Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published a blistering op-ed covering VA reforms in the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act that make you wonder why Congress was high-fiving.
Did they solve the health care crisis? Most veterans would say “no”. Did they increase actual access to non-VA health care in the community? No. Does Secretary Robert McDonald have to ensure all veterans get an appointment in within the old 14-day wait list window? No. How about 30 days? No.
So why on earth did members of Congress high-five each other so much after passing the legislation if it really did not solve the problem?
We will cover this and more in this edition of Monday Morning Quarterback (MMQB) for Veterans. I am your host, Benjamin Krause, creator of the DisabledVeterans.org community. This is the number one place of unadulterated veteran centric news on the web. MMQB is where I hit on news from the weekend and touch on topics we may cover later this week in more depth.
Here is what we will cover in brief today:
- WSJ op-ed hammers veterans reform legislation
- VA contractor writes pro-contractor article – worth a look
- Veteran Resource Plug – Check Out San Francisco’s Marines’ Club & Hotel
- Social Media Q/A last week on VA Voc Rehab Counselor problems
WSJ OP-ED HAMMERS CONGRESS OVER VETERANS REFORM FAILURES
Many of you are aware of the supposed overhaul signed into law by President Obama along with its attached $16.3 billion to reform the Department of Veterans Affairs following exposure of the wait list scandal.
Numerous veterans were harmed and/or killed over the past years through numerous fraudulent schemes that boosted performance numbers at the expense of those VA is required to serve by law – disabled and sick veterans. These failures were systemic and widespread throughout the agency and Congress claimed the new laws would root out the problems.
The WSJ op-ed highlights many of the failures of the legislation and the occasional bait and switches pulled off by the compromise reached between the Executive Branch and Congress. It was written by Professor Kyndra Miller Rotunda, a professor of military and international law, at Chapman University.
RELATED: VA Reforms – More Hurry Up and Wait
When it came to wait times, did the law actually reduce the wait times? No.
The law first defines them as 30 days. But one paragraph later the law allows the VA secretary to submit “actual” wait time goals to Congress. If the actual wait time is longer than 30 days, the actual wait time supplants the 30-day “wait time goal.” One wonders how Congress and the White House could high-five over that language.
Even if the vet manages to live through the wait time and see a private doctor, he can only stay with that doctor for 60 days before it’s back to the VA to start all over again. Why bother?
The law claims to create criteria VA needed to allow the agency to readily punish federal employees for fraud and falsifying federal records, but isn’t that already illegal? Why wouldn’t the US Criminal Code suffice to hold criminals in VA accountable? The op-ed author asks the same question.
The op-ed also discusses the newly created “Commission on Care” that is supposed to examine the quality and accessibility of the VA health care system. Apparently VA has one year to appoint this commission but has yet to do so despite the crisis. Does this seem counter-intuitive? Why is Secretary McDonald waiting? Is there a lack of candidates?
According to the op-ed, another downside is that the law fails to address VA’s disjointed bonus system that is often cited by Congress and the media as being rife with abuse:
But the law does nothing to curtail lavish employee bonuses or to reduce the VA’s notorious backlog of claims. Under the present system, VA employees are paid generously while wounded veterans wait for their claims to be adjudicated. America’s veterans commonly describe VA processing as “delay, deny and hope you die.”
In light of these apparent failures, my only suggestion is to check carefully into the voting patterns of the elected officials in your area who are begging for your vote this November. Nothing is as it seems with this new VA reform, and both parties were doing little more than high-fiving at its passage when they, in reality, did little more than kick the can down the road. Shouldn’t we congratulate them with a solid firing come this election?
Let’s keep in mind that the wait list scandal within VA health care dates back to at least 2001 making it a bipartisan screw up. That is right. The first time it was mentioned was 13 years ago, and the problem probably dates back to the implementation of the current bonus structure in the 1990’s. That means both Republican and Democratic administrations had ample time to fix the known problem but failed to do so at the expense of many veterans’ lives. All those politicians who glad-handed each other while really doing nothing at all to help vets should be ashamed of themselves.
CONTRACTOR WRITES PRO-VA-PRIVATIZATION ARTICLE
Nextgov.com published an unusually “pro-contractor” and “pro-privatization” article about using private sector solutions to manage VA health care data. At first glance, it may not seem pro-contractor until you do a little digging and realize the services advocated for within the article are not services VA can provide without hiring more contractors.
Agree or disagree, the premise of the article is that VA is not currently using its data properly. If true, that means our incapable VA will need the help of private business to provide big data solutions to help it care for veterans.
Mark Byers, head of DSS, Inc, wrote it. This company specializes in VistA-integrated solutions. Guess what company would provide the solutions advocated for within the article? It starts with a “D”.
Any idea what the heck the DSS description means? Here is a clue, VistA is the data solution VA uses for all of its health care electronic records and data aggregation. It is the same solution DoD and VA have been unable to combine. It is the data system that was rife with fraud that helped VA leadership look great on paper without actually helping many of the veterans who were harmed and/or killed as a consequence of the crimes committed.
Here, the article uses a few arguments to highlight the value of using data analysis solutions to improve medical outcomes. Good or bad, I would rather know VA has the expertise and knowledge to create its own solutions without depending on private companies for every little thing ranging from actual health care to now the data analysis of its electronic database.
Here is why. Eventually this practice by an agency creates a dependence on non-VA solutions. The further we go down this road, the more likely it is we will create an agency with a greater focus on corporate “hand-outs” as agency solutions instead of on solutions that have solely veteran wellbeing as the focus.
Take one look at VA’s kissing cousin, DoD, and its failures over the years to pad the coffers of government contractors at the expense of military troops. How often did we see procurement of equipment that did not work because General Such-and-Such knew the government contractor or had some other incentive to pull the trigger on the deal where the health and welfare of the troops was not the first consideration — or even the second or third?
I remember a lot of examples such as the M-16 when it first came out. What about planes that did not fly right or tanks that were not functional as advertised but still put into service anyway.
VA likewise has had ample failures and numerous inappropriate contractor relationships from within like the recently uncovered crimes committed by Susan Taylor in collaboration with FedBid, Inc, and another government agency. I would like to point out that Ms. Taylor is reportedly going to retire instead of lose her pension. How many other technology type programs have been a total failure? The GI Bill website? eBenefits? You name it.
Regardless of current need and where I stand on this issue, I think it is important to read commentary from government contractors and their public relations departments as often as possible. Does VA need to use its data more wisely? Probably. Should VA rely on government contractors for all of its difficult analysis?
READ CEO BYERS’ ARTICLE HERE: Is big data the solution to VA’s health care woes?
Let me know what you think after taking a look. Is big data the fix? If all VA employees are lying about their data, how will relying on that data affect health care? Isn’t an over-reliance on the data at Central Office how the problem blew up in the first place?
VETERANS RESOURCE PLUG – MARINES’ CLUB & HOTEL
I would like to give a quick shout out to the Marines’ Club & Hotel in San Francisco after spending a night there with fellow veterans from Grand Forks Air Force Base.
My old roommates from Grand Forks and I decided to have a reunion in San Francisco this past week for the first time in 15 years. We were able to stay at the fantastic Marines’ Club right in the heart of the city, which saved us a ton of money and was really enjoyable.
The atmosphere, food and drinks were fantastic. The guests were all extremely respectful to one another in a way that is completely abnormal in most traditional hotel settings. The staff was kind and even a bit funny. The atmosphere and experience is designed pay respect and appreciation to veterans and active servicemembers from all generations.
I will refrain from waxing poetic about the experience beyond this, but I will say that if you are a veteran or servicemember seeking a reasonably priced room in San Francisco, this club and hotel is worth checking out.
We had a great time, and I highly recommend this to other veterans and active servicemembers.
SOCIAL MEDIA Q&A – VETERAN BENEFITS STRATEGY FOR VR&E
Last week, a veteran’s caregiver wrote in on Facebook about a problem she had with her husband’s Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor when it came to paying for tuition and other things. The Voc Rehab Counselor was totally MIA when it came to covering needed and required expenses:
Concerned caregiver here…question: what to do when a counselor says they won’t pay for application fee for approved program in a contract they produced? What to do when the counselor refuses to approve payment for tuition, though already approved payment for books and supplies for the prerequisite classes on the approved program stated above (veteran is already attending the prerequisite courses)? Hope this makes sense….
Check out the 4 strategies we set out to encourage timely and honest communications with the counselor if you had a similar issue. Here they are in name only, but check out the article for more specifics on each including the regulations and related rules underneath #4 below:
- Write a letter and mail it certified with return receipt requested
- Write a letter to the VRE Officer and mail it certified with return receipt requested
- Write an ethics complain to VA OIG and mail it certified with return receipt requested
- Write an ethics complaint to the Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification and mail it certified with return receipt requested