By Michael Isam
St. Augustine, Fla, (May 6, 2014) – DeSantis says accountability is severely lacking at Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) in general and at hospitals more specifically, in more than one location across the country.
On Monday, during a press conference held at the Bryan Tutten Memorial Post 2391, two items appeared to rankle DeSantis; unacceptable patient backlog and mismanagement. Both items have led DeSantis and approximately 130 other representatives, to support H.R. 4031, the Department of Veterans Affairs Management Accountability Act.
Bill Dudley, National Vice President for the Navy League and current President of the Veterans Council of St. Johns County, congratulated DeSantis for his decision to support the bill. “In corporate life, the officer in charge of an organization is ultimately responsible for it, said Dudley” Just today, the CEO of Target Stores was dismissed. So it should be with the VA. “I am fully supportive of this bill,” said Dudley
According to Executive Veteran Service Officer for St. Johns County, Joseph McDermott, who spoke on the issue of the backlog, “Following the current claim adjudication process it takes 2-3 years, however, current changes to the VA process are showing results.” “With the institution of the “Fully Developed Claim process,” said McDermott, “the VA wants to have the entire process, from initial filing to the award of compensation, not to exceed 125 days. In some instances it is taking just a little longer, but nothing compared to the former method.”
Kat Gates-Skipper of Concerned Veterans for America (CVA), is a retired Marine whose Army Vietnam veteran husband has been stuck in the case backlog for 8 years. The CVA believes veterans should not have to wait for any medical service at any time or anyplace and that accountability for the VA is a must. “My husband was sent to an unemployability clinic in Orlando,” said Gates-Skipper, “it was an 8 month course and he went faithfully, I know, I took him.” “At the end of each session,” she continued, “the supervisor would enter all the required information via a computer, real time, the results of that days appointment. At the 7-month point, we received a letter from the office that sent us there stating that nothing was happening. Accountability definitely needs to start there,” concluded Gates.
DeSantis then introduced Joe Minster, a veteran of Desert Shield/Desert Storm. “I have been in the system since 2010. I have been rated as unemployable by the VA.” I have been in the backlog for a little over 2 years,” continued Minster, “because I have been rated unemployable by the VA, I am unable to find work. Because of that I am homeless and live in the back of my truck, But there are a lot of guys out there who have it far worse than me, they sleep on the ground,” he said. Minster ended with “if the VA had the proper tools, this problem would go away.”
During the question and answer period Patricia Patrick-Kirk, a retired Army veteran, married to a Marine, spoke of her experience that began in 1991. Patrick-Kirk served in Desert Storm, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. “The VA is continually losing my paperwork,” said Patrick-Kirk. “I have taken to getting a copy of everything during an appointment. I carry it with me for every appointment so when they say they can’t find something,” she said, “I reach in my big bag and say, here, make a copy of this.” “I think,” she continued, “the biggest problem is lack of understanding by VA personnel because they are not veterans and they have no reference point for understanding.” “The people who work with us MUST be veterans and preferably those who served in combat.”
According to the House Committee on Veterans Affairs (HCVA) website, http://veterans.house.gov/HR4031, “the bill would give the VA Secretary greater authority to fire employees and remove them from SES service due to poor performance in the same manner a Member of Congress can remove a member of their staff.”
This move by HCVA comes on the heels of what many consider to be the most “unforgiveable act” by VA Senior Executive Service staff. “It is horrendous that people charged with the well-being of others would deny care to any person until it is too late,” said A. J. Sartin, Commander of the newly formed Veterans Island VFW. “I have been in the VA healthcare system for many years and some locations in this country are absolutely terrible. I am currently receiving healthcare at the St. Augustine Community Based Outpatient Clinic and they have provided me with absolutely excellent care. The rest of the VA healthcare system needs to use them as their bench-mark.”
The most notable problem is in the VA medical center in Phoenix, AZ where the deaths of 40 veterans have been attributed to “secret waiting lists”. Reports have come to light that a concealed attempt to destroy evidence was ordered by an unidentified official at the Phoenix VA Health Care System.
According to a May 1 release from VA Public Affairs stated that Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric K. Shinseki directed that PVAHCS Director Sharon Helman, PVAHCS Associate Director Lance Robinson, and a third PVAHCS employee be placed on administrative leave until further notice.
“We take these allegations very seriously,” said Shinseki. The action was taken based in part owing to the gravity of the allegations, and in the best interest of the Inspector General’s ability to conduct a thorough and timely review of the Phoenix VA Health Care System (PVAHCS).
[Disclosure: The author of this article is a disabled Vietnam veteran who receives his medical treatment from the VA.]