Another Department, Another Scandal

From the Washington Examiner:

I’m losing count here, so let’s see, we had the NSA, the IRS, the Benghazi investigation, the CIA spying on the Senate and now the VA is in trouble for purging veterans’ records. It wasn’t bad enough to cut their benefits, now they’re trashing their requests for tests and deleting appointment backlogs.

Two key House members have called for an investigation into reports published by the Washington Examiner that the Department of Veterans Affairs purged thousands of medical appointments to hide backlogs of tests and consultations dating back 10 years.

Rep Dan Benishek, R Mich

Rep. Dan Benishek (R) Mich

House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Mich., said in a joint letter sent last week to Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki that they want the findings probed by the VA’s Office of Medical Inspector, a unit within the agency that monitors health care issues.

Benishek, a former VA surgeon and chairman of the House VA subcommittee on health, reiterated his concerns about the practice in a meeting with Shinseki Friday.

McCarthy, the third-ranking Republican in the House, led previous calls for an investigation by the Government Accountability Office that last year found patient appointment dates were manipulated to make it appear medical visits were being scheduled within agency deadlines.

Performance reviews and bonuses of top VA officials are based in part on meeting those deadlines.

The Examiner reported Feb. 25 that VA mass-purged thousands of medical appointments by declaring them “administratively closed.” That means the patient did not receive the care that had been ordered because the orders for the follow-up procedures were simply cancelled.

Citing congressional hearings and internal VA documents, the Examiner identified 40,000 cancellations at veterans’ medical centers in Los Angeles and another 13,000 in Dallas.

Agency officials refused to provide information on when the mass cancellations began, whether medical appointments were administratively closed at other VA facilities across the country, or the total number of procedures that were cancelled nationwide.

“The recent allegations, as reported by the Washington Examiner, of employees at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System willfully manipulating and destroying as many as 40,000 backlogged veteran medical exam requests are appalling if true,” McCarthy wrote in a March 1 newsletter.

“This news underscores the problems veterans face when scheduling medical appointments to receive care and is an issue I continue to fight to reform,” McCarthy wrote.

In their letter to Shinseki, McCarthy and Benishek asked about the whistleblower complaint filed in 2009 by Oliver Mitchell, a former scheduling clerk at the VA hospital in Los Angeles who was quoted by the Examiner.

Mitchell said he was ordered to close unfilled appointments for medical tests as part of a “numbers game” to make it appear the facility was eliminating backlogged orders.

He refused and filed complaints with the VA inspector general and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, both of which were dismissed after agency officials claimed the purge was allowed by policy.

In their letter to Shinseki, McCarthy and Benishek asked the medical inspector’s office to conduct an investigation to determine whether hospital officials in Los Angeles improperly cancelled backlogged appointments.

If it did occur, the congressmen want to know if there was any record of the decision, whether medical files were destroyed and if similar complaints of a mass purge have been filed in other VA offices.

They also asked if anyone would be disciplined if appointments were improperly cancelled.

In a written statement, Benishek called the reports of a mass purge “disturbing,” adding that “these alleged actions look like bureaucracy in its worse form — and the people who are being hurt are our veterans.”

Benishek spent 20 years as a doctor at the veterans agency. “I can’t imagine how any professional could operate in this manner. The VA needs to give us some answers as to whether or not these allegations are accurate,” he said.

Robert Petzel, under secretary for health at VA, dismissed the Examiner’s findings as “scurrilous” during a hearing of Benishek’s subcommittee last week.

Petzel told the committee only 300 procedures were administratively closed in Los Angeles several years ago as part of an extensive review of scheduled tests.

Questioned by reporters after the hearing, he said he was referring only to “radiology examinations” at the Los Angeles facilities.

He claimed he was unaware of allegations concerning 40,000 cancelled procedures in Los Angeles and 13,000 in Dallas, even though his top deputies were grilled about them during a 2013 hearing by the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations.

McCarthy attended that March 2013 hearing, though he is not a member of the subcommittee.

The Examiner obtained internal VA documents showing the 13,000 appointments in Dallas were cancelled in about a week in September 2012.

It is unclear when the purge began in Los Angeles, though Mitchell’s complaint says he was ordered to remove the appointments in November 2008.

Petzel told the veterans’ subcommittee no one who needed care was denied care as a result of the administrative closing of appointments.

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As mind boggling as this is, let’s see if we can sort it out. We have workers who are processing veterans’ appointments and tests at various hospitals; they have monitors from the Office of the Medical Inspector who are watching them, and lastly, we have oversight committees, dependent on whistleblowers for info, who are watching the watchers who are watching the workers. WTH?? Two layers of watchers for one level of workers?? This could only happen in our government – the real world can’t afford to do business this way.

But it gets better because their performance reviews are based on meeting deadlines rather than quality and/or quantity of requests processed, and we all know it’s probable they’re receiving those bonuses even though the deadlines aren’t being met.

The kicker is that the Medical Inspector’s Office, who’s doing a poor job of overseeing the workers, is now in charge of conducting the investigation to see if the workers were in fact cancelling appointments.

The topper is that now Congressmen, in all their wisdom, want to see records of this alleged abuse.

Note to not-so-sage Congressmen – chances are pretty good that if they purged records and appointments, they also purged incriminating records of their actions.

Will that stop them from ‘conducting a full-blown investigation’?  Of course not, they will continue to send the fox into the henhouse to count the eggs. And no one is being denied care. Yeah, ok.

~Kathy

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16 Responses to Another Department, Another Scandal

  1. Janyk says:

    Watching the goings on, in DC, is like watching people try to catch each other on a carousel – it’ll never happen. The entire workings are as defunct as the Edsel.

  2. CW says:

    It’s a typical big government mess of corruption, apathy and ineptitude. This is how government and life in general are when there is no way to hold people accountable. We are learning that congress can hold all the investigations it wants and write letters and demand this and that and in the end nothing happens because no one is ever fired and money is never withheld.

    This is life in the age of big government and unless something fundamental changes we’d better get used to it.

    • Kathy says:

      The corruption escalates at a rapid pace while the accountability is at a standstill. It’s become it’s own little kingdom on the hill, completely out of touch with reality.

  3. Mrs AL says:

    I want to thank you for this post, Kathy. In addition to your commentary, you have led me to engage in a little exercise I would like to share.

    Having read the post I closed my eyes. I pictured in my mind an unraveled ball of yarn. In trying to somehow make a ball of the yarn again, all I saw were knots. In the end, it was just a jumble of useless material. And that’s what your government is today.

  4. upaces88 says:

    More than likely, that order came from the TOP.

  5. Buck says:

    “Third ranking…” Second ranking…First ranking…
    Don’t you think that’s what’s wrong with the system? The longevity factor plays into chairmanships, office space and everything else. So junior congressmen strive to become senior congressmen without much regard to attending to the affairs of the country.
    There has to be a better way than 80+ year old career politicians at the helm of the ship in many cases for no other reason than they have longevity…

    • Kathy says:

      There is a better way – fewer lawyers and assistants and more businessmen. Change the incentives to create quality, not percentages and deadlines.

  6. clyde says:

    Good post. It is shit like THIS that has me on bended knees for a meteor strike. Is there ANYTHING that D.C. CANNOT screw up ?

  7. Hardnox says:

    Good post Kathy. Thanks for daylighting this.

    I’m with Clyde.