Smoke and Mirrors at Veterans’ Affairs

| September 13, 2012 | 23 Comments

So we’ve heard from our friends at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs about the great work they’re doing over there, about how this is the best administration in history on veterans’ healthcare. Well, let’s take a closer look at the numbers, shall we?

During the years 2008-2012, the VA hired THREE TIMES more administrative staff than medical doctors. This news won’t be a surprise to any veteran who has been told to wait for an appointment.

The VA added 3,100 medical doctors since 2008, and to “manage” their work, the VA added more than 9,000 new administration employees.

Barack Obama is more interested in hiring paper-pushers than doctors. But paperwork doesn’t treat patients. Maybe that’s why the VA Inspector General told Congress the VA was gaming the numbers so it looks like 94% of veterans can be seen within 14 days.

The actual number, according to the VA Inspector General, is less than 50%. How many veteran suicides occurred during the delays in reaching care? Those new administrator positions must have been mighty valuable. Barack Obama knows the VA is not getting the job done. But he doesn’t care. Maybe that’s why the VA’s so-called Performance and Accountability Report claimed 95% of veterans who asked for a mental health evaluation were seen within 14 days. The VA Inspector General called FOUL on that report and gave the real figure: 64%.

In the Obama administration, the VA’s proverbial suicide hotline is putting veterans on hold.

Delays in mental health care were so bad that in July 2011, Democratic Senator Patty Murray told the VA about complaints from her constituents. She asked the VA to interview their own employees about delays in receiving care. The interviews showed more than 70% of respondents said their hospital or clinic lacked sufficient mental health staff. In an April 2012 hearing, Senator Murray said the VA’s own investigation showed clinicians were “delaying follow up for months, not because of the veterans’ needs but because their schedules were too full. VA is failing to meet its own mandates for timeliness and instead is finding ways to make the data look like they are complying.”

Senator Murray, remember, is a Democrat.

Even more damning is the IG’s statement that the VA’s performance measure for measuring access to mental health care is utterly useless because it “measured how long it took to conduct the mental health evaluation, not how long the patient waited to receive that evaluation.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, another Senator far friendlier to Democrats than Republicans, asked if VA administrators could explain why the VA can’t follow its own rules for scheduling appointments. The IG replied that at two different VA facilities, the clinic staff were told by supervisors to first check for an available appointment date, back out of the computerized scheduling system, then re-enter the system and indicate that the first available date was the date when the veteran wanted to return. This method makes the VA appear to have all the appointment times it needs.

Senior VA administrators receive bonuses when veteran appointments are scheduled within the VA-mandated time frames. These instructions to the scheduling staff look like senior VA executives were gaming the system for executive bonuses.

Every month, 950 veterans treated by VA attempt suicide. 18 veterans die every day by suicide, and about 12 of those 18 are not receiving VA care. That’s about 30 suicide attempts per day, every day, every month, and 12 deaths of veterans who are not seen at a VA. But Barack Obama doesn’t want to spend money on hiring mental health care employees, so what’s a delay of a few weeks until the next appointment. Veterans and military usually vote Republican. Maybe the White House told the VA to put a busy signal on veteran attempts to get help. We’ve all heard elected leaders complain about the Wall Street douchebags and their corporate bonuses. Wall Street’s negligence didn’t contribute to daily suicide. The same can’t be said for Obama’s VA. It’s Obama’s budget that claimed to have all the VA funding it needed.

Under the Obama administration, the VA also fattened up their Washington headquarters, adding 885 new bureaucrats at a cost of $91 million dollars. What do these new Washington bureaucrats do for veterans? They spend taxpayer dollars on bonuses for a select few VA employees. The VA Inspector General investigated these bonuses paid to a few selected bureaucrats at VA headquarters and found 79% of the bonuses could not be justified.

Barack Obama’s hand-picked VA Secretary defended these bonuses. A VA fact sheet explained how Obama’s chosen VA leader started a “corporate approach to executive management,” including a new human resources office exclusively for top VA executives. The VA sure got what it was looking for: special treatment for only the top VA executives, nice financial bonuses for those who are more special than VA employees whose pay has been frozen for two years, and more administrator jobs.

Perhaps one of the new 356 employees in human resources at VA headquarters will fix this issue. Do the math: for every 10 new medical doctors hired by VA, the headquarters staff fattened by another HR employee. The VA hospitals have their own HR people; they’re included above in the 9,000 new administrative employees.

Secretary Shinseki sure does need HR help if he added 356 new human resources employees for only 529 other new headquarters jobs. What could 356 new HR employees do all day? Evaluate each other on how well they completed yet another required training course? How many more psychologists and social workers could have been hired with that money?

Let’s ask some of the 30 veterans who attempt suicide each day.

Who’s losing? The veterans waiting in line at their local VA.

Who already lost? The surviving family members of the veterans who died by suicide.

Sources:

1. VA OIG Report 10-02887-30, Retention Incentives for Veterans Health Administration and VA Central Office Employees, 11/14/2011
2. VA OIG Report 12-00900-168, Review of Access to Mental Health Care, 4/23/2012
3. Suicide Prevention Testimony at House Veteran Affairs Committee, 2/2/2011,
available at http://www.va.gov/OCA/testimony/hvac/sh/HVAC02DEC.asp
4. Hearing before the Veterans’ Affairs Committee of the US Senate, VA Mental Health Care: Evaluating Access and Assessing Care, 4/25/12 VA Budget Analysis Highlights from the FY 2013 AND FY 2014 budget document, Volume II (informatics and health care) available at: http://www.va.gov/budget/docs/summary/Fy2013_Volume_IIMedical_Programs_Information_Technology.pdf

Category: Barack Obama/Joe Biden, Veteran Health Care, Veterans' Affairs Department

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  1. defendUSA says:

    Despicable doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  2. Hondo says:

    One observation: the category of administrators probably includes those who investigate and/or adjudicate veterans’ claims. So some level of admin hiring would be needed to keep up with a growing number of claims.

    That said, the fact that so many are in HR – and the backlog of claims is growing, not shrinking – shows that things aren’t working out terribly well. And I really don’t understand why the VA needs 350+ more HR personnel at HQ.

    In any case, all that’s a minor quibble. Bottom line, IMO Jonn’s right. It appears something is seriously amiss at the DVA.

  3. 2-17 AirCav says:

    “In the Obama administration, the VA’s proverbial suicide hotline is putting veterans on hold.” Great line.

  4. Nicki says:

    Not surprising, but oh my God! To actually see the numbers is staggering.

  5. AndyN says:

    Who’s more likely to have their vote bought with a patronage job – a doctor or a paper pusher? Doctors have actual marketable skills and if they’re competent are better off staying in the private sector. Government admin jobs are a place the incompetent can draw a paycheck, and are likely to remember the people who made the job possible fondly on election day. Consider it a trial run for what they’re hoping to do to all US healthcare with the ACA. When the biggest personnel increase from overhauling civilian healthcare is at the IRS, how is it even a little surprising that the biggest increases at VA are administrative?

  6. Jon The Mechanic says:

    Accountability is a requirement in anything that is done, even more so when it comes to those who treat the men and women who have honorably served their nation when it called. Time and time again, we hear about the problems with the VA, here is a link to a couple more issues with the VA. The President of the United States fired the President of GM shortly after we bailed them out.
    Someone PLEASE give me a single reason why shouldn’t we sack the entire management team at the VA, starting with Secretary Shinseki and moving on to regional directors who have not upheld the trust that was placed in them to help those in need?

  7. rb325th says:

    This has been the case forever at the VA… not only do they need more medical staff on the Health care side, they need more people actually processing Claims at VBA.
    The frigging tail wagging the dog applies here big time. As a Disabled veteran who has had to fight to get appointments and claim processed in a timely manner (which now means something under a year please!!)and now as an employee I try not to get discouraged, and try even harder to do what little I can in my small corner to make it better. It is not easy… I am sitting here trying to clean up decades worth of crap where people just did whatever they wanted with zero accountability.

  8. Nik says:

    “Every month, 950 veterans treated by VA attempt suicide. 18 veterans die every day by suicide, and about 12 of those 18 are not receiving VA care. That’s about 30 suicide attempts per day, every day, every month, and 12 deaths of veterans who are not seen at a VA. ”

    Truly gutwrenching.

  9. Anonymous says:

    A question, because I have no idea and I am curious. Is this an issue of the federal government/DVA not opening up enough and adding enough job positions for doctors and therapists or is this a case of most doctors and therapists not wanting to work the the VA because the compensation is less?

  10. Flagwaver says:

    You know, I am seeing a shrink in my local Vet Center. Well, she wasn’t a full shrink. She was a grad student who was doing her “clinicals.” She left and I got a new grad student to handle my case. Students. That’s who they think can help vets the most.

    Heck, the only reason I even talked to my first shrink is because she and I went to the same university together and I recognized her. The new guy can’t even look my in the eyes because he is writing notes about what I say…

    And, with all those paper-pushers, why am I getting a letter from the VA every other month telling me they are still evaluating my claim for benefits?

  11. Jabatam says:

    All I have to add to this is 20 months. That’s how long ago it was that I filed my disability claim. They’ve been hung up on the same thing since December, attempting to verify the authenticity of ONE thing! Everything else is done! Oh, and that one thing is something that I’m asymptomatic but wanted annotated in case I develop any issues down the road. How many HRC people does it take to make a couple of phone calls to verify a claim?

    Twatwaffles all…beginning with the asshat at the top Mr.-I-like-the-black-beret-so-everyone-should-get-one

  12. El Marco says:

    Thanks. This explains to my wife why I don’t bother with the VA.

  13. Pete says:

    Maybe if Shinseki gave all the VA employees berets then they would perform better. I mean, it worked for the Army, right?

  14. Hondo says:

    Might work, Pete. And here’s the PR jingle:

    “You’ll wear a cool VA beret
    The kind that you find in a second-hand store
    You’ll wear a cool VA beret
    And when you put it on, your competence will soar!”

    (I’d apologize to “the artist formerly known as Prince”, but that symbol won’t display here.)

  15. MCPO NYC USN (Ret.) says:

    9 months and counting still no word on my legit claims. I guess I should have submitted my claims years ago … I thought the honorable thing would be to complete my service first. WRONG I was!

  16. Eric says:

    Actually Hondo, its “The artist formerly known as the artist formerly known as Prince” Because he changed to that symbol, so you have to add the second “formerly known as” to be correct.

    “The bureaucracy is expanding, to meed the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.”

    I just shake my head at this kind of stuff and then see that an administration is claiming positives about things. Its obvious that yes, there are a few hundred people who have life better than four years ago, just in this example.

  17. Poetrooper says:

    @AndyN you just about have it nailed but you pulled up just a little short. The question to be asked is which group is most likely to represent “Obama’s people” those with medical degrees or those with GED’s? One of the easiest ways for Obama to reduce the heavy unemployment in the black community is to hire tens of thousands of new federal employees. And you’d better believe that in this administration minority preferential hiring practices are the order of the day.

    When minority administrators know that they have nothing to fear from the Holder justice department for discriminating against whites in hiring, does anyone seriously believe those administrators aren’t going to take full advantage? Hell, they’ll probably get a bonus for it.

  18. Yat Yas 1833 says:

    The VA center here in Phoenix almost lost their accreditation a few years ago! I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty bad.

  19. malpractic says:

    I am a vet from Iraq and the level of support and help from the Pendelton VA is nonexsistant!! If this is the future of what we all must wade through then I wish I had never signed up. I can only imagine from my own experiances how the previous vetrans were/are treated. I have recently been told that since the va paid for my xrays that i had no right to request them. My outrage of the 2 year medical wait and the further disrespect and neglect of these “professionals” leaves me in fear for my very life. God only knows the long term effects of this anthrax coursing threw my system.
    It’s not a wonder why the government makes us sign a legal document saying active duty is not permitted to sue our medical providers for malpractice…

  20. Anon. says:

    Well, when you add more regulation and government control, you need more layers of Bureaucracy to help facilitate it. Hence, more administrators.

  21. Tony says:

    My wife just resigned from the VA. She was a nurse and could not believe the way they did things in comparison to the civilian sector. I as a twenty year retired combat vet can not stand going to the VA and I am fortunate not to have to use the VA. It may be time for Veterans to rally on DC to voice our opinions! We have earned it and you promised it. We ask for no more than you politicians give yourself on our dollar!

  22. David Davis says:

    How many of those new hires were lawyers that will help swindle the veteran out of his benefits? Get rid of that rediculous 800 number no help. These people were hired as part of the smoke and mirrors act that Congress and the VA have created. Yes our Congress has created the laws that allow the VA to swindle our veterans and citizens. Proof is in the pudding. How many lawyers does it take to deny a claim???? If people are trained in disability evals why do they have to be downtown lawyers too?

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