Saturday, April 12, 2014

Rage at VA health care failures isn't enough

Rage at VA health care failures isn't enough

The Arizona Republic

April 10, 2014

http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/editorial/2014/04/10/va-health-care-phoenix-rage/7566131/

"So I ask you today, how many more vets will be allowed to suffer and die before someone is held accountable?"

— Barry Coates, a terminally ill veteran testifying to Congress

Pick your response: Rage or sorrow.

The horrors revealed at a House hearing this week cry out for ripping through the bureaucracy, stripping away the excuses, ousting those responsible and treating veterans the way they treated their country: with honor, respect and loyalty.

That seems like a no-brainer.

Yet this was the third House hearing in recent years on Veterans Administration mismanagement, incompetence and outright indifference to veterans' health needs. Whistleblowers and wronged patients have been raising alarm bells that sound loudly in Arizona.

Rep. Jeff Miller, the Republican chair of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, said staff investigators found as many as 40 veterans died because of long waits for care in the Phoenix VA Health Care System. The system apparently hides wait times by keeping two sets of records.

That is not accidental, negligent or incompetent. It's intentional.

Miller ordered that records in Phoenix be preserved and an investigation take place. Perhaps this one will matter. Finally.

Dr. Sam Foote, who retired from the VA in December, provided The Arizona Republic with a Feb. 2 letter he sent to the VA inspector general seeking an investigation of "gross mismanagement of VA resources and criminal misconduct" that produced "systemic patient safety issues and possible wrongful deaths."

Copies of the letter went to Miller, Sen. John McCain, Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick and the U.S. Attorney's Office.

It was a follow up to allegations Foote made in October. He noted that inspector general investigators had substantiated his allegations, yet nothing changed.

"Patients are still dying," he wrote in the February letter.

One was Thomas Breen, who died in November at age 71. He served two decades in the Navy. When blood began to tint his urine, he sought an appointment with the Phoenix VA, his daughter-in-law said. He waited. And waited. And waited. The call telling him a date was available came one week after he died of undiagnosed bladder cancer.

Whistleblowers cite backlogged record keeping, poor mental health care, an emergency room swamped with vets whose condition had worsened while they waited for appointments, and hostile working conditions that drive away quality doctors and nurses.

Veterans tell stories of the hell that comes after returning from war.

Coates told the committee that he spent a year seeking a diagnostic test. By the time he got it, his cancer had spread. The surgery he then required left him impotent, incontinent and with a colostomy bag.

"Gross negligence of my ongoing problems ... has not only handed me a death sentence but ruined the quality of my life I have for the meantime," he told the committee.

Welcome home, soldier. You went, you served. You risked body, mind and soul. Now take a number and we'll get to you. Maybe.

Beyond the rage and sorrow this ugly reality evokes, there needs to be a sustained commitment to rout the culture of status quo at VA and turn it into a agency that serves the health care needs of veterans with the same determination the military demanded from them. Let the heads begin to roll.

###

 

Mike Siegel

Committee on Veterans' Affairs

U.S. House of Representatives

335 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515




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 Sean Eagan


 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Web: http://americancoldwarvets.org/
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Email: Sean.Eagan@gmail.com
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile
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Thursday, April 10, 2014

VA's response to congressional inquiries about patient deaths called 'ridiculous'


NOTE: “We are looking for specifics _ data, metrics _ but we never get them,” Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., told Lynch. “It’s just my feeling and my only conclusion that if you’re not willing to reveal the facts, that there’s something you don’t want the public to hear.”

 

VA’s response to congressional inquiries about patient deaths called ‘ridiculous’

McClatchy Washington Bureau
April 10

http://www.kansascity.com/2014/04/09/4948115/vas-response-to-congressional.html

A House of Representatives committee blasted the Department of Veterans Affairs on Wednesday over a lack of progress and accountability in the aftermath of at least 23 preventable veteran deaths that were the result of delays in treatment at VA medical centers across the country.

One of the centers to come under heat was the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S.C., where six patients died as a result of not receiving care they needed, according to a VA report.

In the third full House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing about patient safety, Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the panel, along with other lawmakers, expressed frustration with the VA’s unresponsiveness to requests for information. These included the steps the department has taken to discipline those responsible, as well as how funding meant to reduce backlogs and improve care has been spent.

In a report released Monday, the VA said it has identified 76 patients in its health care system whose care warranted an “institutional disclosure,” or a formal notification that a problem with the patient’s VA care is expected to result in death or serious injury.

Of those 76 patients, 23 died, and the deaths were primarily the result of delays in gastrointestinal care, the report said. The report did not state when the patients died.

Miller called the testimony that VA officials submitted to the committee “ridiculous.”

“It concerns me that my staff has been asking for further details on the deaths that occurred as a result of delays in care at VA medical facilities for months, and only two days before this hearing did the VA provide the information we have been asking for,” he said.

Barry Coates, an Army veteran who sought care at the Dorn VA Medical Center, testified about his experience with delays in the VA system that ultimately led to an ongoing battle with colorectal, liver and lung cancers.

Coates, who has seen four different VA doctors over the course of his treatment, said he never received an “institutional disclosure” or other formal notification or apology from the VA. He said he hopes his testimony will lead to measurable progress in VA operations and prevent other veterans from suffering as he has.

More than $1 million in funds were designated for reducing the 4,000-patient Dorn backlog, but only $200,000 was actually used for this purpose, according to a Veterans Administration inspector general’s report released in September.

The committee still has not received a straightforward answer about where the rest of the funds went, Miller told Thomas Lynch, assistant deputy undersecretary for health for clinical operations for the Veterans Health Administration.

“I have tried to work with your committee,” Lynch said. “I have tried to share information we’ve obtained as we’re obtaining it. . . . We strive to be transparent.”

Of Coates’ testimony and the stories of veterans’ deaths, Lynch said, “I think it’s good that we hear these stories, that we not ignore the harm that has occurred.”

The VA also has been reticent about disciplinary actions it has taken on employees responsible for the delays, committee members said.

When asked if anyone lost his or her job at several of the sites where patient deaths occurred, including VA medical centers in Columbia, Memphis, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga., Lynch said he did not have that information.

“I’m troubled by whether or not firing someone is really the answer,” he said. “I think we need to be careful about punishing everybody for what happened at a few medical centers.”

However, committee members said the lack of accountability demonstrated by the VA was unacceptable in the face of preventable deaths.

“We are looking for specifics _ data, metrics _ but we never get them,” Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., told Lynch. “It’s just my feeling and my only conclusion that if you’re not willing to reveal the facts, that there’s something you don’t want the public to hear.”

Although Lynch called the VA’s relationship with the committee “constructive,” lawmakers said they were tired of hearing the same vague promises of reform.

“This is a bureaucracy that’s out of control,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski, R-Ind. “If this happened in the civilian world . . . we would be in the streets with signs saying, ‘Shut them down.’”

###

Mike Siegel

Committee on Veterans' Affairs

U.S. House of Representatives

335 Cannon House Office Building

Washington, DC 20515




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 Sean Eagan


 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Web: http://americancoldwarvets.org/
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Email: Sean.Eagan@gmail.com
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile
LinkedIn








Friday, April 04, 2014

VA Veteran Employment Data

Colleagues and Fellow Veterans,

 

Today marks the first Friday of April which means the Bureau of Labor Statistics released their employment statistics.  The data Included today is for the month of March, 2014, as well as the 1st quarter, 2014.  The National unemployment rate remained unchanged at 6.7% while the Veteran unemployment rate decreased slightly from 6.3% in February to 6.0% in March.  The Veteran unemployment rate average for the first quarter of this year was 6.0%.

 

Please click the links below to view the full report.

 

V/R

 

Curtis L. Coy 
Deputy Under Secretary for Economic Opportunity 
Veterans Benefits Administration 
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

 

 

 

Please Remember:

 

 

  • If you are seeking employment in the federal government, particularly the VA, our VA for Vets high-tech tools and resources can help.  Visit online at http://vaforvets.va.gov/Pages/default.aspx or call 1-855-824-8387. 

If you would like to contact us about your VA education benefits:

  • You can send us a secure email that will usually be answered within 48 hours. You can also search for answers to frequently asked questions and register to be notified of any updates to the information. This contact method is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and can also be utilized worldwide. Click here to enter the "Ask A Question" site or here to review our frequently asked questions.

 

  • You can call 1-888-GIBILL-1 (1-888-442-4551). This line only accepts calls from 7:00 AM - 7:00 PM central time Monday – Friday, though you are able to schedule a call back from a Customer Service Representative.

 

 




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 Sean Eagan


 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Web: http://americancoldwarvets.org/
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Email: Sean.Eagan@gmail.com
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile
LinkedIn








VFW Washington Weekly April 6th 2014

In This Issue:
1. Fort Hood Shooting
2. VA Appropriations Clears Subcommittee
3. VA Health Subcommittee Discusses FDA Safeguards 
4. House Discusses VA Responses to Congress 

1. Fort Hood Shooting: "Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their loved ones and the entire Fort Hood family after yet another senseless and tragic shooting," said VFW National Commander Bill Thien, after a soldier shot and killed three and wounded 16 others before turning the weapon on himself Wednesday afternoon. "We may never know why this soldier did what he did, but if for mental health reasons, it's important in the days ahead that our nation's military and political leaders don't use the medical community as their scapegoat. The Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs provide some of the nation's very best mental healthcare, but providing that care first takes someone to voluntarily seek it." The Chief also offered the mentorship of VFW members to everyone serving in uniform. "We are not trained mental health professionals, but as fellow comrades-in-arms who have been to war and returned, we can relate." Read his statement at http://www.vfw.org/News-and-Events/Articles/2014-Articles/VFW-Statement-on-Fort-Hood-Shooting/

2. VA Appropriations Clears Subcommittee: Yesterday, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Constructions and Veterans Affairs cleared their draft funding bill for FY 2015. The bill matches the Administration's budget proposal for VA which is significantly below what the Independent Budget (IB) called for to meet the health care and benefit needs of veterans. Among the critical concerns for VFW and its IB partners are the serious underfunding of construction, IT and medical services accounts to include Advance Appropriations for FY 2016. Total funding calls for $71.5 billion in discretionary funds for VA and military construction accounts. The full Appropriations Committee will take up the legislation next week. For the House Appropriations press release click here: http://appropriations.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=374940
For complete IB funding levels, click here: http://www.independentbudget.org/

3. VA Health Subcommittee Discusses FDA Safeguards: This week, the House Veterans' Affairs Subcommittee on Health discussed safeguards used when identifying recalled tissue products at VA medical facilities. The safety of products used to repair skin, restore broken bones or improve function and feeling from other wounds was the topic of a recent GAO report. The report, released on Wednesday, identified concerns with the completeness and accuracy of VHA's inventory and their ability to accurately identify all recalled products within medical inventories. VA Assistant Deputy Under Secretary for Health and Administrative Operations Philip Matkovsky, testified that VA can significantly improve how they track inventory of tissue and other biological implants and have established a work team to identify improvements and is expected to complete its review and recommendations toward the end of FY 2014. For more information about the hearing, click here:

4. House Discusses VA Responses to Congress: This week the House Veterans' Affairs Committee hosted a hearing to address long wait times for VA to respond to Congressional requests. VA Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson was the only witness before the committee, outlining his plan to improve communication between his agency and Congress. Gibson had to answer difficult questions from the committee, which is concerned that the average inquiry to VA takes 143 days to receive a response. To learn more about the hearing and to view it in its entirety, click here: http://thevfw.blogspot.com/2014/04/house-discusses-vas-response-time-to.html


A special thanks to the VFW Departments that have almost doubled the number of Action Corps members in their states. Since the 2013 National Convention, the Departments of Arizona, California, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Washington have grown the most. Work to be the first Department to double their number of advocates. District elections and Department Conventions are great opportunities to enlist more Action Corps members, but don't stop there. When you return to your Post, take a sign-up sheet, and then mail it to us. All we need is a name, email and zip code to start. Having a strong grassroots voice, letting your member of Congress know the views of the VFW is critical in enacting pro-veteran/pro-military personnel legislation. Need more information, send an email to vfwac@vfw.org or call Teresa Morris at 202-608-8363. 

To sign up new veterans' advocates, click here: http://capwiz.com/vfw/mlm/signup.htm.


As always, we want to share your advocacy stories on the VFW Capitol Hill blog. To share your stories either fill out our online form by clicking here, http://www.vfw.org/Forms/Capitol-Hill-Blog-Submissions/, or simply email photos and stories directly to vfwac@vfw.org. 



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 Sean Eagan


 Life Member VFW NY Post 53
 American Cold War Veterans, Inc.
Web: http://americancoldwarvets.org/
Blog: Cold War Veterans Blog
Email: Sean.Eagan@gmail.com
Phone:  716 720-4000 
Network: My Fast Pitch! Profile
LinkedIn








Friday, March 28, 2014