Much in the last week has come to light regarding all things VA. As I speak, they are discussing this at the HVAC hearings up on Capitol Hill. Cause for concern wells up in the breasts of all Vets concerning this. On the one hand, we have the exalted, jack-booted OIG clowns investigating the finite meaning of what “is” is. On the other, semantics reigns supreme with the standard rejoinder “Why, you didn’t tell us to investigate whether the lack of VA medical care at the Phoenix VAMC caused these Veterans’ deaths. Colvin versus Derwinski forbids us to make conclusion medical in nature. We would need a knowledgeable medical practitioner on board to arrive at that assessment.” In a word? Ennui.
There seems to be several versions of a draft report circulating in DC on just who screwed the pooch in Phoenix. The first one was apparently far too truthful and had to be modified so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings or cause sudden irrevocable unemployment. We all know full well that the VA’s OIG is politically driven in spite of their pleas otherwise. “Independent” is not in their lexicon. Witness the endless parade of VAOIG inspections across our fruited plain. Each one regurgitates the identical pablum about how they arrived unannounced at the Billybob C. Frumack VAMC in East Bumflock, South Dakota and discovered that sanitary protocols were not being observed. Further, patient dignity complaints were “unsubstantiated” because the complainants had all mysteriously vanished or passed from causes wholly unrelated to their (lack of) VA medical care. Simultaneously, conscientious OIG investigators were also descending on the Jane Q. Quickswitch VAMC in Greenbow, Alabama and discovering to their dismay that the exact same scenario was afoot there as well. Go figure. What are the chances that ten VAMCs or CBOCs in different VISNs (Veterans Integrated Service Networks) across America were all flunking out on the same metrics- at the same identical times?
Various entities who study these phenomena note that the VAIOG seems to be unable to substantiate anything negative about anything more serious than whether hand sanitizers were filled up and available for use on Mondays at any given VA medical facility. The original report on the Phoenix VAMC imbroglio was damning- so damning in fact that it had to be redacted, refracted, reexamined and rephrased until the magical words “unsubstantiated” were forced-nay tortured -from Richard Harris’ lips. Afterwards, he was moved to go on record and personally deny he had been threatened with waterboarding if he didn’t revamp the findings to exonerate Sharon Helman et al.
The long, circuitous path from Phoenix to the VA Central Office and the time it takes for an investigation to be accomplished is intriguing. I opined on this in an earlier post in May of this year. In it, I suggested much of what has now transpired would occur again. Et voilà!
Consider this. The VA can find three Vets scamming the Travel pay office in Pittsburgh for chump change and obtain an indictment. I find it amazing these budding Sherlock Holmes wannabes can do this but utterly fail to draw any conclusions (read substantiate) whether failing to schedule 35 Vets for lifesaving medical testing might have adversely affected their health. VA has a tried and true habit of changing the discourse away from exculpatory damning evidence to one of indecision, uncertainty and generalized amnesia that simply would be conjecture on their part to draw a negative conclusion. That this happens day in and day out at the Office of Inspector Gadget is disconcerting to say the least. One cannot pride themselves on being objective and intelligent and then in the same breath say they weren’t asked to look into a certain facet or have no authority to make subjective judgements on matters they know nothing of. If that were the case, why this glorified Dog and Pony show month after month that reveals nothing more serious than a breach of good taste and reeducation on how to restore “patient dignity” at thirty VAMCs monthly?
A draft copy of the OIG’s investigation is a work product that is the property of America. We are entitled to see a preview of it. Nevertheless, Mr. Griffin came unglued at the thought of anyone commenting on the OIG’s perceived independent investigation.
Griffin issued a scathing rebuttal late Friday to what he dubbed “media coverage of baseless allegations on independence and integrity over the IG’s report.”
Over the years we have observed the Office of Independent Guttersnipes arrive at all manner of whitewash outcomes. The Pittsburgh Legionnaire’s disease outbreak was a fluke. The Dayton dentist with HCV who polluted 18 patients with his disease was an unfortunate accident which could never be repeated. The endless parade of dirty butt tractors used for colonoscopies that infected untold numbers from Orlando to Oshkosh with HIV/HCV were again just an oversight. Each and every one of these were unsubstantiated inasmuch as they were unique and unforeseen occurrences that could never have been prevented. And now we have the same problem with VA scheduling. Nobody set out to disenfranchise Vets. The fact that this practice was occurring simultaneously at 141 different locations was an amazing coincidence. Implying that the VAOIG ignored Dr. Sam Foote’s allegations in October 2013 is a cheap shot. Gearing up for a system-wide investigation of this magnitude takes months-perhaps years to organize. The problem is that the OIG stonewalled rather than beginning a true investigation. Perhaps stonewalled is too harsh a term and besmirches the name of an esteemed Confederate General. Maybe “disremembered” would be more politically correct.
OIGs at all major government agencies are ostensibly independent. Why, then, would any OIG run a preliminary draft of misfeasance/malfeasance by the very same individuals implicated in the report and give them a chance to “tune it up”. Does any of this make sense? It all depends on what the meaning of “independence” is. At the VAOIG, “independence” is a short leash with a choke collar. For Mr. Griffin to insinuate otherwise is to insult our intelligence.
For over seventy years we have been treated as mushrooms and been paid lip service to assuage our complaints. Little else has materialized. With eBenefits and the 800 number, feeding us info has become even more streamlined and pointless.
CALL ME BOB (and CALL ME)
In the interests of the new VA transparency recently enacted by Congress and signed into law, we are blessed with a VASEC who cherishes rubbing elbows with his great unwashed charges. Gone is the exalted “Mr. Secretary”. This has been replaced with “Call me Bob”. First names are now the vogue. We are even permitted to know his cel phone number (513-509-8454). Excuse me for being the stick in the mud but does anyone find this incongruous? How many of you have tried to get in touch with your local VA Regional Office? Short of an attorney who has the magic RO telephone directory, you are condemned to Dial-A-Prayer (800-827-1000). Dealing with VA “technicians” there is like calling an insane asylum on the off chance you can actually get through to an bonafide employee and not the residents. They have access to less and less information these days and seem to revel in their ignorance/inaccessibility to meaningful or useful information.
Considering the VA is so innovative and constantly coming up with all these new Six Sigma™ and Kaizen® improvements to better serve us, I find it amazing that you cannot find out more about your claim by calling them. A bird in the hand is reputed to be far superior to one in the bush. If you listen to the 800 blurb, they actually advocate that if you desire to know the status of your claim you can log onto ebenefits or visit your local regional office. Since we all know eBenefits is about two weeks behind the rest of the world, that would probably be like reading last week’s newspaper. Additionally, calling the helpline results in the VA technician merely reciting what you are looking at on eBenefits. If we have to drive 90-150 miles to our local “Veterans Service Center” to obtain information then I submit the system is irretrievably broken. How about a 40-mile rule? If your VARO is more than 40 miles away, you should be given the telephone number of an intelligent VA employee knowledgeable in your claim.
We are reaching the point now where accountability in all things VA is becoming harder and harder to define. There was time that if an employee did not know the answer, they would submit it to someone who did and you could eventually arrive at an excuse or explanation for the problem. Asking questions of the Great Wizard of Oz was easier and more rewarding. Fortunately for us, we can now call Bob. Or maybe Rep. Jeff Miller. He seems to see the problem, too.