunity, and to Bill for the article.

18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
The VA has been voted tons of money, yet, what do they spend that money on, what are their "priorities"?

Well, one recent report claims that so far during the Obama administration the VA has spent five hundred million dollars just on office furniture (http://freebeacon.com/issues/va-spends-close-to-500-million-on-conference-room-office-makeovers-under-obama/).


18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
I may be irresponsible, unacceptable, and indefensible but is also very Obama.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, it really isn't.

The VA has been a mess for a looonng time. A very long time. Like, since its inception.

It just came to a head on Obama's watch. There are a number of reasons for that. Some Obama's fault, most not.

Like crediting Carter for the inflation that happened in his watch, or crediting Clinton for the economic boom that happened on his watch, it's worse than simplistic, it's simply not true.

18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well great. Then no one is responsible for anything in government. Can you guess what would happen to a CEO in the private sector if something like this happened after 6 years on the job?

But having said that, the problem lies more in government's unsuitability for such endeavors. Unionized workers led by political appointees and monitored by an uncritical press fearful of displeasing them and getting left off their gala invitation lists. Obama may not have designed this system bu the sure as hell reinforces and encourages it.
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
" the problem lies more in government's unsuitability for such endeavors. Unionized workers led by political appointees and monitored by..."

Nobody. Congress should be keeping an eye on it, but they don't.


So, as much as I despise Obama, and while I do recognize that his attitude and his appointees have almost certainly exacerbated the problem, this isn't intrinsically an Obama problem and it will not be fixed just by replacing him with a decent President.

18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
You are correct, Mark v
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
Lots of fingers should be pointed right back at the august members of the Senate and House Veterans Committees for not performing their job of oversight of Veterans Affairs over the several years it must have taken for the persistent interlocking conditions allowing this medical disaster to develop. Aren't these Veterans Committees supposed to work together with the senior staff of the V.A.?

This tragic situation certainly didn't happen suddenly.

But now that it's made national headlines, all of a sudden all of the huffing and puffing is directed solely at the V.A.

Where was the Congressional "oversight" all of this time?
18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
The entrenched politicians on the various VA committees have known about this for decades.....just more corruption and I'm sure significant 'campaign contributions' to retain their plum positions within the VA sewer hole.

Remember BENGHAZI!
17 weeks ago
17 weeks ago Link To Comment
Exactly!

18 weeks ago
18 weeks ago Link To Comment
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