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Veterans and the VA

This Page Updated onJanuary 5th

January 5: AOL NewsVeteran loses job  after missing work to be with his wife for son’s birth:
There are certain excuses that can seemingly get you out of anything -- the death of a loved one, a family member's wedding, and, of course, the birth of your own child.  Unfortunately, it seems we may need to scratch that last one off the list after a 3-year Army veteran from Concord, NH, was fired for skipping work to witness his son being born.

Lamar Austin used to work for Salerno Protective Services as a part-time security guard.  He was reportedly on a 90-day new hire probationary period, and was on call for the job 24/7.  Having missed one shift he was asked to cover on December 28 to accompany his wife, Lindsay, to a doctor's appointment, Austin was apparently already on thin ice at work when his spouse actually went into labor.                                                                                                                                     

January 3: Fox News: Teens step forward to be pallbearers for Vet with no family
Navy veteran Jerry Wayne Pino died on Dec. 12th in Long Beach, Mississippi.  He was 70 years old. He was born in Baton Rouge and had no family when he passed away – he died alone.  Learning of this students from a local high school stepped forward to serve as pallbearers.   “It was the right thing to do,” 17-year-old Bailey Griffin told me. “He served our country. He fought for our rights. For him to be buried with nobody there was just sad. I told myself I was going to do it and I did it.”

They are still trying to figure out what to do with the flag that draped Jerry’s coffin. It’s being encased in glass – along with a plaque that bears his name. There’s talk about putting the flag on display at the high school or perhaps inside the locker room where four of the pallbearers play football. It would be a fitting tribute to a man who died alone but who was buried surrounded by his fellow countrymen.

December 28: The Hill: Trump considering public/private medical services for veterans:
President-elect Trump is considering a "public-private option" for the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a transition team official said Wednesday."We think we have to have kind of a ... public-private option because some vets love the VA ... some vets want to go to the VA," a senior transition official told reporters, according to pool reports.

In October, Trump outlined a plan to allow competition between VA facilities and non-VA hospitals, saying he would allow any veteran to see a doctor that accepts Medicare and receive care. The senior official said Wednesday that the public-private idea is "one of the options on the table."  "Definitely an option on the table to have a system where potentially vets can choose either/or, or all private," the official said.

October 4: The Washington Times:  Veterans Die Waiting for Treatment
The Phoenix Veterans Affairs office is still improperly canceling veterans’ appointments, has built a new case backlog and, according to the department’s Inspector General, at least one veteran is likely dead because of it.  Two years after they first sounded the alarm about secret waiting lists leaving veterans struggling for care in Phoenix. Confusion and bureaucratic bungling remain prevalent, long waiting times are still a problem, and veterans are having appointments canceled for questionable reasons.

August 30: The Daily Caller:  VA Offers Anti-Corruption Whistleblower $305,000 to go away
After ethics officials blocked the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) from firing a woman who refused to lie for top bosses, the bosses took a different tack: paying her $305,000 to quit and agree not to apply to the VA again.  Her bosses tried to force Rosayma Lopez to write a critical report to be used to terminate Joseph Colon, who had exposed the drunk-driving and illegal-prescription drug arrest of Dewayne Hamlin, director of the VA’s hospital in San Juan. When Lopez said she would stick to the facts, her bosses filed the termination paperwork intended for Colon against her instead.

After she sought protection from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), a federal agency that investigates whistleblower retaliation in government, OSC ordered VA to restore Lopez to her job. But VA refused, instead paying her to sit at home for nine months.

August 24: The New York Times: Vet Kills Self in VA Parking Lot
A 76-year-old veteran committed suicide on Sunday in the parking lot of a Long Island VA medical center where he had been a patient.  He was pronounced dead after he shot himself.  The hospital is part of the Veterans Affairs medical system, the nation’s largest integrated single-payer health care organization, which has been under scrutiny since 2014, when the department confirmed that numerous patients had died awaiting treatment.  A study released by the GAO in April of this year indicated that the system had yet to fix its scheduling problems.

Why Mr. Kaisen decided to end his life was not immediately known, but two people connected to the hospital said that he had been frustrated that he was unable to see an emergency-room physician for reasons related to his mental health. “He went to the E.R. and was denied service,” one of the people, who currently works at the hospital, said. “And then he went to his car and shot himself.”  The worker questioned why Mr. Kaisen had not been referred to the hospital’s mental health center. The staff member said that while there was normally no psychologist at the ready in the E.R., one was always on call, and that the mental health building was open “24/7.”

July 27: Fox News: VA spent $20 Million on Art while veterans languished
The taxpayer watchdog group Open the Books teamed up with COX Media Washington, D.C., for an oversight report on spending at the VA, finding numerous frivolous expenditures on artwork, including six-figure dollar sculptures at facilities for the blind.  “In the now-infamous VA scandal of 2012-2015, the nation was appalled to learn that 1,000 veterans died while waiting to see a doctor,” the group’s founder/CEO Adam Andrzejewski wrote.  “Tragically, many calls to the suicide assistance hotline were answered by voicemail. The health claim appeals process was known as ‘the hamster wheel’ and the appointment books were cooked in seven of every ten clinics.”  “Yet, in the midst of these horrific failings the VA managed to spend $20 million on high-end art over the last ten years—with $16 million spent during the Obama years,” he said.

June 8: Fox Business: New Legislation: Vets Can Get Care Outside the VA
Rep. Rodgers (R-WA) the chairwoman of the House Republican Conference, on Tuesday introduced a new bill in the House to completely overhaul how the nation’s soldiers receive care from the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.  The solution: Start turning the sole, and worst, example of the federal government’s single-payer system back to the private sector. The new bill, which is gaining a groundswell of support, would turn the VA into a government-chartered nonprofit corporation, much like the hospital networks already operating in the private sector today.

The bill would also strengthen the power of VA’s management in the hiring and firing of the VA’s 330,000 workers, many of whom are in a government union. Specifically it would give management more flexibility in rewarding good workers with, say, bonuses, and in getting rid of the bad workers. The VA oversees and runs more than 1,700 medical care facilities across the country, which serve almost 9 million veterans, making it the country’s biggest health care system. The new nonprofit that would oversee the VA's health facilities would not fall under civil service regulations. [See Related Column]

July 7: Military Times: New VA study finds twenty Vets commit suicide daily
Roughly 20 veterans a day commit suicide nationwide, according to new data from the Department of Veterans Affairs — a figure that dispels the often quoted, but problematic, “22 a day” estimate yet solidifies the disturbing mental health crisis the number implied.  In 2014, the latest year available, more than 7,400 veterans took their own lives, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in America. Veterans make up less than 9 percent of the U.S. population.

June 6: Breitbart.News: Vet Fired by Time Warner for Lowering Flag to Half-Staff on Memorial Day
A North Carolina Marine Vet (Allen Thhornwell) who fought to defend U.S. interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, says he was “pink-slipped” for lowering his employer’s American flag to half staff.   He is demanding an apology from Time Warner Cable for him and his fellow veterans.  The company said it was disturbed by this American warrior’s “passion for the flag and his political affiliation,” a local newspaper reported.

May 30: Galveston County Daily News: Long Wait Times at the VA are like Disney World? Really?
Last week the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Robert McDonald  likened the wait times for veterans seeking medical treatment from VA facilities to the lines at Disney World; suggesting that how long a veteran needs to wait for a medical appointment is not a reasonable measure of service.  His contention was that satisfaction with the service should be the ultimate measure by which the Veterans Administration should be judged.   Is this just more double-speak from high level government officials in Washington?

May 26: Fox News: Less than ten percent of VA hires are doctors
A newly released study hammered the Veterans Affairs for spending a fraction of its budget on new doctors while devoting millions to lawyers and public affairs officials – as thousands of veterans were waiting for care.  The study from OpentheBooks.com shows that between 2012 and 2015, just one in 11 new hires were “medical officers.”  The findings are fueling criticism that the VA’s problems amount to more than just resources.  “What’s clear is that money is not the issue – the culture is,” said John Cooper, press secretary for Concerned Veterans for America.

April 19: The Daily Caller: House Panel Embarrasses VA Under Secretary at Oversight Hearing:
VA Under Secretary David J. Shulkin gave false information to Congress Tuesday, claiming that a Daily Caller News Foundation post was wrong, when it reported in March that Elizabeth Rivera was reinstated to her job at the VA, thanks to union rules after she got out of jail on an armed robbery charge and subsequent criminal conviction.  Shortly after giving this testimony VA officials admitted the story was accurate. 

Prior to publication the Daily Caller got a written statement from the VA saying Rivera’s behavior was not sufficient grounds for termination since it occurred in her off hours even though Rivera was the driver in a 3 a.m. armed robbery with a career criminal.  Meanwhile Shulkin told the House Veterans Affairs Committee Tuesday that Rivera had been fired.

February 17: Fox News: Calls to VA Suicide Hot Line goes to Voicemail!
A suicide hotline operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs allowed crisis calls to go into voicemail, and callers did not always receive immediate assistance, according to a report by the agency's internal watchdog.  The report by the VA's office of inspector general says calls to the suicide hotline have increased dramatically in recent years, as veterans increasingly seek services following prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the aging of Vietnam-era veterans.

The crisis hotline — the subject of an Oscar-winning documentary — received more than 450,000 calls in 2014, a 40 percent increase over the previous year.  About 1 in 6 calls are redirected to backup centers when the crisis line is overloaded, the report said. Calls went to voicemail at some backup centers, including least one where staffers apparently were unaware there was a voicemail system, the report said.  Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he was deeply saddened and disappointed by the IG report.

February 9: Fox News: Vet who lost leg in Afghanistan Set to Climb Mt. Everest
Marine Charlie Linville twice tried to climb Mount Everest but never made it due to devastating natural disasters on and near the world's highest mountain. But the Afghanistan veteran who lost a lower leg in combat is determined to reach the top -- hoping to serve as an inspiration to others.

Staff Sgt. Linville, who joined the Marine Corps two years after high school, signed up to become an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technician, disarming improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, according to the paper.  On Jan. 20, 2011, Linville and his team were tasked with a routine detonation -- not immediately realizing there was an IED hidden beneath another one.

January 28: The Daily Caller: Donations from Trump Fundraiser will go to his personal charity:
Donald Trump says that the event he is holding Thursday in Iowa opposite the Fox News GOP debate will raise money to help veterans. But as the event’s donation website shows, the money will first go through Trump’s personal charity, which appears to have contributed more money to the Clinton Foundation than to veterans groups.  Trump set up donaldtrumpforvets.com Thursday morning after announcing that he would not be attending the final debate before the Iowa caucuses because Fox News refused to remove Megyn Kelly as a moderator. Trump and Kelly have feuded since the first GOP debate in August.

January 27: The Daily Caller: Veterans Group Tells Trump it won’t accept donations from his fundraiser
A military veterans group told Donald Trump they do not want his money from his fundraiser for vets.  Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder Paul Rieckhoff tweeted Wednesday he would turn away any donation that came from the fundraiser Trump is planning to speak at in lieu of participating in the presidential primary debate in Iowa Thursday.

January 10: News Max: Two VA Executives Finally Demoted for Scam
Two Veterans Affairs officials who had underlings pushed aside so they could take their jobs at their old pay with fewer responsibilities finally received demotions on Friday, Fox News reports,  but one lawmaker still wondered why criminal charged weren't filed against them.  The VA said Friday that "final action" to "demote" Diana Rubens of Philadelphia and Kimberly Graves of St. Paul from regional office directors to assistant director jobs in other cities.  Federal prosecutors said on December 24 that no charges would be filed against the pair, but has not responded to a message from Florida Rep. Jeff Miller about why they will not be charged.

December 21 [2015]: Fox News: Baby Jesus, “Merry Christmas” banner removed from VA hospital
A manger and a banner reading “Merry Christmas” were removed from a public area of a VA hospital in Texas after someone complained about “overly religious and offensive” decorations.  “They ruined our decorations,” Vietnam veteran Holloway said. “They threw them out.”  Holloway said she had been putting up decorations at the Audi Murphy VA Hospital for 33 years – without any problems. This year, her yuletide banner turned out to be problematic.
“They literally took pieces from the middle of a whole train set, because the middle said ‘Merry Christmas,’” helper Grace Martinez said. 

The South Texas Veterans Health Care System admits they removed not only Holloway’s “Merry Christmas” banner, but also a manger along with a “specific scripture decoration.”  “During the removal of a manger and specific scripture decoration, a Merry Christmas decoration was accidentally removed and damaged,” read a statement from the VA to Fox News. “The remaining decorations were removed by the decoration donor and her representatives.”  The VA hospital said they have offered to reimburse her for the damaged decorations.

December 6: The Daily Caller: VA Refuses to Terminate Employees  who
have sex in office | High on Cocaine during work:

The Department of Veterans Affairs seems unwilling to fire its employees, regardless of their outlandish conduct. A new investigation has turned up instances in which employees had sex at work or slept in patient rooms only to receive mild reprimands.  This misconduct occurred in hospital facilities spread out among West Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. Three facilities, one in each region, disciplined, but did not fire, a total of 300 employees, according to a Freedom of Information Act request by NBC4 Washington.

The VA issued a statement to NBC4 Washington, saying, “Where performance or conduct issues warrant removal,  the VA takes appropriate action to terminate employment.”  Employees being high on cocaine or having sex at work is, apparently, not serious enough to warrant removal.

November 30: The Daily Caller:  Emails Reveal New Mexico VA Doctors Suspicious as
Appointments Rescheduled to appear as New Appointments:

A new scandal threatens to engulf the New Mexico Veterans Affairs medical center. Doctors want to know why the VA is “fiddling” with appointments over a year old to make them appear as they they’re new appointments.   On Nov. 20, Dr. Lana K. Wagner sends an email at 8:56 a.m. to other doctors and the acting chief of staff at the facility regarding a mysterious problem. Requests for appointments dating from over a year ago -- called consults -- are suddenly disappearing due to being cancelled.  “It is distressing to find out that many of the studies that we ordered have not been performed.  It is horrifying to think that these patients are going to fall through the cracks because these consults are being cancelled,” Wagner writes in the email. “Surely we are not cancelling these >1yr old consults in order to make it seem that care is not being delayed.”

As described by the doctors, the VA regularly cancels consults and re-enters them into the appointment database. Once re-entered, the clock is reset. Consults which are over a year old then appear to be completely new.  This exact process has occurred elsewhere in the VA. An inspector general report in 2014 found that staff at two different facilities erased consults over 90 days without review by clinical staff. After the 2014 waitlist manipulation scandal broke, the IG recommended that “a systematic assessment” be conducted to address the issue. 

November 17: The  Daily Caller: Massive Amount of Dollars Lost in Workman’s Comp
The Department of Justice charged 28 individuals in the Texas area Monday with allegedly defrauding $9.5 million from federal workplace injury programs.  The alleged scheme involved a mass network of professionals and healthcare clinics. Those involved targeted worker compensation programs at the Department of Labor (DOL).  Medical professionals got workers to fake or exaggerate injuries to qualify for government assistance. They were also assisted by a claims representative within the department.  The Office of Worker Compensation Programs (OWCP) was the main office within the department scammed.

“These charges are the result of a two-year investigation led by special agents with the U.S. Postal Service Office of Inspector General and the Department of Labor Office of Inspector General,” U.S. Attorney John Parker said in a statement. “This office will continue to vigorously pursue those who fraudulently obtained benefits at the expense of those who have a legitimate need.”

November 5: The Daily Caller: VA Scandal so Outrageous Democrats side with GOP against Government Unions
Democratic Rep. Tim Walz says that the recent relocation bonus scandal at the Department of Veterans Affairs is so egregious that he’s willing to buck tradition and tackle public sector unions with Republicans.  Democrats usually side with public sector unions, a position brought into sharp relief by Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s recent blocking of a motion for an up-down vote on the VA Accountability Act of 2015 in the Senate.

But Walz is so upset with the recent hearing — a hearing on senior officials pressuring subordinates out of jobs and then taking them for themselves to secure bonuses and relocation expenses — that he’s collaborating with House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman GOP Rep. Jeff Miller The Star Tribune reports.  That collaboration, however, will stop short of ending public sector unions altogether.

October 24: The Hill: 
Clinton: Veterans problems are not widespread
Democratic primary front-runner Hillary Clinton says the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) scandal is not as “widespread” of a problem as coverage would indicate. She said the problem is real, but cautioned on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show” on Friday that “it’s not been as widespread as it has been made out to be.” The former first lady blamed Republicans for using the issue as part of an “ideological agenda” and said they want the VA to “fail.”

Extended wait times at VA hospitals have provoked public outrage. An inspector general’s report last year found that veterans in Phoenix waited 115 days on average for an initial doctor’s appointment, while official data claimed that the average wait was only 24 days. The report also found that 1,700 veterans were intentionally kept off of patient rolls and 40 veterans died waiting for treatment at the Phoenix facility.

October 20: The Daily Caller: VA Home Loans Score Low – Accountability Legislation
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal blocked a rush vote Tuesday in the Senate to pass accountability legislation allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Secretary to fire employees at-will. The rush vote came a day after GOP presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio published an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times arguing that accountability legislation is needed now more than ever because of desperate negligence, misconduct and dismal performance at the VA.

Rubio pointed out that it’s so difficult to get rid of bad eggs that an employee was able to take a veteran to a crack house, steal his check, collect overtime and buy drugs for the vet. A year later, the employee was still on board with the VA. Additionally, investigators recently found that 307,000 veterans died while waiting for health care application processing. The VA knew about the problem since at least 2010. Nothing was done, and no one was held accountable.

September 7: Fox News: VA claims backlog on signature and computer glitch
Nevada veterans with questions about delays in processing their disability claims and the ever-growing backlog say they've hit another roadblock.  Veterans in the Reno area received letters about the status of their claims from a manager at the city's Veterans Benefits Administration Service Center who no longer works there, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Vets have been receiving letters signed by a man who retired from the VA over two years ago saying “We are still processing your application for compensation.”   A spokesman for the Veterans Benefits Administration in Reno said its office has "identified a computer glitch that continued to use Mr. Bittler's name on some outgoing correspondence." The mistake was caught in March, according to spokesman Nathanial Miller. 

August 29: Fox News: Two Veterans in Illinois home die of Legionnaires’ disease
Two residents of an Illinois veterans' home have died of Legionnaires' Disease, the Illinois Department of Public Health said Friday.  The health department said the two residents at the home in Quincy, about 300 miles southwest of Chicago, had underlying medical conditions. Both were among 23 residents of the facility who had earlier been diagnosed with the disease.

On Thursday, state officials said there were eight confirmed cases among residents of the home. That number increased to 23 after tests were conducted Friday.  Legionnaires' Disease is a severe form of pneumonia, with lung inflammation usually caused by infection. It is not transmitted from person to person. Most people get the disease from inhaling the Legionella bacteria.

July 22: CBS News Detroit: Government Union Workers: Detroit VA Hospital is Like a Third World Country:
Outraged over what they say are unfair and poor working conditions, employees at Detroit’s John Dingell VA Medical Center are rallying for change.  A group of about 100 workers and supporters protested outside the hospital on Wednesday.  “This is like a third world county here,” said Benjamin Mayhan, president of American Federation of Government Employees, Local 933. “You have managers who are very hostile towards employees of the union. We have a situation where we went to management several times; it’s not been abated.”

July 10: CBS News Los Angeles:
VA in Hot Water Again!
  Public Affairs Officer: Turn Off Your Camera!  CBS News: Turn Off Your Water?
While all Californians are under mandatory water restrictions, CBS News cameras went undercover and found some federal facilities may be wasting water for hours at a time.  And government workers weren’t happy when Investigative Reporter David Goldstein tried to get answers.  “Can you shut that off? Or I’m going to have to confiscate your cameras,” Lina Satele of the VA Public Affairs Office told Goldstein and a CBS cameraman. “No, you won’t,” Goldstein replied.  Satele claimed that since the investigative team was on federal property she could take the cameras.

Hidden cameras outside the Veterans Affairs West Los Angeles Medical Center caught workers setting up nearly a dozen water sprinklers – connected to the L.A. Department of Water and Power’s fresh water supply.  Under the City of L.A.’s Emergency Water Conservation Plan, the type of sprinklers used at the Veterans facility should not be used for more than eight minutes per watering day and not between the hours of 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.  The VA sprinklers started at 8:41 a.m. and continue on until being shut off at 10:44 a.m.  After they turned off the water, the lawn was so muddy with pooled up water that Goldstein had to put his boots on to walk across it – and this startling water waste is happening in the middle of California’s worst drought.

July 7: The New York Post: Veterans Administration Personnel Shuffle Not Expected to Have Much Impact:
Driven out by whistleblowers, Acting Inspector General of the Veterans Administration Richard Griffin finally resigned last week. Griffin had whitewashed and concealed information about inadequate care and phony waiting lists and tried to retaliate against truth-tellers.  But don’t expect real improvement at the VA. Griffin’s successor is another bureaucratic lifer, Lin Halliday. She’s been collecting a paycheck from the VA Inspector General’s Office since 1992, while the deadly problems festered. President Obama seems to like that approach.  On July 2 in Wisconsin, whistleblower Ryan Honl — a Gulf War veteran — urged Obama to appoint an independent inspector general: “If they just pick someone new from inside the agency, it will be business as usual and the problems will continue.”  

But Obama brushed him off, saying VA Secretary Robert McDonald “had it covered.”  Sorry. That’s just not true. Only the president can appoint an inspector general.  Federal law requires that the Veterans Administration and other departments have outside inspectors general to guard against corruption and mismanagement. Obama simply refuses to appoint them, allowing the vacant offices to be filled instead by “acting” IGs like Griffin and Halliday.

June 15: Fox News: Employees of Beleaguered VA Vent to Visiting Lawmakers:
Two months after testifying to Congress for a third time about the Department of Veterans Affairs Philadelphia regional office, this time about a “revolving door of taxpayer waste,” culture of retaliation and improper behavior whistleblower Kristen Ruell said little had changed.  “I’m wondering what problems have been fixed,” she said Monday, as a bipartisan delegation of congressmen showed up to grill managers about the scandal that has engulfed the office, which oversees benefits to more than 800,000 veterans in three states. “I’m seeing the same things, and it’s worse than ever. Employee morale is at an all-time low.”

Nine congressman and one senator inspecting the office Monday said they heard a similar message during a closed-door meeting with Ruell and other employees — very different than the upbeat assessment from managers in a separate meeting.   “It seems to me there’s a bit of a disconnect between what management is saying and what many people who are working here are saying,” Rep. Charlie Dent [R-PA] said at a press conference outside the office. During the press conference, several lawmakers pointed to an administrative investigation board report expected June 30 that will “name names” of those responsible for the scandal.

June 15: Fox News:  In Reversal, VA seeks to offer aid to Air Force reservists exposed to Agent Orange
Reversing a long-held position, the VA now says Air Force reservists who became ill after being exposed to Agent Orange residue while working on planes after the Vietnam War should be eligible for disability benefits.   The VA said it has been working to finalize a rule that could cover more than 2,000 military personnel who flew or worked on Fairchild C-123 aircraft in the U.S. from 1972 to 1982. Many of the Vietnam-era planes, used by the reservists for medical and cargo transport, had sprayed millions of gallons of herbicide during the 1955-1975 military conflict in Southeast Asia.
 
If the White House Office of Management and Budget approves the change, it would be the first time the VA had established a special category of Agent Orange exposure for military personnel without "boots on the ground" or inland waterways service in Vietnam. That could open the VA to renewed claims by thousands of other veterans who say they were exposed to Agent Orange in less direct circumstances, such as on the open sea.   The announcement is expected as early as this week. 

May 29: The Daily Caller: Phoenix VA Whistleblower Calls for Resignations
Jared Kinnaman, a vocational rehabilitation counselor and whistleblower at the Phoenix Department of Veterans Affairs medical center, is calling for the resignation of Phoenix interim director Glen Grippen and VA  Secretary Robert McDonald.  In two letters sent out Friday, Kinnaman recounted his struggle and efforts to promote accountability at the Phoenix VA, which so far have amounted to very little, despite promises of reform from the leadership. Still, the long list of unacceptable practices continues unabated at the hospital. 

“They need to be held accountable for their lying,” Kinnaman, a Marine Corps combat veteran, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “In the end, they’re not hurting anyone but the veterans. I’m a Marine Corps combat veteran, and I’m tired of sitting back and watching my brothers and sisters get piss-poor treatment when we should be leading the industry.”  For Kinnaman, enough is enough. “I and several other whistleblowers have brought to you and your leadership staff members on numerous occasions, factual and undeniable evidence that you and your staff have not resolved,” Kinnaman wrote in the letter to Grippen. “Instead, we have received countless forms of harassment, defamation, and threats while working and receiving care at this medical facility.”

May 23: MyWay.com:   Iraq Vets Tired of Presidential Politics  
Veterans of the Iraq War have been watching in frustration as Republican presidential contenders distance themselves from the decision their party enthusiastically supported to invade that country.  Some veterans say they long ago concluded their sacrifice was in vain, and are annoyed that a party that lobbied so hard for the war is now running from it. Others say they still believe their mission was vital, regardless of what the politicians say. And some find the gotcha question being posed to the politicians — Knowing what we know now, would you have invaded? — an insult in itself.  Do-overs just don't happen in real life!

May 15: The Daily Caller: VA Whistleblower Sheds Light on Billions Spent in Violation of U.S. Law
A culture of “lawlessness and chaos” reigns at the Department of Veterans Affairs when it comes to purchasing goods and services for the Veterans Health Administration, according to senior official Jan R. Frye.  Frye, deputy assistant secretary for acquisition and logistics, first brought to light problems of abuse back in March. He decided to air the information publicly after his 35-page memorandum to VA Secretary Robert McDonald went completely unanswered.  The sum total of the chaos amounts to at least $6 billion in wasted funds spent in violation of federal contracting rules, The Washington Post reports.  

One of the most egregious methods designed to skirt federal rules is the use of purchase cards for large-scale purchases totaling billions. These purchase cards are normally intended to make it easier to acquire small items conveniently. Instead, employees used the cards to subvert contracting rules, bringing in $1.2 billion dollars worth of prosthetics. VA employees often collaborate together to split purchases across cards to keep the total under $3,000 dollars, all the while purchasing items far over that limit.

April 18: All Business.comLearning from the VA Fiasco
Smart people learn from their own mistakes. Really smart people learn from other people’s mistakes. And boy, we can all get a graduate based on the boneheaded blunders made by the Veterans Administration over the past few weeks. It’s a textbook case in how not to handle sensitive data and then how not to handle the resulting crisis.  If you haven’t been paying attention (possible? probably not) the Veterans Administration finally fessed up that it had lost the most sensitive information of 26.5 million veterans. An employee took home a CD with the records of every living veteran and then some. These records included just about everything necessary for easy identity theft including date of birth and social security numbers. This CD and the laptop it was sitting in were stolen from the employee’s home by a burglar.

Mistake #1: Poor Data Security:There is no way on earth that an employee should be able to routinely copy that much data onto a CD and then leave the building with it.
Mistake #2: Burying the Problem: The trouble was compounded when no one shot off a red flare and announced that there was a problem. In fact, the VA’s inspector general admitted that his office only learned about the loss of the data through office gossip ten days after the event. And…
Mistake #3: Not taking charge of the communication: The mistakes just kept coming. The VA did not clearly communicate what was going on to the veterans. The story came out late and in pieces. This violates every principle of crisis communications.

March 24: CBS News: Rule change could double the number of vets eligible for hearth care.
Responding to pressure from Congress and veterans groups, the Department of Veterans Affairs is relaxing a rule that makes it hard for some veterans in rural areas to prove they live at least 40 miles from a VA health site.  The change comes amid complaints from lawmakers and advocates who say the VA's current policy has prevented thousands of veterans from taking advantage of a new law intended to allow veterans in remote areas to gain access to federally paid medical care from local doctors.

The VA said it will now measure the 40-mile trip by driving miles as calculated by Google maps or other sites, rather than as the crow flies, as currently interpreted. The rule change is expected to roughly double the number of eligible veterans.  "We've determined that changing the distance calculation will help ensure more veterans have access to care when and where they want it," Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald said in a statement. The change will be unveiled at a hearing Tuesday before the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee.

March 12: Fox News: VA Submits Whistleblower to criminal investigation; U.S. Special Counsel Steps In:
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is now investigating the claims of a whistleblower who revealed the use of a secret appointment wait list at the Shreveport VA hospital — including 37 veterans who died awaiting care.  Mental health social worker Shea Wilkes contacted the media in June, saying his bosses and the VA Inspector General had done nothing to address his year-old complaints about excessive wait times. In fact, Wilkes’ attorney, Richard John, says the IG turned the tables on his client, opening a criminal investigation into how Wilkes obtained the list he used as evidence to show patients were not receiving adequate care at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center.

The Special Counsel — an independent office established that protects whistleblowers and reports to the president — wants to get to the bottom of the secret appointment list and find out why Wilkes has not been granted whistleblower protection.  “The Special Counsel is really interested in helping,” Wilkes said. 

February 24: Fox News: VA Secretary Admits Lying about Special Forces Service
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald has admitted that he lied about serving in the special operations forces in a conversation with a homeless veteran that was caught on camera earlier this year.  McDonald made the claim in January while he was in Los Angeles as part of the VA's effort to locate and house homeless veterans. During the tour, a homeless man told McDonald that he had served in the special operations forces.   "Special forces? What years?" McDonald responded. "I was in special forces." The exchange was broadcast on the CBS Evening News  Jan. 30.  McDonald graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1975 and completed Army Ranger training before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division until his retirement in 1980.

According to the Huffington Post, while McDonald was formally recognized as a graduate of Ranger School, he never actually served in a Ranger battalion or other special operations unit.  "I have no excuse," the website quoted McDonald as saying in its report. "I was not in special forces."

February 21: The Daily Caller:  VA reinstates benefits to Vet they claimed was dead, but wasn’t!
Mark Ellis Jr., a very much alive Marine veteran from Michigan, has had his VA benefits restored months after the agency cut them because it believed he was dead.  Earlier this week, Fox News in Detroit reported on Ellis’s story.  The former F-18 mechanic from Dearborn, who was honorably discharged from the Marines in 2011, went to the news station after he was having a difficult time getting his VA benefits restored.  The trouble started when his wife Meghan received a letter from the agency in November informing her that benefits for a Mark S. Ellis would come to an end since he was dead.  But that was news to the living and breathing Ellis who had actually visited a VA hospital the day before the letter came in the mail. Ellis is rated 60 percent disabled and receives GI Bill and other benefits.

February 19: The Daily Caller:  Senator may face discrimination law suit with a Veterans Administration Twist
Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) may soon feel the heterosexual heat from firing a staffer over a VA scandal in Wisconsin. Local news reports indicate that the staffer, who is straight, may file suit against Baldwin, who is gay, for “sexual discrimination” over the firing.   Marquette Baylor, Baldwin’s ex-deputy state director, isn’t taking the news of being fired quietly. The former chief of Baldwin’s Milwaukee office, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has “lawyered up” for a possible wrongful termination suit involving sexual discrimination.  Baylor declined a severance package that would, in effect, muzzle her. By taking the deal, Baylor would be unable to reveal what she knows about troubling reports that hit Baldwin’s desk concerning the Tomah VA Medical Center last August.   According to news reports, Baldwin received warnings of high opiate prescriptions rates but did nothing for several months.  Three vets dying eventually got her attention. She ultimately called for a federal investigation.

January 8: The Weekly Standard: President’s Motorcade passes right by scandal-ridden Phoenix VA Hospital
President Obama is in Phoenix Thursday, and his motorcade drove past that city's Veterans Affairs hospital without stopping. Politico's White House correspondent reports.  Obama is spoke at Central High School, about a mile from the VA hospital, but did not visit the VA hospital during his trip to Phoenix.  Dovere of Politico also reported that the president did have time to stop at a nearby home, purchased with federal assistance, while avoiding an opportunity to highlight the importance of fixing the problems with the VA medical service. 

December 31: Fox News: VA facing new Congressional Crackdown after Colorado hospital boondoggle
A congressional battle is brewing over the Department of Veterans Affairs' admitted mismanagement of construction projects across the country -- including an over-budget, billion-dollar hospital in Colorado that was, briefly, abandoned by the contractor. "VA construction managers couldn't lead starving troops to a chow hall," Colorado Rep. Mike Coffman said in a recent statement. Coffman, an Army and Marine Corps combat veteran, plans to introduce legislation stripping the VA of its authority to manage construction projects, and putting the Army Corps of Engineers in charge instead. 

The Republican congressman's district includes the location of the troubled VA hospital project in Aurora, Colo. -- the latest black eye for the agency following the scandal over secret waiting lists.  The VA's original design in 2005 was estimated to cost $328 million. By 2008, design changes led Congress to authorize $568 million for the project. By 2010, Congress increased the authorization to $800 million.   With most of that money already spent, the hospital is still only half-finished, leaving area veterans frustrated and angry. 

December 25: The New York Times:
Some High-level VA Officials Knew of Problems  Before the Scandal Broke

Long before revelations in the spring that the Veterans Affairs hospital in Phoenix had manipulated waiting lists to hide that veterans were facing long delays to see doctors, senior department officials in Washington had been made aware of serious problems at the hospital, according to filings before a federal administrative board.  The documents in the case of the Phoenix hospital director Sharon Helman, who had been contesting her Nov. 24 firing, provided new details of how much officials knew about the medical center, including patient backlogs, shortages of medical personnel and clinic space, and long waiting lists.

The filings included the sworn statement of Susan Bowers, the executive in charge of dozens of hospitals and clinics from West Texas to Arizona, that she had warned her superiors in Washington that if any V.A. medical center was going to “implode,” it would be Phoenix.  Ms. Bowers, who retired one month ahead of schedule in May as the scandal emerged, said that before Ms. Helman became the head of the Phoenix facility in 2012, an audit showed the hospital was out of compliance with a directive requiring patients to be placed on an official electronic waiting list. There was, in fact, no such active list for primary-care patients in Phoenix, even though a previous hospital director had certified compliance, she said.  Ms. Bowers said that when she submitted a report stating that the Phoenix hospital was out of compliance, she was pressured by other officials to say that it was compliant.

November 24: ABC News: Veterans Administration fires Phoenix Hospital Director
The head of the troubled Phoenix veterans' hospital was fired Monday as the Veterans Affairs Department continued its crackdown on wrongdoing in the wake of a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care and falsified records covering up the delays.  Sharon Helman, director of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, was ousted nearly seven months after she and two high-ranking officials were placed on administrative leave amid an investigation into allegations that 40 veterans died while awaiting treatment at the hospital. Helman had led the giant Phoenix facility, which treats more than 80,000 veterans a year.  The Phoenix hospital was at the center of the wait-time scandal, which led to the ouster of former VA Secretary Eric Shinseki and a new, $16 billion law overhauling the labyrinthine veterans' health care system.

VA Secretary Robert McDonald said Helman's dismissal underscores the agency's commitment to hold leaders accountable and ensure that veterans have access to high-quality, timely care.  About 1,700 veterans in need of care were "at risk of being lost or forgotten" after being kept off the official waiting list in Phoenix, the IG's office said.  "Lack of oversight and misconduct by VA leaders runs counter to our mission of serving veterans, and VA will not tolerate it," McDonald said in a statement late Monday. "We depend on VA employees and leaders to put the needs of veterans first."  Helman is the fifth senior executive fired or forced to resign in recent weeks in response to the wait-time scandal.

November 7: The Washington Post: VA Chief Considering Disciplinary Actions for up to 1,000:
Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald is considering disciplinary action for up to 1,000 employees at the troubled Department of Veterans Affairs, he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” in an interview.  “The report we’ve passed up to the Senate committee and House committee has about 35 names on it,” the VA chief said, according to an advance transcript of the discussion. “I’ve got another report that has over 1,000.”

McDonald has faced criticism that he has not acted fast enough to fire employees responsible for the VA’s recent scheduling scandal.  The list has recommended actions range from firings and demotions to counseling and “admonishment.”  Four of the employees are senior executives, and four and officials on the list face punishment over alleged connections to the scheduling scandal, which involved widespread falsification of appointment data to cover up treatment delays. It is unclear why the lower-level workers are in the report.

October 25: Fox News: VA Promotes Pittsburgh Official who kept lid on Legionnaires Disease.
The Veterans Affairs administrator who told staff not to publicly disclose a deadly Legionnaire’s disease outbreak at a Pittsburgh VA hospital is being promoted, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports: David Cord, deputy director of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System since June 2012, will become director of the Erie VA Medical Center within 60 days, the VA informed Congress.  The VA disclosed the Legionnaires’ outbreak that killed at least six and sickened at least 16 others on Nov. 16, 2012 — two days after Cord told a VA spokesman not to alert the public about it, according to an internal email from the spokesman obtained as part of a Tribune-Review investigation.  On Nov. 14, 2012, two days before the VA Pittsburgh disclosed the outbreak, former spokesman David Cowgill wrote to an aide of VA Pittsburgh Chief of Staff Dr. Ali Sonel that Cord “does not want to be proactive and go to the media with a statement.”

October 17: The Daily Caller: Making it easier to Fire Executives Won’t Fix the VA
Last summer, Congress and President Obama, reacting to the scandals at the Department of Veterans Affairs, rushed through a law giving the Secretary of Veterans Affairs a speedier process with which to fire underperforming executives.  Problem solved? But not so fast. There’s a wee thing called due process – which has created a loophole for bureaucrats in the crosshairs to retire instead of being fired.  The law’s drafters seem to have forgotten something every first year law student knows, the Goldberg v. Kelly case that requires the state to allow for due process before terminating a benefit.  For the VA executives, that benefit would be their pay, and due process would be the opportunity to challenge the basis for the termination.  Thus while the new law shortened the due process timeline, it could not eliminate it altogether, or, shorten it in such a way that the employee would be deprived of ‘adequate’ time to respond (a potential litigation piñata).  Instead of waiting for the due process clock to run out and risk being fired, certain VA executives have taken the time-honored option to retire (with full benefits) instead.  Longtime federal employees frequently have their retirement papers prepared years in advance, so they can hit the ‘eject’ button at will.

October 7: The Daily CallerMichelle Obama blames the U.S. for a lack of jobs for female vets
Michelle Obama says that America – not her husband’s economic policies --  is responsible for a female veteran’s unemployment.  She’s been given the cover in the Oct. 14 issue of Redbook to tout the administration’s claimed support for women veterans, just three weeks before the Nov. 4 election.  She returned the favor by blaming Americans for their shared economic difficulties.  “She’s been trained to be a leader,” Obama said about one unemployed veteran.  “And this country’s not giving her that opportunity, someone who wants it so desperately,” she claimed.  That resentment is close to her all-time greatest resentment quote: “For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is finally making a comeback,” she told voters back in 2008.

October 6: Fox News:  Veterans Admin. Fires Four Senior Executives but one was retiring anyway!
The Veterans Affairs Department said it is firing four senior executives as officials move to crack down on wrongdoing following a nationwide scandal over long wait times for veterans seeking medical care, and falsified records covering up the delays.  The dismissals are the first since Congress passed a law this summer making it easier for veterans who experience delays to get care outside VA's nationwide network of hospitals and clinics. The law also made it easier for the agency to fire senior officials suspected of wrongdoing, shortening their appeals process to 28 days.  Among those being fired were a top purchasing official at the Veterans Health Administration, directors of VA hospitals in Pittsburgh and Dublin, Georgia, and a regional hospital director in central Alabama, the VA said.

But a Republican congressman challenged the VA, saying that at least one of the employees being fired has already announced his retirement. John Goldman, director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, said last month he was stepping down. Employees at the hospital have admitted to keeping false records to hide long wait times for veterans.  "Bragging about the proposed removal of someone who has already announced his retirement can only be described as disingenuous," said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.

September 26: The Daily Caller: The VA announces the firing of retiring Employee:
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) told Congress that it’s firing a top official — who already quietly announced his retirement.  John S. Goldman, medical director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, announced his retirement on September 22 after 42 years. The Vinson facility was one of many VA health centers that falsified patient wait times.  VA even sent out a September 22 press release announcing Goldman’s retirement.  “Today John S. Goldman, director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center (CVVAMC) in Dublin, Ga., announced his retirement after 42 years of federal service,” VA stated.

But then on September 26, VA’s national office sent a regional press release to congressional staff announcing that Goldman has been “proposed for removal” by VA.  “We wanted to pass along this regional press release,” VA official Janko Mitric wrote in an email to congressional staffers obtained by The Daily Caller.  “Yesterday, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) proposed removal of the Director of the Carl Vinson VA Medical Center (CVVAMC) in Dublin, Georgia, following an investigation by the VA Office of Inspector General, and a follow-up review by the Office of Accountability Review (OAR), in which allegations of data manipulation were substantiated,” the press release stated.  The proposed removal of the director underscores VA’s commitment to hold leaders accountable and get Veterans the care they need,” the release continued. “Relying on new statutory authority, the Deputy Secretary  took this action in coordination with OAR, which reports directly to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.”

September 24: The Washington  PostVA records show a patient rescheduled his appoint after he died!
Evidence of the Department of Veterans Affairs record-keeping scandal doesn’t get any more obvious than this: VA records show that an ex-Marine who died while waiting for care at a Minneapolis clinic later rescheduled his appointment from the grave.  The issue was brought to light this week in a USA Today report.    Jordan Buisman left the Marine Corps because of complications with epilepsy. The 25-year-old veteran requested a neurology appointment on Oct. 12, 2012, and the VA sent him a letter saying it could see him 70 days later.  Buisman didn’t make it that long. He died 24 days before the appointment. Curiously, VA records show that he canceled and rescheduled the date four days after his death.  Faking patient cancellations was one of many schemes that the VA used to hide extensive treatment delays. Buisman’s case appears to fall into that category.

September 9: Fox News:  Unclaimed Remains of 13 Vets to get full military burials:
Remains of 13 military veterans left unclaimed in a Detroit morgue -- including men who served in Vietnam -- will be buried with full military honors Thursday in a Veterans Administration national cemetery.  The bodies are the last of about 200 that were unclaimed and being held by the Wayne County medical examiner's office. The civilian burials were completed last month.  The 13 veterans, who will be buried in caskets, make up the largest group of unclaimed or homeless service members to be laid to rest at the Great Lakes National Cemetery, cemetery director Roy Luera told The Oakland Press.

All of the men died within the past three years, but their remains were left unclaimed at the county coroner's office, Fred Salanti, president of Missing in America Project, told FoxNews.com. Their service dates go back as far as the mid-1950s, according to the newspaper. At least one veteran served in the Korean War.  The veterans, seven of whom served in Vietnam, will be buried beginning at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 11, following a two-hour, 13-hearse procession from the morgue. State police will accompany the procession to the Cemetery.

September 8: Fox News: IG let VA Officials Alter Report to Absolve Agency in Phoenix of Deaths:
Crucial language that the Department of Veterans Affairs inspector general could not “conclusively” prove that delays in care caused patient deaths at a Phoenix hospital was added to its final report after a draft version was sent to agency administrators for comment, the Washington Examiner has learned.  The single most compelling sentence in the inspector general’s 143-page final report on fraudulent scheduling practices at the Phoenix veterans’ hospital did not appear in the draft version, according to a staff analysis by the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.  It was inserted into the final version, the only one that was released to the public, after agency officials had a chance to comment and recommend revisions.

August 28: ABC News: Veterans issues take a front row seat in campaign ads:
Judging by candidates’ ads, the hottest issue in House and Senate midterm elections this year is easily care for America’s veterans.  This month alone, 23 House races and 10 Senate races have seen over 13,000 airings of television ads on the topic of veterans’ healthcare or veterans’ benefits according to Kantar Media’s Campaign Media Analysis Group (CMAG).  The number of ads focusing on veterans’ care and benefits has been steadily climbing in both House and Senate races. In May of this year there were 3,405 airings of TV ads, in June 6,366 airings, in July just over 8,000.  Elizabeth Wilner, senior vice president at Kantar Media Intelligence, said the number of political ads on the issue of veterans swamps every other issue.  “I’m struck by how many veterans-themed ads are popping up and really cannot think of any other issue this year… that started resonating in such a widespread way across so many races,” Wilner said.

August 26: USA Today
: Report: VA Scandal Probe Targets Possible Obstruction of Justice
The Justice Department and the FBI have joined the Veterans Affairs inspector general to investigate allegations of obstruction of justice at dozens of veterans hospitals across the country, according to a long-awaited report released Tuesday.  The report by the VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) said 93 VA health care sites across the country are being investigated in connection with falsifying scheduling records to hide delays in veterans' health care and "attempting to obstruct OIG and other investigative efforts."  "These investigations confirmed wait-time manipulations were prevalent throughout" the VA health system, the report said.

The document cited a "breakdown of the ethics system" within the VA health care program.  "The report cannot capture the personal disappointment, frustration and loss of faith of individual veterans and their family members with a health care system that often could not respond to their mental and physical needs in a timely matter," the report said.  The VA system of 150 hospitals and 820 clinics serves about 6 million veterans each year.

August 7: The Washington Post: Obama signs bill giving more than $16 billion to the scandal-plagued V.A.
President Obama signed a bill that will inject more than $16 billion into the beleaguered Department of Veterans Affairs, money that will help an agency beset by scandal improve access to medical care for veterans.  “As a country we have a sacred obligation to serve you as well as you served us,” Obama, flanked by flags and members of Congress, said. It is, he said, “an obligation that doesn’t end with your tour of duty.”

In one of its last actions before August recess, the Senate passed the bill 91 to 3 in an unusual, of late, show of bipartisan support. The House passed the bill in July.  The legislation will attempt to provide veterans with timely access to medical care by providing them with a card that allows them to seek care from a civilian doctor if they have waited more than 30 days for an appointment at the VA. The $10 billion provision will let a veteran who lives more than 40 miles from a VA medical center seek private medical care.  The legislation allows for the hiring of more doctors and medical staff to ease the demands of a skyrocketing veteran population. Even with increased budget allocations for the VA, the demand outstrips the current resources.

July 30: The Hill: Overwhelming Support for Veterans Administration Bill in the House!
The House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a $17 billion overhaul of the troubled Veterans Affairs Department.  The 420-5 vote sends a conference agreement worked out by negotiators in both chambers to the Senate, where it is also expected to be approved. It will then be delivered to the White House for President Obama’s signature.  The three-year bill provides $10 billion in funding to pay for veterans to get healthcare at private facilities along with funds for the VA to hire more doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

Under the bill, veterans may seek treatment at non-VA providers who participate in Medicare if they live more than 40 miles away from a VA facility, or if agency physicians cannot see them within 30 days.  The only question in the vote was whether many Republicans would oppose the legislation because of its cost. Negotiators agreed that $12 billion would be considered emergency spending that would add to the deficit. The other $5 billion in costs are offset with spending cuts within the department.

July 22: The Wall Street Journal: Funding the Veterans Administration without using Budget Gimmicks
The worst scandal in decades at the Department of Veterans Affairs doesn't only involve unethical staffers cooking the books on waiting times, inexcusable as that is. Woefully inadequate VA funding and budget gimmicks by multiple Congresses and administrations created the long waiting lists in the first place.  Last week's request to Congress by acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson for $17.6 billion more over the next three years to meet patient demand and drive down waiting times acknowledges the problem. The additional resources, he argues, are needed to hire 10,000 new clinical staff members, including 1,500 new doctors, nurses and other health-care providers, undertake major repairs and renovations at eight VA facilities, and lease an additional 77 clinics. Without the additional funding, he says, wait times would "just get longer."

What distinguishes this request is that the VA rarely asks Congress for what it actually needs. While the VA's budget models make clear the agency needs more money—and a predictable funding stream—to do its job, year after year the White House proposes and Congress appropriates billions less than what VA's internal estimates show it needs. Plus, Congress usually fails to pass VA appropriations bills on time, forcing the agency to wait months before it knows how much it can spend—surely a contributor to its management problems. This puts the VA in the untenable position of either rationing care to patients it already serves, or denying or delaying entry to new veterans.

July 7: The Daily Caller: Nurse: VA Medical Staff Stole Morphine from Dying Patients:
Vials of morphine were systemically stolen from a VA Medical Center and replaced with water and saline so that dying veterans got the wrong treatments, a longtime VA nurse told The Daily Caller.  “A nurse taking care of hospice patients over the past year had been diverting vials of morphine,” said Valerie Riviello, a 28-year veteran nurse at the Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, New York. “Those patients that were dying in hospice were not getting their intended pain medication.”

Management became aware of the recurring theft without reporting it to higher levels of governance within the VA system, said Riviello, a Florence Nightingale Award winner for nursing.  The nurse detailed visible abuse of a machine that dispenses medication. Hospital staff need to punch in a code to get medicine from the machine. Vials of morphine were being replaced with other ingredients, including saline and water. Records continued to show the accurate number of withdrawals from the machine, but morphine was not getting to the patients.

July 3: Arizona Central: VA Scandal: Here are six veteran’s stories of anger and betrayal
In the months since the VA scandal first came to light, the story has only grown.  Report after report has confirmed the details.  Hundreds of thousands of veterans fell through the cracks while waiting for medical appointments at Veterans Affairs healthcare centers. Some died while they were waiting. The agency has responded since then, putting executives who drew big bonuses on leave, replacing its top official in Phoenix and recently nominating a new secretary of the VA. The VA also ordered interval reviews -- though systemic changes have yet to come.  The video isn't about reviews, investigations or systems. This video is about people. Six veterans, what they promised their country, and what they faced at home. These are their voices.

July 3: The Daily Caller: Whistleblower fights back against VA hospital over secret waiting lists:
Despite denials by the Department of Veteran Affairs, a whistleblower is standing by his claim that a Louisiana VA hospital maintained a secret waiting list for patient care.  According to hospital employee Shea Wilkes and internal emails leaked to the media, there have been wait times of up to fifteen months for appointments in the mental health department of the Overton-Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana.  Wilkes told The Daily Caller that 620 veterans still need appointments.

The VA denies that any such wait list exists. In an emailed statement, VA spokeswoman Sandra Franks told The Daily Caller that all the patients in the department have been properly taken care of.   Wilkes, in an interview with The Daily Caller, pushed back and said he was disappointed that hospital management refused to acknowledge the enormity of the situation.  “I am disappointed that Overton Brooks Leadership has decided to ‘cover-up’ what myself and many others know to be true. There were numerous wait lists generated due to the shortage of providers. I have heard and seen staff tell veterans they were going to put them on a wait list.

June 29: USA Today: Obama plans to nominate Bob McDonald to head VA
President Obama intends to nominate West Point graduate Robert "Bob" McDonald — most recently chairman of Procter & Gamble, a Fortune 500 company — as secretary of the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, wracked by a scandal of systemic delays in health care. The nomination of McDonald, subject to confirmation by the Senate, was confirmed by two administration officials who declined to be identified ahead of the official announcement.

McDonald, 61, was with Procter & Gamble for 33 years. As CEO, he oversaw more than 120,000 employees, with operations around the world, selling products in more than 180 countries and more than 2.5 million stores, reaching more than 5 billion customers. The son of an Army Air Corps World War II veteran, he graduated in the top 2% of his class at the U.S. Military Academy in 1975 and served five years in the Army. McDonald is a Republican, according to records at the Hamilton County Board of Elections in Ohio.

June 19: The Washington Post: Lawmakers outraged: Senior VA officials get bonuses in the middle of the scandal
Members of a House committee want to know why an agency that has come under fierce attack for covering up long delays in service to veterans says all of its senior executives are “fully satisfactory” or better.   That and the performance awards given to Senior Executive Service members in the Veterans Affairs Department were the focus of incredulous representatives at a House Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing Friday.  Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-FL) said he called the hearing to examine “the outlandish bonus culture at VA and the larger organizational crisis that seems to have developed from awarding performance awards to senior executives despite the fact that their performance fails to deliver on our promise to our veterans….  These performance awards went to at least 65 percent of the senior executive workforce at the Department.  In fact not a single senior manager at VA, out of 470 individuals, received a less than fully successful performance review for the last fiscal year…. I wholeheartedly disagree with VA’s assessment of its senior staff.”

VA’s assistant secretary for human resources and administration, said performance awards are needed to “recruit and retain the best talent, many of whom require special skills in health care, information technology, management and benefits delivery.  In particular, VA requires talented senior executives to manage the complex set of facilities and programs that VA is responsible to administer.  We are competing in tough labor markets for skilled personnel, both in the public and private sector.”

June17: Fox News: Scandal-marred Phoenix VA paid millions in bonuses
The embattled Phoenix branch of the Department of Veterans Affairs apparently has paid out $10 million in bonuses during the past three years, far more than previously reported. The Arizona Republic recently published the bonus records after seeking them from the VA for months. The documents showed 4,188 bonuses were paid in that period to more than 2,150 employees.  The figures are sure to rile lawmakers, considering the Phoenix branch is at the heart of the current scandal over staff manipulating patient wait-time records. Further, investigators have found that workers covered up those lengthy wait-times in order to make their internal numbers look good, in turn triggering the copious bonuses. 

"Awarding bonuses to anyone who knew about misleading data and hidden lists is infuriating. The VA should fire those who knowingly participated in corruption, and it should overhaul its appointment scheduling system so that veterans, not financial rewards, are the priority," Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-AZ., told the Arizona Republic. 

June 13: The Hill: VFW Blasts “No” Votes by GOP Senators on VA Reform Bill:
A prominent veterans group on Thursday slammed the “no” votes by Republican Sens. Bob Corker (TN), Ron Johnson (WI) and Jeff Sessions (AL) who “put dollars and cents above the interests of the nation’s veterans,” the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) said in a statement.  “There is a cost of going to war that includes taking care of those who come home wounded, ill and injured, and if these three senators have determined that we can’t afford to properly care for our veterans, then they should seek employment elsewhere!” VFW National Commander William Thien said.  The measure, which passed the Senate in a 93-3 vote Wednesday, was brokered by Sen. McCain (R-AZ) and Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Bernie Sanders (I-VT). It grants new powers to the VA secretary to fire managers and allows veterans to seek private healthcare under certain circumstances.  In a statement following the vote, Johnson criticized Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) for rushing the bill to the floor without allowing lawmakers time to assess its long-term costs, saying the legislation would “spend more money to expand a broken system.”

He, along with Corker, defended their votes by pointing to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released less than an hour before the Senate vote that estimated the non-VA provider provision could increase spending by about $35 billion over the next 10 years.  Sessions opposed the legislation because he claimed it would bust the budget caps Congress put in place in 2012.

June 13: The Hill: Lesson of the VA Scandal: Predictability of Washington
If the ongoing scandal in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system provides evidence of anything — in addition to our ongoing failure to provide adequate care for our veterans — it's that Washington's response is sadly predictable.  The first instinct in Washington is to look for scapegoats or a sacrificial lamb. That may feel good but it doesn’t solve the ongoing problem.    The second instinct is to throw money at the problem. The Senate has now done this, passing legislation sponsored by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) that would increase VA spending by roughly $2 billion, open 26 new clinics in 18 states and hire additional VA doctors and nurses. It also includes spending for things that have nothing to do with health care.  In fact, if we should know anything by now, it's that government does a terrible job of running a health care system. 

- First, we should return the VA health care system to its core mission of treating combat and other service-related injuries. Nearly 56 percent of VA patients today are being treated for illnesses that have nothing to do with their time in service.  
- Second, we should give the veterans themselves, not the government, more control over their health care.
Even veterans with service-connected illnesses should have the option of going outside the VA for care. Yes, some traumatic combat injuries require specialized treatment that is not widely available outside the VA system, and the VA may have to continue providing such care. But most injuries and illnesses, even combated-connected ones, can be treated elsewhere. In fact, the VA already allows the outsourcing of care in cases where a patient cannot be treated within 30 days, but only at the VA's discretion.  

But why should the choice to allow outside treatment be held hostage to the same bureaucrats who are responsible for the delays in the first place? All veterans with service-connected injuries should be allowed to seek treatment from any doctor or facility they wish, whether their family physician or a national renowned specialist. The VA would then reimburse the provider directly. Alternatively, those veterans could be provided with vouchers allowing them to purchase private health insurance. Either way, the choice and, therefore, the control, should be in the vet's hands.  The McCain-Sanders bill now moves to the House, where it is expected to pass easily. It represents the same old Washington way of looking at a problem. We've tried that before. And, predictably, we've failed.

June 5: USA Today: 18 Vets on List in Phoenix, Died
Investigators have determined that more than 100,000 veterans nationwide were kept off waiting lists for medical appointments, and Acting Veterans Affairs Secretary Sloan Gibson said the nation will learn Monday how many patients were relegated to "secret lists."  During a news conference Thursday at the Carl T. Hayden Medical Center in Phoenix, where the VA medical scandal erupted, Gibson also disclosed that at least 18 Arizona veterans died while awaiting doctor appointments, though it remains unclear whether the delayed care is to blame for those fatalities.  Gibson said he had details on 14 of the deaths and it appeared most had contacted the VA for "end of life care."  "None of that excuses us," said Gibson. "These lists were not being worked — inexcusable."  Gibson said if any of the 18 deaths is found to have been tied to delays or bogus wait-time stats that the agency will disclose that and discipline the responsible employees.

May 30:  The Hill: Shinseki resigns as VA Secretary
Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned Friday as the White House sought to take steps to control a widening controversy.  President Obama cast the widely expected resignation as Shinseki's decision, saying the former four-star general told him during a meeting in the Oval Office he did not want to be a distraction as the department worked to respond to systematic management issues. Obama said Sloan Gibson, the deputy secretary at the VA, will take over the department in an acting capacity, and that the White House was looking “diligently” for a new, permanent head.
More than 100 members of Congress, including nearly a dozen Senate Democrats, had called for Shinseki's removal. Lawmakers were outraged by a preliminary inspector general report released earlier this week that suggested as many as 42 veterans facilities may have been falsifying patient records and delaying care.  At the same time some Congressmen said Shinseki fell victim to those who were not telling him the truth and that this should not reflect upon the service the General has given to his country.   Shinseki himself said he had been too trusting of subordinates, and vowed to take responsibility.  “I was too trusting of some, and I accepted as accurate reports that I now know to be misleading with regard to patient wait times,” he said. 

Before meeting with Obama, Shinseki apologized for problems at the VA that he said were more widespread than he had initially realized.  He described doctored waiting lists that seemed to hide the long waits veterans endured for treatment as “irresponsible" and "indefensible."  “I also offer that apology to members of Congress who have supported me, to veteran service organizations who have been my partners for five years, and to the American people,” Shinseki said. “All of them, all of them deserve better from the VA.”

Even though Shinseki resigned, Congressional sources are saying this won’t solve the problem.  Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said  “While we are eager to see the President finally engaging on this issue, this has never been about a single person or a single resignation.  We now know that thousands of veterans haven’t gotten the treatment they were owed, languished on false wait lists, and were simply denied access to care when it was inconvenient—all so this administration could pretend they were reducing wait times.” 

May 29: Fox News: Obama under bipartisan pressure to oust Shinseki on heels of an IG Report:
President Obama is coming under heavy pressure from both sides of the aisle following a scathing inspector general report to tackle the problems at the Department of Veterans Affairs head-on -- first, by relieving VA Secretary Eric Shinseki of his command.   More than a half-dozen Democratic senators are now calling for Shinseki's resignation, since the Office of Inspector General released an interim report on Wednesday finding "systemic" problems with clinics lying about patient wait times.   Other influential Republican lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, (R-AZ), also pressed Obama to clean house in the wake of that report. 

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, asked about the report and the pressure from lawmakers, said Thursday that the administration is "focused on getting to the root of the problem."   Carney reiterated that Obama believes Shinseki has "served his country" and is committed to fellow veterans, and wants to wait to see the results of various reports. 

May 29: Fox News: Late-night fireworks on Capitol Hill as VA officials face Congressional Critics:
"We've lost true north," lamented VA Assistant Deputy Secretary for Health Thomas Lynch late Wednesday night. Lynch testified at a rare nocturnal hearing before the House Veterans Affairs Committee probing the scandal about secret VA wait-lists. The hearing didn't start until nearly 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday and ended shortly before midnight.  The lateness of the hour may not explain why the VA's compass is spinning these days.   Committee Chair Jeff Miller (R-FL) noted the scheduling of the hearing was to accommodate members who would not be returning to Washington until Wednesday.

No one's ever seen a fireworks show during the day. And it didn't take long for members of the Veterans Affairs Committee to light a few rhetorical Roman candles Wednesday night. The hearing came just hours after the Office of Inspector General released a damning report effectively confirming that workers at the Phoenix VA covered up long wait times, in order to make their internal numbers look good.   "I will not stand for a department cover-up," charged Miller. "We expect VA to be forthcoming. But unfortunately, it takes repeated requests and threats of compulsion to get VA to bring their own people here."

May 26: USA Today: Long Appeals Leave Older Veterans without Benefits for Years:
Cases involving the appeal of veterans benefits rulings take almost 19 months to resolve, Department of Veterans Affairs records show, and advocates say the crush of new claims is hurting older veterans.  At least 350,000 veterans of wars before those in Iraq and Afghanistan have outstanding appeals of benefits decisions, according to VA records.  Meanwhile the VA has touted how much it has cut the backlog of benefits claims that have taken longer than 125 days to resolve from 611,000 in 2013 to 344,000 in April.

The time it takes the agency to handle claims or treat patients at its hospitals has come under more intense scrutiny following the reports that some veterans died while awaiting care at VA hospitals and that some hospital administrators altered documents to make the delays look shorter than they really were.  Walinda West, a VA spokeswoman, said a simple appeals case takes an average of 562 days, but each supplemental piece of evidence can extend that delay by another 200 days  -- over two years altogether.

May 25: Fox News: GOP and Whistle Blower Join in calling for a privatization of VA Healthcare:
Calls to move veterans’ health care into the hands of private hospitals, amid allegations of widespread problems in Veterans Affairs facilities, gained momentum this weekend with House Speaker John Boehner and a Department of Veterans Affairs whistle-blower backing such a plan.  “It’s absolutely a good idea,” Dr. Margaret Moxness, who exposed long waits at a VA facility in West Virginia, told “Fox News Sunday.” “This should have happened years ago.” Derek Bennett, of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, also supports the idea.

Boehner said Saturday that he supported the idea of “privatizing” the department two decades ago, and that he has a renewed interest amid allegations that government employees kept secret records to conceal veterans’ long waits for medical treatment and that as many as 40 died while waiting.  “I still like the idea, and especially now,” he told The Columbia Dispatch newspaper, while making clear that getting veterans prompt care comes before making such a sweeping change.

The Obama administration announced Saturday that more veterans will be allowed to be treated in private hospitals in situations where the federal government cannot expand care in VA facilities.

May 25: The Daily Caller: VA Scandal is Huge Setback for Obama Effort to Turn Vets into Democrats
Washington Post columnist Chuck Lane noted Sunday that the Veterans Administration scandal represents “a huge setback” for the Obama administration’s effort to turn a “younger, more diverse” military into a Democratic political stronghold.  Lane appeared on Fox News Sunday to discuss the enormous VA appointment backlog, which has seen some veterans die while waiting for care.

He also explained the rather strange politics surrounding the scandal — where Democrats attack a well-established bureaucracy, while Republicans  promise to reform a broken government entity.  “Now, of course, President Obama has been pushing very hard — his wife has been working with military families and so forth — trying to sort of turn veterans into a Democratic group, based on the younger, more diverse military that we have,” Lane added. “And this is a huge setback to that effort.”

May 24: The Hill: The VA Turns to Private Hospitals for Help
The Department of Veterans Affairs says it will let more veterans obtain health care at private hospitals, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki announced Saturday.  Shinseki, who faces calls to resign amid reports of lengthy waiting lists and preventable deaths in the VA’s healthcare system, said the agency is "increasing the care we acquire in the community through non-VA care," according to the Associated Press.

Shineski said the agency is also attempting to boost capacity at its own facilities to help deal with the backlog of medical treatments. The announcement comes as the department attempts to deal with the fallout from allegations of medical treatment backlogs employees are accused of trying to cover up.

May 23: The Los Angeles Times: 28 Bodies of Veterans Left in Morgue for Over a Year Will Get a proper Burial:
The bodies of 28 veterans at the L.A. County Morgue were finally moved Friday for burial to the Riverside National Cemetery.  A local TV news station pressed the L.A. County Coroner’s Office Thursday to find out why the bodies had not yet received a proper burial after a source indicated there may have been as many as 60 veterans at the morgue for the past year and a half.  The morgue says the bodies were unclaimed and they don’t know how long the veterans were there. The law states veterans are supposed to receive a proper burial.

The Veterans Administration says they were never notified the bodies were processed and ready to be buried. More bodies will be moved as they are identified.  But as of Friday the LA County Morgue and the VA were blaming each other for the mix up.  In the meantime citizens were outraged at how the deceased vets had been treated. “I think its incomprehensible,” said Richard Burns, a Marine veteran.

May 22: The Washington Examiner: Pelosi Blames Bush for the VA Scandal
House Minority Leader Pelosi (D-CA), repeatedly put the blame for the VA scandal on former President George W. Bush, while arguing that her party has worked hard for veterans in recent years.  [Not mentioned is the work the former President has done with wounded warriors in the five years since he left office and his close ties to U.S. military forces during his terms in the White House.]  Pelosi took a shot at Bush while saying that the scandal is a high priority for Obama. "He sees the ramifications of some seeds that were sown a long time ago, when you have two wars over a long period of time and many, many more, millions more veterans," she told reporters during her Thursday press briefing. "And so, I know that he is upset about it."  The Democratic leader never mentioned Bush by name, but she alluded to him early and often in the press briefing.

May 22: WND News: Obama in 2008:  The VA will be a leader in health care reform!
It’s one of those promises the president would probably like to forget.  In vowing to make the Veterans Administration the model of national health-care reform back in 2008, the outlook for scandal-plagued Obamacare suddenly seems even worse.  It has been discovered that during his transition into the White House in 2008-09, President Obama proposed in his  “Obama-Biden” plan to “make the VA a leader of national health care reform so that veterans get the best care possible.”  However, instead of fixing the VA, the administration has had to defend its role in the death of veterans by neglect.

Meanwhile  eight years earlier, in a failed run for Congress, Obama unveiled a sweeping health-care plan that modeled aspects of the Veterans Administration’s medical system.  The discovery of the Obama-Biden VA plan fits a pattern that has come to light this week in which Obama repeatedly warned, or was warned, of serious problems at the VA but apparently did little in response.  In the document labeled the Obama-Biden Plan from the Office of the President Elect, Obama makes a series of promises to veterans.  To see the list of promises: Read the article

May 22: The Hill: Embattled Shinseki becomes lightning rod in battle for Senate:
Embattled Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki is becoming a lightning rod in the battle for the Senate. Democrats are trying to distance themselves from the VA chief and scandal, while Republicans are trying to tie Democratic candidates to the controversy. The debate centers around mismanagement and outright deception at numerous Veterans Administration hospital facilities around the country and fact that the Administration knew about the problems five year ago when the President took office. Republicans are now raising the question: If the Administration can’t fix the VA healthcare system, how can they be expected to fix ObamaCare which if VA healthcare in spades?

May 22: Politico: Obama’s early VA response: Executive Inaction:
President Barack Obama wants to talk about flexing his administrative and executive power to do more. Instead, he got stuck talking about a clear administrative and executive failure that, at least so far, he hasn’t done much about. And this one’s not a contained, bureaucratic flub. The problems at the Veterans Affairs Department have engulfed an entire Cabinet department and may have left hundreds of thousands of veterans waiting for care, and 40 of them dead. The latest stumbles have been a fresh reminder of the story line the White House has been trying to recover from since the fall, when the Obamacare website flopped, the key poll numbers about the president’s competence collapsed so deeply that they’re still far from recovering, and Democrats went into an apocalyptic panic about the midterms.

GOP leaders and officials have spent the last week talking about the backlogs and misconduct and how Obama is still an unprepared executive who needs to be stripped of power in the midterms. Once again, the GOP says, he’s presenting himself as an angry bystander, confronted with high-profile management failures on his watch that he says he learned about from news reports.

May 22: The Washington Times: Louisiana VA Staff Falsified Documents
Twenty-three employees at a VA center in Louisiana were placed on leave in 2010 as part of an investigation into document forgeries, a move revealed only in federal whistleblower lawsuits filed years later.  The investigation focused on records required to prove staff “competencies” at a medical facility in Shreveport, Louisiana, according to the complaints.  Multiple VA facilities are facing investigations from the agency’s inspector general into whether officials falsified wait times to cover up long delays facing veterans as they sought treatment, including in Phoenix, where as many as 40 veterans reportedly died while waiting for care.

 
 

 

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