pick-and-mix-171342_640 (1)The Candy Man Saga: Yesterday we told you that VA officials were holding a week-long hearing at the Tomah, Wisconsin VA to determine whether that facility’s former chief of staff Dr. David Houlihan should be allowed to return to his job. Now, the saga has taken a bizarre twist with a Wisconsin Administrative Law Judge declaring that State licensing officials erred in suspending the medical license of the doctor that patients at the Tomah VA called the “Candy Man.” This means that Houlihan is technically permitted to practice medicine once again, at least until State official conclude their investigation into his alleged professional misconduct. State licensing officials and Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin have already expressed their concerns about Houlihan having the ability to continue to practice medicine, with Baldwin saying that the Candy Man “has no business treating our nation’s veterans or any citizen in Wisconsin.” (Thanks to Kirk, a brokenVA reader, for continuing to share the news with us regarding the Candy Man!)

Privatizing the VA: The VA Commission on Care was established by Congress to provide recommendations on the course that VA medical treatment should take in the coming decades. In recent weeks, the commission has come under fire as nearly half of its members issued a draft proposal calling for the abolition of the Veterans Health Administration, the arm of the VA which runs VA hospitals and clinics. In the place of these VA medical facilities, the report called for VA to provide funds for veterans to receive medical care at private facilities, much in the same way that Medicare operates. The report received immediate backlash from advocacy groups like DAV, Legion, VFW, and VVA. Now, two of the commissioners responsible for the report is speaking out, saying that the report was “was created to jot down initial ideas” and that “it represents options on a range of possibilities the commissioners are evaluating.” The commissioners say that the report doesn’t necessarily represent their current views or opinions on the future of the VA. Interestingly, in claiming that the leaked report was simply represented one of many ideas being considered, the commissioners did not release any evidence suggesting that they had compiled reports which would maintain and transform the existing VA healthcare system.

Briefly:

  • Data Manipulation: A whistle-blower in Phoenix says that, two years after the scandal first revealed a system of secret waitlists, nothing has changed and that officials and employees at the Phoenix VA continue to manipulate appointment scheduling data to make the situation appear better than it truly is.
  • Choice Cards: The Veterans Choice Act, which was passed in response to reports that veterans faced long waits in getting appointments, continues to generate headlines for its own failings. Today we hear that the VA is behind on $878 million in payments for emergency services rendered at non-VA hospitals throughout the country.
  • The Magical VA: One adviser at the VA says that its time for the agency to be more like Disney World. He says that the theme park is famous for creating “a great customer experience,” and that the VA must strive to do the same thing.

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.

CandyManThe Candy Man Returns: Several months ago,  a doctor at the Tomah, Wisconsin VA made national headlines as “The Candy Man.” Dr. David Houlihan (pictured) was accused of freely distributing potentially dangerous painkillers and other drugs to his patients as if they were candy. The VA announced last year that he had been fired, and state officials stripped him of his medical license. Now, the Daily Caller is suggesting that Houlihan may still be around. According to an email they obtained, disciplinary appeal officials will be holding a hearing at the Tomah VA all week to determine whether Houlihan should be allowed to continue working despite his misconduct and his lack of a current medical license. (A special thanks to Kirk for sending us this story!)

A Bridge too Far?: When Congress passed the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act in 2014, they were reacting to headlines about scandals, backlogs, and secret waitlists. The Choice Card program was a component of that legislation, and we all know how that has turned out. But another element of the 2014 law which gets far less attention changed the way that VA fired employees accused of misconduct. It streamlined the appeal process for terminations, requiring the fired employee to file an appeal within seven days, and for the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”) to issue a decision in a mere 21 days. The bill also forbade MSPB from altering the discipline imposed by the VA, forcing the MSPB to either agree with the VA’s discipline or reinstate the employee with full pay. At the Wall Street Journal, a former J.A.G. officer and current law professor questions the wisdom of those changes. She argues that the changes have actually led to the reinstatement of employees who would have otherwise left the agency, and says that the rushed schedules imposed by Congress don’t allow the MSPB to fully consider a case.

Briefly:

  • Choosing Delays: One Iowa veteran who has been receiving private healthcare on the VA’s dime for years says that he used to wait days to see the specialist who treated his serious skin condition, but now must wait months thanks to the Veterans Choice program.
  • Inappropriate Care: The VA is now facing three separate lawsuits from veterans who allege that a Physician’s Assistant in one of their Kansas facilities sexually abused patients through sexual comments, inappropriate examinations, and solicitation of sexual acts.
  • Under the Microscope: When you’re handed the reigns of the most troubled VA facility in the country, you can expect to get your fair share of scrutiny. Deborah Amdur, the new director of the Phoenix VA, gave her first official interview after being appointed to the role, and says that she is committed to transparency. Despite this, stories continue to surface suggesting problems both in Phoenix and at her former post in Vermont.
  • Bad Data: The recent mass-release of reports about VA waitlist manipulation revealed that officials at a Georgia medical center were instructed to delete the appointments of more than 1,500 veterans from the facility’s computer system in order to create the appearance that veterans were getting timely care. The data manipulation resulted in nearly 650 veterans losing the appointments they had been waiting on for months.

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.

ConcernedVets4AmericaReal Scandals: In recent weeks, much attention has been given to a group known as Concerned Veterans for America. It all started when a journalist alleged that the organization was actually part of a nefarious plot to privatize the VA healthcare system, rather than the veterans’ advocacy organization it painted itself to be. Based on these allegations, the journalist concluded that the VA is not, in fact, broken. Since that time, many other publications have added their voices to the story. Those of us at brokenVA take no position on the legitimacy of Concerned Veterans for America, and are personally opposed to privatization of VA healthcare. However, we respectfully disagree with the notion that the VA is not broken. No one can deny the ample evidence of veterans waiting for healthcare, of veterans facing years of delay in receiving benefits, and of VA employees shirking their responsibilities. The mere fact that one organization may be a fraud hardly negates the decades of evidence pointing to a broken system. We should not let one bad player allow us to lose focus on our nation’s promise “to care for him who shall have borne the battle.”

Data Manipulation: After keeping the reports secret for months, the VA finally released the last of more than 70 investigation reports regarding patient wait times at VA facilities. The investigations were launched in the aftermath of a 2014 news investigation revealing widespread scheduling manipulation at the Phoenix VA Medical Center. Overall, the reports show that employees at 40 different VA medical facilities across the country were manipulating data to create the appearance that veterans were not waiting long to get medical appointments. In some cases, VA supervisors instructed employees to manipulate the data, while in others, the employees did so without instruction. The VA says that it has already disciplined dozens of people in relation to these investigations, and that it has retrained schedulers from across the country as to the proper way to record wait time data. Meanwhile, a group of VA whistle-blowers allege that the data manipulation continues at facilities across the country.

Briefly:

  • Behind Bars: The former manager of the Veterans Canteen Service at a VA medical center in Michigan will be going to prison for 15 months after it was discovered that he had embezzled over $300,000 which he spent at strip clubs and casinos.
  • Past is Prologue: The beleaguered Phoenix VA has a new director, and now attention is being drawn to the last hospital she managed. A report released earlier this week revealed massive data manipulation and falsification at the Vermont she managed before being assigned to Phoenix.
  • Tech Problems: A report from the VA Inspector General alleges that the website the VA uses to hire new employees fails to comply with federal laws requiring accessibility for applicants with disabilities. This is especially important given the VA’s commitment to hiring disabled veterans.
  • Show me the Money: Two months ago presidential candidate Donald Trump loudly declared that he would not participate in a scheduled debate and instead would raise money for veterans. When all was said and done, he claimed to have raised $6 million for veterans’ charities. However, the Wall Street Journal has been unable to account for over half of the donations.

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.

www-ebenefits-va-govSecurity Concerns: A Washington State man is warning his fellow veterans about security problems involving the VA’s eBenefits website. According to Marvin Corbin, hackers have meddled with his eBenefits account two times in just six month. Each time, the hackers managed to reroute Cobin’s monthly benefits check to different bank accounts, thereby depriving him of his monthly income. The VA has not been tracking instances of fraud for very long, but in the six month period from August to January, 713 people filed reports with the VA alleging that their eBenefits accounts were hacked. The VA claims that it is “too early to draw any conclusions regarding specific trends or identify specific causes,” but Mr. Corbin says that he will not be using eBenefits again and is instead using the old-fashioned paper methods.

Tragedy & Lawsuits: Reports surfaced in recent months that the VA’s suicide hotline had become overwhelmed and that some callers experiencing mental health crises had their calls routed to voicemail. One such caller, Army veteran Tom Young, had his call sent to voicemail shortly before he took his own life. Now, his family has filed a lawsuit against the VA and the contractor who managed the suicide hotline, claiming that they were negligent in Mr. Young’s death. They are seeking $18 million. Since the controversy first surfaced last month, the VA has pledged to overhaul its suicide hotline, and has brought-in a new executive to oversee improvements. (Despite these reports, the hotline is typically an 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. You can also call 911.)

Briefly:

  • Suicide Study: A recent study that is due to be published in June suggests that veterans experience suicidal thinking far more often than the civilian population. The study indicated that 13.7% of veterans reported suicidal thinking during a two-year study.
  • Impotent Outrage: Conservative commentator Michele Malkin of Fox News fame has penned a scathing indictment of the VA based on the recent death of a New Jersey veteran by self-immolation in New Jersey. Her piece, which is heavy on rhetoric and light on content, strikes us as part of a trend where media personalities attempt to steal the spotlight from veterans. You can judge for yourself by reading it here.
  • Congressional In-Fighting: House Veterans Affairs Chairman Jeff Miller and Senator Marco Rubio are worried that Senator Johnny Isakson, Chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs committee, is close to agreeing to a compromise in his omnibus veterans affairs legislative package. Miller and Rubio want Isakson to include legislation which dismantles civil service protections for bad employees.
  • Counter-intuitive: In a revelation which is somewhat surprising based upon past allegations that video games lead to violence and other problems, researchers are suggesting that “Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy,” which essentially consists of playing war-based video games, may actually help veterans who have been diagnosed with PTSD and other mental disorders as a result of their combat experiences.

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.

ManchesterVAMCMore Waitlists: As the VA Inspector General continues to release a series of reports detailing data manipulation and lengthy wait times for healthcare, the Manchester VA Medical Center (pictured) in New Hampshire is the latest facility to be implicated in the national waitlist scandal. According to the recently-released report, doctors were instructed to request consultations no more than 14 days in advance in order to create the appearance that patients were not waiting to see specialists, and to maintain hand-written waitlists for consultations that were more than 14 days out. The Inspector General also found that officials at the New Hampshire VA instructed schedulers to enter misleading information into the the appointment system in order to create the appearance that veterans were not waiting for healthcare. These revelations mirror similar one which have surfaced at many VA facilities across the country.

Fighting Privatization: After reports surfaced that half of the members on the VA Commission on Care had supported a plan to essentially eliminate VA-run healthcare facilities in favor of the private sector, leaders of the country’s leading veterans’ organizations are speaking-out. In a letter sent by the leadership of eight prominent veteran groups–including DAV, VFW, Legion, PVA, AMVETS, Purple Heart, VVA, and Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans–blasted a report issued by seven members of the fifteen-member commission.

Project 22: A PBS documentary which tackles the tough issue of suicide among veterans follows the story of two veterans as they travel the nation. The documentary examines some of the various treatments that veterans have found helpful in easing their pain, including meditation, therapy animals, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy, and more. The filmmakers talk to real veterans, healthcare officials, and researchers as they examine the deeply personal emotion wounds of war. If you’re interested, you can watch the while film by clicking here. (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:

  • Burn Pit Tragedy: John Marshall, one of the veterans who became the face of the movement to get the government to recognize the health problems associated with the trash-burning pits used in Iraq and Afghanistan has died at the age of 31.
  • Marijuana Military: In California, a group of combat veterans has banded together to grow marijuana in order to provide what they consider to be the best medical relief to their brothers and sisters who suffer from lasting problems due to experiences in the military.
  • Tiny House Craze: The tiny house movement hopes to be able to house homeless veterans in a Wisconsin city, where officials say that they will raise money to construct fifteen of the small dwellings in order to end homelessness within their borders.

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.

by-wlodek-428549_640Radical Proposal: In the wake of the scandals which have plagued the VA in recent years, a federal commission was established to come-up with ideas to fix the VA. Last week, seven members of the fifteen-member VA Commission on Care issued a report calling for the abolition of the Veterans Health Administration within the next 20 years. According to the report, which the authors acknowledge it not fully thought-out, the VHA “is seriously broken and, because of the breadth and depth of the shortfalls, there is no efficient path to repair it.” The report exposes a rift among the members of the commission, roughly half of whom want to improve VA healthcare while the other half want to do away with VA facilities and send veterans to private providers.

Faster Firings: One issue at the VA which has gained a lot of attention over the past year is the difficulty the agency faces in firing ineffective employees due to bureaucratic employment practices. Conservatives on Capitol Hill want to make it easier to fire the bad apples within the agency and are trying to give the VA the tools which would make firing a breeze. However, they have met resistance from fellow lawmakers and those within the VA who say that some in Congress are trying to dismantle the Civil Service System. Interestingly, VA Secretary Bob McDonald has endorsed a plan which would make it easier to fire top executives within the VA, but has yet to offer his support to this new plan which would essentially give him carte blanche to fire anyone he wanted.

Briefly:

  • Educational Scams: A memo released by Yale Law School alleges that the VA did nothing to prevent unscrupulous for-profit colleges from taking Veterans GI Bill money through the use of deceptive recruiting practices.
  • No Money: For those veterans who are deemed unable to manage their own finances, the VA is supposed to appoint a representative to look-out for their best interests, typically a family member. But 14,000 veterans had their benefits held-up, possibly for years, due to a processing error in the system that manages the process.
  • Overcoming: The veterans of the Iraq wars are hoping to become the first combat amputees to climb Mount Everest, a task they hope to complete to show that their disabilities do not define who they are.

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.

SanDiegoVAConsequences: With the VA Inspector General continuing to release reports regarding wait lists at VA facilities across the country, this week’s most embarrassing failure comes to us from San Diego VA (pictured). The Inspector General’s report revealed that between 98 and 100 percent of appointments in San Diego were “zeroed out” in the scheduling system to create an overly positive picture of how long veterans were waiting for healthcare. The Inspector General also reported that one veteran attempted suicide after the San Diego VA cancelled his mental health appointments three times in a row. In fact, it was alleged that between 24 and 27 percent of all appointments at the San Diego VA were cancelled with less than one day’s notice. Officials at the San Diego VA says that these practices are a thing of the past and that all individuals associated with the data manipulation have been disciplined in one way or another. They offered no reason as to why we should believe that.

Briefly:

  • Stigmas and Schools: Many veterans enroll at educational institutions following their separation from the service thanks to the GI Bills, but the culture of school campuses couples with the stigmas associated with veterans can make the adjustment challenging.
  • Unintended Consequences: For many people, setting off fireworks is a way to celebrate a holiday or amuse children. But for some veterans, the sound of unexpected fireworks can cause panic and anxiety, leading some to question what can be done for these veterans.
  • Changing Laws: In Iowa, current law only allows family members to claim the remains for a deceased person. Now, some lawmakers want to change the law so that an estimated 80 veterans who were homeless or indigent upon their death can receive a proper military funeral.
  • Choice Act Failure: The Veterans Choice Act was supposed to eliminate wait times by allowing veterans to visit private doctors for treatment on the government’s dime. But one North Carolina veteran says he has been waiting a year for an appointment through the Choice program.
  • Strange Story: A veteran came to national prominence after presidential candidate Donald Trump offered her a job on live national television. But now some veterans are questioning her claims about her military service.

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.

MexicoDeported Veterans: For thousands of people who were born overseas and went on to serve honorably in the U.S. Armed Forces, there is only one way to return to the United States: in a coffin. Its to facilitate their burial in veteran cemeteries, a final honor bestowed upon them for their service to the country. Juan Valdez was born in Mexico but served in the U.S. Navy in Yemen. After he got out of the military, he was convicted for drug-related offenses and served three years in prison. Upon his release, the U.S. government put him on a bus to Mexico and told him he could not return. Today, foreign-born soldier’s become naturalized citizens upon their completion of boot camp, but this was not the case until 2009. So for Valdez and the thousands of veterans like him, crimes which might carry a sentence of a few years for U.S. citizens are effectively a life sentence for foreign-born veterans who are summarily deported after serving their time.

Unclaimed Veterans: The Missing in America Project does noble work. They visit funeral homes to get the names of unclaimed remains and check those names against a database of the men and women who served in the military. When they find a match, they submit it to the VA so that these unclaimed veterans can receive the military burial to which they are entitled. In Arizona this week, the remains of 42 men and women were honored with military funeral attended by scores of veterans and civilians who never knew them in life, but who felt compelled to honor their service to the country.

Briefly:

  • Bad Paper Veterans: The report released yesterday by Harvard Law School continues to garner attention, especially its findings that the VA is ignoring the intentions of Congress by denying services to veterans who were discharged from the military due to psychiatric conditions.
  • Poisoned Veterans: An Arizona veteran who claims that he was poisoned by chemical weapons while serving at an Army post in Alabama in the 1980’s is getting the support of members of Congress who have pledged to get to the bottom of the matter.
  • Electrical Explosion: OSHA is now investigating the cause of an electrical explosion at a construction site where workers are building a VA medical center in Tallahassee, Florida. The Tuesday explosion sent 2 workers to the burn unit.
  • Missing Money: An Ohio news station’s investigation of their local VA medical center discovered that more than $300,000 of tax-payer funded equipment had been stolen or otherwise went missing at the facility.

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.

OtherThanHonorableDenied Benefits: According to a recent report, the number of veterans who are deemed ineligible for VA benefits has surged among the post-9/11 generation. According to veteran advocates, the Department of Defense has begun issuing “other than honorable” discharges to veterans in order to avoid the time-consuming and costly experience of undertaking a medical discharge. Often times, these veterans are being separated from the military due to psychological issues directly caused by there military service. As a result of their “other than honorable” discharge, the VA does not consider them to be “veterans,” and refuses to provide them with medical care, disability compensation, or educational benefits. Due to this lack of care, the veterans with this type of discharge are more likely to commit suicide due to untreated PTSD.

Drunk Nurse: Last month we brought you the story of a VA nurse in Pennsylvania who had resigned from his job after he was criminally charged with being drunk on the job. Now, the local district attorney says that the nurse, Richard Pieri, will not face criminal charges from her office. But it does not seem like Pieri will be able to avoid criminal charges, as federal investigators have announced that they are taking-over the case from the local district attorney. If Pieri is charged in federal court, he will face significantly tougher penalties than he would have from local authorities.

Briefly:

  • Doctors Spared: A federal prosector says that two VA doctors are immune from a civil lawsuit filed by a veteran who says that he lost two toes due to their negligence. Because of this, the veteran must instead sue the federal government for the alleged negligence of its employees.
  • Shocking Allegations: The family of an Arizona veteran are preparing to file a lawsuit against police alleging that the authorities inappropriately and excessively used a Taser on a veteran who was in the midst of a PTSD-induced panic attack.
  • Important Anniversary: Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of the last American troops leaving Vietnam, and across the country, Vietnam veterans were honored in the way that they should have been when they first came 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 Veteran Links.

Playing Politics

McCainVeteransArizona Senator John McCain, a career politician who is up for reelection this fall, has a plan to fix the VA. During an event yesterday in Phoenix, McCain said that the Veterans Choice program should be made universal. In other words, McCain wants to remove the restrictions that only allow veterans who live certain a distance from VA clinics or have waited for a certain amount of time to use the program. McCain said that plans to reform traditional VA healthcare have failed and that “veterans have not gotten the care they deserve.”

One major detail missing from McCain’s plan is that many veterans say that the Choice program is more convoluted that traditional VA healthcare, involves longer wait times, and fraught with billing issues. Essentially, it would seem that McCain’s plan would shuffle veterans from one broken program to another. In this regard, while we think that McCain’s proposal sounds nice and might generate some favorable attention from the media, without some serious specifics, its difficult to imagine that it would  solve anything. Without more information, we’re led to the conclusion that another politician is playing politics with our nation’s veterans.

Addiction and Veterans

PillsWhile we often associate drug addiction with things like heroin and cocaine, some are calling prescription opiate painkillers the worst drug epidemic in American history. And its an epidemic that is disproportionately effecting veterans. Due to their service to the country, it is hardly surprising that veterans suffer from chronic pain at a higher rate than their civilian counterparts, and according to a recent investigation by Frontline, 68,000 veterans suffer from some form of opiate dependence.

Whereas opiates are considered a “silver bullet” for chronic pain, other treatments vary in efficacy from person to person. Due to the growing demand for VA healthcare, doctors say that it is difficult to find the time to work with individual veterans in an attempt to find tailored treatments that don’t involve opiates. Some veterans who have overcome opiate dependence say that the VA routinely gives veterans a laundry list of pain medications because they don’t have the time or resources to do anything else. The VA has recently begun introducing alternative therapies such as yoga and acupuncture, but these services are not widely available.

Briefly:

  • Where’s my Money?: An Indian community in Arizona says that the VA is illegally refusing to reimburse it for providing medical services to its veterans, and has filed a lawsuit alleging that the VA owes them money for services rendered up to six years ago.
  • Important Anniversary: Today marks the 50th anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War, and across the country, veterans of the Vietnam era are being honored in ways that they weren’t when the controversial war ended decades ago.
  • Unique Therapy: In the Ukraine, former soldiers who fought on the front lines for the Eastern European country are being offered an unusual therapy involving dolphins with the hope that it will heal physical and emotional wounds.
  • Guns for the Disabled: Gun Rights groups are getting the support from powerful members of Congress who are questioning laws which ban veterans who have been declared mentally incompetent from owning firearms.

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.