Thursday, May 15, 2014

Bring back our what?









Starting in the US with veterans issues, Senator Patty Murray's office issued the following today:

FOR PLANNING PURPOSES                                 CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Wednesday, May 14th, 2014                                                            (202) 224-2834
VETERANS: TOMORROW: Murray to Question Sec. Shinseki on VA Health Care, Disturbing Allegations
(Washington, D.C.)  – TOMMORROW, Thursday, May 15th, 2014, at 10:00 AM ET/ 7:00 AM PST, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) a senior member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, will attend a hearing to examine the State of VA Health Care with Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki. At the hearing, Murray will question Secretary Shinseki on recent allegations that patients died while waiting for treatment at VA hospitals, and ask him what immediate changes will be made to finally restore long-overdue accountability, transparency, and confidence in the VA system. 
WHO:             U.S. Senator Patty Murray
WHAT:          Sen. Murray will attend Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on the State of VA Health Care
WHEN:          TODAY: Thursday, May 15th, 2014
Hearing begins at 10:00 AM ET/7:00 AM PST
WHERE:        106 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834

Two of the articles we're about to highlight on this issue try to put this in terms of Democrats and Republicans, they see that as how the hearing tomorrow will play out with Democrats supporting/rescuing Shinseki and Republicans being harsh.

First off, Ranking Member Richard Burr is always 'harsh.'  He demands accountability of Shinseki.  He did the same thing when Bully Boy Bush was in the White House.

Second, if Democrats do that, then they're creating problems for themselves in an election year.

If Democrats on the Comittee -- that includes Senator Murray -- and Socialist Bernie Sanders who Chairs the Committee and votes with the Democrats -- are seen as soft, they're hurting themselves in an election year.

Since January 2007, Democrats have controlled the Senate.

And if they're rescuing Shinseki tomorrow and not holding him accountable, it's going to be noticed and it's going to lead to a suspicion/charge/accusation that they're not holding Shinseki accountable right now because, while in power the entire time he has been VA Secretary, they haven't provided proper oversight so they're trying to mitigate the scandal.

I don't expect Patty Murray to go soft.  She's not done gone soft in the past with Shinseki or with the VA.

Chair Sanders?

A lot of veterans are complaining that he already went soft in an April 30th hearing (see the May 1st snapshot for that hearing).  I have countered that the topic of the hearing -- alternative treatments -- is his key issue as Chair and that he was focused on that.  But I could be wrong and I often am so I guess we'll find out tomorrow where he stands on this issue because we will be covering the hearing and if the Democrats on the Senate embarrass themselves by forgetting they're on that Committee to serve the veterans and not to provide cover for the VA, we'll be noting it.  And if that means we're calling out like we do with the ridiculous US House Rep Corrine Brown, then that's what it means.

And on Corrine and her wacky wigs, someone noted Women's Media Center and it's crappy charge that Fishbowl was sexist for asking if Corrine wore a wig.  Now I know the issue of wigs is sensitive for the elderly women of Women's Media Center.  When you're elderly and still try to pass yourself off as a sex kitten it can be a little embarrassing.  Equally true when you show up for hearings with your wig not on proper, people will talk.  Corrine has had it half way around her head in a hearing and not even noticed.  Equally true, when you hair changes colors and length daily, it's a pretty good tip off that it's a wig.  Equally true, cheap is cheap.  When I had chemo, I bought a wig expecting my hair to fall out.  I got lucky, it didn't.  But I wasn't going to put a cheap wig on my head.  Robert Redford wears a cheap rug.  I've noted that before too.  It's not sexist.  But it's great to know WMC wastes everyone's time -- including their own limited time  -- but can't say a word to defend the women of Iraq.  We will be coming back to that in the snapshot.

On the latest VA scandal, Lisa Mascaro (Los Angeles Times) reports:

Shinseki's leadership has come under fire after claims that up to 40 veterans' deaths have been linked to excessive wait times for service at a Phoenix VA facility, where officials may have kept separate record books to hide the problem.
Whistle-blowers in other states have raised similar concerns of long waits and other problems with VA care, including in Mississippi, Missouri and Texas.

Charles S. Clark (National Journal) offers, "The tales of delays, 40 perhaps unnecessary deaths and alleged secret waiting lists in Phoenix -- announced in late April by Miller -- were first publicized in a CNN interview with Dr. Samuel Foote, now retired after 25 years in VA clinical work. Foote had also contacted the VA inspector general. The nonprofit Project on Government Oversight just before Shinseki’s Thursday appearance is joining with Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America in a press conference on how to protect whistleblowers who expose wrongdoing at the VA." Rob Hunter (KTAR) notes, "Phoenix isn't the only place affected. Whistleblowers, following Phoenix VA Dr. Sam Foote's example, are coming forward in many other cities and states detailing health care problems and cover-ups. Clearly it's a nationwide problem. This isn't a secret. The care has been horrible for years and nothing is ever done to fix it. See, providing veterans health care is a social contract, an obligation."

Is US President Barack Obama taking the issue seriously?  Julie Pace (AP) reports that Barack has "temporarily assigned" his Deputy Chief of Staff Rob Nabors "to oversee a review" of the VA.  Let's hope Rob Nabors does a better job than Jonathan Winer.  We'll come back to Winer tomorrow.

Mark Thompson has a very strong article on the issue for Time and, in it, he notes there were warning signs:

  • The VA’s “method of calculating the waiting times of new patients understates the actual waiting times,” the agency’s inspector general said in a 2007 report on outpatient visits. “Because of past problems associated with schedulers not entering the correct desired date when creating appointments, [the VA] uses the appointment creation date as the starting point for measuring the waiting times for new appointments.”
  • In 2012, the IG said that when it came to getting a mental-health appointment within the VA goal of 14 days, the agency claimed it met that target 95% of the time. But after drilling deeper into VA data, the IG concluded only 49% got their appointments within two weeks.
  • That same year, the IG reported that patients at a VA facility in Temple, Texas, had “prolonged wait times for GI [gastroenterology] care [that] lead to delays in diagnosis of colorectal and other cancers…staff indicated that appointments were routinely made incorrectly by using the next available appointment date instead of the patient’s desired date.”
  • Not surprisingly, the longer the wait for care, the worse the result. “Long-term outcomes, such as death and preventable hospitalizations, are more common for veterans who seek care at facilities that have longer wait times than for veterans at facilities that have shorter wait times,” the federal Institute of Medicine said last year.

I hope the two reports (we link to them above but don't quote from that part of it) are wrong about Thursday's hearing splitting into Democrats and Republicans.  The two reports are wrong to treat the current scandal as isolated when, in fact, it's part of a broad vista of never-ending VA scandals.

Aaron Glantz (Center for Investigative Reporting) reports today:

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has systematically failed to follow its own rules governing the prescription of addictive narcotic painkillers, contributing to overdoses and deaths, according to 68-page report released today by the agency’s inspector general.
The audit comes a day before Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki is to testify before a Senate committee to answer allegations that dozens of veterans in Phoenix died waiting for care.

“They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t care,” said Steven Harvey, a 57-year-old Army veteran who was sent home with morphine even after he fell into a coma when he was given 10 times the recommended dose of the painkiller fentanyl during a routine procedure to remove a kidney stone at a Los Angeles VA in August 2012.

Every time you take a breath it seems, a new VA scandal emerges.

And if it's not a corruption scandal -- where people lie about wait times to get bonuses -- then it's incompetence scandal.  Eric Shinseki has shown no leadership.  Jordain Carney and Stacy Kaper offer "Obama Has Ever Reason To Fix The VA.  Why Hasn't He?" (National Journal) and we'll note this from the article:

The backlog list was cut to more than 300,000 as of May 10. If the VA maintains the current average monthly rate, the backlog could be cut by mid-2015. That would meet Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki's 2010 pledge to eliminate the backlog by the end of next year.
Critics, however, say the shrinking backlog is something of a farce, the result of an administrative maneuver that has not delivered results for the veterans in the backlog, but has instead moved them into a different waiting line. When taking into consideration all VA claims, including those were the veterans died waiting for a decision, those stuck in appeals, and award adjustments—often adding a spouse or child—the VA's inventory of claims is much higher still hovering just under a whopping 1.3 million. (By comparison when Obama took office in January 2009, the inventory of claims was about half that amount: 631,000.)
As of May 10, the VA's number of appealed claims stood at 274,660, almost 100,000 more than the 174,891 appeals in late 2009. Between 2012 and 2013 the number of claims that ended up in appeal grew 5 percent, and between the end of 2013 and March 31 the number of appeals kept rising 2.7 percent. Once in the appeals process, veterans can wait in limbo for an average of two and a half years.

Critics contend that list is growing because, as the agency endeavored to quickly work through the claims, it has made more errors.

We've covered that issue extensively here.  We've done that because I called out when the VA presented to Congress as the answer.  It's not an answer, it's a shell game.  We called it that then, we call it that now.  It's taken nearly two years but at least the press acknowledges the possibility that this is what's happening.

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