National Vietnam Veterans FoundationBad Charity: A charity set-up by veterans to help veterans sounds like an excellent idea. But, according to Charity Navigator, the National Vietnam Veterans Foundation is among the worst charitable organizations in the country. NVVF has raised over $27 million over the past four years, yet last year only 2% of the money raised last year actually went towards programs aimed at helping veterans. The rest went to paying salaries, travel, parking, and professional fundraising. Sounds bad, right? Well, it gets much worse. The CEO and founder of NVVA, Thomas Burch, is an employee of the Department of Veterans Affairs where he works as a lawyer earning $127,000 annually. Thanks to the work of CNN, the VA Inspector General’s office is now undertaking an investigation into the situation involving Mr. Burch. We will keep you updated on any developments as the story develops.

Executive Sentences: Former Phoenix VA Director Sharon Helman was in court yesterday to learn her fate on charges that she had failed to disclose over $50,000 in gifts she received from a lobbyist friend. Helman, who had pleaded guilty, sent a letter to the judge telling him that she did not realize that she was supposed to report the gifts, which included am $11,000 Disneyland vacation, among other things. The judge presiding over the case wondered aloud whether Helman’s statement indicated that she was failing to accept responsibility for her crimes. At the end of the day, the judge sentenced Helman to two years probation, meaning that she will not have to serve any time in prison.

Briefly:

  • Defending VA: In an Op-Ed published in The Hill, the president of a major union representing VA employees argues that the VA is not broken, but rather that the whole situation is being sensationalized.
  • Press 1 for Veterans: At a press conference yesterday, VA executive Matt Eitutis admitted that 30 percent of calls placed to the VA Crisis line are still being routed to backup call centers where staff are not trained to deal with the unique problems facing veterans.
  • Felonious Nurse: A VA Nurse in Baton Rouge, Louisiana was arrested on felony charges yesterday. She is accused of falsifying paperwork following the death of a veteran patient at a local nursing home.

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 Headlines.

doctor-563428_640Broken Choices: Two years ago there was national outcry when it was revealed that veterans were facing massive delays in receiving medical care at VA facilities. In response, Congress cooked up a new program known as “Veterans Choice” which allows certain veterans to receive their care at private facilities on the VA’s dime. Two years later, virtually everyone involved in the Choice program agrees that it is an utter failure. Veterans say that the program forces them to jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops just to get a simple medical appointment, and that the delays they face in getting an appointment through the Choice program often exceeds the wait times at VA facilities. The private medical facilities who offer services to  vets through the Choice program say that it is an overly-complex system and that the VA often fails to reimburse them for their services in a timely manner. And VA healthcare workers call the Choice program a “black hole,” saying that they feel bad when they have to refer a veteran to a private doctor through the Choice program. In the end, it seems that little has changed, and that veterans still encounter massive hurdles when they seek healthcare from the VA.

Deadly Healthcare: Vietnam Veteran Rodger Holmes was well-known in Grand Junction, Colorado, where he had survived homelessness and recovered from alcoholism. In 2014, he turned to a VA medical center for for help in treating his liver disease, and that’s when his health began to rapidly deteriorate. He died shortly thereafter. In a report released last week, the VA Office of the Inspector General found that the treatment received by Holmes was inadequate in that the “care provider often did not provide the care or assess the patient thoroughly when seen.” The Inspector General concluded that “the lack of a thorough analysis of the patient’s condition may have contributed to his progressive decline and slower recovery.” Ultimately, the Inspector General laid much of the blame at the feet of hospital administrators who failed to have a back-up doctor available when the hospital’s hepatitis specialist reduced his hours. Its not clear that Holmes would still be alive if he received adequate healthcare at this Colorado facility, but that’s not really the point. The health of our veterans shouldn’t be jeopardized by inefficient treatment and staffing shortages

Briefly:

  • Speaking Out: In an opinion piece, current VA Secretary Robert McDonald and former Secretary James Peake say that now is the time for Congress to act to fix the struggling agency. They implore our elected representatives to pass legislation that would  (1) fix the way that veterans received private healthcare, (2) work to end veterans homelessness, and (3) overhaul the appeal process for benefits claims that have been denied.
  • Privatization: Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump says that privatization of VA healthcare is something that would be seriously considered were he to be elected president. This announcement puts Mr. Trump at odds with nearly every veterans’ group in the country.
  • Fiduciary Problems: When the VA determines that a veteran is too disabled to to manage their own money, they appoint whats known as a “fiduciary” to manage their finances. In Ohio, a local news network has uncovered a startling case where the VA-appointed fiduciary is accused of grossly mismanaging and misusing the money of these severely disabled veterans.

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 Headlines.

donald-j-trump-1271634_640Donald and the Veterans: Presumptive Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump has come under fire in recent days for his commitment to veterans. First, a group of 50 veterans, including numerous elected representatives, pointed-out that despite claims of having raised $6 million for veterans during a fundraiser earlier this year, there is no sign of where more than half of that money has gone. Then, Senator John McCain of Arizona called on Trump to make amends for hurtful comments made about veterans, especially former prisoners of war. McCain’s comments referred to a statement made by Trump last year in which he questioned McCain’s heroism and said that he preferred “people who weren’t captured.” Although Trump often claims to support veterans, many veteran groups have grown tired of his overtures, and feel as if Trump is using the men and women who served as political pawns in a cynical attempt to get votes.

A Sad Oath: This past weekend hundreds of sick and injured veterans took an unusual oath: they pledged not to end their own lives without reaching-out for help. Suicide among veterans is significantly higher than the general population, with some estimates saying that 22 veterans take their own lives each day. Veterans who find themselves in these emotional crises often feel isolated and alone, and that is why Iraq veteran Boone Cutler says he organized the event. “It’s about the brotherhood,” Cutler says. The pledge is designed as a way to remind veterans that, despite their feelings, there are always people, especially other veterans, who support them. (Veteran or not, if you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, we encourage you reach out for help by calling (800) 273-8255. If you prefer, you can always visit the nearest medical facility, police station, or simply call 911. Please remember: you are not alone.)

Briefly:

  • McCain Speaks-Out: Senator John McCain of Arizona spoke-out against the bipartisan omnibus veterans legislation pending in the Senate, saying that it does not do enough to improve accountability for VA employees.
  • Invictus Games: This weekend in Orlando, veterans from fourteen nations gathered for the Invictus Games, an event founded by Prince Harry of England to serve as the Olympics for men and woman disabled through war.
  • Chief Whistle-Blower: Brandon Coleman, a whistle-blower who has been rallying against the VA in Phoenix for the past 18 months, has finally gone back to work after being placed on administrative leave when the scandals first started rolling in.
  • One Year In: David Shulkin became the head of the Veterans Health Administration last June. After nearly of trying to turn the VA healthcare system around, the Philadelphia Inquirer checks in with Shulkin to see how things are going.
  • New Inspector General: Michael Missal started work one week ago, and he is pledging to repair the image of the office of the VA Office of the Inspector General, which has been tarnished somewhat in recent years for what some say are shoddy investigations.
  • Fiduciary Battle: A New York woman says that the VA is stripping control of her disabled husband’s finances from her because she has taken the agency to court several times in the past decade to solve issues involving her husband and father.

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 Headlines.

doctor-1149149_640Unqualified Doctors: After a local news station in Minnesota found that 300 brain-injured veterans in their area had been given medical evaluations by unqualified doctors, members of Congress asked the VA to look into the matter. After conducting an investigation, the VA has concluded that over 25,000 veterans had their compensation examinations performed by doctors who, by the agency’s own standards, were not qualified. As a result, the VA is now in the process of contacting these veterans to ask them to return for new examinations to address the severity of their Traumatic Brain Injuries. Moreover, VA Secretary Bob McDonald is taking the extraordinarily rare step of granting equitable relief for veterans who were wrongly denied benefits based on examinations by unqualified doctors. This means that some veterans could be received years of back-pay if it is discovered that the unqualified doctors indicated that their disability was less severe than it truly was. 

Appeals Reform: Both houses of Congress have proposed legislation which would alter many things at the VA. But fixing the broken appeals process is not among the proposals, despite the repeated requests of VA leadership. In a speech in Washington yesterday, VA Secretary Bob McDonald called the need for appeals reform an urgent matter, and claimed that if Congress does not act soon, the delays built in to the appeals process could persist for years to come. We wholeheartedly agree with Secretary McDonald that reform is needed to speed-up the appeals process, but we disagree with him on how to achieve that goal. McDonald has proposed, among other things, a ban on veterans submitting additional evidence in support of their claims once an appeal has been initiated. In our view, the elimination of unnecessary procedures and realignment of staff would achieve similar results without decimating the rights of veterans to support their claims for benefits.

Briefly:

  • Babies for Veterans: Veterans groups are unanimously supporting legislation which would permit the VA to offer In Vitro Fertilization treatment for veterans who suffered injuries to their reproductive systems during their military service. Currently, the VA is not permitted to offer such treatments due to legislation aimed at limiting abortion.
  • No More Choices: Several of the most prominent veterans groups, including VFW and Legion, are speaking-out against the many proposals that would expand the Veterans Choice program to allow any veteran to see private doctors at any time.
  • White House Chimes-in: In a blog post on the White House’s website, a veteran describes his frustration with the VA appeals process and thanks the President for his work on streamlining appeals. Somewhat ironically, the veterans describes seeking-out and submitting additional evidence in support of his appeal… something which Obama administration officials which to prevent veterans from doing.

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 Headlines.

error-102074_640Appeal Problems: A report released yesterday by the VA Office of Inspector General found that workers at the Wichita, Kansas VA Regional Office altered data relating to the claims of many veterans. According to the report, in an attempt to overcome a backlog of mail received at the facility, managers instructed their staff to enter “placeholder” codes into the VA’s computer system with the assumption that the codes would be corrected later. The codes are meant to correspond with specific disabilities. Many of the cases where placeholder codes were used were never corrected in the computer system, leading to subsequent confusion among VA staff because the code used as a placeholder actually corresponded to a rare bone infection. The Inspector General notes that none of the veterans whose data was altered actually suffers from the rare bone infection, and says that in 28 of the cases the Wichita Regional Office did not comply with policy for processing the claims. 

Infestation: A whistle-blower working at a Chicago-area VA Medical Center alleges that the facility’s kitchens are overrun with cockroaches and that the pests often find their way into the food served to patients. According to a social worker at the hospital, the problem with roaches has been going on for years. Another worker says that veterans suffering from PTSD in the mental health unit were served food with cockroaches several times last year, leading the already-traumatized veterans to refuse to eat for days. According to a VA employee who is cooperating with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel in an investigation, when she tried to visit the kitchens to inspect the conditions, the food manager called the VA police to escort her from the area. 

Briefly:

  • Lawsuit Time: Two veterans’ organizations have filed a lawsuit against the VA alleging that the agency is not cooperating with its request for documents concerning its handling of veterans’ claims  related to the contaminated drinking water at Camp LeJeune.
  • Personnel Changes: Draft legislation is apparently circulating among Senators on Capitol Hill which would drastically change the way in which VA executives are hired and fired, while also giving them an opportunity for a serious pay raise.
  • Anti-Whistle-Blower: A few years ago a VA employee and whistle-blower reached a settlement agreement with the VA over her claims of discrimination, but the agreement also contained a bizarre provision barring her from ever discussing the matter with Congress or the Press. Recently, a federal tribunal ruled that the prohibition on her speech was unlawful.

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.

AgentOrangeAgent Orange Update: Veterans and advocates are pressing the VA to recognize bladder cancer as one of the diseases associated with exposure to the herbicides commonly known as “Agent Orange.” For years, these veterans have been trying to get benefits from the VA, only to be rebuffed because bladder cancer had not been officially recognized by the VA as associated with exposure to the chemicals. But a report issued last month now says that research suggests a link between Agent Orange and bladder cancer, and has led the VA to begin reevaluating its stance. This case once again illustrates the VA’s unfortunate treatment of Agent Orange cases. All too often, VA decision-makers simply deny a claim because the disease has not been officially recognized as related to Agent Orange exposure. But studies like this one show that our understanding of the toxic chemicals used decades ago is still evolving, and it is a disservice to veterans to dismiss their claims out of hand simply because research has not caught up to reality.

Fix VA, Improve Scheduling: In an opinion piece published in the Washington Post, Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers argues that the first step towards fixing the VA healthcare system involves overhauling the system for scheduling appointments. She argues that the VA must incorporate self-scheduling technologies into its system to allow veterans to make and confirm appointments online at any time, and says that she has introduced bipartisan legislation that would require the VA to do just that. In our view, this is a good proposal which would integrate a technology widely used in private healthcare into the VA system. But what’s more refreshing is hearing one of our elected representatives actually make a coherent and logical proposal about the VA. We frequently hear members of Congress and other politicians shouting platitudes or decrying the latest scandal to crop-up at the VA. What we rarely hear is one of those politicians actually offering a detailed plan to solve one of those scandals, and Representative Rodgers should be thanked for doing so.

Briefly:

  • Sad Ending: On Monday we told you about an ambulance crew that volunteered to drive across the country so a terminally-ill veteran could spend his final days with his family. Unfortunately, the veteran passed-away just before he would have left to go home.
  • Cincinnati Blues: Remember the scandal several months ago involving administrators at the Cincinnati VA being accused of endangering patients through cost-cutting? Well, now the VA has sent Glenn Costie to temporarily lead the Cincinnati VA out of its crisis. He had a similar assignment when the Phoenix scandals first broke-out.
  • Tomah VA Improving: The interim director of the Tomah VA in Wisconsin says that the facility has been making excellent progress following a recent scandal involving a doctor known as the “Candy Man” who allegedly freely handed-out addictive opiate painkillers.
  • Unauthorized Study: A consumer advocacy group has filed an ethics complaint against the VA in Portland, Oregon alleging that the facility carried-out a clinical trial involving kidney transplants without ever telling the patients that they were being used as test subjects.
  • Veterans Court: Here at brokenVA, we’re huge fans of the idea of “Veterans Courts,” special criminal courts set-up to help down-on-their-luck veterans turn their lives around. Today we want you to see the wonderful results these types of courts can create.

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.

ListeningListening vs. Action: When dealing with an angry person, customer service workers are often instructed to simply let the person vent their frustration without promising any concrete action. It appears that VA and Congress are adopting a similar approach with the town hall meetings they has been holding in communities around the country. On Monday in Michigan, one such event was held at an American Legion Post during which veterans were allowed to voice their frustrations with the VA. One veteran, Bob St. Arnold, spoke about the stonewall he faced trying to get appointments from the VA before he went to a private facility and was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. The VA representative in attendance expressed disappointment in Mr. St. Arnold’s story and noted that the VA is working to reduce wait times. At a similar event in Colorado on Monday, two members of Congress listened to a litany of complaints, offered a few platitudes, and then noted that the House had passed legislation a while ago which might help the problems. In both cases, people with power to change things listened to veterans’ complaints and did nothing about them.

Defrauding Veterans: A Pennsylvania man was recently charged with the crime of defrauding $35 million from veterans and the government in an alleged scheme to pilfer veterans’ GI Bill education funds. According to the U.S. Attorney responsible for the case, David Alvey and others set-up a company called ED4MIL which pretended to enroll veterans in the accredited Caldwell University while actually enrolling them in unapproved online correspondence classes. The criminal complaint alleges that the government was billed between $5,000 and $26,000 per class, an amount that was 10 to 30 times the price of the online courses which were actually being taken. These allegations should serve as a reminder that there are scumbags out there willing to do just about anything to separate you from your money.

Briefly:

  • Privatization and Politics: In the Huffington Post, Dean Baker argues that many of the so-called scandals which pop-up concerning the VA are actually fabrications or exaggerations created by conservatives who hope to privatize the VA healthcare system.
  • Criminal Employees: After testifying before a House committee last week that a VA worker convicted of crimes relating to an armed robbery had been fired, VA Undersecretary David Shulkin back-tracked on Monday, saying that the employee remained on VA payrolls.
  • I Know What You Are, But What Am I?: In a recent Letter to the Editor, Senator Chuck Grassley chided the Des Moines Register for publishing an editorial blaming Congress for the disastrous roll-out of the Veterans Choice program. Grassley says that its all VA’s fault. Really though, who cares who is to blame… just fix it Chuck!

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.

Editor’s Note: It was a slow weekend for news about the VA and veterans. Instead of our daily headlines, today we wanted to share with you a heartwarming story about people stepping-up to help veterans.

Harold Morgan is a terminally-ill Navy veteran living in Mobile, Alabama. His family lives nearly 1,000 miles away in Ohio, and was desperately trying to raise $6,000 to hire a private ambulance to transport him back to Ohio so they could all be together in his final days. When word got out about this heart-wrenching story, an ambulance company stepped-up and volunteered to do transport Mr. Morgan to Ohio for free. You can watch the full story above.

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.

Battling the VA: For reasons that are unclear to scientists, veterans are twice as likely to develop Lou Gehrig’s Disease, also known as ALS, than the general population. Those diagnosed with the disease are typically entitled to a 100% disability rating plus additional benefits that help improve quality of life. But a North Carolina veteran and his family say that they have had a harder time dealing with the VA than adjusting to life with Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Don Koenig has been rendered unable to move or even speak due to the disease, and his wife says that she must battle VA for the simplest of things. She says the VA wouldn’t provide a ventilator to help him breath, refused to give him a special hospital bed to prevent sores, and refuses to provide a nurse to watch Koenig over night so that she can get some rest. You can watch the whole story above.

No New Patients: As attention continues to be focused on how long veterans are waiting to see a doctor, several VA clinics from around the country are adopting a new approach to keeping wait times low: they are not accepting any new patients. At first, this might seem unfair or even illegal, but the fact of the matter is that many VA healthcare facilities are operating above capacity and this contributes to long wait times and scandals. One clinic in Kentucky has not taken new patients in over a year, and is instead referring people to nearby clinics or telling them to seek appointments through the Veterans Choice program. When the choice was made to restrict new patients, the clinic had wait times of three or four months for new appointments, and the facility’s managers felt that restricting new patients was the “lesser of two evils.” Its difficulty to know how common it is for VA clinics to stop accepting new patients, but NPR was able to find nearly a dozen that had done something similar in recent years, typically due to overwhelming demand for services or staffing shortages. In the end, it seems like the VA clinics are presented with a choice between doing a poor job for everybody or doing a good some for some.

Briefly:

  • Wait Times Improving?: Despite a report from the Government Accountability Office claiming that the VA is manipulating data, VA Secretary Bob McDonald says that he is “confident” that medical wait times are improving.
  • Obstructing Investigations: Senator John McCain of Arizona penned a letter this week accusing managers and supervisors at the Tucson VA Medical Center of interfering with an investigation into reports of sub-par care at the facility.
  • Buddy Check 22: As more and more attention is being given to the epidemic of suicide among veterans, some vets are starting an informal program to check on their fellow warriors every month. (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. You can also call 911.)

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.

vets_wait_timesReal Wait Times: The Government Accountability Office is raising questions about the VA’s claim that nearly 97% of veterans receive medical appointments within one month of their initial request. As part of an investigation, the GAO followed 180 veterans and found that the average wait times for an appointment ranged from 22 to 71 days. The GAO found that approximately half of veterans waited 30 days to get an appointment, while 12 veterans waited more than 90 days for medical care. The GAO also found that 60 veterans who requested healthcare did not receive an appointment, and that 17 of these veterans were never even contacted by the VA to schedule an appointment. The GAO, like so many others, blames the VA’s practice of calculating wait times from a “preferred appointment date” rather than from the date the veteran actually tries to schedule the appointment. Due to the VA’s bizarre practices in recording wait times, veterans should be sure to tell schedulers that their preferred appointment date is “today.” Doing so will force the VA’s numbers to reflect the reality for veterans across the country.

New Inspector General: After months of delay, the senate unanimously confirmed Michael Missal as the next Inspector General of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Missal had been nominated to the post over six months ago but, due to political grandstanding by some members, no vote was allowed on the nomination until this week. The strange thing about the whole ordeal is that no senator actually seemed to believe that Missal was unqualified for the position of Inspector General. Instead, various senators put a stop on his nomination proceedings for flimsy reasons unrelated to the qualifications of Mr. Missal. In the end, these senators who habitually surround themselves with veterans for political purposes, did nothing but deprive veterans of an independent watchdog responsible for rooting out problems within the VA. The senators responsible for the delay include: James Inhoffe (Oklahoma), Tammy Baldwin (Wisconsin), David Vitter (Louisiana), and  Roger Wicker (Mississippi).

Appeal Delay: The VA Inspector General’s office has found that officials at the Roanoke VA Regional Office inappropriately favored newer, less complicated appeals over older appeals involving more issues. According to the report, the Roanoke VA focused on newer and simpler cases in order to meet a national directive to reduce the case backlog by 50 percent. The only exception to the rule was if Congress or the VA Central Office requested them to process an older appeal more quickly. The findings of this report highlight the fact that the VA has become a statistics-driven agency, more concerned about meeting certain thresholds than doing its job well. The VA will, unquestionably, respond to this revelation by arguing that it is time to take rights away from veterans in order to make the claims process easier for entrenched bureaucrats. But experience tells us that such measures will harm veterans without improving the agency’s efficiency.

Briefly:

  • Therapy Dogs: Some are criticizing a VA program designed to gauge the efficacy of therapy dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD. Some allege that the VA’s methods are flawed while other suggest that the dogs are being trained to reinforce irrational fears that should be overcome during therapy.
  • Deaths in Phoenix: According to the Daily Caller, internal emails from the Phoenix VA suggest that three veterans died after not receiving the care that could have prolonged their lives. The emails were part of an ongoing medical review of approximately 40 veteran deaths at the facility.
  • Strange Donation: VA Secretary Bob McDonald has pledged to donate his brain to science after he dies. McDonald’s past includes a youth playing football and rugby, training as a West Point cadet, service as a paratrooper, and other things likely to cause brain injury.
  • VA Benefits Fraud: A Kentucky veteran is facing ten years in prison after the Department of Justice accused him of lying about the severity of his eye disorder to obtain $800,000 in fraudulent benefits, grants, and healthcare.
  • Deporting Veterans: In recent months, we have brought you the stories of the men and women who served in our military only to be deported due to fairly minor crimes. Now, legislation has been introduced in Congress which would put a stop to these injustices.

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.