Has it ever made sense that Congress would make bicyclists on steroids testify under oath, but not the Dept. of Veterans Affairs? I didn’t think so.
As a result of this Tomfoolery, veterans suffered our 1st casualty of sequestration, the DoD/VA integrated health platform. DoD put “lipstick on the pig” hoping no one noticed, but we did.
Welcome to today’s Monday Morning Quarterback. This is where I get a little less formal and tell it like it is.
Before I get into that news, I’d like to cover statistics from this past week. Unfortunately, I cannot because the VA has stopped updating their “transparency” data sources. I’ll cover that in a bit, too.
For now, just pretend that I gave you some new statistics. We will assume that the VA is now pleading the Fifth, and as a result, like the courts, we will take that to mean all the allegations against them are true. I included a special little something at the very end – totally not veteran related – totally funny. If you’re in a hurry, skip to the end.
What’s Up With The Picture Today?
This weekend, I watched numerous versions of CCR’s “Fortunate Son” on YouTube. The Vietnam War and our inability to provide for those brave men and women who served during that time has been pressing on me because it is not because we were unable to help – we lacked the will to do so as a country.
Still, Vietnam Veterans lack essential health care and compensation because our country does not want to admit that we made our own military sick from Agent Orange. Further, their children and grand children are unable to get access to care and compensation because we lack the political will to lift a finger in Congress.
I ask anyone reading this to think about that song, Fortunate Son, and ask yourself, who are the fortunate sons and daughters of this generation?
Congress Cares More About Doping Athletes Than Vets
I have a comment and then a question about what matters most. It is my position that Congress cares little for veterans, because, if they did, they would swear in the VA prior to giving testimony at a hearing. Let me explain using a little of what I learned in logic class at The School Of Hard Knocks. I’m sure most of you have attended there at some point.
Congress has held hearings to prevent steroid use amongst athletes. Congress required those guys to swear in prior to giving testimony. They did this because they wanted to make sure the athletes did not lie. And, whenever a matter is important enough, Congress will go through the “trouble” of swearing them in. This is an act that costs really nothing since everyone is there anyway. Instead, it’s a freebie that makes everyone feel good inside and can come back to bite anyone who lies.
From this example, we know that Congress can require people to testify under oath for things that are important to the public. We know that Congress says athletes using drugs is an issue that “matters” enough to swear in the athletes. We also know the public thinks veterans also “matter,” and hopefully more than overpaid athletes.
So, if Congress thinks that veterans are important, they will likely swear in the person testifying during an investigation if lying might be an issue. This seems like a pretty straight logical conclusion to me.
If this reasoning holds, then why does Congress refuse to require the Dept. of Veterans Affairs to testify under oath when billions of dollars go missing? When it comes to these hearings on potential fraud, waste and literal abuse of veterans and veterans benefits, Congress does not require these potential perpetrators to testify under oath.
This troubles me, and I have two guesses on why. First, maybe there is some disconnect between what the American people think is truly important and what Congress thinks is important. Perhaps Congress thinks Americans are not concerned about veterans, or maybe they do not think these issues are a big deal – wasting billions of dollars.
Or, second, the other possible reason could be that Congress is looking the other way on purpose – like a cover up or something on CSI. Either way, billions of dollars are being smuggled from the VA with limited accountability, and the American taxpayer is being sold a bill of goods. In today’s technology metaphors, we are paying millions for a high tech solution but being sold an Atari 2600 from the 1980’s.
Last month, we saw VA’s CIO Roger Baker get in front of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs sit in front of Congress and admit failure after failure. The GI Bill tech fix did not work out after spending $263 million. My 11 year old could have figured that out – why reinvent the wheel on a ground up tech solution when a comparable system has already been created like TurboTax? Call it “Turbo GI Bill” and repurpose the software after paying much less.
Last week, Roger Baker got in front of Congress twice to report that the DoD / VA joint health care record program was a bust after spending $1 billion. According to their testimony, they learned three things:
- It is important to have data before starting to plan
- Have a strategic plan before spending $1 billion
- Be sure to have an end “cost” in mind before you start out
Lots of “befores” with that one – and it only took 10 years to get there. Again, these are things my 11 year old would probably know when I give her allowance. The only difference is that she knows if she misspends the money, I will not give her more money when she asks for it. (To see more on the hearing, go to VA and DoD Blow $1 Billion With No Strategic Plan.)
Last year was similar. There are problems with the VA misspending $100 million in unnecessary government conferences. During one trip, the VA officials stayed at the Bellagio Hotel, in Las Vegas. Let’s hope they didn’t take pictures of themselves in the hot tub with a $100 bottle of wine like the guy from GSA.
When VA’s Scott Gould was questioned about this, Congressman Jeff Miller declined to use his authority to swear in the testifying VA panel. By the end of the hearing, Congressman Miller was so incensed by the VA’s brazen treatment against the Committee that “the truce was over. It lasted less than 24-hours.”
After seeing this, I thought, “Good for Congressman Miller for being tough with the VA.” Then I thought, “Wait, Congressman Miller had a truce with VA during the hearing…. ?! WTF?! He could have sworn in the VA panel and made them answer questions under oath but he decided to have a behind the scenes truce!?… Mind blown…” (To see the hearing, go to My Take: The State Of The Eunuchs.)
I will leave out the remainder of what I was thinking after my melt down, since it involves many expletives and some fist pounding on the table.
I’m not sure about you, but I have lost my belief that the system works – that good triumphs over evil and that good guys always win in the end, at least in this current system of government.
The VA, and agencies like it, sidestep every pointed question from Congress that could deliver a kernel of truth. Congress refuses to swear in the VA when they are being investigated, so if we get lied to there is no real recourse. Instead, Congress forms “truces” with the VA behind the scenes. Maybe we need some new blood in there. Maybe that committee should be veterans only.
I asked some DC insiders about this issue. Apparently there exists a “gentlemen’s agreement” between the VA and Congress. This is the reason Congress does not swear them in. This, of course, confuses me because I have never heard of potential thieves or incompetent fools being referred to as “gentlemen.”
Where The Hell Happened To VA Transparency?
VA has stopped updating its ASPIRE website as of December 2012 for Benefits. The ASPIRE system’s Health Care data has not been updated with post-September 2012 data. VA has also stopped updating its Monday Morning Workload Report as of two weeks ago, which is abnormal.
In 2009, President Obama mandated that governmental agencies be more transparent. As a result, VA spent millions on developing better oversight systems and protocol. These systems gathered data that allows the public and other oversight bodies to check VA’s progress on improving its programs.
For many years, the VA has struggled to improve its benefits and health care delivery systems and facilities. These oversight systems are essential in allowing the public to hold the VA accountable.
Now that VA is no longer following the presidential mandate of keeping current data online, the level of transparency is diminished. With no transparency, you can almost bet there is corruption.
Despite this new reality, the Dept. of Veterans Affairs CIO Roger Baker told the House Committee on Veterans Affairs that the system is running A-Okay, on March 1, 2013. What a crock. In his prepared testimony he said, “VA’s ASPIRE for Quality Initiative, a VA-wide program designed to document key measures of health care quality posts outcome information for acute care services, intensive care units, outpatient services, safety and process measures, and indicators of how successful each VA Medical Center has been in meeting its quality goals.”
His statement implies that the data on the website is accurate. In order for a system like ASPIRE to show the VA is meeting its quality goals, the system must be current. After all, accurate information that is out of date is of little use when monitoring progress. Instead, it is over 6 months old when it comes to the health care data and three months old for benefits data.
Given previous testimony from Roger Baker, the remainder of his statements to Congress may not be exactly accurate if the VA is doing anything such as intentionally obscuring data intended for the ASPIRE system. This may indicate a larger problem where the VA is fighting its own internal war by deciding which data to withhold.
This reminds me of the time Fukishima happened. Remember that? I used to live on the West Coast during that earthquake in Japan. Many of us were very concerned about radiation levels in Oregon. Elevated levels of cesium were found in milk as far east as Vermont. Seaweed by British Columbia and rain water in San Francisco also had similar elevated levels. I recall people being very focused on Geiger counters to see if the rad levels would increase. Then, just prior to the major wave of fallout coming ashore, the EPA shut off the sensors and announce everything was fine. Or, rather, everything was within “healthy limits.” Have you ever heard of healthy radiation?
Maybe this is the kind of logic Roger Baker was applying to his claim that the ASPIRE system is working. With the VA statistics on their own websites not being updated, this made me look elsewhere. I Googled ASPIRE and came up with a few other data points where the VA was said to have been publishing data, at least as of 2010.
My first stop was QualityCheck.org, a website that certifies hospitals across the US when they are of a high quality. To see how reliable this site is, I searched for a VA Medical Hospital where I know Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) made VA do a quality investigation during last year. Last year, numerous veterans were killed due to alleged malpractice of one doctor who had come out of retirement to work the VA. Next to this facility’s name, Marion VA Medical Center in Illinois, QualityCheck.org displayed the Joint Commission’s Goal Seal of Approval. How’s that for quality oversight? The second website no longer existed.
Going back to Roger Baker’s statements, these kinds of statements are becoming less and less surprising after the slew of hearings he had to sit for last month. It seems like every program this man has touched has not worked after spending millions.
- DoD / VA blow $1 billion on health care IT fix with no strategic plan, and now announce they need a U-turn.
- $263 million GI Bill tech fix is a bust
It scares me that VA is implying that their ASPIRE system is humming along as advertised when it is not. Of course, without timely data, there can be no oversight.
This goes back to a point that I have made before. Congress needs to swear in agencies prior to them providing Congress with testimony on issues relating to veterans and the military.
Normally, I would suggest writing your Congressman to tell them to tell the VA to follow the law. However, I am pretty sure Congress is unable to make the VA do anything.
In all ironies, Congress will make baseball players using steroids take an oath prior to testifying to Congress, but I guess only things impacting pro sports “matter.”
Here is what the VA says about its ASPIRE program:
VA’s transparency program reports VA health care goals, successes and opportunities to improve. The Aspire and Links dashboards provide information on how VA Medical Centers meet these goals. The Aspire dashboard depicts how each of VA Medical Center measures up to quality goals and is divided into two sections: LinKS (Linking information knowledge and systems) and ASPIRE. The LinKS dashboard reports outcome and processes for acute care, intensive care unit (ICU), and patient safety measures. This type of information is made for health care professionals by statisticians and may be difficult to understand.
VA Reports That “DoD, VA Make Progress In Integrated Health Records”
Every day I get the newsletter that the VA sends out to Veteran Service Organizations (VSO), so that I can monitor what they say.
In my opinion, this newsletter is how the VA manages public opinion. It goes out to the VSO’s at around 1 am. Whoever is in charge of the VSO’s blog or public relations can select from any number of the 25 article topics VA’s public affairs selects. It’s a nifty little thing.
You can, of course, imagine my lack of surprise in how the VA chose to word the title above – “makes progress…“ I guess if you considered making a U-Turn after blowing $1 billion in the wrong direction as “progress”, then yes, VA is the Lance Armstrong of progress. Using that line of thinking, maybe I will become rich by leaving money under my mattress.
Here are a couple quotes I found to be insightful about what is going on based on the DoD / VA hearing:
Dr Jonathan Woodson of the DoD:
“Sequestration forced us to consider how much this was going to cost. Yes, if you’re looking down the barrel of significant budget cuts, you are going to focus on how can we make them more efficient and how can you achieve the same end at reduced cost and reduced risk.”
One veteran put this better than I could in his comment on my post form the Weekend Warrior segment:
“The afore mentioned quote says an awful LOT in it’s minced words of defiance. What I am trying to emphasize here is the DoD is now personifying the very sequestration that has been looming like a hatchet since what, 2011? It makes absolutely NO SENSE to even declare that looming budgetary cuts are what forced them to EVER consider cost-savings AND efficiency in the FIRST place!!
I for one think this sequestration is nothing more than a huge ruse! Where is exactly the Congressional Budgetary Office (CBO) oversight on squandered ONE BILLION or 25% of allocated taxpayer funding for this project?
With the DoD and VA being the most intertwined bedfelloes in our bloated gov’t., for them to BOTH come to the “U-Turn catch-phrase”, it seems ALL they are doing is DIVERTING *supposed* sequestration cuts to refill/replace their minor budgetary wound with VA allocated resources with absolutely no oversight or accountability.”
Another veteran pointed out that the attempts to make this work in the past have utterly failed, so he questioned why they would try it again without property strategy or direction:
“Thanks for the article, and providing a great voice. I am a veteran, and have worked for both the DoD and VA as a civilian. From the VA side, I can tell you they do not have the chain of command to address strategic issues that resembles the DoD in any way. On the DoD side, a similar attempt was made to merge all personnel records from cradle to grave, and that collapsed under its own weight. Lessons from that experience should have been used to better set a game plan for this process.”
I think the most important factor here is that veterans were misled prior to the election cycle. I sat in on the Veteran Service Organization Roundtable and listend to Congress reassure us that sequestration will not impact veterans benefits, and especially not health care benefits.
Thus, sequestration was not supposed to impact the veterans’ health care at VA Medical Centers – to include record keeping systems and initiatives like this one. As of September, these people were telling Congress everything was on track and even ahead of schedule. Now, we are taking a “U-Turn”?
Maybe when they promised that the cuts would not impact veterans, they meant it would not impact old veterans. Keep in mind, without this integrative system, new veterans will struggle to get their records relayed from the DoD to the VA systems just like the veterans of old. This excuse is unacceptable.
Meanwhile, DoD announced that the system and Congressional hearing was a great success. They even put out a press release… to trick us.
For those who don’t know, a press release is nothing more than controlled news, and with the DoD’s unlimited budget, they can pay top quality reports to pretty much say and write anything. Rather than mince my own words, I thought I’d provide the press release below for all of you to analyze. Let me know what you think. Then compare it to the testimony I link up here: https://www.disabledveterans.org/2013/03/02/va-and-dod-blow-1billion-with-no-strategic-plan/.
From the DoD Press Office:
DOD, VA Make Progress in Integrating Health Records
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
President Barack Obama directed the two departments to create a seamless system of integration for medical records.“The Defense and Veterans Affairs departments are making progress on integrating the health records of service members and veterans, senior government officials told the House Veterans Affairs Committee yesterday.
“The direction was clear: When a member of the armed forces separates from the military, their electronic records, medical, personnel and benefits will transition and remain with them forever,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.
Woodson detailed the tasks the two departments need to complete. First, they need to integrate health data for individuals into a single electronic health record. Second, they need to modernize the departments’ legacy health information systems.
“We have made tangible progress on a number of critical elements necessary to achieve our vision on the integrated record,” Woodson said. This includes creating a joint health data dictionary, ensuring the two departments use the same precise language to describe health data elements and fields in the combined health record system.
It also means moving VA data centers to the Defense Information System Agency. Woodson called this an important step for efficiency in operations and creating a single repository of data. The two departments also selected a single DOD-VA joint single sign-on and contact management solution that accurately identifies clients in both systems, he reported.
Finally, Woodson said, the two Cabinet agencies are implementing a joint graphical user interface that displays information from both the DOD and VA systems at the same time.
“We also completed an initial life-cycle cost estimate for the integrated electronic health record,” Woodson said. “The cost estimate was significant. And given the increasingly constrained federal budget environment, our secretary has directed us to re-evaluate the planned approach and consider alternatives that could accelerate timelines for interoperability at reduced cost and reduced risk.”
The scope of this project is huge. Valerie C. Melvin, the Government Accounting Office’s director of information management and technology resources issues, said the records are projected to provide coverage to about 9.6 million service members and their beneficiaries and to 6.3 million veterans.
“VA’s and DOD’s systems have many common business needs for providing health care coverage to these individuals,” Melvin told the representatives. “Toward this end, the two departments have an extensive history of working to achieve shared health care resources. Our work has examined the departments’ efforts over the last 15 years to share data between their individual systems and to develop interoperable electronic health record capabilities.”
They have made progress, but problems remain, she acknowledged. “Overall, VA and DOD have relied on a patchwork of initiatives involving their separate health information systems to achieve varying degrees of electronic health record interoperability,” Melvin said.
Circumstances require decisive action, Woodson said, and delay would only increase the cost and risk of this program.
“We believe the path we have chosen best serves the departments, the special populations whom we jointly are responsible for, and the American taxpayer,” he said.
I will say one thing about Dr. Jonathan Woodson, he is very well spoken and well accomplished – he is probably a great guy behind the scenes as well. Nonetheless, my concern is that the DoD and the VA are not being straight with the American people and our veterans.
Luckily for those testifying, I do not believe Congress had them swear in. So, if anything they happened to say also happened to be knowingly false, there is no recourse.
Top Five Tweets From The Weekend
Something Non-Veteran – Funniest Thing Ever
I have talked about some rather heady stuff up top. As a result, I thought I’d leave you with one of the funniest videos I have seen on YouTube in a long time. Literally fell out of my chair laughing. And best of all, my daughter showed it to me, making it a bonding moment.
So, let’s all bond together with a little laughter this Monday morning. Thank you for checking in and not checking out.