IG report on Wilmington VA still pending

The director of the Wilmington Veterans Affairs Medical Center says she has been briefed on the findings of a long-awaited VA Inspector General inquiry into patient scheduling issues at the center but has not been told when the report will be released.

“I have gotten a verbal outbrief,” Wilmington VAMC Director Robin Aube-Warren said following a town hall-style meeting at the center Thursday night. “In fact, I just asked today if they could give me a report number so I could request a copy. I don’t know if it’s been published, but I have not seen a written report.”

The wait time issue came to a head last year. A nationwide scandal erupted when long delays in care and manipulation of appointment schedules at the Phoenix VA hospital were publicized, leading to the forced resignation of the VA secretary, VA IG investigations of more than 90 facilities and a halting start to firing complicit workers.

The Wilmington VAMC was among those singled out. Wilmington-system staffers told The News Journal last summer of practices such as shifting patients from one doctor’s caseload to another’s, making those patients lose their places in line, so to speak. Numerous patients told The News Journal of lengthy delays they said made their conditions worse.

Members of Congress and other critics have demanded accountability for the delays. Aube-Warren said Wilmington takes disciplinary action against workers for “various reasons” but added, “I have no first-hand knowledge of any misconduct … associated with scheduling at the Wilmington VA.”

If any discipline is to be meted out, she said, it won’t take place until after the IG report is released and any misconduct comes to light.

During the meeting, Aube-Warren and other officials spoke before a largely empty auditorium; the bitter chill that was sweeping over the region kept all but about 20 hardy veterans away. Their questions generally focused on personal issues, such as a plea for the center to begin offering auricular acupuncture, a diagnostic and treatment system based on ear acupuncture.

via IG report on Wilmington VA still pending.

Army veteran says he was unfairly ticketed by VA police – MyFoxAustin | KTBC | Fox 7 Austin | News Weather Sports

A U.S. Army veteran said he has been unfairly ticketed by police at the VA hospital in temple for the fourth time. The last time was last weekend.

“At any point I’m in the hospital it’s at the point of extreme physical exhaustion, pain, nausea,” said Boyd.

Gastrointestinal paralysis, PTSD and multiple traumatic brain injuries have plagued Boyd for the last 13 years, but he said what hurts almost as much as his chronic illness is the treatment he gets at the VA.

“The staff is disrespectful, denigrating, almost kind of a protective sense of entitlement and we are there begging for their stipends of care,” said Boyd.

Last week when Boyd was admitted to the hospital, he started recording his interactions with the staff there.

“I had been talking with a doctor and he and I were in an impassioned conversation and the nurse who had not been a part of it interceded and called the police for whatever reason,” said Boyd.

Boyd admitted he used some strong language, but says none of it was directed at the doctor. Then Boyd said he overheard the same nurse make a derogatory comment about him.

Boyd responded to her, “Nurses like you are the reason why people, why veterans hate the VA…. Do us all a favor resign or die.”

Boyd said he returned to his room, but was soon approached by the VA police.

“You being in here because you want to be is a violation of my rights because you have no suspicion of me committing a crime correct?” Boyd asked the officers.

“That’s correct,” one officer responded.

After a few minutes of arguing with the police about entering his room, one officer said Boyd did in fact commit a crime.

“I’m going to write him a ticket for disorderly conduct,” said the officer in the recording.

When Boyd asked the officer why he was getting the ticket, the officer explained, “Threatening a nurse.”

Texas law defines disorderly conduct as using obscene or abusive language, threatening or abusing another person in a public place or making excessive noise in a public place.

Boyd said he regrets what he said to the nurse, but thinks issuing the ticket was going too far.

“Mean, yes. Disrespectful, undeserved, but not criminal,” said Boyd.

via Army veteran says he was unfairly ticketed by VA police – MyFoxAustin | KTBC | Fox 7 Austin | News Weather Sports.

Veterans are speaking; VA isn’t listening

Montana veterans continue to face unacceptable obstacles to health care services. It is a national disgrace that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the agency responsible for ensuring our veterans receive the care they so undeniably deserve, is oftentimes to blame.

This is painfully apparent in Montana, which has one of the highest rates of veterans per capita in the nation.

Consider:

The Montana Veterans Administration facilities at Billings, Fort Harrison and Great Falls were among the 110 centers — out of 1,700 sites — flagged for followup audits after a federal audit last year revealed unacceptably long wait times for medical appointments.

Facilities across the state continue to be understaffed and underequipped for the number of veterans they serve. The clinic in Missoula, in particular, is woefully inadequate and overdue for expansion.

Montana VA does not employ a single certified medical examiner, whose certification is necessary for veterans to obtain a commercial driver’s license.

A new VA Montana director still has not been named. One was supposed to be selected by the end of 2014.

Incredibly, this past week brought even more bad news.

Starting at the end of this month, Missoula veterans who reside at two assisted-living centers that have canceled contracts with the Montana VA will have to find some other way to pay for their housing and care –- or some other place to live.

At the same time, VA Montana is “temporarily” closing its eight-bed acute care mental health unit in Helena because of “chronic workforce shortages.” The shortage apparently came about after two mental health providers retired and a third resigned to take a different job. It speaks volumes that the VA has been chronically unable to hire and retain a sufficient number of workers to provide essential health services.

It’s little wonder that the Goodman Group, which owns Village Health Care Center and Hillside Manor in Missoula, as well as another facility in Montana, opted not to continue its contractual relationship with the VA. A spokesman for the group cited extensive new federal requirements as one reason why the contractor decided not to accept payments from the VA any longer.

Once again, veterans are the victims of bureaucratic machinations beyond their contro

via Veterans are speaking; VA isn’t listening.

V.A. Secretary: ‘900 People Have Been Fired’ – NBC News.com

More than nine hundred employees in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs have been fired in the past six months, Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald told Chuck Todd on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”

“We’re making fundamental changes in the department in terms of leadership,” McDonald said. “We have held accountable about 900 employees who are no longer with us that were with us before I became secretary.”

Sixty of those who were laid off, McDonald explained, were removed because they manipulated wait times on records from medical facilities serving veterans.

McDonald was confirmed unanimously by the Senate in late July after a scandal rocked the VA, resulting in the resignation of his predecessor, Eric Shinseki.

During the interview, McDonald touted his dedication to reducing homelessness among veterans, a goal which the administration hopes to accomplish by the end of this year. He said he’s given out his personal cell phone number to augment services provided by the homelessness call center.

“We want the veterans’ experience with the VA to be as good as the best private sector experiences,” said McDonald, formerly the CEO of Proctor and Gamble. “Like if you took your family to Disney.”

via V.A. Secretary: ‘900 People Have Been Fired’ – NBC News.com.

Snafu forces VA to reset probe of top Phoenix managers

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which for months delayed an investigation of Phoenix VA hospital officials to ensure the probe was carried out properly, has seen its inquiry disrupted because national leaders appointed a key investigator who had a conflict of interest.

The Arizona Republic has confirmed that a snafu forced the VA to suspend its so-called Administrative Investigation Board, convened to review multiple misconduct allegations involving executives in the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

The Veterans Health Administration declined to explain what went wrong or who was to blame. In an e-mail, agency spokeswoman Jessica Jacobsen said the inquiry “continues and has not been terminated … (but) we cannot comment on the ongoing investigation at this time.”

via Snafu forces VA to reset probe of top Phoenix managers.

10 Investigates Exposes Columbus VA Clinic Providing Substandard Care for Amputees | WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Columbus military veterans faced repeated delays and debilitating pain trying to get prosthetic limbs from the government. The problems with the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center grew so troublesome, federal investigators stepped in.

But real problems may lie with federal and state standards for those who work with veterans, 10 Investigates discovered.  Both federal and state standards require less training and education for those who treat veteran amputees than those who treat civilians,  meaning that those who treat veterans may neither be degreed or certified.

Navy Commander Robert Haas, 61, lost his leg from a blood clot three years ago. It was caused by long-term effects after a military injury. He went to the Columbus VA clinic for a prosthetic leg. That’s when he met VA technician Patrick Beatty

“He kept saying ‘Push, push , push. It’s supposed to hurt.’ “ Haas recalled. “It’s not supposed to hurt. Four attempts were done, he couldn’t make me any leg I could wear.”

Haas had to go outside the VA to get his new leg and rehab treatment he needed to regain any active lifestyle. He formed an amputee support group. (For more information e-mail amputee@columbus.rr.com or call 614-288-5105) That’s when he heard story after story of other veterans experiencing the same pain and frustration.

“There’s a bunch of other veterans who have been so intimidated by the system that they’re afraid to speak up,” said Haas.

They went to the new director of the Columbus VA and demanded change. Columbus VA Director Keith Sullivan called in investigators from the federal Inspector General’s office.

Sullivan explained the accusations, “If they were found out to be true, I’d both be embarrassed that this organization would do that and I would feel bad for the veteran that the level of service did not meet the standard of expectation.”

He said the investigation is complete, but it has not been released publicly yet.

Beatty quit his job early February. Attempts to reach him at home went unanswered.

Federal and state standards allow lesser qualified specialists to work with veterans. Patrick Beatty has no degree, which would make him ineligible to apply for a state license today. However, Beatty applied in 2001 when state regulations changed. At that time, those who were already treating patients – like Beatty who was working at a private prosthetics company- could be grandfathered in.

Veterans Administration only “encourages” certification, it does not require it.

Congressman Steve Stivers said, “This is news to me, by the way, that they aren’t required to be certified.”

In fact, 10 Investigates discovered that of the four VA staffers who work with amputees and orthopedics at the Columbus VA Clinic, only one has enough education and training that would allow them to work with patients other than veterans.  Congressman and veteran Steve Stivers was shocked at the 10 Investigates findings and pledges action and increased oversight.

“It is troubling to me to know that federal law does not protect our veterans at the same level as the civilian populations. This is something I’m going to see if we can fix,” said Rep. Stivers.

The Columbus VA Clinic says they are aware that some amputees may have given up on ever receiving proper care for their injuries. The VA director and the amputee support group are asking those veterans for a second chance to get their treatment right.

via 10 Investigates Exposes Columbus VA Clinic Providing Substandard Care for Amputees | WBNS-10TV Columbus, Ohio.

Snafu forces VA to reset probe of top Phoenix managers

The Department of Veterans Affairs, which for months delayed an investigation of Phoenix VA hospital officials to ensure the probe was carried out properly, has seen its inquiry disrupted because national leaders appointed a key investigator who had a conflict of interest.

The Arizona Republic has confirmed that a snafu forced the VA to suspend its so-called Administrative Investigation Board, convened to review multiple misconduct allegations involving executives in the Phoenix VA Health Care System.

The Veterans Health Administration declined to explain what went wrong or who was to blame. In an e-mail, agency spokeswoman Jessica Jacobsen said the inquiry “continues and has not been terminated … (but) we cannot comment on the ongoing investigation at this time.”

RELATED: VA coverage nets Republic reporter national honor

Revelations last year about misconduct and delayed care in the Phoenix VA Health Care System led to nationwide investigations, congressional hearings and reforms. Flawed psychiatric services have been a key issue in the crisis

via Snafu forces VA to reset probe of top Phoenix managers.

For Flashback Friday we present this 1992 classic: VA Doctors Avoid Serious Discipline – Chicago Tribune

More than a year after the Department of Veterans Affairs took unprecedented responsibility for the deaths of eight patients at a north suburban VA hospital, an investigation of the facility`s physicians has fizzled out.

The department announced Thursday that it would provide formal

“counseling“ to eight physicians at the hospital, a mild disciplinary action. The VA also promised to pursue, if justified, serious sanctions against doctors who have since left the VA but were involved in the deaths, which sparked a congressional hearing and a memo to President Bush when they were disclosed last spring.

However, interviews with VA officials and documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act make clear there is little chance the VA will attempt serious disciplinary moves such as reporting doctors to a state licensing board or a federal data bank of questionable physicians.

The VA also said it had permanently discontinued surgery requiring general anesthesia at the 1,004-bed VA Medical Center-North Chicago. Patients will be sent to one of three other VA hospitals in the Chicago area or the VA facility in Milwaukee.

The elimination of surgery will shift the facility`s mission from that of a traditional hospital to a center focusing more on long-term and psychiatric care, VA officials said.

The reason that disciplinary action against physicians is unlikely to match the bluster is that several internal review teams dispatched by the VA sharply disagreed with the conclusion of the department`s inspector general that the North Chicago deaths were at least partly due to poor medical care.

As a result of the “multiple, and often conflicting reviews,“ concluded a memo by Dr. John Farrar, the VA`s deputy chief medical director,

 

“disciplinary action could probably not be sustained (if challenged).“ As support for that belief, Farrar cited VA legal, personnel and labor-relations experts.

Although VA Secretary Edward Derwinski has said he believes North Chicago doctors made mistakes that contributed to the deaths, Farrar said that the department`s position was more a legal one of accepting blame than a medical one.

“The fact that the VA agreed to accept responsibility (for the eight deaths) didn`t mean a doctor or a nurse had necessarily messed up,“ Farrar said.

“There was a perception in many places that the care at North Chicago was somewhat marginal, and . . . Secretary Derwinski . . . opted to tilt in favor of the veteran“ by accepting VA responsibility.

In late 1990, VA Inspector General Stephen Trodden examined 43 deaths after surgery that occurred at North Chicago between June 1989 and March 1990. The VA watchdog found 15 cases of what he called clearly substandard care. In eight of those cases, the VA eventually acknowledged causing or contributing to the patient`s death.

The inspector general`s report was made public in early 1991.

However, several review teams of VA physicians from other regions of the country have disagreed with Trodden`s conclusion. Most recently, a prestigious administrative review board appointed to look at the behavior of individual physicians and recommend disciplinary action found only two cases of substandard care that may have contributed to deaths.

The most serious problems in the 15 cases involved mistakes by residents, a radiologist and anesthesiologists. No surgeons were cited.

In several other cases, the board went out of its way to praise the surgical care at North Chicago as “high quality“ and “excellent.“

In response, Trodden accused the board of overlooking testimony from doctors involved in the cases and producing a report that was “limited in scope, unpersuasive in argument, (and) faulty in procedure,“ among other flaws.

Trodden shot back that board chairman James Farsetta, head of the Brooklyn VA Medical Center, had blind spots. “While criticizing our work in many areas, (he) fails to address the many specific and well-documented errors of omission and commission made by the inspector general (office) in (its) own review“ of care at North Chicago.

Last year`s inspector general report also criticized the hospital`s relationship with the nearby Chicago Medical School. On Thursday, the VA ordered the hospital to downgrade its affiliation with the school from

“institutional“ to a program-by-program basis.

Herman Finch, chairman of the school`s board of trustees, said the VA action was “disappointing,“ but it was unclear whether the bureaucratic reclasssification will affect the number of students doing work at the hospital. At any given time, the school has four students in medical specialties, 25 in psychiatry, and two in neurology at the VA, Finch said.

Derwinski acknowledged that surgery at the North Chicago hospital probably would have been eliminated even without the widely publicized deaths because of the hospital`s low volume of procedures.

“All across our system, this is the direction we should be moving,“

Derwinski said. For instance, the VA is reviewing low levels of surgery at 33 hospitals singled out by Trodden.

Meanwhile, another group of VA reviews said the elimination of surgery could make it more difficult to recruit good doctors at North Chicago.

Farrar acknowledged there could be a problem and said the VA is working on a solution.

via Va Doctors Avoid Serious Discipline – Chicago Tribune.

VA doctor loses license for behavioral troubles, deceiving board | CJOnline.com

The short-staffed Colmery-O’Neil VA Medical Center is down another doctor after a medical board pulled Kelly Humpherys’ license for misleading board members about prior terminations and suspensions that resulted from concerns about her behavioral health.

VA Eastern Kansas Medical system spokesman Jim Gleisberg confirmed via email that Humpherys, who started work March 10, was no longer active at Colmery-O’Neil as of Nov. 8, the day after her license was revoked.

“When you seek to provide high quality, safe patient care you must evaluate the newly hired doctors,” Gleisberg said. “We are doing that.”

When asked if Humpherys was available to comment, Gleisberg said he believed she had left the state.

Colmery-O’Neil has for months been experiencing a physician shortage that has compromised the facility’s ability to provide in-patient care and perform some surgeries and caused administrators to divert patients to other hospitals.

Amid the shortage, a neurologist at the facility was terminated in May after he was convicted of molesting female patients. Further, there is an active investigation into thousands of pills two other

via VA doctor loses license for behavioral troubles, deceiving board | CJOnline.com.