PinkSlipAccountability in Cincinnati: After a quick investigation, the VA announced that it found that the two executives implicated in the latest scandal in Cincinnati would face discipline. Jack Hetrick–the official who oversaw VA in Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan–quickly retired after the VA said that it would be attempting to fire him. Dr. Barbara Temeck, the medical center’s chief of staff, had her medical privileges suspended and was moved to non-patient-care duties. Temeck may face additional discipline as the investigation continues. The VA also suggested the possibility that one or both of the executives could face criminal investigation.

Watching the Watchdog: The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an executive department that reports directly to the president, has sent a letter to Congress and the White House alleging that the VA Office of Inspector General has botched several recent investigations and improperly retaliated against whistle-blowers. According to the letter, the Special Counsel found that the VA Inspector General did not run objective investigations in multiple instances and threatened criminal prosecution of VA employees speaking-out about healthcare waitlists. The Special Counsel stated that there was a “substantial likelihood” that the Inspector General’s office had broken the law and caused a “substantial and specific danger to public health.”

A New Obstruction: After another senator relented on his threat to filibuster the nomination of a new VA Inspector General, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin has placed hold to the nomination process because she says that the Inspector General’s office is keeping the public in the dark about VA’s problems. Baldwin’s announcement comes on the heels of a report that the Inspector General’s office was refusing to release the results of an investigation which found “rule violations” and “deliberate fraud” in the medical appointment scheduling process at VA facilities across the country.

Briefly:

  • Addict Nurse: A former VA nurse in Albany, New York has pleaded guilty to stealing opiate painkillers to feed his addition. Investigators allege that the drugs were stolen from terminally ill veterans in hospice care.
  • Not So Excellent: After some lawmakers proposed replacing most VA healthcare with private providers and establishing “centers for excellence” to address certain veteran-specific disabilities, an executive director of DAV argues that this is not an excellent idea.
  • Dying for Treatment: Although the common claim that over 300,000 veterans died waiting for VA appointments is grossly inflated, one reporter tells the story of five veterans who really did die waiting for care.
  • Not Alone: Although our focus is the struggle of American veterans, we were interested to learn that our veteran neighbors to the north have taken the Canadian government to court after being denied disability benefits.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

top-secretSecret Report: In the wake of the Phoenix VA wait list scandal which involved fraudulent appointment scheduling practices and secret waiting lists, the VA Inspector General investigated dozens of other VA facilities to see if similar things were happening elsewhere. Although the VA has known the results of the investigation for months now–include problems ranging “from simple rule violations to deliberate fraud”–it has thus far refused to release the report to Congress and the general public.

Deadly Burn Pits: During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military bases disposed of garbage and other waste through fire. Now, many veterans argue that they have become ill through exposure to these burn pits. In Arizona, an Iraq war veteran who was diagnosed with terminal cancer has no doubt that garbage fires caused his sickness, but the VA sees things differently. It denied his claims, and now he worries that he will leave his wife and children destitute when he dies.

Broken Promises: A Pennsylvania combat veteran who served two tours in Iraq was jailed for terroristic threats after being fired from his job. Since being imprisoned, he has tried to end his life twice. After initially agreeing to provide in-patient treatment to the veteran who is believed to be suffering from PTSD, the VA reneged, leaving the veteran in a precarious position without the appropriate mental health services. County officials are frustrated and say that the VA has abandoned a suicidal veteran. (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Dangerous Delay: An 89-year-old WWII veteran in Phoenix was forced to wait 12 hours in the emergency room waiting room. He says that the emergency room staff were standing-around chatting amongst themselves about their personal lives, and that he eventually had to leave and seek help at another emergency room where he was seen immediately. Now a Congresswoman is demanding an investigation.

Briefly:

  • Cincinnati Scandal: Amid reports of cost-cutting measures that allegedly lowered the standard of care available to veterans at the Cincinnati VA, the White House pledged to resolve the problems as the VA launches its investigation.
  • Accountability Act: In an editorial, a Nevada veterans advocate argues that the real problem facing the VA cannot be solved with additional funding but requires an overhaul of the “bureaucratically protected world of the VA.”
  • House Calls: In Ohio, the VA is running a pilot program to determine whether it could better-serve veterans by having the doctors and nurses visit the veterans in their homes.
  • Feuding Senators: In Congress, a personal conflict between two senators led to a delay in honoring an elderly veteran who spied for the U.S. during WWII. Due to the feud, Congress was unable to honor the veterans service until after she died.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

alcohol-428392_640Under the Influence: At a Pennsylvania VA hospital, a nurse is being accused of being drunk while assisting on an emergency surgery. He had been drinking and gambling at a local casino when he was called-in to the hospital to help with an appendectomy. He now faces criminal charges of reckless endangerment, DUI, and public drunkenness, and has been removed “from any direct patient care” while the matter is under investigation.

Midnight Express: The VA hospital that she ran was ranked dead-last in patient satisfaction, and potentially exposed over one thousand veterans to HIV through the failure to sterilize equipment. Instead of facing discipline, the VA relocated Rima Nelson to the Philippines where she continues to draw her $160,000 salary as the director of a rarely-used facility inside the U.S. Embassy. Her new job? Overseeing the distribution of benefits checks for the few remaining Filipino veterans who fought alongside the U.S. during WWII.

Calling to Account: VA Secretary Bob McDonald was on Capitol Hill yesterday to testify before Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. The hearing covered a range of topics, including:

  • Cincinnati Blues: Amid the scandal involving allegations of misconduct at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, questions were raised as to why one of the officials implicated in the scandal continues to run other VA facilities.
  • Firing Squad: The main focus of the hearing was to examine the VA’s proposal to restructure the jobs of its senior executives in order to make it easier to fire under-performing or scandal-ridden people. This proposal is aimed at combating occurrences like what transpired in the relocation scandal.
  •  More Money, Less Problems: VA’s plan to deal with under-performing executives could actually lead to significant pay raises, with some receiving $50,000 more than they would under the current salary scheme.

Phoenix Problems: The Phoenix VA continues to receive negative publicity. The latest problems centers on the fact that there are no procedures in place to ensure that suicidal veterans in the Emergency Room receive appropriate follow-up treatment. One veteran says that the VA’s protocol of discharging suicidal veterans and telling them that they will receive a call about additional care doesn’t help those that go home “and blow their brains out.” (If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Briefly:

  • Ending Obstruction: After “placing a hold” and promising to filibuster the nomination of a new VA Inspector General, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma has had a change of heart and is allowing the nomination to proceed.
  • Unqualified Veterans: The VA is facing criticism for its refusal to hire highly-qualified veterans to work in medical jobs at its hospitals and clinics across the country.
  • Caregiver Crisis: The VA is quietly cutting small stipends paid to family members who provide full-time care to disabled veterans. For some veterans, this means losing a critical means of support.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Get_out_of_jail_freeAccountability Failure: The two VA executives at the center of the relocation scandal will face no punishment whatsoever. After it was revealed that the two officials received hundreds-of-thousands of dollars in moving costs to relocate to positions with fewer responsibilities, the VA tried to demote them and cut their pay. But after administrative judges overturned the demotions, the VA has announced that both women will get to keep their jobs as directors of VA Regional Offices.

More Investigations: Jack Hetrick, the VA executive who oversaw the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, has had his responsibilities removed as two federal investigations are launched into allegations of cost-cutting measures that decreased the quality of care. The investigations also continue to look at whether Chief of Staff Barbara Temeck improperly prescribed addictive pain medication to Hetrick’s wife.

Treatment Shuffle: In Tennessee, some are growing frustrated by a game of ping-pong the VA is playing with veterans suffering from a serious autoimmune disorder. First, the VA closed its neurology clinic and sent the veterans to a private specialist. After the agency saw the cost of the outside care, it hired a new doctor to do the work being performed by the specialist. The problem, they say, is that the new doctor is not a neurologist, and the veterans are concerned that the VA is jeopardizing their health to save a few dollars.

Briefly:

  • Viral Action: After a video of a vet trying to schedule a VA appointment went viral, several members of Congress have joined-in on an effort to improve the scheduling system for veterans.
  • Doctor Shortage: As increasing attention is being drawn to veteran suicides, a news station found that over 20 percent of the positions for mental health physicians are vacant at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center.
  • Dying Words: After a veteran was diagnosed with terminal cancer, the VA agreed to pay for hospice care or a wheelchair, but not both. When the veteran canceled his hospice care, the VA refused to give him a wheelchair. His message to the VA: “Please stop lying to the vets!”
  • Guilty Plea: A Rhode Island VA nurse has pleaded guilty to stealing narcotic painkillers from the VA and and lying on the job application she submitted to get the VA job.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

plane-50893_640Scandal Shuttle: Following a recent analysis of data by a news organization, it was found that, in the past eight years, nearly 100 VA hospital administrators have been relocated more than once. According to the news organization, the VA “continually shifts poor performers and problem employees to different jobs and locations in the hope of getting different outcomes.”

Cincinnati Scandal: In the latest round of allegations surfacing at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, doctors and nurses are claiming that VA administrators shut-down certain medical departments, such as orthopedic surgery, as part of an accounting trick. They allege that that the administrators abuse the Veterans Choice program, which draws on funds separate from the medical center’s budget, in order to make the hospital appear to have a balanced budget. The result, they claim, has been disastrous for veterans.

Scheduling Conflict: Army veteran Dennis Magnasco was having trouble scheduling an appointment at a VA clinic. To highlight the struggle that he and many veterans face, he filmed himself on the phone getting stuck in an infinite loop of automated telephone menus that, instead of connecting him to the appropriate person, simply restarted the automated messages over and over and over again.

Retaliation Allegation: Several months ago, the VA sent a veteran the complete medical records for another veteran. Alarmed by what he saw as a major breach of privacy, he contacted reporters who did a news story on the incident. Now, the same veteran says that all of his claims have been denied in retaliation for his whistle-blower activities.

Philanthropy Problem: Although most Americans claim to support veterans and politicians often use veterans to further their own campaigns, studies in recent years have shown that organizations and charities which provide support for veterans do not receive a proportional amount of donations. “The philanthropic community needs a wake-up call that veterans deserve more than platitudes,” argues one reporter.

Briefly:

  • Firing your way to Excellence: A Senator is demanding that the VA fire its director of mental health over recent revelations regarding the effectiveness of the VA’s suicide prevention hotline. (Despite these reports, the hotline remains a excellent resource. If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)
  • Crisis Averted: When an appeals Board told the VA they had to give a controversial hospital administrator her job back, the VA said that it would not do so. For now, the controversy seems to have ended with the administrator’s announcement that she will retire.
  • Phoenix Confusion: Last week the Phoenix VA cancelled at surgeries due to ventilation problems in operating rooms. This has left many veterans in the dark about when they will receive their much-needed treatment.
  • Shut it Down: According to the editorial board of on Colorado newspaper, the latest VA scandal erupting in Colorado Springs is a sign that its time to dismantle the VA.
  • Political Protection: While Social Security recipients automatically receive a cost-of-living increase each year, Congress must manually adjust the rates for veterans. Some are now arguing that the process for veterans should be automatic to ensure it doesn’t get caught-up in Congressional politics.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

VoicemailVeterans Press 1: The hotline set-up for veterans experiencing emotional crises continues to dominate the news after a VA Inspector General report found that many phone calls received by the hotline were sent to voicemail. Reacting to the report, some people are quick to place the blame squarely on the VA, others blame Congress for a lack of funding, and some are understanding of the demands placed on hotline workers. (Despite these reports, the hotline remains a excellent resource. If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Denied a Family: Many severely disabled veterans have tried to turn to fertility treatments to allow them to fulfill their dreams of starting a family. Unfortunately, due to a law passed years ago that relates to abortion politics, the VA is legally prohibited from providing and/or paying for fertility treatments. Now veterans who have found their dreams of having a family quashed by politics are asking Congress to take another look at the policy which prevents those wounded in service from having children.

Disturbing Care: In Michigan, a state-run home for veterans is being criticized in a new audit by the Michigan Attorney General. The report indicates that the the facility ignored a third of alarms indicating that veterans had fallen and falsified records to cover-up the problem. It also indicates that the facility suffered from staffing shortages, did not ensure that veterans were receiving their medications, and ignored complaints of abuse and neglect.

Forgotten Veterans: During WWII, more than 250,000 Filipinos fought along side American soldiers in the South Pacific and were promised that they were receive the same benefits as American veterans. Yet that promise was rescinded shortly after the war, and many veterans in the Philippines have been battling for decades to receive the recognition that they were promised in their youth.

Briefly:

  • The Final Wait List: Veterans in North Carolina are facing a final indignity because, despite completing construction, the state refuses to start interring them in the cemetery.
  • Phoenix, Again: Police in Phoenix revealed yesterday that they have arrested a VA employee after he attempted to prey on a 13-year-old girl. Fortunately, there was no young girl but only an undercover police officer.
  • Gun Control: A West Point Graduate and Iraq War veteran says that addressing gun ownership as a public health issue would help reduce the high rate of suicide among veterans.
  • This is the End: The Governor of Connecticut announced yesterday that his state had ended veteran homelessness within its borders, meaning that hundreds of veterans have found housing.
  • Broken Healthcare: Veterans in Arizona share many complaints with veterans elsewhere: waiting for appointments, an emphasis on drugs over treatments, and the need to drive hundreds of miles to see a doctor.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

SloanGibsonHearingNo Reinstatement: The saga of the fired Albany VA Medical Center director Linda Weiss continues, with the VA vowing to ignore an administrative judge’s recent ruling requiring the agency to reinstate Weiss and give her back pay. According to Deputy Secretary Sloan Gibson (pictured), the administrative judge’s decision was not issued within a three week time frame required by a recent accountability law, and this defect makes the the decision “untimely and unenforceable under the law.”

Congress Reacts: On the heels of a news investigation which claims to have found massive staff and resource cutbacks that impacted the quality of care provided to veteran at the Cincinnati VA Medical Center, members of Congress are rushing to express their outrage. The elected representatives call the revelations “troubling,” thanked the whistle-blowers, and demanded an investigation. It remains to be seen whether the Congress members’ reactions will go beyond words.

Vindication: Brandon Coleman, the Phoenix VA employee placed on leave after he blew the whistle on the mishandling of veteran suicides in January 2015, may finally be returning to work. The Chairmen of two powerful congressional committees sent a joint letter to VA Secretary Bob McDonald publicly acknowledging that Coleman had been retaliated against for telling the truth, and saying that it was time to get him back to work.

Closing Candy Land: For years, the VA clinic in Tomah, Wisconsin was called “Candy Land” by veterans because medical professionals dispensed addictive opiate painkillers freely. After a news investigation brought the problem to light, a Nurse Practitioner who was among the top prescribers of opiates in the region was placed on administrative leave. According to reports, she no longer works for the VA, but the VA won’t say whether she resigned, was fired, or was offered a settlement to leave. She remains under criminal investigation.

Dirty Air: At the often-maligned VA Medical Center in Phoenix, surgical procedures have been cancelled for the rest of the week due to problems with ventilation in the operating rooms. VA officials refused to comment on the nature of the problems or whether they posed any risk to patients who have recently undergone surgeries, but did indicate that an investigation was underway. Once at the center of the wait list scandal, the Phoenix VA doesn’t seem to get much good press.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

Cinci VAMCThe Next Phoenix: The results of a news investigation revealed serious issues at the VA Medical Center in Cincinnati (pictured). The investigation found that services to veterans had been significantly reduced, many surgeries had been eliminated, critical specialists were cut from the Emergency Room, that dirty surgical tools were commonplace. The 34 doctors and nurses who are blowing-the-whistle on these issues argue that the Chief of Staff of the medical center and VA regional director are to blame for a deterioration in the level of care provided to veterans.

Garbage Sickness: During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the military struggled to find a way to dispose of the massive amounts of garbage produced by the troops stationed in the Middle East. Their solution was to construct massive pits and fields and burn the garbage. Since returning from war, veterans have been getting sick and suffering from a myriad of symptoms. The sickest ones have been diagnoses with cancer. Drawing to mind the fights over Agent Orange after Vietnam, these veterans are being told by the military that there was nothing hazardous about the burning garbage.

American or Not?: A 90-year-old Minnesota veteran has run into issues trying to obtain a passport so he can go on vacation with his wife. The government tells him they have no record of him being an American citizen since he was born at home and has no birth certificate. The veteran finds all this perplexing given that he spent decades either serving in the military or as a civilian employee of the Federal Government.

Common Complaints: As VA officials try to heal the wounds caused by the agency’s many scandals, they are starting public relations efforts. In South Texas, one VA regional director held a town hall with veterans to hear their complaints about VA services, and the complaints were exactly what we have been hearing for a while: they don’t like being shuffled from one doctor to another within the VA, and when they seek private care the Veterans Choice program is difficult to use.

Better Late than Never: An 82-year-old veteran of the Korean War has finally received his medals more than 60 years after he left the service. Lawrence Dennis of Idaho enlisted at the age of 17 and was injured in a mortar attack while serving in Korea. Decades later it was discovered that he had never been given the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and other decorations that he had earned, so his sister-in-law reached-out to the Government to ensure that Dennis received the honors he deserved.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

secretary-544180_640Tragic Calls: A recent report from the VA Inspector General suggests that one-in-six phone calls to the suicide hotline for veterans is routed to voicemail. The people who run the hotline say that they do not have adequate staff to answer all the phone calls that they receive, and that overflow end up going to voicemail. (Despite these reports, the hotline remains a excellent resource. If you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255, or chat online by visiting their website.)

Ending VA Exams: Under a new bill introduced in both the Senate and the House by members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation, veterans seeking disability benefits could have any necessary medical examination performed by a local doctor instead of waiting for the VA to schedule them for an appointment with one of their “C & P” doctors. The goal of the legislation is to reduce the delays associated with VA claims.

Paid Vacations: An investigation by a Florida news station revealed that, in 2014, 2,560 VA employees spent at least one month on paid leave, at a cost of $23 million. Some, including many members of Congress, say  that such statistics underscore the entrenched nature of civil service and the laws that seem to place the job security of ineffective workers ahead of the safety of veterans.

Ending Delays: Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke has a plan that he says will solve VA healthcare delays. He wants to change the focus of VA medical facilities to treating only military-related disabilities and send veterans suffering from everyday medical problems like a cold or the flu to civilian doctors who are more than capable of handling those conditions. The VA in El Paso has recently begun to test O’Rourke’s proposal.

Joint Hospitals: While some have called for privatization, other members of Congress are quietly looking at a different solution to fix the ailing VA healthcare system. They want to join VA and military facilities together under one roof to create healthcare facilities for both current and former members of the military. A pilot project in Chicago has already seen massive successes in its first five years of operation.

Candidate’s Plans: The McClatchy new service has put together a piece evaluating the nature and depth of each presidential candidate’s plan to fix the VA and help veterans. They point-out that while some candidates talk a lot about helping veterans, their proposals are light on specifics and don’t provide any information about the costs to taxpayers.

Did you see an interesting story about veterans or the VA in the news today? Let us know by sending us an email (links@brokenVA.com) or by visiting the contact page. We’ll try to include your link in our next edition of Veteran Links.

A veteran in El Paso, Texas is suffering the consequences after the VA failed to pay the private healthcare provider that the agency sent her to as part of the “Veterans Choice Program.” Margaret Peterson followed all the proper steps and received approval from the VA to get treatment from a private provider, including a promise that the agency would cover all the costs associated with the appointment. However, when she checked her credit report, she found out that the VA never paid and that she was on the hook for the delinquent bill. Worse still, the VA’s failure to pay the bill damaged her credit which has caused her family to delay their plans to move to Hawaii so that her terminally-ill husband can live out his final days in paradise.

Hat tip to KFOX14 in El Paso, Texas for covering this important story