Monday, August 29, 2016

The Department of Veterans Affairs - Why The Government Should Never Be In Control Of Our Health Care, Part 1

Many times in this blog we have tried to determine what is the most inept and most wasteful Federal government agency or organization. Which agency is the most inefficient, sucking up the most resources while falling far short of fulfilling even their basic job functions. Leading candidates usually include the TSA, the IRS, the Defense Department, and the Social Security Administration.

But today’s focus is on another of the usual suspects, the Veterans Affairs (VA) organization. Many, many times we have reviewed how the VA is not fulfilling even its basic role of providing medical care to our veterans, wasting millions of dollars in many different, inane ways while the VA executives get large pay bonuses and salary increases. And while Obama has claimed from the very beginning of his Presidency to fix the VA, his efforts have been little more than empty rhetoric as almost eight years later, veterans are still not getting the medical care they have been promised and deserve.

So let’s check in on the latest embarrassments from the VA and see if they still deserve to be classified as one of the worst functioning government organizations ever:

1) Natalie Johnson, writing for the Washington Free Beacon on August 25, 2016, reported how veteran Peter Kaisen committed suicide in the parking lot of the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center on Long Island by fatally shooting himself. Mr. Kaisen had been a patient at the medical center.

Now, a single incident like this in isolation does not necessarily mean the VA is still inept. But given that the VA itself confirmed in 2014 that dozens of veterans had died waiting for care at the Phoenix hospital system when hospital employees deliberately erased 1,700 patients from care waiting lists which they then tried to cover up and the Government Accountability Office released a study this past April that concluded the VA system had not fixed its wait time problems, a suicide in a VA parking lot raises some suspicions.

Suspicions that are somewhat confirmed when we find out that two employees at the Northport VA facility told reporters that Mr. Kaisen had gone to the emergency room to seek treatment related to his mental health state of mind and was denied service. He apparently then left the emergency room and returned to the parking lot where he killed himself. 

One of the employees said that Mr. Kaisen should have been referred to the center’s mental health center which is open 24 hours a day but apparently he was not. According to the employee cited in the Free Beacon article: “Someone dropped the ball. They should not have turned him away.”

And yet they did and another veteran unnecessarily died as a result of VA incompetence. On average, 20 veterans commit suicide each and every day of the year. Veterans suicide account for 18% of all U.S. suicides even though veterans make up only 9% of the entire population so it appears Mr. Kaisen’s suicide was not an isolated incident but a pattern of under serving the mental health needs of our vets.

2) Sometimes the VA is just inept and no one dies. But according to the Against Crony Capitalism website on August 24, 2016, their level of insanity in incompetence stretches the imagination. The VA fired one of its own employees because that honest employee had the nerve to report that the Greater Los Angeles VA facility had somehow lost 30 of its 80 vehicles and official government credit cards intended for use for that fleet of vehicles had been misused.

Whistle-blower and VA employee, now former employee, Anthony Salazar, was fired by his manager, Robert Benkeser, after Salazar reported the lost vehicles and credit card abuse. As a result of this incompetence, the VA convened an “administrative investigation board” process that resulted in a “letter of counseling” be sent to Benkeser for his mismanagement of the motor pool. Several months later, surprise, surprise, Benkeser fired Salazar for doing the right thing.

More government incompetence, the protection of the incompetent, and the wasting of taxpayer wealth.

3) The article just mentioned on the Against Crony Capitalism website also contained the following sad joke about VA incompetence:

Q. What’s the difference between a VA nurse and bullet?

A. A bullet can draw blood. A bullet only kills one person. A bullet can be fired.

Think about.

4) Let’s dive into another tremendous waste of taxpayer money, courtesy of the VA. Morgan Chalfant, writing for the Washington Free Beacon on August 15, 2016, reported how the VA had bought almost $300,000 worth of televisions and then left them unused in storage for more than two years. The John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit purchased the TV sets in September, 2013 as part of an effort to overhaul the patient TV system at that hospital. 

However, a VA inspector general report uncovered the reality that those TV sets were incompatible with the wiring that was installed at the facility. As a result, the 282 TV sets, which had cost $292,000, were put into storage for two and a half years. According to the article: “Officials at the Detroit VA did not communicate with the contractor “in a timely manner” to make sure that the TVs the agency bought were right for the project, the inspector general found. 

The agency was forced to modify the contract by adding $19,000 in additional funds to change the project specifications to accommodate the televisions. The hospital still had not selected a contractor to install the televisions as of June, when the inspector general completed the probe.”

The TVs are now two and half years worth of old TV technology and the warranties have expired since they were not installed during the warranty period. The inspector general also found that the VA facility may have violated the government’s “bona fide needs rule” by using federal dollars available in fiscal 2013 to pay for needs in a future year.

Congressman Jeff Miller had an insightful take on this and other massive wastes of taxpayer wealth: “If VA’s job was mismanaging money, it would have a near-perfect record of achievement. Yet despite this and other high-profile budgetary failures, all too often the department’s knee-jerk response to challenges is to ask taxpayers for more money. This is more proof the department doesn’t have a money problem, it has a management problem.”

One last issue on the TVs. On average these TVs cost over $1,000 each which means they were either very, very high end sets or, more likely, the VA got screwed by who ever sold them to it. Walk through any Best Buy and I dare you to find a really good wide screen TV that costs over $500, never mind over $1,000. 

We have previously reported on how the VA spent an amazing $20 million on high-end art over the last decade despite thousands and thousands of veterans not receiving the medical care they needed or were promised. As of the onset of August of this year, 513,000 veterans had waited more than 30 days for medical care at VA hospitals across the country.

There is more VA incompetence to come tomorrow. But just going by today’s list of embarrassments and waste, it is quite clear to any open minded person why the government should never be in charge of any American’s health and medical needs. Between the unfolding disasters of Obama Care and the joke that the VA has become, we have shown hundreds examples of wasteful spending, incompetent management, greedy employees, a general ineptness that results in the deaths of Americans and not the saving of lives and easing of pain. More proof tomorrow.

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