Wednesday, June 04, 2014

He's got another brilliant idea!





US House Rep Jeff Miller is the Chair of the House Veterans Affairs Committee.  His office issued the following today:

Miller Demands VA Comply with HVAC-Issued Subpoena, Threatens Additional Legal Action

Jun 3, 2014

WASHINGTON, D.C.— After writing Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson regarding VA’s repeated failure to comply fully with an HVAC-issued subpoena, Chairman Jeff Miller released the following statement.  

“Today’s VA is a case study in how to stonewall the press, the public and Congress. And as we found out last week, often times officials from across the department have routinely sought to hide information about some of VA’s most pressing problems from the department’s own senior leaders. I am hoping Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson will put an immediate stop these disturbing trends. To that end, I have asked Sec. Gibson to provide our committee with any and all remaining documents responsive to our May 8 subpoena no later than June 9, 2014. Right now, Sec. Gibson has a chance to begin to repair the reputation of a department that has gained notoriety for its secrecy and duplicity with the public and indifference to the constitutionally mandated oversight responsibilities of Congress. I am hoping he makes the most of this chance.” Rep. Jeff Miller, Chairman, House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs

Chairman Miller Letter to Sec. Gibson Regarding VA’s Noncompliance with Committee-Issued Subpoena
June 2, 2014

This isn't a minor issue that Miller is raising.  This is a major one.  As we noted in Friday's snapshot, a culture of secrecy has taken hold at the VA.  Congress has been rebuffed on requests, has had to resort to subpoenas and those get rebuffed as well.  The people are represented by the Congress, the legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government to the executive branch (and to the judicial branch).  Congress is tasked with laws and oversight and it can't do its job if the executive branch is not providing accurate information.

In Friday's snapshot, I made a number of people angry when I stated (yes, "stated," the snapshot are dictated, I don't type them up) the following:

It was about Congressional requests that are not being honored.  Congress is supposed to provide oversight. But since 2009, the VA has stonewalled Congress and outright ignored requests for information.
You can blame the White House for that since it's over the VA.  I don't know that I would or wouldn't.  But it is a problem and everyone should be aware of it now and the White House should order the VA to start complying with all Congressional requests as, in fact, they're legally supposed to.

"You can blame the White House for that since it's over the VA.  I don't know that I would or wouldn't."  That's what made people angry.

I had no problem calling for Eric Shinseki's resignation.  When he revealed to Congress October 14, 2009 that he'd known since January that the rollout on the Post-9/11 GI Bill would not go smoothly, that he'd been told of that when he became VA Secretary, that he hired an outside consultant to review the situation and the consultant said the same thing, that's when I called for Shinseki's resignation.  He knew there would be a problem.  He did not give veterans a heads up.  He did not give Congress a heads up.  When the problems started with checks not being received, he allowed VA officials to publicly blame education institutions and to blame veterans.  He should never have allowed that.  I have no problem calling him out and veterans suffered because of him.


I've got six years demonstrating I have no problem calling out Barack as president.  And I may end up calling him out on the VA issues.  I have no problem stating that he's ultimately responsible.  But Shinseki making one mistake did not turn me against Shinseki.  It was finding out that he knew veterans were going to suffer and he not only didn't inform veterans or Congress but he also allowed his Department to lie to the public.  That's a crossed line.

I can call Barack out for Iraq (and have and will) and I can call out for The Drone War, for the illegal spying, for any number of things.  And I'm fine with that.  But I have no idea what information he received.  I thought he was willfully ignorant of some VA issues.  The big one was the seamless transition -- an electronic medical record created for a service member which would follow them from the Pentagon to VA when they left the service and became a veteran.

Congress poured billions into that.  It is still not up and running.

We have called out the 'progress' on that repeatedly.  The press has ignored it, we haven't.  The VA Secretary and the Secretary of Defense had to first agree on which computer system to use -- they currently use two different systems.  Once that's decided, things move forward.

I knew for a fact that Leon Panetta had listened to Shinseki's argument for which system to use (Shinseki wanted to use VA's system) and Leon told him, "Fine.  Use it.  Let's move on to the next step."  When I wrote about that here, a friend wanted me to know that this was basically Robert Gates' response as well.  (Robert Gates was Barack's first Secretary of Defense.  Leon Panetta became his second.  Chuck Hagel is currently the third.)

So I began noting that Gates had also agreed so that the program could move forward.

But it never did.  And I would call Barack out for that here.  Especially when, less than two months after Hagel became Secretary of Defense, Ranking Member Mike Michuad asks Shinseki about the progress on this issue and Shinseki, who's been working on it for five years now, blames Hagel.  He says Hagel's adjusting to his job and so nothing's been done.

I blamed Barack -- here and in loud conversations with friends in the administration.  Fortunately, Hagel was offended (who wouldn't be?) by Shinseki using him as a scapegoat and Hagel insisted on a meeting with Barack -- Hagel, Shinseki and Barack.  At that meeting, a system was decided on and things were supposed to move forward.  Did Barack not know about the foot dragging before that meet-up was scheduled?  Possibly he didn't.  I don't know.  I do know when he finally got involved, the issue was resolved.

I don't know at present how much honesty on the VA reached Barack.  So I'm not comfortable making him the focus of my VA critiques.  If others are, they should do so.  I'm not saying he's off-limits.  I am saying that, for me, I'm not there yet.  If others are, more power to them.

My focus in calling for Shinseki's resignation was because Shinseki was clearly and repeatedly failing.  Veterans deserved better than they were getting.

Barack hasn't lived up to his promise to veterans.  That's a fact as far as I'm concerned.  But, barring a revelation from a friend in the administration (I don't see one coming -- I know Leon Panetta, if Barack was intentionally failing veterans, Leon wouldn't have stood for it and would have been publicly critical of Barack), I can see this as Barack not getting the needed information to know what was going on.  By that, I mean Shinseki gave happy talk presentations that were not rooted in fact.

And we can all be fooled and tricked.  (I'm not trying to bring anyone over to my way of thinking, I'm merely explaining where I stand on the issue.)

There is a culture of secrecy at the VA.  They have not been transparent.  They have quibbled over word choice with the Office of the Inspector General (an "error" is an error, the VA needs to stop splitting hairs).  They have flat out lied and they're running about three shell games right now.

All of the problems with the VA go to the culture of secrecy.

Melinda Henneberger (Washington Post) had  a strong article on the VA which noted:

When he put new guidelines in place requiring that veterans be seen quickly, the response was to fake the paperwork to make it look as though wait times had disappeared.
But with nothing less than the lives of our veterans at stake, how could employees do that, and why would they lie?
Nickolaus’s answer to that question is that after years of being “told to shut up or retire,” most people eventually do one or the other. “You see the dead wood and get exasperated.”Overwhelmed, she said, you despair of actually changing anything, in other words, and give up.

That's the culture and it needs to end.

Barack should now be aware of it.  He should be calling for the VA to be transparent, to use the same terms with the same definitions as the Office of Inspector General and for the VA to comply will all Congressional information requests.

If Barack doesn't do that after the failures of the Shinseki period, I will have no problem calling him out.  And I will do it loudly and mockingly and any way I feel at that moment.

But for me this primary issue was Shinseki was too quick to believe anything he was told and provided too little oversight and, most of all, his actions were harming veterans.  I wanted him gone and now he's gone. The problems aren't going to disappear.  They're going to have to be addressed and I hope Barack addresses them.  If someone who is as critical of Barack as I am can hope that he will demand real accountability at the VA and end the culture of secrecy, this could be a big win for him with others because I'm not a Barack fan.  I didn't vote for him either time.  (In 2008, I voted for a candidate not with the duopoly and in 2012 I didn't vote for the office of president.)   But I will be the first to applaud him if he can end the culture of secrecy.  Hell, I'd applaud if he could even just make a strong dent in it.

Because the secrecy is what is harming the veterans.  It's what caused the problems with the tuition checks, it's what causes people with Post-Traumatic Stress being stripped of their diagnosis.  It's behind every scandal under Shinseki and all the ones to come if this is not addressed.  If the secrecy is removed, then Congress and the American people can know the truth and work on solutions.  If the culture of secrecy continues, expect more press exposes.

The VA is not going to meet a number of goals they set for FY 2015.  It would be really smart for them to stop lying and admit it's not happening so they and the Congress could work together to figure out how to improve.

That's where I am on the issues and why I'm there.  Here's where Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America are via a statement they issued yesterday:

This is a defining moment in American history. After decades of neglect, years of failure and weeks of controversy, all of America is focused on our nation’s veterans. As a result of the scandal that began in Phoenix, the sacred trust at the VA has been broken. But it can be rebuilt. With leadership, creativity and tenacity, the VA can be stronger in the broken places. 
Now can be the time when America can finally turn the corner on decades of failures at the VA—and for our veterans of all generations more broadly. 
The national membership of IAVA calls on President Obama to move quickly to create and execute a bold, comprehensive plan to support all generations of American veterans. It must be a top priority for the President for the duration of his term and involve the entire federal government, Congress, the private sector, philanthropy, veterans groups, the medical community and every resource our great nation can muster. It’s time for a Marshall Plan for veterans. 
America’s veterans are depending on strong leadership from the President and are standing by to support in any way needed. 
The plan should include the following 8 steps as recommended by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA):  

1. Appoint a Post-9/11 veteran, or someone very familiar with our community, who is a proven, dynamic leader capable of making dramatic changes and inspiring the turnaround VA needs. The VA needs a proven reformer at the top who can end the crisis and drive the VA to become the 21st Century organization our veterans deserve. America needs a unique brand of hybrid leader--a proactive change-agent who understands Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, technology, healthcare and Congress. The new Secretary must also be an effective communicator who can level with the public, operate effectively in the midst of a growing scandal that may span dozens of cities and continue for months, and inspire the best talent in America to answer the call to serve at VA.

2. Initiative a full criminal investigation and punish all violators to the full extent of the law. The IG has revealed a full system failure. An unknown number of bad actors have ruined the reputation of the VA. Those who have violated America’s sacred trust with our veterans must be rooted out nationwide and held accountable. Only if these people are cleansed from the system will the VA workforce, IAVA members and the rest of America ever have faith and trust in the system again. 

3. Implement the recommendations of interim IG report for Phoenix. The interim IG report recommended that the VA: (1) do a nationwide review of all facilities, (2) audit new requests for appointments across the system to ensure all veterans are on the list to be seen, and (3) reach out to veterans affected in Phoenix to get them into care. The VA must now to implement these recommendations immediately.

4. Pass the VA Management Accountability Act. The Senate must act now to pass the VA Management Accountability Act. The bill (endorsed by Secretary Shinseki in his final public remarks) gives the Secretary of the VA the authority to remove under-performing Senior Executive Service employees from their jobs. Without the ability to fire poor-performing managers, the next VA Secretary will struggle to restore a culture of accountability throughout the VA. 

5. Support the recommendations in IAVA’s 2014 Policy Agenda that focus on building a 21st Century VA. For years, IAVA has demanded a 21st Century VA, an organization able to find problems, respond decisively, and provide the quality of care veterans of all generations deserve. This is especially urgent for IAVA veterans who present new healthcare needs, more gender diversity, and significant geographic shifts. To move towards a 21st Century VA, Congress and the VA must: 

A. Mandate best practices for managing VA medical facilities. There is a saying that when you’ve seen one VA hospital, you’ve seen one VA hospital. But there are best management practices that can improve care at the VA if implemented across the entire system.
B. Overhaul the training and technology of the VA’s scheduling system. The nationwide audit of VA facilities exposed many problems in the training of VA scheduling employees. The VA must re-establish scheduling guidelines, improve training for staff, and invest in new scheduling technology.
C. Change performance metrics to focus on quality of care. The VA scandal has exposed what many veteran organizations have talked about for years: accountability is lacking at the VA. The VA must realign its performance metrics and performance incentives to encourage and deliver quality care.
D. Smooth the Transition between the Department of Defense and the VA. Too much is lost between the DoD and VA. Despite significant investment, there is still no interoperable health record and many veterans never enroll in VA care. The DoD and VA must improve collaboration to adequately care for today’s veterans. 
E. Invest in Technology to Transform the VA. The technology underpinning all of the VA’s work, including the disability claims process and appointment scheduling, is woefully outdated. Without 21st Century technology, the VA can never be a 21st Century organization. 

6. Fully Fund the VA to the levels recommended by the Independent Budget. Despite consistently claiming otherwise, it is clear that the VA does not have the resources it needs to meet the demand for care. The VA currently relies on outdated and inadequate formulas to project their needs. Congress should fully fund the VA to the levels recommended by the Independent Budget, a budget written by leading veteran service organizations including IAVA. In FY2014, the IB recommended $4 billion more for discretionary medical services funds than the President requested or Congress appropriated. 

7. Support best-in-class non-profit organizations that the fill gaps. The VA can not meet all of the needs of America’s veterans alone. And some vets will never go to the VA. Non-profits fill the gaps and are often there for vets when VA can’t be. The VA is also often most effective when it partners with non-profits, as demonstrated by the tremendous progress made toward ending veteran homelessness. Innovative programs like IAVA’s Rapid Response Referral Program (RRRP) assist veterans in reaching private, local and VA resources in times of crisis. They also serve veterans who are not eligible for VA services--like those with “other than honorable” discharge status.

The public must donate their time, money and talent to trusted, effective, best-in-class non-profit organizations who continue to face growing demand with extremely limited resources. Philanthropy, corporate leaders, and all Americans must donate as generously as possible now to support these essential groups supporting veterans. The Iraq and Afghanistan Deployment Impact Fund (IADIF), the Schultz Foundation, the recent First Lady's donor initiative, and Robin Hood have all created effective blueprints for national support that must be replicated, expanded and scaled. 

8. Combat suicide by passing the bi-partisan Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans (SAV) Act, enacting an Executive Order, and connecting 1 million veterans with resources by the end of 2014. According to VA data, 22 veterans die by suicide each day. Many of these men and women never reached the VA. Only bold, comprehensive action will prevent suicide and ensure that veterans have access to quality mental health care. Congress must act by passing the Suicide Prevention for America’s Veterans Act (SAV Act). The President must issue an Executive Order as outlined by IAVA. And all American can help by promoting suicide prevention resources in their local communities. 

Mike Prysner is an astute person.  We'll provide a link to his piece at Global Research (Mike is also an Iraq War veteran.)  But I can't quote from it because it's premise is Congress isn't funding the VA adequately.

I'm sorry, Mike's too intelligent to make that assertion.

The VA, like every other Department in Barack's Cabinet, creates their own budget request.

So stop this generic underfunding claims garbage.

Show me where the VA requested X and wasn't given it by Congress, show me that or stop this nonsense.

Beto O'Roarke is a Democrat from Texas in the US House of Representatives. Last Wednesday night, he did what members of the House and Senate Veterans Comittees do over and over: Ask VA officials present for the hearing if they needed more funding, if they needed more anything.

As happens over and over and over at these hearings, VA begged off requesting more funds.

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