Secretary McDonald Caught Pulling A Brian Williams

Brian Williams

Benjamin Krause

This week, Washington Post caught Secretary McDonald in his own Brian Williams moment. Last Sunday he cited severely inflated numbers of ‘fired’ VA employees related to the wait list scandal that did not pass the Post’s smell test.

Could this misstep undo VA’s positive momentum shortly after McDonald’s selection to lead the dysfunctional agency?

RELATED: McDonald Meet the Press Bombshell 900 Employees ‘Fired’

On Sunday, the Secretary stated 60 employees had been fired due to malfeasance related to the wait list scandal that rocked the Department of Veterans Affairs. The Secretary stated, “Nine hundred people have been fired since I became secretary. We’ve got 60 people that we fired who have manipulated wait times.”

Washington Post fact checker Michelle Ye Hee Lee found McDonald’s numbers were severely inflated. Lee determined only eight employees had been removed due to their involvement in the manipulated wait times. She further determined those who were deemed fired were actually engaged in numerous employee discipline processes, most of which did not include termination.

Given the high profile nature of this issue, does it seem plausible that McDonald would inflate the numbers on purpose just to look good in the moment like Brian Williams? Or, do you think McDonald was fed a line of bull and set up to look like a joker on TV?

While the latter suggestion may seem like a stretch, we do know former Secretary Shinseki admitted to being misled by senior staff, but he stopped short of naming names. We know Gina Farrisee is in charge of personnel for VA, and that she was reprimanded for her role in the Pat Tillman cover-up while a general in the Army. It seems plausible that such past behavior may continue.

RELATED: General Reprimanded In Tillman Scandal Now Head Of VA Human Resources

Lee concluded, “The public expects accuracy as the agency works to restore credibility. It is especially important for McDonald to be precise about his terminology–and to provide truthful information to the public. He earns Four Pinocchios for wildly inflating his “firing” statistics.”

A VA spokesperson told the Post, “Regarding the 60 figure, it is most accurate to say that ‘VA has proposed disciplinary action related to data manipulation or patient care against more than 60 employees nationwide’” The spokesperson continued, “This takes into account the full range of accountability actions including admonishments, demotions, reprimands, and termination.”

I for one think Secretary McDonald was set up on this one. The man is clearly intelligent. Why would he misstate such an obviously ridiculous number unless his underlings fed him a line of bull?

Since McDonald took over VA, I have seen numerous front line improvements that have resulted in veterans getting benefits quicker. In fact, numerous veterans have received help who desperately needed it after reaching out to Secretary McDonald and his senior staff. I hope missteps like this one get resolved, immediately.

People still need to get fired and held accountable for the crimes committed that actually harmed and killed veterans. No amount of Brian Williams moments can fix the harm such criminal behavior caused.


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  1. I wrote Mr. McDonald a letter seeking his assistance in the investigation gross misconduct and unlawful act s of some VR & E Officer and his staffs in Oakland, California, guess what happened to that letter, never got an answer. I guess investigating one of their own is one difficult to accomplish.

  2. Ben, I think giving Secretary McDonald the benefit of the doubt is far more than he deserves. When I heard the “900” number, I simply laughed. The idea that 900 employees had been fired is just ridiculous. Is it even reasonable that this could be a true statement? That would lead one to conclude one of two things about Secretary McDonald. Either he intentionally gave a false statement for the benefit of public opinion, or he is out of touch and an incredibly naive person who still doesn’t fully understand the degree of corruption within the department he oversees. Given what I know about the level of corruption within our political system and society in general, to my mind the former is far more likely than the latter.

  3. This article from my local VA shows what happens when there’s an OIG Federal Investigation…those involved quietly resign or were they forced to do so? This investigation brought to light that the VA does NOT require their medical techs that in this case, work in making prosthetic limbs for Veterans, DOES NOT require them to even hold a certification let alone a degree in which they could NOT work on anyone BUT Veterans…not a soul in civilian medical fields…pretty freaking scary:
    10 Investigates Exposes Columbus VA Hospital Providing Substandard Care for Amputees

    Secretary McDonald has A LOT of work to do yet.

    1. That is a disturbing document, and that that particular VA facility allowed the staffing levels to be at such a place an un-certified individual was responsible for care just boggles the mind.

      1. Well, that investigation reporting revealed that NOT ONLY was the person in charge of the prosthetics dept. was entirely not certified/degreed, but ALSO 3 out of the 4 of the only other VA employees in that dept. were ASLO entirely not qualified/certified/degreed…only -1- person was actually qualified to do such important and life-changing work for Veterans. As the investigative reporting revealed, that head of dept. quietly resigned but it sounds as if the SAME 3 of the 4 unqualified employees are *still employed in that dept.*, and these are the type of things that are systemic across all the VAHS’s across USA and Secretary McDonald needs to address a “clean sweep” throughout this dysfunctional institution as well as those in upper management that ALLOW such poorly trained individuals to continue to “play Dr.” on we Veterans.
        I do realize he has only been on the job for 6 months but for Sec. McDonald to maintain credibility/believability, he needs to publicly address those that may be continuing to feed HIM false or grossly inflated statistics or numbers.
        I called the local veteran this article was primarily about (but MANY other Veterans have been affected and lost trust in VA), and let him know about this website, which he had never heard a peep about until now, and informed him about Ben’s information for Veterans in navigating Voc Rehab as well as advice on making a service connected claim successfully. I also gave him Ben’s contact info and let “Robert”, the Navy Veteran know I posted a link on site about the newsworthy investigative reporting and also sent Ben the direct link to story, which has “Robert’s” contact info within story.
        Hopefully this will help MANY more Veterans no longer feel as intimidated as that story expounded upon.

    2. Namnibor, the great irony of this 10TV news story is they certainly got it right and uncovered something that desperately needed to be brought to light, but this is nothing compared to the actual crimes occurring at the Columbus VA. In the name of their Jihad against opiate pain medications, doctors are committing medical fraud to keep chronic pain patients out of pain clinic referrals. This fraud includes falsification of medical records, giving fraudulent medical information to patients, retaliation against patients that try to report the abuse, and verbal abuse of patients with a prior history of opiate pain management. I know because it happened to me, and I know that it is happening to many other veterans that have to use this facility. I have the medical documents to back it up. I contacted 10TV last night to share a portion of what’s really going on at that facility. We will see if they have the balls to report it. My guess is they won’t. I contacted the ABC affiliate in Columbus over the summer and they wouldn’t touch the story. This place is a house of hell where the doctors couldn’t care less about the vets. The director of the hospital is an accountant and government trained bureaucrat. I guess what do you expect?

  4. Interesting… I just replied to 6 posts here and none of them are visible….hmm will wait and see if they pop up in a few more minutes…

    1. Mike, this website uses an advanced CDN service to help the site show up quickly across the country, but the tradeoff is that comments and my own edits to the site do not always show up right away. Sometimes changes or comments take a few minutes to show up because of the way the server system works.

  5. Here is my situation. Mr. McDonald has Blown Me OFF!!! So has my Congress Man/Woman.
    I am a 40% VA rated Combat Veteran of ( 2005-2006 )Operation Iraqi Freedom.
    I am awaiting another claim from Aug 2012. I was placed in the IRRR on Nov 2013.
    I have been working for Kroger co as a Butcher, for Over 28 yrs.( been back to work over 6 years since returning home 2006). I have been demoted 2 times due to my physical injuries, I am not able to do the job I did before I went to Iraq. I was recently transferred to a new location because my supervisor (of 3 months time) had a problem with me confronting him on referring to me as a PATHETIC CRIPPLE and being LAZY and coming to the aide of some part-time employee’s. I have been at the previous location since 2008 with 2 different supervisor’s and 3 different store manager’s with NO PROBLEMS. I am at the new location less than 3 weeks and I am terminated for being a Verbal Threat to Customer’s ,Management staff & Fellow employee’s! I talked about a video game called Assassins’ Creed, I also was overheard asking a fellow hunting enthusiast “I like to go to the shooting range (in the winter)after a bad day at work, would you like to join me?” I am asking for some help in Who to contact. They are treating me like I am going to SNAP from a PERCEIVED PTSD!!! The Kroger co wants ALL of my Military, VA and Private Medical records.
    Do you have any ideas? Do you know of ANY JAG officers that might be able to HELP ME? This ALL took place on 22 FEB 2014.
    I went through mediation with the .Union and the KRoger co. I was portrayed as a Bat@#$% Crazy person that would SNAP & KILL these 2 people, their relatives, and neighbors, do to the PERCEIVED PTSD!
    Thanks for your time.
    Scott “FireBall” Johnson
    [email protected]
    I am also a relative of a Vet that passed due to the stupidity in AZ, unfortunately he passed in 2012

    1. If your on the up hand up and are tired of those people. Put in for s job at the VA. Desk job.

      Just remember now you feel now and treat the veterans. The same way you want to be treated.

      Remember. If s supervisor tells you to do something that you feel us wrong. Don’t do it or put it in writing what their asking you to do hand gave them sign it.

      This won’t make them happy. But they will not ask again.

      Probably try and fire you. Don’t cave in.

  6. Ben,
    Today on my local Columbus, OH 10tvnews at 5:45 EST they are running an investigative segment on not so great things occurring with Veteran’s care at the local VAHS. Again, the link I am providing WILL have the segment there to view once it has aired or even live my time today and thought you should know this is the FIRST time my local VA has been under such a spotlight in last year and half or so. This is also the same rather brand new VAHS that was a massive enlargement of the prior VAHS serving Columbus, OH and upon it’s opening, they STILL had NO PLANS of having an Infectious Disease Dept., and they remain sending Veterans on an all day van trip to the Dayton, OH VAHS or you are expected to make the trip yourself…it was this lack of immediate care for my specific health issues that was the final straw because the VA claims to be, “The largest USA Healthcare Provider for HIV”…and it just cannot possibly be true from my rather scary experience in attempting to utilize the VA and thank The Lord I have Medicare.
    Here’s the link and I will be watching it live on cable at 5:45 my EST time.
    Thanks for continuing to fight the good fight.
    Tried to send this via email to you and constantly kept receiving some error code, so here you go and others can view this segment after it airs today at 5:45 EST today.

  7. Mike;
    I was a Union Rep in Dallas before I retired. The process for “firing” a person is long and filled with many layers of protection and management has to be real careful to “dot the i’s and cross the t’s otherwise they can lose their case and have to reinstate the employee with back pay, etc. Remember, 900 total VA employees is a drop in the bucket compared to the total population of the VA. It used to be that whenever you had a change in administration at all levels; federal, state or local, you got a new slate of employees (political appointees and friends of the new administration) replacing the old. A man’s job was never secure and you could be terminated for any reason. When we had to discipline a person and the action could lead to termination, we would informally call these cases “firings or terminations” which was our language we used for the most severe cases.

    Some (many?) may say that the Unions went too far and in some instances I agree. I have personally seen some instances where it took nearly 5 years to terminate someone and most deserved it.

    Let’s give Secretary McDonald a break. He hasn’t been in office long enough to make a dent in the problem. Where he came from he had a whole different culture to handle. Handling the VA culture is a whole different kettle of fish. Personally, I think he is a good man

    Paul Garner

    1. Paul,

      I too think that McDonald needs to be cut some slack, no doubt.

      To address your other observations. Yes the union protects workers, hence my comment about lawsuits if 900 were fired at once. Even 60 at once. The backlash would be HUGE….That is why I suggest that a third option, that he mistakenly conflated private information about those 900 / 60 being targeted for those results. In that case his gaff was even mentioning them and then compounded by saying it was a done deal.

  8. Just someone else the VA has lined up to blame for delays / denials to health care and compensation. Read (be instructed by) Jan.2010 Compensation & Pension Bulletin Policy(211) Information on Vietnam Naval Operations; And, June 2010 C&P Bulletin Policy (211) ADDITIONAL Information on Vietnam Naval Operations; The Nehmer Court Order The Nehmer Training Guide (211A) Feb. 2011 Revised; and, Congressional Research Services / Statutory Presumptions (by law clerk Nichols Oct. 2010)( includes incubation periods). Need “TOP COPS” (let’s say) to enforce the already laid down and laid out Nehmer Court Order The Nehmer Training Guide (211A) Feb. 2011 Revised (yes, 2011 Revised) ! Shouldn’t need outside lawyer (or group of lawyers): Nehmer states: VA compensates class counsel for it’s work on Nehmer claims. Need “TOP COPS” after Nehmer Working Group, also. Read Nehmer Court Order for …sanctions.

  9. This is what i think: i have been talking to my former direct superior from the Marines who is a Medal of Honor recipient, who along with other mutual associates, that are very high up at the VA and the Pentagon and elsewhere in politics. I am flat telling them it is time to put up or shut up about not taking this corruption from the VA any longer, and we are working on a complete paradigm shift where vets will drive what goes on at the VA, not VA Unions, not McDonald, not the President, not anyone, but vets who are no longer accepting of our benefits being stolen from us while we either die or suffer from non-treatment, and getting jacked around on every other benefit we earned. I full well to back me up on this and demand that even MOH winnners and others no longer rest on their laurels or wait till someone else solves this VA mess. We have to do it. We have to show leadership, it is called Group Centered Leadership, to get this done. McDonald is on his way out, the hand-writing is on the wall, and his replacement is not going to be another screw vets over clone like has always ran the VA. Someone reply here and say you will back me up, and Ben I darn well expect you to reply right here for everyone to see, then I will post
    Sgt. Major Allan Kellogg’s phone number and a few other numbers here to kick this game in the ass once and for all and get it over. Kellogg and his associates and others like him that I know, not to mention all of you as I can’t be the only one that knows these kinds of guys, have the authority and legitimate ability to type a code and a comment into your VA file and get you any VA benefit that you reasonably have earned, and go around the VA bullshi_ game. McDonald is a sissy traitor out only for himself and cramming his bank accounts full by sending as many of us to early graves and denying all of our benefits while he talks a Brian Williams BS story. Back me up and I will post a few direct numbers here and we will get this nightmare over now.

  10. We cannot trust any information that comes out of the VA. I tend to agree that McDonald was set up by one or more of his own people. The problem is that this seems to be a on-going pattern in the VA and that nothing is ever done about it. EVERYONE must fact-check information themselves before going on national television and making outrageous claims that don’t come even remotely close to the truth.

    Every one is entitled to a mistake but must be held accountable after that. If you lie to the public and you are the ultimate ‘voice’ of the VA you must take accountability for misleading the public – and that includes investigating and removing individuals who were responsible for providing the wrong information, and it should be done in a public manner. After this, how can anyone take McDonald seriously when he speaks of all the changes he’s done and brags how vets are now better off.

    Words are cheap (McDonald has proved that) but actions speak volumes. Helping a few vets is not indicative of major overall changes. When the day-to-day interactions begin to change then we will know something has happened to make the VA better but until then it’s “Business as usual.”

    1. I agree with that 100%, no matter party, no matter history of good works, no matter positions that agree or disagree with me, all public sector employees and elected officials must be accountable for what they do, say or fail to do.

  11. Who are the 900 that have been fired? Who are the 60 that have been fired? Those are my questions.

    1. A reporter worth the job title would submit a FOIA for that information. Granted they wouldn’t get names since it would be redacted, but it would be nice to see the details such as charges, and what punishment was given.
      Any Congressman or Senator on an oversight committee should be directing a staffer to get the same information.
      I won’t hold my breath for either to happen.

      1. I don’t know how reliable this site is; however, it does list some statements about how many of these people have actually been fired and it claims that this report came from a “Republican Staffer” and the reporter does go into more detail about who and how many have been fired and that some are either waiting for disciplinary actions, Some have been listed as resigning, being suspended, demoted, admonished, or reprimanded. it also has different numbers for the actual firing.
        The link is below.

  12. Mr. “Fix the VA” McDonald hasn’t fired anyone. What is his definition of firing someone, anyway? Does it mean anyone who is being disciplined, instead of being fired, that person is selected for a promotion with a good swift kick upstairs with a hefty pay increase just so he can say that the person in that position receiving disciplinary action was terminated while there? To me, it’s more like Fantasyland than Disneyland!

  13. No one, can succeed in this administration. Shinseki was set up the same way, by career executives who will do anything to stop a real investigation. But Ben, I Mike said, you are being too kind, and I believe I know why.

  14. “Thanks”, MIke! I always read these and find myself in frequent disagreement but remain silent. Good to see that my train of thought is not alone!

    1. Tom,

      Welcome… some people like to call me contrary, but I cannot help believe that too many of us Americans, including Vets, fail to apply critical thinking skills before we spout opinions, often as fact.

      Please do make the choice to voice respectful disagreement when it seems some others might be going off the rails or creating an “echo chamber” of misguided agreement. Otherwise the nature of discourse in this country will continue to crumble and only the noisy will be heard.

  15. I am not sure about the comparison to Williams as his story(s) were a problem that took yrs. to happen. I do think that he did overinflate the numbers and the numbers that have had something done (actual firing) seem to reflect that he did say it was more than what can be found from my searching for any numbers related to actual firings. Did he know the numbers were wrong? I don’t know. Did he say a number to “make him and/or the VA look good? I don’t know. From what I can find it seems as if the numbers don’t add up and he has been caught stating one number for a specific item and no one or nothing has been shown to back up what he claimed had been “fired”. Did he include those that had other disciplinary actions taken against them in this number, again I don’t know but I do see things that point to there is a problem with his statement and the actual firing of VA personnel. Maybe he was hoping that the reporter would not dig a little more and that the number would be taken at face value. A conspiracy theory? Sorry, I don’t see any type of conspiracy in the statement, just asking if the news media set him up and they have been known to do things like that. It does create the “buzz” that the news wants to happen and this did that.
    I wish I could put a pic on here because I took the pic above and put a Pinocchio nose on Bob and it would be a good pic to use. I may e-mail it to Ben and maybe he will put it on here if he wants.

  16. Benjamin,

    This comment “Or, do you think McDonald was fed a line of bull and set up to look like a joker on TV?” really makes me concerned about what you say to people and vets.

    For this to be true, a conspiracy of dozens of people who prepped him for the interview, his senior advisers, and his personal secretary had to have all been in on it. They would have all seen the materials and not a single one said “WTF? 900 people fired? 60 people fired?” That is pretty far fetched.

    And frankly I just don’t understand any executive who finds out 900 of his employees was canned is not saying the same thing…WTF!!! simply because you have to expect out of 900 firings, 800 are getting lawyers and calling press conferences screaming they were unfairly terminated in a witch hunt.

    This was not a buttonhole interview in the mens room. This was a planned event on a major news show, and the topics were no secret to anyone with two connected brain cells. He was prepped and there were multiple meetings about all possible questions. That’s how these things work, particularly for executives under fire by the public and Congress.

    I don’t want to infer that I think he intentionally lied, but on the other hand the conspiracy theory stuff is just bizarre.

    Imagine that office meeting when he got back? heads would be rolling on the spot. The IG and Head of Personnel would be called, and the dogs would be let loose on those who “set him up”. In less than 48 hours I would have had those briefing papers sent to every media outlet as well as the names of who prepared them. I would have them placed on administrative leave until I could have them charged or fired.

    A third possibility is he mixed up confidential information like 900 people were under investigation and 60 are direct targets for termination and or prosecution. Instead of a conspiracy or a lie, it is possible that in a minute of frustration he used those numbers and conflated them as having already occurred. While not quite a Brian Williams moment, still a gaff that he will have to overcome, not insurmountable just embarrassing.

    Personally because of his advances so far i would prefer that third option be the correct one, we can all forgive a public speaking gaff, where as stupidity and conspiracies are not forgivable.

    Benjamin, your talents as a lawyer and your zeal to help vets puts you in a spotlight and that spotlight comes with a responsibility to be a bit above the fray. To not stoke fires that are are already blazing hot, we already have enough wingnuts in Congress doing that.

    1. Secretary Shinseki admitted to being misled by his senior staff right before he stepped down. The misleading facts were a contributing factor to certain comments the Secretary previously made that were inaccurate to Congress. So, at least from my perspective, it is not outside the realm of possibility that such did occur here. On the note of conspiracy, VA is rife with real conspiracy related crimes, and the wait list is but one example where VA staff did conspire together to commit fraud. Let’s not forget that “conspiracy” was not a dirty word to describe kooks up until the past twenty years. Instead, it is a technical legal term that describes real crime for which there is a penalty.

      I am not suggesting what occurred to McDonald is part of a criminal conspiracy. We do not know why he stated such a blatantly wrong number and need to consider all possibilities. We do know Gina Farrisee is head of VA human resources, and that she was one of the generals reprimanded for her role in the Pat Tillman friendly-fire cover-up.

      1. Regarding conspiracies and their possibility, we do know a large number of VA employees conspired to hide how long it took vets to get medical care contributing to 40 dead.

        We also know the VA has conspired to hide their own data on the prevalence of ALS in Gulf War vets. That information only became known when another VA employee leaked the data. That is why Congress made ALS a presumptive illness related to service in the Gulf.

        The VA conspiring to inflate those fired or set up McDonald? Easily believable given their history.

      2. Benjamin,

        this followup still begs the question, why are the people who “misled” the head of the agency still employed? and further why does his replacement NOT triple check everything they say if they misled his predecessor?

        I don’t doubt there are liars and crooks up at the level of the VA, what scares the crap out of me is that otherwise intelligent people are blithely allowing this “conspiracy” to continue, if it is..

    2. You may be correct in what you say Mike, but then the obvious question is, what is taking McDonald so long to issue a press release correcting such a gaffe?

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