Having trouble viewing this? Click here
Having trouble viewing this? Click here
A new investigative report by the Arizona Republic newspaper has found that officials in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) whitewashed a report by the VA’s Inspector General regarding the depth, breadth, and scope of the healthcare access scandal that resulted in the deaths of at least 40 veterans in Phoenix alone.
According to the news article:
During a Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs hearing Tuesday, Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., challenged the language in the OIG report, suggesting it downplayed the effects of long-standing VA delays in delivering care to ailing veterans.
“I don’t want to give the VA a pass on this, and that’s exactly what this line does,” Heller said to Dr. John Daigh, assistant inspector general for health-care inspections. “It exonerates the VA of any responsibility in past manipulation of these … wait times.”
Based on the OIG’s cause-of-death conclusion, many media outlets cast the investigative report as vindication for the VA and as refutation of Arizona whistle-blower claims.
A Washington Post article was headlined, “Overblown claims of death and waiting times at the VA.” The Associated Press report, which appeared in publications nationwide, was titled, “IG: Shoddy care by VA didn’t cause Phoenix deaths.”
That spin on the story first circulated a day earlier when a copy of the VA’s response to the OIG investigation was leaked before release of the report. The key talking point: “It is important to note that OIG was unable to conclusively assert that the absence of timely quality care caused the death of these veterans.”
Inspector general reports are typically circulated to agency bosses prior to publication, providing an opportunity to correct errors and suggest changes.
More than a week before the Phoenix investigation was released, TheRepublic learned that a dispute had arisen over standard-of-proof language that was being pushed by VA administrators to downplay deaths in Phoenix.
OIG investigators corroborated virtually every major allegation of wrongdoing submitted by the two whistle-blowers. Nevertheless, the report and congressional briefing papers contain passages that appear to criticize Foote and his credibility, emphasizing that “the whistle-blower did not provide us with a list of 40 patient names.” The passage referred to VA patients Foote said died while awaiting care in Phoenix.
In interviews and a written rebuttal, Foote said the portion of the report about him is “false and misleading” because he and other whistle-blowers provided 24 names to inspectors and explained where in VA records to identify 16 more.
Another part of the VA report acknowledged that Foote had supplied at least 17 names and that others could not be traced because documentation had been destroyed by VA employees.
Read the full Arizona Republic news report here:
A new example of VA’s failures on medical research — an often overlooked area where VA remains badly broken — has emerged near Fort Hood.
An Austin, Texas newspaper reports that a $3.8 million mobile MRI machine, widely touted by VA at the time of its 2008 inauguration, has been sitting empty and unused. While VA announced in 2008 in detail the life changing brain research it was going to conduct using the equipment, VA never conducted that research and the equipment sits empty. (“Lost Opportunity: With wars winding down, VA’s brain research failed to launch,” Austin Austin American Statesman-Staff, Sep. 7, 2014, Jeremy Schwartz reporting).
Among VA’s known, systemic medical research failures:
From foot-dragging to outright attempting to roll back the clock on Gulf War Illness research, VA’s systemic medical research issues remain largely on the back burner of Congressional, media, and public attention — if they are being addressed at all.
Read the full Austin article here:
The following article appears courtesy of 91outcomes.com. It is reprinted in full with the permission of 91outcomes.
(91outcomes.com) – In VA medical centers across the country, Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness are speaking up and out.
Faced by VA’s failure to try to find effective treatments and further afflicted by VA’s expanded efforts to deny their disability claims, ill veterans of the 1991 Gulf War are facing a new wave of denial by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
In various corners of the country the media is also paying attention.
In Missouri, the Columbia Daily published a feature article that included Gulf War veteran Marsha Young’s poor treatment by VA. “We may have missed the boat with your group back in the ’90s,” Truman Memorial VA Medical Center Chief of Staff Lana Zerrer told her.
And in Central Florida, The Tampa Tribune’s Highlands Today published an extended article detailing the experiences of ill Gulf War veterans Larry Roberts and Randy Livingstone.
As VA continues its series of public Town Hall meetings at every VA medical centers across the country, VA leaders will continue to hear from ill Gulf War veterans who continue to suffer, not just from their debilitating Gulf War Illness, but more tragically from VA’s continuing failure to cook the books on Gulf War research and failure to try to develop effective treatments to help improve their health and lives.
Read the latest full articles here:
The following statements were released by the office of Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL-01), Chairman of the U.S House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
On August 7, a statement by Rep. Miller on the signing into law of the VA Reform Bill included this sage insight and advice:
“VA’s problems festered because administration officials ignored or denied the department’s challenges at every turn. In order to prevent history from repeating itself, President Obama must become personally involved in solving VA’s many problems.”
WASHINGTON – Aug. 26, 2014 — Following the release of the VA Inspector General’s review of the Phoenix VA Health Care System, Chairman Jeff Miller released the below statement.
“The inspector general’s report paints a very disturbing picture. Delays in care that VA officials tried to hide caused harm to veterans. Even though the IG says it can’t conclusively assert that deaths were caused by VA negligence, the report does link 20 deaths to substandard care.
Almost as troubling as the report itself is the fact that VA officials sought to downplay it by selectively leaking portions of the department’s response to the review prior to its release. The VA scandal was caused by bureaucrats who chose to whitewash or conceal the department’s problems.
The fact that some department officials are still engaging in similar practices underscores the dire need for real accountability throughout the organization. So far, despite repeated requests from our committee, we have seen no evidence that the corrupt bureaucrats who created the VA scandal will be purged from the department’s payroll anytime soon. Until that happens, VA will never be fixed.” –
-Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
WASHINGTON – Aug. 26, 2014 — After President Obama’s speech to the American Legion National convention, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement.
“President Obama’s actions today fall far short of what’s needed to regain the trust of America’s veterans. VA’s problems festered because administration officials ignored or denied the department’s challenges at every turn.
In fact, I wrote to the president more than a year ago about a string of serious VA health care problems, lapses in employee integrity and failures in accountability, but the president didn’t bother to respond. Instead, I received a boilerplate letter from then-Sec. Eric Shinseki that assured me everything was OK at the department – an assertion that couldn’t have been further from the truth.
Additionally, White House claims that VA is improving when it comes to accountability, transparency and protecting whistleblowers don’t add up, especially when no one has been fired as a result of the VA scandal, the department is still sitting on 113 outstanding information requests from the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and VA whistleblowers who tried to expose problems are still enduring retaliation.
What we need from the president right now is more follow-through and less flash when it comes to helping veterans. A good place for him to start would be to meet with family members and veterans who have been struck by the VA scandal, order the department to cooperate with the congressional committees investigating VA, and force DoD and VA to work together to establish a joint electronic health record integrated across all DoD and VA components.”
– Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs
Over the course of this year, systemic failures at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) have become known to the public, including VA cooking the books on veterans’ healthcare, disability claims, and medical research.
A new investigative report by USA Today sheds light on VA cooking the books on yet another area under its vast military veteran purview — veteran suicides. ["VA touts progress on suicides; data tell another story," Aug. 25, 2014, Dennis Wagner reporting]
A widely touted statistic related to veteran suicides — that there are an average of 22 a day — now appears to be not only horrific, but vastly underestimated, according to the USA Today investigation.
“Craig Northacker of Vets-Help.org said death records do not capture the real tally of veterans’ suicides, which he estimates at 30 to 35 daily.
[VA deputy director for suicide prevention Caitlin] Thompson acknowledged the data dilemma: “Numbers of suicides are just very, very difficult to get, period.” ”
USA Today also showed how slow real change is to come to VA. Seven years ago, VA’s top mental health officer, Dr. Ira Katz, was exposed in a media scandal of covering up the true impact of the veteran suicide crisis. According to USA Today, Katz sought to minimize the crisis in secret internal emails marked so they would not be released to the media, which they were eventually anyways:
” “Shh!” Katz wrote in one message. “Our suicide prevention coordinators are identifying about 1,000 suicide attempts per month among veterans we see in our medical facilities.” “
This renewed public exposure revives a longstanding issue: Why is Ira Katz still at VA in the same position of responsibility over veteran suicides?
The USA Today story includes a bulleted list of veteran suicides following VA failure — statistics and anecdotes not reported by VA anywhere.
These tragic statistics and anecdotes mirror the findings in a 2007 Veterans for Common Sense lawsuit filed against VA that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and definitively showed that veterans were committing suicide awaiting VA care and benefits decisions. [Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth and Justice v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs].
Veterans and the public await justice and the long-overdue removal of Ira Katz and others like him from the federal agency entrusted with the care of our nation’s veterans, their widows, and their orphans. in the meantime, the public’s recognition continues to grow regarding how wide the extent is of VA officials cooking the books over many years: veterans’ VA healthcare, veterans’ VA benefits claims, veteran-related VA medical research, and the latest… VA’s monitoring, tracking, reporting, and preventing veteran suicides.
Read the full USA Today story here:
Michael Zacchea, Lt. Col. (Ret.), USMC, is a veteran of U.S. operations in Somalia, Haiti, and the Iraq War, and a member of the Veterans for Common Sense Board of Directors.
The Canary in the Coal Mine for Veterans’ Disability Compensation
By Michael Zacchea
On August 7th, 2014, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report entitled, “Veterans’ Disability Compensation: Trends and Policy Options“.
The Ranking Member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee (HVAC), Rep Mike Michaud (D-ME) requested the report. The purpose of the report is to develop proposals to reduce payments for disability compensation for veterans, in response to “budgetary pressures.” The report itself is incomplete — amazingly, absent from the CBO report’s proposals is “Don’t enter into long-term wars of aggression under false pretenses” – that is the first way to reduce disability compensation payments. Curiously, the CBO does not offer as a way to pay for the disability compensation of disabled veterans by repealing the Bush tax cuts of 2001, and 2003, which cost the country more than $2.2 trillion in tax revenues from the wealthiest people in the country. In truth, there are no budgetary pressures; there are only political pressures from constituents who don’t want to pay for the sacrifices of veterans who fought for their freedom and to defend the Constitution.
The report begins with a summary of how veterans disability benefits payments have changed since 2000. To wit, the report mentions that the number of veterans receiving disability benefits from the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) has increased from $2.3 million to $3.5 million, while disability compensation payments have increased from $20 billion per year in 2000 to $57 billion per year in 2013. Although the report recognizes that our nation has been at war in two countries for more than a decade, the report fails to correlate the increase in disability benefits to the actual increase in veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan accessing the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) system for health care, and applying for disability benefits; or to the severity of disabling conditions those veterans with which those veterans are returning.
The non-partisan veterans advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense did a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the quarter ended on March 31st, 2014. As of that date, more than 2.6 million Americans had served in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001. More than 2 million are in the VA system, and more than 1 million have sought healthcare through the VA. Of the more than 1 million veterans seeking healthcare, more than 969,000 have filed claims, more than 890,000 claims have been adjudicated, more than 875,000 have a service-connected disability, and finally, more than 816,000 are receiving disability benefit compensation.
A casual back-of-the-envelope calculation will show that the VBA has increased its rolls by 1.2 million. A second casual back-of-the-envelope calculation will show that nearly 75% of the increase of veterans receiving disability benefits are veterans of the so-called Global War on Terror. The VA has a demographic projection that the veteran population in the US will decline by 33% by 2040 to 15 million from a current 22 million total. This is an important consideration when the CBO proposes implementing a “statute of limitations” on submitting a disability claim, or implementing a lifetime cap on disability compensation.
This report comes at a most inauspicious time. In the very recent past, Secretary of the VA, General Eric Shinseki was forced to resign over the ongoing scandal that has engulfed the agency. Indeed, this recent article at the National Journal “The VA Scandal Just Keeps Spreading,” shows that the scandal is systemic, that more than 100,000 veterans have been systemically denied access to healthcare without due process in violation of their constitutional rights per the 9th Circuit Court decision, and veterans are dying while waiting for healthcare.
The optics of this report are terrible. In February 2014, Republicans in the Senate filibustered the Veterans Omnibus Bill, effectively killing it, despite the bill being endorsed by 20 major veterans organizations. The bill would have cost $21 billion over 10 years, and provided for infrastructure improvements, opening new Vet Centers, and hiring healthcare professionals and staff. In attempting to justify their “no” votes, Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee said “That is more money we were going to spend that we haven’t spent, that we never had because we were borrowing it.”
Then the scandal broke in the spring, and the politicians scrambled to do something. They resurrected the Veterans Omnibus Bill, renamed it the Sanders-McCain Veterans Bill, and passed it in June. Three Republican senators voted against, it, Sen. Bob Corkey (R-TN), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). Sen. Sessions (R-AL) put the cost-benefit analysis explicitly,“I feel strongly we’ve got to do the right thing for our veterans. But I don’t think we should create a blank check, an unlimited entitlement program.” The bill was passed by the HVAC and the House – their last vote prior to the August recess – and signed into law by President Obama on Aug 7th – interestingly, the same day the CBO report was released.
Virtually at the same time, the Iraqi Army has collapsed in the face of the onslaught by the terrorist organization ISIS, and an Afghan soldier murdered the US Army Major General who was responsible for the training of Afghan security forces. Former President George W. Bush stated his gambit for winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: “And that is why we are on the offense. And as we pursue the terrorists, our military is helping to train Iraqi security forces so that they can defend their people and fight the enemy on their own. Our strategy can be summed up this way: as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
These events may appear to be unconnected, but to the contrary, they are profoundly connected. This series of events is a twin scandal and crisis. First, our country’s leadership manifests a failure of political will to win wars. Our elected politicians have essentially come up with a way to “outsource” winning wars to third country labor, similar to corporations that outsource manufacturing to lowest-cost labor countries; this is politically palatable to the electorate and creates political capital for the politician to be re-elected as a “wartime” politician. At the same time, no one has questioned the risk involved in trusting our nation’s geopolitical strategic interests with non-American troops whose motivations and interests are very very different from our own. In short, trusting third-country troops to fight and win our wars is a recipe not just for losing, but for disaster. It was a failure in Vietnam, it is a failure in Iraq, and it is failing in Afghanistan.
Secondly, and at the same time, those same politicians now express a failure to live up to President Lincoln’s words in his second inaugural address, which have since become the VA’s motto. “to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan.”
Without the Bush doctrine, there would be no Iraq war, and there would be no strategy ‘as they stand up, we will stand down.” Had the American electorate been told the truth about these wars, hundreds of thousands of Americans and American families would not now be living with the long-term health effects of disabilities incurred as a result of service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Iraq war has been estimated to cost $3 trillion dollars (this just happens to be the same amount the Bush tax cuts cost us) by the Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Professor Linda Bilmes, largely regarded as one of the leading experts on U.S. budgeting and public finance. If the VA is fully funded every year, for the next fifty years, the cost for caring for the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan will be $1 trillion a decade for the next five decades. To add insult to injury, recent reports from the University of Minnesota and from Feeding America show that 28% of veterans and military families now rely on food assistance programs; at the same time, the HVAC is asking for — and the CBO is offering — policy proposals to reduce disability compensation payments.
Put it all together, and our nation is in real trouble. Our politicians no longer have the political courage to win wars, no longer have the will to pay for the care of veterans of our wars, and have inoculated the rest of the country from the true cost of war. Outsourcing wars, training foreign armies to fight our wars, refusing to pay the healthcare and disability costs of the veterans of those wars, shielding the 99 percent of civilian population from the costs of war for political efficacy is a recipe for disaster. It is a recipe for empire. It is a recipe for perpetual war.
The CBO report is the canary in the coal mine. They are looking for ways to reduce the costs of caring for veterans with disabilities who served in the longest wars our nation has fought, in Iraq and Afghanistan. As the military downsizes through 2020, and more than one million veterans leave active service by the end of the decade, the politicians will continue to try to find ways to, “respond to budgetary pressures,” by taking out those pressures on the less than one percent of Americans — fewer than 3 million total — who served and sacrificed for more than 310 million American citizens. Politicians have come up with a way to outsource wars and build political capital with the American electorate, and effectively inoculate the American taxpayer from the true costs of the war. As well, this toxic combination combines to create a disincentive for Americans to take the oath of service. There is no upside if our nation’s politicians consider veterans usable assets, and once the veteran is no longer military useful, veterans are on their own for any disabilities that they may suffer in combat.
All Americans should agree that it is morally wrong and a betrayal of the social and legal obligation that the nation has to its veterans, to respond to “budgetary pressures” on the backs of the less than one percent of Americans who have served and sacrificed in defense of the Constitution. George Washington wrote in 1781 to the first governor of Connecticut, Jonathan Trumbull, “Permit me Sir to add, that Policy alone in our Present Circumstances, seem to demand that every Satisfaction which can reasonably be requested, should be given to those Veteran Troops who, ‘thro almost every Distress, have been so long and so faithfully serving the States . . .”
That intent remains as fresh and immediate today, in light of the present VA scandal and the explicitly stated unwillingness to pay for veterans disability benefits, as when it was written. Service in defense of the Constitution is special. Veterans are truly the best and brightest our nation has to offer in its defense. There is no such thing as budgetary pressure, only what our nation is willing to pay for, and what it’s not willing to pay for. If our nation is not willing to pay for veterans, this two-centuries-old experiment in democracy will not last.
An investigative article published this week by the Military Times publication group describes a U.S. Navy officer who was discharged for reporting hazards to U.S. troop health from burn pits and contaminated water.
According to the August 19, 2014 article, (“Ex-officer says she was discharged for reporting burn-pit danger,” Patricia Kime reporting):
Former Lt. Cmdr. Celeste Santana, an environmental health expert, said in documents filed Aug. 1 in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims that she was relieved from duty at the base in 2009 in retaliation for reporting “serious environmental health issues” affecting the safety of U.S. troops and local Afghans.
According to Santana, troops showered and washed their hands and food in bacteria-laden water and were exposed to chemicals in bottled water stored at high temperatures. Their health also was endangered by the proximity of their quarters and offices to burn pits where “several tons of toxic material was burned daily.”
Santana said when she tried to warn senior officers of the issues, she was instructed to stop taking samples and “stand down” for “exhaustion.” She later was relieved of her duties for “loss of confidence” and sent home, but not before she reported a sexual assault she believes was in retaliation for reporting health and safety issues outside her chain of command.
Read the full article here: