VA Behaving Badly, Again, Still

VA-veterans-affairsAre we sick of VA stories yet?

ITEM: Here’s the Stars and Stripes with the Top 10 outrageous VA employee behaviors. They say:

In addition to covering up appointment wait time records and handing out undeserved bonus awards, misconduct within the Department of Veterans Affairs extends to everything from sexual abuse and skipping work to identity theft and drug distribution.

You name it, they got it: rapes, kiddie porn, sexting, DUI in a G-ride, and even a kidnaping and murder plot — by a VA cop. Two of the worst cases were in, where else, Massachusetts. The last on the Stripes’ list refers to the wait-list scandal, but in a new way: someone was actually punished. Unfortunately it was Lisa Lee, the whistleblower in Fort Collins, Colorado. Few of the other miscreants have been punished: Acting Secretary Slade Gorton has sworn that their jobs and bonuses are safe, regardless of their performance. (He knows who his real clients are).

ITEM: A nursing manager in Albany, NY, Val Riviello, went from “outstanding employee” to target of official sanctions and harassment by the facility’s management when she complained about abuse of patients and a nurse’s theft of 5,000 vials of morphine. Unlike Riviello, that nurse hasn’t seen consequences.

ITEM: Many are critical of the VA’s treatment of PTSD and TBI vets, but the vets themselves tend to express their criticism directly: dropping out of treatment when it’s ineffective.

In the survey of more than 3,100 veterans, commissioned by the American Legion, almost 60 percent of those who received behavioral counseling reported that their symptoms stayed the same or worsened during treatment.

The figures were similar among veterans prescribed medication to cope with PTSD and TBI, with 52 percent claiming their condition went unchanged or deteriorated.

Amid deepening concerns that medical providers are overprescribing drugs for veterans, more than half of the survey’s participants reported having five or more prescriptions. More than 20 percent said they take 10 or more prescribed medications.

This one probably is due as much to the intractability of the ailments as it is to the VA’s usual barbers doing their usual quackery. But hey, they’ll all get bonuses, so there is that.

ITEM: The Office of Special Counsel notes that the VA has systematically retaliated against those whistleblowers, while never holding anyone responsible for mistreatment or neglect of veterans.

ITEM: The Office of Special Counsel (again, two weeks after the above) has a “culture of ” and has ignored the “severity of systemic problems.” (This one refers back to the mental patients warehoused in a Massachusetts VA hospital for 7 and 8 years without ever seeing a headshrinker).

ITEM: A massive file of VA wrongdoing is exposed in a 120-page report from Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK). (.pdf file). A few uncomfortable facts from Coburn’s report:

  1. Despite their poor performance, VA employees are the highest-paid employees in the entire Federal government. And that’s before the $160 million of bonuses get passed out. (p. 30).
  2. The top bonus recipient? The now-suspended (but certainly not fired) head of the Phoenix VA, whose reckless disregard of her patients led directly to scores of deaths. (p. 29).
  3. The VA doc whose neglect of colonoscopy patients led to an unknown quantity of deaths resigned in 2013, but they’re still paying him almost $300k this year, and won’t say why. (p. 30).
  4. One top VA manager lied on her resumé, winning a promotion with a fraudulent Master’s Degree she never earned. She not only remains in the position, but her annual compensation has come to include a $20,000 or more bonus. (p. 32.)
  5. The VA’s heavy unionization produces the sort of union results we’ve all seen in Government Motors’s UAW-built cars, but there’s no recall for a medical procedure. As many as 227 nominal VA workers actually work full time for the VA union, the American Federation of Government Employees. This time is spent working to featherbed pay and benefits, or on AFGE political activity. (pp. 61-62). And if they’re at the average level of VA pay and benefits, that means the taxpayers are gifting well over $25 million a year to the union — money that Congress thought they were appropriating for the care of “him who shall have borne the battle, and his widow and his orphans.”
  6. Even the AFGE, though, thinks management has its priorities all screwed up. It blames pervasive physician and nurse understaffing on the VA’s focus on filling Washington offices with overpaid middle managers, leaving too little money in the pool to attract good providers to a workplace topheavy with unproductive but irritating managers. (p. 33).
  7. “Veterans are not always the priority,” the report says. (Wrong question, in light of these revelations. Are they ever the priority?) “VA pays nurses to perform union duties and allows doctors to leave work early rather than care for patients. It also tolerates employees skipping work for long periods of unapproved absences, while veterans cannot get phone calls answered or returned.” (p. 5).
  8. The wait-time scandal is not new: an Appendix to the report (pp. 86-87) documents 21 reports and audits on unsatisfactory wait times and mismanagement dating back to May, 2000 and continuing steadily to date, with no apparent reaction from entrenched VA leadership.
  9. A nurse appears to have murdered three patients. In a deal you wouldn’t get if you were charged with murder, she served eight days. 
  10. Again, there’s no accountability. We’ll close with a quote from the report:

Even for serious offenses, ranging from failure to show up at work to inappropriate sexual contact with patients, VA employees are rarely fired. Instead, they are placed on paid administrative leave for extended periods of time. This result is far from discouraging the kinds of problems that hurt veterans. The VA instead effectively rewards bad behavior with what amounts to a paid vacation.

Lord love a duck.

2 thoughts on “VA Behaving Badly, Again, Still

  1. Bill K

    You can’t quit now. Veteran’s Issues isn’t sufficiently populated yet with enough material to withstand that rewrite of history we all know is comin’.
    Besides, the definitive account of government agencies has not yet been published, and some clear-eyed young non-journalist will need to source the definition of a government agency – a jobs program masquerading as an ethical solution to evil in the world.

  2. Aesop

    At this point, if somebody walked in and shot the place up at some VA model facility, and set a new world’s record for mass shooting deaths in a single incident, it still wouldn’t get them any sympathy.

    If he managed to start in the admin offices instead of the patient lobby, there’d be a fight to run him for Congress from multiple states.

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