Saturday, May 18, 2013

Backlog of disability claims not only problem facing this agency.

Part IV in a series
by Nicholas J. Vocca

House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Jeff Miller
At the May 2 House Committee on Veterans Affairs, Chairman Jeff Miller, (R-Florida), and American Legion National Commander James Koutz issued somewhat scathing statements in regards to Department of Veterans Affairs VISN4 Director Michael Moreland's recent award of a $62,895 bonus in the wake of patient deaths at the Pittsburgh VA Hospital he oversees.

Saying there is "no limit to the VA's tone deafness," and how "VA is dragging its feet" in providing crucial information that would help victims of the deadly Pittsburgh VA Legionnaires disease outbreak and Congress to understand exactly what happened, Mister Miller called upon Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to "do the right thing" by taking immediate steps to "recoup" Moreland's bonus.

"On its own, this incident is egregious enough," Miller stated, then furthered how it was "unfortunate to learn how multiple VA medical center officials have also received bonuses in the wake of patient deaths linked to medical mismanagement.

"That's why we are calling on the VA to conduct a top-to-bottom review of its performance appraisal system to ensure outrageous bonus payments like this do not occur in the future.  In the meantime, VA owes us all---especially the families of those who died---an explanation as to why the (VA) awarded these bonuses."

Mister Koutz stated that the American Legion is concerned that the VA is not taking their own Inspector General reports seriously, and added that "it's astonishing how the VA IG report would find a specific facility failed to follow long-existing guidelines which resulted in the deaths of five veterans, and yet within a week's time the Director of that region should be singled out for the government's highest employee honor."

"Even the government's own guidance is clear," Koutz said, then cited the Office of personnel Management's policy which makes it clear that nominees for this award must not be involved in any investigation or situation which would cause embarrassment.  "I certainly think this qualifies as such a case.

While many veterans applaud Representative Miller's further announcement that he is seeking a five-year ban on such bonuses, they are equally disgruntled over the fact that VA officials are receiving them at all.

The general question of some veterans who posted on one internet news site is why are these people receiving bonuses at all when they are being paid a respectable salary with excellent benefits and retirement which is often above that of their civilian peers? 

Most have expressed the belief that public service has now become more of a self-service career, than not, and expressed further mistrust and anger with this agency based on a recent news article where the VA purposely withheld funds intended for veterans medical care.

The article, published by several major news sources on May 13, reports that the VA delayed spending approximately $765-million it was authorized to spend which affected veterans medical care in some cases because this agency postponed the purchases of cardiac monitors, radiology equipment, and pain-medication pumps last year, as well as not replacing old surgical tools, oxygen-delivery systems, or deteriorating operating-room stretchers. 

Although at the time the VA had been under scrutiny from veterans organizations, national leaders and much of the media for excessive disability claims backlogs and bottlenecks in mental-health care, the agency transferred money into a holding account which was the largest amount deferred in at least 10-years, and more than eight times the amount shifted to the fund two years earlier.

According to agency spokesman Josh Taylor, the VA delayed these orders in hopes of ensuring efficient spending and making awards to small businesses.  But, the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, who is probing this agency's use of the account is not buying Taylor's explanation, and neither are many veterans.

Cardiac monitors.  Radiology equipment. Pain medication pumps.  Items which can detect problems in the early stages, alert staff or a patient that ones is occurring, and improve the quality of life for one in deep excruciating pain, and the very agency our nation's veterans rely on has again failed them through mismanagement.  Deplorable.

In future articles we will report even more startling facts about this agency, some which border on being totally diabolical.

Veterans who were possibly infected with HIV or hepatitis as a results of some attending doctors or dentists who used the same pair of gloves repeatedly when treating other veterans, or equipment not properly cleaned and sterilized before tending to other patients.  Practicing or using experimental drugs or surgical techniques on patients, despite their protests.  Rude treatment by staff towards family members, and even physical abuse to patients.  

Our nation is reasonably safe tonight because of the sacrifices of the millions of brave men and women veterans, but when reviewing reports on the ways some veterans Affairs Hospitals treat these veterans and their families, one must also ask, "How safe are our veterans?"

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