Tags: Veterans Affairs

Swell: Audit Reveals VA ‘Systematically Overpaying’ up to 13,000 Staff


Big, busy Jolt to close out the week. I have to parcel it out in sections . . . 

And You Thought You Had Heard All of the Bad News from the VA!

Hey, remember the VA?

The scandal-plagued Department of Veterans Affairs is systematically overpaying clerks, administrators and other support staff, according to internal audits, draining tens of millions of dollars that could be used instead to ease the VA’s acute shortage of doctors and nurses.

The jobs of some 13,000 VA support staff have been flagged by auditors as potentially misclassified, in many cases resulting in inflated salaries that have gone uncorrected for as long as 14 years.

Rather than moving quickly to correct these costly errors, VA officials two years ago halted a broad internal review mandated by federal law. As a result, the overpayments continue.

Moreover, in the two years since thousands of misclassified jobs were identified, hundreds of additional positions have been filled at improperly high salaries. Internal VA documents obtained by The Huffington Post show that between September 2013 and May 2014, for instance, overpayments in annual salaries for the latter jobs alone came to $24.4 million, not counting benefits.

Tags: Veterans Affairs

White House Wants ‘Transparency’ Credit for Releasing VA Wait Lists Audit


President Obama deserves credit for the fact that his administration is no longer hiding the extent to which the Veterans Affairs Department hid the fact that 57,000 veterans are waiting for health care, according to his spokesman.

“The first thing I want to point out [is] that the release of today’s data is an indication of the  president’s commitment to trying to be transparent about this process,” White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Monday. The audit he was referring to showed that 57,000 veterans are waiting for treatment and that ”13 percent of VA schedulers reported supervisors telling them to falsify appointment dates to make waiting times appear shorter,” per the Associated Press

Earnest said that the report would allow the public to evaluate the reforms needed to fix the VA. “We have removed the 14-day scheduling goal that has led to some of the unintended consequences that you’ve cited, the creation of these alternate lists and these other things that the VA is working through right now,” he said. Earnest was referring to the secret wait lists created by VA staff in order to hide the fact that they were failing to provide an appointment to new patients within 14 days of an initial request.

“Before leaving office, [resigning VA Secretary Eric Shinseki] directed that wait times should no longer be part of hospital directors’ performance reviews and canceled the attached bonuses,” the Hampton Roads Daily Press noted.

Tags: Veterans Affairs , Veterans , President Obama

Michelle Obama Tries to Tamp Down Anger about Bergdahl and VA Scandal


Maybe First Lady Michelle Obama will succeed where others have failed in rehabilitating President Obama’s record regarding the Veterans Affairs Department and the decision to release five members of the Taliban to rescue a man many vets think is a deserter.

Less than a week after VA secretary Eric Shinseki resigned over the department’s recent scandals, Mrs. Obama held an event touting efforts by the VA and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to fight homelessness among veterans.

“Almost 90 percent of today’s homeless veterans served before 9/11, but this is the first time anyone has made this a government-wide priority,” she said Wednesday. “We’ve got HUD and the VA and the Interagency Council leading the way, and we’re also working with the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Labor and nonprofits and community leaders on the ground. We’ve cut through red tape and streamlined efforts across agencies, and together, we have made some extraordinary progress.”

Toward the end of her remarks, the first lady seemed, intentionally or not, to tie the homelessness issue to the Bergdahl exchange.

“So just like it’s our country’s duty to bring back all of our men and women from the battlefield, we’ve also got a duty to make sure that every single veteran has a place to call home when they get here – and for the rest of their lives,” Mrs. Obama said.

Her comments echo President Obama’s remarks in announcing the exchange, which he said was “a reminder of America’s unwavering commitment to leave no man or woman in uniform behind on the battlefield.”

Soldiers who served with Bergdahl don’t think the principle works quite like that. “It’s great that he’s back and that we can have that very small victory, if you can even call it a victory, because I believe . . . we gave up a lot for what we got back,” former Army sergeant Evan Buetow, Bergdahl’s team leader when he disappeared, told CNN.

Tags: Bowe Bergdahl , Michelle Obama , Veterans Affairs , Veterans

The Obama Administration Is Investigating Itself Again.


I could write a whole morning newsletter just about Obama administration scandals and incompetence.

Obama Administration: We’re Investigating How We Could Make Such a Dumb Mistake

Good news. The Obama administration is investigating itself again:

The White House is investigating how the name of its top CIA officer in Afghanistan was mistakenly divulged to the press during President Barack Obama’s surprise visit to the troops over the weekend.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough has asked White House counsel Neil Eggleston to look into the matter — and “to figure out what happened and to make sure it won’t happen again,” Obama’s deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told CNN.

What’s the consequence for the inadvertent leaker going to be — since we know this president never fires anyone? Fifty lashes with a wet noodle? A letter of reprimand in their permanent record? Double secret probation? Staying after work to write “I will not reveal the CIA station chief in Afghanistan” 100 times on the blackboard?

This follows the Justice Department’s investigation of itself in “Fast and Furious, the U.S. State Department’s review of its own actions before, during, and after the Benghazi attacks, President Obama picking his own people to examine his own NSA policies on domestic surveillance, and Eric Shinseki investigating wrongdoing at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

UPDATE: Jeryl Bier reminds us of the Department of Health and Human Services’ investigation of its own debacle, and that the position of “chief risk officer,” announced in December . . . remains unfilled.

Tags: Barack Obama , CIA , Veterans Affairs

Another Day, Another Series of Horrific Stories Out of VA Facilities


From the final Morning Jolt of the week:

Another Day, Another Series of Horrific Stories Out of VA Facilities

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki apparently is going to institute a new lengthy waiting period before action to address the problem of lengthy waiting periods.

We’ve lost patience over your losing patients, Mr. Secretary.

Meanwhile, I usually scoff at the perennial “rogue low-level employees in Cincinnati” excuse, but every once in a while, that blind squirrel finds an acorn.

The Veterans Affairs Medical Center of Cincinnati settled 10 wrongful death claims between 2001-2012 for a total of $1.57 million, including several cases for missed diagnoses and “faulty care.” The VA, under increased scrutiny for possible falsified wait time information, settled more than 1,000 such cases for more than $200 million nationally . . . 

Data compiled by CIR shows there were several deaths linked to misdiagnosis or a “failure to treat,” the finding on Harvey’s claim. According to the heavily redacted original paperwork filed by his wife, Harvey died from a heart attack while staying at the VA hospital in Corryville in March 2008 at the age of 60. The Enquirer identified Harvey through an extensive search of public records, although Harvey’s widow or family could not be located after an exhaustive search. But the original claim document states in a handwritten note that “the Cincinnati VA did not take care of him on March 31, 2008 and he had a heart attack and died.”

Whistleblowers keep coming forward:

Officials with the Department of Veterans Affairs are “deeply concerned” by a whistleblower’s accusations but declined to comment further on allegations that the woman was punished for refusing to falsify wait times at the Fort Collins VA clinic.

“We are deeply concerned by the allegations raised by a Cheyenne VA employee over alleged whistleblower retaliation,” the VA statement reads. “We cannot discuss the majority of her allegations, due to the ongoing (Office of the Inspector General) investigation. We are also not at liberty to discuss personnel or disciplinary issues.”

The VA sent the statement Wednesday evening in response to a Sunday request from the Coloradoan.

A whistleblower complaint filed by Lisa Lee led to a federal investigation that found multiple problems with the Fort Collins VA clinic, including improper appointment scheduling that in effect hid patient wait times while making it seem patients were seen close to when they wanted.

Lee, a former scheduler with the Fort Collins VA clinic and now on active duty with the U.S. Navy, told the Coloradoan she believes she was targeted because she refused to hide patient wait times.

They’re brave, since past whistleblowers describe all kinds of retaliation.

And the complaints are jaw-dropping:

[Desert Storm Veteran Paul] Baker said he has had treatments at several VA hospitals across the country but his worst experiences have been at the Audie Murphy VA hospital in San Antonio, where he’s been forced to wait several months for a simple procedure.

“I’ve waited up to four months to get an appointment to see a doctor and another three months to get a test done,” Baker said. “Then you got to wait another four months to get the results back to see the doctor just to discuss what the procedure is going to be.”

With his health deteriorating, Baker has been fighting to get his benefits increased, waiting three years just to get a hearing to make his case.

Don’t worry, America. The U.S. Senate is on the case!

Nah, just kidding. The VA reform and accountability bill passed the U.S. House with 390 votes earlier this week. And then . . . 

Although Reid called the House bill “not unreasonable,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., blocked Rubio’s request for immediate action. Instead, Sanders, chairman of the Senate Veteran Affairs Committee, said he would hold a hearing within a few weeks.

Happy Memorial Day, huh?

Uniting and electing that Republican-controlled Senate sure looks good right now, doesn’t it?

Tags: Veterans Affairs , Eric Shinseki

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