For decades now, the VA’s Office of Inspector Gadget has stumbled around unsure of their powers or whether they have a mandate, let alone the legal authority, to do half of what they do. Remember, these guys are the Katzenjammer Kiddy Kops who went after Keith Roberts back in 2000. Turns out they were waaaaaay off the reservation with that stunt. Just how far hasn’t been ascertained. They’re still in the back room castin’ dem bones trying to adduce a way out of a megalawsuit. Seems you can’t just throw Vets in jail on a trumped up jaywalking charge for four years.
What is of concern is more pressing. I’ve got the live wire feed from the VAOIG. Every time one of their envoys lands and files a report, I get it. I wrote of this earlier but the humor has evaporated. Inspector Griffin Gadget has been sitting on the Phoenix debacle since December-and probably earlier. Just before that, in late November, CNN spilled the beans on the Columbia, South Carolina VAMC doing the identical same thing. Everyone’s in high dudgeon swearing they’ve never ever heard of anything so nefarious as to deny Veterans their medical care in Phoenix. Sharon Hellman is ecstatic. This means a promotion to Washington to bury her somewhere in a corner office overlooking Lafayette Square. The head bone counter is slotted in for Harrison, Montana to cool his heels for a few years and then he’ll be back in the saddle as Head of the Houston VAMC in 2016 after this contretemps blows over.
What we overlook is the common thread. The VA OIG is ostensibly a house unto itself. Obviously, nobody can tinker with them to garner favor. By rights, they have to remain impartial but has anyone ever attributed the adjective to VA without it being couched in derision? Have you ever known any legal action undertaken by the Gadget crew to put the fear of God into any future potential miscreants? All I see are new instances of crime and ripping off VA left and right. I figure they’re popping about every eighth guy cheating and stealing. After prosecution costs, dealer prep and destination fees, it works out to a Vet who stole $142 in unwarranted travel funds getting his wrist slapped. Cost to OIG? About $680,000. The deterrence aspect needs to be worked on-maybe a little bit more advertizing at the ROs and VAMCs.
The next important facet, which is what the Phoenix imbroglio/coverup represents, is the VA OIG’s random inspections of every pill mill VA operates from the lowliest Community Based Outpatient Clinic (CBOC) in Bremerton , Washington to the mighty VAMCs such as Phoenix. Dr. Sam Foote, the former VA doctor who went to CNN with this, wasn’t the first. Apparently Dr. Katherine Mitchell risked her job and went to them earlier last year. VA dumped her and she regained her job on the whistleblower clause. She’ll still get gigged for performance bonuses for life. She has now testified that one of the employees called her and told her to beat feet down to the hospital to stop the shredding free for all. VAOIG’s take on this? We were unable to substantiate that anyone called Dr. Mitchell.
The problem with any organization of this type is that it has been entrenched for so long that it’s akin to a union. You know what I mean. “Hey, put down that shovel, kid. You’re makin’ us all look bad. If we finish it in a day then they’ll expect us to do that every day.” Laziness becomes endemic and cronyism abounds. To think this goldbrick mentality stops outside the OIG’s door is wishful thinking. What’s worse, they go out on these medical boondoggles every week. Each State or VISN is constantly being surveyed, photographed, written up and its all wired back to DC like AP or UPI stringers for a newspaper. And much like a Mobius loop, each report is a virtual carbon copy of the one before it. Cut and Paste takes on ginormous parameters. Only the zip codes change. Oddly, each of these VA-operated wonders of medicine suffer identical maladies of not washing operating rooms after use, failure to have anyone counting instruments after said operations due to staff shortages, pressure wound management techniques, pain medication management safeguards, extended staycations in Emergency Room waiting areas for eight hours, and so on. Each one is virtually mimicked from one end of the VA’s fruited plain to the other. One would think they might have a hotline or a newsletter that popped up every day at VA medical centers saying “Yo. OIG alert here! We just checked out the Dayton Dental Clinic. One of the dentists there has a raging case of Hep C and he hasn’t been wearing gloves for a few months. As a consequence, we have 18 Vets with diagnosed HCV in the community now. Make sure you tell everyone to reaaaaally be careful on hygiene and especially if they have HIV/HCV.” One would be dismally disappointed to find out that the chances of one VAMC finding out what was going on in another VAMC are between Lotto-winning slim and none.
So it comes as no surprise to find out Inspecteur Gadget has a wee problem. It’s May. Using the analog computer on your left hand J-F-M-A-M means five months ago Doctors started explaining the medical mystery of why it takes two years to get an appointment if they just scheduled you for it last week. Or, if you involve the right hand analog hard drive, you find that Columbia VAMC, the actual tip of this iceberg, bobbed to the surface seven months ago. Nevertheless, everyone is looking up and doing the Chicken Little imitation. Senators from Arizona are beating their chests and donning sackcloth. Wherefore art thou, Sen. Graham? Who speaks for the dead in South Carolina who also stood and waited?
How can we have an independent OIG who merely makes polite suggestions? Who comes to inspect but carefully avoids running their finger over the lintel to check for dust? Who is consumed with being unable to substantiate that Johnny Vet sat in a VAMC waiting room for hours on end with a butthead orderly rudely telling him to sky down. I know. I’ve been there for hours in that predicament.
Our OIG on paper is probably an altruistic force for the good. When individuals with inflated authority enter into the equation with no guidance, gestapo tactics and pepper spray come out. I know. I’ve seen that too. I am not surprised that the OIG cannot find a secret list. If you don’t look for it, you can’t find it. If you are told to stare up at the sky instead and make chickens sounds about things falling, that’s what you do. VA cannot sustain another major hit. They have to nip this in the bud. It calls for a Watergate-quality coverup but Haldeman and Erlichman have retired. That kind of talent is gone forever. They don’t teach it at Harvard anymore.
The situation in Phoenix is nothing more than an elaborate smokescreen erected while a viable excuse is manufactured. Rest assured someone is going to hang for this but it will be the janitors or the switchboard operators. “OIG was able to substantiate that important callback schedules were illegally removed from desks and destroyed by the night help-unbeknownst to scheduling technicians. The technicians and call back specialists were thus deprived of the information needed to complete the mission. Supervisors have been briefed and retrained in the proper protocols of office cleaning to prevent future breakdowns in communications between VA contact personnel and Veterans Stakeholders. VA OIG also was unable to substantiate that VA director, Sharon Helman, had ever been apprised of this scheduling defect. As for the insinuation of a secret list of Veterans “on call” this was never substantiated. We investigated so thoroughly and for so long Bob Rekus actually got his handicap down to a 6.”
Really. That’s how ludicrous this is becoming. Sharon Helman could have gone out, bought a .380 MP-11 and taken out those 40 Veterans personally and OIG was never going to be able to substantiate it. That’s why they are circling the wagons down at 810 Vermin Ave. NW and pulling all nighters brainstorming a good excuse. Whoever told Sharon to go out and do the dumbe blonde imitation after her Federal rentacops ran off the drive-by media should be shot. The head of VA health care should have put the concrete galoshes on her and gone sightseeing out in the Pacific Ocean-faaaaar out- where it’s deeeep. When Benghazi -type moments arise, you take the microphone back to DC and speak from a press pulpit. You bring out Uncle Ric to offer his calm, Walter Cronkite-like sage advice. You sure don’t let the idiots out of the rubber room and give them a microphone.
When this is all over, I’m sure VA will have a new Federal Emergency Management Plan in place to deal with these contingencies. This is what the Big Guys at VA OIG call a “teaching moment”. I’m on pins and needles waiting for the explanation. Any bets they mention alien abduction? I’m going with the janitor in the library with the candlestick.