New emails show former VA Secretary Shinseki played a part to silence a corrupt contractor investigation concerning FedBid to avoid letting negative press affect the White House.
In a scandal that fell along party lines, one Democrat Congressman allegedly pressed hard to help his donors win big bucks in government contracts when oversight pressure mounted within VA. The whistleblower said Shinseki silenced his concerns to help the White House avoid negative press rather than stamp out corruption.
It was rumored that Secretary Shinseki was slated to run as a Senate Democrat in Hawaii before it was clear his tenure at VA had tanked his reputation for good. It is too bad politics to avoid negative press played such a large part in all VA scandals during Shinseki’s tenure.
How does this same theme keep repeating regardless of whom is in charge? Will veterans never get a fair shake or does VA merely exist to fund government contracts and bloated union salaries? Maybe that is the only reason our budget grows?
We will touch on this and more in a bit.
Welcome to 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, analysis and benefits strategy on the web. MMQB is where I hit on news from the weekend and talk about new topics.
Here is what we will cover in brief today:
- Shinseki silenced corruption investigation to save the White House
- Report confirms VA knew of chronic problems
- Anti-veteran sentiment spreads around internet
SHINSEKI BLEW OFF CONTRACTOR CORRUPTION TO PROTECT WHITE HOUSE
VA OIG confirmed reports last month that government contractor FedBid and some key politicians illegally pressured VA to avoid investigative oversight and contracting stop measures.
Susan Taylor, Deputy Chief Procurement Officer, VHA, PLO, pressured her staff to award contracts to a company called FedBid, Inc. Taylor was allowed to retire once the OIG report came out about her illegal conduct.
Taylor conspired with other insiders in other agencies to defame an investigator within VA. The OIG report stated William Dobrzykowski, Chief Financial Officer of the US International Trade Commission (USITC), was also involved in potentially criminal misconduct to thwart deserving companies. The conspiracy included defaming fellow VA procurement employee Jan Frye, a man who attempted to end the corruption.
Now, emails surfaced that Washington Times received through a FOIA that confirms inappropriate involvement from a Democratic Congressman to put pressure on VA officials. That Democrat’s name is Rep. James Moran of Virginia.
Jan Frye, deputy of VA Acquisitions, was intentionally attacked when he attempted to clean up contractor corruption. Congressman Moran’s office sent emails to other VA staff to disrupt the clean up. When Frye went to Secretary Shinseki to clean up the problem, Shinseki blew off the problem.
According to emails:
He said he got little support within the agency and that Mr. Shinseki “wire brushed” and “publicly humiliated” him. The former secretary, he said, “angrily told me he’d heard enough from me at one point.”
Mr. Frye also wrote that he had lost faith in a system where officials “simply don’t want any bad publicity for the White House.”
“We all take an oath when we become government employees,” he wrote. “That oath apparently means nothing here at the VA. Nobody is held accountable.”
Frye voiced his frustration with wealthy lobbyists as the scandal unfolded in the below emails:
“FEDBid has become a political force to reckon with,” Mr. Frye wrote in one email months later. “I got zero support from the political leadership in VA and Congress for putting a moratorium in place on its use, so that we could develop rules and processes for its use. Leonsis obviously has money and concomitant political power.”
In an earlier email during the moratorium, Mr. Frye said the move was “receiving a lot of political pressure because two Washington billionaires have invested heavily in Vienna, VA based FEDbid Ted Leonsis and Steve Case. In fact, I believe the two Congressional representatives are pushing the envelope WRT interfering Federal procurement policies.”
By the way, about Rep. Moran? He received $1,500 in from FedBid PAC and was possibly influenced by donors who were also investors in the company. His office denied that political contributions played a role in his request to help FedBid. Sure, perhaps they were just buddies at the local country club?
Will Secretary McDonald fare better or will he follow the same plan of attack – protect wealthy investors with political favor?
REPORT CONFIRMS VA KNEW OF CHRONIC PROBLEMS
A new report from NVTC confirms chronic VHA dysfunction the agency failed to address from a previous Booz Allen Report in 2008 that led up to the current wait list scandal. This means VA paid millions for an analysis that it then ignored.
What else is new?
Despite all the money American taxpayers seem to throw at Veterans Affairs, the agency continues to buck all common sense and high tech fixes alike. No matter what, money keeps getting blown and veterans die.
Now, the Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) confirmed exactly what we all suspected; VA did not take adequate measures over Shinseki’s 6 years to address serious problems that put veterans at risk.
Evaluators from NVTC conducted onsite evaluations over a six-week period of VA’s health care capabilities that culminated into a recently released report. The report contains numerous findings that all had the following theme in common:
VA’s exam-scheduling processes are insufficiently enabled by state-of-the-art technologies or (consistently applied) standard operating procedures. This situation has resulted in a counterproductive and error-prone working environment that has frustrated staff members for years, thus fueling a persistent staff-retention problem – the net effect of which has contributed in no small part, it appears, to the gradual erosion of public confidence in the Department’s ability to provide Veterans with timely access to needed healthcare services.
This report contained the following 11 recommendations:
1. Aggressively redesign the human resources and recruitment process.
2.Prioritize efforts to recruit, retain, and train clerical staff.
3. Develop a comprehensive human capital strategy that addresses impending healthcare provider shortages based on projected needs.
4. Create a stronger financial incentive structure.
5. Accelerate steps to improve the agility, usability and flexibility of scheduling-enabling technologies that also facilitate performance measurement and reporting functions.
6. Take aggressive steps to use fixed infrastructure more efficiently.
7. Evaluate the efficiency and patient support gained by centralizing the phone calling functions in facility-based call centers with extended hours of operation.
8. Invest in more current and usable telephone systems and provide adequate space for call center functions.
9. Take aggressive measures to alleviate parking congestion, which impacts timeliness of care.
10. Engage frontline staff in the process of change.
11. Embrace a system-wide approach to process redesign.
Will VA implement these fixes this time? How many more billions will American taxpayers allow VA executives to piss away before they pull the plug on all of us?
NVTC’s assessment was conducted at the request of Senator Mark Warner(D-Va.), who sought a remedy to the IT and workflow challenges at the VA. In addition, the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, passed by Congress and signed into law in August, included a requirement for the VA to use a technology task force to conduct a review of the needs of the Department of Veterans Affairs with respect to its scheduling system. Today’s announcement was made during a conference call conducted by Senator Warner and NVTC President & CEO Bobbie Kilberg.
ANTI-VETERAN SENTIMENT SPREADS AROUND INTERNET
His comments were based on a report he sanctioned from GAO. The report found that a few veterans receive retirement and two forms of disability compensation, one from VA and the other from Social Security. I have no idea why this is shocking but the report was used to justify greater scrutiny of veterans.
Nearly 60,000 veterans were triple dippers last year, drawing a total of $3.5 billion in military retirement pay plus veterans and Social Security disability benefits at the same time, congressional auditors report.
It’s all legal.
The average payment was about $59,000, but about 2,300 veterans, or 4 percent of the total, received concurrent payments of $100,000 or more, the Government Accountability Office said. The highest payment was to a veteran who received $208,757 in combined payments in 2013.
The GAO was first covered by Washington Times. Now, many news outlets are repeating that same story including Associated Press and repeater websites that subscribe to its news articles.
Here are three examples and the original that set this off. These should serve as a reminder that we need to heavily scrutinize what VA or Lawmakers are saying to promote their own agendas:
ORIGINAL – Veterans caught triple-dipping on benefits
- Disability Payments: Report – 60,000 Vets Getting Triple Benefits
- Report says 60,000 veterans get triple benefits… and it’s all legal
- 60,000 Veterans Get Triple Benefits
What troubles me is the lack of questions when stories like this are pushed out there for the mass audience to digest.
The Washington Times article cited two examples of veterans getting what they seemed to imply were big bucks without asking the pivotal question: How much does it cost to take care of those seriously disabled veterans the report seemingly focused on?
Before you run with his logic too far, let me paint a picture of the veterans highlighted:
- Veteran 1 retired after 20 years of military service. He has no use of his feet, has lung disease and vascular disease. Last year, he received $122,887 in benefits he earned.
- Veteran 2 retired after 26 years. He lost both of his feet, is blind in one eye and has renal problems. Last year, he received $152,719.
The article highlights that part of what Veteran 2 receives is from the highest special disability award worth $85,958 per year. That award from VA is for only the most severely disabled veterans who are house bound and require full time aid and attendance in their home. This means the veteran or his family must use the money to pay for caregivers and related items needed that VA is unable to provide.
Now take a second. Do you have any idea how expensive it is to care for a partially blind man with no feet 24 hours a day? It costs a lot. Will I lose sleep over how much in benefits this person is given so that he is taken care of? No. And you shouldn’t, either.
When will this nonsense end? Will veterans issues forever be a political football for politicians to kick around while unions and special interests walk away with big bucks?
That is all I have for this edition of MMQB. Until next time, have a great week.