Waiting for Payment: Vets who are supposed to receive payments for vocational rehabilitation have not been getting  the funds, leaving them without the means to pay their rent or school bills. The VA blames a “computer glitch” for the five month delay.

Vets & VA Frustrated by Choice Act: Vets and VA administrators in rural areas are voicing frustrations  with the Choice Act, saying that there is a lack of non-VA providers in their areas.

Help all Homeless Vets: After the VA began denying services to homeless vets who served short periods or received less than honorable discharges, the Senate passed a bill  which would require the VA to help all homeless veterans.

Hire a Veteran: Secretary of the VA Bob McDonald was in Kansas City yesterday trying to encourage employers  to hire veterans to solve the employment struggles facing the 250,000 new vets who leave the military each year.

Support for Accountability Act: Even though the VA Accountability Act was blocked over fears that it would not protect VA employees, some are arguing  that the bill should be passed to protect veterans from ineffective VA workers.

Why Can’t VA Build a Hospital?: Some are wondering why  state and local governments are able to build new medical facilities on time and on budget while the construction a VA project takes years longer than anticipated and runs over-budget by billions of dollars.

Vet says the VA Saved his Life: A Vietnam vet with PTSD says that despite the problems with the VA, it saved his life  by helping him find peace with what he experienced during the war.

English Prince a Veteran Too: Prince Harry  of England, who served two tours in Afghanistan, has been in the U.S. this week raising awareness of the upcoming Invictus Games, a Paralympic-style event allowing wounded vets to compete in a number of sports.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans of the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending an email to links@brokenVA.com and we’ll try to include it in our next edition of Veteran Links.

If you have ever been to the doctor for something more serious than a cold, you are probably familiar with consultations, the process through which a primary care physician refers a patient to a specialist so that his or her medical issues can be better addressed. According to a report  released yesterday by the VA Inspector General, a breakdown within the VA consultation system may have resulted in the death of a California veteran.

For approximately a year between February 2011 and January 2012, a 70-year-old veteran complained to his doctor about difficulty swallowing and a significant loss of weight was noted. In January of 2012, the veteran’s primary care physician sought a consultation from a neurologist. Nothing more happened for six months until the veteran was finally seen by a neurologist who then requested an additional consultation from a surgeon as to the possibility of giving the veteran a feeding tube. An appointment was scheduled for three weeks later, but the veteran never made it. He passed-away a week after the surgical consultation.

The VA’s Inspector General lays the blame for the veteran’s “poor access to care” at the feet of his primary care doctor. According to the inspector, the doctor failed to properly diagnose the veteran’s problem for nearly a year and that this error, compounded by the long delay in seeing a neurologist, led the veteran to receive sub-par healthcare. Perhaps worse, by the time the primary physician did diagnose the veteran, he failed to comply with the neurologist’s request for additional studies, likely causing the six month delay the veteran experienced in seeing the neurologist.

Ultimately, the Inspector General was unable to conclude that the veteran died as a result of the delay, but this appears to be largely because the veteran did not die in a hospital and there was no autopsy performed. It appears likely that this veteran would not have died when he did if his primary physician had properly diagnosed him earlier or if he had not been forced to wait six months to see a neurologist. The inspector found that the veteran received “poor access to care” which “resulted in poor quality of care.”

It does not appear that this veteran’s experience with the VA healthcare system was an isolated incident. According to the report, the Southern California facility where the veteran was treated had 548 neurology consultations which were pending for longer than 30 days, of which 234 were pending for more than 90 days. After being confronted with this data, the VA staff apparently told the Inspector General that many of the pending requests were simply clerical errors resulting from physicians’ failure to mark the consultations as completed. Nonetheless, the report notes that, as of March 2015, the “the next available appointment for the neurology clinic… was approximately six weeks away,” suggesting that “patients may be experiencing delays in obtaining appointments.”

The fact that veterans must wait to receive treatment is regrettable. The fact that veterans are actually dying while waiting for such care is unforgivable, and is yet another example of how the VA is broken.

Congress Slams VA and DoD: Despite having invested over $1 billion  in ensuring that the systems for managing military and VA health records are interoperable, Congress  has lashed out at the VA because little has been done to solve this problem.

Waiting for Mental Health Treatment: The Government Accountability Office found that VA is still fudging the numbers  when it comes to wait times. According to the report, vets are waiting over six times longer than the VA says.

Vets try to Stop Blue Angles: A group of Michigan vets are calling for  an end to the Blue Angles claiming, among other things, that they cause trauma to people with PTSD.

A Story of Healing: Vets suffering from PTSD and other mental issues are getting a new lease on life through a program  at Wyoming ranch.

Housing Benefits for Veterans: A Chicago reporter wants to remind the nation’s vets that they are entitled to  unique housing benefits such as special mortgages and property tax relief.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans of the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending an email to links@brokenVA.com and we’ll try to include it in our next edition of Veteran Links.

The Government Accountability Office issued a report  earlier this summer summarizing its investigation into how the VA handles claims for a “Total Disability Rating Based on Individual Unemployability,” also known as a “TDIU.” In short, a TDIU  is a benefit under which a veteran is paid disability compensation at the 100 percent level, even if his or her service-connected conditions have not been assigned ratings that reach that level. It is given to veterans who, due to their service-connected disabilities, are unable to get and hold a job.

It is not often that we are allowed to peer behind the curtain of what goes on within the VA offices where decisions are made on veterans’ claims, and this report offers some alarming information. In reviewing the report, I was struck by something rather startling: many of the people who are supposed to decide your claims do not know what they are doing. This might sound harsh, and you will probably think that I’m biased because I fight the VA for a living. But before you stop reading, please hear me out.

According to the report, VA employees in five of the eleven groups that were interviewed disagreed on what information they were allowed to consider in deciding a TDIU claim, specifically disagreeing on whether they could consider “age, education, work history, and enrollment in training programs” in making their decisions. What is troubling about this is that various laws and court cases are crystal clear on these points. For instance, while VA employees apparently disagreed on whether they are allowed to consider a veteran’s education and work history, VA’s own rules  mandate consideration of “employment history” and “educational and vocational attainment.” Similarly, while VA employees could not agree whether they were allowed to consider a veteran’s age in deciding a TDIU case, VA has a rule  which specifically states that “age may not be considered as a factor in evaluating… unemployability.” Shockingly, at least some VA decision-makers were blissfully unaware of their own agency’s rules.

The report also discussed a VA decision-maker who was unsure how to handle a specific TDIU case. The report indicates that a veteran was seeking a TDIU based on blindness and suffered from a service-connected condition of the eyes in addition to age-related vision impairments. According to the report, “the rating specialist noted… [that she] had difficulty separating the effect of the service-connected disability from the non-service-connected [age-related eye disorders].” Once again, this VA employee’s issue seems to be a lack of training on what the law says. Over twenty years ago, in a case called Fluharty v. Derwinski, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims stated that the VA “may be unable to determine whether [veteran]’s unemployability is caused by his non-service-connected disabilities or by his service-connected disabilities,” and held that, “if that is the case, then the evidence may be so evenly balanced that the ‘benefit of the doubt’ doctrine found in 38 U.S.C. § 5107(b)  may apply.” In other words, the court told VA over twenty years ago how to handle this case, but apparently some VA employees still have not gotten the message.

The glimpse into the world of VA gives us two examples of VA employees who simply do not understand the rules which they must follow. I do not know why these decision-makers cannot understand the law, but I am certain that their failure to understand and follow the law has led to some veterans being denied the benefits that they deserve. This lack of understanding is, without a question, not limited to TDIU claims and likely extends to other VA benefits. The failure to train VA employees on what the law says and how to follow it is one of the many reasons that the VA is broken.

Wait times Decrease, then Increase: After lowering the wait times to see doctors at a Georgia VA medical center, data shows  that wait times are on the rise again.

Clinton Backtracks on VA: After saying that the problems plaguing the VA were exaggerated, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has acknowledged  that the problems are “systemic” and says that she is working on a plan to reform the VA.

Trump Pledges to Fix the VA: During a campaign rally in Iowa yesterday, presidential candidate Donald Trump promised to help  one vet with his VA problems, and to fix the VA for all veterans.

Work on Veterans Day: A New York reporter is looking into  the reasons that many veterans must work on the day that is meant to honor their service to the country.

Homeless Vets Honored: After the state was unable to locate the family of four deceased homeless vets, the community came together  to give a proper military funeral to the men.

Vet Slams the Choice Act: One Wisconsin vet  claims that the Choice Act has caused the quality of his healthcare to diminish. What is your experience with the Choice Act? Let us know in the comments section.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans of the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending an email to links@brokenVA.com and we’ll try to include it in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Last week we told you  about startling allegations of ineffectiveness, incompetence, harassment, and cronyism within the VA Central Office. Yesterday we learned similar allegations, these ones coming from a VA healthcare facility in Danville, Illinois. According to the documents, first obtained by the News-Gazette in East Central Illinois, the Director of the VA Illiana Health Care System was fired earlier this year amid allegations that inappropriately involving his employees in his own personal relationships, threatened to fire another employee who filed a complaint against him, and misled VA officials investigating the incidents.

The official at the center of the controversy, Japhet Rivera, is alleged to have taken a number of untoward actions motivated by romantic relationships. The first such instance is alleged to have occurred in November 2014, when Rivera sent messages to a trainee he supervised who happened to be the son of a woman with whom he was romantically involved. After the trainee responded that he wished “to be left out of the goings-on between my mom and you,” Rivera allegedly gave him a letter he had written which seemed to suggest that his Rivera would induce the woman to sever ties with her children unless the trainee gave his approval to the relationship.

Later, in February 2015, Rivera is alleged to have instructed his assistant to send harassing emails to another VA employee who had recently ended a relationship with him. After the assistant sent the message, the woman responded that Rivera was “acting crazy” and “in a dark place” due to the recent break-up of their relationship. Rivera is alleged to have forced his assistant to send these and other messages to his former girlfriend despite being uncomfortable having involvement in his personal relationships. Both this incident and the one involving harassing messages sent to the trainee were found to constitute “conduct unbecoming of a senior executive.”

The report also details an instance of apparent sexual harassment in which Rivera approached one of his subordinates and told her that she was “the only one who has permission to wear jeans and boots to work anytime [they] want.” The woman who was the subject of Rivera’s comment’s allegedly felt the comments crossed the line and led her to believe he was a “womanizer.” This incident was also found to constitute “conduct unbecoming of a senior executive.”

In January 2015, after one of Rivera’s subordinates complained to an Associate Director that he was not doing his job and had failed to respond to email or make timely decisions on important matters, Rivera cornered the employee who had complained and informed her that he was “preparing paperwork for her termination.” Because of these events, the report says that Rivera’s alleged threats were improper and “could be reasonably perceived as retaliatory” against the employee who made the complaint.

Senior VA officials ultimately found that Rivera should be removed from his job, stating in a letter to him that “your failure to conduct yourself professionally in your interactions with subordinate staff and your failure to fully cooperate with the administrative investigation of these matters demonstrates extraordinarily poor judgment.” After Rivera responded to the proposed termination and apparently challenged the credibility of the individuals involved in the incidents, a senior VA official informed him “your lack of remorse and your failure to take any responsibility for your misconduct have convinced me that you are not an appropriate candidate for rehabilitation.” Mr. Rivera was officially removed from his position on May 19, 2015, following a month-long suspension with pay.

While these incidents only concern improper conduct of one official at one VA facility, we saw last week that there are numerous ineffective leaders within the VA. Surely there are others whose misdeeds we do not yet know.

Dying Vet takes VA to Court: A veteran dying from prostate cancer has sued  the Phoenix VA alleging that delays and improper treatment has caused his present condition.

Vet Groups Question Clinton: After presidential candidate Hillary Clinton suggested that problems with the VA have been exaggerated, several veteran groups  have weighed-in on the realities within the VA.

One Unit, Four Suicides: An Indiana National Guard unit  that was previously deployed in Iraq has seen four of its members take their own lives after returning home. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide please reach-out for help: call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website. You are not alone.)

Combat Boots to Cowboy Boots: A ranch in Colorado  is hoping the provide housing and a therapeutic environment for up to 40 homeless vets.

Unique Option for Arrested Vets: In Massachusetts, local authorities have set-up a Veterans Treatment Court  designed to connect veterans accused of crimes with services that might help heal the wounds that led them to crime.

Purple Heart Mystery: After someone discovered a shadowbox containing a vet’s photograph and Purple Heart Medal, a local Veterans Service Officer is working  to locate the medal’s owner and his family.

Stolen Valor in New Jersey: The Governor of New Jersey signed into law  new penalties including steep fines and even prison for individuals impersonating soldiers and veterans.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans of the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending an email to links@brokenVA.com and we’ll try to include it in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Improve Choice Act: Senator Patty Murray of Washington is calling for  an overhaul of the Choice Act, claiming that vets continue to face long waits for healthcare at both VA and private facilities.

Let the Choice Act Work: In a recent interview , presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said that she supports recent reform efforts within the VA, and argues that programs like the Choice Act should be given an opportunity to work.

End Veteran Homelessness: The governor of Delaware has committed his state  to ending homelessness among veteran within the next 100 days. According to the governor, there are 96 such vets in the state.

End Veteran Suicide: A group of Minnesota vets participated  in a 23-mile march to bring awareness to the 23 veterans who commit suicide daily in the United States. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide please reach-out for help: call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website. You are not alone.)

Wait Times Increasing: A recent news report  found that over 12,000 veterans in and around San Antonio have been waiting longer than 30 days to see a VA doctor.

Veteran finally gets his Medals: A Korean War combat veteran finally received  the medals he earned in 1951 after being contacted by the Pentagon.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans of the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending an email to links@brokenVA.com and we’ll try to include it in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Still Waiting for Treatment: Despite pledges to improve the situation at VA healthcare facilities, yet another news investigation  has found that vets face delays in receiving necessary healthcare.

Let Vets Choose their Healthcare: Arguing that more than 300,000 vets have died waiting for healthcare from the VA, Congressman David Jolly argues  that it’s time to let vets choose their care providers.

Congressman Blames Unions: Representative Jeff Miller, Chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs blames unions  for preventing accountability within the VA, saying they have a “stranglehold” over the Secretary.

City ends Veteran Homelessness: After assisting 279 homeless vets to get off the streets, a North Carolina county has declared  an end to veteran homelessness within its borders.

Buddy Check 22: Every day, 22 vets commit suicide. A movement called Buddy Check 22  hopes to diminish that statistic by encouraging people to reach out to vets in their community. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide please reach-out for help: Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website . You are not alone.)

Learning to Help Vets: Nursing students at a Connecticut university learned about the issues that face our vets by participating in an event  designed to simulate their struggles.

Veteran Feels the Love: An Alabama Veteran has been receiving an unusual tribute , with members of the local community buying him lunch over 150 times.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans of the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending an email to links@brokenVA.com and we’ll try to include it in our next edition of Veteran Links.

A startling report  has come to light revealing pervasive problems with the effectiveness of managers within the VA Central Office. The report, first reported by a blog  covering government executives, was prepared at the request of the Secretary by the American Federation of Government Employees. It recounts some shocking allegations of mismanagement, incompetence, harassment, and cronyism among top managers within the Central Office.  The most troubling thing about this report is not necessarily the allegations it contains, but the fact that many of the VA employees responsible for delivering benefits and healthcare to our nation’s veterans apparently are unable to unwilling to perform their jobs properly.

The union’s investigation led it to create a list of managers who were identified as “disruptive and ineffective” based upon meetings with employees within the Central Office. All names and identifying information from the report has been redacted, but here is a breakdown of the more serious allegations against the managers investigated.

  • One manager was called a “bully” and noted that “employees avoid him and contractors fear him.” He was alleged to be “obstructive, divisive, combative, and argumentative,” and “he actively discourages teamwork.” He “practices favoritism” and is “especially fond of those who share his religious beliefs.” “He reprimands employees for being too proactive, and appears to believe that those who show initiative are trying to unseat him.”
  • One manager was described as “removed and aloof” and was found to not understand the subject matter of the division that she manages. She “ignores and even violates regulations and policy” regarding accommodations for employees who are “veterans with service-connected disabilities.” When an employee suggested “outreach to veterans who were over 65,” she reportedly stated “maybe we don’t want them in the system at the present time.”
  • One manager was hired “despite her lack of success at another Federal agency,” and her hiring “was a mistake of the highest order” due to “her reprehensible conduct and ethical shortcomings.” Upon receiving her management position, “she hired her best friend of more than 20 years,” and subsequently “hired the son of [an individual] who had hired her.” She required her employees to “request permission to use the bathroom.” Staff report that the “office resembles a prison ward.”
  • One manager was called a “disgrace” and “oppressive to his subordinates.” He “has a tendency to shout at employees” and “communicates in a confrontational manner.” He reportedly “delegates [work] but does little work himself,” and “is often seen playing games on his computer.” “He has a long history of harassing women,” and has been “the subject of numerous complaints by women.”
  • One manager, who was described as “unpleasant,” regularly “intimidated subordinates by shouting and swearing.” He reportedly allowed contract workers to share office space with government workers, allowing them to be privy to privileged information intended only for government employees.
  • One manager’s employees reported being “fearful, unhappy, and filled with dread when reporting for duty.” Her behavior has led some of her employees to seek “treatment for stress-related conditions that did not exist before encountering her.” This manager reportedly started working for VA “years ago,” and after “failing at that position” she “appears to have been placed in a position with no clear duties” that “was created just for her.”
  • One manager, described as a “high-level executive,” was said to have a “tendency to sweep problems under the rug.” She was noted to be the supervisor of another manager mentioned in the report and it was alleged that “she ignores [his] misdeed and sweeps up after him.”
  • One manager described as a “top executive” who “is featured as one of VA’s senior leaders on the VA website” supervises several managers detailed in the report. Despite being “well aware of their deficiencies,” he does nothing to correct the behavior of these managers. Despite his high pay and large bonuses, he does not work toward bettering the VA and his “sole interest is self-preservation.”
  • One manager of service-connected veteran-employees forced these workers “to return to the office despite documented medical advice indicating that a return to the office was ill-advised.” He has been the subject of at least seven complains for harassment and hostile work environment, and he retaliates against employees who make such complaints. “He asserts that he has an open door policy when his door is ajar, but his door and blinds are shut almost all of the time.”
  • One manager, whose “abuses are legendary,” was described as “grandiose, distrustful, jealous, vengeful, manipulative, resentful and vicious.” He reportedly “began to spread salacious rumors about a service-connected Veteran who worked for him, which caused her a great deal of distress and exacerbated a service-connected disability,” leading to her hospitalization. He reportedly made disparaging remarks about a subordinate who he suspects of being gay, and berates employees “who might greet each other in Spanish or exchange pleasantries in Spanish with the cleaning staff.”
  • One manager reportedly did not “like or respect African Americans” and made “racially-oriented comments.” She “screams when upset and whenever she is questioned,” and “employs street language to express her rage.”
  • One manager “sends harassing emails to subordinates whom she insults and treats in a derogatory and disrespectful manner,” and “once told a service-connected veteran to perform or get another job” despite the fact that there was no performance issue with the veteran.
  • One manager, who supervises the attorneys responsible for writing decision of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals and may even be one of its judges, is described as “unreasonable, unpleasant, and tyrannical.” She has reportedly violated the law by failing to comply with requests for leave from pregnant employees. “She uses her authority as a [tool] to bully staff attorneys.”
  • One manager “engages in cronyism by hiring personal friends for senior positions.” He reportedly “retaliates against employees who file complaints and more than one employee complained that [he] was particularly hostile to African Americans.” Several employees indicated they were “afraid to be alone with him.”
  • One manager refuses to give “direction” or “autonomy” to employees who commanded troops in Iraq with one veteran-employee noting that he was only allowed to exercise authority “over his pencil cup.” Reportedly, she “mistreats employees facing grave personal crises, she humiliates employees in public, and she states explicitly that those who are not happy should seek employment elsewhere.”
  • One low-level manager had “abhorrent” management practices and routinely harasses “veterans who deserve gratitude and respect, especially to the VA.” She “harassed and used petty incidents to propose harsh discipline based in a large part on the employee’s service-connected disabilities.”
  • One manager “causes apprehension among older employees because she discusses relative age and makes sure she always knows the identity of the youngest employee at the office.” Reportedly, “older employees are taken to task when she is dissatisfied whereas young employees do not suffer similar consequences.

It is not often that we get to look behind the scenes at the VA, and the union’s report suggests a high level of dysfunction among leaders within the agency. Without a question, the report shows that the VA is broken.